Nav: Home

Ground-penetrating radar reveals potential mass grave sites from the Holocaust

November 05, 2018

Indianapolis, IN, USA: Researchers recently used ground penetrating radar to locate an unmarked, potential mass grave site in Lithuania, according to a new study that will be presented at The Geological Society of America's 2018 Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, on Sunday, 4 November. The work aims to amass evidence that points to the likely locations of mass graves from the Holocaust and, in time, award federal distinction to the areas in the form of memorials.

"The larger context," says physical geographer Harry Jol from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, "is that, within the holocaust in Lithuania, every small and large town has a mass gravesite."

Though many potential mass grave and execution sites are peppered throughout Lithuania, only eyewitness accounts, with some accounts conflicting, are the first lines of evidence to guide researchers to approximate locations. In some areas, roughly 5-10 and upwards to 2,000 individuals lie buried, while other locations have upwards of ten times that number.

By using ground-penetrating radar, researchers like Jol can narrow the search by peering below the surface and searching for signs that indicate human-caused disturbances. Jol and his colleagues have located mass grave and execution sites in other areas throughout Lithuania and Israel, though this particular study pertains to the Rokiškis region.

"We're basically able to slice into the ground the same way the oil and gas industry does and build a three-dimensional model of the near subsurface," Jol says, explaining that breaks in the subsurface, as well as rectangular or circular patterns, can be interpreted as digging. "When those breaks occur, and with some of the patterns we see, that indicates that something has cut through those glacial-fluvial sediments."

Indeed, radar images revealed such signs in the Rokiškis region, indicating a potential grave site roughly two meters below the surface. Under Jewish burial traditions, which detail practices for honoring the dead, the remains of Jewish persons, once buried, must not be disturbed.

Ground penetrating radar images are just one line of evidence that teams of researchers use to establish exact locations of these sites. Historical and eyewitness accounts, as well as aerial photographs taken by Nazi pilots form other lines of evidence used to determine likely coordinates.

Little is known about the roughly 28 victims of the execution and burial site in Jol's study. They likely hailed from a nearby village, he says, and were sought out when Nazi soldiers reviewed public records of local families. Farmers were then often ordered to dig a grave that could hold the number of victims they had identified through those records.

"The Nazis then went to the Jewish population and said, 'we're going to move you to another location where you can join other Jews, take three days of supplies with you.' Then, as they were walking out to the train or depot, they were shuttled off into the forest, executed and buried in a pit."

Once gathered, the various lines of geoscience evidence are passed through local museums, archaeologists, and eventually political offices before the site can be awarded federal distinction. Signs of a once-strong Jewish population preceding the second world war, like city streets named after synagogues, are now sparking interest in younger generations, Jol says.

"Recently a play written about these types of mass executions in the region received a national award," he says. "And there's a building recognition now where some of the youth are asking, 'is this part of our history?'" Other creative works, like documentaries and exploration of poetry from the time, are prompting further reflection on the Holocaust's shadow in Lithuania.

At the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Jol often shepherds undergraduate students in studies like these and, in similar work, his colleagues have excavated synagogues and other mass grave sites throughout Lithuania and surrounding regions.
-end-
This presentation is on Sunday, 4 Nov., from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and the abstract is online at https://gsa.confex.com/gsa/2018AM/webprogram/Paper324710.html.

The Geological Society of America, founded in 1888, is a scientific society with members from academia, government, and industry in more than 100 countries. Through its meetings, publications, and programs, GSA enhances the professional growth of its members and promotes the geosciences in the service of humankind. Headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, GSA encourages cooperative research among earth, life, planetary, and social scientists, fosters public dialogue on geoscience issues, and supports all levels of earth-science education.

Geological Society of America

Related Eyewitness Accounts Articles:

Fake Russian Twitter accounts politicized discourse about vaccines
Activity from phony Twitter accounts established by the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA) between 2015 and 2017 may have contributed to politicizing Americans' position on the nature and efficacy of vaccines, a health care topic which has not historically fallen along party lines, according to new research published in the American Journal of Public Health.
Invest in private companies: They display more reliable accounts than public ones'
Institutional investors tend to put their money largely in public companies, persuaded that market discipline makes their accounts more reliable than private ones' and most financial literature confirms their beliefs.
Sleep helps memory, right? Not for eyewitnesses
New research investigating the effect of sleep on eyewitness memory has found that having a period of sleep, compared to a period of wake, does not improve eyewitness identification accuracy.
Evidence of humans, not 'bots,' key to uncovering disinformation campaigns
Political disinformation campaigns are often hard to detect, but a new study pulls back the curtain on one type called 'astroturfing.' The study suggests the key to uncovering such campaigns lies not in finding automated 'bots' but in specific traces of human coordination and behavior.
Milky Way raids intergalactic 'bank accounts,' Hubble study finds
Gas blown out of the Milky Way disk from exploding stars falls back onto the galaxy to form new generations of stars.
Study reveals school savings accounts can dry up in 'financial deserts'
College of Business Professor studies the impact geography has on San Francisco's Children's Savings Accounts program.
Archaeological evidence verifies long-doubted medieval accounts of First Crusade
New discoveries in the decade-long archaeological dig at Jerusalem's Mont Zion include a massive, long-rumored-but-buried earthwork, gold jewelry and war artifacts.
Precursors of a catastrophic collapse
The flanks of many island volcanoes slide very slowly towards the sea.
Toppled train offers insight into ground motion, origin of 1906 earthquake
By mathematically modeling the movements of a locomotive that toppled from the tracks north of San Francisco during the city's infamous 1906 earthquake, researchers have calculated a lower limit on the earthquake ground motion at the spot of the tipped train.
Ground-penetrating radar reveals potential mass grave sites from the Holocaust
Researchers recently used ground penetrating radar to locate an unmarked, potential mass grave site in Lithuania, according to a new study that will be presented at The Geological Society of America's 2018 Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, on Sunday, 4 November.
More Eyewitness Accounts News and Eyewitness Accounts Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.