Majdanek Survivors Return To Dig Up Treasures

Doomed Camp Victims Buried Precious Memories of Their Lives

Rings of Sadness: Wedding rings and other precious treasures were buried by concentration camp victims at Majdanek. Now, they are being unearthed.
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Rings of Sadness: Wedding rings and other precious treasures were buried by concentration camp victims at Majdanek. Now, they are being unearthed.

By Jordana Horn

Published December 08, 2011, issue of December 16, 2011.
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‘Buried Prayers,” directed by Steven Meyer, stretches the definitions of Holocaust-related cinema by examining not only what happened on the unholy ground of the World War II death camp Majdanek, but also what happened underneath it.

In the spring of 1943, survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto were sent to Majdanek just outside Lublin, Poland, and were forced to wait in a field for days. During that time, realizing that they were to be killed, many families secretly buried their few personal possessions in the dirt beneath them.

Based on witness testimony, the film documents a team of archaeologists and survivors from Australia, America, Israel, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, England, Sweden and Poland returning to Majdanek in 2005 to unearth what was hidden more than 60 years ago.

The particular survivors featured in the film were teenagers at Majdanek in 1943 who, after the war, moved to Melbourne, Australia. Their English stumbles past the dual impediments of thick accents, both Eastern European and Australian, making an odd-sounding mix for an American audience, but their stories transcend the thickets of their vowels.

Adam Frydman recalled having seen families bury the treasures they hoped could be used as currency to keep them alive. In the film, he speaks of his own time at Majdanek in similar terms:

“It’s better to bury it and forget about the whole thing.” But Frydman, sensing that he was approaching the end of his life, told investigators working with the filmmakers, that he had seen people in the Majdanek midfield — an open field where people were forced to wait for their fates for days at a time — hiding personal items.

Frydman supposed, and the film concurs in this analysis, that such efforts were a final act of defiance by people who refused to give their last remaining valuables to the Nazis. Liberating the objects, then, the film convincingly argues, will be a redemption of sorts for the dead. “They said, ‘Let it rot in the ground — the bastards won’t get it,’” recalled survivor David Prince, a trustee of the Melbourne Jewish Holocaust Centre.“It was meant to be found by people exactly like us.”


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