Staffordshire University discovery goes on display at new Holocaust Galleries

A tile from the gas chambers at Treblinka extermination camp, discovered by Staffordshire University researchers, has recently gone on display in the new Imperial War Museum (IWM) Holocaust Galleries.

The new galleries were officially opened by the Duchess of Cambridge on 10 November. Following a seven-year remodel, the new £30.7 million exhibition “incorporate the most up to date research and evaluation…and reflect the latest developments in Holocaust education, academia and understanding”.

In 2018, Professor Caroline Sturdy Colls, of the Centre of Archaeology at Staffordshire University, was approached by the team responsible for developing the new galleries to discuss her research and the possibility of including objects located during her archaeological investigations at Treblinka extermination camp in the new exhibition. Subsequently, a tile that would have lined the walls of the gas chambers was loaned to IWM by the Treblinka Museum.

The Treblinka gas chamber tile in a display cabinet

The gas chamber tile is on display at the new Holocaust Galleries (image: Imperial War Museum)

The tile was one of several discovered during excavations undertaken by Professor Sturdy Colls and her team in 2013 and 2017. These works followed several years of extensive non-invasive survey works which mapped the camp area and pinpointed the exact location of the first gas chambers built by the Nazis as part of their plan to eradicate the Jewish population of Europe. The discovery of the tiles appeared to confirm witness testimonies which suggested that the Nazis modelled the gas chambers on a bathhouse to disguise the fact that people were being sent to their deaths.

The excavations also revealed building foundations, personal objects belonging to the victims of Nazi persecution and items used by the camp guards. Between 800,000 and one million people were murdered at the Nazi-German extermination camp, located in occupied Poland, between 23rd July 1942 and the autumn of 1943. At its peak, 10-12,000 people were gassed each day.

Speaking about the inclusion of the tile in IWM’s ground-breaking exhibition, Professor Sturdy Colls said:

“I am thrilled and honoured that the Imperial War Museum chose to include the tile from the gas chambers at Treblinka in their new Holocaust galleries. I hope that it will help visitors to the exhibition better understand the experiences of those who were murdered during the Holocaust and illustrate the various ways in which the perpetrators tried to hide the nature of their crimes.”

She added:

“The new Holocaust Galleries will play a vital role in educating future generations and combatting anti-Semitism and racial hatred in the present. The exhibition really speaks to the power of objects in providing new insights into how people lived, worked, died and survived during this dark period of European history. I urge everyone to visit.”

The Imperial War Museum have also highlighted the importance of their new exhibition:

“The Second World War and the Holocaust will soon pass out of living memory, leaving us without the first-hand testimony of veterans, eyewitnesses and survivors. IWM’s new galleries preserve their stories and ensure the world never forgets what they experienced.”

More information about the new Holocaust Galleries can be found on the Imperial War Museum’s website. You can find out more information about the Finding Treblinka project, which included the archaeological investigations at Treblinka on the Centre of Archaeology’s website.