Video: Professor Caroline Sturdy Colls describes the variety of techniques used throughout the “Recording Cultural Genocide and Killing Sites” project (Copyright: Staffordshire University)
Detailed historical research was undertaken regarding the nature of cultural and physical genocide within Jewish cemeteries.
Documents, photographs, aerial imagery, maps, plans, witness testimony and data gained during site visits was collated and analysed in order to examine the reasons why Jewish cemeteries were desecrated and used as killing sites and why certain cemeteries were targeted.
Using a unique non-invasive approach, our aim was to locate unmarked killing sites, graves and matzevot (tombstones), and to record the evidence of cultural genocide at our selected sites. In doing so, we forensically documented Holocaust sites whilst accounting for their religious and commemorative significance because our approach did not disturb the ground. Therefore, our methodology was specifically designed to account for Halacha Law with regards to the treatment of Jewish burials.
This approach used:
- Walkover survey – to identify remains that survived on the surface and any indicators of buried remains
- Topographic survey, including GPS and Total Station technology – to map fences, matzevot, graves and other landscape features
- A purpose-built mobile application – to record matzevot within the cemeteries and any found outside their walls
- Photogrammetry, including 360-degree photography and photo-realistic capture – to record the cemeteries, specific traces within them and their wider environment
- Close-Contact Laser Scanning – to record individual matzevah (tombstones) and evidence of cultural genocide in 3D
- Geophysical survey, including Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), to identify below-ground traces such as unmarked graves, toppled tombstones and buried structures
- Film Technologies, including Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV/drones) survey and the filming of testimonies
This approach offered the opportunity to identify, characterise and preserve material remains that lay both above and below the ground within our selected cemeteries. It also provided visualisations for use in our educational outputs.
Restoration and Reconciliation
As well as recording the evidence of cultural and physical genocide, our project involved social action projects. Restoration works were undertaken within selected cemeteries and engagement with people from a diverse range of backgrounds was encouraged.
Working with our partners, tombstones were reinstated, graffiti removed and cemeteries tidied. By undertaking this work, the project intended to explore the benefits of community archaeology and restoration as means to tackle intolerance.
In our project, we use the word reconciliation in the sense of bringing people together. Community volunteers, young people, educators, policymakers and a wide range of other groups from all over the world came together to explore past and present examples of the destruction of cultural spaces, allowing reflection on the causes and consequences of these attitudes and actions.