Yesterday I screened the documentary Buried Prayers.
Everyone recognizes the name Auschwitz, but not many know of the Maidanek death camp near Lublin, Poland. It was smaller, but endured similar horrors.
This heart-wrenching, predictably difficult-to-watch documentary doesn't tell the entire history of this camp that murdered nearly 80,000 people, but spotlights survivors returning to claim items that their fellow prisoners buried in their last moments of desperation.
It really is remarkable how they must have pulled it off.
Maidenek was geographically the closest concentration camp to a major city, and its prisoners who weren't killed, "worked" mostly at sorting possessions taken from other prisoners at various camps. When those who were facing their death knew their time was approaching, they would cleverly bury their sentimental items (wedding rings, etc.) while pretending to work. The Nazis never figured it out.
The camp was liberated by the Soviets in 1944 and it wasn't until 2005 that a group of survivors went back for the first time, and allowed archaeologists to accompany them and search for those buried treasures.
The film shows them recovering just a few items (in reality there were nearly 50 artifacts found), but the excitement and emotion that accompanies each discovery is incredibly moving. Worse are the memories shared of their time at the camp (one story about a son being forced to hang his father almost made me get up and walk out, it was so horrific).
But the film itself, yes, it was effective. I'm glad to know that things meant to be left behind in memory of those prisoners finally saw the light of day and created yet another way to convey the inhumane reign of Nazi power.
I just wonder—how many more original stories of pain will our world have to hear before all of the genocides stop?