The burial site of the “Anne Frank of Lithuania” and her family has been discovered by an international team of researchers that includes Dr. Philip Reeder, dean of the Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences (BSNES).
Matilda Olkin and her family were killed by a local militia affiliated with Nazi Germany in 1941 in Rokiskis, Lithuania. The finding is significant because Olkin’s recently discovered writings and poems capture the thoughts of a young college student caught in the horrors of the Holocaust in a manner similar to Anne Frank’s diary, which was penned during the German occupation of the Netherlands.
The discovery of Olkin’s burial site was made on July 18 and confirmed on July 20. Reeder mapped the area, which was discovered using Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) with digital precision using GPS coordinates and a total station survey to locate the grave site. Using GPR and spatial analysis, the team determined that there was a rounded 4-by-2 meter depression 8 meters inside the edge of a forest outside a small village near Rokiskis.
“There are very few times that you pose a hypothesis and the research design you set forth quickly uncovers the data required to prove your educated guess,” Reeder said. “But it has happened in this case.”
Working with colleagues from the University of Hartford, the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, WorleyParsons, Inc., and local archeologists and specialists, Reeder said that identifying the location of the mass burial without excavation was an important element of the team’s work.
“The Jewish religion generally prohibits excavations that involve human remains. And given the millions of Holocaust victims, we do not want to cause any more pain to the victims or their families,” Reeder said. “So we use non-invasive sub-surface mapping and investigation techniques, along with historical documents and testimonies, to help us locate the grave sites.”
The site, on a nearly deserted road surrounded by open fields, will be appropriately marked by the local government to pay homage to its populations before the Holocaust and to ensure its history is not forgotten. The team included students who documented the GPR and mapping work.
The team’s research was sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Vilnius, the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, the Targum Shelishi Foundation, the Rokiskis Mayor’s Office, and Philip and Aldona Shapiro of Centerville, Va. The project will be featured in Smithsonian Magazine in November.