In January 2008 Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland’s leading daily, published a photograph showing Polish peasants and militia men posing behind a neatly arranged pile of skulls and bones, in the middle of what appeared to be a large, sandy field. The picture was taken soon after the end of the Second World War. The location was the site of the Treblinka death camp, where approximately 800,000 Jews had been murdered between July 1942 and August 1943. Their bodies had initially been buried in huge pits excavated by mechanical diggers. Later, the decomposing remains were exhumed and burned. The bones and the ash mound on which the people sit in the photo were actually relics of a vast crematorium.
The peasants were there because as soon as the Germans were driven out, locals began to dig into the sand and ash to search for valuables buried by the Jews while still alive or released from their incinerated cadavers. These prospectors were known as ‘gleaners’ or ‘diggers’. Several commissions that