As It Happens

Receding river in drought-hit Poland reveals cultural artifacts

Drought is decimating the Vistula River in Poland. But there is a silver lining. Researchers can finally excavate its riverbanks - and have already discovered a treasure-trove of artifacts.
Jonny Daniels, the head of a Jewish foundation “From the Depths” with one of the fragments of a Jewish tombstone he found along the Vistula River in Warsaw, Poland. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

A prolonged drought in Poland is punishing farmers and pushing water levels to record lows. The Vistula River, which  divides Poland and is more than 1,000 kilmotres long, is now at its lowest levels since the 18th-century.

But there is a silver lining. Archeologists have long believed that historical artifacts were buried in the Vistula's riverbanks, but they were unable to get at them because of the river's turbulent waters. Now that it is receding, researchers are finally wading in -- and unearthing a treasure-trove of important finds.

"Over the last couple weeks, we've had some remarkable discoveries," Jonny Daniels of the Jewish foundation From the Depths tells As It Happens guest host Helen Mann. "The most remarkable for us has been dozens, if not more, of fragments of Jewish tombstones."

Daniels says he believes the tombstones were not simply thrown in the river. Instead, they were used to fortify its riverbanks. He says Jewish historians have long suspected that tombstones were stolen from Jewish cemeteries across the country and used in rebuilding efforts after the war. Brodno cemetery in Warsaw had 400,000 markers before the war. That number is down to 3,000 today. 

"We'd heard the rumours, but to actually find them was really, really remarkable. It was such an important find for us."

Researchers also reportedly unearthed the remnants of a Soviet fighter plane shot down during the Second World War. Archeologists found human remains in the aircraft. 

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