Jewelry, tobacco pipes, buttons, keys. Archaeologists uncovered more than 16,000 such items in the remains of Auschwitz's Crematorium III and gas chamber in 1967—"the last personal belongings of the Jews" led to their deaths. But while watching an old documentary about the excavation, Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum officials realized there was a problem: They had only 400 of the artifacts on record, so what happened to the rest? After a monthslong search, the last living witnesses to the dig provided information that led to 48 cardboard boxes that had been tucked away at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw, reports AFP. "I had considered the discovery of such a huge collection in whole after nearly half a century as unlikely as finding the treasure of the lost Galleon," Piotr Cywinski, the museum's director, says in a release.
Cywinski says someone may have intended to study the artifacts—including stamps, medical kits, brushes, fragments of shoes and kitchenware, lighters, and watches, per Haaretz—that belonged to those killed at the camp. But "there was a political turnabout in 1968 and the communist authority took a clearly anti-Semitic course," which may have sidelined the project. "The times then were difficult for topics related to the Holocaust," Cywinski says. He adds "this is a unique collection in every way" and "an unexpected, totally unique day in the newest history of our Museum." The artifacts have been returned to the museum, where they'll be documented. The museum says it will use emergency funding for any necessary conservation work and repairs. (This Auschwitz ring stayed hidden for 70 years.)