Jewish group hopes to halt investigation of Nazi-era grave

stuttgart, germany (ap) | A Jewish group last week called for a halt to the excavation of a mass grave of probable Nazi victims that was discovered by construction workers at a U.S. Army airfield.

Guenther Oettinger, the governor of Baden-Wuerttemberg state, said that authorities would proceed with an investigation, but promised the issue would be handled with “the necessary sensitivity.’

The remains of 34 people were found last week at the airfield next to Stuttgart’s airport. Officials suspect the victims were World War II-era slave laborers, and prosecutors opened an investigation for suspected murder.

But the Committee for the Protection of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe urged the state government of Baden-Wuerttemberg to halt recovery work at the site because of Jewish custom that graves not be disturbed.

“The martyrs, who died 60 years ago because of the despotism and brutality of German authorities, now have to suffer a second time, because German bureaucracy has opened a murder inquiry,’ the committee said in a statement.

Prosecutors said they might need to use DNA testing to help identify the victims. But removing the bones for laboratory analysis would “cause great pain’ to religious Jews, the committee said.

Oettinger said the dead would be handled carefully and that state officials were consulting local Jewish leaders.

“I will ask the justice and interior ministers to proceed with the necessary sensitivity and in close cooperation with rabbis in the state,’ Oettinger said.

Investigators said that Jewish inmates from a subcamp of the Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp across the French border were used as slave laborers at the air base between November 1944 and February 1945, when it was in German hands.

More than 100 are believed to have died of hunger and typhus during that period.

Nineteen bodies were cremated at the time, and another 66 corpses were found buried nearby in October 1945, shortly after the war ended.