Israeli police struggle to identify bodies from mass grave

berlin (jps) | An 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, tracked down by Israeli police, was unable to identify 34 bodies of Jewish inmates recently discovered in a mass grave in southern Germany

Last week, head of the Israeli police’s Interpol and International Operations desk, Assistant Commander Asher Ben-Artzi, spoke with Robert Wolf, believed to be the last Jewish survivor of the Nazi forced labor camp Echterdingen.

The mass grave was discovered in September during construction work outside a U.S. military base in a suburb of Stuttgart in southern Germany.

After discovering the bodies, German police suspended construction work and asked the Israeli police representative in Germany, Shlomo Ayalon, for assistance in tracking down survivors or family members of Jewish prisoners to assist in identifying the bodies.

According to preliminary findings, the bodies belonged to Jews incarcerated in the nearby Echterdingen work camp, which operated under the larger Natzweiler camp.

The camp operated for a short period from 1944-45. Most of the surviving inmates were transferred to the Buchenwald concentration camp. German police have determined that the inmates found buried in the mass grave died either of hunger or typhus.

German police provided Israeli police with a handwritten list of the camp’s 619 inmates, found in their archives, containing the prisoners’ names, citizenship and inmate numbers tattooed on their forearms. A swastika was marked next to the names of inmates who perished during the period they were held in the camp.

With the cooperation of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, police cross-referenced the list with other lists from Buchenwald and succeeded in narrowing down the number of possibilities to 235.

Ben-Artzi said the Israeli police hoped to track down relatives of the victims, and through DNA tests succeed in identifying the 34 bodies.