holocaust victims buried after remains given to museum

Holocaust victims buried after remains given to museum

Remains of victims being buried
Image caption The donated remains were buried with earth from Israel

A funeral has been held for six unknown Auschwitz victims whose remains were donated to a British museum more than 20 years ago.

About 1,000 people attended the service, at Bushey New Cemetery, Hertfordshire.

The remains of five adults and at least one child were anonymously donated to the Imperial War Museum in 1997.

The victims, whose identities will never be known, were buried in a coffin with earth from Israel.

Survivors and those who had lost loved ones in the Holocaust attended the service.

The leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Communities Secretary James Brokenshire, the Israeli ambassador and the deputy German ambassador were also there.

Many were moved to tears during Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis’s address.

Six million Jews were murdered in Nazi death camps during World War Two, starved and gassed, and their remains incinerated.

More than a million people were killed at the Auschwitz camp in occupied Poland.

The remains were among a large number of objects relating to the Holocaust given to the museum by a donor.

The human remains were unexpectedly among them.

They are understood to have been taken by the donor during a visit to the former death camp several decades ago.

The museum has a license to hold such items and the remains have been kept in storage for two decades.

Image caption About 1,000 people attended the service in Hertfordshire

Leader of the Holocaust Galleries at the IWM, James Bulgin, said: “The museum receives thousands of objects, but something like this is unusual to the point of complete uniqueness.

“Hundreds of thousands of people were killed at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Anybody who lost a relative there can consider these remains and think they could belong to my grandfather or mother.”

Mr Bulgin described the process of discovering details about the remains as “difficult”, adding: “These remains are fragments and also ash and some of that can’t be analysed further.”

Through forensic analysis the museum was able to find out that the fragments were the human remains of adults and children.

But the process is limited; their ages, gender or other personal details are impossible to learn.

‘Exceptional poignancy’

The museum worked closely with Jewish religious leaders, and Mr Bulgin said the process of deciding what to do with the remains had been very moving.

The UK’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis led prayers at the service.

“We don’t know who you are, we don’t know if you’re male or female, we don’t know which country you’re from, but one thing we do know; you were a Jewish and brutally murdered,” he began by saying.

“You were let down badly at the time and now your remains have somehow come to the UK. And we have the opportunity of granting you the dignity and honour of a funeral service.”

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The service is being held at Bushey New Cemetery

Previously Rabbi Mirvis said the symbolism was enormous.

“We find exceptional poignancy in the fact that there are six souls that we are burying,” he said.

“Each one stands for one million souls who perished. And interestingly enough there were just under five million who were adults and just over one million who were children.”

“There were members of my family who perished in the Holocaust and we all related to this directly,” Rabbi Mirvis said.

“Now we will have the opportunity to accord them some dignity and to give them a final resting place.”

He said he hoped the site would become a place of pilgrimage for Jewish families, much like the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

But he also reflected on the memorial’s timeliness for wider society, adding: “We need a strong reminder such as this to let us know what can result, even within a democratic society, what can result if anti-Semitism, if racism and xenophobia, go unchecked.”

The Prince of Wales, who is patron of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, has sent a letter of condolence to the Jewish community.