Holocaust victims to be buried after remains given to museum

UK
Auschwitz-Birkenau
Image caption Six million Jews were murdered in Nazi death camps including Auschwitz-Birkenau during World War Two

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

Hundreds are expected to attend the service, at Bushey New Cemetery, Hertfordshire, in the first service of its kind in the UK.

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

The identities of the victims will never be known.

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.

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 highly specialised 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 said the service’s 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.”

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

He will be leading the prayers on Sunday and said it would be one of the most difficult addresses he has ever given.

“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.

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