Holocaust-era Bones Found Near Stuttgart Won't Undergo DNA Tests

Decision made by German authorities after Jewish organizations ask to avoid desecration of the dead.

Genetic testing will not be performed on the bones of Jewish inmates discovered in a Holocaust-era mass grave during construction on a U.S. military camp near Stuttgart, according to a decision by Ulrich Goll, justice minister of the German state of Baden-Wurttemberg.

On completion of the police investigation, the remains will be transferred to the Jewish community of Stuttgart for burial.

The Israel Police, which had initially been asked to assist the Germans in identifying the remains, announced on Tuesday following Goll's decision that the search for relatives of the inmates, from whom DNA samples were to have been taken to try to identify the remains, was called off.

Goll's decision was made in response to requests by Jewish organizations to bury the remains without conducting the tests to avoid desecration of the dead. The spokesman for the Baden-Wurttemberg Justice Ministry, Stefan Wirz, told Haaretz that the Rabbinic Center of Europe (RCE), an umbrella organization headquartered in Brussels, had requested the genetic testing not be performed.

"The request by the rabbis was one consideration in the minister's decision not to perform the tests, but the main consideration was that the purpose of the investigation was to discover the identity of the murderer and the means of the murder, not the identity of the victims."

Wirz said the investigation was now seeking eye-witnesses who knew the commander of the camp near the murder site.

Construction workers digging at the site in September discovered skeletons and quickly called local police, who found the remains of 34 bodies during their search. German police determined that the mass grave probably dated back to World War II.

As reported in Haaretz on Tuesday, it is believed relatives of 20 of the victims are living in Israel. One of them, Efraim Kochava, whose father's name appears on a list of prisoners at the camp, said he believes the Germans have "an interest in burying the story as quickly as possible. The call by the rabbis was an excellent excuse. I didn't ask for money or compensation. I only want to be given the [DNA] test. For me that is the whole world."

The German police gave Israel 594 names of prisoners held in the camp, but a spokeswoman for the investigation in Stuttgart told Haaretz that the list had been whittled down to only 65 names. The spokeswoman did not know if Kochava's father's name was on the list. (Click here for initial list of 235 names.)

Rabbi Meir Lau, chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, who was invited by the RCE to officiate at the reburial, said Tuesday that he believed a respectful solution had been found.

"These are people who had no relatives and therefore it is a commandment to bury them where they were found and to place a monument on the grave. I am not in favor of carrying the bones for examination in a laboratory.

"On the other hand, I cannot argue with a person who feels he can do something to commemorate his father. I believe the state should help such a person demand his rights. Perhaps the legal department of the Foreign Ministry should step in."

The Generation to Generation association, representing the second and third generation of Holocaust survivors, said identification of the victims is more important than any commandment and halakhic protection of the dignity of the dead.

The association called in a statement for "the completion of the investigation, which is important not only to the victims but to the work of increasing awareness of the Holocaust and the work of commemoration."