POTSDAM - German officials plan next week to bury the ashes of thousands killed in the Nazis' Sachsenhausen concentration camp after they were discovered during building work at the site, the director of the camp memorial said yesterday.
Archaeologists last year found a layer of ashes up to 1.5 meters thick underneath a concrete building constructed near the camp's former crematorium by East Germany's communist authorities as a memorial, director Guenter Morsch said.
Morsch said it was impossible to establish the number or identity of the victims whose cremated remains were found, but estimated that "there are tens of thousands."
Some 200,000 people, including political prisoners, captives from Poland, Soviet POWs as well as Jews, were interned at Sachsenhausen, north of Berlin, between 1936 and 1945, and tens of thousands died.
"At the end of the Nazi regime, the SS tried to cover up the crimes committed at Sachsenhausen, and to do that they plowed the ashes of the dead into the ground over a wide area," burying them under a layer of earth, Morsch told reporters.
On March 29, memorial officials plan to bury the ashes in 150 urns at the Sachsenhausen site, each with a capacity of 30 kilograms, Morsch said.
The planned burial comes ahead of commemorations next month marking the camp's April 22, 1945 liberation by the Red Army.
Advancing Soviet forces found about 3,000 survivors, most of them old and sick. Thousands of other prisoners died during the death marches that preceded Sachsenhausen's liberation as the SS evacuated most of the camp.
Memorial officials expect many survivors to come to the April 17 anniversary commemoration, which German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer also will attend.
Over recent years, a new visitor center has been opened at the camp, and the site entrance has been moved so that visitors pass through the same gate used by the prisoners. The revamped memorial is to be officially inaugurated at the anniversary ceremony.