Bodies found at Stuttgart believed to be those of Holocaust victims

Workers dig at a site at the Stuttgart Army Airfield where the remains of 34 possible Holocaust victims were found during a drainage project.


By CHARLIE COON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 22, 2005

ECHTERDINGEN, Germany — Police confirmed Wednesday that the remains of 34 bodies, believed to be Jewish victims of Nazi labor camps, were found earlier this week at Stuttgart Army Airfield.

Two sets of remains were discovered Monday while workers dug as part of a drainage project. The workers informed U.S. military police, who then informed local police, according to German investigators.

Local police uncovered three more remains Monday, and further digging Tuesday unearthed several shallow graves located next to each other and containing another 29 sets of skeletal remains, police said.

“The remains are suspected to be remains of Jewish inmates from the concentration camp,” Bernhard Haeussler, of the Stuttgart prosecutor’s office, said through an interpreter.

The airfield is used by the U.S. military for transporting troops, cargo and VIPs. The Stuttgart military community mail depository is also located there, as is a German police helicopter unit. It is adjacent to the Stuttgart international airport south of the city.

On Wednesday, police explained the findings at a press conference attended by nearly 30 reporters and photographers, mostly from German media. They would not allow photographers to take pictures inside a fence where the digging continued.

The fenced area, next to the main security gate at the airfield, is about one acre in size. The hole where the search was taking place is about the size of half a tennis court and was surrounded by mounds of dirt. Inside the 5-foot-deep hole, sheets of plywood sectioned off the digging area.

Next to the area was a short, long, white tent. Norbert Walz, an investigator with the Baden- Würrtemberg state police, said through an interpreter that he did not know what was underneath the tent. Police did not say where the remains were being kept.

Army criminal investigators were on the scene but not allowed to comment.

Reached by telephone, Lt. Col. Kathleen Doran of the Seckenheim-based 202nd Military Police Group (CID), the investigative unit, said: “It’s a joint investigation with the Germans. We’re working with them and they have the lead.”

Doran declined to comment further and referred questions to Army CID headquarters in Washington. A spokesman there was unavailable for comment.

Walz said investigators would perform DNA tests on the remains. He said relatives would be gleaned from lists of known victims, and their DNA would be tested in order to confirm victims’ identities.

Local Jewish leaders were already anticipating the need to take care of the bodies, according to Eve Warsher, who is in charge of burials at the Stuttgart New Synagogue.

“We have to bury the bones in one of our cemeteries,” Warsher said. “They have to be buried properly, but we have to wait until the police will give the permission.

“As we are not used to these procedures — fortunately — there are several methods [of burial] we can use, either in a mass grave, or each of them separately. The rabbi [Netanel Wurmser] … is the one who decides what to do with the bones.”

About 600 people were brought by force in November 1944 from the Struthof concentration camp to the forced-labor camp in Echterdingen, Warsher said. Most were Polish, but others were Russians, Germans, Dutch, Italians, Lithuanians, Hungarians, Spaniards and Belgians, she said.

They were forced to perform road construction and to gather and organize the rubble after bombings, Warsher said.

In January 1945, when the forced-labor camp was closed, the remaining inmates were taken to concentration camps in Vaihingen, Ohrdruf and Celle, Warsher said.

“It was found out that [the inmates] died of hunger and of fleckfieber [typhus fever, which is transmitted by lice],” she said. “Approximately 111 died from the fever.”

“It really gives me the creeps, you know,” Warsher added. “I feel somewhat that the past always comes back. I feel very sorry, of course. We don’t know who they are, so they will be buried unnamed. Of course, we have to give them a proper burial.”