The remains of six unidentified Holocaust victims will soon have a resting place, more than 20 years after they were discovered by a survivor at the Auschwitz death camp.
The remains – believed to be five adults and one child – will be given a Jewish funeral at Bushey New Cemetery in Hertfordshire, England later this month.
“We have the opportunity to do what was denied to our brothers and sisters during the Holocaust: to provide a dignified and appropriate Jewish burial,” said Michael Goldstein, president of the United Synagogue, which is organizing the funeral.
The remains were found in the mid-q990s and in 1997 were sent to the Imperial War Museum (IWM) in London as part of a collection of Holocaust-related items, despite the museum saying at the time they did not want the human remains, The Guardian reported.
The museum, which is legally permitted to store human remains – commissioned tests on the remains, which found that they contained human bone fragments, non-human bone fragments, construction material from cremation ovens, and ash.
A museum spokesperson told the Jewish Chronicle that “the donor did not provide detailed information about how they obtained the remains but stated that the remains came from Auschwitz-Birkenau, along with other items from their collection, which Auschwitz-Birkenau have confirmed originate from that site.”
The English Heritage Centre for Archaeology, which conducted the tests, suggested the remains were of six people – likely five adults and a child.
Last year, while taking stock of its Holocaust materials, the museum decided that the remains should be returned to the Jewish community. It contacted the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum and Chief Rabbi for advice. The United Synagogue offered to bury the victims in service – the first of its kind in the United Kingdom.
“These Kedoshim [holy souls] will now be afforded the dignity of a Jewish funeral, within the loving embrace of our community – something which was denied to them and so many others during the course of the Shoah,” the Chief Rabbi’s office said in a statement.
The Chief Rabbi’s office praised the museum, saying Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis is “grateful to IWM for the care and sensitivity they have shown in this matter.”
The remains will be placed in shrouds in a specially prepared coffin, with earth from Israel placed on top of the shrouds.
“We must remember that although we have only the remains of a number of victims of the Shoah, each was a person in their own right, with a family and a life and a Jewish identity, with hopes and dreams just like each of us,” Goldstein said in a statement, according to The Jewish Chronicle. “One of them was a child. I will hug my own children especially tightly next Sunday.”