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Germany buries bones used in Nazi eugenics research

March 23, 2023

The bones were found near a site that once housed a notorious institute strongly associated with Nazi and colonial-era eugenics theories. Now the remains have been laid to rest.

Thousands of bone fragments found in the grounds of a Berlin university where an institute for anthropology and eugenics was once located, which may include the remains of victims of Nazi crimes, were buried on Thursday
The decision not to pursue further investigations into the bones was taken in consultation with groups representing the alleged victimsImage: Markus Schreiber/AP/picture alliance

Thousands of human bone fragments believed to include the remains of victims from the Nazi and colonial era were buried in Berlin on Thursday.

They were found in 2014 during construction work at the campus of Berlin's Free University, a site that was once home to the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics.

The university believes the bones came from "criminal contexts" dating back to Germany's colonial period and that "some of the bones may also have come from victims of Nazi crimes."

Researchers examined the bones over the past few years but only used non-invasive methods. They determined that the 16,000 bone fragments belonged to people of all age groups, male and female. 

"Of course, I would like to know who these people were, but it wouldn't be appropriate given what was done to people in the name of the institute," Susan Pollock, the archaeologist who led the research, said.

Organizations representing groups that may have been among those the bones belonged to agreed that further research shouldn't be carried out.

Notorious anthropology and eugenics institute collection

The institute, which stood at the site from 1927 to 1945, was a hub for Nazi scientists during World War II, including Josef Mengele, notorious for his experiments on prisoners in the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Traces of glue and inscriptions on the bones suggested they were part of collections held by the institute.

Its first director, Eugen Fischer, conducted research in the German colonies in southern Africa at the beginning of the 20th century.

A collection of human remains from around the world named after the anthropologist Felix von Luschan, who carried out the collecting during the colonial era, was also housed in the institute.

Victims of 'science'

On Thursday, the bones were buried in five wooden boxes before a grey tombstone reading "Victims in the name of science."

"There are atrocities over which no grass can grow or should be allowed to grow. It is our duty to remember," Günter Ziegler, president of the Free University, said.

The simple ceremony was attended by representatives of groups that were persecuted in both colonial and Nazi times.

"The inhuman practice of research racism foresaw no burial for the remains and threw them in pits," Daniel Botmann, a representative of Germany's Central Council of Jews, said.

"Today we are taking numerous lives whose voices and biographies were extinguished to their last resting place."

lo/nm (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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