Mass Grave Discovered at Gross-Rosen Concentration Camp

View of the entrance gate to Gross-Rosen.

The recent discovery of a mass grave at the site of the Gross-Rosen concentration camp in Poland has added physical confirmation to stories of the horrors that transpired there, but raised concerns over possible desecration of Jewish remains.

Archaeologists announced their find last week, at a location that was identified by a survivor of the camp as a pit that prisoners who had died or been shot by guards were thrown into during the last months of Gross-Rosen’s operation in the winter of 1945.

“It doesn’t tell us anything that we didn’t know before, but we now have material confirmation to survivors’ recollections,” Holocaust historian Dr. Michael Berenbaum told Hamodia. “We do not need more evidence to the Holocaust, but there is an emerging archive of genocide, which will make it more difficult for the deniers to deny — not that evidence persuades them.”

According to a report by JNS (Jewish News Service), a Belgian prisoner, who served as camp doctor, related that the site was used as a burial ground. His accounts say that those who were interred there had died from starvation and illness, but the team of archaeologists has reported finding bullet wounds, pointing to the strong possibility that some of them were executed. According to the doctor’s and other survivors’ reports, roughly 300 bodies should be present at the site.

Researchers said they plan to identify the remains; prisoners at Gross-Rosen wore metal tags with their camp number on their uniforms, rather than the tattooing used in Auschwitz and many other larger camps.

Founded in 1940, Gross-Rosen was used by the Nazis as a camp for both Jews and non-Jewish prisoners from the Soviet Union and other occupied countries.

While it is not known whether some or all of those who were buried in the recently discovered grave are Jewish, Dr. Berenbaum said given that the site was used towards the end of the war, it increases likelihood that victims were Jews.

“Gross-Rosen was used as a dumping ground from the death marches; the later the date, the more likely it is that they were Jews,” he said.

Poland’s Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich said he had contacted the museum that is located at the site to voice concerns over possible desecration of the remains.

“We don’t know who they are yet, but I cannot say that I was satisfied with their response,” he told Hamodia. “They didn’t say that they were going to stop digging, which would be the right thing to do at this point, at least until we know more about who they are.”

Rabbi Schudrich said that conversations with researchers over the treatment of the remains are still ongoing.

Poland contains many Jewish cemeteries and Nazi death camps and concentration camps located far from any Jewish communities. Rabbi Schudrich said that the situation presents a steady stream of threats to kvod hameis.

“Poland is a growing and developing country. Unfortunately, that sometimes means they want to build a road through a cemetery,” he said. “In death camps, they have been very sensitive to our concerns. In smaller places, there is less awareness and it really depends on how the local mayor feels about it.”

A spokesman for the Polish Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) told media that present plans are to transport the remains to the Forensic Medicine Institute for “inspection and autopsy … to determine their gender, age, health condition … and cause of death.”

Hamodia contacted the IPN for clarification of several details of the excavation as well as their response to concerns over desecration of the bodies, but did not receive responses in time for publication.

The camp was named for the nearby town of Gross-Rosen, now known as Rogoznica, in southwestern Poland. In early years, it was primarily a center for forced labor in a nearby quarry and increasingly for weapons production. In 1943, the camp grew considerably as thousands of Jewish prisoners were shipped to Gross-Rosen. By January 1945, shortly before it was liberated by Soviet troops, it held 76,728 prisoners. According to estimates, at least 40,000 died at Gross-Rosen or during evacuations of the camp, which were conducted under brutal conditions by SS officers.