Berlin Holds Funeral for Bone Fragments Linked to Nazi Eugenics Research

“In memory of the victims of the crimes committed in the name of science.”

A woman throws flowers on the boxes containing human remains at Waldfriedhof cemetery. Carsten Koall / Getty Images

On Thursday, mourners in Berlin gathered at the funeral for at least 54 men, women and children whose bones were discovered on the site of the former Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics. According to experts, some of these individuals may have been victims of colonial-era and Nazi crimes.

The Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, (KWIA) which stood from 1927 for 1945, was infamous for its connection to Nazi scientists, most notably Josef Mengele, who conducted experiments on human subjects at Auschwitz.

Mourners lowering the boxes into the ground at Thursday’s ceremony Carsten Koall / Getty Images

The remains were buried in five caskets, which pallbearers carried during Thursday’s funeral. The ceremony was intentionally devoid of religious or European symbolism, a decision made to better honor the wide range of cultures the victims represented.

Traces of glue and inscriptions on the bones suggest they were part of collections held by the institute, experts say.

The institute “turned human lives into things, into research objects,” Susan Pollock, the Free University archaeologist who led the research, tells AFP.

Today, a small rusty plaque on the side of a university building near the site of the former KWIA reminds visitors of the abuses committed there.

A plaque in German describes the history of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics. Torinberl via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 3.0

Mengele sent “eyes of people who were murdered in Auschwitz to this institute”, but also other organs, said Pollock.

Germany has already worked extensively, albeit belatedly, to identify the remains of thousands of disabled and sick people exterminated under the Third Reich as part of the Nazi regime’s “euthanasia programmes”, supported by scientists and doctors.

The decision not to pursue further investigations into the bones found in Berlin was taken in consultation with groups representing the alleged victims — including the Central Council of Jews in Germany, the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma and the Central Council of the African Community.

The first two in particular objected to the use of DNA analysis, which they said would be “invasive”.

A crowd of about 230 attended the ceremony, with representatives from the Central Council of Jews in Germany, the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma and the Central Council of the African Community in attendance. These groups consulted with the Free University on the question of whether to conduct additional research on the victims. 

“There are atrocities over which no grass can grow or should be allowed to grow,” Ziegler told the crowd, per AFP. “It is our duty to remember.”

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