Rosensaft Voices Confidence That Court Will Forbid Exhumations at Bergen-belsen
Menu JTA Search

Rosensaft Voices Confidence That Court Will Forbid Exhumations at Bergen-belsen

Download PDF for this date

The last survivor to leave the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp after World War II said here today that he was confident an international court of arbitration would forbid France to exhume the mass graves there in order to remove the remains of 139 Frenchmen for reburial in France. Joseph Rosensaft, 58, now a New York businessman and chairman of the World Association of Bergen Belsen Federations, told JTA that the court of arbitration has not yet rendered its verdict, adding, “I understand the verdict will be pronounced soon. I am confident of the outcome and I hope that once the verdict is pronounced we shall have done away with this nightmare for good.”

The International Court of Arbitration was established in Coblenz to adjudicate disputes between the World War II allies. It was assigned to the Bergen-Belsen case to decide whether a little known agreement between France and West Germany permitting the return to France of the remains of French victims of Nazism applies and whether it is possible to determine which remains are those of Frenchmen. France bases its case for exhumation on the agreement reached with the Bonn Government in 1954, but exhumation of the Bergen-Belsen graves is opposed by West German authorities. Mr. Rosensaft and his organization are in the forefront of world-wide efforts to prevent it.

Their chief argument, backed up by scientific authorities, is that it would be impossible, 25 years later, to distinguish the remains of Frenchmen from those of other victims buried in a common grave. The mass burials took place in April, 1945, after British forces liberated the camp. Quicklime and strong disinfectants were poured into the-grave as a typhoid epidemic was raging at the time. According to scientists, even the bones would be disintegrated by now.

This testimony was presented to nine judges of the International Court of Arbitration who visited the Bergen-Belsen site, near Hanover, last month. They were put there by Mr. Rosensaft and several prominent German Jews opposed to exhumation; ###preventatives were also present. Mr. Rosensaft testified at the time that even when the remains were buried in 1945, it was impossible to tell who was who or who was male and who was female. The witnesses also testified that there were no individual graves. Single headstones mark mass burial plots. “Even a headstone doesn’t mean that the person is buried right there–relatives put the markers up later.” Rabbi Zvi Asaria of Hanover told the judges. The rabbi, a Bergen-Belsen survivor, said it had been his task to gather the bodies for burial.About 50,000 prisoners, mostly Jews, were believed to have died at Bergen-Belsen between 1943 and 1945. Among them was Anne Frank, the Dutch girl whose diary of her family in hiding became an international classic. Mr. Rosensaft, born in Poland, is the sole survivor of a family of 61 killed by the Nazis. He was a prisoner at Auschwitz but was transferred to Bergen-Belsen shortly before its liberation. He elected to remain there for five years to help the survivors. He was married there and his son was born at the camp.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund