Excavation begins on Nazi-era mass grave

BERLIN (JTA) — The excavation of what likely is the largest mass grave of Nazi Jewish victims in Germany is being excavated.

Work began Wednesday in the small Brandenburg town of Jamlitz, about 75 miles southeast of Berlin. The excavation of the nearly 54,000-square-foot site will take three weeks.

The site is where 753 Jewish concentration camp prisoners were shot and killed by the SS near the end of World War II, on Feb. 2, 1945. More Jews were shot and killed the following day.

Once the remains are found and reburied according to Orthodox Jewish ritual, a memorial site will be established, according to Brandenburg Interior Minister Joerg Schoenbohm.

The victims, men and women mostly of Hungarian and Polish background, had been held in a satellite of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, reportedly after being transferred from Auschwitz ahead of its liberation by the Soviet army on Jan. 27.

In all, some 1,342 prisoners from the satellite camp were shot. Some of the bodies were recovered decades ago in a gravel pit in nearby Staakow, according to news reports.

The excavation, which is being coordinated by the Ministry of the Interior and supported by the state, began on the 64th anniversary of the liberation of Sachsenhausen. It is taking place under the watchful eye of Peter Fischer of the Central Council of Jews in Germany and rabbis from the international burial society Atra Kadisha, as well as archaeologists and representatives of state memorials.

Small earth movers are being used to remove the topsoil; work will continue with shovels and brushes.

Elona Gratz, 47, owner of the shop, post office and cafe in one in Jamlitz, told the Bild newspaper that "almost everyone is talking about the dig." Only the older residents "don’t dare talk about it. After all, many of them denied it back then, too."

The satellite camp was turned into a prison under the Soviet occupation from 1945 to 1947. Survivors of the prison are also observing the proceedings.

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