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International Arbitration Court Rules That Bergen-belsen Graves Cannot Be Opened

October 31, 1969
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Nine judges of the International Court of Arbitration ruled in Coblenz yesterday that the mass graves at the site of the Nazi concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen must not be disturbed in an effort to find and remove the remains of 139 French nationals interred there. The French Government had demanded exhumation of the bodies, a move opposed by the World Federation of Bergen-Belsen Associations, an organization of concentration camp survivors headed by Joseph Rosensaft of New York. The West German Government was also opposed. The controversy had continued for 12 years before it was submitted to international arbitration.

Hugo Wickstrom, of Sweden, who headed the arbitration court, said the judges’ decision was based on two factors: the moral and religious objections of the Bergen-Belsen survivors and the testimony presented by experts that it would be impossible to identify the bodies of individuals almost 25 years after burial. Mr. Rosensaft, sole survivor of a family of 61 killed by the Nazis, hailed the decision as “a vindication of the moral stand taken by the survivors in accordance with Jewish tradition in opposing the opening of the graves.” Fifty thousand prisoners, most Jews, are believed to have died at Bergen-Belsen. One of them was Anne Frank, the Dutch girl made famous by her Amsterdam diary. The graves which the French wanted opened were the repository of bodies buried after April 15, 1945, when British liberation forces occupied the camp. The French case for re-opening the graves was based on a little-known French-West German agreement made in 1954 which permitted the return of French victims of Nazism to France. The Arbitration Court, which visited the gravesite on May 6, was established to settle disputes among World War II allies.

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