Samples of Nazi victims to be buried
More than 300 microscopic pieces of human tissue from political prisoners executed by the Nazis are due to be buried at a Berlin cemetery.
The samples, about 100th of a millimetre thick and about 1cm squared, were uncovered on microscopic glass plates by the family of the Nazi anatomy professor Hermann Stieve.
Stieve dissected and researched the bodies of those killed at Berlin’s Ploetzensee jail, including resistance fighters, partly to study the physical impact of fear on women.
He was never prosecuted and continued his career as a scientist in Communist East Germany until he died of a stroke in 1952.
Stieve’s post-mortem records name 184 victims, 172 of them women.
Apart from the tissue samples, the bodies were cremated or buried in unmarked graves.
A ceremony will be held, with relatives of the victims due to attend, at the Dorotheenstadt cemetery in Berlin. Catholic, Protestant and Jewish priests will be present.
“With the burial of the microscopic specimens… we want to take a step toward giving the victims back their dignity,” said Karl Max Einhaeupl, the head of Berlin’s university hospital Charite.
The hospital is confronting its relationship with the Nazi regime.
The cemetery already hosts many graves and memorials to the victims of Nazism, said Johannes Tuchel, director of the German Resistance Memorial Centre, which is organising the service with Charite.
Tuchel said the samples were among “the last remains of people who were victims of the Nazis’ unjust justice system… They were denied a grave at that time, and so today, a burial is a matter of course.”
More than 2,800 inmates at Berlin-Ploetzensee prison (pictured) were killed by guillotine or hanged between 1933 and 1945. Most of the corpses were then sent for dissection at the Berlin Institute of Anatomy.
Stieve was the institute’s director from 1935 to 1952 and studied female reproduction.
Andreas Winkelmann of the Brandenburg Medical School worked on determining the origin of the samples. He said microscopic tissue samples were not usually deemed worthy of burial.
“But this is a special story because they came from people who were actively denied graves so that their relatives would not know where they are buried,” the professor said.
Among those executed at Ploetzensee were 42 fighters from the Berlin group Red Orchestra with at least 13 of 18 executed female fighters believed to have been dissected by Stieve.
The anti-Nazi group was formed around the Luftwaffe officer Harro Schulze-Boysen, writer Adam Kuckhoff and economist Arvid Harnack.
Plotzensee prison. Picture credit: Flickr