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The Israel Police made headway on Sunday in tracking down a man believed to be the sole survivor of a Nazi forced labor camp in Germany, who they hoped could assist them in identifying 34 bodies of Jewish inmates recently discovered in a mass grave in southern Germany.
On Sunday, head of the Israel Police's Interpol and International Operations desk Asst.-Cmdr. Asher Ben-Artzi spoke with 85-year-old Robert Wolf - believed to be the last Jewish survivor of the Nazi forced labor camp Echterdingen. The mass grave was discovered in September during construction work outside a US military base in a suburb of Stuttgart in southern Germany.
After discovering the bodies, German police suspended construction work and asked the Israel Police representative in Germany Asst.-Cmdr. Shlomo Ayalon for assistance in tracking down survivors or family members of Jewish prisoners to assist in the identification of the bodies. According to preliminary findings, the bodies belonged to Jews who were incarcerated in the nearby Echterdingen work camp which operated under the larger Natzweiler camp. The camp, police said, operated for a short period from 1944-1945, and most of the surviving inmates were transferred to the Buchenwald concentration camp. The German Police has determined that the inmates found buried in the mass grave died either of hunger or of typhus.
The German Police provided the Israel Police with a handwritten list found in their archives of the camp's 619 inmates. The list, police said, contained the prisoners' names, their citizenship and the inmate numbers which were tattooed on their forearms. A swastika was marked next to the names of inmates who perished during the period they were held in the camp. With the cooperation of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, police cross-referenced the list with other lists from Buchenwald and succeeded in narrowing down the number of possibilities to 235.
Ben-Artzi told The Jerusalem Post that the Israel Police hoped to track down relatives of the victims and through DNA tests succeed in identifying the 34 bodies. "I have compiled a list of possible relatives who we might be able to take DNA samples from," Ben-Artzi said. "Now we need to contact them and find out if they know what happened there."
As for the 85-year-old Wolf, Ben-Artzi said, the survivor did not remember any of the names of his fellow inmates and told him, "All I can remember are the numbers that were tattooed on their forearms."
"Even when he was incarcerated in the camp he never got to know the people's names," Ben-Artzi said of Wolf. "He only knew people by their numbers and as a result he cannot help us." Ben-Artzi said he would pass on Wolf's name and contact details to the German Police so they could follow up if they had questions.
Yad Vashem called on the public to assist in locating additional survivors from Echterdingen or relatives of inmates who may have perished there and who could assist in the identification of the 34 recently-discovered bodies.
"This is a rare case," said the Director of Reference and Information Services at Yad Vashem, Nadia Kahan. "This is a grave that holds a small number of bodies and at the same time a list of all the Jewish inmates was found. Hopefully with the help of Yad Vashem's databases we will succeed in identifying at least some of the bodies."