Are Holocaust victims' remains misused?

Romanian Jewish leaders fear that medical students are using dug-up skeletons of Jews for research.

mass jewish grave romania (photo credit: Rabbinical Center of Europe)
mass jewish grave romania
(photo credit: Rabbinical Center of Europe)
Romanian Jewish leaders met in Bucharest on Wednesday to address allegations that medical students have been using the remains of Holocaust victims for research. The Rabbinical Center of Europe was the first to hear the reports, which came from an American Jew living in the northeastern Romanian city of Iasi. After speaking to local medical students, the American sent an e-mail to the RCE, detailing the story of the Jewish cemetery desecration. Summarizing his conversation with the students, the American wrote, "If you live in Iasi, you simply go to the town of Podu Iloaiei and ask the workers at the cemetery for a skeleton. The workers dig up the remains, scrape the dried flesh from the bones and 'clean them up nicely' for about $40 US." The e-mail continued, "When I asked if this was considered desecration, I was told 'No, they only dig up the Jews from the mass graves.'" On June 30, 1941, two death trains left Iasi after a pogrom. One of them stopped in Podu Iloaiei and the 1,194 Jews who died along the way from thirst and heat exhaustion were buried there in a mass grave. The American's testimony has triggered a slew of investigations from Jewish organizations. However, no one has been able to verify the claim. "We know the story. The issue is no one can confirm the story," said Marco Katz, national director and founder of the Center for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism in Romania. "Everything is possible. I know that the control is not tight. Desecration of cemeteries is not unusual in Romania," Katz added. The Jewish cemeteries that are outside of Bucharest are not maintained because there are very few Jews in those areas, he said. At Wednesday's meeting, around 20 leaders of Romanian Jewish communities decided to work with the authorities to prevent the theft of Holocaust victims' remains, according to Rabbi Naftali Deutch, the Chabad representative in Bucharest and organizer of the gathering. "We had a very good and serious meeting," said Deutch, pledging to provide more evidence of the grave robberies to the community leaders in the next few days. RCE representatives recruited Jewish students from the GT Popa Medical School in Iasi - about 50 Jewish students, primarily Israeli, attend the university - to investigate the matter. The recruits confirmed that there were notices circulating around the university advertising the sale of human bones. However, they could not determine the source of these advertisements. On June 2, the RCE sent two Jewish university students, posing as Romanian medical students, to the cemetery where Jewish skeletons were supposedly being exhumed. The two undercover visitors spoke to the female caretaker about buying bones. In the subsequent discussion, which was recorded and filed in the RCE offices, the caretaker never denied the American's allegations, but repeatedly referred the students to her husband. One of the undercover students, who wished to remain anonymous "for fear of retaliation from the students and university staff," spoke to The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. "I went to buy [a skeleton], but the women at the graveyard wouldn't give it to me... I guess other students go to other graveyards," he said. The anonymous student believes that some of the bodies are from Jewish graves and some are from non-Jewish graves. "I don't think it is connected to anti-Semitism," he said. He added that in Romania, plastic skeletons are hard to come by, so using human skeletons is an accepted practice. Representatives from the RCE will be speaking to Mihnea Motoc, the Romanian ambassador to the European Union, about cemetery desecration allegations. "We were stunned to learn of these allegations," said Rabbi Aryeh Goldberg, deputy director of the RCE. "We immediately set out to investigate before taking matters further. The results have left us deeply concerned and we will be aggressively pursuing this matter further. "No human remains deserve to be used in such experimental manner. The memory of those who perished deserves to be preserved in a proper and dignified manner and we will make it our business to ensure that is the case."