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Remains of victims of Nazi experiments found in France

AFP archive picture I The victims were transported to Strasbourg from the Auschwitz concentration camp

The remains of Jewish gas chamber victims subjected to Nazi anatomy experiments have been uncovered at a prestigious medical research facility in the eastern French city of Strasbourg.


Raphael Toledano, a researcher from Strasbourg who has spent more than a decade delving into the eastern French city's Nazi past, stumbled upon a letter dating back to 1952 from Camille Simonin, the director of the forensic science school at the University of Strasbourg, detailing the storage of tissue samples taken from some of the 86 Jews gassed for the experiments of August Hirt, a notorious Nazi anatomy researcher and SS officer.

During the war Hirt worked together with other Nazi experimenters to collect human corpses from inmates at Auschwitz in preparation for an anthropological display at the university.

The samples had been collected in order to prosecute the notorious German anatomist, Hirt, but he committed suicide in the summer of 1945 before he could be prosecuted for war crimes.

Simonin's letter was directed at a judge who planned to put Hirt on trial, asking if the samples could be of use. It's not known how or whether the judge responded, said Jean-Sebastien Raul, the institute's current director.

After the Germans invaded France in 1940, Alsace was annexed to the German Reich, and German researchers replaced the French staff who had largely decamped elsewhere.

Strasbourg was liberated by the Americans in 1944 and the region was returned to France.

The remains of his human subjects ended up in the highly specialist forensic science museum at the university, in jars and test tubes that were kept in a locked room behind a glass cupboard in the university’s closed collection.

They lay forgotten for more than 60 years until Toledano and the institute’s current director Jean-Sebastien Raul forced the lock and opened the door on July 9.

They found the storage container and jar and test tubes, holding a fragment of human skin and other body samples. They were meticulously labelled just as the letter detailed, Toledano said.

"It was a shock to discover that these jars were still there, that we put in a museum a part of these Jews who were murdered by the Nazis," Toledano said.

The Strasbourg mayor's office said Monday it hopes to return the remains to Strasbourg's Jewish community for eventual burial in the city, which sits on the border of France and Germany.


(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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