The IWM has been conducting a review ahead of the redevelopment of its Holocaust galleries

IWM organises burial of six Holocaust victims

Jessica Browne-Swinburne, 16.01.2019
Jewish community to hold funeral for unknown victims
The remains of five adults and a child murdered at Auschwitz, which were stored for 22 years at the Imperial War Museum (IWM) London, are to be laid to rest this weekend.

A Jewish burial will be held for the unknown victims at Bushey New Cemetery in Hertfordshire on 20 January, attended by representatives of Jewish and non-Jewish communities. It will be the first time that people murdered during the Holocaust have been laid to rest in the UK.

The IWM has been conducting a comprehensive review of items that relate to the Holocaust ahead of the construction of its new Second World War and Holocaust Galleries, opening in 2021. It concluded that it was no longer appropriate to keep the remains, which have been in its care since January 1997.  

The container holding human remains ended up at the museum after a private donor – thought to be a survivor – sent it as part of a collection of Holocaust-related items, despite the museum stating it did not wish to acquire the container.

Although it was confirmed that the remains were likely to have come from the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland, the IWM decided that it would not be appropriate to return the remains to the site.

They have been cared for by the museum ever since in the appropriate facilities. As part of the Human Tissue Act of 2004, the museum is licensed to hold human tissue.  

On the advice of both the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum and the Office of the Chief Rabbi, the museum recently decided to hand the remains to the United Synagogue.

Diane Lees, the director-general of the IWM, said: “IWM is grateful to Chief Rabbi Mirvis, the Rabbinical Council of the United Synagogue, the staff at Bushey New Cemetery and Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum for the invaluable support and advice that they have provided during this process.  

“It is hoped that the burial, which will be attended by members of Jewish and non-Jewish communities, will afford these individuals the respect and dignity they were denied in both life and death.”  

The funeral takes place a week before Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January.