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Burial service for six unknown Holocaust victims murdered at Auschwitz ‘will restore dignity’

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Six unknown victims of the holocaust will be buried in north London on Sunday at a service that will be the first of its kind in the UK.

The remains of five adults and a child have been stored in the archives of the Imperial War Museum (IWM) since the late 1990s and were handed back to the Jewish community as part of a collaboration between the museum and the Chief Rabbi.

The six individuals who died at Auschwitz-Birkenau will be given a full Jewish funeral and laid to rest in Bushey Cemetery. Hundreds of people are expected to attend.

The IWM obtained the remains in 1997 when a donor sent them along with other items from Nazi concentration camps.

Six unknown victims of the holocaust will be buried in North London
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The Imperial War Museum obtained the remains when a donor sent them along with other items from Nazi concentration camps

Following a review of its holocaust material ahead of a new exhibition planned for 2021, the museum decided it was no longer appropriate for it to hold the remains and contacted the Chief Rabbi’s office for advice.

“Something like this is very unusual for us,” said James Bulgin, Holocaust content lead at the IWM.

“It’s not something we’d choose to hold here, it’s not something we’d ever chose to display, we wouldn’t use it for research, so there’s no reason to hold it indefinitely. But the decision, to know what was the right thing to do, was very difficult.

“We have no idea who these people were, but they were human being with hopes and dreams and lives of their own and what happened to them was nothing to do with them, they had no control over it.

“The least we can do is afford them the utmost dignity and respect that they were never given in life.”

The remains which consist of fragments of bone and ash were analysed by a pathologist in 2005 and the individuals were not able to be identified.

Six unknown victims of the holocaust will be buried in North London on Sunday at a service that will be the first of its kind in the UK.
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Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis says there are very few Jewish families unaffected by the Holocaust

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said: “Present today, there will be many people. They will including people who will be wondering, amongst the six, is one of them my mother or my father, my grandfather or grandmother, my brother or my sister? There’s hardly a Jewish family unaffected by the Holocaust.

“For us these are precious souls well beyond numbers.”

A wider holocaust memorial will be built around the grave site and the hope is that it will play a similar role to the Grave of the Unknown Soldier; a place where people can come to remember the millions of people who lost their lives in the Holocaust.

Jewish Care’s Holocaust Survivors Centre will be accompanying around 50 people who lived through the atrocities to the ceremony.

Six unknown victims of the holocaust will be buried in North London on Sunday at a service that will be the first of its kind in the UK.
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In Jewish law it is very important for the dead to have a burial

One of them will be Lily Ebert whose mother and two of her siblings died at Auschwitz. For her the burial goes some way to restoring their dignity.

She said: “In Jewish law, it is very important for the dead to have a burial. But for our parents, children, babies, not only did they [the Nazis] take our lives but they didn’t even let us have a burial. So now we will have something and it is very important to us.”

For Ms Ebert and others at the Holocaust Survivors Centre this ceremony is also about legacy: to ensure that when those who witnessed the horrors are gone, those who remain will never forget.

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