Freie Universitšt Berlin, Max Planck Society, and the Berlin Heritage Authority: Memorial Service and Burial of Human Remains

The ceremony was conducted without the use of religious or Eurocentric symbols as had been agreed upon by organizations and representatives of the persecuted groups in question

A public memorial service to mark the burial of the human remains that were uncovered in the course of several excavations on the Freie Universitšt Berlin campus from 2015 onward was held on Thursday, March 23, 2023, at the Waldfriedhof Dahlem cemetery. Approximately 230 people attended the ceremony. The human remains were laid to rest in a dignified manner without the use of religious or Eurocentric symbols, as agreed upon in advance by representatives from different organizations and associations. These groups included the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, the State Association of German Sinti and Roma in Berlin-Brandenburg, the Initiative of Black People in Germany, the Central Council of the African Community in Germany, representatives of the Herero in Berlin, save space e.V., the Working Group of Victims of National Socialist "Euthanasia" and Forced Sterilization, Kellerkinder e.V., korientation e.V., IniRromnja / RomaniPhen e.V., and Berlin Postkolonial e.V. in addition to a working group comprised of Freie Universitšt Berlin, the Max Planck Society (as the successor to the Kaiser Wilhelm Society), and the Berlin Heritage Authority. Representatives of these institutions as well as of the Central Councils attended the ceremony in honor of the victims.

The human remains recovered from various excavations stem from victims of crimes. In particular, the approximately 16,000 fragmented bones used to be part of collections held by the former Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity, and Eugenics. On the basis of the investigations conducted, it cannot be excluded that some of the bones might originate from a context directly linked to National Socialist crimes. However, the non-invasive osteological analyses in combination with historical research do not permit an attribution to specific colonized regions or definitive National Socialist contexts, nor was it possible to identify individual victims. A geophysical survey of the premises in February 2022 did not provide any concrete evidence of other potential locations with similar finds. Nonetheless, any work done on university property that involves ground penetration, whether maintenance work or construction, will continue to be closely monitored by archaeologists.

In the fall of 2022, the research institutions involved announced that the scientific investigation and analysis of the finds had been completed. The findings from the investigations led by archaeologist Professor Susan Pollock had already been presented at an online informational event in February 2021. In response to the findings, the Central Council of Jews in Germany and the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma spoke out against further analyses of the human bones and in favor of giving the remains a dignified burial. This recommendation was approved in discussions with organizations representing other potentially affected groups who had attended the public event in February 2021.

In light of the results of the investigations, the representatives from the different grassroots associations and organizations agreed that no further analyses should be performed on the human remains. Rather, they have agreed that any attempts to assign the human remains to specific groups using invasive measures would essentially reproduce the racist methods and classifications of the past and should therefore be rejected.

The members of the working group and the representatives from the different organizations and associations also agreed that the human remains should be laid to rest in a dignified manner, without the use of religious or Eurocentric symbols. The focus of the burial was a collective ceremony in order to emphasize solidarity of the victim groups. The representatives of the organizations and associations were also involved in the planning of the burial and the gravesite.

Background Information

Fragments of human and animal bones were first found in July 2014 during construction work outside the University Library of Freie Universitšt Berlin. It was suspected that the remains originated from the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity, and Eugenics, which stood on the site from 1927 to 1945. The Executive Board of Freie Universitšt Berlin established a working group with expertise from Freie Universitšt Berlin, the Max Planck Society, and the Berlin Heritage Authority, with the objective of acquiring more specific information about the origins of the remains and of making this information available to the public. Archaeological investigations on the premises in 2015 and 2016 led to the recovery of further human bone fragments in the area of the original findings.

The human remains consist of approximately 16,000 heavily fragmented bones. They were examined by a research group using non-invasive osteological methods. The results indicate that the bones come from people of all ages and from both males and females. According to the investigations, residues of glue and evidence of labeling on some of the bone fragments, together with an absence of modern medical interventions, suggest that many of the bones may have been part of anthropological or archaeological collections. However, the research team noted that the assemblage as a whole differs from anthropological or archaeological collections that were typical for the nineteenth or first half of the twentieth century. It cannot be excluded that some of the bones originate from contexts directly linked to National Socialist crimes. The origins of the human remains could not, however, be clearly reconstructed.