Workers Find Holocaust Remains At Stuttgart Base
By Aero-News Senior Correspondent Kevin R.C. "Hognose"
Over many years I occasionally trod the ground at Stuttgart Army
Airfield in Stuttgart-Echterdingen, Germany. A macabre discovery at
the airfield has unnerved all of us who served there or visited
there, however briefly. Workers rebuilding the entrance of the
field, as part of an upgrade for new security standards, found a
shallow mass grave last Monday, and exhumed human remains Monday
The 34 bodies found are believed to be slave laborers who were
prisoners at the nearby Echterdingen subcamp of Natzweiler-Struthof
concentration camp. The prisoners at that camp were predominantly
Jews, rounded up from across Europe to be worked to death under
Naziism's "racial" policies. The camp provided labor details from
among its weak, starved, sickly inmates to the airfield -- then, as
now, a civil airfield that doubled as a military air base -- from
November, 1944, to at least February, 1945.
In early 1945, the airfield was seized by French troops under
General Leclerc, and later handed over to Americans as the Western
Allies adjusted their occupation sectors.
The German police, the very organization which carried out much
of the Holocaust under Nazi command, now responds to a very
different (and, thank God, more humane) regime, and immediately
opened an investigation into the deaths of these 34 poor wretches.
When evidence emerged that at least some of the victims were
murdered, and two or three of them actually buried alive,
prosecutors designated it a homicide investigation.
Speaking to local press, police spokesman Ulrich Heffner and
investigator Norbert Walz described what they have learned so far,
and what the investigation is doing.
The investigators face daunting challenges. Most witnesses are
long dead, and any that are alive are quite old. Some of those
responsible may have faced justice already, and some may have
evaded it to the end of their mortal lives. In addition, the
Nazis were fairly effective in destroying evidence of their crimes
(effective enough that there's still a gang of die-hard conspiracy
buffs who believe the whole Holocaust was a frame-up, despite
evidence like this turning up continually.)
The best witnesses may indeed be the remains themselves. The
investigators are hopeful that they will be able to get usable DNA
sequences, which may lead now or in the future to identifying these
remains. While 34 victims are an insignificant microdot against the
staggering numbers of 20th Century war, genocide and democide,
identifying and properly burying these remains would be a
symbolic victory for civilization. The Nazis wanted these people
vanished and forgotten -- it might have taken sixty years, but that
evil end is thwarted.
These are not the first mass graves to turn up at the airfield.
In October, 1945, 66 bodies were found buried in adjacent woodland,
and records indicate that the Nazis cremated at least 19 more. As
the Third Reich collapsed, Nazi prisoners were often executed to
prevent them from being liberated by advancing Allied armies -- and
to seal their lips.
But in this grave, as in the Holocaust itself, most of the dead
appear to have died of starvation and disease, particularly typhus,
which exploits malnutrition and unsanitary conditions.
Thousands of American soldiers stood unknowingly atop this
grave. The military field, adjacent to the city airport, was often
used as Exercise Director Headquarters for the annual "Flintlock"
special warfare exercise in the 1980s, and was a good place to
hitch a helicopter ride somewhere in Germany in those days.
The airfield was built starting in 1936 on a field that was
famous locally as the site where Graf von Zeppelin's LZ-4 airship
crashed and burned in 1908 (a stately obelisk marks the spot.) On
one side, it is Stuttgart's civil airport, and on the other, it's a
military field. Even during World War II civil aviation and the
military shared the field; night fighters and the Luftwaffe
glider-towing school made their home at this field.
During this period, slave labor, among other things, filled bomb
craters on what was then a single paved runway and a parallel grass
landing field. With most American troops being withdrawn from
Europe, the future of the American military presence on the
airfield is in some doubt. It will most likely be returned to
German authority in the near future. In the meantime, an excavation
near the camp entrance is marked by police: "Tatort" (Crime
UPDATE: Last Thursday, "The Committee for the
Protection of Jewish Cemeteries" wrote to the head of the German
state of Baden-Wurttemberg (in which Stuttgart is located,) and
demanded an immediate end to the excavations. "These martyrs, who
lost their lives sixty years ago through the hand of German
officialdom, now must suffer a second time, because German
authorities have opened a murder case."
The committee objects to the disruption of a long-quiet grave,
to evidentiary processes applied to the skeletal remains, and above
all to the possibility that remains will not be reinterred but held
as evidence. To further complicate the matter, there are two such
Committees, one in London and one in Brussels, and it emerged over
the weekend that they disagree with one another on how the remains
should be handled. The Brussels groups wants them immediately
reinterred, and the ground where they had lain consecrated as a
The German officials promise to conduct the investigation in a
manner that comports as well as possible with Jewish belief, and
respect for the dead. To that end, the police have been directed to
cooperate with and seek guidance of the rabbinate. "We do not know
if they are really Jewish, but for religious reasons we have to be
especially careful," said Horst Haug, a spokesman for the
Baden-Wurttemberg state police. Stuttgart rabbi Netanel Wurmser is
advising the police.
"They will be buried at
a special place, a cemetery. It is all so new, this case. We are
especially occupied with digging right now," Haug told the European
Stars and Stripes. Fortunately, no new bodies have turned up since
last Tuesday. Spokesmen for the US military have referred all
questions to the German authorities, and individual soldiers and
airmen have been directed not to discuss the case with the
It is likely that the rabbinical disagreement will be resolved
amicably and soon. Rabbi Lev Matusov of the Rabbinical Center of
Europe praised the German authorities for their cooperative and
sensitive handling of the matter.
For Adolf Hitler, Hell certainly includes German Police seeking
advice from Jewish rabbis to ensure a fitting and decorous
reinterment of concentration camp murder victims -- while what's
left of him is sitting in a file cabinet somewhere in Moscow.