Remains of Concentration Camp Victims Identified as Jewish Prisoners in New Genetic Study
Skeletal remains discovered at the site of the Sobibór concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland belong to Jewish prisoners and not to Polish anti-Communist resistance fighters as was previously believed, according to newly published research by a group of genetic experts.
Constructed in the spring of 1942, Sobibór was the second of three killing centers established as part of Operation Reinhard — the plan to murder the Jews of Poland orchestrated by the SS and Police Leader in the city of Lublin, Gen. Odilo Globocnik of the Nazi SS.
German SS and police officials conducted deportations to Sobibór between May 1942 and the fall of 1943. In all, the Nazis and their auxiliaries killed at least 167,000 people at the camp, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
In a paper published on Friday by the academic journal Genome Biology, a team of European genetic researchers discussed the results of archeological excavations at the Sobibór site since 2000. In 2013, the remains of ten skeletons were found at the site — a discovery that in itself was “particularly surprising, as the testimonies suggested complete cremation of all Jewish victims in Sobibór,” explained the research team, who are drawn from universities in Poland, Germany, Austria and the US.
The research paper further explained that “based on the archaeological analysis of the burials and information gathered by local historians, it was initially assumed that these remains may have belonged to a group of Polish partisans, who were killed in the 1950s by the communist government and buried secretly in that area. A local branch of the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), based in Lublin, initiated an interdisciplinary investigation towards the identification of members of the anti-communist underground movement.”
Analysis of mitochondrial and Y chromosome DNA extracted from the skeletal remains identified groups of genes commonly found in modern Ashkenazi Jewish populations, but not non-Jewish populations. The team concluded that the skeletons belonged to Jewish prisoners who were likely shot dead by camp guards at Sobibór.
The study observed that the haplogroup — a group of people who share a common ancestor either on the maternal or paternal side — of four of the individuals studied “is prevalent in the Jewish priesthood, Cohanim.”
“Cohanim are believed to be the direct patrilineal descendants of the biblical Aaron, and it is traditionally accepted that only men with this ancestry can belong to the Jewish Cohanim,” the study noted.
The researchers said that in the light of their discoveries, “the prosecutor of the Institute of National Remembrance in Lublin, who incited the identification process, ordered the reburial of the remains. Following Jewish rite, the ceremony was led by a Rabbi and the victims were buried in separate graves at the places of their discovery.”