In a 16-Inch Coffin, the Grim Remains of WWII

Tissue samples from executed prisoners were found in 2016
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted May 13, 2019 11:15 AM CDT
In a 16-Inch Coffin, the Grim Remains of WWII
A cemetery staff member lets down a box with the remains of political prisoners of the Nazi regime in Berlin, Germany, Monday, May 13, 2019.   (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

The coffin that was buried in Berlin on Monday measured only 16 inches long. Inside were more than 300 pieces of human tissue, the majority of which measured about 0.2 inches square. The AP reports they're the microscopic remains of some of the more than 2,800 people who were executed at Berlin's Ploetzensee prison during Hitler's rule, most for being part of the resistance. The BBC reports the bodies of 184 prisoners were brought to anatomy professor Hermann Stieve after their beheading or hanging for dissection. The remains were then cremated and buried anonymously. Most of the bodies were those of women, which reflected Stieve's interest in reproductive anatomy and the availability, for the first time, of such remains; prior to 1933, only men were being executed.

About 20 of the tissue samples were labeled with a name, but none of those names will be made public at relatives' request. It's not known how many people the 300 specimens belonged to. Stieve emerged from the war without legal consequences; he died after having a stroke in 1952, and his heirs uncovered the slides in 2016. Among those bodies he dissected were 13 "high-profile" ones, per the BBC: those of women who belonged to the Red Orchestra anti-Nazi resistance group. AFP notes that only the upper echelon of physicians were tried at Nuremberg. While Stieve didn't participate in the more extreme experimentation on living victims, one researcher describes his work, which explored the physical impact that the stress and fear of being on death row caused women, "very coldhearted." (There's been an outcry over a Chicago monument for an alleged Nazi collaborator.)

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