Localisation of a Mass Grave from the Nazi Era: A Case Study

  • Sabine Fiedler
  • Jochen Berger
  • Karl Stahr
  • Matthias Graw


Between late 1944 and early 1945, 66 concentration camp prisoners who had died of starvation were buried in a municipal forest close to Stuttgart, Germany. When World War II ended 10 months later, the mass grave was opened in order to remove the corpses and give them a dignified burial in a Jewish cemetery. Little is known about the original location of the mass grave. The aim of our study was to identify the exact location of the original burial site. At first, historical evidence was gathered, which included a contemporary aerial photograph. Interpretation of the photograph suggests that the original mass grave was located somewhere in an area extending across approximately 5,000 m2. The area of interest was overgrown with closely spaced maple trees, making it inaccessible to investigations involving modern techniques such as ground penetrating radar (GPR). We therefore used quantitative probe measurements to determine the exact position of the grave. Following a regular 5×5 m grid of 128 georeferenced sampling points we characterised the soil material, including texture, colour, number of soil horizons, penetration depth and resistance. Based upon interpretation of the soil characteristics, using a geographic information system (GIS), it was possible to specify three points at which there was a high degree of disturbance. On detailed observation of these points, three shallow pits were revealed in close proximity to each other and a ditch was cut through them. Here, numerous corroded iron objects were found which clearly indicated anthropogenic activities. The depth profile of organic carbon and total phosphorus content also suggested previous human interventions, as did the discovery of a ‘Richmond crown’, a special kind of dental prosthesis, which was commonly used in Germany up to around 1950. The combination of historical evidence with information from soil forensic and medical analyses eventually led to the determination of the original location of the grave with almost complete certainty. However, in contrast to graves containing human remains, the present study does not, despite a great deal of evidence, provide final proof that the area was actually the location of the former mass grave.


Ground Penetrate Radar Mass Grave Penetration Resistance Human Remains Dental Prosthesis 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sabine Fiedler
    • 1
  • Jochen Berger
    • 1
  • Karl Stahr
    • 1
  • Matthias Graw
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute for Soil Science and Land Evaluation, University of HohenheimStuttgartGermany
  2. 2.Institute of Legal Medicine, University of MunichMunichGermany

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