70 years after WWII, Holocaust victim finds final resting place in St. Louis | St. Louis Public Radio

70 years after WWII, Holocaust victim finds final resting place in St. Louis

Apr 3, 2016

A victim of the Holocaust has found a final resting place at a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis more than 70 years after World War II.

On Sunday members of the St. Louis Jewish community held a burial service for human remains found at Dachau concentration camp in 1945.

From conversations with her mother, St. Louisan Debra Cordy believes her father brought the remains to the U.S. as proof of the Holocaust. Her father, William Elston, witnessed the atrocities of the Dachau concentration camp in Germany, while serving in the European Theater of World War II. 

“My mother said that when he returned he was very, very upset and just wanted to send a message to the world that it was an atrocity that shouldn’t have taken place,” said Cordy, who discovered the remains two years ago while packing up her parents’ home in Rochester, N. Y.

Cordy then brought the remains with her back to St. Louis and contacted the St. Louis Holocaust Museum.

“The Holocaust Museum gets documents and artifacts and various things. This was very unusual. Yet we agreed that these needed to be treated respectfully and appropriately,” said museum curator Dan Reich.

After confirming that the remains were human, the museum consulted rabbis on how to treat the remains with respect.

Debra Cordy places dirt over the remains of a Holocaust victim during a burial service on Sunday, April 3, 2016 at Chevra Kadisha Cemetery in St. Louis County.
Credit Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

 “We don’t really know a hundred percent if they are Jewish remains. There were political prisoners. There were a lot of other kinds of prisoners of other faith traditions.  But because of the high proportion of Jewish prisoners that were there, according to our rabbinical sources, it was appropriate to treat them in this way as a Jewish burial,” said Reich. “So many victims of the Holocaust are in mass graves or are bone fragments or ash, so the fact that we can treat these remains properly is important to us.”

Members of the St. Louis Jewish community and members of Debra Cordy's family attended the burial of an unknown Holocaust victim on Sunday.
Credit Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

Rabbi Yosef Landa of the Chabad of Greater St. Louis led the burial service. The son of Holocaust survivors, Landa said he was “struck by the uniqueness and the providence” of the situation.

“Somehow, one of the victims, which we all have to think is really symbolic of all of the victims, comes to a resting place in of all places St. Louis, Mo., 70 years later,” said Landa.“Certainly there are no coincidences. We believe that the twists and turns of life are guided by divine providence.”

The unidentified Holocaust victim is buried in a communal space at the center of Chevra Kadisha Cemetery north of University City.

Like the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Landa said the victim is buried in a central location to be accessible to all as a representation of the millions of people killed in the Holocaust.

Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.