A German university has held a touching funeral for the preserved remains of 74 children, whose bodies had been stored there for at least 70 years.
Scientists believe the embalmed bodies, kept at the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg, could have been used as part of Nazi experiments.
They were unable to identify any of the bodies, which an investigation concluded had been stored in a basement at the institution since between 1920 and 1942.
The children had not been killed violently but they had been experimented on – some had their brains removed and more than half had been dissected.
Researchers said the time frame and the lack of paperwork meant they weren’t able to rule out the bodies being used for Nazi experiments during the war.
German media reports the bodies were cremated and then laid to rest at a ceremony held by the university before being buried in a local graveyard.
Scientists took CT scans of the remains and this one shows the body of a girl whose organs had herniated into her chest cavity
Flowers were donated for the service, which saw the 74 remains given dresses donated by a local funeral home before they were cremated in five adult coffins.
Professor Heike Kielstein, director of the Institute of Anatomy and Cell Biology at the university, launched an investigation into the bodies seven years ago.
She was told about the preserved bodies, which were stored in a phenol solution, on her first day, according to the British Medical Journal.
However, she became intrigued when she learned the remains had not been used for any research or scientific purposes at the university.
Researchers in Halle, just over 100 miles south-west of Berlin published the findings of their investigation earlier this year, in the journal the Annals of Anatomy.
Scientists took CT scans of the remains, which suggested they had all died through natural causes as none showed signs they had been violently killed.
However, 42 had been dissected, including two that had their heads removed and another two that didn’t have a torso – just a head and four extremities. Nearly 30 of the bodies had had their brains taken out.
The university, which dates back to the 16th century, is only about 60 miles (96km) away from the site of the Buchenwald concentration camp.
There was also a ‘euthanasia centre’ with a gas chamber at a mental hospital in nearby Bernburg, and a past study found it was likely one child killed there had been taken to the institute in Halle.
Professor Kielstein’s study decided: ‘There is no evidence that the bodies of any child-victims of the [Nazi] regime were brought to the Institute of Anatomy in Halle.
WHAT HAPPENS TO BODIES WHEN THEY ARE DONATED TO SCIENCE?
Donated bodies are important for medical education, research and training.
They are used by surgeons to practise operating on real human flesh instead of a model or computer simulation.
Paramedics use them to learn how to properly insert breathing tubes.
Researchers use donated bodies to develop new instruments, implants and treatments.
‘However, such an event cannot be ruled out due to a lack of proper documentation and the fact that many atrocities and injustices committed by the regime have not been investigated in detail at a local level in Halle.’
In an interview with German news publication Speigel Online, she said: ‘Why these 74 were left over we do not know. My concern was that these children belong properly buried.
‘One thing is certain: we found no evidence that [any] of the children was violently killed, and we learned what they died of.
‘What annoys me is that the children have lain here for almost 80 years and no-one has done anything, and maybe 20 years ago they even found relatives, so we lost eyewitnesses.’
During 1920 and 1942, records showed more than 2,600 corpses of children were donated to the institute. The rest were used and disposed of over time.
At the time, midwives were paid a fee of 5-10 Deutsche Mark – the country’s old currency before it was replaced with the Euro – to deliver the bodies of babies that had died to the university.
Most of the bodies belonged to stillborn babies and infants but five of them were thought to have been children aged between two and 12 years old.
There were 45 boys, 27 girls, and two in which the gender could not be worked out, scientists uncovered in their investigation.