Page last updated at 12:24 GMT, Thursday, 23 April 2009 13:24 UK

Germany excavates 'Jewish graves'

Excavations begin near Jamlitz (21 April 2009)
The authorities say the excavation work is expected to take three weeks

The authorities in Germany have begun excavating a site they believe contains one of the last undiscovered mass graves of Jews killed by the Nazis.

The work on the site of the former Nazi labour camp of Lieberose, near Jamlitz in Brandenburg state, follows a decade-long battle with the former landowner.

More than 750 sick Jewish men and women are believed to have been killed there by the Waffen SS on 2 February 1945.

The remains of 589 victims shot the next day were uncovered nearby in 1971.

Six million Jews died at the hands of the Nazis during World War II, along with hundreds of thousands of Roma (Gypsies), homosexuals, disabled people, political dissidents and Soviet prisoners of war.

Court battle

Initial excavations began on Wednesday in the garden of a two-storey house, 120km (75 miles) south-east of Berlin, where experts believe the bodies of some 753 Polish and Hungarian Jews are buried.

We need to end the uncertainty surrounding the crime so that we will have time for mourning and remembering
Joerg Schoenbohm
Brandenburg State Interior Minister

Guenter Morsch, the director of the Brandenburg memorial foundation, said evidence strongly suggested that the garden was on the site of the so-called "recuperation barracks" for the sick and infirm at Lieberose.

He said 1,342 prisoners at the camp, an auxiliary to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, were killed by the SS after being deemed unfit to march when the site was evacuated ahead of the Soviet Red Army's advance in early 1945.

The bodies of 589 people thought to have been shot dead there on 3 February 1945 were found in a nearby village in 1971. The others are believed to have been killed the day before, but their bodies have never been found.

Investigators were forbidden from excavating the site under communist rule in East Germany because a Soviet camp, where thousands also lost their lives, operated there after the war. Houses were later built on the land.

Official shows plan of Lieberose labour camp (21 April 2009)
Officials say the garden is the site of Lieberose's "recuperation barracks"

But after unification, the owner of the land refused to allow any investigations to take place. It was only last year, after a lengthy court battle, that the local authorities reached an agreement with him to buy it.

The excavations are expected to take three weeks. If remains are discovered, the local authorities hope to erect a memorial.

Joerg Schoenbohm, Brandenburg's interior minister, said officials hoped the efforts would help bring closure to relatives of the victims.

"We want to have clarity," he said. "We need to end the uncertainty surrounding the crime so that we will have time for mourning and remembering."

Peter Fischer of Germany's Central Council of Jews welcomed the start of excavations, saying he was relieved the scene of the crime could finally be investigated.

"There is no doubt that this is the historically authentic place of one of the worst massacres around Berlin," he told Reuters news agency.

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