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Israelis Want WWII Bones Returned

August 19, 1998

HOLON, Israel (AP) _ While the bodies of dozens of his relatives, all victims of the Nazi Holocaust, lie in unmarked mass graves in Poland, Zvi Kamionka says he cannot rest.

Kamionka, like dozens of other Polish Israelis, wants to bring the bones of his relatives to Israel for burial _ a task suddenly made possible when Polish pathologists agreed to help their Israeli colleagues identify the victims’ remains.

``My greatest fear is that nothing will be remembered of my relatives,″ Kamionka said Wednesday, speaking in his apartment in Holon, a Tel Aviv suburb. ``My mission is not finished as long as ... all the bones are not brought back here to be buried.″

That is a formidable challenge. Zamionka’s 70 relatives are buried in a green field dotted with daisies in the Polish town of Kalushin _ along with 2,000 other Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

Dr. Yehuda Hiss, head of Israel’s Institute of Forensic Medicine, said families have brought remains home to Israel in the past, only to be disappointed when tests showed they were not those of their relatives.

That is likely to change now that the head of the Forensic Medicine Institute in Warsaw, Dr. Aleksander Dobrzynski, has agreed to carry out tests on the remains.

Hiss called the development ``a major turning point and a humanitarian act on the part of the Poles.″ It has prompted a flood of phone calls to the Israeli Institute of Forensic Medicine from the relatives of Holocaust victims.

Kamionka, 66, escaped to Russia from Kalushin in 1940, just months before thousands of the town’s Jewish residents _ including 70 of his relatives _ were shot to death.

He knows that even with the help of Polish pathologists, finding his relatives’ remains among the 2,000 buried in that desolate field in Kalushin may be an impossible task.

``It’s a good idea ... but it’s not very realistic,″ the retired electronics technician said Wednesday. ``Hundreds of thousands of Jews were buried all over Poland and to do DNA tests on them all is an impossible task.″

Kamionka hopes all the bones from the mass graves _ whether they can be identified or not _ will be brought to Israel, for a dignified and permanent burial.

Still, for the relatives of most Holocaust victims, there are no remains to bury. Most of the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust _ the majority of them in Poland _ were gassed and cremated, and their ashes dumped.

``The remains represent a very small number of those who died in the Holocaust,″ said Jonathan Lemberger, the head of AMCHA, an organization that helps Israeli Holocaust survivors.

Lemberger also expressed concern the scientists’ efforts might only raise tragic memories for those survivors who have no remains of loved ones to bury.

``This is a reminder that they have no grave and that they had no proper mourning process,″ he said. ``That is going to be very difficult for most survivors.″

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