In 1942, August Hirt—a forensics specialist who was the chairman of the anatomy department at Reichsuniversität in Strasbourg, France, during the city’s Nazi occupation—submitted a paper to SS Commander Heinrich Himmler. In it, Hirt stated his fear to Himmler that soon “Jewish skeletons would be as rare and precious as a diplodocus [dinosaur],” which would put into jeopardy his desire to experiment on the “sub-human bodies,” since they were being murdered at such a rapid rate. Himmler, writes The Daily Mail, saw “enormous value” in Hirt’s project and gave him the green light.
To abet Hirt, Himmler agreed to provide him with bodies taken from Auschwitz. In July 1943, these “sub-human bodies” were sent from Auschwitz to the Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp where they were murdered, about 60 kilometers from Hirt’s facilities in Strasbourg.
Initially 115 people were selected, a number eventually whittled down to 87. Half of them were Greek Jews from Thessalonika, the others an assortment of German, Polish, Austrian, Russian, and Lithuanian victims.
All of them—it became 86 people after one woman was shot dead when she tried to escape the gas chamber—were killed in gas chambers over three days, beginning Aug. 17, 1943.
Among them was a Polish Jew named Menachem Taffel, a dairy merchant in Berlin. Taffel and an unidentified Holocaust victim were buried last weekend at the Strasbourg-Cronenbourg Jewish Cemetary, 72 years after their deaths. “Taffel,” writes The Daily Mail, “was born on July 21, 1900, in the Russian Empire called Galicia, now part of Poland, and in 1938 he and his family moved in with his wife Clare’s parents in Berlin as the tempo of persecution against the Jews was stepped up in the Third Reich. In March 1943, the family, including daughter Esther, who was 15 and a volunteer helper at a local nursing home, were shipped to Auschwitz.”