DURHAM, N.C. (RNS) Jewish cemeteries are not typically places where ashes are interred, but in a rare ceremony on Sunday (May 25), a small rock consisting of pressed human ashes was placed in a wooden box and lowered into a deep grave as some 200 mourners looked on.

(RNS) Joseph Corsbie holds up a photo of his father, David Walter Corsbie Jr., who came into possession of ashes from the Dachau concentration camp during his military service. RNS photo by Yonat Shimron.

(RNS) Joseph Corsbie holds up a photo of his father, David Walter Corsbie Jr., who came into possession of ashes from the Dachau concentration camp during his military service. RNS photo by Yonat Shimron.


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

The ashes were handed to a North Carolina soldier who toured the crematorium at the Dachau concentration camp in Germany shortly after it was liberated by American troops in 1945.

Their journey from Dachau to Dobson (a small town north of Winston-Salem) to Durham is a remarkable story of a soldier’s witness to the atrocities of the Holocaust and his son’s commitment to finding them an honorable resting place.

Under sunny skies and in the presence of the mayor and representatives of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, two rabbis sang Psalm 23 in Hebrew and delivered a short eulogy for the unknown person or people whose ashes were buried.

“We do not know if they are the ashes of a scholar or a silversmith, a homemaker or a physician,” said Rabbi Jen Feldman of the Kehillah Synagogue in nearby Chapel Hill. “Their identity or identities, the stories of their life or their lives, are silent to us.”

Nevertheless, the ashes are reminders “of the infinite value of each human life,” added Rabbi Daniel Greyber of Beth El Synagogue in Durham.

The hourlong ceremony at the Durham Hebrew Cemetery, one day before Memorial Day, was also an opportunity to honor a Word War II serviceman and bring together a handful of Holocaust survivors living in the region.

Plans for the burial ceremony began around Thanksgiving when a niece of David Walter Corsbie Jr., the World War II serviceman, met with a member of Chapel Hill-Durham Holocaust Speakers Bureau at a local Starbucks.

Over a cup of coffee, the niece, Mirinda Kosoff, related her uncle’s story and pulled out a 2-inch by 2-inch clear plastic box with the caked ashes, which she placed on the table.

(RNS) David Klapper, left, of Beth El Synaoguge in Durham, N.C., holds a small burial box as Josphe Corbie deposits the ashes of Holocaust victims from the Dachau death camp in Germany. RNS photo by Yonat Shimron.

(RNS) David Klapper, left, of Beth El Synaoguge in Durham, N.C., holds a small burial box as Josphe Corbie deposits the ashes of Holocaust victims from the Dachau death camp in Germany. RNS photo by Yonat Shimron.


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

“It was surreal,” said Sharon Halperin, the speakers bureau representative. “I felt so honored she was handing it to me. It was almost like a precious treasure.”

The uncle’s son, Joseph Corsbie of Dobson, N.C., had been searching for a dignified repository for the ashes, which he inherited from his father. Now 62, unmarried, and with no children, Corsbie suffers from a heart condition and is increasingly immobile.

He had known about the ashes since he was a boy, but only understood their true significance around the age of 13 or 14, when he goaded his father into telling him his wartime experiences and showing him his medals and souvenirs.

“All my friends, their families had great war stories,” said Corsbie. “I wanted to hear some kind of story.”

A courier for the 364th Fighter Squadron of the Army Air Corps, the elder Corsbie was stationed in Munich and sent to Dachau in the spring of 1945 to deliver some papers. The concentration camp was established by the Nazis on the grounds of an abandoned munitions factory about 10 miles northwest of Munich. It held 188,000 prisoners between 1933 and 1945. At least 28,000 people were murdered there, possibly thousands more, many of them cremated at the crematoria established on site to dispose of human remains.

As the elder Corsbie arrived, a former Dachau prisoner met him and gave him a tour. He then handed him a chunk of ashes and told him never to forget what happened there.

“My dad was horrified by what he saw,” said Corsbie. “All he could do was shake and cry when he told me about it.”

For years, the elder Corsbie held onto the ashes in a metal cigarette case. When he died in 1986, his son inherited it.

(RNS) a member of Beth El Synagogue in Durham, N.C., built a plain pine box with a Star of David to contain the ashes of Holocaust victims that were recovered from the Dachau death camp at the end of World War II. RNS photo by Yonat Shimron.

(RNS) a member of Beth El Synagogue in Durham, N.C., built a plain pine box with a Star of David to contain the ashes of Holocaust victims that were recovered from the Dachau death camp at the end of World War II. RNS photo by Yonat Shimron.


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

A few years ago, the younger Corsbie, who worked as a security guard and was recently ordained by a nondenominational church movement of ex-Catholics, began to wonder what would happen to the caked ashes when he was gone.

“It’s not a souvenir to be bandied about,” he said. “I didn’t want it to get lost.”

So he asked his cousin, Martha Kossoff, to take it to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum near her home in Washington. She did, but was told the museum does not accept human remains.

Kossoff then asked her sister, Mirinda, to see if she could find a solution to the ashes. Mirinda Kossoff, a writer and jewelry maker who lives in Durham, called Feldman, the Chapel Hill rabbi. That rabbi put her in touch with the Holocaust Speakers Bureau and with Halperin.

Halperin’s husband, Dr. Edward C. Halperin, is the chancellor of New York Medical College, and had the ashes tested by the New York chief medical examiner who concluded they were human ashes.

(RNS) Rabbi Daniel Greyber of Beth El Synagogue in Durham, N.C., and Rabbi Jen Feldman of Kehillah Synagogue in Chapel Hill, N.C., lead a burial service for ashes of Holocaust victims recovered at the end of World War II at the Dachau death camp in Germany. RNS photo by Yonat Shimron.

(RNS) Rabbi Daniel Greyber of Beth El Synagogue in Durham, N.C., and Rabbi Jen Feldman of Kehillah Synagogue in Chapel Hill, N.C., lead a burial service for ashes of Holocaust victims recovered at the end of World War II at the Dachau death camp in Germany. RNS photo by Yonat Shimron.


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

The only thing left to do was to figure out a final resting place.

Cremation is forbidden in Judaism, and most Jewish cemeteries will not inter ashes. But there are exceptions, especially for people cremated against their will. In this case, the local rabbis agreed burial might be the best solution.

For Sunday’s ceremony, a member of Beth El Synagogue built a plain pine box with a Star of David to contain the ashes. After it was lowered into the ground, mourners were invited to form a line and throw a handful of dirt into the grave.

The Jewish mourner’s prayer, the Kaddish, was recited. Afterward people walked up to Joseph Corsbie’s wheelchair and thanked him for his efforts to find a dignified home for the ashes.

Sharon Halperin arranged for a temporary laminated marker telling the story of the ashes. But there are already plans for a permanent marker, maybe even a monument.

“Now that the ashes are part of the Hebrew cemetery it will remind people that buried here are ashes of Jews murdered in Dachau,” said Kossoff. “We need all the reminders we can get.”

KRE/AMB END SHIMRON

10 Comments

  1. We should all ponder this sentence:
    “My dad was horrified by what he saw,” said Corsbie. “All he could do was shake and cry when he told me about it.”

    It makes the blood run cold to think about what he must have witnessed.

    “….the personification of the devil as the symbol of all evil assumes the living shape of the Jew.
    – Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf
    “I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so.”
    – Adolf Hitler, to General Gerhard Engel, 1941

    “Bring to me those enemies of mine who would not have me as their King, and execute them in front of me.” – Jesus (Luke 19:27)

    Religion must face its responsibilities. It is repeatedly used to promote the destruction of civilization.

    “I have come to bring fire to the Earth…how impatient I am…to bring ruin.” Jesus (Luke 12:49)

    • To: Atheist Max
      It is obvious that anything Hitler said should be taken with suspicion. His promise to Lord Chamberlain and his agreement with Stalin. He said whatever he felt he needed to say to further his cause.

      Max, sadly, this is what you are doing when you ignore hundreds of scriptures on love and duty to ones fellow person and instead take scripture of the Bible out of context even leading words out. Your first scripture (Luke19:27) reference is a parable referencing when King Herod the great died and His kingdom was divided. It was not a reference to Jesus being blood thirsty. It does have to do with faithfulness. The second scripture (Luke 12:49) has to do with the revolutionary message of Christ which will and did divide families and fire in the theological sense is referring to “judgement”.

      I embrace your passion concerning the Holocaust but while many Christians failed the Jews many attempted to help them. No certainly not enough and it is our shame, but we cannot blame it on the Prince of Peace.

      • Don’t try disassociating the Nazis from Christianity. It is merely revisionism.

        It doesn’t matter what Hitler said on the subject. We can see what happened in how people acted under his control.

        The Nazis were able to find more than enough willing collaborators, volunteers and fanatics through Christian appeals. Many supported Fascism as a way to oppose Communists. Especially churches. Franco’s Fascists had the full support of the Catholic Church as did Mussolini. The Nazis had no problem co-opting the churches for their own purposes in occupied Europe. The Rexists, Chetniks, Arrow Cross, and a host of other quisling groups joined the Nazis for religious reasons. Nazi collaborators were the perpetrators of the last forced conversion to a Christian faith.
        Churches drummed up volunteers from occupied nations to be cannon fodder in Russia, to commit atrocities when German forces did not feel like getting their hands dirty and to work in the death camps.

        Whatever scriptures you want to quote, don’t mean jack. It is how people followed the religion which matters most. Christians under the Nazis had NO PROBLEM WHATSOEVER in committing genocide against Jews, Roma, gays, fellow Christians. It wasn’t until long after the war that the Catholic Church officially dropped its antisemitic dogma.

        No need to blame the Prince of Peace. His followers and the systems which grew around worshiping him have more than enough blame on their shoulders to last generations.

      • @Norm,

        Wrong.

        Your defense of Christianity by referring to a few people who came to the rescue of a few Jews is nonsense.
        It is like thanking Smallpox for the Smallpox Vaccine!

        Poland was Catholic and stood by as Auschwitz and other camps burned millions of lives. Nazi occupied Poland found support on the question of the Jewish camps – but not for the occupation which they fought against.

        As for your claim that I have somehow ignored examples of love and compassion in the bible, please show me what you are talking about – because it isn’t ‘Hundreds’ and it they aren’t about ‘love’.

        You have failed to understand the implications.
        “God is love” for example, cannot be true if also we must “FEAR the Lord.”

        To FEAR that which you LOVE is called Sadomasochism.
        It is inhuman, disgraceful and indefensible. Religion perverts love.

        The injunction to Love that which you must Fear is the corruption of ‘love’.
        I challenge you to show me anything that is not an inhuman or immoral idea regarding love as it is preached by Jesus or Yahweh.
        You will find none.

        • The only church I would give a pass on in this situation is the Danish Lutheran Church. They were the only ones to really organize and actively resist the Nazis in their entirety.

          The Danish Church worked with the government and resistance to rescue almost the entire Jewish population of the nation from genocide in a series of secret boatlifts. At the US Holocaust Memorial Museum lists many individuals as “Righteous Gentiles” by nation. For Denmark, the entry is simply the whole nation.

          As for Christendom, outside of the Danes and a few very brave individuals, they were overwhelmingly more likely to be the perpetrators than the rescuers. Moreso, the Christian churches stood by and did nothing or actively joined in the mass murders.

      • @Norm Martin,

        If religion causes a wound but then also treats the wound
        It is doing nothing more than breaking your leg to give you a cast.

        This is not a defense of religion. I assure you.

  2. “We need all the reminders we can get.”

    I have a great uncle (by marriage) who survived Dachau and came to America after the war. He died decades ago, he was the only survivor of his family. We only have the stories of his experiences 2nd hand from my grandparent’s generation (in their 90’s at this point) and whatever family records existed before and after his internment.

    Most of my parent’s generation weren’t even aware of my uncle’s experiences until after administrating the estate of his surviving widow decades later (when we saw checks coming from the German government, “Article 2 pensions”)

    I think one of the greatest regrets I have, is that he passed away long before we had things like “The Shoah Project” to record the experiences of such survivors for historical posterity, unfiltered, unedited. Something that shows the world that pile of caked ashes in this story were real breathing people.

  3. Chaplain Norman Martin

    The ceremony of the burial of the ashes of the victim or victims of Dachau prison camp was beautiful to read about. After nearly seventy years Josbe Corsbie was able to find a resting place for the ashes (of victim or victims) placed in his fathers had as he helped liberate those held in Dachau. How appropriate the 23rd Psalm. Loved by both Jews and Christians.

    When I was seventeen years old (1958) as a high school ROTC officer we were shown the actual Nuremberg Trials. These included films made by the Germans of their “efficient” killing methods and the trial proceedings. The affect on me was not immediate but I never forgot what I saw, and it has impacted me for the rest of my life, especially one scene that pops into my mind anytime I think of the trials.

    Leon Jaworski in his book, Crossroads tells how German officers could go home and be loving to their families and attend church then go command a labor camp. Compartmentalizing their life to the extreme.

    After World War II it was said genocide on such scale would never happen again yet it happens every day in increasing fervor around the world.

    • @Chaplain Norman Martin,

      Thanks for sharing your story. These are breathtaking horrors to be contemplating.
      But don’t you think when one feels they are “ridding the world of evil” it can be very easy to be cruel – and not know it?

      30 years ago a number of us lifeguards working at a huge outdoor pool had been absolutely fed up with the number of rule-breakers; young teens and little kids who refused to stop running and jumping. Safety was becoming a problem.
      So we decided to crack down. We started throwing rule breakers out of the pool without giving them a first warning.

      Even though the pool started to quiet down and the kids started behaving better we didn’t stop. Yet we felt the control was not enough. Chewing gum? out! Walking too fast? OUT! Mean looks at the lifeguard? OUT!

      Sweet little kids sent out of the pool for no good reason. I remember the tears as little brothers and sisters held hands exiting the pool. Yet I only saw evil jerks.

      Anyone who argued with us would be ejected right away. By the end of the day we tallied up which lifeguard ejected the most kids. It was me – 120 or so. We all thought we had been very clever.

      I felt no sadness about it. I had it in my mind that I was right. Sure, a lot of kids were sent home crying, maybe some didnt deserve it – I rationalized the pool was safer thanks to my aggressive approach.

      But now, 30 years later, I look back on that day as the one I would erase if I could. So many kids who had done nothing wrong except maybe give me a nasty look were so unfairly treated. Breaks my heart to remember.

      Thankfully, being unfairly ejected from a pool shouldn’t cause anyone permanent harm. But those tears on those innocent faces i will never forget.

      I tell this because I remember how I thought I was ejecting “Evil Little Kids”.
      It is so easy to be callous when in your mind the victim ‘deserves it’.

      I think religion, especially my strict Catholic upbringing, helped me feel comfortable in expelling those ‘evil’ kids. It was fascism on a very small, thankfully rather benign scale.

      And I see the religion in the Nazi – and what scares me is I think I understand.
      It makes me hate religion even more.

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