Ashes from the Holocaust finally laid to rest
In the Jewish tradition, burial is an act of love which cannot be repaid, Rabbi Daniel Greyber said under the noonday sun Sunday moments after a small wooden box was lowered into the ground in the Durham Hebrew Cemetery.
The box, made of carved wood with a Star of David on top, served as a small casket for the ashes of one or more victims of the Holocaust. The solid ash cake about an inch wide is part of a crematorium tag from the Dachau concentration camp where thousands of people, mostly Jews, were murdered by the Nazis during World War II. Six million peopled were killed during the Holocaust.
It took about seven decades for the mitzvah of a proper burial to take place. The journey began at the end of the war, when a Dachau survivor gave the piece of crematorium tag to Walter Corsbie, an American serving in the Army Air Corps, telling him to remember what happened there. Corsbie kept it in a German cigarette case at home in Dobson, N.C., then passed it on to his son Joseph Corsbie before he died. Recently Joseph Corsbie sought help from his cousin Mirinda Kossoff, of Durham, in finding it a final resting place. Kossoff connected with Sharon Halperin of Chapel Hill, who co-leads the Holocaust Speakers Bureau. Halperin’s husband, Dr. Edward Halperin, who is chancellor of New York Medical College, submitted the ashes to the New York City medical examiner’s office.
The traces of human protein found, Edward Halperin explained Sunday, were collagen and hemoglobin. The impetus for the science, he said, was unfortunately 9/11.
Once the ashes were confirmed as human, the burial was planned. Sunday morning under sunny skies in the Hebrew cemetery adjacent to Old Maplewood Cemetery on Morehead Avenue, hundreds gathered to participate in the burial.
Greyber, of Beth El Synagogue in Durham, and Rabbi Jen Feldman of the Chapel Hill Kehillah, led the service. Kossoff said earlier this month that she was honored to have a part in making sure the ashes had a proper burial. It feels like she was coming full circle, Kossoff said, because of the connection to her own Jewish heritage on her father’s side.
At the burial, members of VFW Post 9100 in Chapel Hill folded a U.S. flag and presented it to Corsbie. Kossoff carried the casket around the iron fence and gates into the Hebrew Cemetery, where pallbearers gently lowered it into the ground.
As is tradition, those who attended the burial put a handful of dirt into the gravesite, including local Holocaust survivors and their families.
During the text study of the ceremony, Greyber explained that for one who destroys a soul, it is as if it destroys an entire world. One who saves a soul, Scripture accounts it as one who saved an entire world, he said.
“There are souls that cry to us from the ground. They call for us to save the world one soul at a time,” Greyber said.
Feldman said that the stories of the person or persons whose remains were buried are silent to us.
“We honor and mourn with silence,” she said.
In a year, a permanent marker will be unveiled at the cemetery. It will be inscribed with the story of how the ashes are buried that were denied dignity in Dachau 69 years ago, came to rest in 2014 in Durham.
On Twitter: @dawnbvaughan.