Concentration camp burial service

Hi, I hope this isn’t in the wrong forum. I wasn’t sure where it should go, honestly.

I’m currently studying abroad in Austria and on Monday, my class is going to tour a concentration camp. Today I found out that we have a “community service opportunity.” Recently a flood washed out a road near the camp and people discovered the ashes of thousands of bodies that had been burned at the camp. The directors of the camp museum have invited us to hold a burial service for the ashes. Our program leader told me today that we will be “saying prayers from Christian, Jewish, and Muslim traditions,” and then we are invited to say a few words each about what the experience means to us.

Immediately I felt very uncomfortable at this idea. I strongly suspect many of the dead were Catholics, as Austria is a very Catholic country and the Nazis took many political prisoners from it during the war. It seems somewhat irreverent to lay these ashes in the ground with the “prayers” of a bunch of non-religious teenagers (I am one of the few religious people in the group). What is the appropriate thing to do here? Aside from the fact that funerals are pretty traumatic for me-- this seems like a possible liturgical abuse. Any help would be great. Thank you!

I think it would be better to have a Mass offered for their souls that to do that. If he really feels the need to do that, then he should have a rabbi say the Jewish prayers, while an iman says the Islamic prayers.

Plus, most of the people were likely Jews, since the main focus of the Nazis were to “exterminate the Jews.”

One of their major focuses yes, they also had goals to exterminate most of the Slavs and the Roma and Sinte peoples (the latter rather conveniently get forgotten about in discussions of the Holocaust it has often struck me) on their agenda. This is not a Mass it sounds more like people saying collective prayers. It would be good to have a Rabbi or Imam present though as a mark of respect.

I should have mentioned that most students are not catholic, nor are the directors.

Then I think it would be unfair to hold them to Catholic teaching. Also clergy have prayed with leaders of member of other religious communities butchered in the camps during the Holocaust.


What is the name of the camp? I haven’t heard about that in the news. Further information would be greatly appreciated.

The Austrian camps were used to house Soviet POWs, Poles and Spanish republicans amongst others and I feel prayers specifically from the Orthodox tradition should also be used in memorials,* Muslim prayers are certainly suitable as a number of the Soviet POWS would have been Muslim. There are plenty of images of the way these individuals were barbarously treated and my wife’s grandfather and grandmother narrowly avoided that fate. Although in the former’s case as he was nominally Jewish he would have ended up in a camp outside Austria.

*Perhaps they have been as the OP only said Christian and did not specify which prayers were used.

It is Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp. I myself don’t know much about it, just what my professors have told me. What I would like to know is whether it is appropriate to participate in this upcoming “ceremony.” I find it pretty inappropriate for American teenagers to perform anything like this, and feel that clergy should definitely be involved instead.

Matthausen-Gusen housed Poles, Soviet Pows and quite a lot of Germans and Austrians and also Jehovahs Witnesses and other smaller groups. Simon Weisenthal also survived his time there. It was liberated by the Americans near the end of the war, shortly before that most of the SS serving there deserted and the remainder were killed by the camp’s inmates.

I do not think anyone would think of remembering the dead murdered there as a ceremony. Why should it be inappropriate for an American teenage to remember this tragedy given so many US soldiers died in the war which surrounded these events.

Thanks for the information! If you don’t feel good about than you should not participate in it.

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