Crematorium probe exposes harvesting corpses for gold teeth

An investigation of crematorium employees in Hamburg accused of harvesting gold teeth and jewellery from customer corpses has uncovered a sensitive topic that the majority of German morticians refuse to address publicly, a funeral industry newspaper reported on Friday.

Crematorium probe exposes harvesting corpses for gold teeth
Photo: DPA

In late August, police raided the offices and homes of nine workers from the northern port city’s Öjendorf cemetery crematorium, seizing some €146,000 in cash that was allegedly earned through systematically sifting the valuable items out of people’s ashes and selling them.

The cemetery told daily Hamburger Abendblatt that when family members don’t wish to claim such things, their workers gather the precious metals and sell them each month, donating the proceeds to help children with cancer. But over the last several years, cemetery managers noticed that the amount had been greatly reduced and informed the police.

The suspects have since been suspended by their employer, Hamburger Friedhöfe AöR, the paper said.

According to undertakers’ newspaper Bestatterzeitung on Friday, the scandal highlights what it called the funeral industry’s “dark dealings” with gold teeth after cremation.

“Is it worth it […] to finance the crematorium boss’s winter ski trip to Davos, as one informant told the Hamburger Abendblatt?” the publication asked. “Or are propriety and legal regulations in the foreground?”

According to the paper, there are some 400,000 cremations each year in Germany, in what it called a highly competitive market.

The paper surveyed some 80 crematoriums throughout the country to find out how they handled gold teeth and other precious metals belonging to the deceased, but only six replied.

“The combination of cremation and the worth of precious metal seems to be far too sensitive,” the paper wrote.

Of the respondents, three said they left the items in the urns, and one said it donated the proceeds of these materials to social causes.

But not all crematoriums feel obligated to do this, the paper said, citing one insider who said that many include proceeds of these items in their budgets, and sometimes give kickbacks to funeral homes. Or, as the anonymous source told Hamburger Abendblatt the items are treated like bonuses for crematorium bosses.

But the failure of many crematoriums to respond to the paper’s survey reflects that the issue remains in a legal grey area, experts told the paper.

“The best solution for all involved parties is leaving the precious metals in the ashes,” Karl-Heinz Könsgen, head of the German cemetery association, told the paper, adding that this is a policy his crematorium insures with video surveillance of employees.

The Local/ka

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Germany in talks on further payout for 1972 Olympics victims

The German government says it is in talks over further compensation for victims of the attack on the Munich Olympics, as the 50th anniversary of the atrocity approaches.

Germany in talks on further payout for 1972 Olympics victims

Ahead of the commemoration in September, relatives of the Israelis killed have indicated they are unhappy with what Germany is offering.

“Conversations based on trust are taking place with representatives of the victims’ families,” a German interior ministry spokesman told AFP when asked about the negotiations.

He did not specify who would benefit or how much money had been earmarked, saying only that any package would “again” be financed by the federal government, the state of Bavaria and the city of Munich.

On September 5th, 1972, eight gunmen broke into the Israeli team’s flat at the Olympic village, shooting dead two and taking nine Israelis hostage, threatening to kill them unless 232 Palestinian prisoners were released.

West German police responded with a bungled rescue operation in which all nine hostages were killed, along with five of the eight hostage-takers and a police officer.

An armed police officer in a tracksuit secures the block where terrorists  held Israeli hostages at the Olympic Village in Munich on 5th September 1972.

An armed police officer in a tracksuit secures the block where terrorists held Israeli hostages at the Olympic Village in Munich on 5th September 1972. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Horst Ossingert

The spokeswoman for the victims’ families, Ankie Spitzer, told the German media group RND that the amount currently on the table was “insulting” and threatened a boycott of this year’s commemorations.

She said Berlin was offering a total of €10 million including around €4.5 million already provided in compensation between 1972 and 2002 — an amount she said did not correspond to international standards. 

“We are angry and disappointed,” said Spitzer, the widow of fencing coach Andre Spitzer who was killed in the attack. “We never wanted to talk publicly about money but now we are forced to.”

RND reported that the German and Israeli governments would like to see an accord by August 15th.

The interior ministry spokesman said that beyond compensation, Germany intended to use the anniversary for fresh “historical appraisal, remembrance and recognition”.

He said this would include the formation of a commission of German and Israeli historians to “comprehensively” establish what happened “from the perspective of the year 2022”.

This would lead to “an offer of further acts of acknowledgement of the relatives of the victims of the attack” and the “grave consequences” they suffered.