A Jewish Soldier Found in a German Mass Grave Has Been Reburied in an American Cemetery (2024)

A Jewish Soldier Found in a German Mass Grave Has Been Reburied in an American Cemetery (1)

An American Jewish soldier who was mistakenly buried in a German mass grave during World War II has been laid to rest at the Normandy American Cemetery.

Nathan Baskind, a first lieutenant in the United States Army, received a Jewish burial with full military honors in France on June 23, the 80th anniversary of his death at age 28. His grave is now correctly marked with a Star of David.

“He was an American hero,” said Elizabeth Webster, the U.S. Consul for Western France, at the burial, as reported byStars and Stripes’ Phillip Walter Wellman. “He will at last rest with his American brothers and sisters in arms who fought alongside him to defeat fascism and restore democracy.”

A Jewish Soldier Found in a German Mass Grave Has Been Reburied in an American Cemetery (2)

The road to Baskind’s final resting place was a long and winding one. He was born in 1916 in Pittsburgh, where his family had settled after emigrating from Eastern Europe. Baskind was on track to take over the family’s wallpaper business when the U.S. entered World War II, reports thePittsburgh Jewish Chronicle’s Adam Reinherz.

In June 1944, he was assigned to be a platoon commander of four M-10 tank destroyers. On D-Day—June 6, 1944—Baskind was one of the more than160,000 Allied soldiers who landed on a 50-mile stretch of coastline in Normandy, France.

While Baskind survived that bloody day on Utah Beach, he died just 17 days later in the Battle of Cherbourg. He and another soldier had been scouting ahead of their unit in a jeep when they were ambushed.

“The other soldier, heavily wounded, escaped the firefight and made his way back to the main U.S. force, believing Baskind was killed in the attack,” according to theDefense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. “Several attempts were made to retrieve Baskind’s body from the ambush point, but they could not locate his remains.”

Baskind was reported missing. After the war, however, German documents revealed that Baskind had been captured and later died at a German Air Force hospital. His remains had been buried in a mass grave in France, alongside German soldiers.

“It was not just people he fought against; it was people who were trying to exterminate our people,” his great-niece, Samantha Baskind, an author and art historian at Cleveland State University, tellsMilitary.com’s Richard Sisk. “What could be more horrific than Nate [being] buried with the people who killed a good portion of our family at Auschwitz?”

In 1957, the German War Graves Commission disinterred the grave, which was unmarked. During this process, the organization found one of Baskind’s identification tags, as well as a uniform shirt with a first lieutenant rank and tank destroyer insignia.

Even with these discoveries, experts were not able to identify Baskind’s bones from among the others in the mass grave. The bodies were reburied at the Marigny German War Cemetery 40 miles away. Meanwhile, at the Normandy American Cemetery, Baskind’s name was engraved on the Wall of the Missing, “offering a place of mourning and remembrance to his family members,” according to theAmerican Battle Monuments Commission.

At the Marigny burial site, the Germans put up a plaque featuring the names of 18 German soldiers interred there, as well as Baskind’s name; the marker also mentioned 33 unknown German soldiers.

“In subsequent decades, the Jewish-sounding name’s presence on the marker caused a fair amount of head-scratching among tour guides and others who happened upon it,” writesMoment magazine’s Dan Freedman.

Finally, earlier this year, Baskind’s remains were officially identified. This success resulted from a collaboration between the German War Graves Commission and two nonprofits, the Lawrence P. Gordon Foundation andOperation Benjamin.

The Lawrence P. Gordon Foundation searches for and identifies soldiers who remain missing in action. Operation Benjamin locates Jewish soldiers who were mistakenly buried under Latin crosses and works with authorities to replace them with Stars of David.

Working with anthropologists, the groups took samples from femur bones found in the mass grave. They sent them to a private laboratory in the U.S. for DNA testing, and one matched DNA samples from Baskind’s family.

With the identification and burial, the Baskind family finally has some semblance of closure. The international collaboration also offers a glimmer of hope “in our fractured world,” Samantha Baskind writes in an opinion piece forCNN.

“The recovery of Uncle Nate, after 80 years in a German mass grave, represents a triumph of the goodwill of nations,” she adds. “All hope is not lost.”

On the Wall of the Missing, her great-uncle’s name is now marked with a rosette, indicating that he has been found.

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A Jewish Soldier Found in a German Mass Grave Has Been Reburied in an American Cemetery (3)

Sarah Kuta | READ MORE

Sarah Kuta is a writer and editor based in Longmont, Colorado. She covers history, science, travel, food and beverage, sustainability, economics and other topics.

A Jewish Soldier Found in a German Mass Grave Has Been Reburied in an American Cemetery (2024)
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