Dachau Ashes

We are occasionally called upon to assist the community and one or more of its citizens as they bury their dead.  Sometimes it is for help with getting a flag for a veterans casket. Sometimes it is to provide a military presence, because a family has no access to a formal document to show military service (DD Form 214).  Whatever the reason, we try to assist.  It is not always possible, but we do our best to help non-member veterans and their families.

The Dachau ash cake
The Dachau ash cake

In the end, we are making a difference because we care.  One such example is the local burial of Dachau ashes of victims of the holocaust. Dachau was a extermination camp that housed Polish, Jewish, French, German and even Americans.  Here is the story:

  • For about over 50 years, ashes of one or more holocaust victims were held by Walter Corsbie.  He was a soldier with a group that found itself at Dachau after its liberation.  The ashes, in the form of a hardened cake was given to him by a survivor for safe keeping.  Many years later and long after his visit to Dachau, Walter Corsbie found himself near death.  He had kept the ashes safe in a small metal container.  Walter shared the story with his son.  It was a story that he had kept secret, but now it must be told or the ashes might be overlooked or maybe destroyed.  Walter then gave the ashes and shared the story with his son, Joseph Corsbie.
  • Joseph Corsbie kept the ashes as a sacred trust.  Time was not on Joseph’s side.  He, too, was now aging and the secret weighed heavily on him.  He shared the story with his sister.  His sister’s husband was Jewish, but not then practicing the faith of his family.  She, however, realized that the ashes needed a final resting place and return to God’s earth.  She reached out to local Holocaust survivors in the Durham/Chapel Hill Jewish community and on May 25, 2014, Joseph Corsbie presented the human remains to the Durham/Chapel Hill Jewish Community for a proper Jewish Burial at the Durham Hebrew Cemetery.

We were honored to have been contacted to assist in the funeral honors.  Our role was limited, but powerful. Two members of our post attended and, before a crowd of about 300 people, slowly and reverently folded an American flag that had shrouded the small wooden coffin that was to soon embrace and protect the ashes that have traveled thousands of miles from Dachau to the Carolinas and finally to Durham.

  • “It was a blessing…” the Rabbi said, as he recounted the story of an elderly women who once stood before another rabbi at a grave site.  The service was ending.  She was not asked to speak, she just did.  She stood up and  called out for everyone to pay attention.  She wanted everyone to know what an incredible blessing it was to have a funeral, to have a proper burial, with friends and family in attendance.  How fortunate it was for this person to have been laid to rest in accordance with Jewish customs and rituals.  The rabbi explained that to some the words were puzzling, but to those who knew, that she was a survivor of the Shoah (the “Final Solution”), as was the person buried that day, were of no surprise.  She explained that so many Jews had never had a proper burial, that their graves are unknown.  That their loved ones were not with them to perform for them  Chesed, or Acts of Loving-Kindness that can never be repaid, that burial provides.  And,  so she said, “A funeral is a blessing. To enjoy the freedom offered to us by this land and to have graves, so to have a funeral, is a blessing.”

Yes, it was our honor to participate in this solemn ritual that returned the ashes of a victim of the Holocaust to the earth at a Jewish cemetery.  We represented the many thousands of soldiers who witnessed first hand the tragedy of Dachau–the extermination of Polish, Jewish, French, German and even Americans.  The ashes now rest in hallowed ground thanks to Walter and Joseph Corsbie, the guardians of Dachau Ashes.

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– Lee Heavlin