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“Where is my grandfather buried?” asks Bruno Mordeglia, 78 years after the end of the war.

Grandfather’s Grave

I had been working at the Flossenbürg Concentration Camp Memorial for one-and-a-half years when we received an email from Bruno Mordeglia. His grandfather Eugenio Ansaldi had been imprisoned at the camp and did not survive.

Now, his grandson was searching for his grave. He wanted to come to Flossenbürg as soon as possible to honor his grandfather.

The memorial often receives requests from people who want to know when and how their imprisoned relatives died, or where they are buried. They are looking for a place where they can mourn their dead.

The gravestones at the Cemetery of Honor on the site of the Flossenbürg concentration camp are also in remembrance of unknown prisoners (Flossenbürg Concentration Camp Memorial)

A Challenging Endeavor

I know from experience that it can be difficult to determine the exact site of a former prisoner’s grave.

Those who died in the concentration camps were not given proper burials. They were almost always interred in mass graves.

In the main Flossenbürg camp and in the two subcamps Leitmeritz and Hersbruck, the dead were cremated and their ashes carelessly discarded.

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The difficulties are compounded by the fragmentary records on burial sites from the post-war years. After the war, the remains of prisoners were sometimes exhumed several times before they could be buried in dignity.

Unfortunately, these activities were only partially documented and with every reburial, information was lost.

In short: Identifying a burial site is sadly often a question of luck.

Starting the Research Process

I begin my research in our Memorial Archives database. There, I find a few basic facts about Mordeglia’s grandfather’s persecution.

Eugenio Ansaldi was arrested in January 1945 and was deported to Flossenbürg via the Bolzano Police Transit Camp, together with 408 other Italian prisoners. He was given the number 43486.

Shortly after arriving in the Flossenbürg main camp, he was transported, together with 250 other prisoners, to the Porschdorf subcamp in February 1945.

Even a date of death is listed: April 16, 1945.

Today, nothing marks the site of the Porschdorf subcamp. The prisoners’ barracks were across from the local train station.

Arial photo of the site of the former Porschdorf subcamp, February 2019 (Flossenbürg Concentration Camp Memorial/photo: Rainer Viertlböck)

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Archival Material

The database also holds scans of the concentration camp’s administrative documents.

Often, the prisoners’ so-called personal effects cards can be found. Occasionally, they contain information about the family or about where a prisoner was sent. However, in Eugenio Ansaldi’s case, the card is almost empty and contains no new information.

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There is an entry for Ansaldi in what are known as the Numbers Books. All Flossenbürg prisoners were registered in these books, which include date and place of birth as well as a prisoner category.

According to this entry, Ansaldi was put in “protective custody” (Schutzhaft) as a political prisoner. However, in this case, more important is what is not written down.

Hidden Clues in the Numbers Book

There is no entry for Eugenio Ansaldi’s date of death in the Flossenbürg Numbers Book.

One possible explanation is the difficulty of administrative communication during the final weeks of the war. Information about deaths in the subcamps no longer necessarily arrived at the main camp.

April 16, 1945, the alleged date of death, falls within this unreliably documented period.

Therefore, it is probable that Ansaldi died from the physical toll of imprisonment either shortly before or shortly after liberation.

Not only is there no entry in the Numbers Book, I do not find Ansaldi’s death mentioned in any other documents. How then is it known that Eugenio Ansaldi died on April 16, 1945?

It is possible that this information was given by an eyewitness. That would also explain why the family assumes that he died near the camp.

Looking for an Eyewitness

I take a closer look at the database entry. It contains a note:

“A report by Raimondo Vazon states that he died on the death march from Porschdorf subcamp to Oelsen after very few kilometers.”

Database entry for Eugenio Ansaldi in the Memorial Archives (Flossenbürg Concentration Camp Memorial)

It does not take much research to confirm that Vazon and Ansaldi were in the same transports to both the Flossenbürg concentration camp and the Porschdorf subcamp. I find the transport lists containing their names in our database:

Porschdorf Subcamp

On February 3, 1945, two-hundred-fifty male prisoners were transferred from the main Flossenbürg camp to Porschdorf in Saxony. Most of the prisoners were Italians who had recently arrived in Flossenbürg Concentration Camp on a transport from Bolzano. They were interned in Porschdorf together with twenty-one Russians, eleven Belgians, eleven Poles, and citizens of six other nations. The prisoners were guarded by around thirty members of the SS.

The prisoners in Porschdorf were forced to work in the main building tunnels, planned for moving the production of aviation fuel underground. Königstein and Mockethal-Zatzschke were two further Flossenbürg subcamps in the Saxon Switzerland region of Saxony, intended to replace fuel production facilities that had been damaged by Allied bombings.

The prisoners were housed on the site of a former sandstone quarry in the municipality of Rathmannsdorf. They were forced to march half an hour to work each day. The camp was abandoned in April 1945 due to the approach of the Red Army. During the short period of its existence, at least nine prisoners died within the subcamp itself, while others died shortly after their transfer to other subcamps. Many more prisoners—like Eugenio Ansaldi—died on the death march after the camp was evacuated.

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The Search for the Report

My colleagues tell me that up until his death, Raimondo Vazon regularly visited the Flossenbürg memorial. They are still in contact with his family. During one visit, Vazon’s relatives passed on copies of some of his letters for our archives.

Are Vazon’s letters perhaps the “report” mentioned in our database?

The name “Ansaldi” does appear in one of the letters. But the first name is Adriano

Is this a mistake, or does it refer to a different prisoner? Did Eugenio perhaps not die on the death march?

I don’t give up my search for Raimondo Vazon’s report just yet. Vazon is said to have also visited Porschdorf to bear witness. Perhaps his report has to do with that visit?

On the web, I find a history of the municipality in which Oelsen is located. And there it is! The chronicle includes Vazon’s report stating that Eugenio Ansaldi died on the death march. It also names Adriano as his cousin.

Getting Back to the Grandson

Was Adriano Eugenio Ansaldi’s cousin? I send an email to ask his grandson, Bruno Mordeglia. I also send him my preliminary research results so that he can begin preparing for his trip to Germany.

In addition, I invite Bruno Mordeglia to the upcoming commemoration of the seventy-seventh anniversary of the liberation of Flossenbürg concentration camp. Many relatives of former prisoners will be present on that day, as well as a few survivors.

Expanding My Research

Bruno Mordeglia does not know anything about a cousin. So I contact the Municipal Archives of Bad Gottleuba-Berggiesshübel directly. The key to the site of Eugenio Ansaldi’s grave is most likely there in Raimondo Vazon’s report.

I hope to find out more before Mordeglia arrives at the memorial for the Anniversary of the Liberation of Flossenbürg Concentration Camp.

I read the report immediately, but I do not yet write to Bruno Mordeglia. I prefer to give him my results in person when he visits.

Meeting with the Grandson

Hundreds of guests visit the memorial for the anniversary of the liberation. I just miss Bruno Mordeglia a couple of times, but we find each other after the commemoration.

Mordeglia pulls a photo pendant out of his pocket. It is a photo of his grandfather shortly before his deportation. It is very moving to suddenly see Eugenio Ansaldi’s face after all of my research.

Eugenio Ansaldi shortly before his deportation in January 1945 (personal property)

In turn, I show the grandson the account by the survivor Raimondo Vazon. The report is very detailed and matches what we already know. I would therefore say that it is a reliable source.

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Circumstances of Ansaldi’s Death

Vazon’s report allows us to reconstruct the circumstances of Eugenio Ansaldi’s death. Because of it, we know that he died after the liquidation of the Porschdorf subcamp.

I explain to Bruno Mordeglia that the SS tried to empty the camps before the arrival of the Allied troops. Many of the prisoners, weakened by the conditions at the camps, died on these marches or transports, which often took days. For that reason, they are today known as death marches.

According to the report, after walking only a few kilometers, his grandfather collapsed from exhaustion, lost consciousness, and was laid in a cart. Shortly afterwards, he was dead.

The German guards hastily buried him in a field. All of this most likely took place on April 16, 1945.

Localizing the Site of Death

Bruno Mordeglia and I try to situate the last hours of his grandfather’s life on a 1941 map. From Porschdorf to Oelson - Eugenio died somewhere at the beginning of this route.

Map of the German Reich, scale 1:100,000, Grossblatt 101: Dresden and surrounding area, issued by the Reichsamt für Landesaufnahme (Survey Office of the German Reich), Berlin 1941 (Flossenbürg Concentration Camp Memorial/Bayerische Staatsbibliothek)

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The Burial Site

Thanks to the town history of Bad Gottleuba-Berggiesshübel, I can also tell Ansaldi’s grandson that the victims of the Porschdorf death march were exhumed in September 1945 and buried in a mass grave in the old Oelsen cemetery.

No attempt was made to identify the corpses at the time of exhumation.

Exhumations and Reburials

As the allied troops gained ground in areas previously under the control of the Germans the spring of 1945, the SS in charge of the concentration camps aimed to prevent the liberation of the prisoners. Increasingly, prisoners were transferred to concentration camps further away from the front. The war made it more and more difficult to organize orderly prisoner transports by rail. Instead, prisoners were forced on chaotic foot marches for days, or sometimes even weeks. Tens of thousands of prisoners died; whoever was too weak to walk was left behind to die or was murdered. Because so many people died, these marches have become known as “death marches.”

Hastily dug graves lined the routes of the death marches. After the war, the occupying forces interviewed German townspeople, asking whether concentration camp prisoners were marched through their villages, whether they were buried and where, and how many people were buried in these graves. Their aim was to reconstruct the routes of the marches and the crimes of the final phase of the war. They also wanted more dignified final resting places for the victims. The bodies that had often been thrown into holes dug at the side of the road were exhumed and reburied in local cemeteries or in new, dedicated memorial cemeteries.

In the 1950s, there were further exhumations, and the dead were reburied in memorial cemeteries or returned to their homelands for burial. Sadly, the people who died were never all identified. Where identification had been possible after exhumation, the information was often lost in the process of reburial. In the late 1950s, when the last memorial cemeteries for victims of the Nazis were created, “anonymity” was built into the design. The graves were meant to stand as a symbol for all those who had died—who were seen as victims of the war—and not just for those whose corpses were buried there, even when they could be identified.

Nevertheless, it is safe to assume that Eugenio is now buried at the Oelsen cemetery.

The probable burial site of Eugenio Ansaldi (City of Bad Gottleuba-Berggiesshübel, Oelsen town archives)
The probable burial site of Eugenio Ansaldi (City of Bad Gottleuba-Berggiesshübel, Oelsen town archives)
Most prisoners died an anonymous death. As a rule, we cannot learn anything about the circumstances of a prisoner’s death from the camp administration’s documentation. In this case, witness testimony by the survivor Raimondo Vazon preserved the memory of Eugenio Ansaldi’s death.
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