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The Tragedy and Triumph of History

1LT NATHAN BASKIND

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Lieutenant Nathan Baskind, of Pittsburgh, PA, came ashore on Utah Beach on D-Day with the 899th Tank Destroyer Battalion.  Engaged in fierce battle, he went ahead of his troops to reconnoiter their position in the Battle of Cherbourg June 23, 1944.  He was never heard from again.  His name appears on the Wall of the Missing at the Normandy American Cemetery.

 

A search of contemporaneous German war records revealed that Baskind was ambushed and shot, taken prisoner by the German army, and sent to a Luftwaffe field hospital.  Later on the 23rd, Nathan Baskind died, and was buried together with 23 German soldiers in a mass grave. 

 

After the war, this mass grave and an additional one totaling 52 soldiers were combined and moved to the Marigny (Normandie) German War Graves Cemetery, 12 km from Omaha Beach. 

2LT Nathan Baskind

circa 1944

An attempt by the American Grave Registration Service to identify the remains of Lieutenant Baskind in 1957 failed, although his unit patch, lieutenant bars and dog tag were recovered.  Because they were unable to make a definitive positive identification, Baskind’s family was never told of the strong circumstantial evidence of his burial in Marigny.  

 

In 2023, Operation Benjamin (OB), an NGO that identifies Jewish American WWI and WWII soldiers mistakenly buried under Latin Crosses, learned of the potential location of Nathan Baskind. 

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Mass grave in Marigny (Normandie) German

War Graves Cemetery

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 First visit to 1LT Nathan Baskind May 2023

OB met with the German Ambassador to Israel and explained the extraordinary story – that 1Lt. Nathan Baskind, a Jewish American officer, was likely buried in a mass grave with 51 German soldiers in a German War Graves Cemetery, under 3 Gothic crosses. German Ambassador Stephen Seibert immediately understood the extraordinary political significance of the German government’s and military’s announcement of a repatriation of the remains of a Jewish American D-Day officer to his family and country by D-Day 2024.  

 

The Ambassador reached out to the German War Graves Commission (Volksbund), which had been aware for some time from the PFC Lawrence Gordon Foundation that Baskind was very likely in the mass grave.  

 

OB contacted Baskind’s great niece, Dr. Samantha Baskind, who is a prominent tenured college professor of Jewish Art and Holocaust studies.  She is representing the Baskind family.  

 

When OB presented the historically profound fact of Baskind’s Jewish heritage to Brigadier General Secretary General Dirk Backen at the Volksbund and they viewed a video prepared by OB that featured Professor Baskind urging them to assist her great uncle, they took the extraordinary decision to exhume the mass grave at Marigny in search of one German soldier whose family has been searching for their father and was believed to be in the mass grave, and to search for Lt. Baskind. Secretary Backen’s leadership has been inspiring.

 

Given the delicate nature and historical significance of this effort, leading rabbis in Israel and the US were consulted about its propriety and gave their approval within certain Jewish law parameters.  

 

Seemingly against all odds, given the chaos of the original burial in 1944, the acidic clay soil and conditions of the bones at Marigny, human remains were discovered with an extraordinarily high-level DNA match to Nathan Baskind.

He has been found. 

He has been found.  Confirmation of his discovery by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) was released on May 10, 2024.

The repatriation of Nathan Baskind has happened only because of the extraordinary cooperation and efforts of numerous people and agencies. Each played a critical role. They include, the Baskind family, German War Graves Commission (Volksbund/VDK), the Office national des anciens combattants et victimes de guerre (ONACVG), University of Marseille anthropologists, the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC), the Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), the DNA labs (Bode Technology), University of Wisconsin anthropologists, the PFC Lawrence Gordon Foundation, Operation Benjamin board members, supporters, and governments worldwide.

 

The historical and poetic burial of this D-Day soldier at the Normandy American Cemetery, with full military honors on the 80th anniversary of his death, will symbolize the extraordinary political and humanitarian reconciliation of nations in a tumultuous world.  Operation Benjamin is honored to work with the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC), the nation’s custodians of her foreign military cemeteries, in arranging the burial of 1LT Nathan B. Baskind.  The Secretary of the ABMC, the Honorable Charles Djou, will preside over the full military honors burial ceremony.

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A promise - We will never forget you

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Anthropologists at the Exhumation – December 19, 2023

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