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Workers from the town of Nordhausen bury corpses of prisoners found at Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp in mass graves. Rare colour photograph taken in 1945. Photo credit: USHMM

File:Warsaw Ghetto mass grave, 1941.jpg

A boy working in the Warsaw ghetto cemetery drags a corpse to the edge of the mass grave where it will be buried. September 1941. Credit: USHMM, Guenther Schwarberg. Template:Puic

A mass grave is a grave containing multiple, usually unidentified human corpses. There is no strict definition of the minimum number of bodies required to constitute a mass grave. Mass graves are an infamous variation on common burial, still occasionally practiced today in normal conditions.

Mass or communal burial was a common practice before the development of a dependable crematory chamber by an Italian named Brunetti in 1873.

In Paris, the practice of mass burial, and in particular, the condition of the infamous cemetery Des Innocents, led Louis XVI to eliminate Parisian cemeteries. The remains were removed and placed in the Paris underground forming the early Catacombs. Les Innocents alone had 6,000,000 dead to remove. Burial commenced outside of the city limits in what is now Père Lachaise cemetery.

Mass graves are usually created after a large number of people die or are killed, and there is a desire to bury the corpses quickly for sanitation concerns. In disasters, mass graves are used for infection and disease control.

The debate surrounding mass graves amongst epidemiologists includes whether or not, in a natural disaster, to leave corpses for individual traditional burials, or to bury corpses in mass graves: for example, if an epidemic occurs during winter, flies are less likely to infest corpses, reducing the risk of outbreaks of dysentery, diarrhea, diphtheria, or tetanus, so the use of mass graves is less important. Recent research indicates that the health risks from dead bodies in mass casualty events are very limited and that mass graves might cause more harm than good.[1][2]

Although mass graves can be used during major conflicts, they are more usually seen after natural disasters such as a major famine, epidemic, or natural disaster. In such cases, there is a breakdown of the social infrastructure that would enable proper identification and disposal of individual bodies.

Mass grave mapping teams have located 125 Khmer Rouge prison facilities and corresponding gravesites to date in Cambodia while researching the Killing Fields. Many mass graves filled by communist insurgents with innocent civilian victims were discovered after the Massacre at Huế during the Vietnam War.

See also


  1. Template:Note Berenbaum, Michael, editor. Witness to the Holocaust. New York: HarperCollins. 1997. pp. 112 - 113
  • Krupa, Frederique. Paris: Urban Sanitation Before the 20th Century

External links

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