Mass grave believed to contain child victims of Nazis

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German authorities are investigating the discovery of dozens of skeletons, many of babies or children showing signs of physical handicap, in a suspected Nazi-era mass grave.

Following a tip from a local resident, authorities in Arnsberg this week began searching the western town's Roman Catholic cemetery.

So far, the remains of 51 bodies have been discovered, said prosecutor Ulrich Maass.

Many of the skeletons, which appeared to be of children ranging from new-borns to seven-year-olds, showed signs of physical handicaps, Arnsberg authorities said, adding that medical instruments had also been found in the grave.

Maass, a prosecutor at the Dortmund-based Central Office for Investigation of Nazi-era Crimes, said he had launched a criminal investigation for at least 22 counts of murder in connection with the deaths, which appeared to have been the result of Nazi-era euthanasia programmes, but it was unclear if charges could be pressed.

"Of course there is the question of how we are to prove these crimes after all this time. If the children were poisoned, that will be practically impossible," Maass said.