An investigation of crematorium employees in Hamburg accused of harvesting gold teeth and jewellery from customer corpses has uncovered a sensitive topic that the majority of German morticians refuse to address publicly, a funeral industry newspaper reported on Friday.
In late August, police raided the offices and homes of nine workers from the northern port city’s Öjendorf cemetery crematorium, seizing some €146,000 in cash that was allegedly earned through systematically sifting the valuable items out of people’s ashes and selling them.
The cemetery told daily Hamburger Abendblatt that when family members don’t wish to claim such things, their workers gather the precious metals and sell them each month, donating the proceeds to help children with cancer. But over the last several years, cemetery managers noticed that the amount had been greatly reduced and informed the police.
The suspects have since been suspended by their employer, Hamburger Friedhöfe AöR, the paper said.
According to undertakers’ newspaper Bestatterzeitung on Friday, the scandal highlights what it called the funeral industry’s “dark dealings” with gold teeth after cremation.
“Is it worth it [...] to finance the crematorium boss’s winter ski trip to Davos, as one informant told the Hamburger Abendblatt?” the publication asked. “Or are propriety and legal regulations in the foreground?”
According to the paper, there are some 400,000 cremations each year in Germany, in what it called a highly competitive market.
The paper surveyed some 80 crematoriums throughout the country to find out how they handled gold teeth and other precious metals belonging to the deceased, but only six replied.
“The combination of cremation and the worth of precious metal seems to be far too sensitive,” the paper wrote.
Of the respondents, three said they left the items in the urns, and one said it donated the proceeds of these materials to social causes.
But not all crematoriums feel obligated to do this, the paper said, citing one insider who said that many include proceeds of these items in their budgets, and sometimes give kickbacks to funeral homes. Or, as the anonymous source told Hamburger Abendblatt the items are treated like bonuses for crematorium bosses.
But the failure of many crematoriums to respond to the paper’s survey reflects that the issue remains in a legal grey area, experts told the paper.
“The best solution for all involved parties is leaving the precious metals in the ashes,” Karl-Heinz Könsgen, head of the German cemetery association, told the paper, adding that this is a policy his crematorium insures with video surveillance of employees.