The Wellcome Collection in London has returned an urn containing human remains belonging to a member of the Danish resistance to Mindelunden i Ryvangen memorial park in Denmark for burial.
Provenance research was carried out on the remains after a member of the museum’s staff was researching items in storage and came across a description of an item purported to contain the ashes of a person who died in a second world war concentration camp in 1945.
The research found that the funeral urn, along with 20 photographs, was first registered by the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum in 1967 and had been donated by Mabel Murgatroyd, the wife of Frederick Murgatroyd, a lieutenant colonel in the Royal Army Medical Corps during the war.
His obituary in the British Medical Journal records him as being “one of the first to enter Belsen Camp” after D-Day.
Forensic examination confirmed that the remains are those of Preben Holger Larsen, a member of the Danish resistance who died in Neuengamme concentration camp in 1945 a year after his arrest. His details can be found in the Neuengamme death register as well as the memorial at Ryvangen, the principal cemetery for members of the Danish resistance, as one of 151 Danish freedom fighters whose remains were not found after the end of the war.
The Wellcome Collection’s leadership team approved the decision for the urn to be deaccessioned from the collection in November 2021, with unanimous agreement that there was no compelling case for retaining the item. Larsen’s ashes have now been buried at Mindelunden i Ryvangen, Denmark, facilitated by the Danish authorities and involving Larsen’s descendants, including his grand-nephew Morten Becker Saul.
Jenny Shaw, the collections development manager at the Wellcome Collection, said: "When it came to light that this item from our collection urgently needed further investigation, we acted quickly to begin the process of provenance research and forensic analysis to support it.
"This case shows the importance of collections research as an ongoing process that needs to be supported and sustained. It has also demonstrated that having ethical and practical policies and procedures in place, which are reviewed regularly, means that when action is needed we can respond as soon as possible, and ethically."