Mass grave

Twenty-six republicans were assassinated by fascists that belonged to Franco's Nationalists at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, between August and September of 1936. This mass grave is placed at the small town named as Estépar, in Northern Spain. The excavation occurred in July–August of 2014.
Mass grave of Poles massacred by the Soviet Union in the 1940 Katyn massacre
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

A mass grave is a grave containing multiple number of human corpses, which may or may not be identified prior to burial. The United Nations defines a mass grave as a burial site which contains three or more victims of execution.[1]


Mass graves are an infamous variation on common burial, still occasionally practiced today under normal circumstances.[clarification needed] 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 Cimetière des Innocents, led Louis XVI to eliminate Parisian cemeteries. The remains were removed and placed in the Paris underground forming the early Catacombs. La Cimetière des 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 may be relatively limited and that mass graves might contribute further to the spread of infectious disease.[2][3]

Although mass graves can be used during major conflicts, they are more usually seen after events 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.


  • Krupa, Frederique. Paris: Urban Sanitation Before the 20th Century


  1. ^ Berenbaum, Michael, editor. Witness to the Holocaust. New York: HarperCollins. 1997. pp. 112 – 113