DNA profiling has become the core method for forensic human, animal, and plant identification. The primary value of this procedure has significantly increased over the last fifteen years due to the introduction of short tandem repeat (STR) loci in routine paternity testing, as well as forensic and mass disaster human identification (1
). Data obtained by DNA typing are highly reliable and can be used as a powerful tool for producing valuable results (2
Various procedures, such as identification of the remains by direct facial recognition by a living person, by fingerprint, dental analysis, identification of special features (eg, scars, tattoos), recognition of clothing and belongings, autopsy findings, analysis of skeletal remains by forensic anthropologists (estimation of the species, sex, age, race, stature, and period of time since death), reconstruction of facial features from the skull, hair comparison, and DNA analysis could all be used, with more or less success, to identify human remains (3
). The selection of appropriate procedure and its usefulness depends on the circumstances and the state of the examined remains. Unfortunately, in war circumstances, with significant number of remains buried in a single mass grave, identification is much more difficult (4
Considering the temporal gap of 60 years, DNA analysis seems to be the only viable approach for the identification of victim remains from the end of the World War II. While working with bones and teeth, forensic scientists are usually confronted with many problems, such as insufficient quantity of DNA, high level of DNA degradation, and the presence of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) inhibitors. Sixty years long deposition of samples in humid soil could significantly enhance the influence of all potential adverse factors. Therefore, careful optimization of all the stages of the procedures employed in the analysis of this type of samples is obligatory (5
). The mission of DNA identification of victims from the recent armed conflicts in Bosnia and Herzegovina (6
), Croatia (3
), and Kosovo (6
) solved a multitude of difficulties up to then unseen in the DNA analysis of skeletal remains. Now, the same team of scientists was involved in a new challenge – DNA identification of skeletal remains from the World War II mass graves located in this part of Europe.
Slovenia is located at the intersection between Central and South-Eastern Europe, a region with a very turbulent recent history. Wars that took place in this area during the 20th century, including the World War II, left behind a significant number of dead and missing persons. There are no precise official data on the number of missing persons in this country, but the approximate number amounts up to tens of thousands. This estimate is additionally complicated by several post-war incidents and mass executions made by Yugoslav communists, which were hidden and denied by official communist authorities for almost 50 years (8
). One of the most atrocious post-war incidents was “Croats’ Way of the Cross,” when tens of thousands of people were mass executed. Official estimates range from 45
000 to 200
000 victims (8
). Recently, regional democratic governments put in significant efforts to identify individuals discovered in several mass graves scattered throughout the region. In order to address numerous requests of missing people’s relatives, the municipality of Škofja Loka commissioned the DNA analysis of skeletal remains and reference samples. Due to the state of decomposition of the remains, application of standard methods for human identification was insufficient and DNA identification was requested. Here, we report the first results of these analyses.