Site of mass WWII killings known as Death Valley to be exhumed after researchers discover remains

Archaeologists want to find the killing fields where around 1,000 Poles were murdered by the SS in the town of Chojnice. Public domain/ Archeologia Doliny Śmierci/Facebook

The remains of men, women and children executed by Nazi thugs at a site known as Death Valley in the north of Poland are to be exhumed after 75 years.

Researchers from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology of the Polish Academy of Sciences discovered bullet shells of various calibre, buttons and the fragment of a medal during a preliminary search earlier this month on the outskirts of the town of Chojnice.

Archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology of the Polish Academy of Sciences plan to carry out extensive research using aerial laser scanning.Archeologia Doliny Śmierci/Facebook

Following the outbreak of war in September 1939, paramilitary groups of German minorities living in Poland called Selbstchutz were formed to assist the SS in dealing with the local population.

Under the command of the SS, the Selbstschutz were of particular danger to Poles because of their knowledge of local relations and social conditions.

The researchers have also been talking to eye-witnesses to help identify the exact locations.Archeologia Doliny Śmierci/Facebook

The paramilitary group not only used the opportunity to settle many old-time neighbour disputes, but to loot the property of murdered Poles.

The first executions were carried out on September 15, 1939, with three residents of Chojnice being gunned down in a nearby forest upon the orders of SS-Standartenführer Heinrich Mocek, who was head of the local paramilitary group.

Mass execution of Poles by German paramilitary Selbstschutz in the nearby town of Piaśnica. The photo was taken by Waldemar Engler - volksdeutscher from Wejherowo, and also a member of the SS.Public domain

From October 1939 through to January 1940, they began extensive exterminations across the whole region as part of their Polish Intelligentsia Action, which saw around 30,000-40,000 Poles living in the Pomerania region murdered.  

In the last days of the occupation the Chojnice Death Valley again became a place of mass executions.

Following the outbreak of war in September 1939, paramilitary groups of German minorities living in Poland called Selbstchutz were formed to assist the SS in dealing with the local population.Public domain

At the end of January 1945, the Germans murdered a column of between 800-1000 prisoners from the doomed Warsaw Uprising and those from the nearby city of Bydgoszcz being driven west.

After being shot their bodies were burned.

A cufflink found during a preliminary search of Death Valley.Archeologia Doliny Śmierci/Facebook

According to a town court survey conducted in 1945, 1,431 people were murdered in Death Valley.

An exhumation carried out shortly after the liberation of the town uncovered 352 bodies.

Dr Dawid Kobiałka from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology of the Polish Academy of Sciences said that an earlier exhumation had been ‘shoddy’.iaepan.academia.edu

Despite the Nazi’s exhaustive measures to keep the war crimes secret, the local population was well aware of the mass executions and dubbed the area Death Valley.

Dr Dawid Kobiałka from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology of the Polish Academy of Sciences told the Polish Press Agency: “The Death Valley has not been very well documented even up to this very day.

Archaeologists say there could be as many as 1,000 people buried in the forests around Chojnice.Archeologia Doliny Śmierci/Facebook

“After the Second World War, hasty exhumations were conducted and revealed the remains of nearly 200 people.

“But the exhumation work was shoddy. They were rushed and imprecise, many smaller human bones were purposely omitted or discarded, there was no sufficient photographic and drawing documentation.”

Kobiałka and his team now plan to uncover the exact locations of the so-called shooting ditches.

Despite the Nazi’s exhaustive measures to keep the war crimes secret, the local population was well aware of the mass executions and dubbed the area Death Valley (Dolina Śmierci).Archeologia Doliny Śmierci/Facebook

Through the use of aerial laser scanning, analysis of historical aerial and satellite images as well as conducting surface studies and speaking to eye-witnesses and the families of victims, he hopes to carry out a proper exhumation of the area.

The excavations are to begin on a limited scale in August.