WWII investigators unearth TWO mass graves
Two separate discoveries of war-era mass graves at two different ends of the country were revealed this week, one of Polish civilians and one of German civilians.
Yesterday, the Institute of National Remembrance revealed that a mass grave 10 meters long, 5 meters wide and 2 metres deep containing the remains of 84 people was found in the Szpęgawski Forest near Stargard Gdański.
Specialists from the University of Łódź working with prosecutors from the Gdańsk branch of the Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation managed to find the remains of victims of both adults and children of various ages.
The corpses included those of at least six children or young adults. The age of the youngest child was estimated at 3-7 years. Skull injuries resulting from gunshot wounds were also detected.
The grave contains victims of the mass executions carried out by the Germans in the Szpęgawski Forest between September 1939 and January 1940. It is estimated that the Germans murdered between 5,000 and 7,000 people there, mainly Polish intelligentsia from Kociewie, Kashubia and other regions of Pomerania, as well as patients of the psychiatric hospital in Kocborów.
A number of personal effects belonging to the victims were also found, including gold rings, silver watches, crosses, medallions, civilian as well as military buttons from the period of the Second Republic, Polish coins from before 1939 and cufflinks.
Also found were shell casings and bullets from Mauser rifles as well as Parabellum and Browning pistols, equipment used by the Third Reich.
The researchers also discovered traces of how the Germans tried to obliterate traces of their crimes. These consisted of the systematic exhumation of corpses from mass graves in 1944, and then subjecting them to high temperatures for incineration, in order to make it impossible to find the burial sites of the victims in the future.
Meanwhile, in Wroclaw, it was announced this week that archaeologists had unearthed over 120 human remains including women and children in the garden of a pre-war villa.
The victims, German civilians and soldiers, found their final resting place in the mass grave after falling victim to the devastating Soviet bombing during the bloody Battle of Breslau in 1945.
Some of the victims have already been identified; however, the arduous task of identifying the majority of the corpses remains an ongoing endeavour.
The urgency to grant each of them a named grave was emphasised by Maksymilian Frąckowiak of the Pomost Historical and Archaeological Research Laboratory in Poznań, the institution responsible for the discovery.
"The fallen, regardless of nationality, should be identified and buried in a named grave," he said.
The exhumations were carried out in March and April of this year after the field cemetery was located to a garden of a villa on Dickstein street.
The researchers pinpointed the makeshift wartime cemetery by piecing together information from documents they found in a range of institutions.
In the archives of the Polish Red Cross, they found a sketch of the cemetery from 1945 and also the names of German residents of Breslau and Wehrmacht soldiers buried there.
They also obtained documents from the German People's Association for the Care of War Graves.
"Thanks to this, we were able to precisely trace the location of individual and mass burials. However, we were not sure whether the graves were still there. We thought that the remains may have been exhumed during one of the post-war exhumation operations."
A massive cleanup effort was initiated in Wrocław right after the war ended. Mass graves were discovered, and field cemeteries were liquidated.
The deceased were reburied in cemeteries to stave off any potential health problems.
However, there was no mention in the documentation of this happening with the field cemetery on Dickstein street.
This meant that when the researchers started to dig, they found the cemetery untouched.
Exactly 128 bodies of men and women of various ages, were found. The bodies, in mass and individual graves, were buried between March 16 and May 3, 1945. Those buried lost their lives during the Soviet bombing of Breslau.
Pomost said: “They were mostly ordinary citizens of Breslau, who lost their lives mainly as a result of bombing. Among them were clerks, craftsmen and, above all, the elderly and children. In common graves rested family members: mothers with children, spouses and neighbours.”
There were eight soldiers buried at the site, most of whom were from the Volkssturm formation, a levée en masse national militia established by Nazi Germany during the last months of World War II.
Along with the skeletons were items such as cash, jewellery, spectacles, and footwear. One man even had a bottle next to him containing a death certificate and other paperwork.
The bodies were victims of the bloody 1945 Battle of Breslau, which unfolded as Soviet forces advanced towards the heart of Germany.
Lasting for nearly three months, the battle saw fierce resistance from German troops defending the city. Breslau's strategic location and symbolic value made it a fiercely contested battleground, resulting in massive destruction and loss of life.
The outcome of the intense struggle foreshadowed the impending collapse of the Third Reich.
The remains exhumed on Dickstein street will be reburied at the war cemetery in Nadolice Wielkie in a special ceremony.