Germany to excavate suspected WWII mass grave
The grave is thought to be the largest in Germany outside the walls of a concentration camp.
Berlin -- Excavations will begin this week at the site of what is thought to be a mass grave in Germany containing the bodies of 753 Jews killed by the SS in the final weeks of World War II, officials said Tuesday.
The grave is thought to be the largest in Germany outside the walls of a concentration camp, said Joerg Schoenbohm, interior minister for the eastern state of Brandenburg, where the excavations will take place.
The men and women, mostly from Poland and Ukraine, were inmates in 1945 at Lieberose, a forced labour camp southeast of Berlin that was a satellite to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp north of the capital.
The SS mowed them down with machine guns on February 2, 1945 because they were too sick or exhausted to take part in a forced march away from the camp as the Soviet Red Army approached, Schoenbohm said.
Killing such a number of people took several hours. The following day the SS lined up and shot dead 589 others, mostly with pistol shots in the back of the head.
The remains of the second batch were discovered accidentally in a gravel pit near Staakow around eight kilometres (five miles) away from Lieberose on two separate occasions in 1958 and then in 1971.
The communist East German authorities showed little interest in looking for the other bodies, and the search only began in earnest after the fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago this November and unification in 1990.
Between the mid-1990s and 2004, around 20 suspected sites were inspected before investigators centered on the site to be excavated this week. Objections by the owner of the land were overcome only last year.
The start of the dig on Wednesday will coincide with the 64th anniversary of the liberation of the Sachsenhausen camp on April 22, 1945. Once it has been completed in around three weeks, the site will be turned into a memorial.
After World War II, the Soviet authorities continued to use Lieberose as an internment camp until 1947. In 1995 a memorial was erected nearby to the more than 3,400 people who perished there during this period.