WWII mass grave of German civilians found in Poland
The discovery helps solve the mystery of what happened to the civilians who did not evacuate as the Soviet Red Army were approaching.Warsaw -- The remains of 1,800 2,000 German civilians who perished in 1945 have been exhumed from a mass grave in Malbork in northern Poland.
"Since it was discovered in October, we have exhumed the remains of 1,800 people who we are almost certain were Malbork residents," municipal official Piotr Szwedowski told AFP on Wednesday.
Once part of the German region of East Prussia and known as Marienburg, Malbork was in the territory handed over to Poland after World War II.
Men, women and children of all ages were found in the grave, Szwedowski said. "Some of the victims must have been shot dead,” he added. “One skull in 10 bears bullet holes."
Investigators believe the grave was dug in the spring of 1945, as the Soviet Red Army advanced from the east.
It was discovered by accident in October last year on the construction site of a luxury hotel in the heart of Malbork.
It lies around 300 meters from the medieval castle of the Order of Teutonic Knights, which is one of Poland's most popular tourist attractions.
"The bodies were strewn about in a chaotic fashion in a vast crater created by a shell explosion," Szwedowski said.
State prosecutors in Malbork have opened an investigation.
"The exhumation work is not complete, but due to freezing temperatures we have had to suspend it for the time being," prosecutor Waldemar Zduniak told AFP.
Polish press reports suggest the Red Army may have killed some of the victims, while others perished in aerial bombardments, from starvation or from hypothermia.
"It will be a difficult investigation," Szwedowski said. "All of the people were buried naked, without shoes or any personal effects. Metal detectors found no traces during the exhumation work conducted so far, not even dental work."
Some 30,000 people lived in the German-era city. In the spring of 1945, the city was the site of savage battles between the advancing Red Army and retreating Nazi German forces.
As the Red Army was approaching, Malbork residents, mostly ethnic Germans, were ordered to evacuate deeper into the Third Reich. The fate of 1,800 of the 3,800 people known to have stayed behind has long remained a mystery.