Tally at German death site reaches 50

25th January 2008, Comments 0 comments

Police wonder if it is a mass murder or evidence of an ancient war.

Kassel, Germany (dpa) - Police called to a building site in the German city of Kassel have recovered the bones of 50 dead, but had no idea Thursday if they were dealing with a mass murder or evidence of some ancient war.

The site does not seem to be a cemetery as many of the skulls and other bones show evidence of horrific injuries.

For a week, teams of police have been picking the skeletons, some neatly laid out, others jumbled, from the soil as a mechanical excavator digs deeper.

"We don't think we've reached the end of it yet," said a senior detective in Kassel, a city north of Frankfurt which six months ago hosted Documenta, a once-a-decade expo of contemporary world art.

She said forensic scientists were working to date the bones, but it could take weeks to arrive at a final estimate of their age.

Another detective, Dirk Kleinhans said the site had seemed until Tuesday to be a cemetery, with the skeletons intact in neat rows. Most had good teeth, suggesting they are not the bodies of old people.

"But now we've found a second grave site where the bones are mixed up: four skulls near a single torso, all badly battered. This is no ordinary cemetery," he said.

Many observers wonder if the dead are casualties of the Second World War, when the city was heavily bombed by the Allies, but Kleinhans said that was "just speculation."

"The odd thing is, there are no traces of adornment here: no jewellery, no rings, no buttons," he said.

The site, between the University of Kassel and a petrol filling station, formerly belonged to an armaments company, raising the possibility that these are the bodies of slave labourers forced to work by the Nazis.

Kleinhans shrugs that he just does not know.

Christian Bruno von Klobuczynski, a local historian, said he was convinced the bones were "much older."

"Look at the building foundations here," he said. "Those date back to 1928 or earlier.

"Besides, we know that in Kassel, the forced labourers who died and the bombing victims of the Second World War were buried at the municipal cemetery. The Germans didn't just throw them down a hole, even in wartime."

He sees a connection to the Seven Years War, when French troops besieged and captured Kassel in 1762. The area of the find is just outside the site of the old fortress.

Kristina Jost, 23, a trainee policewoman, admitted that the chilling daily work of collecting the bones was making her gloomy even when the day was done.

"We all imagine the worst," she said. "We just want to know: who were these people and what terrible story are we digging up with our bare hands?"

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