Grisly discovery in Czech Republic points to post-war massacre of hated German civilians

Czech police investigating a possible massacre of German civilians at the end of the Second World War have discovered a mass grave containing the remains of people who may have met a grisly end at the hands of Czechs eager to avenge years of occupation.

Forensic scientists unearthed the remains of six people near the eastern town of Dobronin, and historians believe the grave could contain at least 15 bodies of Germans killed in the turbulent days and weeks that followed the end of war in Europe in May 1945.

One eyewitness account found in German archives claims that Czech villagers used spades and axes to hack to death a group of German civilians near Dobronin, after first ordering them to dig their own graves.

Pre-war Czechoslovakia was home to more than three million Germans, who had an uneasy and tense relationship with their Czechoslovak neighbours, and many of whom went onto become enthusiastic supporters of the Nazi party.

This, along with the rapturous reception they gave Hitler's tanks as they rolled into Czechoslovakia in 1938, earned them the undying hatred of Czechs. This enmity may have led to the killings in Dobronin.

"It is possible that a certain settling of accounts may have occurred here," said Michal Laska, a detective with the Czech police investigating the case.

Police have said that they have discovered one possible witness but he apparently insists he remembers nothing of the events 65 years ago.

For the local population the discovery of the grave has confirmed rumours of murder that have circulated for decades, although the news has still come as an unpleasant surprise.

"I think that the locals have suffered a shock," said Miroslav Maras, a local journalist whose investigation into the post-war massacre prompted Czech police to open a murder inquiry.

"Something that was talked about for a long time as being possibly true is now becoming definitely true, and the truth is tough to deal with.

This is a very quiet area, and this calm has been shattered by the discovery of human remains," he added.

The bones have been sent to the city of Brno for DNA testing in an effort to establish the identities of the victims.

The case has brought into focus the treatment of the Czechoslovakia's German population after the war. Once the guns fell silent some 500,000 Germans were expelled and thousands more would leave over the coming years.

The deportations were given a legal balm when the Czechoslovak government passed the Benes Decrees — named after Edvard Benes, the country's president at the time — which stripped Germans of their citizenship and their property.

Just how many died in the process of deportation remains unclear, with estimates varying from a few hundred to 20,000.

The post-war government also passed impunity laws to protect anyone who had committed an offence against the Germans.

Debate over the rights and wrongs of the mass expulsion has for long remained taboo in the Czech Republic, for fear that it would paint the German aggressors as victims and thereby diminish their culpability in the occupation and dismemberment of Czechoslovakia during the war.

In a sign that the passing of the years has allowed historical wounds to heal, locals erected a cross at the site of the grave, out of respect for those who died.

But the investigation into the events at Dobronin was welcomed by Bernd Posselt, the leader of an organisation representing Germans displaced from Czechoslovakia after the war.

In a statement he called on Petr Necas, the Czech prime minister, to support investigations into crimes committed against the German population, and demanded the repeal of the impunity laws

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