Investigators in Poland have unearthed seven skeletons in the search for a mass grave that may contain the remains of “a thousand” people murdered during the dark days of Stalinism.
The human remains were found in an unmarked grave in a Warsaw cemetery in the early stages of a hunt to locate the last resting place of hundreds of people who were executed, tortured to death or died in captivity in the years following the end of the Second World War.
“There is no doubt they were prisoners,” said Professor Krzysztof Szwagrzyk, the investigator leading the search at the cemetery where he believes “a thousand” people could be buried. “There was evidence in the grave we discovered. These people were at the bottom of a pit and their remains were entwined. The bodies weren’t arranged.”
Investigators have appealed to the descendants of anybody who disappeared during the Stalinist period to come forward and submit DNA samples in order to help identify the dead.
Thousands of people were arrested by the secret police in a government campaign to remove anyone believed to be an enemy of the state. Many of those imprisoned, often on bogus and fabricated charges, had been in the wartime Polish Home Army: the massive underground military organisation that had led Polish resistance to German occupation. But along with fighting Nazis, it had also drawn the hatred of Stalin and Poland’s communists because of its loyalty to the Polish government in exile and its commitment to an independent Polish state. After the war, anybody linked to it faced persecution, arrest and even death.
In particular, investigators want to find the remains of Captain Witold Pilecki. A Polish war hero, Capt Pilecki got himself arrested deliberately and sent to Auschwitz in order to write a report on the camp, and in doing so became the first man to document the Jewish Holocaust. After three years at Auschwitz, in 1943 he escaped and resumed his struggle against German occupation.
Despite his wartime record, in 1948 Capt Pilecki was executed by the communist government for allegedly working for “foreign imperialism” and he has no known grave.
The hunt for the captain and the hundreds who perished with him has been complicated by new evidence revealing the communist government buried people on top of the graves in an attempt to conceal its crimes.
“We have new information about the ‘death pits’ and it turns out that in an effort to erase any traces of unmarked graves, in the 1980s senior politicians from the Polish People’s Republic and military top brass were buried over them,” said Marcin Golebiewicz, one of the men leading the search for the dead.