WARSAW, Poland –
Special investigators in Poland say they have found two mass graves containing the ashes of at least 8,000 Poles killed by the Nazis during World War II in forest executions that the Nazis later tried to hide by burning the corpses and planting trees on the grave pits.
Investigators from a National Historical Institute marked the discovery this week with speeches and wreath-laying at the site of the Bialuty Forest, 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Warsaw.
From March 1944, the bodies that the occupying Nazis had secretly buried in the woods were “brought out, burned and pulverized to prevent this crime from ever becoming known, to prevent anyone from taking responsibility for it,” Karol Nawrocki, the leader of the Institute of National Remembrance, said Wednesday.
“These efforts were not a success,” Nawrocki said.
The Nazis used other inmates, primarily Jews, to carry out the cover-up work. These prisoners were also killed.
Institute experts said at least 17 tons of ash were found in two pits 3 meters (10 feet) deep, meaning the remains of at least 8,000 people are buried there.
The victims were mostly prisoners in the Nazi German prison camp Soldau in the Polish town of Dzialdowo, which was executed in the forest between 1940-44, experts said. It is estimated that 30,000 people, mostly Polish elites, military, resistance fighters and Jews were prisoners in the camp, and a large number of them were killed or died in the Nazi plan of extermination.
The forest has been known as the burial place of the slain prisoners, but the exact location of the mass graves and the number of victims were not known until now. The institute’s archaeologists and anthropologists have located the two mass graves this month.
The institute investigates Nazi crimes and also communist crimes against Poles and has the power to prosecute the suspects if they are still alive.