Death in Marienburg: Mystery Surrounds Mass Graves in Polish City
In the Polish city of Malbork, once part of German West Prussia, one mass grave after the other has been uncovered over the years. The causes of the mass deaths in the city following World War II remain a mystery today.
In Malbork, Poland, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) southeast of Gdansk, Radoslaw Gajc slings a pick-ax over his shoulder. Dressed in green overalls like all the city's housing industry employees, he crosses an icy dirt track, then descends into an open pit. Just 200 meters (650 feet) away, the majestic brick walls of Malbork Castle soar in the background.
Gajc and the others are working their way through a mass grave containing the remains of at least 1,800 people, including women and children. All the bodies were naked when they were thrown into the pit, and their cause of death is unknown. Did they die during World War II? Or later, in an epidemic? Were they the dead retrieved from the city's houses and streets after battles, to be accorded at least this form of burial?
Or are they the victims of a monstrous crime? Some of the skulls, it turns out, reveal bullet holes.
The one thing known for sure is that Malbork, then a German city and known as Marienburg, was engulfed in a wave of violence in 1945. This has been corroborated by numerous witnesses from that time -- Germans, Poles and even a Red Army soldier. Additionally, a great deal of evidence can be found in documents from the private Marienburg Archives in Hamburg.
This is also not the first mass grave to be found in Malbork. In 1996, 178 corpses were discovered on the grounds of Malbork Castle. Nine years later, specialists exhumed the bones of 123 more, including five women and six children, from a former trench along the southern wall of the castle. But this many bodies have never before been found in a single grave.
- Part 1: Mystery Surrounds Mass Graves in Polish City
- Part 2: 'Women and Children Died'
© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2009
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH