In Stargard (West Pomeranian Voivodeship), a mass grave was found with the remains of about 20 inhabitants of the capital, expelled from the city by the Germans after the fall of the Warsaw Uprising. During World War II, there was a German prisoner of war camp there. After the uprising, entire Warsaw families went there.
– We started the work by removing trees growing in the place where we expected to find more graves. And indeed, we found a large grave containing the remains of civilians Warsaw uprising – said in an interview with the Polish Press Agency, geneticist, head of the Department of Forensic Medicine of the Pomeranian Medical University in Szczecin, Dr. Hab. n. med. Andrzej Ossowski.
He explained that in the grave, researchers found the remains of women, children and elderly people, as well as young people – most likely youth of the insurgents. Objects typical of civilians were found with them.
The geneticist said that the civilians were sent to Stalag II D from the camp in Łambinowice after the fall of the Warsaw Uprising and displacement from the capital. From here they were sent to slave labor in the Third Reich.
– There are a lot of remains of children – which also indicates a civilian population and is combined with historical information which shows that entire families were sent to the stalag. Infectious diseases spread very quickly in the camp conditions, and there was also hunger, which meant that the mortality rate among children was high – explained the geneticist.
Up to six thousand people buried in the camp
This is the third season of research by PUM scientists in the Stalag II D prisoner of war camp. During the previous two seasons, several large mass graves were found, from which the remains of about 200 people were recovered – mostly Soviet prisoners of war, but also of other nationalities. In the first stage of research, the remains of nearly 70 victims – prisoners of war were discovered. Analyzes showed that they died within four days in 1941. According to PUM researchers, most likely of typhus.
In the second season of research, scientists also found the remains of people displaced after the Warsaw Uprising.
Researchers estimate that between three and six thousand people were buried in the stalag burial site. For the next several dozen years, it was a garbage dump for a military unit.
– Everything indicates that when the Soviets took over this area, they were aware that there was a war cemetery here, but they did not respect it in any way – said Ossowski.
Scientists collect genetic material
The scientist added that despite this, the remains were preserved in quite good condition, which allows anthropological, medico-legal and genetic tests to be performed.
– For the first time, very deep next-generation sequencing analyzes were used here when it comes to material collected from the remains. This is pioneering research – among other things, we are recovering the genetic profile from dental tartar – he said.
The geneticist said that researchers wanted to explain what caused the death of the people buried in the grave. Fragments of the genetic material of pathogens can be found in dental tartar, which could have contributed to their death.
– But during the research, we also managed to obtain very high-quality genetic material from the dental tartar of the person whose teeth we took it from. No one has performed such research before – this is the discovery of our team – said Ossowski.
He added that this is a method that allows obtaining genetic material even when, for various reasons (e.g. religious), it is impossible to disturb the skeleton.
Between August and October 1944, German military and police formations expelled nearly 550,000 Warsaw residents and about 100,000 inhabitants of towns near Warsaw from their homes.
Stalag in Stargard
Stalag II D was one of the largest prisoner of war camps in the Third Reich. From 1939 (initially it operated as a transit camp, Dulag L), prisoners from all over Europe, private soldiers and non-commissioned officers, including: soldiers of General Kleeberg’s army, but also other Polish, French, Belgian and Soviet soldiers. The prisoners who were sent to the camp worked in work commandos throughout Pomerania, including: in landed estates and in road construction. Many of them died during the work – they were buried near the place where they worked. The camp operated until the evacuation in February 1945.
Research at Stalag II D was co-financed by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage.
Main photo source: LEAVES