Over the course of six weeks, archaeologists have exhumed the remains of an estimated 3,000 men from eight mass graves in southeastern Poland—bones belonging to nearly-impossible-to-identify soldiers who were victims of the Nazis.
The Soviet and Italian troops were interned in a German stalag near the city of Przemysl, where they were shot, starved, worked to the point of collapse, or left to die of disease.
The remains include those of Italian soldiers who were treated as traitors after Benito Mussolini was deposed in 1943. AFP describes bones sorted by type, with ribs in one area, skulls in another.
"It's the only way to count the exact number of victims," says the archaeologist in charge of the dig near the former site of Stalag 327 of Przemysl-Pikulice, which reportedly closed in 1944.
When the dig is finished, the remains will be moved to a military cemetery set to officially open next year; it's actually already the final resting place for 1,500 victims found by Poland's Red Cross in 1963.
A rep for the Polish government body tasked with preserving such wartime sites notes, "We don't know why they didn’t check all the mass graves then. Maybe they didn't have the funds. Today we're finishing up what should have been done long ago." The bones have ossified and most soldiers were stripped of their clothes; the dog tags that have been found are largely unreadable, with two exceptions: soldiers Chernienko (last name only) and Vasily Bunko.
Finding personal items is "extremely rare," says a student involved with the dig, but some Orthodox crosses, Russian coins, and buttons have been found. (Another Polish dig unearthed decades of killings.)
This article originally appeared on Newser: Archaeologists Exhume Thousands of Nazi VictimsMore From Newser
- Huge Swastika Spotted in Swimming Pool
- Archaeologists' Surprise Find: Ancient, Busty Statuette
- 'Chinese Beverly Hills' Comes to America