"Not Only Katyn" by Ireneusz Sewastianowicz and Stanisław Kulikowski
PART 8: WRONG GRAVES
There is a large cross made out of birch with several smaller ones next to it.
An inscription written in pencil on a piece of plywood, nailed onto a slender spruce tree, reads: “Our brothers and fathers were brutally murdered by the Soviets and UB in July of 1945. Inhabitants of the Augustow and Suwalki area. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.”
We are at the Wielki Bor Forest two years after the graves were discovered. The cars still frequently stop at the eight-kilometer marker on the Giby-Rygol road, where someone placed a wooden sign “AK [Home Army Soldiers] Graves”. Both the locals and the passersby alike lay flowers and light candles at this forest cemetery. The official version, that these were the graves of German soldiers, is all but forgotten and not believed to be true anymore by anyone.
“A commemorative visitors’ notebook”, with brown covers affixed to the tree, contains all-telling inscriptions: “We remember and will continue to remember the Soldiers of the Republic of Poland murdered by the UB and NKVD henchmen. We are deeply perturbed by the murders committed by Moscow’s lackeys” – writes Franciszek T. from Warsaw.
So, there will be a new exhumation after all; they found the money to pay for it. Under pressure from the public, the governor of Suwalki allocated ten million Zloty to the project. On July 19, 1989, an exploratory committee, to exhume the graves in the Augustow Forest, is established. It is led by Marian Luto representing WK SD [Voivode Committee of the Social Democrats], and Piotr Bejer – member of the still-“illegal” Citizen’s Committee to Locate the Missing Inhabitants of the Suwalki Area Who Disappeared in July 1945. Dr. Jacek WIlczur represents the Government’s Chief Commission for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes in Poland. They are joined by representatives from the Voivodeship and Municipal Offices in Giby, the Polish Red Cross, and journalists who covered this story earlier.
Above: Human bones are found in the pit
- We sought help from independent experts – Says Piotr Bayer. – They are archeologists Krzysztof Burek and Zdzislaw Skrok who are associated with the Independent Solidarity Union, and a well-known pathologist Dr. Tadeusz Jozwik. Jozwik took part in an earlier investigation conducted by Prosecutor Monkiewicz.
August 7, 1989, is Monday. The planned exhumation begins. Several dozen people gather at the Wielki Bor Forest. There is a last minute meeting before the exhumation ensues. The military refused to help, so locals are hired to dig, and that adds to the cost. The OKPMS representative objects to hiring the People’militia to secure the area.
- We don’t want either plain-clothes or uniformed militia – Bajer objects. We can’t afford any accusations that the exhumation was carried out again by the Bezpieka [secret police] “experts”.
The place is filling up with more and more people. An attempt to block off Giby-Rygole road ends up in a fiasco. Someone had removed the makeshift road barriers. The people are discussing the forty-year old tragedy.
- After all the secret police, the UB henchmen are still alive. They won’t say anything willingly, so why did the authorities not interview them, why have not they been brought before the judge?- an older man says with surprise in his voice. -There is no statute of limitation on the crimes against humanity.-he continued.
August 8. An opened grave reveals human bones. It contains a number of well-preserved skeletons. They were buried in an orderly fashion at a distance of a “shovel handle” length from one another. Nothing suggests that these could be the victims of a mass execution. This is a pedantic, customary [German-like] burial. The grave reveals identification tags, legible, broken-in-half from frontline German military formations; some scattered about pieces of uniforms, a few buttons and fragments of suspenders. One of the graves yields a pocket watch and a pocket-knife.
- There is no way that the “Boytsy” [a slang name for the Russian soldiers] would not have taken the pocket-watch – says one of the onlookers. Krzysztof Burek, the archeologist, will later have a dream about this watch.
- A young boy in German uniform, – he says –stood above me and demanded: ‘Give me the watch.’
Only after Dr. Tadeusz Jozwik’s forensic examination will it become apparent that its owner was almost thirty-years-old. So, he wasn’t that young
There was a pair of well preserved boots next to the subsequent skeleton – these were the type of field-boots worn by German infantry. The two graves opened earlier by the Monkiewicz’s commission were reopened again. Public opinion was appalled by the news that one of the remains were tied up with a telephone wire.
The wire was indeed found, but it was tied up to the tibia bone, and only on one leg. This was probably the way the decomposing bodies were dragged to their graves.
- There is no doubt that these are remains of the Germans. Monkiewicz was right – says Dr. Jacek Wilczur after opening the twelve graves. – We need to contact the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany. Maybe they would claim these remains, since the West Berlin office has a list of the German soldiers who were buried near Giby. But, where are the victims of the Augustow Roundup? No-one knows, and this is a large forest.
Dr. Tadeusz Jozwik completed the examination of the twelve discovered skeletons. They were all males, ranging in age between twenty and forty years old. There are no signs of gunshot wounds to the skull.
August 10, 1998. Observed by over fifty people, the archeologists are carrying out their work.
- I don’t believe these are the German graves – says a gray-haired man, who only moments earlier arrived by a car bearing Lodz license plate.
- This is all Soviet propaganda – he sums up the explanations of one of the commission’s members. Such responses are more and more prevalent; someone lights a candle, others lay the flowers. At some point, after yet another “expert” concludes that there are remains of a child among those exhumed; one of those digging up the graves has had enough.
- Why are you saying such nonsense? – He is surprised, and mutters a few disparaging words under his breath. Later, it will surface that this alleged “child” was about 170cm tall, and managed to live for some twenty-plus years before dying.
||Someone made large swastica sand sign out of sticks. The plate with inscription "AK Graves" had disappeared.
The locals didn’t succumb to such emotions, and had to come to terms with the fact that the fate of their loved ones, acquaintances, and neighbors, who were dragged out of their homes in July of 1945 by the NKVD men, remains unknown.
- Will we ever know the truth? – They pondered. Stefan Myszczynski who two years earlier became a world famous personality, silently observed the opened graves. He no longer believed that he would find his murdered brothers in the Wielki Bor forest.
The results of the exhumations are summed up in a report written by the archeologists Krzysztof Burek and Zdzislaw Skrok.
The goal of our investigation – we read – was to ascertain the resting place of the victims of the Roundup carried out by the NKVD in July 1945. During our investigation, nearly 300 square meters were unearthed, leading to the discovery of twelve human skeletons. We ascertained that we are dealing with single graves, located side-by-side at a depth of 70 to 110 centimeters […] The specific graves are located at a relatively similar distance of 60-90 centimeters from each other […] In eight instances, the dog tags made from metal were placed on the torsos of the deceased. In five instances, we discovered remains of rubber suspenders located on the torsos of the deceased. The majority of graves contained metallic buttons, and other buttons made from different materials. Characteristic pieces of equipment were also found, these being: metal buckles, hooks, and pieces of narrow belts made of leather. Grave number 10 contained a metal munitions magazine containing bullets. Grave 6, contained portions of a magazine, while Grave 5 contained two plastic containers that were engraved “1943”, and had a white-colored substance in them. Graves 4 and 6 contained German coins. Also discovered, were singular objects of everyday use: a comb (Grave 9), pencil (Grave 4), pocket watch (Grave 11), a mirror (Grave 5), a cigarette holder (Grave 3), and a partially surviving deck of cards (Grave 11). In Grave 6, the bones of the lower extremities were dressed in white socks made of synthetic material, and Grave 12 contained very well preserved military field-boots.
According to the archeologists, and based on the existing documentation, what they had found was a German field cemetery. The discovered dog tags corresponded to the registry records of the German soldiers who died during military operations in July 1944 in the Giby area.
What is certain then, is that the skeleton, having on its torso the dog tag number 170-5.I.R.151, is gefreiter Franz Farnstejner, born on February 19, 1912 in Peissen, Eastern Prussia. He died on July 26, 1944 near Muly.
Geifreiter Otto Senkpiel, dog tag 293-3 Schtz. E. Kp. 218, also died on the same day. The owner of the pocket watch was an officer, whose name was Joakob Peter Soderberg who was born in Elmshorn, and who also died on July 26th near Muly.
After three days, the work at the Wielki Bor forest was halted. Because the German embassy never replied, the graves were closed. On the fresh dirt, someone made a large swastika out of sticks. The small makeshift plate with the inscription “AK [Armia Krajowa – Home Army Soldiers] Graves had disappeared.
Based on the information obtained from the locals, the commission had also begun their search at the three additional locations: near the wooden cross on the Giby-Rygola road, and on the 11 kilometer marker from the direction of Giby. The search was also conducted near the same road in the vicinity of the Brozane Lake – the same place where the Red Army destroyed the partisan unit of Wladyslaw Stefanowski, nom the guerre “Grom”. But, these particular leads were either false, or not sufficiently precise.
There is still no answer to the question where the NKVD victims were buried. The appeals and pleas on the Radio and in the press yielded nothing. The forest jealously keeps its secrets. But, perhaps the Augustow Primeval Forest wasn’t the last phase on the journey of those arrested in the summer of 1945?
Continue to Part 8 - "Other Trails"