WARSAW, Poland - Construction workers have unearthed a World War II-era mass grave containing what are believed to be the bodies of 1,800 German men, women and children near Poland's border with Germany, authorities said Monday.
Poles excavating the site of a planned luxury hotel in Malbork excavated the wartime bomb crater at the foot of the city's famous 13th century Teutonic Knights fortress in October.
It was not immediately clear how the bodies got there, but initial examinations by Polish and German experts have now concluded that they are likely the remains of German citizens still classified as "missing" more than 60 years after the end of the war, town official Piotr Szwedowski told The Associated Press. The town was part of Germany at the time.
"Examination of the remains and the circumstances confirm that these are the missing German inhabitants of Malbork," Szwedowski said. "I have no doubt it is them."
The bodies were buried naked without any possessions, he said.
"We found no trace of any clothes, shoes, belts, glasses , not even dentures or false teeth," he said.
Some 100 skulls , primarily of adults , have bullet holes in them, suggesting the people could have been executed, but it is still unclear how the others were killed, Szwedowski said.
As the Red Army was advancing in early 1945, the inhabitants of Malbork , then called Marienburg , were ordered to evacuate. Some refused, while others were prevented from doing so by the general chaos of the nearing front.
The Red Army bombarded Malbork with heavy artillery in its assault on the city. After German troops fled, the remaining civilians were left to fend for themselves against the Soviet soldiers. There are no known living witnesses of what happened, Szwedowski said.
"We don't know if these (civilians) are direct or indirect victims of the artillery barrage but the bullet holes suggest executions in some cases," he said.
Millions of civilians were killed or declared missing during World War II.
More forensic tests will be carried out before the remains are laid to rest either in Malbork or a German military cemetery in Stary Czarnow, near the northwestern city of Szczecin.
"These people died in such an inhuman way, were dumped so inhumanely that we need to bury them in dignity and respect," Szwedowski said.