A mass grave containing human ashes representing an estimated 8,000 people has been discovered near the former Nazi concentration camp of Soldau in northern Poland. The country's Institute of National Remembrance, which investigates crimes committed during the Nazi occupation of World War II and the subsequent period of communist rule, announced the discovery on Wednesday. It said the grave—also found to contain traces of clothing and other items—contained 17.5 tons of human ashes. The weight of one burned body is about 4.4 pounds, per the BBC.
An estimated 30,000 people died at Soldau, "a place of transit, internment and extermination," in what is now Dzialdowo, north of Warsaw, per AFP. The first arrivals around September 1939 "were Polish POWs, but they were soon replaced by Jews, clergy, intelligentsia, and representatives of all other classes of the society," INR says. The victims buried in the mass grave "were probably assassinated around 1939 and mostly belonged to the Polish elites," says investigator Tomasz Jankowski. About five years later, as the end of the war neared, Nazi authorities ordered Jewish prisoners to dig up and burn the bodies.
"It's the evidence of how thoroughly the Germans tried to obliterate the traces of genocide they committed," INR says. But "the cover-up has failed," adds President Karol Nawrocki. Andrzej Ossowski, a genetics researcher at the Pomeranian Medical University, tells AFP that samples have been taken for DNA analysis in the hope of identifying the victims after similar work on remains found at Sobibor and Treblinka. The discovery follows completion of a three-volume report on Nazi war crimes in Poland, compiled by the Parliamentary Team on Reparations, per The First News. In 2019, a Polish lawmaker estimated Germany owed Poland more than $850 billion in reparations, per Reuters.
The report, four years in the making, will "show the scope not only of war crimes that Germany committed but also the damage," Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said at a Wednesday press conference, adding the document is being translated into several languages. "We show the whole pictorial documentation, but also historical sources as well as very precise calculations based on scientific ... reasoning, financial calculations converting losses at the time into today's money." Germany says the issue was settled in a 1954 agreement between Poland and Eastern Germany, though some Poles argue it wasn't negotiated fairly. (Read more Nazi war crimes stories.)