Skeletons of WWII-era nuns murdered by Soviets unearthed in Poland
The remains of three Catholic nuns killed by the Nazis while they were trying to help the wounded Soviet soldiers at the end of the Second World War were found, as they cared for the wounded Soviets, to the last. The Red Army invaded Poland when the Nazis withdrew their soldiers in 1944.
An effort was made to gain control over the area by subduing militia as well as religious figures by looting and destroying churches.
Records discovered from 1945 showed Soviet soldiers killed seven nuns in the order of St. Catherine of Alexandria who was serving as nurses at Marian Hospital in Olsztyn.
A project by the Institute of National Remembrance in Poland was launched to discover their remains and Polish archaeologists announced they found the remains of Sister Charytyna (Jadwiga Fahl) in Gdansk last summer.
In October they found Sister Generosa (Maria Bolz), Sister Krzysztofora (Marta Klomfass) and Sister Liberia (Maria Domnik) in Orneta.
And now the bodies of the last missing trio, Sister Rolanda (Maria Abraham), Sister Gunhilda (Dorota Steffen) and Sister Bona (Anna Pestka) have been found too.
Experts also unearthed crucifixes, ‘religious clothing’ and rosaries from around the remains, according to Live Science.
A statement by the Institute of National Remembrance in Poland (IPN) said: ‘The purpose of the study was the finding of the remains of the Catherine Sisters who fell victim to the soldiers of the Red Army in 1945.
‘They all served the sick at the Marian Hospital (St Mary’s Hospital) in Olsztyn.
‘They worked as nurses, looking for help for the sick, and the deceased by organizing burials in a nearby cemetery.
Where they served, they died there as well – defending themselves against the disgrace of the Red Army soldiers who entered Olsztyn in the winter of 1945.
‘The works in Orneta were also the last stage of the search for the remains of the Sisters, for whom the church side is carrying out the beatification process at the same time. Earlier searches were carried out in Gdańsk and Olsztyn.
‘On the basis of historical data, anthropomorphic features and found objects, the remains of three women were selected for exhumation, with the probability that they are the wanted Sisters.
‘In the remains of the collected remains, religious medals, crucifixes, elements of religious clothing and religious rosaries were found.’
The skeletons have been taken to the Forensic Medicine Institute in Gdańsk. Historical records show Sister Generosa was ‘locked in the hospital’s attic’.
While the IPM says Sister Krzysztofora was stabbed with a bayonet 16 times, had her eyes gouged out and tongue cut out.
6,500 Medieval Coins And Gold Rings Found In A Field
A newly uncovered medieval silver cache that contains thousands of silver coins and this trove of precious metal was found in a Polish cornfield by archaeologists working with the help of a priest and local firefighters.
It is a rare treasure that was discovered in Słuszków, a village in west-central Poland, it was a nearly 900-year-old hoard, It is said to contain one of a kind treasure; a gold ring etched with a Cyrillic inscription that translates to: “Lord, may you help your servant Maria.”
That ring may have belonged to a princess; the coin stash was certainly fit for one. “The newfound hoard consists of over 6,600 items — silver coins and silver clumbs (tiny ingots) … wrapped in three linen pouches, packed in a basket and then put in the ceramic vessel,” Adam Kędzierski, an archaeologist at the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology at the Polish Academy of Sciences, told Live Science in an email.
Kędzierski said he wouldn’t have found the medieval hoard without the help of a local priest. In November 2020, Kędzierski visited Słuszków to learn more about another medieval treasure — one of the largest coin hoards ever found in Poland, which had been unearthed in 1935.
The exact location of the 1935 hoard had never been recorded, and Kędzierski hoped to locate and photograph it for an upcoming book. However, during his stay, Kędzierski happened to talk with a priest, Rev. Jan Stachowiak, who shared a little bit of gossip about the possible location of another hoard.
After using a metal detector to locate the general area where the hoard was buried, Kędzierski and his colleagues dug up a small trench in a cornfield in the village. There, he found a ceramic vessel that held the medieval riches.
“The vessel itself, buried only 30 centimetres [nearly 12 inches] under the ground, was completely preserved — only the lid/the upper part was missing,” he said.
After realizing the hoard’s incredible value, Kędzierski and his team called in local volunteer firefighters to guard the treasure until the excavation was complete, according to The First News, a Polish news outlet.
Most of the coins were silver coins known as cross denarii, minted with the image of a large cross and dating to the end of the 11th century or the beginning of the 12th century, he said. The hoard also held Czech, Danish, Hungarian and German coins, including a denarius coin of Germany’s King Henry III.
The “rarest coins” are denarii featuring Sieciech, a high-ranking Polish statesman who served Władysław I Herman, the Duke of Poland from 1079 to 1102, Kędzierski said. The hoard’s “biggest sensation,” are four golden rings, including the ring with the Cyrillic inscription about the woman named Maria, he said.
Unlike silver trinkets, gold jewellery was extremely rare in Poland during the early Medieval period, Kędzierski said. Perhaps, the newfound gold rings belonged to the first ruling dynasty of Poland, known as the Piast dynasty.
Now that the hoard has been excavated, researchers will analyze and date the gold and silver pieces as well as the linen pouches and the basket that held these treasures. “Particularly interesting will be establishing the provenance of the gold decoration items,” such as the rings, Kędzierski said.
The discovery of this second hoard at Słuszków suggests that the village may have played a more important role in history than previously realized. Perhaps a high ranking official tied to the duke lived in Słuszków, or maybe it was even a temporary residence for Duke Zbigniew, Kędzierski said.
Słuszków is known for other early medieval artefacts; over the years, local farmers have told archaeologists about early medieval vessels and dishes found in their fields, “which may be a sign of [the] remains of stone buildings in the area of Słuszków,” Kędzierski said.
Medieval tunnel discovered under the castle in Szczecin in Poland
Archaeologists have uncovered over 270 meters of previously hidden tunnels beneath the Pomeranian Dukes’ Castle in Szczecin. They also warned that more detailed research was needed because they could collapse. Some of them come from the Middle Ages.
The management of the Pomeranian Dukes’ Castle informed about the discovery of tunnels that had not been known so far.
We have heard legends about the labyrinth of corridors under the castle, but there has never been evidence that they actually exist – informs Monika Adamowska, press spokeswoman for the Pomeranian Dukes’ Castle in Szczecin.
However, first, there was a construction disaster – one of the pillars collapsed in May 2017 and with it part of the vault of the northern wing of the Castle. The prosecution decided that soil erosion was probably to blame and the investigation was discontinued.
There was supposed to be a renovation, it was a disaster
The management of the castle, which for years has been wanting to renovate the northern terraces, on the occasion of this investment and taking into account the disaster, commissioned a series of construction and soil tests.
During this research, specialists from the Building Research Institute in Warsaw discovered a labyrinth of tunnels about 16 meters underground.
Under the escarpment and the northern wing, there is a branched network of corridors over 270 meters long – tells us, Adamowska. However, unfortunately, ITB employees also determined that the tunnels are not in good condition.
– This is a very serious situation. The tunnels are covered with rubble, which was used to strengthen the escarpment and created empty spaces, caverns, and rubble above them – continues Adamowska. Additionally, there is groundwater in this place.
This requires swift actions to reinforce the escarpment and a careful examination of the corridors and sheds new light on the recent disaster to which the underground structures may have contributed.
They did not expect tunnels from the Middle Ages
There are entrances to the tunnels probably from the north, which you have to dig. Unfortunately, specialists do not want to do it yet, because then the trees that grow on the part of the slope on which the castle stands could collapse on them.
On February 8, the municipal conservator of monuments gave permission to cut down the trees.
For now, cavers descended into the tunnels through a drilled vertical shaft. They took samples for testing and made photographic documentation. Then it turned out that the post-German corridors from World War II are connected with brick tunnels from the Middle Ages. This was a surprise for the scientists and management.
The findings were confirmed by tests of mortar and bricks samples carried out both in the castle’s Art Conservation Studio and in the Laboratory and Conservation Research Studio in Kraków.
The management of the castle emphasizes that it acts in accordance with the guidelines of specialists and is taking appropriate steps to secure the monument and at the same time investigate the new discovery. He also admits that it will extend the modernization of the terraces.
The Pomeranian Dukes’ Castle is one of the most important monuments in the region – the historic seat of the Griffin family, rulers of the Pomeranian Duchy. The first Slavic stronghold was built on the castle hill in the 12th century, but the modern building was built from the mid-14th century.
– The castle has revealed another secret to us, which may give us more information about the Griffin dynasty. I do not rule out that it may become an attraction for visitors in the distant future – comments Barbara Igielska, director of the Pomeranian Dukes’ Castle in Szczecin, on the discovery.
Children’s ID tags unearthed at Nazi death camp in Poland
I.D. was found by archaeologists excavating the Sobibor extermination camp in Poland. The Yeshiva World notes the tags containing the names of four Jewish children from Amsterdam aged 5 to 11 who were sent to their deaths during the Second World War.
Yoram Haimi, an archaeologist at the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) who helped lead the dig, notes that the tags included the children’s birthdates and hometowns.
“Since the tags are very different from each other, it is evident that this was probably not some organized effort,” he says in a statement. “The children’s identity tags were prepared by their parents, who were probably desperate to ensure that the children’s relatives could be located in the chaos of the Second World War.”
More than 70 years after the children’s murders, researchers were able to connect the tags to information kept at a memorial centre at the Westerbork transit camp in the Netherlands.
“I’ve been digging at Sobibor for 10 years,” Haimi tells Israel Hayom’s Yori Yalon. “This was the most difficult day. We called the centre and gave them the names. They sent pictures of young, smiling kids to our phones. The hardest thing is to hear that one of the kids [whose] tag you’re holding in [your] hand arrived at Sobibor on a train full of children ages 4 to 8, who were sent here to die alone.”
As Patrick Pester reports for Live Science, the team was able to trace all of the children through train records. Some were part of mass deportation of 1,300 small children who were sent to the gas chambers as soon as they arrived at the camp.
The archaeologists found the tag of 6-year-old Lea Judith De La Penha, who was killed in 1943, near the camp’s railway platform. They discovered the other three tags—belonging to 6-year-old Deddie Zak, 11-year-old David Juda Van der Velde and 12-year-old Annie Kapper—in the camp’s “killing area,” which housed a gas chamber, crematorium and mass grave, per Live Science. Only half of Van der Velde’s partially burned tag was found.
“The Germans burned his body and on his neck was this tag,” Haimi tells Live Science.
According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Holocaust Encyclopedia, Nazi authorities built Sobibor in the spring of 1942. It was the second of three killing centres—along with Belzec and Treblinka—that was part of Operation Reinhard, a plan to murder Jews living in the part of Nazi-occupied Europe known as the General Government.
Most of the camp personnel came from Operation T4, the Nazi’s first mass murder program, which targeted people with disabilities. The Operation Reinhard camps channelled carbon monoxide generated by large motor engines to fill gas chambers.
Ongoing excavations at Sobibor also revealed the camp’s gas chamber, a 3,700-square-foot building with eight rooms.
“We can say that every time you can put between 800 to 900 people in this gas chamber, turn on the motor of the tank and kill in 10 minutes 900 people,” Haimi tells Live Science. “It’s a factory of killing.”
Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust remembrance memorial, estimates the number of people murdered at Sobibor around 250,000. But Hami says the real number is likely higher.
“We will never know how many Jewish people [were] killed in this camp,” he tells Live Science. “I can tell you from the size of the mass graves—because they are huge—it must be much more than 250,000.”
Ofer Aderet of Haaretz reports that Haimi began excavating the site in 2007 as a “private undertaking.” He’s now working with Polish colleague Wojtek Mazurek and others to continue uncovering artefacts.
The team recently discovered several I.D. tags that identified some of the camp’s victims as North African Jews. Other discoveries include pins worn by the right-wing Jewish group Beitar, as well as jewellery, keys, shoes and other personal items owned by those killed at the camp.
Haimi tells Haaretz that he has also discovered a “huge number of alcohol bottles” apparently belonging to Nazis and other camp personnel. The archaeologists gave the items to a museum at the camp that opened last year but is currently closed due to the pandemic.
Sobibor remained in operation until October 1943, when prisoners staged an uprising. Around half of the 600 people then held at the camp escaped, but many were subsequently killed. About 50 former prisoners from the camp survived the war. After the uprising, the Nazis shut the centre down, shooting all prisoners who hadn’t managed to flee.
World War II Execution Site Investigated in Poland
Dawid Kobiałka of the Polish Academy of Sciences, with the assistance of an 88-year-old eyewitness, has found personal belongings, bullets, and charred human bone, including fragments of skulls, teeth, femurs, and a vertebra, just under the surface of the ground in an area of northern Poland dubbed “Death Valley,” according to a report by The First News.
On the outskirts of the town of Chojnice in northern Poland, where at least two mass killings took place at the hands of German death squads in 1939 and early 1945, at a site named ‘Death Valley’ the harrowing discovery was made. Dr Dawid Kobialka, from the Polish Academy of Sciences Institute of Archeology and Ethnology, who made the horrible discovery told TFN: “The bones and bullets are linked with the massacre of the second half of January 1945.
The crime was committed by the Gestapo and members of the German police, according to historical records. The bullets and shells came from the pistols of the Walther PPK and P08 Parabellum, indicating that the victims were executed at close range.” He added: “We found fragments of, among others, skulls, teeth, femurs, a thoracic vertebra. The bones lie just under the ground for one centimetre or two. To see the remains, it was enough to put a shovel in the ground once.
“There were more burnt human bones than sand.
“Most of the bones are actually ashes because of the temperature of the cremations. That is why the gasoline was used.” Eye-witness Jan Grunt said gasoline barrels were at Death Valley when the Germans left the site.
He said: “The shootings from pistols were heard almost all night. […]. The bodies were dowsed by gasoline and later burned. Three gasoline barrels that still lie in Death Valley confirm it. The fire was discernible for three days and nights at the Death Valley”. Another eye-witness Kazimierz Janikowski who is now 88 but was 13 at the time of the massacre and helped the researchers locate the site said: “We were going there [to Death Valley] because we were curious about what was happening.
“I was searching there and found [burned human] bones.
“I still see those 200-litre gasoline barrels. There was stench over town when the bodies were burned.”
Kobialka added that “marks of gasoline are preserved on fragments of wood discovered during the research.” The researchers also discovered humbling personal belongings the victims had on them when they were killed. One photo shows a battered wristwatch, another a spoon and plate. Yet another photo shows the fragment of a woman’s broach, confirming testimonies that both men and women were slaughtered.
Named Death Valley by locals, the area covers around 1.5km. Towards the end of the war, Gestapo officers shot dead around 600 prisoners in the ‘valley’ before setting their corpses on fire.
Kobialka said: “There were several columns of people and they went in different directions. One of them was herded to Chojnice and murdered in Death Valley.
“The townspeople saw a glow of light at night on the outskirts of the city in the Valley of Death, and a terrible smell of burning went over the city.
“The most probable version of events is that they were Gestapo prisoners from the prison in Bydgoszcz.
“There, among others, were detained members of the Polish resistance who were captured at the turn of 1944-1945.”
He added: “In materials, we found in one document, there is an annotation that in Death Valley, then it was called Ostrówek, about 600 people were murdered and burned.”
The Chojnice killing fields lie just 50 miles north of the town of Bydgoszcz where the Germans carried out brutal repression following Hitler’s invasion of Poland in September 1939.
By the end of the war, it is estimated that around 36,350 civilians had been ‘liquidated’ by German forces in Bydgoszcz and the surrounding areas.
Kobialka said: “When the Red Army was coming from the south in January 1945, the Germans organised the evacuation of the prison.
“A few columns of prisoners were made, with some of them going to the west.
“One of them went to Chojnice under the supervision of Gestapo guards.
“The guards, according to one of the witnesses, organised the massacre.”
Earlier this year, the Institute uncovered remains from the 1939 massacre where in the early stages of WWII, German SS shot dead more than 500 locals as part of their ‘action against the intelligentsia’ who the Third Reich considered ‘dangerous’. In charge of operations was Heinrich Mocek, a sadistic Nazi officer who between October 1939 and January 1940 ordered extensive exterminations across the whole region as part of the Nazis’ Polish Intelligentsia Action, which saw around 30,000-40,000 Poles living in the Pomerania region murdered.
He was later convicted for a string of atrocities and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1965 by a West German court. But by the time the Red Army arrived he had fled Poland, leaving the question of who ordered and carried out the 1945 massacre unanswered.
Kobialka said: “The massacre in 1939 is relatively well-known. We know some of the victims, we know some of the murderers, we know some of the witnesses.
“But the massacre in January 1945 is a mystery. We found burned human bones close to the meadow.
“So, Death Valley embodies different locations near Chojnice that were the theatre of mass executions during the Second World War.
“We are still looking for historical records that will shed light on the subject.”
2,500-Year-Old Iron Age horse harness found by accident is oldest in CEE, say, archaeologists
Science in Poland reports that some 150 decorative bronze pieces of a 2,500-year-old horse’s bridle were discovered in north-central Poland.
The pieces, which resemble those made by the Scythians, who lived to the north, had been wrapped in leaves and placed in a leather bag. “This secured deposit had been buried on a sandy hill near the bank of the Vistula,” said Jacek Gackowski of the Nicolaus Copernicus University.
After searching a nearby hill, he had returned to the meeting point of the archaeologists, when his metal detector, which was still turned on, began beeping.
The researchers contacted Toruń Provincial Office for Monument Protection when they decided that they might have found something of historical interest that they discovered more than 150 large and smaller bronze pieces which made up a large part of a bridle.
The items were wrapped in leaves, analysis of which reveals they were probably burdock, and the bundles had been placed in a leather bag; its remains are also visible on the harness parts.
Dr Jacek Gackowski from the Institute of Archaeology of the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń: “This is the first find of this type in Central and Eastern Europe.
“This secured deposit had been buried on a sandy hill near the bank of the Vistula. It can be assumed that someone who hid these valuable items planned their subsequent extraction.
“The preserved artefacts indicate that the bridle was very decorative, as evidenced also by the numerous tubular and ring-shaped harness parts made of sheet metal and wire.
‘It is an almost complete horse bridle. The only thing missing is a bit, the part inserted into the horse’s mouth; it was used to send signals and guide the animal.”
He added that the style of the harness can be traced back to the far north infiltration of nomads, possibly Scythians, in the environment of the Lusatian culture. This most likely took place in the early Iron Age (6th century BC).
He said: “Remember that the remains of Scythian weapons and ornaments are known from the area of Kujawy and the south-western edge of the Chełmno Land. (…) Perhaps the treasure from Cierpice is a trace of dramatic events that could have occurred between the local population and culturally alien, horse-riding visitors from far away.”
In addition, archaeologists also found a locally-made socketed axe inside the leather bag.
Wojciech Sosnowski from the Provincial Office for Monument Protection in Toruń said that “at the moment, it is difficult to answer” why or how the axe was in the bag, adding: “An interdisciplinary research team will be established to solve all the mysteries related to the discovered treasure. It will include pre-historians, archaeometallurgists, conservators and representatives of the natural sciences.
“Samples will be taken and their analysis will allow, among other things, to determine the exact time when the treasure was buried.”
But he suggested that the person who buried the metal parts treated them as a raw material for further remelting. During this period, metals were considered very valuable and they were in short supply. The whole treasure weighs about 1 kg; the parts are light so as not to constrain and unnecessarily burden the horse, he said.
Well Preserved 2,000 Year Old Settlement Found Hidden Under Dense Forest In Northern Poland
Archeologists found in almost 2,000 years an entirely untouched old village, the only village of its kind in Europe. The magnificent discovery in northern Poland revealed farming land complete with boundary strips, homesteads, buildings, and even roads.
Hidden in dense forests in the Bory Tucholskie region, the area is one of the least explored by archeologists.
Archeologist Mateusz Sosnowski from the NCU (Nicolaus Copernicus University) Institute of Archeology in Toruń told PAP: “When it comes to research, it was virgin territory.
“It was a great surprise to discover they’re not only individual elements of a former settlement, but also its surroundings: fields surrounding the hamlet, traces of single homesteads and even tracts connecting them probable with other settlements.”
The remains come from the first centuries of the modern era, Sosnowski and fellow researchers who made the discovery, Jerzy Czerniec, believe.
Archeologist Mateusz Sosnowski from the NCU (Nicolaus Copernicus University) Institute of Archeology in Toruń said: “When it comes to research, it was virgin territory. We have an entire estate together with its surrounding farmland in the form of fields and pastures, where all the elements come from the same period. It’s unique!” Mateusz Sosnowski
Sosnowski explained that the discovery is unique because archeologists usually only discover individual elements of settlements or other constructions leftover from the activities of ancient people.
Such discoveries usually occur during the building of houses or roads and the digs are rescue efforts. As a result, research is limited to a small area.
In such cases, there is also not usually an opportunity to search more widely to see whether there are other remains or interesting artefacts in the vicinity.
Sosnowski explained: “Here we have an entirely different situation.
“We have tracked down unknown traces of an ancient Bory Tucholskie settlement. It’s not a matter of one house or a fragment of a settlement.
“We have an entire estate together with its surrounding farmland in the form of fields and pastures, where all the elements come from the same period. It’s unique!”
The archeologists discovered the find using Aerial Laser Scanning (ALS), a tool ever more frequently used by researchers.
As part of a project aimed at creating anti-flood defences among other things, the whole of Poland was covered. ALS enables a very thorough inspection of territory, even if it is overgrown with forest and the differences in height are invisible to the naked eye, as was the case in Bory Tucholskie.
The settlement together with its surrounding fields covers an area of over 170 hectares and the fields are surprisingly regular.
Sosnowski said: “Their shape brings to mind the three-field system of farming, known in Poland only from the middle ages. Was it already in use several hundred years earlier? we hope our research will answer that question.”
7,000-Year-old Horned Face Image found Under Ancient Polish Home
In the area of a large, prehistoric settlement populated by a group identified by specialists as the Linear Pottery culture, the discovery in Biskupice was completed.
Marta Korczyńska, Field Work Chief at the Institute of Botany of the Polish Academy of Sciences said: “The fragments of pottery that we discovered are decorated with a plastic ornament depicting a stylized outline of a human face. There are two bumps on the forehead, reminiscent of horns.”
She added that only a part of the unusual ornament has survived, including the eyes and nose. The preserved fragment measures approx. 10 cm in width.
Project leader Dr Magdalena Moskal-del Hoyo from the W. Szafer Institute of Botany PAS said: “Today we are not able to clearly interpret this image. It seems likely, however, that such an unusual artefact could be related to the sacred sphere to some extent.”
According to Professor Marek Nowak from the Institute of Archaeology of the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, who was also involved in the research, this type of artefact is evidence the inhabitants of the settlement had contact with people living in the area of today’s Hungary and Slovakia.
This is indicated not only by the discovery of the broken bowl, but also products made of obsidian, a raw material not found in Poland. It is a volcanic glass with a black and shiny surface.
Korczyńska said that while vessels with similar ornamental motifs are known from that period in Slovakia and Hungary (although they usually do not have stylised horns), this is the first such object been found in Poland.
The archaeologists also found over 3,000 artefacts, including obsidian tools and so-called cores, stone blocks used to strike stone flakes and chips that were later used to make tools. These products were primarily used as leather scrapers, tools for processing wood and bones, and sickle blades.
In addition to archaeologists, experts in the field of botany are also involved in the project. ‘It may be surprising that the employees of the Institute of Botany PAS conduct archaeological research, but in this interdisciplinary project, next to ceramics and other artefacts, plant remains are an equal, unfortunately often overlooked source of information on material culture and old customs’, said Dr Moskal-del Hoyo.
She added that the remains of plants from sites dating back to the early Neolithic period (the time when farming began) were and are relatively rarely collected and studied by excavation leaders.
Meanwhile, in her opinion, they can provide very important information about the people of the time and their crops.
The project is financed by the National Science Centre.