Workers unearth bodies of men, women and children believed to have been killed as Red Army captured town at the end of the second world war
The discovery was made in the town of Malbork, which was called Marienburg and was part of Germany during the second world war, by workers building a luxury hotel at the foot of the town's 13th-century fortress.
The bodies are believed to be German civilians who disappeared after the Soviet army captured the town as it marched on Berlin in 1945. Many skulls were found with bullet holes in them, suggesting executions had taken place, a local official said.
A small number of bodies were found in late October, and digging was halted to allow an investigation. After resuming work weeks later, the workers turned up the remains of dozens, and then hundreds, more people.
Polish and German experts have concluded they are the remains of German citizens still classified as missing, said town official Piotr Szwedowski. He said it was believed more bodies might yet be found.
Many of the millions who disappeared in the chaos of wartime Europe are still unaccounted for.
"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 residents were ordered to evacuate as the Red Army advanced in 1945. Some refused, while others were prevented from doing so by the general chaos of the front.
The Soviets shelled the city, forcing German troops to retreat. The remaining civilians found themselves at the mercy of Red Army troops. There were no known living witnesses of what happened, Szwedowski said.
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, mostly of adults, had bullet holes in them.
"We don't know if these are direct or indirect victims of the artillery barrage, but the bullet holes suggest executions in some cases," he said.
More forensic tests would be carried out before the remains were laid to rest either in Malbork or a German military cemetery in Stary Czarnow, near the north-western 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.
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