Mystery Surrounds Mass Graves in Polish City

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In Malbork, Poland, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) southeast of Gdansk, Radoslaw Gajc slings a pick-ax over his shoulder. Dressed in green overalls like all the city's housing industry employees, he crosses an icy dirt track, then descends into an open pit. Just 200 meters (650 feet) away, the majestic brick walls of Malbork Castle soar in the background.

Gajc is a construction worker, and together with his colleagues he's supposed to be building a luxury hotel here. Instead, he finds himself more in the role of a gravedigger. After just a few strokes with the pick-ax, Gajc strikes bone. He reaches for a small garden spade and carefully excavates the fragments of a human jaw, two teeth still attached, then drops his find into a black plastic bucket. "At first we were constantly finding children's skeletons," he says, "and that was really hard for me. I have a young son myself."

Gajc and the others are working their way through a mass grave containing the remains of at least 1,800 people, including women and children. All the bodies were naked when they were thrown into the pit, and their cause of death is unknown. Did they die during World War II? Or later, in an epidemic? Were they the dead retrieved from the city's houses and streets after battles, to be accorded at least this form of burial?

Or are they the victims of a monstrous crime? Some of the skulls, it turns out, reveal bullet holes.

So far no forensic experts have been called in, although the excavation here has been going on for months. City officials first announced the find earlier this month, and there is a strong chance the bones are the remains of Germans.

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