Posts Tagged With: Poland

Skeletons Of Napoleon’s Soldiers Discovered In Mass Grave Show Signs Of Starvation…..


As snow lashed across their faces, archaeologists quickly excavated a mass grave in Vilnius, Lithuania. The jumbled bones, haphazardly oriented, were punctuated with finds of shoes, clothing, and armor. Buttons revealed the identity of the dead: over 40 different regiments were represented, all from Napoleon’s Grande Armée. Archaeologists had found the final resting place of over three thousand men who perished during Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow in 1812. Now, new chemical analyses of the bones are revealing where these soldiers hailed from and just how difficult it was to find enough to eat.

Napoleon’s exploits are well-known from history. In an attempt to prevent invasion of Poland by Russian Czar Alexander I, Napoleon decided to invade Russia first. He started out with around 675,000 men who came from all over Europe; French, Germans, Polish, Lithuanians, Spanish, and Italians, however, made up the majority. This Grande Armée dwindled on its advance to Russia, then retreated when the czar refused to surrender and there were no supplies for the army in Moscow. By the time the army got to Smolensk, Russia, there were just 41,000 soldiers remaining. Charles Minard, a 19th century engineer who pioneered the creation of infographics, famously depicted just how treacherous this campaign was and what the loss of life looked like.

Figurative Map of the successive losses in men of the French Army in the Russian campaign 1812-1813. Drawn up by M. Minard, Inspector General of Bridges and Roads in retirement. Paris, November 20, 1869. The numbers of men present are represented by the widths of the colored zones at a rate of one millimeter for every ten-thousand men; they are further written across the zones. The red [now brown] designates the men who enter into Russia, the black those who leave it. —— The information which has served to draw up the map has been extracted from the works of M. M. Thiers, of Segur, of Fezensac, of Chambray, and the unpublished diary of Jacob, pharmacist of the army since October 28th. In order to better judge with the eye the diminution of the army, I have assumed that the troops of prince Jerome and of Marshal Davoush who had been detached at Minsk and Moghilev and have rejoined around Orcha and Vitebsk, had always marched with the army. The scale is shown on the center-right, in “lieues communes de France” (common French league) which is 4,444m (2.75 miles). The lower portion of the graph is to be read from right to left. It shows the temperature on the army’s return from Russia, in degrees below freezing on the Réaumur scale. (Multiply Réaumur temperatures by 1¼ to get Celsius, e.g. −30°R = −37.5 °C) At Smolensk, the temperature was −21° Réaumur on November 14th. (Public domain image via wikimedia commons)
Figurative Map of the successive losses in men of the French Army in the Russian campaign 1812-1813.
Drawn up by M. Minard, Inspector General of Bridges and Roads in retirement. Paris, November 20, 1869.
The numbers of men present are represented by the widths of the colored zones at a rate of one millimeter for every ten-thousand men; they are further written across the zones. The brown designates the men who enter into Russia, the black those who leave it. (Public domain image via wikimedia commons)
Local residents look at bones in a mass grave where bodies of Napoleon-era French soldiers were found in a suburb of the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, Friday, March 15, 2002. The mass garve containing as many as 2,000 French soldiers who fought for Napoleon Bonaparte during the War of 1812 has been unearthed in a Vilnius suburb. The site was discovered by construction workers. (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis)
The Grande Armée continued west, crossed the Beresina River, and arrived in Vilnius. But there was little to eat there either. Around 20,000 soldiers died in Vilnius of hypothermia, starvation, and typhus. Corpses were thrown into mass graves. One of these, containing the remains of at least 3,269 people, was excavated by bioarchaeologist Rimantas Jankauskas and his team in just one month in 2001. Bodies were packed seven to a square meter, tossed in with clothing and other items. Based on the bones, archaeologists found that almost all the dead were males, with the exception of two dozen females, and that most were in their 20s at death.

Two new research studies on these remains have attempted to answer questions about soldiers’ homelands and their diet leading up to their deaths. University of Central Florida anthropology students Serenela Pelier and Sammantha Holder, under the direction of UCF bioarchaeologist Tosha Dupras, performed stable isotope analyses on samples of the remains. Pelier used oxygen isotopes to find out the geographical origin of nine of the skeletons, while Holder used carbon and nitrogen isotopes to learn about diet and starvation.

Pelier took samples from the femur of eight males and one female for oxygen isotope analysis. Oxygen isotopes in the biosphere vary depending on factors like humidity, distance from the sea, and elevation. By measuring the oxygen isotopes in human bone, it is possible to learn whether that individual was born in a particular geographic area. Pelier found that none of the individuals she tested had oxygen values that would be expected for Vilnius; no one was local. Based on the much higher oxygen values, they were more likely from central and western Europe, with three individuals possibly from the Iberian peninsula and one who may have participated in an African campaign before the Russian one. Additionally, the one woman who was tested may have hailed from southern France.
Holder also took samples from the femur of 73 males and three females buried in the mass grave, and she performed an analysis of the stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes in the bone. While carbon isotopes provide information mainly about the carbohydrate portion of the diet, nitrogen isotopes can give data on the protein component. Holder found that most of Napoleon’s soldiers were eating plants like wheat, while a few may have come from areas like Italy where more millet was consumed. The carbon isotopes did not hold any surprises.

But Holder was much more interested in the nitrogen isotopes. More than two dozen of the people she sampled had high nitrogen values. Often, this is an indication that someone was eating high on the food chain, as nitrogen levels are higher in carnivorous animals compared to herbivores. Holder suspected, though, that something else was going on with these soldiers. When the human body is deprived of protein, nitrogen isotope values can skyrocket. So conditions like anorexia, prolonged morning sickness, vitamin D deficiency, and starvation can cause an increase in nitrogen signatures.
Napoleon’s men were not in good health, even before their ill-fated stop in Vilnius. Research on the teeth of the soldiers in the mass grave showed rampant dental cavities and indications of stress during childhood, and over one-quarter of the dead had likely succumbed to epidemic typhus, a louse-borne disease. A febrile illness like typhus could cause increased loss of body water through urine, sweat, and diarrhea, which may also cause a rise in nitrogen isotopes. And, of course, historical accounts detail how troops fruitlessly scoured the countryside for food and how many of them ate their dead or dying horses.

Fragment of a pocket of a soldier’s uniform, with regimental buttons, from the mass grave of 1812 in Vilnius. (Image used with kind permission of Rimantas Jankauskas)
Fragment of a pocket of a soldier’s uniform, with regimental buttons, from the mass grave of 1812 in Vilnius. (Image used with kind permission of Rimantas Jankauskas)
What caused the high nitrogen values among the Grande Armée? It could be the result of consumption of marine resources, from pathological conditions, or from starvation – or even from a combination of these. While the soldiers were not getting seafood from frozen Vilnius, I wondered about preserved fish and asked historian Max Owre, executive director of humanities at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, about the provisioning of the army. “There was no large scale tinning of goods,” Owre says, which means that “it’s possible that soldiers could have carried saltied, dried cod, but more likely they were simply starving.” The carbon isotope values also help rule out seafood consumption, as they are more negative than the typical range for marine-based diets. This leaves illness or lack of food.

“The prolonged periods of starvation possibly stem from career-long military service in numerous campaigns throughout the Napoleonic Wars,” Holder writes, “or from nutritional stresses prior to military conscription.” Although she admits she cannot say definitively what the cause of the elevated nitrogen values was, Holder notes that, given all the available evidence from historical records and previous studies, the “nitrogen enrichment is most likely the result of prolonged nutritional stress.”

Both Pelier and Holder tested the bones of women as well as men. But why would there have been women in a mass grave of Napoleonic soldiers? Owre told me that “there were plenty of camp followers as well as official woman cantinières and vivandières who sold goods to the troops. This woman from southern France would likely have been one of these or a follower. Some wives did tag along.” Finding the remains of women in this mass grave means archaeologists can add to the historical record, which largely glosses over women’s experiences in this war.
Studies of the bones of Napoleon’s soldiers are key evidence in finding out what really happened in the Russian Campaign. Owre tells me that a large amount of pro-Napoleon scholarship places the blame for massive troop death on the cold Russian winter. But, he points out, “military logistics at the time were incapable of supporting an army this size, even considering that living off the land—stealing from locals—was the modus operandi of Napoleon’s armies and his enemies by this point.” If Holder is right that the elevated nitrogen signatures represent starvation, this “would be another piece of evidence for the failure of the Russian campaign,” Owre concludes.

The members of Napoleon’s Grande Armée who perished in Vilnius in the winter of 1812 are now in a new burial location: the Antakalnis Military Cemetery, where they rest with other war heroes. Bone samples that have been preserved, however, may yet yield additional information about the short lives and tragic deaths of these young men and women.

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German probe finds 20 former death camp guards…..


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Around 20 former guards at the Majdanek death camp could face charges in Germany, following a widespread probe of the Nazi SS men and women who served there during World War II, war crimes investigators said Tuesday.

Federal prosecutor Kurt Schrimm, who heads Germany’s special Nazi war crimes office, said he expects to turn the cases over to state investigators within two weeks for them to pursue accessory to murder charges. Schrimm’s office has no power to file charges itself.

Lead investigator Thomas Will told The Associated Press that about 30 suspects were identified and located, but around ten had already died. The remaining 20 men and women all live in Germany, he said, but refused to elaborate further.

Some 220 others are still being investigated for possible charges but have not been located.

The Majdanek probe is the second major review of death camp guards undertaken after Ohio autoworker John Demjanjuk in 2011 became the first person to be convicted in Germany solely for serving as a camp guard, with no evidence of involvement in a specific killing.

Though Demjanjuk always denied serving at the death camp and died before his appeal could be heard, Schrimm’s office in September recommended that state prosecutors pursue charges against 30 former Auschwitz guards based on his case.

The office then started investigating about 1,000 former guards at Majdanek — another death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland, where some 360,000 Jews and others were killed.

While Majdanek was also used as a labor camp — meaning guards theoretically could have worked there at certain times and not been involved in the Nazi genocide — prosecutors focused on guards allegedly present during the killings.

The Auschwitz investigation also continues and Schrimm said he expects more suspects will be announced “in the coming months.”

Efraim Zuroff, the head Nazi-hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, urged state prosecutors to prioritize the new cases, given the advanced age of the suspects.

“We are very hopeful that the work will be expedited so as many people as possible can be brought to justice,” he said.

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The the Great Escape Tunnel has been Found !!


Untouched for almost seven decades, the tunnel used in the Great Escape has finally been unearthed.

The 111-yard passage nicknamed ‘Harry’ by Allied prisoners was sealed by the Germans after the audacious break-out from the POW camp Stalag Luft III in western Poland .

Despite huge interest in the subject, encouraged by the film starring Steve McQueen, the tunnel remained undisturbed over the decades because it was behind the Iron Curtain and the Soviet authorities had no interest in its significance.But at last British archaeologists have excavated it, and discovered its remarkable secrets.

Many of the bed boards which had been joined together to stop it collapsing were still in position.

And the ventilation shaft, ingeniously crafted from used powdered milk containers known as Klim Tins, remained in working order.

Scattered throughout the tunnel, which is 30ft below ground, were bits of old metal buckets, hammers and crowbars which were used to hollow out the route.

A total of 600 prisoners worked on three tunnels at the same time. They were nicknamed Tom, Dick and Harry and were just 2 ft square for most of their length.

It was on the night of March 24 and 25, 1944, that 76 Allied airmen escaped through Harry.

Barely a third of the 200 prisoners – many in fake German uniforms and civilian outfits and carrying false identity papers – who were meant to slip away managed to leave before the alarm was raised when escapee number 77 was spotted.

Only three made it back to Britain . Another 50 were executed by firing squad on the orders of Adolf Hitler, who was furious after learning of the breach of security.

In all, 90 boards from bunk beds, 62 tables, 34 chairs and 76 benches, as well as thousands of items including knives, spoons, forks, towels and blankets, were squirrelled away by the Allied prisoners to aid the escape plan under the noses of their captors.

Although the Hollywood movie suggested otherwise, NO Americans were involved in the operation. Most were British, and the others were from Canada , (all the tunnellers were Canadian personnel with backgrounds in mining) Poland , New Zealand , Australia , and South Africa .

The latest dig, over three weeks in August, located the entrance to Harry, which was originally concealed under a stove in Hut 104.

The team also found another tunnel, called George, whose exact position had not been charted. It was never used as the 2,000 prisoners were forced to march to other camps as the Red Army approached in January 1945.

Watching the excavation was Gordie King, 91, an RAF radio operator, who was 140th in line to use Harry and therefore missed out.

‘This brings back such bitter-sweet memories,’ he said as he wiped away tears. ‘I’m amazed by what they’ve found.’
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Russia arms Syria with powerful ballistic missiles…….


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Iskanders carry 1,500-pound warhead at 1.3 miles per second
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Hours after NATO agreed on Tuesday to send Patriot missiles to Turkey because of the crisis in Syria, Russia delivered its first shipment of Iskander missiles to Syria.

The superior Iskander can travel at hypersonic speed of over 1.3 miles per second (Mach 6-7) and has a range of over 280 miles with pinpoint accuracy of destroying targets with its 1,500-pound warhead, a nightmare for any missile defense system.
According to Mashregh, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard media outlet, Russia had warned Turkey not to escalate the situation, but with Turkey’s request for Patriot missiles, it delivered its first shipment of Iskanders to Syria.

Reporting today, Mashregh said the handover occurred when Russian naval logistic vessels docked at Tartus in Syria.

The Iskandar is a surface-to-surface missile that no missile defense system can trace or destroy, Mashregh said. Russia had earlier threatened that should America put its missile defense system in Poland, it would retaliate by placing its Iskander missiles at Kaliningrad, its Baltic Sea port.

Russia’s delivery of Iskanders to Bashar Assad’s embattled regime clearly shows that the security and stability of Syria remains Russia’s red line, Mashregh said. It is unknown how many of these missiles have been delivered but the numbers given are sufficient to destroy any Patriot missiles in Turkey, it said.

The delivery of the missile not only threatens the security of Turkey but also Israel, which would have to recalculate its strategy with its defensive and offensive capabilities.
Traveling at Mach 6-7, this new addition to Assad’s arsenal can close the 132 miles between Damascus and Tel Aviv in around 100 seconds … not that Israel has any way to stop it.

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A WWI-era tank returns to Poland from Afghanistan…..



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WARSAW, Poland (AP) — A tank used by Poland in its 1920 war against the Red Army was returned from Afghanistan where it was serving as a decoration at the defense ministry.
Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak said Friday the French-made FT-17 tank has “historic and sentimental value” for Poland.
According to historians it probably was captured by the Bolsheviks during the war, and later sent to Kabul as a gift.
It was spotted at the Defense Ministry in Kabul by an Afghan employee of Poland’s embassy, according to Piotr Lukasiewicz, the Polish ambassador to Kabul.
After maintenance it will be displayed at the Polish Armed Forces Museum, Siemoniak said.
Europe has only three such tanks, the museum says. It is the first tank on tracks with front cabin and rear engine.

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17th-century treasures being recovered in Poland…..



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Historians salvage 17th century marble and alabaster decorative structures in the Vistula River bed after its waters ebbed to record low levels in Warsaw, Poland Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012. The treasures, including a fountain, vases and marble steps, were looted by invading Swedish army probably from the Royal Castle in the mid-17th century and got buried in the Vistula when a Swedish barge taking the loot sank. Low water on the Vistula exposed and made the artifacts accessible.
A police Mi-8 helicopter hovered over a riverbed on Thursday, lifting ornaments such as the centerpiece of a fountain with water outlets decorated with Satyr-like faces. For police, it was gratifying to provide the chopper and assist Warsaw University archeologists in “this very important mission of retrieving priceless national treasures,” said Mariusz Mrozek, a spokesman for Warsaw police. Archaeologists have long known that such well-preserved treasures were located in the riverbed in the Warsaw area, but not exactly where.

“This is a precious find. These elements were stolen from Warsaw’s royal residences and palaces,” said Marek Wrede, a historian at the Royal Castle. The valuable artistic objects—marble floor tiles, parts of archways and columns—were robbed from Warsaw by the Swedes who overran the nation in mid-17th century and took heavy loads of spoils from across the country. Today’s items probably came from the Royal Castle and from a royal country residence, the Kazimierz Palace.

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Poland hopes to identify remains of Auschwitz hero…..



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WARSAW, Poland (AP) — It could hardly have been a riskier mission: infiltrate Auschwitz to chronicle Nazi atrocities. Witold Pilecki survived nearly three years as an inmate in the death camp, managing to smuggle out word of executions before making a daring escape. But the Polish resistance hero was crushed by the post-war communist regime — tried on trumped-up charges and executed.

Six decades on, Poland hopes Pilecki’s remains will be identified among the entangled skeletons and shattered skulls of resistance fighters being excavated from a mass grave on the edge of Warsaw’s Powazki Military Cemetery. The exhumations are part of a movement in the resurgent, democratic nation to officially recognize its war-time heroes and 20th century tragedies.

“He was unique in the world,” said Zofia Pilecka-Optulowicz, paying tribute to her father’s 1940 decision to walk straight into a Nazi street roundup with the aim of getting inside the extermination camp. “I would like to have a place where I can light a candle for him.”

More than 100 skeletons, mostly of men, have been dug up this summer. On one recent day, forensic workers and archaeologists wearing blue plastic gloves and masks were carefully scraping away at the soil and piecing together bones as if working on a jigsaw puzzle. The front of one skull had been blown away by bullets; another had apparently been bludgeoned; a skeleton showed evidence of multiple gunshot wounds.

Near the pit where the bodies were dumped under cover of night stand the well-tended tombstones of the very judges and prosecutors who sent these World War II heroes to their deaths under orders from Moscow, which was fearful that the Polish patriots might use their seasoned underground skills to turn the nation against its new pro-Soviet rulers.

“The perpetrators have not been punished and the bodies of the victims have not been found,” said Krzysztof Szwagrzyk, a historian in charge of the dig. “Those times will be coming back to us until we find the bodies and bury them with due honors.

“We are doing them justice.”

Pilecki’s son Andrzej and dozens of other relatives of victims have been swabbed in the hope their DNA will be a match for the skeletons. Initial work is being carried out to determine age, sex, height and injuries of the victims. It will take several months to determine if Pilecki, who was killed by a bullet to the back of his head, is among them. Thousands of resistance fighters were killed across Poland; the remains of up to 400 are believed to have been dumped in the Powazki mass grave.

Pilecki was 38 when Germany invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, triggering the start of World War II. He helped organize a resistance campaign during which many fellow fighters were caught and sent to Auschwitz, which in the early war years served more as a camp for Polish resistance fighters than Jews. That inspired him to hatch an audacious plan: He told other resistance commanders that he wanted to become an Auschwitz inmate to check on rumors of atrocities.

Carrying documents bearing the alias Tomasz Serafinski, the Catholic cavalry officer walked into the German SS street roundup in Warsaw in September 1940, and was put on a train transport to Auschwitz, where he was given prisoner number 4859.

He was “exceptionally courageous,” said Jacek Pawlowicz, a historian with Warsaw’s Institute of National Remembrance.

Pilecki is the only person known to have volunteered for Auschwitz. His terse dispatches to the outside world were slips of thin paper stitched inside clothes of inmates leaving the camp or left in nearby fields for others to collect. They included only code names for inmates who were beaten to death, executed by gunfire or gassed. As sketchy as they were, they were the first eyewitness account of the Nazi death machine at Auschwitz.

Pilecki survived hard labor, beatings, cold and typhoid fever thanks to support from a clandestine resistance network that he managed to organize inside the camp. Some of its members had access to food, others to clothes or medicines.

He plotted a revolt that was to release inmates with the help of an outside attack by resistance fighters; it was never attempted because considered too risky, Pawlowicz said.

Pilecki escaped in April 1943 when he realized that the SS might uncover his work. With two other men he ran from a night shift at a bakery that was outside the death camp’s barbed wire fence.

After his escape, Pilecki wrote three detailed reports on the extermination camp.

One describes how his transport was met by yelling SS men and attacking dogs: “They told one of us to run to a post away from the road, and immediately sent a machine gun round after him. Killed him. Ten random colleagues were taken out of the group and shot, as they were walking, as ‘collective responsibility’ for the ‘escape’ that the SS-men arranged themselves.”

Pilecki’s heroics were for the most part in vain. Even though his accounts of gas chambers made it all the way to Poland’s government-in-exile in London and to other Western capitals, few believed what they were reading.

After escaping, Pilecki rejoined Poland’s Home Army resistance force and fought in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, the city’s ill-fated revolt against the Nazis. In 1947, he was arrested by the secret security of the communist regime, imposed on Poland after the war, and falsely accused of planning to assassinate dignitaries.

The Soviet plan after World War II was to subdue the Poles by crushing resistance and erasing any sense of Polish identity or history. Today, more than two decades into Poland’s democracy, however, enough documentation and funds have been gathered to restore the banned past and try to find and identify the heroes’ bodies.

In addition to Pilecki, the search is on for the remains of other wartime resistance heroes, including Brig. Gen. August Emil Fieldorf, a top clandestine Home Army commander who once served as emissary to Poland of the country’s government-in-exile. He was accused of ordering killings of Soviet soldiers — charges that Poland’s communist authorities later admitted were fabricated — and hanged in 1953.

Szwagrzyk is not sure if Pilecki will be found at Powazki cemetery because it is not the only such clandestine site in Warsaw or the rest of Poland.

But his place in history is gradually being restored. A street in Warsaw is now named after him, as are some schools across the country.

He found communist prison harder to endure than Auschwitz. A fellow inmate described seeing him in prison slumped, unable to raise his head because his collar bones had been broken. At his show trial, he was hiding his hands because his fingernails had been ripped out during torture.

At one court session, he told his wife Maria that the secret security torture had sapped his will to go on.

“I can live no longer,” he said.

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