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Soviet Atrocity Alleged : Polish Grave Site Reopens War Wound

September 28, 1987|CHARLES T. POWERS | Times Staff Writer

GIBY, Poland — Stefan Myszczynski still sticks by his story that the location of the graves came to him in a dream, but it is not a point he chooses to belabor. Myszczynski, 56, has spent his life farming, and with his calloused workingman's hands and steel-colored eyes, he does not seem the sort of man who is susceptible to mystical visions.

But pass over the business of the dream and consider the result: On June 29, Myszczynski took a shovel and walked into the great, dim forest that adjoins his land and stretches for 20 miles along the border of the Soviet Union.

When he got to a certain point in the woods, a point that looks much like any other in this 600-square-mile forest with towering pine trees and whispery silences, he started digging. Under about three feet of earth, he found three human skeletons.

Tiny Towns, Villages

Myszczynski's neighbors are hard-pressed to remember a piece of news that traveled faster through the tiny towns and villages in this quarter of northeastern Poland. For his digging exposed not just a grave but a wound still raw after more than 40 years.

The villagers were convinced then, and remain convinced now, that the bones Myszczynski uncovered represent a portion of a mass grave--possibly one of three--containing the remains of several hundred Polish peasants who were rounded up by Soviet soldiers in the final days of World War II and executed somewhere in the forest.

On this last point--the alleged mass execution in the forest--no evidence has been found to prove that such an atrocity actually occurred.

Partisans Hunted

There is no dispute, however, that the Red Army soldiers, who occupied the region after the Germans withdrew in 1944, came through the Giby area in the summer of 1945, looking for remnants of the Polish Home Army, an underground force that fought the Germans all through the war and resisted what they regarded as Russian occupation as the war ended. There is no doubt that the Soviets arrested scores of people--some say hundreds--mostly but not exclusively young men, and that those prisoners were never seen again.

Myszczynski's memory of these events, and their conclusion, is typical. The Soviet soldiers came to the Myszczynski farm on July 14, 1945, and took Stefan's three older brothers and his stepfather. Myszczynski was 14 at the time. He remembers that for two days he and his mother took food to the prisoners, who were being held in a forest clearing not far from the farmhouse. Then the prisoners were loaded onto trucks, which were driven away into the forest. The stepfather and the brothers never came back.

For 42 years, the mystery of what happened to these prisoners has remained unsolved. Of the two possible answers--that they were deported to the Soviet Union or executed in the forest--the preponderance of local opinion long ago settled on the likelihood of execution. It was for this reason that Myszczynski's discovery resounded with such force through the area.

As the news spread, people flocked to the forest, on foot, by bicycle and car, bringing with them votive candles and crosses and armloads of flowers and wreaths. They stood back in a wide circle as children held up bones and skulls. The old memories were awakened.

Then all digging was stopped, and with an unmistakable air of triumph and defiance (for this would not be a comfortable subject for the Polish government) an official call was put forth to the Polish War Crimes Commission to investigate the graves. The final proof, the villagers thought, was at hand.

It was not to be. The War Crimes Commission, responding speedily, arrived on the scene and, with the help of local people, began to dig. First, they unearthed nine bodies, laid in a neat, evenly spaced row.

A week later, Waldemar Monkiewicz, head of the Regional War Crimes Investigation Commission, provided a summary of his findings at the weekly press conference conducted by Jerzy Urban, the Polish government's official spokesman.

German Objects

"When we removed several layers of earth," Monkiewicz said, "we discovered numerous objects which indicated that the people buried there were Nazi soldiers. The things we found in the graves included identification signs, uniform buttons, a 'death's head' of the type worn on SS field caps, a cigarette case with German writing engraved inside it, parts of a military tent and braces worn by German soldiers. A large group of the local residents took part in the exhumation and identification of the grave's contents."

Monkiewicz went on to say that these and two more graves that were opened demonstrated to him that this was a graveyard for German soldiers, possibly once located near a Wehrmacht field hospital, and that further digging would be a pointless exercise.

He declared the investigation closed.

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