WWII grave unites Poles, Germans

MALBORK, Poland — Germans and Poles are laying ghosts of World War II to rest this week — more than 2,000 of them.

At a ceremony Friday, they will rebury the bones that were discovered last fall in a mass grave at the foot of this northern Polish city’s medieval castle, setting aside the grievances that linger from the war and often bedevil relations between the two countries.

But the uncertainties about who the dead were and who killed them may never be resolved. All that authorities can say with some assuredness is that they were probably German civilians who died in the ferocious final months of the war, in a city with a shared Polish-German past that dates back more than 700 years.

Poland and Germany are at peace today — fellow democracies in the 27-nation European Union.

But the war still shadows the relationship.

They argue, often bitterly, over war damages, past suffering, and the rights of an estimated 3 million ethnic Germans expelled as Poland headed into a future as a Soviet communist satellite.

Yet the grisly find by red-brick Malbork Castle seems to have drawn hearts and minds together. Polish authorities have handled the discovery with sensitivity, neither side has voiced recriminations, and discussions on where to rebury them have reached a cordial, mutually agreed conclusion.

“These were innocent people and they should be treated with respect, and have a proper burial,” said Marian Kempka, a 56-year-old Polish man visiting the Malbork cemetery where the remains were temporarily stored.

The first bones were found in October by construction workers digging foundations for a five-star hotel by the Castle, a tourist attraction and UNESCO World Heritage site. But it took three months for the magnitude of the grave to become clear.

While construction of the 175-room hotel was moved to an adjacent plot, an exhumation was ordered by Polish authorities.