Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Local View of the Sarbka "Nazi War" Exhumation

"Celem tej stacji jest dokumentowanie
i szukanie na całym świecie bezimiennych mogił,
w których podczas różnych konfliktów i wojen złożono
zwłoki żołnierzy oraz cywilów różnych narodowości".

They had a grave
It seems the descent of a small team of televisions film company cameramen and crew on a small Polish village did not go unnoticed by the local press. Here is a page from the village website which includes photos of the team in action (Tadeusz Stachowski, 'Ekshumacja Cmentarza Ewangelickiego w Sarbce' 14th December 2013). From this we get several pieces of information not included in the film as broadcast. The first is that far from being buried in a field, the war dead had been interred in the historical Evangelical cemetery (so on land that is an historical monument), only part of which is occupied by the Catholic cemetery in use today. One wonders therefore what the logic is of digging the bodies out of one cemetery to put them in a new one. Can this be explained by the programme's producers or by Pomost? Where were the remains assumed to be of German civilians, removed from among those of their fellows in the Evangelical cemetery, re-interred, how and why?

It seems the exhumation group were on site on 15-19th November 2013, but the dates of the photos and their content suggests that the Clearstory team were filming there only two days, 17th and 18th (and are reported as having represented themselves as from "National Geographic in London"). The promised date of emission was March or April 2014. In the article are some date-stamped photos from the filming and digging of the 17th and 18th and then a few taken of the Pomost exhumation a few days later (the reporter however says that this work was done by the "Wojskowa Grupa Archeologiczna from Poznan"). The precise spot in the old cemetery where the victims of the War were buried "was shown by the village's oldest inhabitant Zofia Stachowska (96)". The reporter's account differs from the version shown on both the film and the Pomost website:
Podczas wykopalisk odkopano szczątki 28-miu nieregularnie złożonych ciał w jednej mogile. W wiekszości były to szczątki obywateli niemieckich, oraz żołnierz armi radzieckiej, były kobiety oraz szkielet małago dziecka o czym w Sołectwie mówiło się w okresie powojennym.
So the presence of the toddler's body which caused so many fake English tears of outrage on camera was no surprise, it was known to be there.

What is more, the site of the grave was also precisely-known. There is a diploma work by Klaudia Grygorowicz-Kosakowska from 2012 in Cracow Polytechnic available online here 'Formy przestrzenne pochówków wojennych z końca II wojny światowej jako element tożsamości miejsca na przykładzie gminy i miasta Czarnków ['Spatial forms of military burial sites from the end of World War II, as an element of the sense of place: a case study in Czarnków town and commune ']. This was published in Czasopismo Techniczne z. 7. Architektura z. 2-A. The text discusses the Sarbka burials as a place of memory providing a link between the modern Polish village, resettled with Poles from what is now Ukraine who were moved into the area by Stalin's 1945 redrawing of the country's eastern border, and its past. The study includes a project for the commemoration of the resting place of these victims. The removal of the bodies in 2013 however simply erased that place of memory, which instead of giving the modern village back part of its history, removes it thus tearing it from its roots. I really do not see how Clearstory and its team of foreign artefact collectors can justify this - not that they seem even aware of the issue at all.

I think one of the ladies shown in the photos looks very much like one of the Clearstory executives Molly Milton. Whatever the truth in that, I suspect the other young lady with a more 'Polish look' is a/the translator. The photos were all taken in the same small area, around the cemetery and chapel, even the old lady's house seems to be the one in the trees next to the chapel. Most of the places where these pictures were taken and the direction the camera is pointing can be worked out from comparing them with the buildings in the background with Google Earth. I noted that photo DSC00651 shows five, not four shovels leaning against the north fence of the graveyard. These are the only excavation equipment unloaded at this stage - no containers for the bones they expect to find, no measuring equipment. Photo  DSC00719 shows Kris Rodgers digging into the ground within the area that seems to be the old Evangelical cemetery and the infamous iron rods in action (Steve T and Adrian K) on this site. Where is the excavation permit for this? Note that the lady who looks like Ms Milton is on site here. It is unclear who the gentleman in the forest camo with his head resting against a tree (in despair?) is. Is this (see photo DSC00754, DSC00758) one of the Pomost men? Is "Molly" calling the translator over to explain to him what is going on? The team's last day on site may be marked by the picture of Adrian K smiling with his phone in the hole (DSC00741). In photo DSC00754 we can see another mechanical excavator and site boxes in the background - have the Clearstory team left, their black-handled shovels with them? There is a very black layer of buried soil above the remains, but this may be nothing more dramatic than the ashes from burning wood and underbrush after clearing the overgrown cemetery. The layers of sterile soil above it will be deposited from from constructing the hollow tombs of the graveyard over the fence which is the typical modern Polish grave form. Over time, the ground level at the edge of these cemeteries rises considerably, sealing any earlier graves below.

One wonders what that sweet old lady to whom Kris Rodgers seems to have taken a shine (DSC00712) would make of the story the programme proposes that she was one of the Polish villagers who in cold blood had massacred German housewives and children in revenge for not being allowed to ring the chapel bell in the Evangelical cemetery.  Did anyone think to tell the locals what the film-makers, on the basis of very slim 'evidence' indeed, were going to accuse them of?


Hinchey said...

Some context

Paul Barford said...

The context is wider than the generally known facts about what the end of the War and establishment of Soviet power looked like here in Poland. I'd also not see it in isolation either from the massive population movements in the area going back deep into the past, well before 1945 (and please also bear in mind that it was at Yalta the Brits were party to the decision of what to do with the volksdeutche and others in the regions of redrawn borders that had not already fled the advance of the Red Army).

But the context here is also the commercialization of just part of this story by the "Nazi War Diggers"

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