A Polish historian says he made a surprising find when poring through World War I archives _ the death certificate of Manfred von Richthofen, the German fighter ace known as the "Red Baron."
Maciej Kowalczyk said Monday that he found the file last month while going through old German archives in the western Polish city of Ostrow Wielkopolski. The area was formerly German, and Richthofen was briefly stationed there.
The entry is a one-page handwritten form in a 1918 registry book of deaths that Kowalczyk was using to research the deaths of troops in the war.
It was sandwiched among the city's death records of civilian citizens like workers and tradesmen, Kowalczyk said.
"I took notice of the certificate because I know he was a known person who was briefly linked to our city," Kowalczyk said in a telephone interview.
Though the form only contains basic information and does not cast any light on the long historical debate over who shot Richthofen down _ Australian ground forces or Canadian pilot Roy Brown _ Kowalczyk said it is notable to see how Germany's top ace, with 80 kills, was treated like any other casualty in the war.
"I was surprised that it is a small document, just like for any other ordinary soldier, and does not mention that he was a fighter ace," Kowalczyk said.
Richthofen was stationed in Ostrow before going to war in 1914 as a cavalry officer.
He joined Germany's fledgling air force in 1915, and shot down his first plane in September of the following year. He quickly moved up the ranks until he headed a squadron known as "The Flying Circus," one of Germany's premier aerial units, earning the "Red Baron" nom de guerre for having his plane painted bright scarlet.
He was shot down and killed on April 21, 1918, near Amiens, France, at age 25.
Because he had been stationed in Ostrow, historians had assumed that his death certificate was there, but Kowalczyk said it was not clear whether anyone had ever seen it before.
The certificate, dated August 26, 1918, misspells Richthofen's name as "Richthoven" and states simply that he "died April 21, 1918, from wounds sustained in combat," Kowalczyk said.
Richthofen was so well respected by his enemies that when he was shot down, British and Commonwealth troops buried him with full honors in Bertangles, near Amiens.
He was later exhumed and buried in Berlin in 1925, then moved again to Wiesbaden, Germany.