WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Fearing the power of their patriotism, Poland's communist leaders killed the nation's World War II heroes and anti-communist activists and dumped their bodies secretly in mass graves, hoping they would be forgotten. They were topped with new graves.
But now, a history institute is restoring the memory of the slain heroes and arranging proper burials. In order to get to the hidden remains, it is asking to move 194 communist-era graves — including one of a judge who contributed to the death sentence for a man likely buried just beneath him.
The move is part of efforts taken by democratic Poland after 1989 to recognize war heroes and anti-communist activists who were persecuted, killed and deliberately erased from records under four decades of communism imposed after the war.
A motion to have the graves moved within Warsaw's military Powazki cemetery, at the expense of the state, has been filed with the provincial governor, who will negotiate with families, Institute of National Remembrance spokesman Andrzej Arseniuk told The Associated Press on Monday.
He said that the primary concern is for the relatives of the slain heroes who are waiting to have them identified and properly buried.
"It is the duty of the Polish state toward these national heroes who were murdered, secretly buried and destined by the communists for oblivion, to give them back their names and proper burial sites where they could be honored," Arseniuk said.
The institute is searching for the remains of about 100 independence heroes, from among several hundred killed in a Warsaw prison and then dumped there between 1945 and 1956.
Across Poland, thousands of war-time resistance heroes who later opposed communism were tortured, killed, and secretly buried. A few of their persecutors were handed prison terms under democracy.
Remains of about 120 victims — entangled skeletons and shattered skulls — were discovered in 2012-2013 under a lawn in the Powazki cemetery. About 40 have been identified using relatives' DNA. Officials realized that more remains could be reached only by moving the new graves on top.
Among those missing are Capt. Witold Pilecki, who volunteered to be an Auschwitz inmate and smuggled out reports of atrocities there before fleeing, and Gen. August Fieldorf, deputy commander of Poland's war-time resistance Home Army.
Among the graves of various communist-era military figures, dating to the 1980s, is that of Lt. Col. Roman Kryze, a judge who contributed to Pilecki's 1948 death sentence.