Historians in Germany unveiled on Friday some 400 artefacts unearthed from three rural sites where Nazi troops killed 208 forced labourers shortly before the end of the war.
Shoes, clothes and prayer books are some of the finds researchers dug up in Arnnsberg Forest, in Sauerland, a mountainous area in North-Rhine Westphalia, in western Germany.
It was there that between March 20 and March 23, 1945 — just six weeks before the armistice that would end World War II — members of the Waffen-SS and Wehrmacht gunned down 208 Polish and Russian forced labourers before stealing their most precious belongings.
Most of the artefacts were excavated from the scene of the first mass murder in Langenbachtal near the city of Warstein in which 71 people were killed, including 60 women, 10 men and one child. The two other nearby sites at Eversberg and Suttrop yielded fewer finds.
The bodies had been exhumed shortly after the end of the war with American troops ordering former members of the Nazi party to unearth those killed at two of the sites and bury them in a nearby cemetery — a process they filmed and photographed. The third site was discovered in late 1946 after the English military authority received an anonymous tip.
So far, only 14 of the 208 victims have been identified.
Marcus Weidner, an archaeologist who worked on the excavations, said the artefacts "should be used for memorial, cultural projects," including at the Fulmecke cemetery, where most of the victims rest.
Regional Westphalia-Lippe executive head Matthias Löb said of the finds: "We have been experiencing the trivialization and increasing denial of the crimes of the Second World War and the Nazi dictatorship for several years, but the murders are part of our history that we must own up to."