A gruesome previously unknown mass grave of 1,362 Nazi victims – including 675 children – has been unearthed in western Russia.
The dead, all believed to be civilians, were found in a macabre unrecorded genocide burial close to the base of an invading Hitler SS unit during the Second World War, experts said.
The victims, almost all without visible wounds, were naked and without shoes when they were buried.
One harrowing theory is that younger remains were from a nearby concentration camp where more than 300 children were incarcerated to supply blood for wounded German officers and soldiers fighting near Leningrad – now St Petersburg – at any one time.
Many newborns and teenagers perished in the area from chronic blood loss.
Viktor Ionov, head of the mass grave search team, said: “We are digging and digging, but there is no end to it at all. And – morally – civilians are harder to dig out than military victims.”
He added: “The victims were not wearing clothes and shoes. Usually, something decayed remains, for example, soles – but not here.”
This week 50 sacks of human remains were taken from the burial pit in Novaya Burya village, in the Lomonosovsky district of the Leningrad region.
These contained the latest 415 victims – more than half of them children – to be collected from the mass grave.
Search volunteer Sergei Beregovoi said: “In total the bones of 1,362 people, 675 out of them children, have been dug up here.”
Most of the adults were women and at least three of them were pregnant, the search team said.
There are no gunshot wounds, a few victims showed signs of blows, but most had no indication of the cause of death.
It is expected more victims will be found when searching resumes after the winter season.
One tag numbered 1410 was found, but its significance so far is unclear.
The first hint of a mass grave came to light when the remains of two adults and a newborn child were found a year ago during a land survey.
Soon afterward, another 20 skeletons were discovered, and a criminal case for mass murder was opened by the Russian Investigative Committee.
This is now likely to be recategorised as a genocide investigation, according to reports.
Investigators believe the bodies were dumped by trucks at the burial site, and they lie a few feet below the surface.
“The remains were lying in piles,” Beregovoi told 47news outlet. “Some had their arms stretched.”
He had never seen such a distressing burial despite years working on finding lost graves, he said.
He added: “To be honest, I was utterly horrified, despite all my experience.”
Nazi troops were stationed some 300 metres (985ft) from the site between 1941 and early 1943, during the Siege of Leningrad, now St Petersburg. An SS unit was also based nearby.
Mr Ionov said: “The most mysterious thing is that neither the elderly, nor local historians, remember anything about what happened here. There is no evidence in the military archives.”
The site was not suspected to be a graveyard or cemetery, as Mr Ionov said: “I do not understand why no-one knows anything at all about what happened here.”
One version is that the victims died from famine, during the harsh winters between 1941-43, but this is far from certain.
Experts involved in the mass grave discovery are also examining whether children from the evil Vyritsa ‘blood transfusion’ concentration camp, near Gatchina, were buried here.
More than 300 “juvenile prisoners”, from newborns to 14-year-olds, were kept for one purpose – pumping out blood for the soldiers and officers of the Wehrmacht who fought near Leningrad.
Mothers were permitted to be with the younger children in this camp. The mass grave is some 30 miles from the notorious Nazi facility.
One survivor reported: “My sister, Elena, died there, in the infirmary. She was begging me, ‘Alexander, please take me away from here. I have no blood left, but they keep coming for more.’ She died the next day.”
This version may explain why locals around the grave never reported a mass execution at this place.
It could also be consistent with the child victims’ bones having no visible wounds. There is a Soviet-era memorial to the camp victims.
Around 100 graves were found close to its site but other child blood transfusion victims from Vyritsa were never found.