Six decades on, Poland hopes Pilecki’s remains will be identified among the entangled skeletons and shattered skulls of resistance fighters being excavated from a mass grave on the edge of Warsaw’s Powazki Military Cemetery. The exhumations are part of a movement in the resurgent, democratic nation to officially recognize its war-time heroes and 20th century tragedies.
“He was unique in the world,” said Zofia Pilecka-Optulowicz, paying tribute to her father’s 1940 decision to walk straight into a Nazi street roundup with the aim of getting inside the extermination camp. “I would like to have a place where I can light a candle for him.”
More than 100 skeletons, mostly of men, have been dug up this summer. On one recent day, forensic workers and archaeologists wearing blue plastic gloves and masks were carefully scraping away at the soil and piecing together bones as if working on a jigsaw puzzle. The front of one skull had been blown away by bullets; another had apparently been bludgeoned; a skeleton showed evidence of multiple gunshot wounds.