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Archaeology - Forgotten Eastern Front History of Poland in WWI

On a visit to southern Poland in 2017, there was little, but increasing, evidence of Polish interest in what had happened during WWI, with a heritage trail, amongst other things, being signposted, though not yet open. On talking to Polish friends, their view was that it was a 'difficult' time to get to grips with, as Poland itself didn't exist as a national entity, and in things like the Gorlice-Tarnow Offensive in 1915, you have Russian Army Polish units fighting against Austro-Hungarian Polish Army units and ethnic Poles in German Army units, so difficult to tell who the 'good guys' are. (There was also a Polish unit in the French Foreign Legion fighting on the Western Front.) More work by the likes of this group would help to shed light on events, commemorate the fallen and maybe bring in some more tourist interest.

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The Świętokrzyska Exploration Group along with WWI military expert Marek Lis have embarked upon an historical detective investigation to uncover forgotten WWI cemetery.
Public domain/ Świętokrzyska Grupa Eksploracyjna

'The forgotten graves of soldiers slaughtered on the Eastern Front during WWI appear to have been discovered by a history group that hope to identify those buried so as to award them the remembrance they deserve.

'The grim discovery in the village of Królewice in the south of Poland, came after members of the Świętokrzyska Exploration Group heard rumours about a mystery cemetery from a neighbouring village’s mayor who had been told about it by his grandmother. Killed in 1915 in fierce fighting during the Battle of Opatów, the soldiers that fell belonged to the advancing Austro-Hungarian Army and the retreating Imperial Russian Army. Sebastian Grabowiec from the Świętokrzyska Exploration Group told TFN: “On the Austro-Hungarian side fifteen were buried here in a mass grave and we also know there was a single officer’s grave, a separate grave for a Russian officer and another mass grave for Russian troops. In all, a total of sixty-two people.”

'Founded in 2016 and comprised of fifteen members, it is this group of amateur enthusiasts that have been credited with the discovery. “We share a passion for history,” says Grabowiec, “as well as a fundamental desire to verify facts whilst revealing those that are not yet known.” Having already studied and researched battlefields in Grunwald as well as WWI sites in the Carpathian Mountains, the group have previously collaborated closely with archaeologists, conservators, museums and like-minded international associations, with their finds including a Roman-era decorative brooch, a stirrup from the period of the Tartar invasions from the turn of the 11th and 12th century, an ancient battle axe, bones and other ephemera of war.

'Their latest search came about after the group was informed about rumours of a cemetery by Jacek Piwowarski, the Mayor of Kolonia Wiązownica in southern central Poland.“He remembered being told about it by his grandmother,” says Grabowiec, “and while it’s located on private property the owner kindly allowed us to check out the area.” Doing so meant tidying and cleaning it of undergrowth and scrub to the extent that it would enable the group to work with GPR technology, frame detectors and metal detectors to determine the cemetery outline and the existence of assorted burial sites. Contact was also made with Marek Lis, a historian and expert in military operations conducted in the region during WWI. According to Lis, immediate post-war documents had supported claims as to the one-time presence of a war cemetery, however, no further mention could be found thereafter leading to suspicions that the bodies had been exhumed in the 30s and buried elsewhere. “But members of Świętokrzyska Grupa Eksploracyjna spoke to the older residents in the village,” says Grabowiec, “and none of them could recall such an exhumation and, in fact, some even remembered the presence of wooden crosses still being there after WWII.”

'Following strict legal parameters, and guided by their own sensitivities (“It’s always emotional working in a place where people have fallen or their remains rest,” says Grabowiec), the group have also sought to establish contact with the Austrian Embassy, efforts they say have been rebuffed with silence. The next step of the search will see the deployment of their GPR equipment and if the group’s assumptions are met then commemorating the dead tops their agenda. “We don’t want to see this cemetery forgotten again,” says Grabowiec. “The Austrian Embassy hasn’t responded so instead we plan on talking with the local authorities that deal with war burials.”

'Already, archives in Prague have revealed the identities of thirteen known to have fallen and quite likely to be resting below this ground. Of Czech ethnicity and Catholic faith, their death certificates show the majority to have been aged between twenty and twenty-three (though with some aged over thirty), whose pre-war professions ranged from blacksmith and coachman to personal secretary. Grabowiec hopes this is the beginning. “I think there’s a good chance we could work out the identities of another fifteen people,” he says, “but the main goal is to restore this as a proper place of memory, erect a plaque and to give these soldiers the resting place they deserve.”


 
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Some more on the Polish WWI Heritage Trail project. As I mentioned above, 3 years on it was still in a nascent stage, but hopefully has progressed since, and with initiatives and publicity like the Świętokrzyska Exploration Group, will continue to develop.

'The Polish land, partitioned among Russia, Germany and Austria, became a battlefield for central states (Germany and Austria) and Russia in 1914-1915. War swept through the entire territory of today’s Poland, leaving behind enormous damage and hundreds of war cemeteries where Austrians, Germans, Russians, Poles, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Hungarians, Czechs, and Slovaks are buried.

'Today, Poles recollect these events, renovating forgotten cemeteries and war memorials. These sites will now form the World War I Eastern Front Trail, which will run through eight Polish provinces (Lodz, Warmian-Masurian, Podlaskie, Masovian, Swietokrzyskie, Lublin, Lesser Poland, and the Subcarpathian Provinces). The partially completed tourist route is expected to attract tourists from all over Europe. It will be inaugurated on the occasion of the centennial of the outbreak of World War I.'


 
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FWIW, There's also one for the extinct state of Prussia into which my Grandmother was born. I know that one of my German Great uncle was in a Hussars Regiment ( zu STOLP) in '14 which faught under Von Mackenson. Ironically it's thought that the Colonel in chief was Edward the VII. It's thought that the connotation with Stolp would make it the 5th Hussars Prince Bluecher of Wahlstat. If anyone can correct me on that I shall be only too pleased.
My notes are that that he may have been at Stalluponen and then at Gumbinnen. Exactly how or where he died is unknown but the date given is sometime September 1914. given Solzhenitsyn's description in 1914- it might have been Blue on blue- and they were quite frequent.
Also FWIW although my grandma was born in Greater Germany-she always referred to herself as OstPreusse. whereas mum told me Grandad always referred to himself as Deutsch.
 
FWIW, There's also one for the extinct state of Prussia into which my Grandmother was born. I know that one of my German Great uncle was in a Hussars Regiment ( zu STOLP) in '14 which faught under Von Mackenson. Ironically it's thought that the Colonel in chief was Edward the VII. It's thought that the connotation with Stolp would make it the 5th Hussars Prince Bluecher of Wahlstat. If anyone can correct me on that I shall be only too pleased.
My notes are that that he may have been at Stalluponen and then at Gumbinnen. Exactly how or where he died is unknown but the date given is sometime September 1914. given Solzhenitsyn's description in 1914- it might have been Blue on blue- and they were quite frequent.
Also FWIW although my grandma was born in Greater Germany-she always referred to herself as OstPreusse. whereas mum told me Grandad always referred to himself as Deutsch.

With both locations you've mentioned are now in the Kaliningrad OBLAST so would, I'd imagine, be very difficult to access, particularly as the Masurain Lakes was a win for the 'wrong' side. The WWI war memorial in Gusev/Gumbinnen doesn't look too Teutonic.

Tannen.jpg
 
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With both locations you've mentioned are now in the Kaliningrad OBLAST so would, I'd imagine, be very difficult to access, particularly as the Masurain Lakes was a win for the 'wrong' side. The WWI war memorial in Gusev/Gumbinnen doesn't look too Teutonic.

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Just so’s people remember it was Koenigsberg and the Russians were in league with the darstardly French. Being on the wrong side doesn’t mean forgetting ;) Today being ST George’s day means I lost out twice. I’m that rare coin, the one with two tails.
 
FWIW, There's also one for the extinct state of Prussia into which my Grandmother was born. I know that one of my German Great uncle was in a Hussars Regiment ( zu STOLP) in '14 which faught under Von Mackenson. Ironically it's thought that the Colonel in chief was Edward the VII. It's thought that the connotation with Stolp would make it the 5th Hussars Prince Bluecher of Wahlstat. If anyone can correct me on that I shall be only too pleased.
My notes are that that he may have been at Stalluponen and then at Gumbinnen. Exactly how or where he died is unknown but the date given is sometime September 1914. given Solzhenitsyn's description in 1914- it might have been Blue on blue- and they were quite frequent.
Also FWIW although my grandma was born in Greater Germany-she always referred to herself as OstPreusse. whereas mum told me Grandad always referred to himself as Deutsch.

5th Pommern (Prince Blücher's Own) got rolled into Reichswehr/Wehrmacht 5th Cav as its 3rd squadron:


The idea of a sub-unit getting to keep the traditions of an older regiment after amalgamation may be familiar...as will really complicated regimental titles.
 
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That's interesting - it was reorganized into three divisional recce battalions and a cavalry reinforcement unit in 1939, but got its horses back in 1944, complete with fancy uniforms, daggers, and "von Mackensen" shoulder titles, ready to be ripped to shreds in the Budapest-Vienna campaign.
 
Sparse population, huge areas and shifting national borders: hopefully the lost and forgotten can be given back their names, no matter who they were fighting for.

'Working in close collaboration with local volunteers, a team of archaeologists from Kraków’s Jagiellonian University have discovered the remains of two World War One cemeteries as well as an obelisk mentioned in ‘The Good Soldier Svejk’ around Łupków in the region of Podkarpacie.

'Containing the graves of soldiers killed during the winter battles for the Łupkowska Pass in 1915, the cemeteries are thought to have been later built two years later before falling into disrepair and being swallowed by nature.

“During the end of WWII there were lots of clashes between Poles and Ukrainians in this area,” says Doctor Marcin Czarnowicz, the lead archaeologist heading the Jagiellonian team. “A huge number of people were expelled from their homes, and that resulted in the degradation of the area. Villages simply vanished, and so too did cemeteries.

'Discovered in Łupków and Zubeńsk, the cemeteries have yielded fragments of equipment, hundreds of cartridge cases and, in one instance, a wallet.

'Likewise, the discovery of the two cemeteries has also lent researchers a deeper insight into the way the dead were buried. In this case, the graveyard at Łupków consisted of two individual sectors divided between Russian and Austro-Hungarian soldiers. In Zubensk, however, the cemetery took the form of four semi-circles, three in which bodies from both sides were buried.

'Of equal importance has been the discovery of an obelisk featured in Jaroslav Hasek’s best-selling book ‘The Good Soldier Svejk.’

“The monument was in such bad shape that we were afraid to excavate around it,” says Czarnowicz, “but we’ve deduced that it was set on the site of German graves that were exhumed in around 1943.”

'These latest findings are part of a wider ongoing project that was first initiated in 2015 and represents the tip of the iceberg.'


 
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Just over 30 miles away by road from Lupkow Pass, is mum’s village, Dolina, in Poland, the nearest big town to which is Sanok.

I always was a bit sceptical when she used to tell me that she remembers seeing Austro-Hungarian troops around. She claimed she had a good memory but as she was born in 1914, to remember something like that from the age she would have been then I thought was a stretch. Something else I wish I could to talk to her about if she was still around.
 
Our own Polak Legionnaire Condi will be here soon .

My Grandfather was a German Jew who fought for the Kaisers and then moved himself and the family to Poland after WW1......then geshvind to the UK in '39 where my Mum was born.
 
Just over 30 miles away by road from Lupkow Pass, is mum’s village, Dolina, in Poland, the nearest big town to which is Sanok.

I always was a bit sceptical when she used to tell me that she remembers seeing Austro-Hungarian troops around. She claimed she had a good memory but as she was born in 1914, to remember something like that from the age she would have been then I thought was a stretch. Something else I wish I could to talk to her about if she was still around.
I could kick my parents for not talking, but god knows I understand why.
 
I could kick my parents for not talking, but god knows I understand why.

Dad was taciturn and didn’t talk about things much. According to mum, he had a bad time of it growing up after WW1 and also during the second unpleasantness.

He was born in 1911 on the Russian Empire side of the border, he was obvs too young for that one but it’s possible kith and kin from his and surrounding villages were in the Russian army fighting against those from mum’s and surrounding villages in the Austro-Hungarian army and they were both ethnic Ukrainians. After WW1 both their villages ended up within the re-born Poland. He got conscripted into a Uhlan regiment and was stationed in Krakow but finished his service before WW2 started.

Mum was the talkative one and I got more from her about dad than he ever told me.

In a way, I kind of see them and the stories told as a thread for me back to the cataclysmic events in Eastern Europe. So for me it’s not a forgotten front.

As it happens, it’s a thread drift I know, nearby dad’s village was the site of the battle of Berestechko.



Went there a couple of times to visit relis. There’s a museum area right on the edge of the village with a church within the grounds with a small ossuary (well there was when we were there early 90s). The Cossacks lost that one and the guide showing us round got almost tearful at the thought of what could have had they actually won the day.

 
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