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Colonel Sonntag worked on the assumption that after "initial burial on the battlefield, part of these mass graves will have to be turned into war cemeteries." Trees were to be left intact "as much as possible" and proximity to a train station was considered a prerequisite.
It's a blustery day in March, 70 years after the war ended. "Ideally, the troops who died would have been advancing," says Thomas Schock. He recalls how he used to spend his evenings filling out reburial forms, processing reports on deceased people from a 17-year-old buried in a shallow grave to victims of violence and mass graves for soldiers and civilians, layers upon layers of bones, skulls and boots. "I knew I either had to give up or just get on with it." Today he works for the German War Graves Commission, where he is in charge of exhumation and reburial in central and southeastern Europe.
That would mean there might be grave plans, sketches and photos. Behind him, the bulldozer's driver has switched off the engine.
"It's harder if the troops were retreating." A bulldozer behind him has already cleared away a meter of ochre soil. The team continues digging up the field in Redczyce with trowels, unearthing stratum upon stratum of soil.
The same way that images slowly emerge when a photographer processes pictures in a dark room, a semblance of a soldier gradually appears, in the form of a helmet, a skull, remains of boots and a padded coat, ribs. Merely scratching the surface of its soil can turn up bones, metal shards, unexploded bombs, dog tags, rosaries, rusty knives and forks, medals, belt buckles. A Diorama of Death In August 1942, Colonel Walther Sonntag of the Wehrmacht's Casualty Office signed four pages of typewritten instructions for military graves officers, along with a further nine pages of sketches, laying out guidelines for mass graves for soldiers.
With excavations of Europe's killing fields still unearthing the mortal remains of thousands of fallen soldiers, World War II still isn't over for the people who find them, identify them and give them a proper burial.
Thomas Schock is standing on a plot of land in Redczyce near Znin in western Poland.The region was known during World War II as the Reichsgau Wartheland, formed from Polish territory annexed by the Nazis in 1939.Redczyce then became Rettschütz and Znin became Dietfurt. Thomas Schock is a qualified forest ranger who studied the subject in the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein. Now he specializes in exhuming dead bodies and remnant bones and re-burying them in another location.Seventy years later, Thomas Schock has his work cut out for him tracking down what is left of the Wehrmacht soldiers and the war dead, who still lie scattered across Europe's erstwhile battlefields.Not only do he and his team dig up skeletons -- they also dig up, layer by layer, a past that has failed to make it into the history books.In February 1944, six-year-old Anna Rossa watched the Red Army shoot a group of German soldiers in Redczyce.