Remains of executed World War II nuns in Poland showcase brutal Soviet war crimes

Written on 03/07/2021
SCIENCE


By Ciarán Mather

The skeletal remains of three Catholic nuns, believed to have been murdered by the Russian Red Army, were recently unearthed in Olsztyn, Poland.

Records from 1945 detail how a squad of Soviet soldiers slaughtered seven nuns belonging to the order of St. Catherine of Alexandria, representatives of the Polish Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) told Live Science.

The three deceased nuns are believed to have been working as nurses in Olsztyn's St. Mary's Hospital before their deaths.

Specifically, they are believed to be the remains of: Sister Generosa (Maria Bolz), Sister Krzysztofora (Marta Klomfass) and Sister Liberia (Maria Domnik).

The discovery was made by a team of archaeologists who were conducting a months-long search for the bones of seven nuns who were killed during the former Soviet Union's occupation of the country, which started in 1944.

After Nazi Germany withdrew from Poland in 1944, Josef Stalin's Red Army ordered his men to suppress Polish militia and religious figures.

This included imprisoning, deporting and killing Polish soldiers, clergy and civilians. 

The archaeologists believe that the nuns, especially Sister Krzystofora, died painful deaths, as she was discovered missing her eyes, tongue and with 16 stab wounds.

Further DNA analysis of the three skeletons, along with four others that were discovered last year, is underway at the Forensic Medicine Institute in Gdańsk, Poland to confirm the nuns' identities.

Meanwhile, Catholic clergy in Poland are reportedly seeking beatification for the murdered St. Catherine sisters, according to the Polish Institute of National Remembrance.

Russia's Red Army, although playing a pivotal role in the liberation of many European countries from the Third Reich, were also known for their merciless tactics against both the enemies and civilians.

Zakhar Agranenk, a playwright who served with the Red Army, once wrote in his diary about his fellow soldiers in East Prussia: 'Red Army soldiers don't believe in 'individual liaisons' with German women.

'Nine, ten, twelve men at a time - they rape them on a collective basis.'

He added that the troops 'raped every German female from [as young as] eight to 80.'

Although stories of the Red Army's brutality are well-known, inside of Russia, they are often downplayed: in a June 2017 interview, Russian president Vladimir Putin acknowledged the 'horrors of Stalinism', but also maintained that there was an 'excessive demonization' of the now-deceased dictator's rule by Russia's enemies.

Many Allied troops were also not exempt from war crimes, either — to give one horrific example, many US troops raped native women on the Pacific Island of Okinawa while fighting Japanese forces.

If there are two lessons one can take away from the discovery of the murdered nuns, it is this: firstly, it is apparent that Poland in World War II was sadly freed from one brutal occupation, only to be taken under control of another.

Secondly: war will always bring out the worst in some people — regardless of whether or not they are on the quote-on-quote 'good' side.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can call Samaritans Ireland at 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.ie, or you can contact the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre by clicking here.

Help is always at hand and there is always someone available to listen.

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