Schools unite to lift WW2 children from watery grave

Fri Apr 13, 2012 7:13am EDT
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By Madeline Chambers

BERLIN (Reuters) - One March day in the last weeks of World War Two, more than 70 German children squeezed into a plane designed for 14 hoping to be flown to safety from the advancing Soviet tanks in north-eastern Nazi Germany.

Minutes after takeoff the plane dived into an icy lake, killing everyone on board. Nearly 70 years later, former war foes Germany and Poland are joining forces to try to raise the wreck from Resko Przymorskie in western Poland.

"The idea that whenever I went to the lake, I was walking by an open grave with so many children made me uneasy. To me, what we are doing is a natural thing," Zdzislaw Matusewicz, mayor of the Polish town of Trzebiatow, told Reuters.

"Children are innocent in war -- that applies to German as well as Polish children."

The Polish mayor is working with Germany's War Graves Commission to retrieve the remains of the mostly unidentified children and four crew from what is known in German as Kamper See and bury them in a nearby war cemetery.

Barely any of the childrens' identities are known but since the project began, some people have come forward, hoping to obtain details about family members who went missing without trace in the chaotic last months of the war.

The water in the lake, close to the Baltic Sea, may have dissolved the bodies but some experts say that mud may have protected the plane and some DNA evidence could be intact.

"This is a very big project. It is technically difficult and a real challenge," said Wolfram Althoff, the Grave Commission's special representative for the project.   Continued...

File photo of Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk (L) speaking to the newly elected Germany's President Joachim Gauck, on his first foreign visit, during their meeting in Warsaw, March 27, 2012. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Files