Germs, Not Nazis, Get Blame for Bodies Found in Mass Grave

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Credit: Anna Zipp

Germs, Not Nazis, Get Blame for Bodies Found in Mass Grave

A mass grave, uncovered duringِ construction atِ a German university, held theِ remains ofِ aboutِ 60 people, withِ littleِ evidence ofِ their identities andِ how theyِ ended upِ there.
Now, almost fourِ years afterِ the discovery, a genetic analysis ofِ bones fromِ the site hasِ revealed clues toِ a possibleِ killer.
   The bodies hadِ beenِ uncovered inِ January 2008 onِ the grounds ofِ the University ofِ Kassel, andِ suspicions firstِ turned toِ theِ Nazis, whoِ hadِ forced thousands ofِ slave laborers duringِ World War II toِ work atِ anِ area factory producing locomotives andِ tanks, theِ Associated Press reported.

Nazi murders

The Nazi connection seemedِ to makeِ sense atِ first, asِ in theِ final days ofِ the war, theِ Nazi SS shot andِ buried victims inِ other parts ofِ Kassel, thoughِ thereِ were noِ reports ofِ mass murders onِ that site, theِ AP quoted city archivist Frank-Roland Klaube asِ saying inِ 2008.
8 Grisly Archaeological Discoveries] The bodies themselvesِ didِ not carry someِ ofِ the ordinary clues usedِ toِ identify remains; noِ rings, watches, coins, uniforms andِ other similarly revealing items.
Later — muchِ to theِ city’s relief — theِ investigation pointed toِ a muchِ older identity forِ the bodies, according toِ Philipp von Grumbkow, a doctoral student atِ Göttingen University whoِ headed upِ theِ project toِ analyze theِ bones forِ signs ofِ infectious bacteria.

Tiny killers

Historical records indicatedِ soldiers fleeing theِ Battle ofِ Leipzig, whereِ a coalition ofِ forces defeated Napoleon Bonaparte, carried a typhoid fever epidemic toِ allِ of theِ towns theyِ encountered inِ the winter ofِ 1813-14.
These included theِ microbes knownِ to beِ responsible forِ typhoid fever, a life-threatening disease caused byِ food- orِ water-borne bacteria, asِ well asِ the similar butِ less common paratyphoid fever.
The final suspect wasِ a bacterium knownِ to causeِ trench fever, anِ infection firstِ identified among troops inِ World War I.

But such an infection might have been different for these men, according to von Grumbkow.
 

These men, mostِ likelyِ soldiers inِ Napoleon’s army, mayِ haveِ traveled throughِ halfِ of Europe andِ back again, fighting manyِ battles.
They wereِ likelyِ under extreme physical stress; theyِ hadِ poor hygiene, whichِ welcomed lice; andِ they wereِ contending withِ theِ cold ofِ winter andِ a scarcity ofِ food.
Because bacterial DNA isِ present inِ the samples onlyِ inِ small amounts compared toِ human DNA, it’sِ likely otherِ people wereِ infected asِ well.