A mass grave in Slovenia believed to hold up to 300 victims killed after World War II by the former communist regime has been discovered in the country’s east, authorities said on Wednesday.
“We’ve found the mummified remains of between 200 and 300 people,” Marko Strovs, head of the government’s military graves department, told journalists.
He added the victims appeared to be “killed with gas” since there were no visible signs of wounds from firearms.
Investigators and historians on Tuesday removed concrete walls built after World War II to close off the Huda Jama cave near Lasko, some 90km east of the capital Ljubljana. They then discovered the remains.
The investigation of the Huda Jama cave started last August as part of a long-running probe of more than 500 suspected mass graves throughout Slovenia.
They are believed to contain the remains of pro-Nazi collaborators who sought to escape from the former Yugoslavia’s communist regime in 1945. Slovenia was part of Yugoslavia before becoming independent in 1991.
The identities of the victims in Huda Jama remain unclear. However, accounts from local residents indicate they were pro-Nazi collaborators from Slovenia or Croatia, said the head of the Slovenian Research Center for National Reconciliation, Andreja Valic.
“Current information, based on oral testimony, indicates that the slain people could have been Slovenian or Croatian citizens,” Valic told Slovenian news agency STA.
State prosecutor Barbara Brezigar also visited the site and described seeing the remains as “horrible.”
“It is one of the most shocking things you could see in your life,” Brezigar told journalists.
She said any investigation into the crimes would be difficult since most of those responsible were likely dead.
Judicial forensic Joze Balazic, who took part in the excavation of the mass grave, said at the entrance piles of military shoes were found.
“It seems that they [the victims] had to undress and take off their shoes before they were killed. We did not see any small-size or children’s shoes,” Balazic told reporters, suggesting most of the victims were soldiers.
Most of the bodies were found in a 15m-long and 2.5m-wide underground passage situated some 400m from the entrance to the cave.
He added that there are another two passages in the cave where more bodies could be found, but that these will only be investigated in a month’s time, after the first one discovered on Tuesday is documented and a way through is opened.
Strovs explained the good condition in which the remains were found was because of the fact that the cave had been sealed with several walls of concrete separated by layers of barren soil.
“At the end, we came to a long passage that was all in white. Soon we understood the white mass were the bodies that had been all covered with lime,” Strovs said of the gruesome discovery.