RIGA - A search team has found a site thought to contain hundreds of bodies of World War II veterans underneath an elementary school in Riga.
The volunteer battlefield search team Legendas found the mass grave, which they suspect holds some 600 World War II veterans, beneath the Rigas Pardaugavas Elementary School's sports stadium.
"It's not usual, but it's not anything unusual either. The war was very big and right afterwards it was not possible to find everyone and bring them home," Legendas head Talis Esmits told Kurzemes Vards.
Esmits told the Latvian-language daily Diena on Aug. 5 that the team had been working on exhuming the bodies for three days in conjunction with the Bralu Kapu Committee, which represents a major military cemetery on the outskirts of town.
The soldiers reportedly fought on the German side in the war and died between 1944 and 1949. It is suspected they all died while staying at war hospitals in the area. Many are thought to have passed away during surgery.
Russian hospital records indicate that all of the soldiers had been captured by the Soviet army before their deaths.
Though the soldiers all fought on the German side, they hailed from a wide variety of countries. Among the dead are Latvians, Germans, Poles, Austrians, Slovaks, Belgians, French and Tatars.
A German team of experts is due to arrive in the country to investigate the find once the excavation has been completed. The bodies will then be moved to a special war cemetery for Germans located in Pinki, just outside of Riga. There are plans to erect a monument at the graveyard displaying the name of each soldier who was found.
Records of the exact location of the site had been lost, and the search team only suspected that the bodies were buried near a birch grove close to the school. They found the true location based on anecdotal evidence gleaned from elderly local residents.
The Bralu Kapu Committee had been searching for the bodies for years but was unable to locate them because of shoddy recordkeeping. While there was medical information on all of the soldiers in the hospital, the burial site was left unmarked.
As of Aug. 5, Legendas had only recovered 168 's all of whose names are already known 's of the estimated 600 bodies at the site.
After the excavations have been completed, the site will be covered again and the sporting field will be rebuilt. According to records there were more than 10,000 German soldiers active in the area after it was captured by Soviet forces. Esmits said he suspects that a significant number of unmarked gravesites remain undiscovered in the area.