Historians in Germany uncovered hundreds of artifacts dating back to a World War II massacre, in which more than 200 forced laborers were executed by Nazi soldiers.

Known as the massacre in the Arnsberg Forest, the final-phase slaughter took place in three distinct areas of the coppice, where German troops gunned down 208 Polish and Russian prisoners in March 1945.

Recent archaeological investigations—led by Germany’s Westphalia-Lippe (LWL) region—resulted in the excavation of some 400 relics from the rural sites.

A majority of pieces come from the scene of the first murders: Warstein, where 71 forced laborers were taken and stripped before being shot.

Probably led to believe they could pick up their things before moving on to new accommodation, the victims left behind dictionaries, shoes, buttons and beads, crockery, and cutlery.

Spoon, harmonica, spectacle case, sheet metal fragment from Meschede (via LWL/Thomas Poggel)

Beads, buttons, yarn roll fragment from Warstein (via LWL/Thomas Poggel)

Researchers also found traces of the executioners, including cartridge cases, rifle parts, ammunition, and shovels, presumably used to bury corpses and belongings.

At the other shooting sites—Suttrop (57 dead) and Eversberg (80 dead)—archaeologists recovered fewer finds.

“The murderers had prepared their actions here more accurately and left less traces,” LWL theorized.

Still, about 50 objects remained: Some as mundane as a glasses case and comb, others as unusual as parts of a harmonica.

Women’s shoe from Warstein (via LWL/Maria Hahne)

A coin and cross, with a find number and location coordinates (via LWL/Kathrin Nolte)

“We have been experiencing the trivialization and increasing denial of the crimes of the Second World War and the Nazi dictatorship for several years,” LWL director Matthias Löb said in a statement. “But the murders are an example of this part of our history that we have to face.”

The shootings, spearheaded by Hans Kammler (SS Obergruppenfuhrer and General of the Waffen SS), are considered one of the greatest atrocities of World War II.

American troops learned of the murders at Suttrop and Warstein shortly after the liberation, while the Eversberg event remained a secret, until the English military received an anonymous tip in November 1946.

The dead were exhumed and later transferred to the forest cemetery “Fulmecke” in Meschede.

Only 14 victims have so far been identified, thanks in part to research conducted abroad.

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