Johanna Spörk had been visiting her parents in April 1945 when Russian soldiers, who had been advancing towards Graz when they were caught in a battle, came up to their house in Welten in Burgenland with a horse and cart carrying some of their fallen soldiers.
Spörk’s father and a neighbour had to dig a grave for the 30 soldiers while she was sent by an officer to pick flowers for a wreath.
When laying the wreaths down, Spörk – speaking to the Kurier newspaper – remembers that she “looked down and just thought of these poor guys.”
The soldiers bodies remained buried there – underneath a vegetable patch – until this week, when they were finally exhumed by authorities after Spörk asked local authorities to move them somewhere more appropriate.
“The provincial leader had congratulated me for my 90th birthday. In my thank you letter, I wrote to him about my last wish,” says Spörk, who explained to him that she wanted someone to come and take care of the buried soldiers.
This week, she finally got her wish granted after the graves were exhumed by the Austrian Black Cross, a non-partisan organisation who care for the graves of soldiers and civilian victims of war.
The work began on Wednesday and by Thursday around 20 bodies had already been found and brought out.
The head of the local branch of the Black Cross said that they were dealing with a ‘mass grave’, although the soldiers were all buried individually. Some of the bones were even found with leather boots attached to them still.
With the help of Russian archives, the Black Cross and war graves researcher Peter Sixl have been tracing the names of the fallen, although archaeologists are still examining the bones to try and uncover further details about their ages and their deaths.