National Geographic : 1917 May
Photograph by Stanley Washburn THE EXODUS FROM POLAND Fleeing from their homes to escape the ruthless fury of the conqueror, thousands of these unfortunates died of starvation, leaving their bodies upon the roadside to mark the line of march of a stricken people; and those responsible for this great crime with ruthless thrift gathered the bones of their victims to fertilize the fields which the dead had once called home-land. with whom I consulted, agreed in this estimate, that in about six weeks' time, a year ago last fall, approximately one mil lion people along that southern road were made homeless by the burning of their dwellings, and of this one million people at least four hundred thousand died in the flight along that one road. Of the balance approximately half were saved and gathered by the Germans later into refugee camps, and today, according to the Central Relief Committee of Po land, approximately seven hundred and fifty thousand of those miserable refu gees who escaped with the Russian army are now in Russia, many of them in Si beria, and more dead than alive. HUMAN BONES FOR FERTILIZER! It is those people whom the committee has been trying to relieve, because no body has been able to get food or help into Russian Poland proper, with the ex- ception of one undertaking of the Rocke feller Foundation. As I motored along that road, only a few weeks after that terrible retreat, I be gan to realize something of what had hap pened. Both sides of the road were com pletely lined for the whole 230 miles with mud - covered and rain - soaked clothing. The bones had been cleaned by the crows, which are in that country by countless thousands. It is a rich alluvial country. Three-quarters of the people are agri culturists and one-quarter industrial The Prussians had come along and gathered up the larger bones, because they were useful to them as phosphates and fertilizer. The little finger bones and toe bones were still there with the rags of clothing. The little wicker baby baskets, that hold the baby as he swings by a rope or chain from the rafters of the peasant's cottage, were there by hundreds upon hundreds. I started counting them for the first mile or two and gave up in de spair, because there were so many.