(NEWSER) – For decades, the items sat hidden by shadows and foliage. Then a recent hike through a forest outside the former Stutthof Nazi concentration camp in Poland revealed the disturbing sight: previously unknown artifacts, including hundreds of pairs of shoes, belts, and strips of prisoner uniforms, up to a foot deep, spread across hundreds of square yards. “There are items that may have belonged to concentration camp prisoners,” Danuta Drywa, Stutthof Museum’s head of archives, tells the Telegraph. “I’ve been working here 30 years and none of the employees have ever heard of these items lying in the forest near the museum.” About 85,000 of the camp’s 110,000 prisoners died at Stutthof, where Nazis tested making soap from their victims’ fat.
During World War II, the Nazis were known to adjust Stutthof’s size depending on their needs. Originally built to hold 3,500, the death and slave labor camp expanded to house 57,000 in 39 subcamps by 1944, according to themuseum’s website. The museum now takes up only a small part of the former camp, which might explain why the artifacts went unnoticed for so long. But the discovery is especially surprising because the Nazis typically gave prisoners wooden clogs and sent their shoes to others in Germany. “To define exactly what kind of shoes they are, how old they are, and what country they came from will need specialized testing,” Drywa says. (Body parts from gas-chamber victims were recently found in a lab.)