Wola Massacre: That’s How it Was! (II)

Wola Massacre: That’s How it Was! (II)

Part I

Polish girl scout-nurse Wanda Lokietek recalls:

«...Since the early hours of the August 5th, the Germans were attacking our hospital from the side of Wolska street. Around 6 p.m. they entered the premises of the hospital. They ordered the healthy to leave the building, while the severely wounded were left on the beds. We were lined by the wall. There were 15 of us, in the age of 15 to 18. The Germans started to execute the doctors in a beastly way, most often shooting in the back of the head. And so they came to us. They ordered us to move a few steps forward, while they were shooting us in groups. I moved forward together with everyone else, singing «Jeszcze Polska nie zginela...» [Polish anthem - translator's note]. Hearing the shots, I fell down, and so did the girls around me, with their heads dashed...

In the end they took sisters, there were 10 of them, out of the last pavilion. They walked out, reciting «Pod Twoja obrone» [lat. Sub Tuum Praesidium; well-known hymn to Mary]. The Germans shot them one by one. Then they set the hospital on fire, killing the sick on their beds (we heard that story from the one of the sick who hid himself under the bed and survived)...»

Another witness, Wieslawa Chelminska, 14, described the progress of the execution in the basement of the hospital:

«... The civilians and the wounded remained. SS-soldiers started to call a few people a time to the basement. I was called with my mother. After entering, just behind the door I saw a pile of bodies. The electric light was on. A group of SS-soldiers was standing in the corridor with the submachine guns ready to shoot. Me and my mother were ordered to climb the pile. Mother was first and I saw how SS-soldier shot her in the back of the head and how she fell down. I climbed after her and fell down, not waiting for the soldier to shoot. He shot anyway, hitting me in the right arm. Around 20 people had to climb the pile after me before they were shot...»

On August 6th, 1944, Germans executed the civil staff of railway power station in Przyokopowa street, where now the Museum of the Warsaw Uprising is located. Since August 8th, the killing of civil population was conducted mainly by special units of German police, operating within the group of General Reinefarth, so called Einsatzkommando der Sicherheitspolizei bei der Kampfgruppe Reinefarth, which day after day until the middle of August was murdering civilians, including women and children, on the square at 59 Okopowa street. Apart from that, on August 15th, in the premises of the orthodox and the catholic cemeteries over 2 thousand people were executed, in other cases the number of victims of a single execution did not exceed 200 people.

Not commemorated place of execution at 59 Okopowa street (fot. J. Mankowska)

In spite of the decision the murders did not stop. Witness Stefan Urlich, 47 years old, gives testimony about exceptionally beastly crime:

«In the first days of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising I was staying in the flat at 56 Bema street... On August 5th or 6th, 1944, German units threw out the civilians from Bema street. I stayed, thanks to the fact that I was working in the kitchen German railway workers in Warszawa Zachodnia Station. A few days after the citizens had been thrown out, on August 8th or 9th, 1944, I noticed that above the gate of the house at 54 Bema street Red Cross flag was hanged, the windows from the side of railway tracks had been boarded up, and in front of the gate I saw groups, of two, three SS-soldiers with Red Cross armbands.

At that time groups of civil population from other districts of Warsaw were escorted to Warszawa Zachodnia Station. SS-soldiers with armbands of the Red Cross were choosing groups of children in the age of 6 to 10, the handicapped, the old and pregnant women from the escorted group, and taking them to the Kosakiewicz's house. I saw that as I was riding a rickshaw to get potatoes for the kitchen... later, I saw that the children were looking through the windows from the side of Bema street in the first floor, and the older in the second floor...

Between 11 p.m. and midnight I heard horrible moans, shouts, and shots coming from the Kosakiewicz's house. It seemed to me that the shots were fired from the Lilpop's premises, located opposite to the number 54. I went out quietly, crawled to a ditch on the side of the railway track. Then I saw that house number 54 was on fire, and at the same time I heard the horrible shouts and curses casted on Germans and children's call: «Mother». No one ran away from the burning house, from this side the windows were boarded up, the door must have been closed. From the side of Lilpop's factory the series of shots were fired; I did not notice what kind of weapon that was. I understood that people are burning alive...

Since August 11th, 1944, almost the entire district of Wola was occupied by German forces. Among the burned houses of the district lied thousands of bodies of the murdered citizens. The odor of the burned or decaying corpses could be smelled in the air. Germans created the special unit Verbrennugskommando Warschau, whose task was to destroy the traits of the murder. It consisted of a few dozens of strong, young men chosen from Polish prisoners destined for execution. The task of this Commando was to collect the bodies of the murdered and put them on large piles, which were set on fire after having been poured down with inflammable fluid. Over 30 of such piles were set on fire in Wola.

Everyday the prisoners of Commando, equipped with spades, stretches and carts would go, escorted by SS soldiers, to a place of execution. There they would start to «work». Tadeusz Klimaszewski, a prisoner of Verbrennungskommando recalls:

«The Franaszek's factory... A horrible, unbearable odor reached us. As far as one could see, there was a square filled with bodies. They were lying in the full sun, some gathered in the middle in groups, and some that were lying away stretched near each other, and another, single ones, lying in the back of the yard with the hands extending in the direction of the wall, as if in the last attempt to survive. They must have been, driven into the court and squeezed in the crowd, thrown grenades at, because tangled bodies were awfully massacred, and the yard was full of holes and pits. The others from the crowd, who were not instantaneously reached by death, were lying in disorder, cringed in fear or in pain...

This mass-murder must have been conducted a few days ago, because the August sun had already distended the bodies. Thousands of fat flies were swarming on the black stains of clotted blood...

We were standing motionlessly. A sudden sob, unstoppable, convulsive broke the silence. It was an engineer who was crying like a baby...

« - People, people, do not take them... Leave them, let them lie. The war is ending, let the others watch, let them see... They have to lie here! We will bring people from all over the world here, let them see!»

It was not the only one place that was so horrifying. Tadeusz Klimaszewski also recalls:

«...We were surprised that on Wolska street we were turning in the direction opposite to the city. It was the area of suburban gardens, small fields, gardener's property. Behind them wreathed the lush green of cemeteries, which the towers of churches were emerging from: the orthodox and Wolski.

... Beneath the leaves there was a blackened human corpse, and another, and another, there were many of them. They filled the whole corner of the garden, tangled in disorder with the green of bushes. It was not until then that we had noticed that the leaves around were crumpled and stained with reddish stains of blood...

We moved closer and looked inside a dark hole, but instead of water we saw squeezed bodies, contorted horribly... There were corpses everywhere... They could not have only been the people of this house or the neighboring one. People from the vicinity or from the big house towering on the opposite side of the street. Among the dead there were mostly the bodies of men...

After cleaning the area of the well and the yard, we went to the other side of the garden. Walking along the short fence wall, densely raked with bullets, suddenly we found a new heap of the dead. It must have been a group of refugees. What seemed to prove that were the clothes of the murdered, the overcoats and coats they were wearing, and bundles, packages, suitcases scattered around. In this place there were mostly women and children. Small children and babies were still lying in clenched by cramp embraces of their mothers, the older ones were lying nearby holding in hands their clothes.

In the middle of this group, an old, grey man was lying like some kind of ghostly symbol. His hand was protruding far ahead, clenched stick, leaning on the bodies lying nearby, at the end of the stick a white flag was flattering. 

There were traits of robbery everywhere... arms had been brutally convoluted, injured by rapacious fingers that had been taking rings and signet rings off...»

Verbrennugskommando conducted its actions mainly on the line of streets: Wolska, Chlodna, Elektoralna, Bank's Square, turning into streets: Plocka, Dzialdowska, Mlynarska, Karolkowa, Towarowa, Krochmalna, Zelazna, Orla, Zimna, Przechodnia, and Zabia. It also collected the murdered in the area of Hale Mirowskie [large trade halls in Warsaw].

The piles created with bodies of victims from Wola were burning in many places. Germans wanted chiefly to erase the evidence of crime The ashes of the burned bodies would be buried in the premises of so called «Wenecja» [Venice], an empty square after carousels, funhouses, Ferris wheels and cabinets of curiosities, located in the vicinity of the contemporary Wola Department Store.

The prisoners of Kommando had to give Germans all the gold and valuables found with the bodies, as well as report about finding someone alive. Not obeying the order resulted in death. Part of the collected valuables was simply stolen by SS-soldiers.

Verbrennungskommando Warschau was operating at least until the middle of September 1944. A few prisoners managed to escape and get through to the territory still occupied by the guerrilla. Due to this fact they could later tell about the unimaginable massacre of Wola, which they had witnessed. The rest shared the fate of those whom they had been burying on martyred land. Germans did not have in custom leaving the witnesses of their crimes.

St. Wojciech's church at 74/76 Wolska street inscribed itself deeply into the memory of many citizens of Warsaw. On its territory Germans organized an assembly point for the part of the population of Wola who had survived the pogrom. Already on August 2nd military police came to presbytery and conducted a search combined with robbery. On the next day Gestapo was garrisoned there. Priests were forbidden to perform religious ministries. The command over the transit camp in St. Wojciech's church was taken by SS Hauptsturmführer Alfred Spilker from Warsaw Gestapo.

Bohdan Honda, domiciled in Wlochy, talks about the drama of the people of Wola:

«Sixteen members of my closest family died in Wola, including a cousin who was a guerrilla soldier. He died in Wola. No one knows where he is buried. We knew about it, because our grandmother could not endure it and at the end of the August or at the beginning of the September, she went out of our house. She went to Wola to search for family. She had two daughters and three sons with families. From father's side died: mother, sister with husband... etc. 16 people in total. 

A week later she returned with a Job's news. She went through all their homes. Empty. She got caught and taken to St. Wojciech's church when Germans had practically finished the executions and burning of corpses in Wola. In St. Wojciech's church there was a detention station - she ran away from there. And came here a week later.

From what she saw, from what she looked at, she knew that there was no chance, no hope for them to return. She lost her mind. She did not find anyone. She found only empty houses, empty areas.

From the stories in the church it seemed that the entire areas of streets and buildings had been looted, and the people thrown out to Wolska street in front of the positions of machine guns. The bodies had been burned in Gen. Jozef Sowinski Park.

A man, who had run away from under a pile of bodies in Gen. Jozef Sowinski Park, came to my father. He told my parents what had happened, and I was listening to it. They had threw thee living and the dead on a pile, poured them with gas and set on fire. To say «slaughter» is not enough!!!...»

Tthe monument commemorating the memory of 50 thousand dwellers of Wola, in Leszno street, corner of al. Solidarnosci street (fot. J. Mankowska)