Wednesday, January 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is a day designated by the United Nations General Assembly to mark the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp to honor those that died there and to recognize others who were victims of Nazism.
Today let us remember the murder of Poland’s citizenry in what historians call the Palmiry Massacre.
Seventy-eight years ago, almost to this very day, on January 23, 1943, Hans Frank, Governor of the General Government of occupied Poland wrote in his diary:
“I would like to stress one thing: we must not be squeamish when we learn that a total of 17,000 people [in the Government General] have been shot. These persons who were shot were nothing more than war victims.” (1)
When Hans Frank became the General Governor, the pre-planned extermination of the Polish nation was quickly undertaken. Warsaw, as the capital of Poland, filled with patriots and resistance groups, was targeted with a series of executions that took place on December 7 and 8, 1939 in the Kampinos forest north of Warsaw near a small village called Palmiry. The Germans shot 70 people the one day and 80 people the next. A few days later, on December 14, another 46 people were murdered. Throughout 1940, executions in Palmiry continued.
The largest number of executions at one time at Palmiry occurred in June as part of what the German’s called the Extraordinary Pacification Action AB (Außerordentliche Befriedungsaktion). Mass arrests were made throughout all of Poland among Poland’s intellectuals, social activists and politicians – anyone that could possibly become the nucleus of rallying the people together in opposition to the occupation of Poland. In Warsaw the arrested victims were taken mainly to Pawiak prison on Dzielna Street as well as Mokotów prison on Rakowiecka St. (Photo above is a memorium outside Pawiak prison. Photo by Edward Knab) It was from these prisons that the inmates were later taken outside of Warsaw to the Kampinos forest and shot.
Before their execution, death pits 2.5-3 meters deep and 30 meters long were carefully prepared by members of the Hitlerjugend, a German youth group, in a clearing in the forest. Transports from the prisons took place in the murky hours of dawn. The inmates were allowed to take their personal belongings previously deposited in the prison property room, as well as suitcases, backpacks and food packages, creating the illusion of being transported to a concentration camp. The arrival of trucks at the edge of forest place revealed the true intention of the executioners.
The prisoner’s hands were bound, their eyes covered and then led in groups to the clearing, where they were placed at edge of the prepared pit and shot. On the days of June 20 and 21, 1940, 358 innocent Polish citizens, including 64 women, were shot.
The second-largest execution in terms of the number of victims was carried out on 17 September 1940 and claimed the lives of 200 human beings. Additional murders went on in Palmiry through 1941, not just of people of Warsaw but from surrounding towns and villages as well. A total of 21 different groups of individuals were murdered at this location. The bodies were covered with earth and the pits concealed by planting shrubs and trees over them.
Polish foresters who ignored the ban on entering the forest became the most important witnesses to the crime. Their system of marking the death pits made it possible to find many of the graves after the war. On November 25, 1945, headed by the Polish Red Cross, exhumations of the burial sites was begun and completed by June 10, 1946. They exhumed 1,720 bodies of which only about 400 were identified. Buried there as well were bodies of victims of executions in other regions of Poland in subsequent years of the war to bring the number to 2115. (2) In 1948, the site became a memorial cemetery. In the 1970s, a museum was opened nearby to disseminate information concerning the atrocities perpetrated in Palmiry. In 2011, the museum was moved to a new building and adopted the name “Palmiry Museum and Memorial Site.”
Today it serves to honor the loss of innocent lives. It serves as a stark reminder of the crimes committed by Nazi Germany against the Polish nation during the Second World War, what Hans Frank considered the premeditated murder of the people at Palmiry and the 15,000 other Polish lives in the General Government as "nothing but war victims."
On this International Holocaust Remembrance Day, let us remember these events and honor their memory. Cześć ich pamięci.
(1) Partial Translation of Document 2233-AA-PS Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression Volume IV: FRANK DIARY, Official Meeting. Warsaw, 25 January 1943. Meetings of Departmental Chiefs.
(2) Insytut Pamięci Narodowe. https://przystanekhistoria.pl/pa2/teksty/62949,Tylko-sosny-byly-swiadkami-Egzekucje-w-Palmirach.html
Credit for photos 2,3,4 Instytut Pamieci Narodowe. Institute of National Remembrnce.
One of the biggest moments in my life was being able to sign for my very own library card. When I'm not reading, researching and writing I'm riding my bike, sewing or gardening. I love flea markets, folk art, and traveling to Poland.