During World War II, the wild areas of the Kampinos forest located south of the village of Palmiry, were the place where mass executions were carried out by the Nazis. Mainly prisoners of the Warsaw prisons at Pawia and Rakowiecka streets were killed here. There were many prominent Poles among the murder victims, e.g Maciej Rataj, speaker of the Sejm (the lower house of the Polish parliament) and activist of the people’s movement, Janusz Kusociński, athlete, gold medallist form Los Angeles and member of the underground Military Organization “Wilki”(wolves) or Mieczysław Niedziałkowski, activist of the Polish Socialist Party.

People of Jewish origin were executed in the Kampinos forest as well, including, i.a. Dawid Przepiórka – a well-known chess player, a participant of the Olympic Games and the vice-president of the Polish Chess Federation.The first execution took place as early as in December 1939. During the biggest one, which was carried out on 20 and 21 June, 1940, Germans killed no less than 360 people in an operation called Ausserordentliche Befriedungsaktion.

A glade in the forest near the road to the village of Pociecha was the place where the most executions were carried out. Germans extended its surface by cutting down trees. They were trying to keep the executions secret. Before transports with prisoners arrived, the area had been patrolled and outsiders had been chased away. Meanwhile, the workers of Arbeitsdienst from Łomna or Hitlerjugend members from the nearby camp dug elongated trenches that were up to 3m deep. After the murder was completed, moss and trees were planted at the site of the mass grave. The people that were to be murdered, were convinced almost until the end that they would be going to a concentration or a labor camp. They were woken up at dawn and fed. They were also given their documents, luggage and other belongings that had been left at the deposit. It was not until turning to the forest from the main road that the prisoners discovered the horrible truth about where they were actually going.

In his book “Palmiry”, Władysław Bartoszewski describes the executions as follows:

“The vehicles would stop in the forest, near the glade. The prisoners were forced to get out, sometimes they were blindfolded and their hands tied up. Their luggage, documents or other small things were not taken from them though. The Jews were left with the Zion Star armbands and the workers of the first-aid station with the Red Cross armbands on the sleeves of their coats and clothes. Germans led groups of prisoners to the glade and lined them up at the edge of the previously prepared trenches, densely one by one in order not to have to put much effort into gathering and burying the corpses. A firing squad of the military police or the SS shot at the prisoners with machine guns. After the volley those of the wounded who were giving any sign of life were finished off with single gunshots. Due to a peculiar sense of order, the murderers introduced various technical improvements of the execution process. For instance, as the victims were lined up at the edge of the grave, a long pole or a ladder was put behind their backs. Right after the shots, the prop was lowered, letting the bodies fall into the grave. The following group of people was lined up in the same place so that the next layer of corpses would fall onto the previous one.”

The last execution in the forest was carried out on July 17, 1941. According to some sources, no less than 1739 people were executed in Palmiry. Thanks to the commitment of the local inhabitants and especially the employees of the forestry office, several dozens of forest graves could be identified.

After the liberation, exhumation of the bodies was carried out by the Polish Red Cross. However, it was impossible to identify the vast majority of the executions’ victims. In 1948 their remains were buried at the mausoleum cemetery on the Palmiry glade. 1793 people killed in Palmiry in the years 1939-1941, 96 people executed in Szwedzkie Góry in the winter of 1940, 48 inhabitants of Legionowo killed on February 26, 1940, 115 people executed in Laski in 1942, 83 people executed on Łuże dunes in 1942, 102 people executed in Stefanowo in winter 1943 and 5 people executed in Wólka Węglowa in May 1943 were buried there. Crosses were put at the victims’ graves or matzevot with the star of David, if a victim was confirmed to be of Jewish origin.

In 1973, a pavilion was erected that houses the Museum of Combat and Martyrdom, which is nowadays a branch of the Historical Museum of Warsaw.

The necropolis is tidied up and watched over. A plaque is located at the entry with an inscription that had been engraved in one of the cells in the custody suite in Szucha Avenue: “It is easy to talk about Poland, but it is harder to work for Poland, it is even harder to work for Poland and the hardest is to suffer for Poland”. At the opposite end of the cemetery three high crosses were placed, their lengthened arms symbolizing the arms of an executed human being. 

 

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