Palmiry Massacre: German occupiers’ attempt to eradicate Polish intelligentsia

When Germans occupied Poland during WWII, they contrived a plan to eradicate Poland’s intelligentsia for fear that it could organise an armed uprising to oust the occupiers. They launched the “AB-Aktion” campaign, a series of massacres carried out between December 1939 and July 1941. The best-documented one was carried out on June 20-21, 1940.

The executed individuals were transported from the infamous Pawiak in Warsaw – a prison where the German occupiers held intellectuals and members of the underground resistance, subjecting them to torture, interrogation and mistreatment.

A total of 358 Pawiak prisoners were brought to the forest near Palmiry village in three transport rounds. Among them were the speaker of the Polish Sejm (lower house) and a people's activist Maciej Rataj, MP and activist of the Polish Socialist Party Mieczysław Niedziałkowski, the Olympic gold medalist from Los Angeles 1932 in the 10,000 metres run Janusz Kusociński, lawyers, civil servants, artists, and sportspersons. The German occupiers did not spare the lives of 82 women either, including MP and Senator Halina Jaroszewiczowa.

Although the massive execution of June 20-21, 1940, has come down in collective awareness as the most glaring episode of the German-perpetrated executions in the Kampinos Forest, mostly to the richness of evidence, the killing machine started as early as December 1939. The last execution took place on June 17, 1941.

The mastermind behind the campaign to eradicate Poland’s intelligentsia was Hans Frank, the head of the General Government in German-occupied Poland during WWII. The criminal undertaking was carried out under the “AB-Aktion” codename, meaning, Extraordinary Operation of Pacification. Rather than send Poles to concentration camps, they were to be “eliminated on the spot in the simplest ways possible.”

The German persecutors would lie to Polish inmates about the destination they were about to be taken to, informing them that they should take all their belongings with them and food for a prospective journey. The inmates who had not been singled out initially would later learn through various channels that their fellows were in fact exterminated. When the time came and they would be put onto trucks and taken to the Kampinos Forest. On the way, they would throw their prayer books or other small belongings out of the trucks in hope that someone would find them and learn about their fate.

Once the trucks arrived in the forest, the Poles would be taken to a large glade. They were stripped of their luggage but were allowed to hold on to their documents and miscellaneous small belongings. Jews were allowed to retain their armbands with David’s star and medics theirs with the red cross. Sometimes the victims would be blindfolded and their hands tied. Next, they were led to the edge of a pit, a prospective mass grave, where they were shot at with long firearms in such a way that their limp bodies slid into the pit. Those who were still alive were shot in the head with short firearms. Instances of burring wounded alive occurred.

In total, more than 1,700 Poles and Jews were executed in the “AB-Aktion” campaign of violence.