Wola Massacre started on this day, 78 years ago

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

On August 5, 1944, as a retaliatory action for the outbreak of the Warsaw Rising, the Nazi-Germans began executing civilians in the Wola district of Warsaw. Within three days, the German troops killed an estimated 40,000 to 60,000 people in Wola and the adjacent Ochota districts.

The so-called “Wola Massacre” is considered to have been one of the largest crimes against the Polish population during WWII.

Even at a time when the event was almost unspoken of, the symbol of the crime became Wanda Lurie. During the pacification of the Rising, being nine months pregnant, she survived the execution and shooting of three of her children.

“In the group I was in, there were many children aged 10-12, often without their parents... I begged the Germans around us to save the children and me. One of them asked if I could buy myself out. I gave him three gold rings. He took them, but the officer in charge of the execution ordered me to join the group going to be shot,” she testified in 1946 before The Main Commission for the Investigation of German Crimes.

I started begging him for the lives of the children, I was talking about the honour of the officer. He pushed me so that I fell over. He saw that I was in the last month of pregnancy. Then he hit and pushed my older son, shouting “faster, faster, you Polish bandit!”... Suddenly the executioner walking behind us shot the older son in the back of the head, the next shots hit the younger children. Then they shot me. I fell over on my left side,” she said.

Many of the murderers did get away with their atrocities, among them, Heinz Reinefarth, the commander of the SS assault group directly responsible for the massacre. Initially, his troops killed civilians in flats, basements and on the streets. German soldiers also set fire to multiple buildings and shot those who tried to escape the flames. Later they changed their tactics and were gathering civilians at several locations and murdering them there.

After the war, Heinz Reinefart was elected mayor of the Westerland municipality in Germany in 1951, and denied his Nazi affiliations.

The crime still ‘not fully known of’

“The ‘Wola Massacre’ is one of the many crimes of WWII which, despite so many years and so many institutions dealing with it, is still not fully known of,” Polish deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Culture Piotr Gliński said on Thursday.

“Firstly, It was a war crime with the characteristics of genocide. Secondly, it was an unpunished crime, with all the implications of that word… The history of the failure to punish the perpetrators is… proof that an unpunished crime causes further crimes, further injustices,” he pointed out.

The head of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage thanked the institutions that “fight against this ignorance, against this helplessness and against these consequences of omissions”.

“There were crimes, there was genocide, and then years of omission. May it not be like that in the future,” Mr Gliński emphasised.