The Wola massacre (Polish: Rzeź Woli, "Wola slaughter") was the systematic killing of between 40,000 and 50,000 people in the Wola district of Poland's capital city Warsaw by German Wehrmacht and Russian RONA collaborationist forces during the early phase of the Warsaw Uprising.
From 5 to 12 August 1944, tens of thousands of Polish civilians along with captured Home Army resistance fighters were brutally and systematically murdered by the Germans in organised mass executions throughout Wola. The Germans anticipated that these atrocities would crush the insurrectionists' will to fight and put the uprising to a swift end. However, the ruthless pacification of Wola only stiffened Polish resistance, and it took another two months of heavy fighting for the Germans to regain control of the city.
The Wola Massacre Memorial on Górczewska Street at the location of the railway embankment where up to 10,000 people were shot and then burned by the Germans between 5 and 8 August 1944
|Date||5–12 August 1944|
|Motive||Anti-Polish sentiment, Germanisation, pan-Germanism|
The Warsaw Uprising broke out on 1 August 1944. During the first few days the Polish resistance managed to liberate most of Warsaw on the left bank of the river Vistula (an uprising also broke out in the district of Praga on the right bank but was quickly suppressed by the Germans). Two days after the start of the fighting, SS General Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski was placed in command of all German forces in Warsaw. Following direct orders from SS-Reichsfűhrer Heinrich Himmler to suppress the uprising without mercy, his strategy was to include the use of terror tactics against the inhabitants of Warsaw. No distinction would be made between insurrectionists and civilians.
Professor Timothy Snyder, of Yale University, wrote that "the massacres in Wola had nothing in common with combat ... the ratio of civilian to military dead was more than a thousand to one, even if military casualties on both sides are counted."
On 5 August, three German battle groups started their advance toward the city centre from the western outskirts of the Wola district, along Wolska and Górczewska streets. The German forces consisted of units from the Wehrmacht and the SS Police Battalions, as well as the mostly Russian SS-Sturmbrigade RONA and the SS-Sturmbrigade Dirlewanger, an infamous Waffen SS penal unit led by Oskar Dirlewanger. British historian Martin Windrow described Dirlewanger's unit as a "terrifying rabble" of "cut-throats, [foreign] renegades, sadistic morons, and cashiered rejects from other units".
Shortly after their advance toward the centre of Warsaw began, the two lead battle groups — Kampfgruppe "Rohr" (led by Generalmajor Günter Rohr) and Kampfgruppe "Reinefarth" (led by Heinz Reinefarth) — were halted by heavy fire from Polish resistance fighters. Unable to proceed forward, some of the German troops began to go from house to house carrying out their orders to shoot all inhabitants. Many civilians were shot on the spot but some were killed after torture and sexual assault. Estimates vary, but Reinefarth himself has estimated that up to 10,000 civilians were killed in the Wola district on 5 August alone, the first day of the operation. Most of the victims were the elderly, women and children.
The majority of these atrocities were committed by troops under the command of SS-Oberführer Oskar Dirlewanger and SS-Brigadeführer Bronislav Kaminski. Research historian Martin Gilbert, from the University of Oxford, wrote:
"More than fifteen thousand Polish civilians had been murdered by German troops in Warsaw. At 5:30 that evening [August 5], General Erich von dem Bach gave the order for the execution of women and children to stop. But the killing continued of all Polish men who were captured, without anyone bothering to find out whether they were insurrectionists or not. Nor did either the Cossacks or the criminals in the Kaminsky and Dirlewanger brigades pay any attention to von dem Bach Zelewski's order: by rape, murder, torture and fire, they made their way through the suburbs of Wola and Ochota, killing in three days of slaughter a further thirty thousand civilians, including hundreds of patients in each of the hospitals in their path."
On 5 August, the Zośka battalion of the Home Army had managed to liberate the Gęsiówka concentration camp and to take control of the strategically important surrounding area of the former Warsaw Ghetto with the aid of two captured Panther tanks belonging to a unit commanded by Wacław Micuta. Over the next few days of fighting this area became one of the main communication links between Wola and Warsaw's Old Town district, allowing insurrectionists and civilians to gradually withdraw from Wola ahead of the superior German forces that had been deployed against them.
On 7 August, the German ground forces were strengthened further. To enhance their effectiveness, the Germans began to use civilians as human shields when approaching positions held by the Polish resistance. These tactics combined with their superior numbers and firepower helped them to fight their way to Bankowy Square in the northern part of Warsaw's city centre and cut the Wola district in half.
German units burned down two local hospitals with some of the patients still inside. Hundreds of other patients and personnel were killed by indiscriminate gunfire and grenade attacks or selected and led away for executions. The greatest number of killings took place at the railway embankment on Górczewska Street and two large factories on Wolska Street — the Ursus Factory at Wolska 55 and the Franaszka Factory at Wolska 41/45 — as well as the Pfeiffer Factory at 57/59 Okopowa Street. At each of these four locations, thousands of people were systematically executed in mass shootings, having been previously rounded up in other places and taken there in groups.
Between 8 and 23 August the SS formed groups of men from the Wola district into the so-called Verbrennungskommando ("burning detachment"), who were forced to hide evidence of the massacre by burning the victims' bodies and homes. Most of the men put to work in such groups were later executed.
On 12 August, the order was given to stop the indiscriminate killing of Polish civilians in Wola. Erich von dem Bach issued a new directive stating that captured civilians were to be evacuated from the city and deported to concentration camps or to Arbeitslager labour camps.
No one belonging to the German forces who took part in the atrocities committed during the Warsaw Uprising was ever prosecuted for them after the end of the Second World War. The main perpetrators of the Wola massacre and similar massacres in the nearby Ochota district were Heinz Reinefarth and Oskar Dirlewanger. Dirlewanger, who presided over and personally participated in many of the worst acts of violence, was arrested on 1 June 1945 by French occupation troops while hiding under a false name near the town of Altshausen in Upper Swabia. He died on 7 June 1945 in a French prison camp at Altshausen, probably as a result of ill-treatment by his Polish guards. In 1945, Reinefarth was taken into custody by the British and American authorities but was never prosecuted for his actions in Warsaw, despite Polish requests for his extradition. After a West German court released him citing a lack of evidence, Reinefarth enjoyed a successful post-war career as a lawyer, becoming the mayor of Westerland, and a member of the Landtag parliament of Schleswig-Holstein. The West German government also gave the former SS-Obergruppenführer a general's pension before he died in 1979.
Chronicles of Terror – a digital internet archive established by the Witold Pilecki Center for Totalitarian Studies in August 2016. Initially, it provided access to the depositions of Polish citizens who after World War II were interviewed as witnesses before the Main Commission for the Investigation of German Crimes in Poland. From 17 September 2017, the database also presents the accounts of Poles who fell victim to repressions perpetrated by Soviet totalitarianism.Cross of the Warsaw Uprising
The Cross of the Warsaw Uprising (Polish: Krzyż Powstania Warszawskiego) was an informal award used by soldiers of the Polish resistance during the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. It consisted of a (captured) German Iron Cross, with a pre-war 1 złoty coin pinned to it in the centre over the swastika. The reverse side of the coin, showing the Polish eagle, was displayed, to which was added a kotwica and the inscription "1944".
This cross should not be confused with the Warsaw Cross of the Uprising (Warszawski Krzyż Powstańczy) established in 1981.Dirlewanger Brigade
The Dirlewanger Brigade, also known as the SS-Sturmbrigade Dirlewanger (1944), or the 36th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (German: 36. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS), was a unit of the Waffen-SS during World War II. The unit was led by Oskar Dirlewanger and was composed of criminals that expected to die fighting on the front line. Originally formed for counter-insurgency duties against the Polish resistance movement, the unit was used in the Bandenbekämpfung ("bandit fighting") actions in German-occupied Europe. During its operations, it engaged in raping, pillaging and mass murder of civilians.
The unit participated in some of World War II's most notorious campaigns of terror in Belarus, where it carved out a reputation within the Waffen-SS for committing atrocities. Numerous army and SS commanders attempted to remove Dirlewanger from the SS and disband the unit, although he had patrons within the Nazi apparatus who intervened on his behalf. His unit took part in the destruction of Warsaw, and the massacre of ~100,000 of the city's population during the Warsaw Uprising; and participated in the brutal suppression of the Slovak National Uprising in 1944. Dirlewanger's formation generated fear throughout Waffen-SS organizations, including the SS-Führungshauptamt (SS Command Headquarters) and earned notoriety as the most criminal and heinous SS unit in Hitler's war machine.Heinz Reinefarth
Heinz Reinefarth, 26 December 1903 – 7 May 1979) was a German SS commander during World War II and government official in West Germany after the war. During the Warsaw Uprising of August 1944 his troops committed numerous atrocities. After the war Reinefarth became the mayor of the town of Westerland, on the isle of Sylt, and member of the Schleswig-Holstein Landtag. Polish demands for extradition were never honored, nor was Reinefarth ever convicted of any war crime.Leon Manteuffel-Szoege
Leon Manteuffel-Szoege (born 5 May 1904 in Rzeżyca, d. 1973 in Warszawa) was a Polish surgeon.
His brothers were Tadeusz Manteuffel and Edward Manteuffel-Szoege. He graduated from the Warsaw University under the supervision of Zygmunt Radliński. During the II World War he worked in conspiracy under the pseudonym "Krab" (literally Crab). For the whole German occupation he worked in clinic. Manteuffel-Szoege was one of three physicians who survived the Wola massacre.Military history of the Warsaw Uprising
The Warsaw Uprising began with simultaneous coordinated attacks at 17:00 hours on August 1, 1944 (W-hour). The uprising was intended to last a few days until Soviet forces arrived; however, this never happened, and the Polish forces had to fight almost without any outside assistance. Initially the battle raged throughout most of Warsaw, but after a short time it became confined to districts in the West of the town. The key factor in the battle was the massive imbalance of weapons between the two sides. The German side was extremely well equipped whilst the Polish side had, initially, barely enough ammunition for a few days. The policy of one bullet, one German allowed the Polish fighters to sustain the uprising for many weeks at the cost of their own lives. Some areas fought for a full 63 days before an agreed capitulation took place. The losses on the Polish side amounted to 18,000 soldiers killed, 25,000 wounded and over 250,000 civilians killed; those on the German side amounted to over 17,000 soldiers killed and 9,000 wounded.
Although Stalingrad had already shown the level of danger which a city can pose to armies which fight within it and the importance of local support to armies, the Warsaw uprising was probably the first demonstration that in an urban terrain, a vastly under-equipped force supported by the civilian population can hold its own against far better equipped professional soldiers— though at the cost of vast sacrifices on the part of the city's residents.Monument to Victims of the Wola Massacre
The Monument to Victims of the Wola Massacre (Pomnik ofiar Rzezi Woli) is a monument commemorating the Wola massacre, the brutal mass-murder of the civilian population of Warsaw's Wola district, carried out by the Germans in the early days of the Warsaw Uprising, from 5 to 12 August 1944. It is located in a small square ("Skwer Pamięci") at the intersection of Solidarity Avenue (Aleja Solidarności) and Leszno Street in Warsaw.
The monument was unveiled on 27 November 2004, in the year of the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising. It was designed by sculptor Richard Stryjecki (in collaboration with the architect Olaf Chmielewski and sculptor Mieczyslaw Syposz) and is made of Finnish granite. The monument was built on the initiative of a committee, headed by Lechosław Olejnick and Krzysztof Tadeusz Zwoliński.
Engraved at the top of the western side of the monument are the following words: "Mieszkańcy Woli zamordowani w 1944 roku podczas Powstania Warszawskiego" ("Residents of Wola murdered in 1944 during the Warsaw Uprising"). Underneath is an extensive list of addresses where the victims lived and the number of people murdered at each location.
Engraved at the top of the eastern side of the monument are the following words: "Pamięci 50 tysięcy mieszkańców Woli zamordowanych przez Niemców podczas Powstania Warszawskiego 1944 r" ("In memory of the 50,000 inhabitants of Wola murdered by the Germans during the Warsaw Uprising of 1944"). On the eastern side of the monument the surface of the granite has ten pits dug into it in irregular shapes which resemble the silhouettes of people lined up against a wall to be executed.
Monument was visited by Ambassador of Germany to the Poland on 1 August 2018. Ambassador Rolf Nikel laid a wreath at the memorial, paid respect and said:
We are full of pain and shame a we pay respect to them. Let them rest in peace.Ochota massacre
The Ochota Massacre (in Polish: Rzeź Ochoty – "Ochota slaughter") was a wave of German-orchestrated mass murder, looting, arson, torture and rape, which swept through the Warsaw district of Ochota from 4–25 August 1944, during the Warsaw Uprising. The principal perpetrators of these war crimes were the Nazi collaborationist S.S. Sturmbrigade R.O.N.A., the so-called "Russian National Liberation Army" (Russian: Русская Освободительная Народная Армия, RONA), commanded by Bronislav Kaminski.
The worst atrocities were committed in the local hospitals, in the Curie Institute, the Kolonia Staszica housing estate, and the Zieleniak concentration camp. In all, about 10,000 residents of Ochota were killed and had their property stolen, after which the district was systematically burnt down by German forces, as were the bodies of many of the victims.St. John Climacus's Orthodox Church, Warsaw
The St. John Climacus's Orthodox Church in Warsaw is an Orthodox parish church belonging to the Warsaw deanery of the diocese of Warsaw-Bielsk within the Polish Orthodox Church.
The church is located at 140 Wolska Street in the Ulrychów area of Wola district, inside the Orthodox cemetery. It was built from 1903 to 1905 at the initiative of the Archbishop of Warsaw Hieronymus (Ilya Tikhonovich Ekzemplarskii) as a burial place for his son Ivan and for the future the church hierarchy as well as serving as a church for cemetery funerals and church services for the deceased. The Orthodox parish became associated with Russian rule during the interwar period where many Orthodox churches were demolished or closed. Except for the period between 1915 and 1919, the church continued services almost uninterrupted. It was damaged during World War II, and during the Wola massacre the Germans murdered its priests, their families and the children from the Orthodox orphanage run by the parish.
The building was designed by Vladimir Pokrovsky. It mimics the appearance of 17th century church buildings in Rostov. The church contains historic icons and items from the early 20th century, including an iconostasis made by Alexandr Murashko. Murals added in the 60s and 70s are by Adam Stalony-Dobrzański and Jerzy Nowosielski. The building was renovated from 1945 to 1948 and in the 60s and 70s. Since 2003, relics of St. Bazyli Martysz in the church have been made available to worship.
The church, along with the whole area of the Wola Redoubt, was entered in the register of monuments on August 20, 2003 (No. A-54).Sub-district III of Wola (of Armia Krajowa)
The Sub-district III of Wola (of Armia Krajowa) (Polish: Obwód III Wola) – a territorial organisational unit of the District of Warsaw of Armia Krajowa, acting during the German occupation of Poland. Military units of the district took part in the Warsaw Uprising. During the house-to-house fighting, Nazi troops from the S.S. Sturmbrigade R.O.N.A. and the SS-Dirlewanger Brigade committed the Wola Massacre killing between 40,000 to 50,000 Polish civilians.
The chief of the sub-district was lieutenant-colonel Jan Tarnowski pseudonym "Waligóra". Under his command the sub-district's military units fought in Wola from 1 until 6 August 1944, when prevailing German units forced them to withdraw to Old Town, Śródmieście and to Kampinos Forest.Tchorek plaques
Tchorek plaques are a common design of memorial plaque in Warsaw, Poland, used to commemorate places where battles or executions took place during the German occupation of the city during World War II. They are based on an original design by sculptor Karol Tchorek from 1949.
These plaques were installed at various locations in Warsaw from the 1950s until the end of the communist era in Poland, and are one of the most characteristic elements of the landscape of the capital. Many of the original plaques no longer exist, having been removed or destroyed during the ongoing modernisation and expansion of the city and its transport network. However, in 2013 there were still more than 160 Tchorek plaques within the administrative borders of Warsaw.The Holocaust in Luxembourg
The Holocaust in Luxembourg refers to the persecution and near-annihilation of the 3,500-strong Jewish population of Luxembourg begun shortly after the start of the German occupation during World War II, when the country was officially incorporated into Nazi Germany. The persecution lasted until October 1941, when the Germans declared the territory to be free of Jews who had been deported to extermination camps and ghettos in Eastern Europe.Uckermark concentration camp
The Uckermark concentration camp was a small German concentration camp for girls near the Ravensbrück concentration camp in Fürstenberg/Havel, Germany and then an "emergency" extermination camp.Verbrennungskommando Warschau
Verbrennungskommando Warschau (German: Warsaw burning detachment) was a slave labour unit formed by the SS following the Wola massacre of around 40,000 to 50,000 Polish civilians by the Germans in the early days of the Warsaw Uprising of 1944.
The purpose of the Verbrennungskommando was to remove evidence of the citywide campaign of mass murder that took place during the Uprising, by collecting corpses into large piles and burning them in open-air pyres on Elektoralna and Chłodna Streets among others. The squad was directly subordinated to SS-Obersturmführer Neumann and was also earmarked for execution after the completion of their work.Warsaw Uprising
The Warsaw Uprising (Polish: Powstanie Warszawskie; German: Warschauer Aufstand) was a major World War II operation, in the summer of 1944, by the Polish underground resistance, led by the Home Army (Polish: Armia Krajowa), to liberate Warsaw from German occupation. The uprising was timed to coincide with the retreat of the German forces from Poland ahead of the Soviet advance. While approaching the eastern suburbs of the city, the Red Army temporarily halted combat operations, enabling the Germans to regroup and defeat the Polish resistance and to raze the city in reprisal. The Uprising was fought for 63 days with little outside support. It was the single largest military effort taken by any European resistance movement during World War II.The Uprising began on 1 August 1944 as part of a nationwide Operation Tempest, launched at the time of the Soviet Lublin–Brest Offensive. The main Polish objectives were to drive the Germans out of Warsaw while helping the Allies defeat Germany. An additional, political goal of the Polish Underground State was to liberate Poland's capital and assert Polish sovereignty before the Soviet-backed Polish Committee of National Liberation could assume control. Other immediate causes included a threat of mass German round-ups of able-bodied Poles for "evacuation"; calls by Radio Moscow's Polish Service for uprising; and an emotional Polish desire for justice and revenge against the enemy after five years of German occupation.Initially, the Poles established control over most of central Warsaw, but the Soviets ignored Polish attempts to make radio contact with them and did not advance beyond the city limits. Intense street fighting between the Germans and Poles continued. By 14 September, the eastern bank of the Vistula River opposite the Polish resistance positions was taken over by the Polish troops fighting under the Soviet command; 1,200 men made it across the river, but they were not reinforced by the Red Army. This, and the lack of air support from the Soviet air base five-minutes flying time away, led to allegations that Joseph Stalin tactically halted his forces to let the operation fail and allow the Polish resistance to be crushed. Arthur Koestler called the Soviet attitude "one of the major infamies of this war which will rank for the future historian on the same ethical level with Lidice."Winston Churchill pleaded with Stalin and Franklin D. Roosevelt to help Britain's Polish allies, to no avail. Then, without Soviet air clearance, Churchill sent over 200 low-level supply drops by the Royal Air Force, the South African Air Force, and the Polish Air Force under British High Command, in an operation known as the Warsaw Airlift. Later, after gaining Soviet air clearance, the U.S. Army Air Force sent one high-level mass airdrop as part of Operation Frantic.
Although the exact number of casualties is unknown, it is estimated that about 16,000 members of the Polish resistance were killed and about 6,000 badly wounded. In addition, between 150,000 and 200,000 Polish civilians died, mostly from mass executions. Jews being harboured by Poles were exposed by German house-to-house clearances and mass evictions of entire neighbourhoods. German casualties totalled over 2,000 soldiers killed and missing. During the urban combat, approximately 25% of Warsaw's buildings were destroyed. Following the surrender of Polish forces, German troops systematically levelled another 35% of the city block by block. Together with earlier damage suffered in the 1939 invasion of Poland and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943, over 85% of the city was destroyed by January 1945 when the course of the events in the Eastern Front forced the Germans to abandon the city.Wola Massacre Memorial on Górczewska Street
The Wola Massacre Memorial on Górczewska Street is a war memorial located at 32 Górczewska Street (near the intersection with Prymasa Tysiąclecia Avenue) in the Wola district of Warsaw, Poland.
A large cross and several memorial plaques commemorate the place which was the principal execution site used by the Nazi German occupiers of Warsaw during the Wola massacre, one of the most brutal massacres of civilians during the Second World War, which took place between 5 and 12 August 1944, in the early days of the Warsaw Uprising. Up to 10,000 Polish men, women and children were murdered at the site.Yizkor books
Yizkor books are memorial books commemorating a Jewish community destroyed during the Holocaust. The books are published by former residents or landsmanshaft societies as remembrances of homes, people and ways of life lost during World War II. Yizkor books usually focus on a town but may include sections on neighboring smaller communities. Most of these books are written in Yiddish or Hebrew, some also include sections in English or other languages, depending on where they were published. Since the 1990s, many of these books, or sections of them have been translated into English.
Massacres of ethnic Poles in World War II
|Pre-war Polish Volhynia|
|Polish self-defence centres|