History of the Warsaw Insurgents Cemetery
17 January 1945
The Polish Army and the Red Army units enter the ruined city of Warsaw. On the same day, the Varsovians’ return to the city begins. The municipal administration faces a great challenge—hundreds of bodies must be buried, and thousands of makeshift graves must be taken care of.
A Committee for Exhumations is set up, soon transformed into the Exhumations Division at the Health and Social Services Department of the Municipal Council. The Committee’s role is to collect information on the locations of burials. By 8 May, 25,000 single and collective graves, 87 mass graves and almost 29,000 makeshift burial sites are recorded on the left bank of Warsaw. In total, the Exhumations Division estimated that 200,000 bodies needed to be exhumed and buried again.
Spring of 1945
The first exhumations and funerals of the victims of the 1944 Uprising are being held at Warsaw cemeteries. Thanks to the efforts of Jan Mazurkiewicz “Radosław”, the former head of KEDYW [acronym for “Directorate of Diversion”, a Home Army unit which conducted active and passive sabotage and propaganda operations against Nazi German forces and collaborators] at the Home Army HQ, several plots are purchased at the Powązki Military Cemetery and 11 insurgents’ graves are being marked. The funerals are organised by Rev. Mieczysław Żemralski, the Military Cemetery chaplain. The families of insurgents bury 6,750 bodies at Warsaw cemeteries.
Meanwhile, exhumations of single and collective graves are underway. The bodies are transferred to several makeshift cemeteries at the city centre locations, i.a. the Krasiński Garden, Starynkiewicza Square, Wilsona Square, Dreszera Park and the garden of the Deaf and Mute Institute at the Trzech Krzyży Square and on Czerniakowska Street.
The idea to establish a Cemetery for the Fallen in the Uprising arises. Lt. Jan Mazurkiewicz “Radosław” approaches Professor Romuald Gutt and Eng. Alina Scholtz with a commission for an architectural project. The concept they develop envisages a monumental necropolis-park stretching across the area of 13 hectares. A mound with the ashes of the murdered and burnt Varsovians is to be placed mid-way along the central avenue, with a chapel-mausoleum on its top. The complex ought to make a lasting impression—all the tombstones are to take the form of identical crosses, with rows of trees in-between the plots. Gutt and Scholtz developed a similar concept for the cemetery in Palmiry. The idea is to overwhelm the visitors with the majesty of death.
29 November 1945
A new cemetery in the Wola district is opened on the anniversary of the November Uprising. From now on, the municipal administration directs all those who perished in Warsaw in the years 1939-1944 and were exhumed to the new cemetery. Already in February 1946, the Municipal Funeral Company issues a request to the Warsaw Reconstruction Office to urgently designate new burial grounds due to the high volume of exhumations.
6 August 1946
A formal funeral of the victims of mass executions carried out at the Gestapo seat on Szucha Avenue, in the ruins of the Armed Forces Chief Inspectorate on Ujazdowskie Avenues and in the vicinity of the Pawiak prison takes place. The funeral cortege of 117 coffins filled with human ashes marches across the city. These are also the ashes of the victims of the Wola Massacre, recovered from numerous spots in the vicinity of Wolska Street. They are all buried in a sarcophagus at the cemetery. It is estimated that a total of 20 tons of human ashes are now resting under the mound. By the end of August 1946, further 10,000 exhumed bodies are buried at the cemetery.
18 April 1947
The Society of Fighters for Freedom and Democracy stops the exhumations of the Home Army soldiers at the makeshift cemetery in the Krasiński Garden and puts a halt on organising more burials at Powązki. From now on, the funerals may only be held at the Defenders of Warsaw Cemetery [the necropolis’ official name at the time] in Wola.
The period of distorting history and obliterating the memory of the Warsaw Uprising has begun. The disorderly cemetery is now administered by the Society of Fighters for Freedom and Democracy, a veterans’ organization which is subordinate to the Polish United Workers’ Party. Rubble is being transported to the cemetery, the alleys are overgrown with bushes. The realisation of Gutt and Scholtz’s project is interrupted. The authorities change the necropolis’ name to the No. 2 Municipal Cemetery in Wola. “…nothing has been done to ensure a proper look of the place which is sacred to every citizen of Warsaw. Sticky mud makes it impossible not only to drive through the cemetery, but also to reach some sections of it on foot,” complains Głos Ludu daily.
The cemetery undergoes a superficial revitalisation. The old graves are no more, the remains of rotting wooden crosses are being removed. The area is ploughed and reduced from 13 to 1.5 hectares. The municipal authorities decide to create a park on the “regained” plot. Within the cemetery, 177 mass graves are being delineated. All the graves are marked with a symbol of the Grunwald Cross, typically awarded to the members of People’s Army during the People’s Republic of Poland era. The insurgent character of the necropolis is now blurred. An inscription appears: “Buried in this cemetery are the remains and ashes of the heroic people of Warsaw, organised members of the resistance and soldiers who fought to liberate the capital city from the Nazi captivity in the years 1939-1945.” There is no mention of the 1944 Uprising, or the Home Army.
On the initiative of the Wola National Council, a monument by Professor Gustaw Zemła, a renowned sculptor, is erected on the mound which contains the victims’ ashes. The sculpture depicts a dying antic warrior, holding up a shield in his right hand. The monument is named Fallen Invincible 1939-1945.
An informal Committee for the Warsaw Insurgents Cemetery in Wola is set up. Its main tasks are to document the victims of the Uprising and to recall their memory. In 2004, the body is transformed into the Warsaw Insurgents Cemetery Social Committee. On the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising, on 1 August 1994, a commemorative field mass is being held at the cemetery, the first one in decades.
The Warsaw Insurgents Cemetery is entered in the Historic Monuments Register. Three years later, the Council for the Protection of Struggle and Martyrdom Sites is made responsible for looking after the Cemetery.
The Fallen Invincible monument is supplemented with sacral and insurgent symbols. The anchor sign of ‘Poland Fighting’ [Polska Walcząca] is added to the shield of the dying warrior and to the barricade nearby.
Another revitalisation of the Cemetery takes place, this time following consultations with the insurgents group. The site is entered in the Register of Historic Monuments.
26 May 2017
On Polish Mother’s Day, the Monument to a Mother is unveiled at the Warsaw Insurgents Park. It is an “empty Pieta”, a sculpture by Łukasz Krupski depicting a woman holding a shroud. The word ‘mother’ is inscribed on the pedestal in Polish, Russian, German and Hebrew.
The Warsaw Municipal Council launches an architectural competition for a pavilion housing an exposition dedicated to the victims of occupied Warsaw, and for the Wall of Memory with surroundings.
On the 77th anniversary of the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising, at a park adjacent to the Cemetery, a foundation stone is laid for the construction of the Hall of Remembrance. The event is attended by Ms Wanda Traczyk-Stawska, Chair of the Warsaw Insurgents Cemetery Social Committee, prime mover behind the construction of the Hall of Remembrance, and a Honorary Citizen of the City of Warsaw.
Based on: Maciej Janaszek-Seydlitz – Cmentarz Powstańców Warszawy na Woli, in: http://www.sppw1944.org/pamiec/pamiec.html