The mission of the Hall of Remembrance
We live in a city that remembers. Each day we pass by plaques, monuments and memorial sites which bear witness to history, often very tragic. We know our city’s history from family stories, books, films, and school. We are moved by its momentous events, but also by the lives of ordinary people which we would like to restore to memory.
We have created the Hall of Remembrance with a simple message in mind: no more war. The words of Ms Wanda Traczyk-Stawska, a prime mover behind the idea of building the Hall, serve as our guideline—it is a place that preserves the memory of Warsaw residents, of victims of the war and of 1944 Warsaw Uprising.
The message of Wanda Traczyk-Stawska
When asked in a recent extended interview what, for her, was the truth about the Uprising, Ms Traczyk-Stawska did not mention armed combat or heroic fight. She spoke of the civilians, of the enormous sacrifice made by those who were most vulnerable.
The truth (about the Uprising – MW) is in the sobs of a mother who has no food left for her child. The truth is in the dilemma of how to bury your wife whose head has been ripped off and is nowhere to be found. The truth is in the helplessness when your neighbour goes mad in an overcrowded basement and is running amok, upstairs, straight into the hail of bullets, and you have no idea what to do. To follow him, or not to follow? To leave your nearest and dearest and come to his rescue, or rather to curl up and stay alive? This is the truth.
[…] They died because of the Uprising, there is no other reason. They died during armed combat, and then, when we were retreating from one district after another, we left them alone and helpless. The Germans took their revenge on them. Their retaliation for the sixty-three days of resistance was massive and cruel.
It is all in my head and in my heart, I cannot forget about it. I simply couldn’t. We must keep
repeating it: if it hadn’t been for the civilians, the Uprising would have fallen on the second or third day. That is why stripping civilian victims of the Uprising of the honour of being among its heroes is quite simply wrong […].
Read interview with Wanda Traczyk-Stawska.
How to fill in the void?
The Uprising was a heroic, soaring act which stemmed from the longing for freedom, but it did come at a price. The destruction of the city, tens of thousands of victims, and after all that—years and years of silence, not a single word about the extent of suffering and trauma.
And the void: indeed, the identity of the majority of the victims of this catastrophe has been lost; their names, surnames and life stories have fallen into oblivion. All that is left are plaques with the anchor, a symbol of “Poland fighting” which—in a symbolic way—elevate the act of resistance but treat its victims collectively.
The Hall of Remembrance’s role is to reclaim individual stories of the victims, to recall and preserve their memory. Just like we cherish the memory of our ancestors—by creating the Hall, we wish to recall the memory of the generations of Warsaw residents whom the history has sentenced to a tragic fate.
Calling for peace
For Ms Wanda Traczyk-Stawska, the Hall of Remembrance’s mission is a persistent appeal for dialogue, “calling for peace” as a constant reminder of the catastrophic consequences of war: human victims and material collapse; destruction of a nation’s heritage, fruit of the toil of many generations which turns into ashes and is lost forever.
We want the Hall to serve as a guideline for the residents of Warsaw. Here, they will be able to face and understand the past, to find the lost identity and legacy of those who lived in the city before them.
How to remember?
Remembering is an act of courage—one needs courage to face the tragic history of Warsaw. It is also a way to show respect; it is a lesson and a moral compass. By remembering people who once lived on our street, in our building but fell victim to a war, we contribute to the continuity of our city’s history.
We foster the belief that peace is a value we must hold on to, cherish and fiercely guard.
We also develop empathy for a tragic fate which we know of, even if, luckily, most of us have never experienced it. We know what it means to fear bombs and starvation, to fear for one’s own life and for those we love—places such as the Hall of Remembrance remind us of that. Thus, we grow more empathetic towards those who experience the trauma of war today. We feel close to them and perhaps that is why we are willing to open our hearts and our homes to them.
Message and action for today
In the face of the war, the residents of Ukraine are fleeing their homes en masse, and they find new ones in Warsaw. Our city knows more than well what it means to be the history’s training ground. Razed to the ground and reconstructed, massacred and built anew—it gives hope to others.
Indeed, it is possible to raise from ruin. It is possible to be reborn in a new form.
As a scholarly and educational space, the Hall of Remembrance will help you grasp all that. Our collective reflection upon the past at this very spot may bear fruit, providing we remember one thing: the process of building requires time and effort while destruction takes a mere while. Evil does not fall from the sky, it keeps lurking at us close by. We must continue to forestall it, and to teach: dialogue, tolerance and empathy.