UNFINISHED HOLY MASSES IN WOŁYŃ
On the bloody Sunday, that is, 11 July 1943, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army attacked 99 towns in Wołyń, in order to do slaughter on believers and priests who gathered in churches for religious services
A few years ago, in relation to the Priestly Year the Ucrainicum Centre of the Catholic University of Lublin, in cooperation with the Lublin division of the National Remembrance Institute, the Catholic Association ‘Civitas Christiana’ and the General Consulate of the Republic of Poland in Łuck, organized an exhibition devoted to martyrdom of the Polish clergy on the Eastern Borderlines of the Second Republic of Poland, mainly in the diocese of Łuck, which fell a prey to the Ukrainian nationalists in the years of the Second World War. The exposition was named symbolically: ‘Unfinished Holy Masses in Wołyń’. We remember that the culmination of that crime was the so-called Bloody Sunday, that is, 11 July 1943, when the Ukrainian Insurgent Army attacked 99 towns in Wołyń to do slaughter on believers and priests who gathered in churches for religious services. Being gathered for a prayer during the Holy Mass, they were to be an easy prey for murderers who began a mass action of depolonization of Wołyń. But we must know that disrupted Holy Masses were the reality of Wołyń a few months earlier – at the Easter time, in April 1943.
Easter will be red
At the time preceding the Easter 1943 in Wołyń, there appeared ominous rumors among Polish people, spread by Ukrainians neighbours, that ‘the Easter will be red from Poles’ blood’. Mass murders, lasting for over two months in whole Polish villages in districts of Sarna and Kostopol made those rumors credible. Poles, including children, were murdered bestially with the usage of axes, pitchforks, bayonets and knives. The Ukrainian Insurgent Army divisions did not even save mixed families, the Polish-Ukrainian ones. The time of the Great Week belonged to the most terrible ones. At night of the Great Thursday to Good Friday in Janowa Dolina near Kostopol where 97 percent of population were Poles, there was slaughter of over 600 people. On Good Friday the division of Iwan Kłymyszyn ‘Kruk’ invaded Zaba village in Krzemieniec district. Houses were set on fire, inhabitants were murdered with axes, caught refugees were thrown into buildings on fire. About 70 people were killed. On Great Saturday in Huta Antonowiecka about 50 Poles were killed. Murders were done on Easter Sunday and on the second day of the Easter. There more of them after Easter, in May 1943. In memories of the commander of sotnia Ukrainian Insurgent Army Maksym Skorupksi ‘maks’, we read: ‘Beginning with our action on Kuty on 2-3 May, day by day, soon after the sunset, the sky got showered by the brightness of conflagration. Those were Polish villages on fire’. Taking advantage of the fact of looking for help from Germans and Soviet guerilla by defenceless Poles, murderers were cynically trying to justify genocide with alleged cooperation of Poles with the enemies of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. In June that year, Dmytro Klaczkiwski – ‘Kłym Sawur, the commander of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army – North gave a command of ‘murdering all Poles’.
Not only ‘Bloody Sunday’
A culmination of the planned crime was Sunday 11 July 1943. That day also priests Fr. Józef Aleksandrowicz was murdered by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army during a morning Holy Mass in the church in Zabłotce. The place of his burial remains unknown. Also Fr. Jan Kotwicki, a parish priest of church in Chrynów near Włodzimierz Wołyński was killed. On Sunday 11 July 1943 people going out of church were made to go back to church by the Ukrainians. First, Banderites threw bullets inside, and later they began to shoot at the crowd. Those were killed who were trying to get outside. The Ukrainian Insurgent Army murdered 150-200 in the church and outside it. After a few days the church was burnt. The parish priest was shot dead during his attempt of escaping through the sacristy. His body was buried on the graveyard in Włodzimierz. Whereas, according to a report by witnesses, Fr. Bolesław Szawłowski, a parish priest of the church in Poryck was wounded in his leg and arm during the massacre of the parishioners in the church, fell from a pulpit and, pretending to be dead, he stayed alive till the evening. Next he crawled to the house of pop who was taking care of him. When soldiers of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army did not find the priest’s body among the murdered, they realized that he had hid at the pop’s house. They arrived at the house and did a bestial murder on the priest. Pop was to give the last pastoral sacrament to Fr. Szawłowski, and later bury his body. After the murder, the banderites plundered the sacristy in the church, took away chalices and the monstrance. Drinking the Holy Mass wine, laughing, they were sharing their impressions with one another. The Ukrainians gave a command of throwing corpses of nearly 200 victims of the murder in Poryck to pits dug to their command in a distance of nearly 25-30 m away from the church. In other weeks and months, priests were killed for standing up for their parishioners and refusal to change their religion into Orthodoxy or refusal to renounce their Catholic faith publicly, for praying in the intention of the murdered, for hiding their believers in monasteries. They were killed during their escapes, on their way. Some of them were burnt alive in churches. Others were thrown into rivers from bridges, others died in torments, being tied between two planks and cut through with an axe. The victims’ bodies were buried in unmarked places. One of the commanders of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, ‘Rudyj’ – Jurij Stemaszczuk said during a hearing: “When there was no one left alive, we were digging deep pits, throwing all corpses into them, and covering them with the ground so as to hide the traces of that terrible grave and we made big fires on them and we went on. We were going so from village to village. We collected the whole cattle, valuable things, possessions and food, and set buildings and other properties on fire’. It happened that the victims were thrown into wells. Churches were often pulled down to their fundaments. It happened so to 50 Roman-Catholic churches in Wołyń. In one of commands the barbaric methods of destruction were explained in this way: ‘If there is something Polish, Poles will make a claim for our lands’.
Finish the Holy Masses in Wołyń
In one of memories written by a witness who survived the slaughter, we read: ‘The anti-Christ began his activity!’. In fact, during the war, evil in Wołyń and in Eastern Galicia exceeded all kinds of human imagination. Only power of Divine Mercifulness can face up this mystery of evil. Therefore, as bishop Marcjan Trofimiak, the ordinary of the diocese of Łuck said, it is necessary to ‘finish celebrating those Holy Masses which were once disrupted and remain unfinished’. Praying for the victims, for all those who are mourning about their relatives, it is necessary to pray also for those ‘who in their blindness, having rejected God’s commandments and Christ’s teaching about love, raised their hand against their neighbours. God, forgive them’. It is worth adding intentions for maintaining remembrance about them and also for healing it, for the truth, for the attempt to break the curse of history through mutual opening up to sensitivity of the other side and to build Polish-Ukrainian relations on what used to be the expression of humankind in the past, and now has power to build bridges, for example, upon memory about the righteous Ukrainians, who were saving Polish neighbours putting their life at risk. Finally – we cannot speak about reconciliation in the situation when the debris of the murdered are still lying in nameless, unmarked pits and cannot be commemorated by families in a right way.