PIAŚNICA POMERANIAN KATYŃ
We must exterminate this nation, starting with a cradle. I am giving Poles into your hands – gauleiter Albert Forster, the viceroy of the Reich and a director of the German political party NSDAP in the district of Gdańsk was shouting to the Germans gathered in front of the townhall of Wejherowo
Piaśnica is a small village in Puszcza Darżlubska, distanced by about 10 km from Wejherowo. It became a symbol of cruelty and a crime committed by the Nazis offenders. It is the biggest necropolis of Poles in Pomerania from the times of the Second World War, often called by the local inhabitants Golgota Kaszubska. It was where from October 1939 to April 1940 the divisions of Selbstschutzu and SS were murdering about 12 thousand innocent people.
A transport of death
Having permission from their superior, the fanatics of the Nazism started exterminating the inhabitants of Pomerania, mainly the representatives of that intelligence. In Piaśnica priests, teachers, lawyers, clerks, artisans, farmers, social activists, political activists and association activists were murdered, including the Jews. People mentally ill were transported in special trains from Germany, who were also killed there. Many prominent people were victims of the Nazis crime. Among them there was, among the others, blessed sister Alicja Kotowska – a Superior of the monastery house of the Sisters of Lord’s Resurrection in Wejherowo. She was canonized by pope John Paul II together with 108 martyrs of the period of the Second World War.
The Germans never agreed with their loss of the lands which had been under the Prussian partition before the Versailles Treaty. Plans of Fuhrer were quite obvious before his reaching the authority. He wanted to remove people unable to become germanised according to the Nazis criteria, from the conquered lands. His successes in the international arena and many meetings and speeches explicitly suggested preparations for the war. German airplanes were trespassing our air space of our country more and more frequently. Acts of sabotage and provocations were becoming more and more frequent. No wonder that Poles lived in a permanent sense of a danger after reaching the authority by the Nazis.
Time of trial
On 1 September 1939 the gunfire at Westerplatte from the German armadillo Schleswig – Holstein started. The Nazis quickly started war actions, attacking from the sea, air and land. On the first day of the war the fate of the Free City Gdańsk was decided by the proclamation of the gauleiter Albert Forster and joined into the Third Reich. On these days he spoke as follows: ‘Men and women of Gdańsk! The hour was struck for which we have been waiting with nostalgia for twenty years. From today on Gdańsk returns to the Great Reich of Germany. We were freed by our Fuhrer Adolf Hitler! (…).At this solemn hour, let’s hold one another’s hands and give a vow to our Fuhrer that we will do this all which lies in our power, everything for our beautiful Great Germany. Let our Great German Homeland live! Let our beloved Fuhrer Adolf Hitler live!’
Because of the lack of ammunition and supply, and also big losses and cutting off from a road, commanders decided about a withdrawal of the first marine shooters regiment from Wejherowo to Kępa Oksywska into the region of Dębogórze. From 14 to 19 September there were fights in the defence of Kępa Oskywska. Despite significant lacks of ammunition and supply Polish soldiers were bravely resisting the German invader. His last point was the strengthened region Hel which was defended in extremely difficult conditions till 2 October. The whole team of Hel, including the civilians, was resisting German attacks from the air and water. September ’39 deserves admiration of the heroic attitude of the Polish army and navy. Painful losses experienced by defenders of the Coast were the result of not only the prevalence of the Germans but also barbaric martial methods used by them, which later changed into cruel occupation methods.
From war to terror
The Germans started repression towards the Polish society. Mass arrests and executions started. Operation divisions, supported by the representatives of the German minority, on the basis of Sonderfahndungsbuch Polen (a Special Book of Poles prosecuted with an arrest warrant), started searching for the most active representatives of the Polish society. Albert Forster and his supporters raised hatred and hostility towards the Polish society at meetings. In Wejherowo arrests and executions of Poles were begun.
In Grudziądzgauleiter from Gdańsk expressed his astonishment in his speech that ‘in the streets of this town Polish blood is not seen, despite murders committed on the Germans’. After such direct speeches, particular instructions of defined proceedings had to be given. Indications of Albert Forster are quite clear at the time of his holding of the function of the chief of civil administration in Gdańsk Pomerania, entitled: ‘Principles of proceedings on the areas conquered by the German divisions’, in which we read a call for ‘capturing and internment of Polish leaders and intellectualists, especially teachers, priests, all people with academic education and finally merchants’. A memorial SS-Sturmbannfuhrer of dr. Franz, the commander of the security division in Einsatzkommando 16, was published, and addressed on 21 October 1939, to the Main Office SS: ‘According to the will of Fuhrer, in a short time German Western Pruss are to be created out of the Polish Pomerania. In order to carry out this task, according to the unanimous opinion of all competent factors, the following ways of actions are necessary: physical liquidation of all these Polish elements which were on the Polish side in the past in any leading role or they can be carriers of the Polish resistance in the future’.
It was not necessary to repeat similar appeals, so that Nazis occupants would feel lords of life and death of Poles. At once posters appeared in the streets of towns and villages with a message to local Germans to develop their divisions in Selbstschutzu, a criminal paramilitary organization.
In October the prison in Wejherowo started bursting at the seams to such an extent that in prison cells designed for 9-10 people, there were 30 of them.
From terrorism to crime
Witnesses enumerate various dates of the beginning of transportation of the convicts from Wejherowo towards Piaśnica - between 29 October and 9 November. Most people were transported 11 November. According to various sources – from 300 to even 900 people. Among them there was blessed sister Alicja Kotowska who gave her life together with Jewish children. Taken out of a prison cell sister Alicja saw wandering children in a courtyard. She took them and gathered them around her. She took the youngest child’s hand. And she got on a lorry with these children.
Many inhabitants of Wejherowo noticed the transports from the prison and from the railway station to Piaśnica. These were worrying signals. – In forests of Piaśnica executions are being done on Polish citizens – it was said. In September some people noticed raised interest of SS functionaries and police investigating the area of the forest. One of the eye-witnesses of an execution was Elżbieta Ellwart, an inhabitant of Orlo at that time. Her shocking testimonies present the whole horror of crimes committed in Piaśnica. Polish intellectual, social elites, priests, women and little children were deprived of life in a brutal way.
A tragic balance
On the basis of witnesses’ testimonies, a lot of kept documents and exhumation results, we can define the status of people murdered in Piaśnica. Classification can be conducted in various terms, because in Piaśnica the murder victims were: women, men, children and the youth, priests and laymen, representatives of the Polish nationality, as well as the Jewish, Czechs and Germans. Among the victims there were also residents of centres for the mentally ill. The sentenced to death were the representatives of all spheres of the Polish society. In the interwar years they were engaged in the political, social, educational, religious, cultural and sport activity. Teachers contributed to formation of the patriotic attitude of the Polish society of the Coast, often giving their life for it.
The biggest losses among people of the Pomeranian land were experienced by clergy. ‘The occupier identified the Catholic faith with Polishness and evangelical religion with the German origin. Hence, it is understandable that he directed the blade of his fight against priests of the Roman –Catholic Church.
Under the supervision of offenders, arrested priests had to tidy up streets and were raking and picking up fallen leaves with bare hands. It was a form of humiliation of prisoners holding high posts and popular with the trustfulness in the society and a significant of a social prestige. The extermination in Piaśnica caused a situation that Gdynia and the marital province were practically deprived of their priests. The Germans had known the patriotic influence of priests on people of Pomerania for a long time. They perceived the activity of the Church as an essential obstacle in germanization of this land.
Fr. Bolesław Witkowski had been a parish priest of Miechów in the province of Puck since the year 1905. As a parliamentarian for the Seym he insisted on national and economic rights for Poles. As the chairman of the People’s Bank and a social activist cared about the endangered household of Kaszuby so that they would not get into the German hands. After the First World War he received an order of Polonia Restituta for his patriotic and social activity. He was murdered in Piaśnica in 1939.
During a carried out exhumation, in one of graves a fragment of a rosary was found. As I have mentioned, sister Alicja Kotowska, the superior of the Convent of Sisters of Lord’s Resurrection and a director of a junior-high school and the secondary school in Wejherowo was killed as a martyr. On 24 October 1939 at 3.30 pm, when sister went to a chapel to pray together, the Nazis soldiers burst inside. Shouting, they ordered sister ConsolataSzukowska, who spoke German, to bring the sister superior. When sister Kotowska entered the vestibule, the Nazis told her to put on a coat and went away with her to a prison in Wejherowo. She never returned.
An industry of death
Certainly, it is impossible to do a detailed characteristics of victims who came from the Reich. Feliks Kreft testified during a trial of gauleiter Albert Forster: ‘From October 1939 I worked as a Pole at the railway station as a telegrapher. During doing my duty I had a possibility to answer telegrams informing the station Wejherowo that the train 591 was transporting the mentally ill to Wejherowo in 2 or 3 wagons at the end. (…). I had to inform a stationmaster about the content of the received telegram. Declaring these transports as mentally ill was fictional because later I had a possibility to approach the people transported - and talking with them, I realized that these were completely mentally normal people but forced to be transported to Piaśnica. These people came from Germany, Westfalia, Saksonia and Czech and these were Poles speaking German. These were people from the youngest age to the oldest age, men and women of various social classes. These people showed their tiredness with the long journey and they asked where ‘Umsiedlungslager’ – the resettlement camp was there. According to their behavior I thought that those people did not know their destination. The people had taken their things and luggage with them. I noticed that every week eight wagons arrived and these transports lasted from the end of October 1939 till April 1940’.
Another evidence that in the forest in Piaśnica not only people of the Polish nationality were killed is also the testimony of the witness Wiktor Brylewski from Wejherowo who says about the period of the Nazis occupation as follows: ‘Transports were coming to the station in Wejherowoin Pullman and ordinary wagons, attached to the train, coming from Lębork to Gdańsk at 9.45.In these wagons there were people of both sexes with children (…).
When once it was impossible to open the door, I entered a wagon through a window I was for 10 minutes in the wagon. I saw women, children and men there. Women were crying and asking where they were and where Krokovo was. The women were crying and knew about shootings in Piaśnica. Transports were coming from Meklemburgia and from Rostock. To the order of a stationmaster Webde Hein, I signed the commitment about keeping the secret’.
Whereas German documents confirm their internment within the extermination action, already prepared before the war and aimed against all foreigners – opponents of the national policy and the so-called harmful elements (Schadigende Elemente), to whom the Jews were included as well as the mentally ill. The size of mass internment of foreigners in the Reich is proved by many official letters. Acts of the Magdeburg archive included in a big folder entitled ‘Ausweisung von Auslandern’ inform about the removal among the others of Poles, the French, the Czechs and the Gipsies German country.
The sad fate was experienced by the Jewish families living both in Pomerania and all over Poland. The first arrests of the Jews in the province of Pomerania started on 12 September. The arrested (mainly men) were transported to one of temporary camps on the area of Gdynia. Next, they were transported to Nowy Port and to Stutthof from there.
A symbolic return home
After the war Piaśnica became a place of meetings of families who lost their relatives. The first ceremony for worship of the murdered inhabitants of the Coast and other places took place on 22 September 1946. It was attended by crowds of a few thousand people. Mass media were always interested in reporting these events.
The original appearance of the area of the necropolis of Piaśnica was constantly changed. In September 1955 a monument for worship of the murdered was unveiled. It was erected thanks to the engagement and devotion of the society. In 1993 a monument devoted to murdered children in Piaśnica was erected. In 1995 the necropolis of Piaśnica was excluded from the parish in Leśniewo and given to the parish of King Christ in Wejherwow, which undertook a duty or organizing annual ceremonies. In 1999 the obelisk commemorating the martyrdom of blessed Alicja Kotowska and the Jesuits from Gdynia was sacrificed. According to the tradition, for many years, every first Sunday of October, the Holy Mass is celebrated, which is carefully prepared by the municipality of Wejherowo and members of particular organizations of Piaśnica (the Committee of Piaśnica and the Association of Family of Piaśnica). The solemn religious services were presided over by archbishops, bishops, who, in their sermons, warn against hatred promoted in totalitarian ideologies. In later years, a military altar was set up in the form of a chapel and Gate of Piaśnica which is also to present a road of cross for thousands of inhabitants of Pomerania and Kaszuby and their ‘symbolic’ return home. The topic of genocide was also presented in many books, films and even songs. The society in Wejherowo expressed its great respect through giving some streets the names of the Victims of Piaśnica and sisters Kazimiera and Stanisława Panek. The group of schools no 3 in Wejherowo has the name of Martyrdom in Piaśnica. Thanks to the work of hundreds of people engaged in the activity of associations, there is still the memory about the crime in the forest in Piaśnica.