THEY BURNT THEM ALIVE

AGNIESZKA DZIARMAGA

Stench of burnt bodies – characteristic, sweetish, but not impossible to imitate – was accompanying long to those who survived, who got saved from pacification. The National Day: The Day of a Fight and Martyrdom of the Polish Village which we have been celebrating for the first time, was established with the effort of descendants of cruelly murdered inhabitants of Michniów. Their determination in a fight for remembrance, throughout the next generations, since the post-war times till today

On 13 October 2017, the President of the Republic of Poland Andrzej Duda, signed an Act about establishing the Day of a Fight and Martyrdom of the Polish Village. On 12 July 2018 it was the first time since this new national day had been celebrated in Michniów, where the Germans murdered inhabitants in the whole village on 12 and 13 July, that is, over 200 people. Exactly 75 years ago. The youngest victim was born only days before the tragedy.

They murdered the whole village

Michniów, this small village in Świętokrzyce, has been a symbol of pacification of Polish villages during the Second World War for years – pacification which ruined the life of inhabitants of Michniów throughout generations. ‘On the first day they killed my brother, brother-in-law, next day they killed my mum, my sister’s 9-day-old baby and another two-year-old child and killed everybody. My mum went with this child to have her baptized, and her daughter and my sister stayed with another child, as her husband had been killed on the first day – she stayed there and waited for mum. She went there, everybody was taken and burned alive: mum, those children, everything here in a barn near the school was burnt’ (from a report by Daniela Wiśniewska, a witness of pacification, in: ‘Kielecczyzna. A Day of a Fight and Martyrdom of the Polish Village’, Michniów 2018).

Universal lesson of remembrance

President Duda, who was represented in Michniów by Wojciech Kolarski – a sub-secretary in the Office of President of the Republic of Poland, sent a letter on the celebration in which he wrote: ‘The first time celebrated Day of a Fight and Martyrdom of the Polish Village is a national day which is to mark how important merits and devotion of Polish peasants faithfully serving to homeland are in the collective memory of the nation (…). This is history which we must remember and tell the world so that these tragic experiences would become an universal lesson. (…)

On behalf of Republic of Poland I pay tribute to patriotism, courage and devotion of inhabitants of the village. Since the times of Kościuszko’s insurrection they have been inscribed in the Polish identity by the motto ‘with fervency and weapon’. A particular evidence of it were the years of the Second World War. We will never forget how much Polish peasants did for the defence of our freedom’.

The ceremonies in Michniów were begun by the Holy Mass on a field presided over by a local parish priest Fr. Stanisław Picheta. The altar was placed next to a monument of a Michniów Pieta, with a built-in mausoleum at the background. The homily was given by Fr. Zbigniew Chajski, a parish priest from Krajno.

He reminded about the circumstances of the cruelty still being investigated, and tried to reconstruct the atmosphere of ‘the times without any mercy’. – We want to be sure that their blood gave a generation of wise and courageous Poles –the preacher said about the cruelty victims. He also emphasized that ‘we, overwhelmed by welfare, often do not notice that we live on credit, that we are eating freedom which worn-out’. He emphasized steadfastness and determination of Poles who always ‘stood up on their feet’ in history, with the help of the national ethos, religion, faith. – May martyrdom of the inhabitants of Michniów give lots of fruits – Fr. Chajski said.

The Holy Mass was attended by delegations of many governmental, local, educational institutions; there were, among the others: Jan Krzysztof Ardanowski – a minister of agriculture and village development, Jarosław Szarek – a chairperson of the National Remembrance Institute, Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz – a chairperson of the Polish People’s Alliance, Adam Jarubas – a Speaker of the Province of Świętokrzyce, Andrzej Bętkowski – a deputy governor of the Province of Śwętokrzyce, presidents, mayors, governors, commune heads from the region and various parts of Poland. Over 40 colour guards were keeping guard at a collective grave. Inhabitants of Michniów and descendants of victims arrived. A lot of them fought in that area, a lot of them remember how bloody retaliation for Michniów it was….

On 12 – 13 July 1943 in Michniów, during two days, the Germans murdered over 200 people: 103 men – most of whom were burnt alive, 54 women and 48 children, even 10 of whom were less than 10 years old. The youngest victim a 9-day-old Stefanek Dąbrowa, thrown into a burning barn by a German gendarme. Murder on the inhabitants of the village was a retaliation for their help to partisan divisions and their belonging to the National Army and Polish Farmers’ Battalions. The Germans did not murder 11 people, to whom they had particular suspicions of the underground activity. They were transported to KL Auschwitz where 6 of them were killed. 18 young girls were transported for compulsory work in the Reich. Having been plundered, the village was completely burned. It was not allowed to rebuild it or growing crops on fields in Michniów. Body debris of the murdered were buried in a collective grave, on which a stony tablet was placed after the war, with surnames of victims. The tragedy of Michniów grew to the ranks of a symbol of all pacified towns, of which there are 817 within the present borders of the country. There are so many crosses on the Golgotha hill of Michniów.

United around a project

The Parliament Speaker Jarubas noted that on the ground of martyrdom of Michniów there is only one museum of this type in Poland, dedicated to martyrdom of the Polish village.

Representatives of various political options during the ceremonies were emphasizing (quite unusual in Polish conditions) unification around a project of establishing the national day built on the tragic experience of MIchniów.

I thank God and all of you that after two years (since the beginning of the initiative of establishing the national day) unity and brotherhood turned out to be possible in the divided Polish parliament – said the chairperson Kosiniak-Kamysz, an applicant of establishing the national day.

Whereas a chairperson Szarek noted the symbolic of MIchniów, which represents over 800 Polish villages and also towns annihilated during the Volyn slaughter. He also emphasized participation of peasants in the Polish army and merits of prominent statesmen coming from the villages, like Wincenty Witos.

A senator Krzysztof Słoń (Law and Justice party) noted uniqueness of Michniów on the map of not only the province of Świętokrzyce but also the whole country. – This is a symbol of a fight and martyrdom of the Polish village. People who were killed here are heroes. We owe them so much, also in the context of regaining independence by Poland, that it is so difficult to evaluate it - he emphasized.

A conference entitled: ‘Meeting of generations ‘, held in the Educational-Integration Centre in Michniów, was devoted to reports of the history witnesses.

Among the others, reading a diary of Emilia Ziomek took place there, who had escaped from pacification, when being in the 9th month of her pregnancy, with a little child and a wounded mother. During her war exile she lived in Wzdol Rządowy and in Ostojów. Narration is full of a feeling of fear, reflection on a difficult return to the world of the alive in the post-war reality. The history events were told by witnesses and descendants of witnesses, among the others, Bogdan Wikło, Maria Wikło, Stanisław Krogulec, Kazimiera Grzywacz, Bogdan Jasiński. I was 6 years old then. The Germans had letters of partisans and numbers of their houses. They arrived at 6 a.m. My mother did not want to open the door, my stepfather jumped out threw a window at that time. The Germans caught 6 partisans whom they burnt alive in a barn. My mother took me and we went along the edge of a forest to Łączna. And two Germans were standing there, waving their hands and ordering us to go. It was how I experienced that tragic times – says Marian Wikło, a 81-year-old witness of the German cruelty. – I was 3 years and 6 month old. I miraculously survived. In the pacification my mum and two brothers were killed. One of them was 10 years old, another one was 16. Trauma which children experience will last till the end of their life. I know that it is necessary to forgive but it is impossible to forget – said Maria Wikło, an inhabitant of Michniów.

The ceremonies were accompanied by an exhibition ‘817. Get to know this history’, and a concert of Masovia Baroque Orchestra, performed on old instruments.

The historical exhibition of authorship by dr. Katarzyna Jedynak from the Museum of Kielecka Village illustrates enormity of suffering of the Polish village during the Second World War: pacifications, murdering inhabitants, plundering possessions and destroying buildings.

Translated by Aneta Amrozik

Niedziela 30/2018 (29 VII 2018)

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Lidia Dudkiewicz • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl