Roots – Redemptorist Extermination in Warsaw – August 6th, 1944
“Ich werde euch wie Hunde erschießen!” I will shoot you like dogs!
August 1, 1944 – it was the first day of the Warsaw uprising against the Germans. That afternoon a group of insurgents came to the Redemptorist monastery at Karolkowa St. They wanted to see the superior of the Redemptorists Community. Father Kania met with them, and they briefly declared that they had been ordered by their commander to take over the monastery. Since the monastery was then one of the largest buildings in the area, they wanted to transform it into a strategic point of resistance. The father Superior objected to their request and asked them not to do that. Why? Because many women, children and elderly had taken refuge in the basement of the monastery and church. Tearfuly, Father Kania pleaded : Gentlemen, do not do this. I ask you not to endanger these people. After all, the Germans can shoot us all. Who will defend us? But the insurgents would not change their minds, set up their positions and hung a large white-red flag at the entrance of the monastery easily seen upon the arrival of the Germans.
Some of our confreres welcomed this, but there were also a few who had a different opinion. They said: Let us disperse our seminarians, let them flee Warsaw, let them save their lives. Father Superior of the community, however had a different opinion, he said: No, we will stay together, together we have a better chance of survival. In those days, the vow of obedience was taken very seriously, and practically it was impossible and unthinkable to oppose the Superior. Mr. Rogoziński, a parishioner, ran to the monastery on the evening of August 5th and began to shout: Run away, fathers flee, because they murdered all in Wola (a district of Warsaw) and they will murder you too! One of our brothers replied: We cannot! Why? The Superior has forbidden it.
Many parishioners and other people from the surrounding area came to our monastery. Our fathers accepted the elderly, the youth, and women with young children to take refuge in the monastery’s basement. They shared what little food they had, cared for the sick and wounded, but above all prayed with them, celebrated Mass, and as the chronicles tell us: constantly heard confessions. All of them were aware of the seriousness of their situation, and of the worst possible outcome. On the morning of August 5th, the Germany’s infamous 36th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS also known as Dirlewanger’s Group or Black Hunters, attacked the Redemptorists’ monastery and took over the redemptorists garden from the Carmelite sisters. At that time, the insurgents abandoned the monastery and retreated to downtown Warsaw. On Sunday, August sixth, around 2:00 a.m. in the morning under the cover of darkness, the Germans surrounded the entire monastery from the church side and the Wolska Street side. They did not enter the monastery immediately because they were afraid. After some time, two soldiers and one civilian enter the monastery calling out for someone. In response to the shouting Father Kania, the superior of the Redemptorist Community, and Father Müller, who spoke German very well, come out of the monastery. As they faced the Germans, they were given this command: You have fifteen minutes to leave the monastery.
We can only imagine how petrified they felt as they went out into the street, surrounded by the infamous Dirlewanger’s group and seeing nearby the body of a woman laying in a pool of blood. Our confreres and parishioners stood on Karolkowa Street and despite the fact that it was the middle of the night, witnesses say: It was bright as day because the surrounding townhouses were set on fire. At one point one of the Germans asked: Did everyone come out? Father Superior answered that all are out of the building except for Father Gorski who lies sick in the cellars. The Germans told two Redemptorists fathers to return to the monastery and watch over him.
Then the Germans began the selection process. First they grouped monks in sets of four, then they grouped the men together and finally made a third group of women and children. The women began to cry, sobbing and despairing; and then one of the Germans, apparently from Silesia (a region of Poland with a large number of German descendants) approached them and in broken Polish said: run away, but do not watch behind. And the women fled to downtown Warsaw, their lives were saved. After 27 of our confreres were moved to Wolska Street, the Germans very carefully, meticulously plundered the entire monastery. They reportedly shot into every dark corner. They raided the monastery from the basement to the roof itself.
Father Edmund Górski, 69 years old, who was ill, and in a deep depression, remained in the basement. When the Germans entered there, they noticed him lying on his bed, brutally threw him to the ground, shot him and set him on fire. Two other Redemptorists – Fathers Doliński and Kotyński – were celebrating Mass in the church. Aggressively, the Germans entered the church, violently pulled the priests from the altar, mocked their priesthood and their old age, took them into the garden and shot them. When their bodies were found, it appeared that Father Kotyński, the larger of the two, looked as if he tried to shield Father Doliński from danger.
The Germans drove the remaining groups toward Wolska Street. Hitler ordered that: No prisoners were to be taken, all the inhabitants of Warsaw must be shot and thus, he said, we will give a dreadful testimony to the other cities of Europe. All the monks were searched, some were pushed or beaten. Father Superior Kania shouted loudly: Please repent of your sins! Then he said the formula of absolution. At once one of the Germans came up, shouted: Was den los!? (What was going on?). He then hit him with the butt of his gun knocking Father Superior to the ground. They were moved on toward St. Wojciech’s church. They thought that they were going to the Pruszków station, and would somehow be saved from the terrible inferno. On the left they passed the tram depot on Wolska Street where just a few hours before a terrible massacre took place. After the Germans surrounded the Wolska Street depot, they brought out all the employees, the whole shift, more than a thousand men, and shot everyone of them.
We have no doubt that as men of faith our confreres in their time of peril turned to Our Lady of Perpetual Help whose beautiful image was venerated and remains in the church on Karolkowa Street. Our fathers walked about 800 meters, from the monastery and church on Karolkowa Street, to the front of the church of St. Wojciech. They were convinced, like the others who walked in the column, that the Germans were taking them to this temple. However, a command was issued to keep moving forward. When some of the priests bent down to pick up their suitcase or belongings, the Germans told them to leave everything and directed them immediately to move to the left, to the other side of the street.
Twenty-seven of our confreres were told to go to the left here, to the factory of Kirchmajer and Marczewski at 79-81 Wolska Street. The factory was manufacturing agricultural machinery. It was a large building that had been partially destroyed by fire during the uprising. The remaining wall of the building ran right here, just and a few dozen meters from the church of St. Wojciech. We know that it was in this place that the Wola atrocities took place from the testimony of a man, Mr. Czesław Cieślik, who was an eyewitness to the execution of our confreres. He recounted that he was in the second group of men to be executed. The Germans told all the men of this group to take of the jackets, then they told the first group, comprised of our fathers, to form a row. A young Gestapo approached our superior Father Kania (the young men of the Gestapo, as witnesses say, were reportedly to be the worst). He said: Du hast Banditen erzogen. Ich werde euch wie Hunde erschießen! (And you raised the bandits, I shoot you like dogs.) He told the Redemptorists to stand with their backs to the wall. Excluding Father Superior, firing a machine gun he shot them in the head. Then, if he observed anyone still moving, he shot them more than once in the heart making sure none survived.
He took a few minutes to gloat and enjoy the murder scene he created. It is inconceivable to imagine how Father Superior endured the horror of watching this sadistic scene. The young Gestapo then approached Father Superior and while smiling shot him in the forehead. And so, the Germans murdered all twenty-seven Redemptorist, right there.
Mr. Czesław Cześlik who witnessed the shooting of our confreres began to flee. Seeing him run, the Germans shot at him with machine guns, one bullet hit him around the heart, and one in the leg. Coincidentally, the bullet that hit his chest smashed a glass image of St. Anthony which avoided damage to his heart. Assuming he was fatally shot the Germans left him to die.
Because the Germans were afraid of an epidemic outbreak, they tried to get rid of all the corpses. They ordered the group of men who were awaiting execution to stack the murdered Redemptorists in their blood-soaked habits by first forming a layer of corpses, then a layer of wood, then again, the corpses. They poured gasoline or sprinkled the stacked bodies with a special flammable white powder and set them on fire. The sacrificial burning took place in exactly the same place as the murders. The twenty-seven Redemptorists were burned there as were the inhabitants of Wola District.
According to the witnesses including Father Jan Twardowski, a strange thing happened. In his memoirs, Father Jan wrote that after the execution of our confreres, a Wehrmacht soldier arrived on a motorbike and shouted from afar: Halt! Halt! (Stop!) He gave the Gestapo a document; he read it and shouted, “Halt!” There were many German and civilians present at this moment. Then all remaining prisoners were taken back to the church of St. Wojciech. Later the Germans turned the church into a transitional prison. The young Gestapo went up to the pulpit of the church and in broken Polish said: Pray for Hitler, he pardoned your life. Shortly after the execution of our fathers, Hitler’s gruesome order to Himmler to execute everyone in Warsaw was reversed. Apparently, the Allies and various governments put pressure on the German government to stop the mass shootings. They threatened that if the killing did not stop the Allies would execute German prisoners too.
In February 1945, one of our confreres, Jan Igielski, came to Warsaw; he was told about the annihilation of the Redemptorists of Wola and also shown where the murders took place. Examining the site Father Jan found bones and other remains among the ashes of the victims. There is a high probability that the medal that I have was salvaged from there. It is our relic. Fragments of rosaries crafted from the bladdernut, a plant that is not easily burned, were also found. He found a few keys from the cloister, our monastery and from Karolkowa Street. Unburned fragments of crosses were also retrieved, which we keep close to us under the habit.
The Wola Martys Square was constructed in memory of the thirty monks, our confreres, and the residents of Wola who were executed at this site. The monument is very symbolic — the black granite, the cincture (the belt), and the rosary symbolize the Redemptorist habit; the simple white cross the arms of the cross, on which the monk was nailed symbolizes monk’s martyrdom. The Wola Martyrs’ Square was erected by the Redemptorists in 2001 and dedicated not only to Redemptorists who died during the Warsaw Uprising, but also to the people of Wola, especially to our parishioners. The memorial plaque commemorates the 50,000 who were murdered. However, a new study indicates that the numbers are closer to 60,000 people who were murdered in the early days of the Wola Carnage.
The obliteration of the Redemptorists of Wola on August 6, 1944 was the largest number of monks murdered during World War II.