Wąwolnica: Executions and Violence

The Jewish cemetery in Wąwolnica became a killing site when men from the town were shot and buried there.

Authored by Caroline Sturdy Colls

The Executions

Between the 22nd to 24th of March 1942, around 40 – 120 men (dates and numbers in sources differ) were executed in Wąwolnica. The exact details of the executions are unclear due to differing information within oral testimonies and contemporary documents.

Certain sources suggest that the killings were carried out in retaliation for the murder of the head of the local Arbeitsamt (labour office) by Polish Partisans, while others suggest they were part of a resettlement action. The Germans also set fire to many of the properties in the village.

Some witnesses claimed that the executions occurred in Wąwolnica’s Jewish cemetery, whilst others stated that the bodies of the victims were only taken there after the killings.

Sara Tregerman-Ryterski recalled how the Nazis rounded up all the Jewish men from Wąwolnica and Nałęczów and murdered them in Wąwolnica’s main square. Following this, the women were forced to carry the dead up a hill to the Jewish cemetery and bury them there. Three automobiles of Germans reportedly came to Wąwolnica to carry out the executions. All Polish homes were also searched for Jews and if any were found in the house, they were shot on the doorstep.

In another testimony given by Sara Tregerman-Ryterski, she described having to later re-excavate the graves in the Jewish cemetery to recover shoes from the dead. This was reportedly done to prevent others from disturbing the graves at a later date in their search for valuables.


Searching for the Mass Grave(s)

Because of the large amount of vegetation present in the cemetery, airborne remote sensing data was used to try and identify further remains within the landscape.

LiDAR data was freely available which provided a Digital Terrain Model (DTM) of the site and allowed the dense vegetation to be digitally removed to examine the ground surface beneath.

A LiDAR image of the Jewish cemetery with the surveyed boundary marked in a broken red line (© GeoPortal and Centre of Archaeology, Staffordshire University, 2018)

On the eastern side of the cemetery in the image above, several areas of disturbance can be seen. These would be worthy of further investigation if more vegetation could be cleared on the ground, given the aforementioned witness testimonies regarding the presence of mass graves within the cemetery grounds.

Unfortunately, due to the dense nature of the vegetation during the survey, it was not possible to use other methods such as Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) to confirm whether these depressions were consistent with mass graves.

Given the extensive cleanup operations undertaken at the cemetery, it is hoped that we may be to return to the site in the future to continue our investigations.

Learn more

Download our full report about Wąwolnica for details of our archaeological investigations, social action work and references

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Wąwolnica: Social Action

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