Wąwolnica: From Safe Haven to Killing Site

When Jews from surrounding areas faced persecution many fled to Wąwolnica. However, this supposed safe haven witnessed cultural genocide and mass murder.

Authored by Caroline Sturdy Colls

Wąwolnica is a small village in eastern Poland

It is located around 35km from Lublin. The presence of a Jewish community is said to have started in around 1771. Economic development and population growth made this community very dynamic.

In 1939 around 900 Jewish people resided in Wąwolnica. At the outbreak of World War II, numerous Jewish refugees from outlying areas fled to the village as it was seen as a somewhat safe place by comparison.

Initially, the Jewish population lived relatively harassment-free in Wąwolnica which may have been due to the location of the village, and its distance from the main highway between Lublin and Warsaw. The number of Jews had risen to approximately 2,500 by autumn 1939.

Wąwolnica in 1940 (© Bagnowska, 2016)

The peace was broken in January 1940

The Nazis enforced registration requirements on all Jews and trading was forbidden. From this point, the Jewish community were subjected to many forms of harassment and humiliation including: beatings by Germans who stormed the synagogue during Sabbath, searches of homes and theft of valuables, forced labour assignments, and being forced to run up and down the hill in Wąwolnica.

In early spring of 1940, the administration began forcing Jews out of Christian owned houses. A 2km square ghetto was established, although some sources suggest this occurred in February 1942, and others in April 1941.

The Jewish cemetery, located north-east of the town centre, was also vandalised and the matzevot used in the construction of sewage canals.

The overgrown Wąwolnica Jewish cemetery in 2017 at the start of a social action project designed to clean up the site (© Steven D. Reece)

Between March 22nd and 24th 1942, around 40 – 120 men (dates and numbers in sources differ) were executed in Wąwolnica. The bodies of the victims were buried in Wąwolnica’s Jewish cemetery.

A memorial commemorating the Jewish cemetery at Wąwolnica (© Centre of Archaeology, Staffordshire University)

Selection of Jews also resulted in many people residing in Wąwolnica being sent to labour camps in the Lubelski District, while others were taken to ghettos or sent to the death camp at Bełżec. Of around 1000 Jews who lived in Wąwolnica pre-war, only a few dozen survived World War II.

"All the Jews in Wąwolnica were killed..."

Teenage girl speaking to Abraham Lewin, (Matthäus, 2017)

Wąwolnica: Executions and Violence

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