Powazki Military Cemetery In Warsaw - The Insurgents' Cemetery Sections.

          Built in 1912 for Russian garrison in Warsaw, the Orthodox cemetery (named 'The Tsar Cemetery') has a long history owing to its role in World War I. Dead soldiers of various armies were buried there. After Poland's regaining the independence in November 1918, the cemetery was run by military priesthood that renamed it to Powazki Military Cemetery. To adjust the cemetery to the new formula, it was rearranged and modernized including an expansion of the area to 24,5 hectares and paving the main alley. The wooden Orthodox Church was transformed into St. Jozefat Kuncewicz Catholic Church.

St. Jozefat Kuncewicz Catholic Church; the former view on the left, on the right-the present state

          From the first days of the independence, the Polish authorities and the society had been striving to endow the cemetery the character of central military necropolis. In isolated plots, 2500 soldiers were buried after having been exhumed form the battlefields of Polish - Soviet War 1919 - 1920, in other graves many soldiers of various Polish military formations from World War I (Polish Legions, Polish Military Organisation, 'Dowborczycy' and 'Hallerczycy') were buried.

Graves of soldiers killed in the 1920 war

          The C - 13 section was treated with special reverence where the January Uprising (1863-64) soldiers' ashes were buried and the veterans of the 1863 uprising were continued to be buried. All of the monuments and plaques reminded the struggles for independence and the highest price that had to be paid.

Graves of soldiers and veterans fallen in January Uprising 1863

          Visited by citizens of the capital and people coming from all over the country, the Cemetery became an outstandingly important and commonly honoured place, primarily among young people who started to participate in great numbers in the ceremonies of patriotic anniversaries, manifestations to the glory of the Dead Soldiers, funerals of notables absorbing the models for responsible civic conduct from the shrines of the national heroes.

          After German invasion in 1939, the Military Cemetery started to fill up with victims killed in the September '39 Defense of Warsaw. Over the 5-year-long German occupation, the Cemetery was still administered by Polish church authorities, however, due to the commonly ruling terror, very few funerals were taking place there.

Graves of Polish soldiers killed in September 1939

          Therefore, it is noteworthy that three dead soldiers of Armia Krajowa (AK - Polish Home Army)) - Szere Szeregi (Underground Scouting) were buried there after they had been killed in fight against the occupying Germans. The first one was Jan Bytnar a famous young soldier (code name 'Rudy') rescued from prison by his friends in the famous operation near the Arsenal on 26th March 1943 yet died from wounds received during the cruel Gestapo investigation. The organisers of the funeral, Tadeusz Zawadzki ('Zoska') and Jan Wuttke ('Czarny Jas') the funeral, supported by priesthood section of AK were given permission to bury their friend under a false name of 'Jan Domanski' on 3rd April 1943, in plot A - 20.

Jan Bytnar's grave (present view)

          The second buried there, on 8th June 1943, was sergeant cadet Tadeusz Mirowski - 'Oracz'.

Tadeusz Mirowski's grave (present view)

          Before long, the third of the soldiers Tadeusz Zawadzki, 'Zoska' - the commander of Warsaw 'Grupy Szturmowe' (Assault Groups) was killed on 20th August 1943, in the attack to Grenzschutz post in Sieczychy.

Tadeusz Zawadzki's grave (present view)

          To commemorate the daed commander, on 1st September 1943, the Polish Home Army Sabotage Section created a new battalion named 'Zośka' ). Following the testimony of its soldiers: "already before the Warsaw Uprising almost the entire cemetery section, empty by then, was filed with birch-tree crosses".

'Zoska' cemetery section in 1945

          Today, this place makes a particularly outstanding view, not leaving the passers-by indifferent.

'Zoska' battalion cemetery section (present view)

          Burying the deads under conspiracy, especially in a military cemetery, was very risky and dangerous. It required huge efforts from organizers. The assistance and help from hospitals, funeral houses, officials preparing 'false' death certificates and gravediggers was invaluable. Over time, special unts were created to deal with such funerals, and the operations of conspiracy graves in the Military Cemetery make up history of outstanding deeds and must be given the highest honour.

          After the failure of the Warsaw Uprising, in October 1944, when civilians were expelled from the city and soldiers taken to war camps, in the burnt and totally destroyed city, there was no more life. Among debris, in makeshift graves on squares, backyards and streets the bodies of insurgents and civilians had been buried. Many dead bodies were lying on the ground as there had been no time to bury them.
          It was not until 17th January 1945, when the Polish and Soviet troops marched into Warsaw. The citizens started to return to the abandoned houses and soldiers, who had not been taken war prisoners and who - despite a formal dissolution of the Home Army (19th January 1945) - continued to operate in conspiracy. A newly formed organization commanded by Leopold Okulicki 'Niedzwiadek' and, after his arrest by the Soviets in March 1945, by colonel Jan Rzepecki 'Prezes', apart from strictly political and military character, was involved in civil works for the benefit of the society.

          It had a great influence on the decisions made by colonel Jan Mazurkiewicz 'Radoslaw', the Commander of Central Area DSZ. He and his soldiers had left Częstochowa and lodged in a suburbe of Warsaw in early February 1945. The base of conspiracy was made of former soldiers of - Sabotage Section of AK., mainly those from former battalions AK - 'Zoska' and 'Miotla'.

          In early spring 1945, the authorities dependent on pro-communist Lublin Committee, ordered removing all dead bodies from streets, squares and buildings of Warsaw and then bury them in common graves. The most important were the sanitary reasons, but there were also political aspects - the communists wanted to diminish the role Home Army had played during the Warsaw Uprising.
          The Commanders of both of groups were given the conspiracy order to look for, find and identify the bodies of the soldiers killed in the Warsaw Uprising and, also, secure them and help the Polish Red Cross with the funerals and bury them in cemeteries if possible. Lieutenant Henryk Kozlowski 'Kmita' from 'Zoska' battalion delegated the supervision over those operations to Bogdan Celinski ' Wiktor'. From 'Miotla' battalion, the second lieutenant 'Anatol' and then lieutenant, Tadeusz Janicki 'Tadeusz Czarny', were delegated the supervision over the exhumation operations.
          The most important thing was to find and identify the bodies of soldiers before they were placed common graves in the Old Town, Krasinski Garden and in Czerniakow district, on the bank of the Vistula. A similar operation within the circle of ex -soldiers and families from battalion AK 'Parasol' was initiated by Halina Dunin - Karwicka - Rakoczy, 'Janina'. They were working in five sections in all of the mass exhumation operations in Warsaw, identifying their friends killed in the Uprising.
          As a confirmation of the work in conspiracy were the Minutes by Polish Red Cross full of fake data of the exhumation witnesses. The reason was the continuing war against Germany and the attitude of the new authorities fighting with the Home Army and underground organizations. The PCK - Polish Red Cross group cooperating with soldiers of 'Miotla' was run by Anna Pia - Mycielska, also the Home Army soldier, who was signing her proceedings with 'AM' initials starting with 24th March 1945.

          Because of haste, deficiencies in volunteers and transport and the difficulties of administration nature, individual funerals were rare. Nevertheless in a spring and summer 1945 it was possible to bury some soldiers - insurgents in the Military Cemetery in Powazki in the sections that had been agreed upon with the parish priest of St Jozefat Church - M. Zemralski with the co-operation of the brigade of the main gravedigger - Jedrzejewski. The special ceremonial funeral was held in late February 1945, when the recently recovered body of captain - scautmaster Andrzej Romocki 'Morro', the commander "Rudy" company within 'Zoska' battalion, was buried.

The funeral of Andrzej Romocki 'Morro' in 1945

          Some say that colonel 'Radoslaw' was seen among the participants of that funeral. He prized 'Morro' and his deeds a lot.

The grave of Andrzej Romocki (present view)

          The situation got better when the Liquidation Commision of former Home Army was created in September 1945. Individuals disclosing their identities to the communist authorities managed to work legally (although - as it turned out a little later - it was not safe).

Soldiers from 'Zoska' battalion getting out of Military Cemetery in 1945.
In the background - the monument of 'Orleta Warszawskie 1920' (replaced to B-11 cemetery section after the war)

          While concluding an agreement with col. 'Radosław' on 8th September, concerning the underground DSZ Area soldiers' disclosure, communist authorities did not confiscate the funds of the organization and thus, the cash was used for such social causes as: buying plots and sections in the Powązki re-exhumations of soldiers buried in temporary graves, construction of the monument in the AK cemetery military sections - material aid for families of the killed soldiers, including the gen. "Grot" dormitory for insurgent's orphans). It was possible thanks to head of Caritas branch, priest Zygmunt Troszczyński's, donation of the ruins of buildings attached to the parish church in Marymont district.

The gen. "Grot" dormitory

          In winter 1945, colonel 'Radoslaw' and his group tried to formulate plan of works for the next spring. There were still strong signals indicating a growing hatred from authorities to the soldiers of the former Home Army originating from the anticommunist conspiracy environment. The authorities did not believe the declarations of peaceful cooperation to rebuild and restore the destroyed country. All of combatants' affairs and matters had to be run by newly created Zwiazek Uczestnikow Walki Zbrojnej o Niepodległosc i Demokracje (Association of Combat Participants for Independence and Democracy) which from the very start objected to isolated cemetery plots being formed for 1944 Insurgents.
          The exception to this attitude was a permit given agreement to bury exhumated soldiers from battalion 'Kryska', from Czerniakow district to a Military Cemetery in Powazki. Thanks to the efforts by its past commander - light colonel Zygmunt Netzer 'Kryska' and a committee of families of the soldiers, in 1946 the soldiers were buried in D - 2 section (right bottom corner of the cemetery - looking from from Powazkowska Street).

Cemetery section of 'Kryska' Group (present view)

          Over the time, all the area was filled with the graves of the insurgents from AK Group 'Lesnik', soldiers from IV Group - Downtown 'Gurt' and AK battalion 'Belt'.

Cemetery section of 'Lesnik' Group (present view)

Cemetery section of 'Gurt' Group (present view)

Cemetery section of 'Belt' Group (present view)

          Following the data from Polish Red Cross archive, in the first quarter of 1946, there were 2,368 identified "insurgents" in temporary common graves. The number was obviously underestimated but this category covered only those cases where it was undoubtedly proven that the bodies were of the Uprising soldiers judging by such elements as their documents, cards, bands or clothes).

          Earlier, on 25th November 1945, in Wola District a new 1.5 ha 'Warsaw Insurgents Cemetery' was established which could indicate an intention of the authorities to exhume all the bodies from common graves to the new cemetery. Only well organized, swiftly arranged operation was able to stop it.

          In 1946, the Powazki Military Cemetery was taken over by military administration, but due to the lack of specific cemetery policies, a lot of cases were able to be arranged according to the AK families committees' plans.
          There were 11 committees organized with the participation of 'Radoslaw', who staretd representing them. This gave way to creating a telling symbol appealing to the nation's sentiments, placed in a selected place. Only the Military Cemetery seemed to be the only logical site. This called, however, for the basic condition: cemetery sections with possibly great number of individual, appropriately marked graves making up a dense area in the closest vicinity of the monument evoking the patriotic feelings of all those devoted to the idea of independence.
          Despite obstacles piled by the communist authorities and thanks to the obstinacy, courage and sacrifice of the committees and pressure by the society, the plan succeeded. When you look closer at the distribution of Insurgents sections on the outline of the cemetery you will notice that majority of them are surrounding the centrally placed 'Gloria Victis' monument.

Cemetery section of 'Miotla' battalion (present view)

Cemetery section of 'Parasol' batallion present view)

Cemetery section of 'Baszta' regiment (present view)

'Zywiciel's' Group cemetery section (present view)

          The competition for the monument was organized in February 1946. After consideration of some dozen of the projects, the chosen one was a design signed 'Monika'. The author was Helena Klosowicz, former connection and soldier in the Uprising in Old Town. The construction of the monument was vested in the Kozianski Brothers business, who were supervised by the designer herself. It was a tall obelisk made of black marble with an urn on top and pink marble corners. On four granite sides of there were inscriptions made of bronze: 'To soldiers of Home Army who died for freedom - '1939 - 1944' - 'Warsaw Uprising 1. VIII - 2.X.1944' /under the wreath of oak leaves - 'Gloria Victis' / the inscription under war order of Virtuti Militari. A solemn ceremony of the unveiling of 'Gloria Victis' took place on 1st August 1946 by priest canon M. Zemralski on the second anniversary of Warsaw Uprising.

Unveiling of the 'Gloria Victis' monument in 1946

          Soon after, on 6th August 1946, a cortege with the remains of people murdered and burned by Germans during the Uprising, was moving through Warsaw. Thousands of inhabitants followed it in a special procession. The Dead were buried in 177 common graves in the Warsaw Insurgents Cemetery in the Wola district.

Warsaw Insurgents Cemetery in Wola district

          In 1973, a great 'The Fallen Unconquerable' monument was unveiled there with the inscription in the bottom part: 'There are remains of over 50 thousand of Polish people killed in 1939 - 1945 fighting the German Nazis for freedom of their Homeland.'

'The Fallen - Unconquerable' monument

          The time coincidence of both ceremonies by no means diminishes their rank and importance to the dignity of the memory about the victims. The Wola Cemetery and the Insurgents sections in Powazki cemetery are a token of the society remembrance of the people who had died for freedom and independence of Poland. Their martyrdom should never be an object of any wrangle.

          The next step of exhumations took place in spring 1947, when the temporary common graves in Krasinski Park had been opened. At this time the Military Cemetery was run by the City Command who made the Zwiazek Uczestnikow Walki Zbrojnej o Niepodległosc i Demokracje to qualify the bodies to the various sections of soldiers.
          This gave reasons for many arguments, quarrels or misunderstandings. The permissions for funerals and burying were prepared and issued by a blind war invalid. The management of the Military Cemetery was opposed to burying the Home Army soldiers in that place and directed the bodies to Wola cemetery where they often lay without coffins or any care. In the Powazki cemetery chapel dead bodies were being stored that had not been buried since autumn 1946. There occurred cases of corpse stealing or swapping. . Eventually, on 18th April 1947 the Association stopped all exhumations from Krasiński Garden not giving permits for further burials in the military cemetery. All funerals had to be performed in the Wola cemetery. A letter on the matter by Colonel 'Radosław' to prime minister, remained unanswered.
          The funerals of unidentified remains were fairly easy to arrange. They were buried in the extreme sections (C-8, C -0, D-10).

Group graves of the unnamed Insurgents

          Soldiers from Home Army battalions of: 'Gozdawa' and 'Chrobry II' were buried in B-8 cemetery section.

'Gozdawa battalion cemetery section (present view)

'Chrobry II' Group cemetery section (present view)

          Other sections were filling up gradually, despite protests, bans or suppressions exerted by the authorities which still could not stop the separate Uprising sections being created. This process ended in autumn 1947.

'Kilinski' battalion cemetery section (present view)

'Krybar' Group cemetery section (present view)

'Czata 49' battalion cemetery section (present view)

'Chwacki' Group cemetery section ( present view)

          Yet again, did the stubbornness, determination, courage and patriotism of the society win who respected the simple soldiers' graves and made them into one of the most sacred places in the Polish Capital.

'Wigry' battalion cemetery section (present view)

'Garluch' Group cemetery section (present view)

'Rog' battalion cemetery section (present view)

'Piesc' battalion cemetery section (present view)

          When Kremlin's communists ruling Poland realized that they had lost in a fight for symbols, they forced their own ideas forcibly.
          A help with funerals and another works in cemeteries was treated as one of the main crimes against the People's Republic. The communist authorities deemed it a cover up of underground strive to topple the communist system.
          During the Stalin's terror time, 1949- 1955, it was very risky to visit the Military Cemetery. People who entered or left were checked and asked why they came to the cemetery.
          Following a wave of arrests of 'Zoska' and 'Miotla' battalions members in 1948 - 1949, the public and open activity of the committees stopped. It was then the mothers, fathers and the relatives of the dead soldiers who looked individually after the graves, but many of them deteriorated, abandoned.

View of the cemetery insurgents sections in the 1950s

          More and more often, the dignitaries of the regime were buried in the Military Cemetery, among them, in 1953 in a shrine, president Boleslaw Bierut, who had died in Moscow.
          A breakthrough happened in October 1956, after Władyslaw Gomulka became the ruler.
          After 7 years in prison 'Radoslaw' was finally released and rehabilitated. In 1957, he was appointed vice - chairman of the Warsaw Branch of ZBOWID organization and he at once started renovating the damaged graves in the Military Cemetery.

          As the assessment of the of the Section of Care and Graveness put it in 1957, most of the graves were in a bad condition, but soon a great number of Polish society volunteered to help and about 2000 wooden crosses were placed on the neglected graves, the 1939 Warsaw Battle defendants section was renovated cleaning and arranging anew about 600 graves.

'Żywiciel' and 'Miotła' cemetery sections in 1957

          Those works were carried out by factory workers, army and school students. Also the 'Gloria Victis' monument needed a profound renovation. Julian Fedorowicz's stonemason's workshop did it in Summer 1958. Beside the renovation itself, the monument was given slight changes by replacing the urn by a new one and four new specifically sculpted eagles in the corners. Priest Zygmunt Troszczyński solemnly consecrated it on 1st August 1958.

The renovation of 'Gloria Victis' monument

          It was a signal sent to the committees of all battalions to rebuild the other sections with financial help from the society. Workers and military units from Warsaw garrison were the most engaged helpers.
          The main authorities of the communist party were very anxious about the society expressing patriotic feelings over the Insurgents' graves. They decided to replace the religious and military nature of the cemetery by a more secular, much closer to communists ideology. The first step was to rename the cemetery in 1964, to Municipal Cemetery (ex-military) in Powazki and vesting it to the supervision of the City Council.
          In the next few years the cemetery was regulated, cleaned, arranged. New authorities created new cemetery sections for the celebrities of the People's Republic. By the initiative of Gen. E. Rozłubirski "Gustaw" a separate section for the People's Army soldiers of "Czwartacy" Batallion who were killed in the Warsaw Uprising was created.

Czwartacy (a battalion of People's Army) section

          In 1969, anew funeral home, for secular ceremonies only, opened as a crowning achievement of the communists.

The funeral home

          It was not until 4th May 1988 when colonel Jan Mazurkiewicz was buried that, next to the guard of honour, chaplains from People's Polish Army of Poland were present.

Gen. Jan Mazurkiewicz's ('Radoslaw') grave

          The new name, ceremonial funerals, tombs designed by leading artists were not able to erase the memory of the Insurgents from the society's minds and for majority of Poles 'the ex-military' Powazki cemetery was all the time the symbol of the Warsaw Uprising victims. The best proof of this sentiment was 1st August at 5 p.m. each year where crowds gathered in front of the 'Gloria Victis' monument on this place has always played an important role at the time of tensions and riots.
          The sea of burning candles in the 'Katyn Valley' was a sign of defeat of the censorship and historians employed and paid by the communist party. In the night from 31st of July to 1st August 1981, the first totally underground Katyn Monument was put up by the people. After it had been removed by the Security Services on 6th July 1989, it returned to its place six years later, on 8th September 1995.

'Katyn Monument' (present view)

          One of the most important event during the martial law was the funeral of priest Józef Stanek's remains (murdered by Germans on 23rd September 1944, after Czerniakow district capitulation). The body of the AK 'Kryska's' chaplain was originally lying in a common grave. After exhumation and examinations in early spring 1946, the body was buried somewhere in the Military Cemetery. After years of search it was found. The authorities decided to exhume and move the body of the chaplain and bury it among his comrades (in D-2 section). His last funeral took place on 4th November 1987 was very ceremonial and moving and attended by many Home Army soldiers and hundreds of the faithful.

Priest Jozef Stanek's grave in the 'Kryska's' cemetery section

          The transformations of 1989 did not reduce the importance of the cemetery to the Poles. They continued to care about monuments, gravestones, commemorative plaques, wreaths. Even now the Military Cemetery has not lost its traditional character and still is a symbol of sacrifice, fight for freedom and patriotism. Nothing seems to indicate that the Poles are going to forget about their heroes.

'Gloria Victis' monument (present view)

          The solemn celebrations of 50th anniversary of Warsaw Uprising made the best example of memory of the heroic past. In 1994, next to 'Gloria Victis' monument, another war memorial - a memorial tomb was erected to the glory of all the commanders of Home Army: generals - Stefan Grot - Rowecki, Tadeusz Bor - Komorowski, Leopold Okulicki 'Niedzwiadek' and general Michał Tokarzewski - Karaszewicz 'Torwid'.- the commander of Sluzba Zwyciestwu Polski (the first name of the Home Army).

The memorial tomb of the commanders of Home Army

          In 1996, the Warsaw City Council reintroduced the previous name of the cemetery - Powazki Military Cemetery. In 1998, the Cemetery was subjected to the Council Cemetries Management. All former communist restrictions were cancelled.

Contemporary view of the Military Cemetery gate

          The topographical arrangement of the central cemetery sections does not stick to the official outline of the sections arrangement in the plan of the cemetery. This is the result of the wrestling over every square meter around the 'Gloria Victis' monument and makes a proof of the ideological war that was going on here. The density of the graves in that area is great, many plots overlap but after all, all the Home Army units fighting in the Warsaw Uprising have found room for their soldiers.

'Harnas' battalion cemetery section (present view)

'Golski' Group cemetery plot (contemporary view)

'Obroza' Group cemetery section (present view)

NSZ (National Armed Forces - anti-communist underground organization) troops cemetery section (present view)

          Committees created by army circles hold direct care of the Insurgents' sections and graves. It is thanks to them that today the graves are in perfect condition. The renovation and maintenance works are going on all the time which are very often now conducted by young people.

'Laczka' (Small Meadow) - a place where innocent Polish patriots executed from 1945 to 1956, were secretly buried (present view)

          The Military Cemetery with its own long and pathetic history seems to be a confirmation of the rule, a very important rule in a life of Polish nation history: 'To be fallen and not to surrender - - is a victory'. Keeping it in mind, it is worth recalling all the people, known and unknown, who with their work, efforts and suffering created and preserved this unusual creation. They deserve gratitude and respect.

The map of Powazki Military Cemetery

Stanislaw Mazurkiewicz

contemporary photos: Maciej Janaszek-Seydlitz

edited by: Maciej Janaszek-Seydlitz

translated into English by: Alicja Bielawska

          Sources of informations:

          - Documents from colonel 'Radoslaw's' archive.

          - "Zołnierze Powstania Warszawskiego Tom III - Robert Bielecki - Warszawa 1997;
          - Kwatera Batalionu Zoska dawny Cmentarz Wojskowy na Powazkach - Włodzimierz Trojan Warszawa 1991;
          - Pamiec o Batalionie Miotla - Antoni Olszewski, Jan Romanczyk Roman Staniewski - Warszawa 2000;
          - Umilowal do konca - Ks. Jozef Stanek ps. "Rudy" - Ryszard Czugajewski - Warszawa 1999;
          - Cmentarz Komunalny Powazki Dawny Wojskowy w Warszawie - Juliusz Jerzy Malczewski Warszawa 1990;

          - Kwatera zołnierzy Zgrupowania AK "Kryska" D - 2. Biuletyn informacyjny srodowiska nr 4 (5). 1989;

          - Plan Cmentarza Wojskowego na Powazkach - Warszawa 2002;

Copyright © 2012 Maciej Janaszek-Seydlitz. All rights reserved.