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The exhibition Wola 1944: erasing. Where? What will we see?

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The exhibition “Wola 1944: erasing” opened on Friday evening. We will see unknown photographs collected by the prosecutor’s office in Flensburg in the case of Heinz Reinefarth, the main contractor of the Wola Massacre.

The exhibition was organized by the Pilecki Institute in cooperation with the Wolski Cultural Center.

The director of the Pilecki Institute, Dr. Wojciech Kozłowski, emphasized that the genocide committed in Wola in August 1944 has been in the center of its interest since its inception. One of the most important elements of research on the Wola crime are the queries conducted in cooperation with the German archives. “Our task, especially our branch in Berlin, is to reach sources such as these and make them available” – he explained.

The aim of the exhibition: to bring the history closer

The head of the Berlin branch of the Pilecki Institute, Hanna Radziejowska – talking about the details of cooperation with German archives – assessed that discovering their resources evokes reflection on “trauma, erasure and justice”. She added that the importance of the materials related to the materials is even greater as there are very few photos documenting the Carnage of Wola. – This is another element of restoring the identity of Warsaw and Wola and working through the trauma resulting from injustice – she emphasized.

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Tomasz Stefanek, the curator and co-author of the exhibition, explained that the aim of the exhibition is not only to present the history of the attempt to bring Reinefarth to justice, but also to pose a question about German responsibility for the crimes of World War II. – We want to make you reflect on how it happened that despite the many evidence of the crimes and reports provided by the Main Commission for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes, Reinefarth was not indicted, he said.

In this context, he noted that the failure to account for this crime was the result of the adoption of the principle that every decision to commit a crime had to be meticulously reconstructed. He added that the attitude of Reinefarth’s subordinates was also of great importance, and after many years they decided to do everything so that their commander – and they themselves – would avoid responsibility.

– Even when providing evidence in the form of photos, they commented on them in this way to clear themselves and Reinefarth of the guilt – explained Stefanek. One of the factors contributing to the failure to make settlements was – in his opinion – also the dominance of the German legal community by former members of the NSDAP. He recalled that in 1987 the German writer Ralph Giordano described this attitude of German society as his “second guilt”.

Exhibition opening PAP / Piotr Nowak

What will we see at the exhibition?

The guest of the exhibition opening was Gabriel Stypiński, one of the inhabitants of Wola, who was 9 years old during the Wola Massacre. In a short account of the fate of his family, he said that in 1944 10 or 12 of his relatives were murdered. He added that at that time his relatives were not only affected by the Wola Slaughter, but also – relatively little known – deportation to the depths of the Reich, organized in September 1944 in Italy near Warsaw. Stypiński emphasized that he has been trying to popularize knowledge about these events for several decades.

The exhibition “Wola 1944: Erasing” reconstructs the course of the prosecutor’s investigation in the Reinefarth case, following the trail of the photos gathered in the evidence material. Together with the testimonies of witnesses, documents and statements of investigators, they form a tragic story about the fate of the inhabitants of Wola in the first days of August 1944.

The preparation of the exhibition was possible thanks to the archival search program conducted by the branch of the Pilecki Institute in Berlin. The researchers managed to find the case files of the Heinz Reinefarth investigation, kept at Landesarchiv Schleswig-Holstein. The materials from the investigation included a collection of photographs, mostly unpublished so far. Among them there are photos documenting the fate of the civilian population and the service of the officers. The photos are presented at the Wolski Cultural Center in Cologne Wawelberg. The houses in this estate bear many traces of fights from 77 years ago.

Slaughter of Will

Between August 5 and 7, 1944, a massacre of civilians took place, later known as the Wola Massacre. The action of destroying the city was a response to the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising. On August 2, during a conference in Poznań with the participation of the head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler and the local Gauleiter Arthur Greiser, a decision was made to create a special combat group intended to liquidate the insurgent forces and pacify the city. Himmler entrusted its command to the Higher SS and Police Commander in Wartheland, SS-Gruppenführer Heinz Reinefarth. Units sent to Warsaw systematically murdered the inhabitants of the district. As a consequence, between 25,000 and 60,000 people died – it was almost exclusively civilians.

After the war, Reinefarth lived in West Germany. He was mayor of the Westerland resort on the island of Sylt and a deputy to the Landtag in Schleswig-Holstein. Despite many efforts, he was never held accountable. In 1961-67, the prosecutor’s office in Flensburg conducted an investigation into Reinefarth. It was the most serious attempt and the last chance to judge the main perpetrator of the crime in Wola – unfortunately, it was unsuccessful. The criminal died at large on May 7, 1979.

Main photo source: PAP / Piotr Nowak

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