“Today we are looking at an exhibition dedicated to the Wola massacre – one of the many crimes of World War II, which, despite so many years and so many institutions and scholars studying it, remains completely mysterious,” Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Culture and National Heritage Prof. Piotr Gliński said at the opening of the exhibition “Wola 1944: Obliteration. Genocide and the Reinefarth Case” at the Warsaw Uprising Museum.
Deputy Prime Minister Piotr Glinski stressed that the Pilecki Institute and the Warsaw Uprising Museum, which are responsible for organizing the exhibition, are institutions that perfectly fulfil their tasks of restoring memory and spreading values essential to our identity and the functioning of the Polish community. One of the many results of the work of these two institutions is precisely the exhibition devoted to the Wola massacre.
The exhibition, prepared by the Pilecki Institute and the Warsaw Uprising Museum on the 78th anniversary of the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising and German atrocities in Warsaw, presents the course of events in Wola in early August 1944 from the perspective of the district’s residents. The exhibition consists of the personal belongings of the victims, as well as testimonies of survivors extracted from both television archives and contemporary oral history collections.
The organization of the exhibition was possible thanks to Hanna Radziejowska’s many years of research and the extensive archival program of the Pilecki Institute. The research led to the Heinz Reinefarth investigation files stored at the Landesarchiv Schleswig-Holstein, which contain many previously unpublished photographs and documents.
Using a collection of more than 100 photographs gathered from the files of the investigation of Reinefarth by the Flensburg prosecutor’s office between 1961 and 1967, the exhibition tells the story of the proceedings, which eventually were dismissed, leaving the criminal at large.
The Wola massacre was the systematic killing of between 40,000 and 50,000 Poles in the Wola neighbourhood of the Polish capital city, Warsaw, by the German Wehrmacht and fellow Axis collaborators in the Azerbaijani Legion, as well as the mostly-Russian RONA forces, which took place from 5 to 12 August 1944. The massacre was ordered by Adolf Hitler, who directed to kill “anything that moves” to stop the Warsaw Uprising soon after it began. The bodies of the victims were burned. The massacres were carried out by soldiers and policemen commanded by SS Grupenführer Heinz Reinefarth.
After the war, Heinz Reinefarth worked as a lawyer in West Germany, became mayor of Westerland on the island of Sylt and a member of the Landtag in Schleswig-Holstein. Despite many efforts, it was never possible to call him to account.
The Wola massacre is sometimes considered the largest single massacre of civilians committed in Europe during World War II, and the largest single crime ever committed against the Polish people.