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The Ochota Massacre

Wojciech Markert

 

Ochota – a district of Warsaw located to the south-west of Śródmieście – has now acquired a metropolitan character, and a large part of it is considered as constituting the city’s center. In 1944, Ochota was larger in area (it also included the district of Włochy), extending as far as Okęcie airport. Back then, the district had both compact and low-density building development – the former was characteristically insular, as evidenced by the settlements of Kolonia Staszica and Kolonia Lubeckiego, or the area of Opaczewska Street, whereas the latter, to a large extent made up of wooden houses, washed around these islands like a sea. Multi-family residential buildings, interspersed with villas, stood amidst vast squares and gardens, while the southern part of the district (Szczęśliwice, Rakowiec, Okęcie) was to all intents and purposes agricultural in nature. Ochota also boasted a network of broad arteries (Grójecka Street, Żwirki i Wigury Avenue) and  vast expanses of greens (including Pole Mokotowskie). Urban development of this type was a decisive factor for the outcome of military operations in Ochota during the Warsaw Uprising. For although it was in this very area where the German 4th Panzer Division was repelled – suffering heavy losses – in September 1939, the victors of the battle were well-trained, well-equipped and strongly fortified troops of the regular army.

 

Insurgent Military Operations

On 1 August 1944, very poorly armed groups of Home Army soldiers – who initially were unable to even form themselves into larger units –attempted to seize strategic locations in Ochota. All their efforts ended in failure due to the enemy’s superiority in men and firepower. Their assaults on buildings such as the academic house at Narutowicza Square, which housed the Schutzpolizei barracks, were bloodily repulsed. As a result, on the night of 1/2 August the majority of units (the “Grzymała” grouping, numbering approx. 500 men, mostly unarmed) retreated from the city in the direction of Sękocin Forest. In the vicinity of Pęcice in the Pruszków region, they accidentally clashed with the Germans, losing 31 Home Army soldiers; 60 others were taken prisoner and executed. Returning to the night of 1/2 August: the minority of insurgents who had decided to remain in the city (some 300 poorly armed soldiers in total) formed two fortified points of resistance, one in the area of Kaliska Street and the other near Wawelska Street, which withstood the enemy for ten days. Apart from them, small groups of insurgents, scattered and with no means of communication, were hiding in various locations throughout the district. On 2 August the greater part of Ochota was a no-man’s-land, but there were many civilians in the district.

After the initial surprise, the Germans built up forces for a counterattack. The pacification of the strategically important and poorly defended Ochota was one of their primary objectives. German soldiers perpetrated the first war crimes there already on 1 August. It was a common practice of German units holed up in buildings besieged by the insurgents to shoot at anyone who appeared in the street. In effect, many civilians sustained wounds or perished. At Narutowicza Square, the Germans employed this tactic to eliminate an entire scouts’ first-aid patrol, the members of which were trying to provide medical assistance to the wounded. In Okęcie, Rakowiec and Szczęśliwice, German police squads supported by the airport garrison conducted an anti-insurgent sweep operation. The order to demobilize and go underground did not reach all insurgent forces. One detachment was discovered in the building at Krakowska Avenue 175. When the Poles put up resistance, the attackers set the building on fire and shot all the insurgents who attempted to escape. In total, about 40 people perished there, while 10 survived in the basement. In Szczęśliwice, 17 Home Army soldiers were captured and executed, as well as 3 chance passers-by.

On 3 and 4 August, the SS-men from the barracks in the area of Tarczyńska Street pacified the nearby buildings (Tarczyńska Street 17, Grójecka Street 20a and 20b). The same scenario was played out on both occasions: residents were robbed, herded into the courtyard, and segregated. Next, the women and children were marched along the streets towards Zawiszy Square, while the men, including teenage boys, were shot dead. Finally, the corpses and buildings were set on fire[1]. These tragic events, however, turned out to be but a prelude to the appalling massacre of residents of the district, perpetrated by the Germans in the following days.

 

The Entry of the Russian National Liberation Army (RONA)

On 4 August at 10.00 a.m., marching in close-order columns, detachments of the collaborationist Russian National Liberation Army under the command of SS-Brigadeführer Bronisław Kamiński arrived in Ochota. Kamiński’s soldiers were often confused with other Eastern forces, and mistaken for soldiers of Vlasov’s Army or Ukrainians. A two-battalion regiment, 1,700 men strong, was detached from the brigade – notorious for the brutal pacifications it conducted in Belarus – and dispatched to Warsaw. Kamiński and his staff took up headquarters in the building of the Free Polish University (now Banacha Street 2), and one of the battalions was barracked in the nearby elementary school at Grójecka Street (currently 21st Hugo Kołłątaj Secondary School). The other battalion went through Pole Mokotowskie in the direction of Wawelska Street and was probably quartered in the Faculty of Chemistry of the University of Warsaw at Pasteura Street. It was from these points that they assailed the district.

Having encountered no resistance, the Russians commenced large-scale repressions against the defenseless civilians. They occupied building after building and forced all the residents out, beating and robbing them of all possessions. Those who offered resistance or failed to display due alacrity were killed straight away. The basements, in which many people had sought shelter, were showered with grenades. The buildings were hastily looted and set afire, and the residents marched off to the so-called Zieleniak. Drunken soldiers shot at chance passers-by for no reason, or even for fun, and many were killed in this manner. An awful fate lay in store for young women – dragged from the crowd by the drunken soldiers, they would be gang-raped, sometimes directly in the street; many were subsequently murdered. In the following days, RONA pacified other blocks of streets, advancing in the direction of Śródmieście[2].

 

Zieleniak

The ordeal of the residents of Ochota continued at the Zieleniak. This was a market place at the corner of Grójecka and Opaczewska streets, fenced on all sides, which was transformed into a temporary transit camp. Thousands of people were crammed there in deplorable sanitary conditions, with only one water intake point. For a few days they were completely deprived of food and any medical assistance. At the same time, the soldiers who were put on guard tormented the prisoners and “hunted” for young women[3]. Pulled from the crowd, they were harassed, brutally raped, and murdered by the RONA soldiers in their temporary quarters in the school building. Other prisoners were forced to collect their bodies, which were then burned on a grate in the demolished gymnasium. The corpses of people who had died from exhaustion on the premises of the market were disposed of similarly.

The evacuation of civilians from the city began on 9 August. Residents from southern Ochota were marched to the Electric Commuter Railway station in Rakowiec, from where they were transported by train to Pruszków and then driven on foot to Dulag 121. Some prisoners from Zieleniak covered the same route, but the majority were marched to the Western Railway Station and deported directly to the camp[4]. Each march was an occasion to perpetrate new acts of violence, rob people and abduct women, but at the same time it would present an opportunity for escape[5]. Zieleniak gradually emptied, and groups from other parts of the city began to arrive at the market. When the Russians finally left, an improvement of sorts was observed – the scale of the violence decreased, and the period of stay at the market shortened.

Characteristically, RONA did not spare the only hospital in Ochota, that of the Radium Institute at Wawelska Street 15. On 5 August, the Russians marched some of its personnel to Zieleniak, and then proceeded to plunder and devastate the facility. During the night, drunken soldiers harassed and raped the women – even the seriously ill. On the following day, the building was set on fire and some of the patients murdered. About 60 people survived, hiding in basements and chimneys. On 10 August they were discovered by RONA soldiers, who set the building alight once more; luckily, the fire did not spread to the basements. The hospital was eventually emptied on 19 August – bedridden patients who could not walk on their own were murdered on the spot. The rest were marched off to Zieleniak, where the majority of them were killed[6].

An equally dreadful fate befell the inhabitants of houses which had been converted into the points of resistance mentioned above. Enraged by the resistance put up by insurgents and their subsequent successful evacuation (on 10 and 11 August), the Germans took out their anger on wounded insurgents and civilians who had remained in these buildings. In the vicinity of Kaliska Street, following the evacuation of medical personnel from the building, the remaining wounded and civilians were burned alive. In the area of Wawelska Street the wounded were finished off with guns and grenades, and the basements in which they had been gathered were set on fire. Surviving residents were deported[7].

On 13 August, the RONA and other rear-echelon formations advanced to the northern part of Ochota, to the area of Starynkiewicza Square. There, the final act of the district’s tragedy was played out. In the course of the fighting, the Russians murdered many residents and burned their corpses. The same procedure was applied to the bodies which were scattered all over the district. Civilians unlucky enough to get caught were forced to scour the ruins for furniture and other wooden elements, which were then thrown onto the remains of the murdered. Next, the piles thus created were doused with petrol and set alight. The charred remnants of bodies were strewn throughout the district – in the houses, courtyards and streets; organized exhumations would commence only after the war[8].

 

The Crime in Numbers

The number of victims of the Ochota Massacre is estimated at approx. 10,000 murdered. Several times that number suffered violence, rape and plunder. Evidence pertaining to a few dozen execution sites was gathered, but not all of these have been commemorated. War crimes were perpetrated virtually everywhere – in the streets, in courtyards, and in individual flats, hence a rough estimate of numbers is all that can be provided. And since bodies were burned on a massive scale, many victims could not be identified. By the middle of August 1944 the district became depopulated, while the majority of buildings were looted and burned or otherwise destroyed. The last small groups of people who were hiding in the ruins left the district during the mass deportation that was conducted in the wake of the Uprising.

 

Bibliography

Datner Szymon, Leszczyński Kazimierz, Zbrodnie okupanta na ludności cywilnej w czasie powstania warszawskiego w 1944 roku (w dokumentach), Warsaw 1962.

Wroniszewski Józef, IV Obwód Armii Krajowej Ochota – Okręg Warszawa, Warsaw 1997.

Wroniszewski Józef, Ochota 1939–1945, Warsaw 1976.

Zagłada Ochoty. Zbiór relacji na temat zbrodni hitlerowskiej dokonanej na ludności Ochoty w czasie Powstania Warszawskiego, selected and compiled by Lidia Ujazdowska, Warsaw 2005.

 

Wojciech Markert – a historian and museologist, the author of numerous publications and scripts for exhibitions on military history. His interests include the history of Warsaw and the north-eastern Borderlands of the Second Polish Republic. A book lover and collector. Since 2013, he has been working at the Józef Piłsudski Museum in Sulejówek.

 

[1] Cf. the accounts of Małgorzata Lubrańska, Józef Górski and Stefania Čsadek.

[2] Cf. the accounts of Karol Cugowski, Szczepan Łabędzki, Józef Wiewiór and Hanna Wasilczenko-Lubicz.

[3] Cf. the accounts of Józef Ciecierski and Włodzimierz Michalski.

[4] Cf. the accounts of Marian Zdzisław Małczyński and Wanda Rygiel.

[5] Cf. the account of Roman Lachowicz.

[6] Cf. the accounts of Antoni Borowiecki, Jadwiga Kowalska, Bronisława Mazurkiewicz, Gizella Świtalska and Czesław Stefański.

[7] Cf. the accounts of Emilia Michalska, Maria Lachert and Zofia Czosnowska.

[8] Cf. the account of Kazimierz Sucharzewski.