Częstochowa massacre

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A monument commemorating the massacre, on the John Paul II square, near the cathedral where it took place

The Częstochowa massacre, also known as Bloody Monday,[1] which took place on September 4, 1939, was a mass murder of more than 1,000 Polish and Jewish civilians carried out by the German Wehrmacht forces, on the 4th day of World War II in the Polish city of Częstochowa.

Background[edit]

The Polish city of Częstochowa was taken over by the German Army, after the German invasion of Poland, on September 3[2] without a fight, as the Polish Army units (7th Infantry Division of Army "Kraków") that had been stationed there had withdrawn the previous day.[3] Most able bodied men also left the city together with the Polish army.[3] The Wehrmacht 10th Army’s 42 Infantry Regiment “Bayreuth” entered the city early in the afternoon. Their guns were not loaded as the Wehrmacht command was more concerned with incidents of "friendly fire" caused by nervousness on the part of German soldiers (these had broken out numerous times before, often leading to massacres of civilians who were blamed for the shooting) than with any potential threat from the Polish army or civilians.[3]

German soldiers’ diaries from that day and official army reports note that the remaining civilian population of the city acted peacefully and did not obstruct the German army in any way.[3] The rest of September 3 passed without any incidents and some searches of houses and businesses turned up no weapons.[3]

Massacre[edit]

The Wehrmacht entering the suburbs of Czestochowa

On the evening of the 4th of September the Regimental headquarters, located 20 km south of the city, received reports from the German units of the 42nd[2] that they had been attacked by "Polish partisans" in two different incidents; one in the courtyard of a Technical School where the 42nd Regiment was stationed and one involving a prisoner column guarded by the 97th Regiment.[3] The German soldiers claimed to have been shot at from one of the houses near where they were stationed.[4]

However, information from individual reports and testimony of German soldiers, states that none of the German soldiers were able to describe the supposed attackers.[3] A search of houses that took place after the massacre failed to turn up any weapons or even any "suspicious persons". According to German historian Jochen Böhler the most likely version is that the shootings were caused by panicking or nervous German soldiers who then used the imagined or invented "Polish partisans" as an excuse for their rash actions and the massacre that followed.[3] According to a Polish eye witness of the event, who had been arrested and was part of a column of Polish prisoners under German guard, German soldiers opened up fire from machine guns on the prisoners’ column which caused panic and as a result the German guards escorting the column began shooting wildly. In this shooting about 200 Polish and Jewish individuals died.[3]

The second part of the massacre took place, in a different part of the city, after all the wild shooting had stopped. According to the testimony of Helena Szpilman before the Jewish Historical Committee, German soldiers rounded up Polish and Jewish civilians from their homes and forced them to march to the Magnacki Square, in front of the town's cathedral. There they were all forced to lie face down on the ground and told that anyone who moved would be shot. In all there were several thousand individuals including elderly, children and women. Lt. Col. Ube, who was in charge of the Wehrmacht units carrying out the massacre (and who was the author of the report to regimental command who blamed the shooting on "Polish partisans") estimated that around 10,000 people had been collected in the square.[3] Similar estimates of the number of people rounded up are given by eyewitnesses and survivors.

After separating the men from the women, the men were searched and any found with a shaving razor or a pocket knife were shot on the spot. The remaining men were told to enter the church, but as they began moving to do so German soldiers opened up fire on them from machine guns and hand-held weapons. According to the testimony of Henoch Diamant, who was wounded in the shooting, several hundred people were killed on the spot and about 400 were wounded as a result. The unfolding of the massacre in front of the cathedral was captured in narrative form by a German photographer, from the initial round up, to the Poles and Jews awaiting their fate, to photos of corpses strewn across the city's streets and the cathedral square.[5] This collection of photos was acquired by an American soldier from a captured German machine gunner near the end of the war.[5]

According to the official report written by Lt. Col. Ube in course of "punishment action for partisan activity" 3 women and 96 men had been killed. However, a general exhumation made in the spring of 1940 by a German mayor of Czestochowa unearthed 227 corpses, including many of women and children, which could be traced back to the massacre.[2] There were also several smaller scale massacres carried out at various points in the city, including of patients at a military hospital which was run by the Red Cross.

According to the Center for Documentation of Częstochowa History, at least 600 people were killed in the city overall on that day. Some estimates of victims put the number at more than 1,000; 990 ethnic Poles and 110 Jews[6] (more than 40,000 Jews were later murdered after the liquidation of the Częstochowa Ghetto).[7]

Afterward[edit]

One of the regiments that carried out the massacres in Częstochowa was two days later involved in a very similar incident in the Polish village of Kajetanowice, although on a smaller scale. Once again, unknown shots were fired at the regiment (again most likely due to friendly fire) which caused nervous soldiers to begin shooting wildly. “They blindly shot up the houses”, according to eyewitnesses, and then ordered all men of the village to gather in an open field. There, those that complied with the order were executed. In all 72 victims of the Kajetanowice massacre were identified (one-third of the village's inhabitants),[2] including an infant, five little children, fourteen teenagers, twelve women and six elderly persons.[3] One of the soldiers involved in the action told eye witness Wiktoria Czech that he knew the villagers were innocent but that the regiment had received orders to kill all civilians. Another soldier commented that "Poles should be murdered when they’re still in the crib". Subsequently, the entire village was burned to the ground.[3]

The "losses" of the German units of the 42nd regiment in Kajetanowice consisted of two dead horses, both most likely shot by friendly fire. The official report of the unit stated that the massacre and burning of the village was carried out as revenge for the shooting of two German horses.[3]

Post war[edit]

An investigation of the massacre was carried out in Germany in 1985 in Bayreuth, involving former soldiers of the 42nd Infantry Regiment. Most of them still claimed to have been shot at from nearby houses prior to the massacre but none could describe the supposed attackers. One former soldier even admitted that he had no idea if the supposed attackers were “soldiers, partisans or civilians”. Several former soldiers admitted that a general panic had broken out among German troops, with everyone running to get their weapons, stumbling over each other and shooting wildly. One of the officers of the regiment recalled that he had been furious at his soldiers for their complete lack of discipline.[3]

Former soldiers of the unit also admitted that in the search that followed they did not find any weapons, or for that matter, able bodied men, only a few women with children and some elderly persons. Former soldier Hans M. stated "I never saw any partisans in Częstochowa with my own eyes".[3]

In regard to the second massacre near the cathedral, former Wehrmacht soldier Fritz S. in an initial statement claimed that after the wild shooting stopped he was ordered to politely ask the civilians to leave their houses and gather in a church. However, Fritz S. voluntarily returned to the investigators several days later and changed his statement. He stated that the order was to forcible remove civilians form their homes and line them up face down on the ground. He added that "I want to emphasize that I never politely asked any civilians to leave their homes. In fact, we threw them out".[3]

The massacre was also investigated by the Jewish Historical Committee and Czestochowa's government. In 2009, the Polish Institute of National Remembrance found mass graves near the Stradom railway station containing about 2000 corpses, although it is unclear at this stage if the bodies are related to this massacre or to later killings by the Nazis.[8] Also in 2009, the diaries of Bolesław Kurkowski were discovered. Kurkowski witnessed the massacres and later took part in the 1940 exhumation of some of the bodies, as a forced laborer (the existence of the diaries had been known beforehand from several available fragments).[9]

On the 70th anniversary of the German invasion of Poland, September 2009, the German public broadcaster Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg was planning to shoot a documentary film on the subject of the massacre in Częstochowa, since the war atrocities of the Wehrmacht were not widely known in Germany (in contrast to war atrocities of the SS and those committed after Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union).[10]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Martin Gilbert, "The Holocaust: a history of the Jews of Europe during the Second World War", Macmillan, 1987, pg. 87, [1]
  2. ^ a b c d Yad ṿa-shem, rashut ha-zikaron la-Shoʼah ṿela-gevurah, "Yad Vashem studies, Volume 35, Part 2", Wallstein Verlag, 2007, pg. 196, [2]
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Jochen Bohler, "Zbrodnie Wehrmachtu w Polsce" (War Crimes of the Wehrmacht in Poland), Znak, 2009, pgs. 106-116
  4. ^ John Mosier, "Cross of Iron: The Rise and Fall of the German War Machine, 1918-1945", Macmillan, 2007, pg. 237, [3]
  5. ^ a b Janina Struk, "Photographing the Holocaust: interpretations of the evidence", I.B.Tauris, 2004, pg. 63, [4]
  6. ^ Muzeum Historii Zydow Polskich (Museum of the History of Polish Jews), Virtual Sztetl, "Tablica pamiątkowa (ul. Olsztyńska)" (Commemorative tablet (Olszynska St.), [5]
  7. ^ The World Society of Czestochowa Jews, "Ghetto w Czestochowie"
  8. ^ "IPN znalazł masowe groby w Częstochowie" (IPN found mass graves in Czestochowa), Gazeta Wyborcza/Czestochowa, 2009-07-07, [6]
  9. ^ "Znalazły się zapiski z Krwawego Poniedziałku" (A diary of Bloody Monday has been found), Gazeta Wyborcza/Czestochowa, 2009-09-04, [7]
  10. ^ "Niemcy nakręcą film o "krwawym poniedziałku" (A German film about Bloody Monday is to be made), Gazeta Wyborcza/Czestochowa, 2009-06-01, [8]