Plots of victims of communist terror at the Osobowicki Cemetery

In the over 150-year history of the Osobowicki Cemetery, a special chapter was written during the first post-war decade, when the Wrocław necropolis became the burial place of victims of communist terror. Between 1945-1956, on behalf of various units of the apparatus of repression (prisons, prosecutors’ offices, secret police), the bodies of over eight hundred executed, dead and murdered people were buried there. The only two plots in Poland of victims of communism that have been preserved to this day: fields no. 81A and no. 120.

History

The favourable location and short distance of the Osobowicki Cemetery from one of the largest prisons in Poland became the basis for the decision to bury the bodies of the deceased and executed there – mainly coming from Prison No. 1 at Kleczkowska Street, but over time also from prison No. 2 at Sądowa Street and from the detention centre of the Provincial Office of Public Security in Wrocław. During the entire period of Stalinism, 848 people were buried in over twenty plots, and each time the personal data of the victims, the dates of their deaths and the numbers of plots and graves indicating their places of burial were recorded in the cemetery books. Despite the preservation of full documentation of prison graves, the families of the executed and deceased were deprived of access to it until the end of the communist regime in Poland. The knowledge about numerous burials carried out in the Osobowicki Cemetery in the presence of armed officers has never become part of the collective memory of the residents of Wrocław. For decades, state services and institutions effectively ensured that it remained a closely guarded secret. Over time, the prison plots became overgrown with weeds and wild acacia bushes, creating a real jungle. Only a few people who found their loved ones here knew about the existence of these graves, but due to the danger threatening them and their families, they did not share this knowledge, even with their families. The flickering glow of vigil lights or candles were sometimes visible in the thicket (after: Irena Kluba, Danuta Skraba, Umarli zobowiązują żyjących [in:] Wolność przyszła później. Kombatanckie biografie więźniów politycznych PRL, ed. by E. Tuźnik, Wrocław 1997, pp. 88).

Family at the grave of Lt. Mieczysław Bujak executed in the prison at Kleczkowska Street in Wrocław, Plot 81A of the Osobowicki Cemetary, 1952.
From the collection of Krzysztof Szwagrzyk

In the 1960s and 1970s, most of the prison plots and graves were liquidated and new burials were made there. Until the mid-1980s, only two plots of victims of communism survived at the Osobowicki Cemetery: no. 81A and no. 120, where nearly 360 people were buried in the years 1948-1954. In 1984, part of the area of plot no. 120 was transferred to the Union of Fighters for Freedom and Democracy. Pursuant to this decision of the city authorities, a plot for those distinguished by the “people’s government” was to be established on former prison graves. Three years later, the attempt to implement the plans resulted in opposition groups taking action, which ultimately led to saving the prison plots. The main role here was played by the students of the underground Christian Workers’ University at the church of St. Clement Dworzak at Pracy Avenue in Wrocław, especially Witold Sulżycki, Wincenty Pycak, Irena Kluba and Danuta Skraba. In the summer of 1987, under the guise of performing community service, this group went to the Osobowicki Cemetery. Within a few weeks, not only was the area of the prison plots tidied up, but also about 350 graves were created, marked with white crosses with plaques: “Here lies a soldier of the Fighting Poland, asking for a prayer.”

Operational photo taken by the Security Service at plot 81A in 1987. From the collection of the Institute of National Remembrance

Zdzisław Biernaczyk, the head of the Security Service in Wrocław, wrote about the situation in Osobowice in a report to the Minister of Internal Affairs, Czesław Kiszczak: I kindly inform the Comrade Minister about the unfavourable situation caused by the political opponent regarding the people buried at the Osobowicki Cemetery in Wrocław, sentenced by courts in the years 1945-1956. […] Unlawful activities of the opposition community were found within plots 81A and 120. The aim of these activities is to turn these plots into places of worship, spectacular actions and events organised by pro-Solidarity organizations. So far, about five hundred fictitious (symbolic) graves have been created in which, according to the instigators of hostile actions, former Home Army soldiers allegedly executed in prisons and detention centres in 1945-1956 are buried.

The fact that the case was made public by domestic and foreign media resulted in the suspension of the plan to create plots for veterans of the Polish People’s Republic on the graves of victims of communism. The struggle for prison plots in Osobowice finally ended with the collapse of the political system. The signs of victory in the fight for remembrance were the symbolic funeral of the victims of communist terror (on 27 October 1990) and the unveiling of the monument “To Victims of Communist Terror 1945-1956” (on 25 May 1996) at plots no. 81A and no. 120.

Prison plots

Plot no. 77

The first prison plot covering today’s plots no. 82 and 83 and partly no. 77 and 78 established at the Osobowicki Cemetery was located near the cemetery chapel. Among over a thousand people buried there from August 1945 to September 1946, nearly half were those who died at the All Saints Hospital (later the Józef Babiński Provincial Hospital at John Paul II Square). The graveyard book also records nearly 150 people who were executed and died in the prison at Kleczkowska Street, mainly people of German nationality. In July 1946, four members of the anti-communist unit of Franciszek Olszówka “Otto” were buried there: Helena Motykówna, Idzi Piszczałka, Roman Roszowski and Edward Szemberski. In the years 1969-1971, the plot was covered with new graves. Only a single tombstone from 1946 has survived to this day – the only trace of the once extensive area of the plot.

Plot no. 102

Currently marked with the number 91A, it was established in September 1946 outside the cemetery, on the area of a nearby military training ground. Its location made it easier to keep the burials, which usually took place in the early morning hours, secret. Used until September 1948, it contains the remains of 450 people, buried mainly on behalf of the All Saints Hospital, as well as the Department of Forensic Medicine and the Departments of Regular, Descriptive and Pathological Anatomy. In 255 cases, the bodies were brought from the prison at Kleczkowska Street. The large group of victims included the Indomitable/Cursed Soldiers executed on the basis of court judgements (Ryszard Baranowski, Józef Dyl, Tadeusz Flisek, Zbigniew Gromadzki, brothers Edward and Władysław Kajak, Jan Kotnowski, Alojzy Piaskowski, Kazimierz Stańczyk-Pawłowski, Zenon Prek, Capt. Eugeniusz Werens). In the years 1979-1987, the prison plot was covered with new graves. Only a few graves and tombstones which survived the liquidation in the last decade of communism testify to its history.

Plot no. 83B

Located in the extreme northern part of the cemetery, it is currently a part of plot no. 120 located in a depression. Founded in mid-September 1948, it was at the exclusive disposal of the prison service. In just one year of its existence, 87 prison graves were created there, including those of the members of the management of the Wrocław District of the Freedom and Independence Association: Maj. Ludwik Marszałek, Władysław Cisek, 2nd Lt. Stanisław Dyda and Lt. Jan Klamut. In a moving description of their execution, Stanisław Dyda’s sister wrote: I talked to the confessor of our Poor Fellows. He consoled me that they were definitely in heaven already, because they died like saints, and that their death was honourable. My Staś never cried, but after confession he cried: “Mother, mummy, you will be all alone!” And then they calmly stood by the wall, they did not want to be blindfolded, nor did they turn around. This is how our Dearest Poor Fellows died.

Buried near Ludwik Marszałekl and his collaborators were the bodies of the members of the Polish Conspiracy Army (Zdzisław Gaik, Tadeusz Nowak, Henryk Sita), the National Armed Forces (Eugeniusz Kmicikiewicz), the Vilnius District of the Home Army (Antoni Roszczewski, Henryk Urbanowicz) and victims of fake political trials (Władysław Czarnecki, Henryk Szwejcer). The prison plot located in the depression survived the liquidation period of the mid-1980s. Its area is currently marked by a few graves from the communist period and symbolic stone crosses with the sign of the Fighting Poland, erected in the 1990s.

Plot no. AVII

The plot neighbouring no. 83B covers most of the modern plot no. 120 and was also used exclusively by the apparatus of repression. In the short period of its operation (from September 1949 to September 1950) it became the final resting place of the remains of 95 people. Many of them were members of various structures of the anti-communist underground, such as the Lublin District of the Home Army (Roman Szumski), the Lviv District of the Home Army (Szczepan Andruszko, brothers Mieczysław and Tadeusz Bielec, Tadeusz Kopiczak, Andrzej Tadla), the Freedom and Independence Association (Józef Pauzner). The list of victims also includes a victim of a judicial crime (Czesław Plichta) and a Roman Catholic priest who died in prison (Tomasz Sapeta). The plot, saved from liquidation, has survived to this day along with individual commemorations made by the families. Its location is indicated by stone crosses from the 1990s and the monument in the shape of a prison wall with the inscription: “To victims of communist terror 1945-1956.”

Plot no. AVI

The largest of the preserved prison plot today has the number 81A and was an extension of the AVII field located higher. For four years – from October 1950 to October 1954 – the prisons at Kleczkowska and Sądowa streets, the Provincial Security Office and the District Information Board in Wrocław ordered 176 burials there. Among them was a large group of over forty people sentenced to death for belonging to anti-communist organisations, including: National Defence (Ludwik Moryl, Zachariasz Pałko), Organisation of the Western Union (Antoni Chabiński, Stanisław Mach), Polish Underground Army (Ryszard Dudkiewicz, Bolesław Mastej, Jerzy Modliński), Polish Underground Organisation – Freedom (Stefan Półrul), Fighting Polish Republic (Włodzimierz Pawłowski, Józef Radłowski), Underground Service (Bronisław Wawer). At the entrance to the plot there is a plaque with the symbol of the Fighting Poland and an inscription starting with the words: “Visitor, in front of you are the tragic cemetery fields 81A and 120…”.

Other plots

Time has erased the traces of almost 70 prison burials carried out at the remaining plots of the Osobowicki Cemetery. Currently, it is impossible to find any signs indicating that in the years 1954-1956 the bodies of prisoners were buried also in plot no. 122 (former AV). It is also impossible to locate the graves of nearly 40 children born and died in the prison at Kleczkowska Street, buried in plots marked in the graveyard books with the numbers: E, 105, 106, C, H, 25,10, 14, 15, 27.

Research

In September 2003, the first archaeological research was carried out at plot no. 81A of the Osobowicki Cemetery. As a result, the remains of Capt. Włodzimierz Pawłowski, commander of the largest anti-communist organisation in Lower Silesia – the Fighting Polish Republic – executed in Wrocław in 1953, were found. The last successful works aimed at locating the remains of Zenon Prek, murdered in 1946, were completed in December 2022.

For twenty years, the Institute of National Remembrance has repeatedly searched the Osobowicki Cemetery for the graves of victims of communism, finding them in each of the five largest prison burial fields. The knowledge and experience acquired during the works provided the basis for carrying out the largest archaeological research in Poland at plots no. 81A and no. 120. The activities carried out between October 2011 and May 2012 allowed for the discovery of almost three hundred remains of executed and deceased prisoners. More than a hundred German graves from the 1920s and 1930s were also discovered, located deeper and next to the prison plots.

Plot 81A before launching the research, 2011. Photo by Krzysztof Szwagrzyk
Archaeological works at plot 120 of the Osobowicki Cemetery, 2011. Photo by Krzysztof Szwagrzyk
Archaeological works at plot 81A of the Osobowicki Cemetery, 2011. Photo by Krzysztof Szwagrzyk
Archaeological works at plot 120 of the Osobowicki Cemetery, 2011. Photo by Krzysztof Szwagrzyk
Artifacts found by the victims during works in 2011. From the collection of the Institute of National Remembrance
Arrangement of prison graves with temporary marking at plot 81A of the Osobowicki Cemetery, 2011. Ed. and photo by Krzysztof Szwagrzyk

The results of archaeological, medical and genetic research at both plots essentially confirmed the burial arrangement recorded in the graveyard books. Only in three cases of mass executions was a different burial order than described found. Many, but not all, prisoners were buried in their clothes or underwear, in wooden boxes without lids. Some of them kept medallions and crosses with them, probably hidden from the prison guards. From the injuries found on the remains, it can be concluded that until February 1949, executions in Wrocław were carried out by a firing squad, and after that date – using exclusively the Katyń method: a shot from a 7.62 mm calibre pistol in the back of the head.

During the works in Wrocław, a method of research and exploration was born, based on the joint activity of an interdisciplinary team consisting of archivists, historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, forensic doctors and geneticists. The actions performed by each one of them are part of a complex process ending with finding the victim and determining their identity. Without this method and the experience gained at the Osobowicki Cemetery, the “Łączka” exhumations at the Powązki Cemetery in Warsaw and hundreds of other places examined by the Institute of National Remembrance in Poland and abroad would not have been possible, including: in Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine.

Information board at plot 81A of the Osobowicki Cemetery, 2010. Photo by Krzysztof Szwagrzyk

Written by: prof. Krzysztof Szwagrzyk
Edited by: Kamilla Jasińska
Translated by: Fabryka Tłumaczeń


after: “Kalendarz Wrocławski” no. XLVII (47) of 2023, published by the “Remembrance and Future” Centre and the Society of Wrocław Enthusiasts, Wrocław 2023.