“ Soviet war memorial in Warsaw, Poalnd. „
I'm not sure if it's the same with every traveller but when you first go to a new country/city/town you often see landmarks or highlights that stay in your mind for a long time afterwards. When I first visited Warsaw eight years ago I remember seeing an outstanding obelisk standing back off the main road. The road, ulica Zwirki i Wigury is one of the routes to the airport. I saw it again on the way back home but on that trip I never actually visited the obelisk and the mausoleum. It has taken me eight years to go back to that spot to visit this impressive cemetery.
The bus stops outside the mausoleum and cemetery. As soon as I jumped down from the bus I felt an air of melancholy all around me. I don't always experience this feeling when visiting war cemeteries but I definitely felt strange here. I think it was because I didn't really know the historical background of the place. At first I wasn't sure who was buried underneath these 19 hectares of ground. You might ask - does it matter? Yes, it does. I wanted to know if the bodies were of Polish nationality. They were not. The blood and the bones under the damp soil belonged to soldiers of the Red Army who belonged to the Belarusian Popular Front Party. Some historical texts say 21,668 soldiers were exhumed from local cemeteries; other texts give a number of 21,500. Whatever the number it is quite a lot. These figures definitely disturbed my karma.
You may find yourself going straight to the obelisk, it's quite magnetic standing 38 metres high but I think it's best to take the trip through the cemetery slowly, first looking at the main entrance where there are two large open concrete cases which I think are meant to look like tombs. Inside are statues of ordinary people, men, women, children and Russian soldiers. These figures represent heroism and sacrifice. They were created by Jerzy Jamuszkiew from the same material as the Russian soldiers sat on top of two concrete plinths guarding the obelisk. It's a strange material - hard to touch but from a distance looks like shiny plastic, similar to the material used to make toy soldiers.The mausoleum opened to the public in the years 1949- 1950.
From the tombs and the entrance is a wide concrete path with gravestones on either side, all along to the obelisk.To the right and left of the obelisk are large areas of ground split into small graves; a small square of grass with only a headstone made of granite shaped like an irregular pentagon. Standing from the grass no more than 12 inches and indented in the granite a small red star. On one edge of the headstone - a number chalked in black. There are hundreds of these graves; 834 to be exact.Two hundred and thirty nine of the graves belong to individual soldiers but I didn't see 239 candles, photographs or any sort of memorabilia to remember these young soldiers who died in battle trying to keep out German soldiers.I walked a long distance covering the 19 hectares to study every grave and think I only came across a handful of photos and a few plastic flowers on these individual graves. One grave had fresh flowers placed on the top. I found the whole experience saddening but part of me was happy that these soldiers had been remembered even if the graves were minimalistic. It's better than nothing.
Tracing my footsteps from the graves back to the obelisk I went to study the focal point of the cemetery designed by Bohdan Lachert and Władysław Niemirski. It is indeed very tall and I remember my eyes hurting as I looked up into the sun to see the top of the obelisk. On one side there is a 3D star - the sign of the Red Army and on another an inscription that reads, "To the everlasting glory of the heroic Soviet Army of invincible soldiers who were killed in battle against the Nazi Invaders in the liberation of our Polish capital, Warsaw." (end of quote).
I think Polish residents might take a different view when they read this inscription. In their eyes these 'invincible soldiers' weren't fighting to liberate Warsaw. Yes, they wanted rid of the Nazi invaders only to occupy Warsaw.
On this particular day I only saw two other people until I walked away from the graves and the obelisk. I was in a world of my own thinking things over and wondering about all the young lives that had been lost. I can't imagine such bravery if you can call it bravery which makes me a bit of a coward. I dislike turmoil, unrest, fighting and wars even in everyday domestic circumstances.The thought of fighting anyone let alone an enemy terrifies the life out of me. The loud bark of a snappy terrier woke me up and brought me to my senses. I had suddenly walked into the park area with benches and lots of trees. This belongs to the cemetery too and seems is a place for local residents to visit; to sit and talk. I was slightly annoyed with the dog behaving in that way and the owner of the dog for letting the animal bark continuously. I remember giving the group of people a funny look as if to say, 'Can't you control your dog and let these young men rest in peace.'
If you would like to visit the Mausoleum of the Soviet Soldiers take a bus 175 from Centrum, They run every 10 minutes. The stop to get off is named after the cemetery. There is no admission fee.