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Country: Poland / Region: Europe

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      11.04.2011 15:59
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      One of Warsaw's perfect cemeteries

      Palmiry Cemetery is situated on the edge of Kampinos Park about 4 kilometres from the village of Czosnów and at a guess I would say about 13 or 14 kilometres from Warsaw. As it was Mother's Day last Sunday, as a surprise my son and daughter-in-law decided to take me to visit the cemetery here although I didn't realise at the time. It's okay nothing morbid here - I am mad about cemeteries.

      It's a straight forward route out of Warsaw in the north easterly direction and didn't take to long although the traffic was quite busy. The road entering into the park from this position is a bit of a pot-holed route so watch your exhaust. There is a large car park on the right but that was quite full so we carried on and tried to get as near to the cemetery as we could. The second part of the road was very cobbled so made driving quite slow. At first I didn't realise I was visiting the cemetery I just thought we were going for a walk through Kampinos to see if we could track down some Moose as they do roam in these parts of the forest.

      It wasn't until I got out of the car, walked across the road following my family that I could see in the distance a huge forest clearing surrounded by some of the tallest trees I have seen. This is where all the graves are situated in symetrical rows - hundreds of stone crosses standing in small pebble gardens. The day was bright and sunny and what I noticed immediately was the sun's rays shining on the red and yellow glass candle holders which had been placed on each grave. It was quite windy too and I could hear the wind whistle as it skipped through the trees which gave the overall image a very haunted feel and made me feel shivery. The wind had knocked quite a lot of the candles over and they had fallen on the concrete paths, some had smashed and I felt sad. I wanted to walk round and pick up the broken ones and the candles that weren't broken to put back on the tops of the graves. But I didn't think it was my place to do that.

      This area of Kampinos Forest was where many Polish people, in the years from 1939-43 were taken from prisons like Pawiak, in Warsaw and shot. The number of bodies found is 2,115 but many more are probably still lying underneath the soil and have never been found. A lot of the bodies that were found could not be identified but many could due to the help of the people who worked for the forest commission, local citizens and the Polish Red Cross. Not only were Jewish people murdered but many Polish politicians, athletes, writers, scientists, photographers; people who were the movers and shakers of Poland at the time. It makes me shudder to think about the way this terrible crime was carried out - a lot of the prisoners didn't know where they were going as they were blindfolded with their hands tied together, thrown on a truck and then taken to the glade in the forest, shot and buried. Life hadn't been easy for them in Pawiak prison either before they came to their deaths as they would have been brutally tortured. All I can say now is that this is a beautiful spot and at least those tormented souls are at peace.

      The grave area is very simple to follow to walk round. It is a long section split into rows of stone crosses. There are some more elaborate gravestones dedicated to special achievers like Janusz Kosocinski, the athlete who won the 10,000 metre race in the 1932 Olympics. His grave stands out above the rest as on top of the grave is a large granite slab bearing the same cross but with his name embedded in bold stone print. Flowers were laid on top of the grave last week when I was there. Maciaj Rataj, who was a politician, and socialist writer and had been president of Poland on two occasions if only for short spells, is also buried here in Palmiry. His grave is a very pretty wooden, folksy design set in a small garden which is fenced off. When you get to the end of the rows of graves there are three gigantic white stone crosses set into a small wood of evergreen trees. From a distance this is an amazing sight. You can walk pass the crosses into the forest and scattered among the trees, rocky ground and sand are more white stone crosses. These crosses are smaller but the effect is just as haunting. I swear I couldn't hear any sounds in this part of the forest even though people were walking around - all I could hear was the whispering wind floating in and out of the branches.

      There is a museum on the cemetery site but it was closed for alterations but will re-open in April. In front of the museum is a covered area with benches where you can sit and contemplate what really went on here. This is near to the entrance of the forest glade where there is also an information board explaining to you about the murders and naming some of the people who had been exhumed. Unfortunately this is only in Polish.

      I have visited many cemeteries in Warsaw and they are all different. This is the most perfect one I have seen. By perfect I mean everything is in place, in perfect rows. The concrete and stone paths are spotless and the grass verges at the side of the clearing are in immaculate condition. It isn't the cheeriest of places but there is something special about it - it has a ghostly but fascinating aura and I was very pleased I was able to visit and pay my respects. Thanks son, I can always rely on you for an individual present - it beats chocolates and flowers any day.

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        03.05.2010 21:10
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        Sometimes it's good to get out of the city!

        Palmiry was the second cemetery on my agenda on a day of sightseeing in Warsaw, I had planned a couple of days ago. Palmiry Cemetery is an extremely well known cemetery to Poles because it's the place where lots of intelligentsia, poets and politicans are buried that were assassinated nearby in the woods during WW2 including 1932 Olympic 10,000 metre Winner Kusocinski.

        If you intend on visiting, you should know it's a little out of the city and if you aren't travelling by car, it will require a bit of walk. If you intend to walk then you might as well make a day of it and visit Kampinos National Park whilst you are at it. Take the Metro to Mlociny and then bus 708 and get off at the last stop in the village of Truskaw, behind that bus stop is a fork in the road, if you follow the dirt track to the left for about 2 kilometres, you will get to a large picnic stop and there's a map there if you need it but it's about 1.3km to the left up and down a hill.

        Eventually you get a crossroads and here to the left is a large wooden building, this acts as the Museum of Palmiry, to the right of it is a path that leads to a large clearing in what otherwise would be a wood. There's a grass field with 3 large crosses at the back of it that appear like giant masts, leading up to it are rows and rows of small white crosses that are neatly on view with only the Olympic winner Kusocinski more obvious than any of the others.

        Despite the fact these bodies were shot to pieces in the forest and some of them likely remain unrecovered, the orderliness of it all is considerably different to the chaos on display at the Okopowa Jewish Cemetery. For a visitor, I suppose it's not quite as interesting but it certainly seems as though the unfortunate victims buried here may be at peace, which can't necessarily be said for their Jewish counterparts.

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