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Warsaw Insurgents Cemetery (Warsaw, Poland)

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Historic cemetery located in Warsaw, Poland.

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      15.10.2011 13:41
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      A solemn War Cemetery in Wola

      It always seem to be Autumn time when you can find me touring the cemeteries of Warsaw. There is something about the month of October - it's not just the falling of the leaves or the deep red/purple sunsets - more the mood and atmosphere created by the people of Warsaw as they dart around with their trowels, potted plants, dustpan and brushes. This is the month when families visit cemeteries to prepare for All Saint's Day (November 1st). A time to tidy graves, clean headstones and place new flowers on the graves of their lost loves and departed.

      I came across this particular cemetery quite by accident as I was looking for a particular war cemetery that I can't remember the name of now but this wasn't the one I had in mind. The Warsaw's Insurgent Cemetery is situated on ul Wolska which is not too far away from where I live. I can catch a number 26 tram. Last Sunday, I took the tram but got off at the wrong stop and had to walk back two stops. That was okay because this is an area with three churches, two other cemeteries and a park so lot's of photo opportunities.

      I wasn't really sure how to approach the Warsaw Insurgent's Cemetery because the concrete memorial stating the name of the cemetery threw me. I could see gravestones in the distance behind it but no entrance. I walked a little further and came upon a path leading to a small wooded park. This is only a small park with a few wooden benches and as it turned out was the park belonging to and adjoined to the Insurgents Cemetery. I thought it was a very pretty park with lots of tall oak and chestnut trees whose leaves were falling and forming a thick bed of crisp, amber, gold and bright yellow leaves. I loved the sound of my boots treading softly upon the carpet of leaves. As I looked around the park I realised just what a good idea this was to have a park adjoining a cemetery. It's somewhere you can sit and contemplate either before or after visiting a grave. Time for reflection.

      Leaving the park I walked over to a large cobbled square where I could see a statue and some very large pieces of granite. The statue/monument is one of the strangest I have seen in Warsaw and I really don't like it. It is huge in size, sculptured in bronze and showing signs of oxidisation. At first I couldn't work out what on earth it was - it looked like some ancient creature from beneath the ocean but it is actually a dying man with the centre of his chest spit in two. The closer I looked I could see his face was a picture of torment and the shield he was holding was raised in the air acting as a barricade. There are many monuments dedicated to the Warsaw Uprising but this was the first one, unveiled in 1973 and designed by Gustav Zemler. It's a clumsy, awkward design but that could be intentional to show the world how these ordinary people of Warsaw sacrificed themselves to try and save their city against the Nazis in 1944. Interesting that the pieces of granite laid about in the square were once used to pave the streets of Wola and other areas of Warsaw. Even though It's not a pretty statue I was still fascinated with it and tried to take photos from all different angles capturing rays of light from the sun hiding behind the trees.

      Walking behind the statue I came across one of the paths that leads to the various parts of the cemetery. I've been to lots of cemeteries now in the city but this one has a very solemn feel to it. There's nothing fancy here. All the headstones are slabs of concrete which are showing signs of dampness; some small, some large. There is a metal plate which says it all: below are the exact words written on it (translated on Wiki).

      Quote: "Here lie the remains of more than 50 thousand Poles, civilian inhabitants of Warsaw and the Polish Home Army soldiers who died for the freedom of the Fatherland murdered by the Germans during the Warsaw Uprising in August and September 1944, August 6, 1946, 117 coffins made here with the ashes of people killed and burned transported among others: the Gestapo headquarters in Al. Szucha, ul. Wolska Street. Gorczewska, Sowinski Park, the Hospital of Saint. Stanislaus (factory Franaszka), ul. Moczydlo, ul. Miller." End of quote.

      Words that really stand out to me in that text are: 50 thousand Poles, 117 coffins filled with ashes! It's a difficult image to conjure up, don't you think? What's astonishing to me is that most of the bodies came from the area I live in. You think I would be used to reading information like this now after 4 years living in Warsaw but I'm not - I still get upset at the thought of what went on here.

      Even though professional soldiers aren't buried here in this cemetery, only members of the Home Army and civilians, many nameless, the way the graves are placed is very organised, in rows like soldiers on parades. Clipped hedges surround every separate path and small areas of grass have been laid in front of each headstone. It is dismal, dark and damp. There is definitely a feeling of desolation and at one time I looked at my husband's face and it was so sad. He was looking at three headstones joined together and reading names and dates. He called me over and I was so shocked. The names showed whole families with different age ranges, children from 6 months old to teenagers of 13 and 15, to family members in their twenties, 30s and forties. Whole families just wiped out. Shot and left in a heap to be burned.

      What I did notice on every grave was a ribbon - red and white. These must have been placed on the graves on August 1 which is the anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising. A little colour to brighten up the sombre slabs. Some people were walking around with flowers but mainly they were passing through to another cemetery, Brama. My husband asked if I wanted to walk on to Brama but I passed. I had seen enough on that day and felt very emotional. Usually I choose to visit a cemetery on a Sunday morning - it is a place I can go to think. I like to walk around the gravestones and generally feel at peace but not his time. The Warsaw's Insurgent's Cemetery left me feeling depressed and I don't think I will be returning. It is just too sad to think about the destruction and deaths of so many people.

      Do I recommend a visit? Yes, I do because even though it isn't the happiest of places to visit, the Warsaw's Insurgent's Cemetery is part of Warsaw's dark history and this area on Ulica Wolska is full of interesting sights like the Church of St Lawrence, the beautiful orthodox church of John Climacus and Symanski Park.

      To reach the cemetery take a tram 8, 10, 26, 27 & 46. Jump off at the stop marked Sowinski 01.

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