The history of the Kampinos Forest, especially the military events during the war and uprisings that took place on its territory, its strategic value, the role it played for the resistance movement and Polish underground organizastions, is a very significant episode in the history of Poland. This mutual infiltration of nature and history makes this forest complex exceptional and different from any other similar place.
Sometimes innocent walk in the woods becomes a poignant journey into the past. This has become our experience last weekend. The Kampinos Forest is a very popular destination for many Warsaw residents seeking a break from the noise and bustle of the capital city. As a primeval forest with preserved diversity of biological life and landscape it is a scientific and cultural phenomenon on a European scale. The Forest as a unique complex is under protection of the status of the Kampinos National Park since 1959. It covers the area of 38 500 hectares.
The Kampinos Forest was always at the gates of Warsaw and its history was for centuries connected with the history of the Masovian District and the city itself. Today, despite all the spatial modifications, a common border line with the city is situated merely 15 kilometers from the Warsaw city centre. A signpost to the village of Palmiry can be easily seen from the national road No.7 Warsaw – Gdańsk (Danzig). After turning left you should always stick to the main asphalt road. 5 kilometer-long section of the route leads through picturesque backwoods of the Kampinos Forest. If you reach the end of the asphalt road it means that you are on the spot.
Palmiry is a Polish national memorial – a testimony of the crimes of the Nazi Germans commited on the Polish territory during the II World War. It was a symbol of those terrific events for the people of Warsaw and the rest of Poland since the beginning of the occupation. In 21 mass executions conducted on the Palmiry’s glade of death 1700 Polish citizens were shot to death, both Native Poles and Jews. The executions took place also in other parts of the Kampinos Forest, in Góry Szwedzkie, Wólka Węglowa, Laski and Wydmy Łuże. The victims of those massacres were mostly selected prisoners from the Pawiak prison, the people who were respected in the Polish society and therefore considered by Nazi Germans extremly dangerous as potential future leaders of the Polish Underground State.
Directly after the end of the II World War the search of the mass graves in Palmiry began in places pointed by the forester Adam Herbański, as employee of Polish Forests Service and the local people. The excavations were difficult because the terrain was overgrown by the young pine trees. The signs left by the witnesses of the executions, e.g. shells pounded in stumps, cuts on trees, helped in the search of those graves. Sometimes you could see marks in barks left by the bullets from the guns of the execution platoons. Exhumation works started in the selected places on November 25th 1945 and after the winter break from March 28th 1946 until the summer.
The results of the findings were confrontred with the testimonies of the witnesses and involved families. The data acquired with this method were confronted with preserved names registries of some transport of prisoners who were sent from Pawiak. This allowed to recreate the course of events with the whole groups of prisoners. The pupils and local villagers were assisting with the exhumation works. 24 mass graves were found scattered on the area of 1,5 kilometer. More than 1700 bodies were excaveted. Only a part of them was identifed. In some of the pits bodies were lying in layers. After the exhumation works were finished in Palmiry, similar operations were conducted in other regions between 1946-1947.
The mausoleum-cemetery on the glade in Kampinos Forest was created in 1948. 2115 victims of the massacres of the Polsih and Jewish population are buried in this place, around 1700 from the execution in Palmiry and others from different places in the Kampinos Forest and Chojnowski Forest. Only in few situations family decided to bury a relative in other location. There are 577 graves with the names of identified people. Names of the 485 people are known because they were buried in Palmiry but their bodies were not identified. Until today there has been no information about the remains of ca.1000 victims. On many graves there is only a date of the execution and a place where it was conducted.
The Palmiry National Memorial Museum commemorates victims of those crimes – Polish citizens, who were killed in mass executions conducted in secrecy in Palmiry and in other places of Kampinos Forest and also in Chojnowski Forest between 1939 – 1943. It also shows a significant role which of the Kampinos Forest played in the Polish history of the struggle for independence, since the Kościuszko Uprising of 1794 until the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. The exhibition presents photographs, records, items recovered during the after-war exhumations which allowed the identification of victims and family memorabilia donated to the Museum by the relatives of the victims.
Palmiry is a special place, therefore, the Authors of the exposition intended to create an expressive and emotional exhibition. This required the simultaneous impact on the visitors at the substantive and decorative level. Some ideas regarding arrangements were taken from theatrical scenery, including introduced variable light (cyclic highlighting of site plans), the soundtrack (call of names of murdered people), the micro-histories (to listening on headphones) and a large size graphics in the background, which enhance emotions involved in the perception process.
The new building (2011) and the multimedia exhibition in The Palmiry National Museum perfectly fit into the natural landscape of the Kampinos Forest. The role of nature and the trees in particular as the memory media of past events is heavily exposed. Despite the difficult issues and the close proximity of the mausoleum-cemetery you do not feel overwhelmed or miserable after visiting Palmiry. This place is filled with light and the sound of the forest, which gently invites you to travel back in time …
Curator: Joanna Maldis
Cooperation: Julian Borkowski, Małgorzata Berezowska, Jacek Korpetta, Katarzyna Mikrut, Jerzy Misiak
Consultation: Karol Loth
Conservators’ supervision: Robert Kołodziejski
Space arrangement and scenography: Marek Mikulski
Graphic design: Maciej Mikulski
Translation into English: Grażyna Błaszczyk