Life is a sacred good that often manages to overcome the most dire situations. Today I want to refer to one of them that occurred in 1944.
Wola 1944: the biggest massacre in the history of Poland
As I already told you here, on August 1, 1944, the Polish resistance took up arms against the Germans in Warsaw. It was the beginning of an uprising that lasted two months, despite the limited means that the insurgents had. On Saturday, August 5, the Germans began the largest massacre in the history of Poland: it was perpetrated in the Wola neighborhood, in the Polish capital. They murdered between 40,000 and 60,000 people in four days, including children.
The story of Wanda Lurie and her four children
At the time of the massacre, Wanda Felicja Lurie, a 33-year-old Polish Catholic mother, was 8 months pregnant. She lived with her three children (Wiesław, 11 years old; Ludmiła, 5; and Lech, 3 and a half years old) and with her husband, Bolesław Lurie, in an apartment on Wawelberga street, in the Wola neighborhood. At the beginning of the uprising, that area saw heavy fighting between the Germans and the Polish resistance, so Wanda and her children took refuge in the basement of the building until 5 August. That day, German gendarmes and Ukrainian guards took all the people out of the building and took them to the Ursus factory, where that day between 6,000 and 7,500 Poles were killed by shots to the neck.
On December 10, 1945, Wanda testified before the German Crimes Investigation Commission in Warsaw, recounting in detail what had happened: “I begged the ‘Ukrainians’ around me to save me and my children. One of them asked me if he could save me.” That Ukrainian guard was about to take her away, but the German officer who was leading the executions stopped him.
Wanda was shot from behind along with her children. One shot hit her in the neck, and three more hit her in her legs. She was badly injured, but she did not die, and where she lay she saw more executions of men, women, and children, late into the night. The corpses of the murdered were falling on her and on the bodies of her children. Wanda was lying at the place of her execution, waiting to die, for three days, until Monday, August 7.
Feeling her baby still alive in her womb gave her strength to carry on
Then, in the midst of that horror, the miracle of life made its way: “On the third day I felt that the baby I was expecting was still alive. This gave me strength, the thought of rescue formed in my mind. I began to think, to examine possible ways to save myself. When I tried to get up, I felt nauseous and dizzy several times. Finally, I crawled on all fours over the bodies towards the wall.” Wanda remembered that the pile of corpses was as tall as her height.
Wanda found a woman alive in the factory, a neighbor of her building: Zofia Staworzyńska. They were also joined by a 60-year-old man, crawling. Zofia and Wanda made it out of the factory on Skierniewicka Street. The man preferred to stay inside when hearing voices of Ukrainians. Both women were again captured by German gendarmes, and although they begged them, they were taken to Wola along with other people they encountered along the way.
Wanda was taken with others to the Church of St. Adalbert on Wolska Street, where German officers received them with “shoves, blows and kicks.” The church had been converted into a detention center, and Wanda spent two days there, by the main altar, without receiving medical aid. The only help she had was a little water from the people who were confined next to her. Finally, she was taken in a car along with other wounded to the transit camp in Pruszków on August 11, and then to the Polish Red Cross hospital in Podkowa Leśna, where she remained until August 19. The next day she was taken to the Pruszków County Hospital, where on August 20 she gave birth to a boy, who was christened Mstisław.
A heroine who worked to keep the memory of the murdered
After the war, Wanda was considered a hero, both for her experience in Wola and for her testimony against Nazi war criminals. During the rest of her life, Wanda only passed through the Wola neighborhood once, due to the traumatic experience she suffered there in 1944. Both she and her son worked for decades to remember the victims of the massacres committed by the Germans during the Warsaw Uprising. Wanda passed away on May 21, 1989 in Warsaw, two days before her 78th birthday and two weeks before Poland became a free country again. She was buried in the Bródno cemetery, where today they still lay flowers next to her grave.
In April 2005, after many efforts by Mstisław Lurie, Warsaw dedicated a square to her mother, between Działdowska and Wawelberga streets, in the Wola neighborhood. Mstisław passed away on June 22, 2018. In September of last year a mural was painted in Wanda Lurie Square that shows the Warsaw heroine with her son, that little boy whose life gave hope to that wounded Polish woman and her encouraged to continue. In that scene of a genocide, the images of Wanda and Mstisław recall the triumph of life over death. In the words of another illustrious Pole, Pope Saint John Paul II: “Who, better than a mother, knows the miracle of life that is born in her womb?”
Cześć ich pamięci! Honor to their memory!
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