“Chronicles of Terror. Warsaw”

6 November 2017

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On the occasion of the 41st Session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee (2-12 July 2017, Kraków), the Witold Pilecki Center for Totalitarian Studies published its first book – Chronicles of Terror. Warsaw – in both Polish and English language versions.

This is the first volume in a series presenting the testimonies of Polish citizens who were the victims of both German and Soviet totalitarianism. The objective of the series is to bring to light the experiences of thousands of Poles – eyewitnesses to the events of the Second World War – and of their families and loved ones. The vast majority of the testimonies published in the current volume were given before the Main Commission for the Investigation of German Crimes in Poland (the Commission was established in 1945, and in 1949 renamed as the Main Commission for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes).

            Chronicles of Terror is the main project of the Witold Pilecki Center for Totalitarian Studies. Its online database contains the depositions of the witnesses and victims of both totalitarian regimes: scans of original documents accompanied by Polish transcripts and English translations. The first volume of the Chronicles of Terror series contains testimonies submitted by the inhabitants of Warsaw and its environs.

            The book opens with the accounts of Professors Jan Zachwatowicz and Stanisław Lorentz. During the War they documented the damage inflicted on Warsaw by the occupiers, while after the conflict ended they became involved in the reconstruction of the capital (85% of left-bank Warsaw lay in ruin). In his capacity as member of the Warsaw Reconstruction Office, Prof. Jan Zachwatowicz pushed through a plan calling for the meticulous reconstruction of the Warsaw Old Town.

            The following parts of the publication contain a selection of testimonies concerning individual elements of the German terror. Direct witnesses inform us about German racial policy and recount the extermination of Poles in the Pawiak, Szucha and Gęsiówka prisons. The book Chronicles of Terror. Warsaw includes moving accounts given by those who lost their relatives in street executions, and also depositions depicting the extermination of Jews – among the latter the incredible account of Łazarz Menes, a participant and a miraculous survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

            The volume closes with testimonies devoted to the Warsaw Uprising. In a matter-of-fact, seemingly emotionless way, civilians recount the fate of the city – condemned to death by the Germans. The last chapter contains shocking accounts of the massacre of the Wola district.

            Despite the horrendous material damage and high human losses, Warsaw quickly rose from the ruins. The rebuilding effort was duly recognized by UNESCO, which in 1980 entered the city’s Old Town in its World Heritage List – even though the entire district is only a reconstruction.

            The publication contains a preface penned by Deputy Minister of Culture and National Heritage, Prof. Magdalena Gawin. The unique case of Warsaw as the city that survived its own death has been described by Dr. Wojciech Kozłowski (Program Director of the Witold Pilecki Center for Totalitarian Studies) and Tomasz Stefanek (Head of the Program Department of the Witold Pilecki Center for Totalitarian Studies), while Prof. Piotr Madajczyk has written the section outlining the historical background to the creation and workings of the Main Commission for the Investigation of German/Nazi Crimes in Poland. Each group of depositions, pertaining to specific aspects of the German occupation, has been preceded with a brief historical introduction.

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