The objective of the conference was to reflect on the German crimes committed in the Warsaw district of Wola at the beginning of August 1944. It was then that the Germans killed approximately 50,000 people – men, women, and children – in a series of systematic executions of civilians.
Discussions confronted historical research into the German atrocities committed in Wola with legal analysis involving criminal classification of the event, the legal responsibility of the perpetrators and the possibility of reopening proceedings in the case.
The conference featured eminent speakers – lawyers and historians – including Prof. Yoram Dinstein, Dr. Patrycja Grzebyk, Prof. Kevin Jon Heller, Prof. Hanna Kuczyńska, Prof. Piotr Madajczyk, Dr. Philipp Marti, Dr. Elżbieta Mikos-Skuza and Prof. William A. Schabas. These world-class experts, working for the United Nations and international tribunals on a daily basis, examined the crimes committed in the Warsaw district of Wola in juxtaposition with some of the most tragic examples of genocide and war crimes in the twentieth century.
Can the atrocities committed in Wola be termed “genocide?” How did it happen that after the war, SS Gruppenführer Heinz Reinefarth – one of the butchers of Wola – not only avoided punishment in Germany, but also held public office as the mayor of the town of Westerland on the island of Sylt and a member of the Landtag of Schleswig-Holstein?
Why is it that the Wola Massacre has only begun to attract more attention in Poland in recent years? What significance does the remembrance of the events in question hold today – for Polish and German identity, and for mutual relations? How much has research on the Wola Massacre contributed to international historical and legal discussions regarding twentieth-century totalitarianisms?
The Polish experience of confronting two totalitarian regimes is particularly important when reflecting on the notions of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. As a result of German and Soviet aggression, Poland was destroyed in 1939, while the occupied Polish territories became the scene of mass atrocities on an unprecedented scale. One such atrocity was a series of systematic executions of civilians carried out by the Germans in the Wola district of Warsaw at the beginning of August 1944, in which over 50,000 people – men, women, and children – were murdered within the space of barely a few days – says Anna Gutkowska, Acting Director of the Witold Pilecki Center, explained the idea of the conference.
Up to 60,000 people – men, women, and children – perished within the course of a few days, and so it seems that this chapter of the Warsaw Uprising simply must be discussed from a legal perspective in order to qualify the crime – says Dr. habil. Magdalena Gawin, Undersecretary of State at the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage.
Photos: Kamila Szuba