National Memorial Park
“They behaved as they should”
During the Second World War, Poland’s enemies sought not only to erase our country from the map of Europe but also to destroy the Polish nation. An unprecedented genocide took place. It is estimated (according to the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN)) that up to 5.6 million Polish citizens were murdered between 1939 and 1945. The Germans murdered some 2,800,000 Poles and about as many Polish Jews. They organised a network of concentration camps where they carried out mass genocide. The Soviets killed about 150,000 Poles and deported several hundred thousand to Siberia and Kazakhstan. Shortly after they invaded Poland (17 September 1939), they arrested 110,000 people. Later, in four deportation campaigns between 1940 and 1941, around one million people were deported. Hundreds of thousands of Poles died in the transports and gulags (the total number of Soviet victims is estimated at 570,000).
The Ukrainian nationalists of the OUN-UPA also pursued a genocidal policy. At their hands, in the eastern Polish borderlands (especially in Volhynia and Eastern Lesser Poland), approximately 130,000 Poles were murdered in a bestial manner. Lithuanian nationalists also murdered some 25,000 Poles. The ‘Righteous’ Ukrainians who gave their lives to save the doomed Poles are worth mentioning. There were thousands of such manifested attitudes.
Poles were murdered because they opposed the imperialism of National Socialist Germany and Communist Russia from the beginning of the war. Above all, the enemies sought to destroy the Polish state and intellectual and religious elites. To this end, in the spring of 1940, the Soviets murdered, among others, Polish officers and civilians at Katyń whose numbers correspond with the approximately 15,000 officers and 7,000 civilians who were arrested at the time. In addition, the Germans murdered Polish priests (almost 3,000 of them – 20% of the pre-war clergy), professors, teachers and civil servants during the war.
In spite of the immense terror, the Polish nation managed to help the Jews, who had been condemned to extermination by Nazi Germany on a massive scale. Those who helped them met with mass repression, and thousands of Poles died for this cause. Several hundred thousand citizens were actively involved in rescuing this minority.
The Polish Underground State aided its Jewish brethren by setting up a remarkable institution, the Council to Aid Jews. Polish heroes tried, at the risk of their lives, to pass on to the Western Allies the news of the German crime of genocide (Witold Pilecki, Jan Karski, among others). These activities constitute one of the most beautiful pages of the Polish contribution in the struggle against Nazi totalitarianism.
The Second World War is an unimaginable testimony to the heroism of the Polish nation in opposing criminal, totalitarian ideologies and powers. Polish soldiers fought on almost all fronts of the Second World War. In their heroic struggle for freedom and independence, the Polish nation suffered disproportionate casualties compared to other nations (220 people per every thousand inhabitants lost their lives). Many people did not return to their Homeland – they remained in exile due to communist persecution. Of the 35 million citizens living in the Second Polish Republic after the war, only 24 million were left on Polish territory.
Prof. Mieczysław Ryba, PhD
The National Memorial Park with the theme ‘They behaved as they should’ was opened on 8 August 2020 in the presence of, among others, Archbishop Slawoj Leszek Głódź, Bishop Wiesław Śmigiel, President of the Law and Justice Party Jarosław Kaczyński, Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland Mateusz Morawiecki, Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister of Culture and National Heritage and Sport Piotr Gliński, Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister of State Assets Jacek Sasin, the Minister of National Defence Mariusz Blaszczak, and the Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro. The ceremony was also attended by many parliamentarians and local government officials, including the Governor of the Kujawsko-Pomorskie Voivodeship Mikołaj Bogdanowicz and the Mayor of Toruń Michał Zaleski.
It is a place of tribute to all individual Poles who, in the moment of a supreme test of humanity, behaved as one should, saving fellow Jews. It is a natural extension of the Chapel of the Polish Martyrs, established in 2016 and located in the Toruń Shrine. The Park provides a space open to everyone – regardless of background, religion, views and language – to reflect, talk and pray to honour the memory of these heroes.
The name of the Park evokes the memory of the wartime nurse Danuta Siedzikówna, nom-de-guerre ‘Inka’, who, sentenced to death, passed on a secret message to her relatives: ‘I am sad that I have to die. Tell my grandmother that I behaved as one should’.
On three-metre-high pedestals placed in a granite-lined avenue forming the contour of the map of Poland are inscribed 31,875 names of Poles who saved Jews from death during World War II. There are many more of these names, and they will be successively placed on the pedestals. Throughout the space are the names of 611 priests and 2,345 nuns who brought rescue to Jewish sisters and brothers.
In the Park, you can visit a pavilion with the symbolic name ‘Poland hallowed by blood’. Here you will find a list of thousands of locations where Poles were persecuted, arrested, tortured and killed by the German Nazi occupiers during World War II. Here we can also pay tribute to the Polish patriots, prisoners of war, soldiers and officers of the Polish Army murdered by the NKVD in 1940 in Katyń. In addition, the President of the Republic of Poland Lech Kaczyński, his wife Maria Kaczyńska and all those who died in the government plane crash near Smolensk on 10 April 2010 are honored here.
On 5 September 2020, a space dedicated to the memory of Ukrainians who rescued Poles during the Volhynian massacre in Eastern Lesser Poland was also officially opened in the Park. Many of these ‘Righteous’ suffered death. The manifested attitude of the Ukrainian heroes testifies to their immeasurable courage and love for others, which were stronger than hatred and terror.
Visitors can also stroll and relax in the free space along the Park’s walkways, where there are brine graduation towers. Everyone will find here a piece of the history of their ancestors and a place for themselves.