Mass murders in Piaśnica
The mass murders in Piaśnica were a set of mass executions
Capital punishment
Capital punishment, the death penalty, or execution is the sentence of death upon a person by the state as a punishment for an offence. Crimes that can result in a death penalty are known as capital crimes or capital offences. The term capital originates from the Latin capitalis, literally...

 carried out by Germans
The Germans are a Germanic ethnic group native to Central Europe. The English term Germans has referred to the German-speaking population of the Holy Roman Empire since the Late Middle Ages....

, during World War II, between the fall of 1939 and spring of 1940 in Piasnica Wielka (Groß Piasnitz) in the Darzlubska Wilderness near Wejherowo
Wejherowo is a town in Gdańsk Pomerania, northern Poland, with 47,435 inhabitants . It has been the capital of Wejherowo County in Pomeranian Voivodeship since 1999; previously, it was a town in Gdańsk Voivodeship .-History:...

. Standard estimates put the number of victims at between twelve thousand and fourteen thousand. Most of them were Polish intellectuals from Gdańsk
Gdańsk is a Polish city on the Baltic coast, at the centre of the country's fourth-largest metropolitan area.The city lies on the southern edge of Gdańsk Bay , in a conurbation with the city of Gdynia, spa town of Sopot, and suburban communities, which together form a metropolitan area called the...

Pomerania is a historical region on the south shore of the Baltic Sea. Divided between Germany and Poland, it stretches roughly from the Recknitz River near Stralsund in the West, via the Oder River delta near Szczecin, to the mouth of the Vistula River near Gdańsk in the East...

, but Poles, Jews
The Jews , also known as the Jewish people, are a nation and ethnoreligious group originating in the Israelites or Hebrews of the Ancient Near East. The Jewish ethnicity, nationality, and religion are strongly interrelated, as Judaism is the traditional faith of the Jewish nation...

, Czechs and German
The Germans are a Germanic ethnic group native to Central Europe. The English term Germans has referred to the German-speaking population of the Holy Roman Empire since the Late Middle Ages....

 inmates from mental hospitals from General Government
General Government
The General Government was an area of Second Republic of Poland under Nazi German rule during World War II; designated as a separate region of the Third Reich between 1939–1945...

 and the Third Reich were also murdered. After the Stutthof concentration camp
Stutthof concentration camp
Stutthof was the first Nazi concentration camp built outside of 1937 German borders.Completed on September 2, 1939, it was located in a secluded, wet, and wooded area west of the small town of Sztutowo . The town is located in the former territory of the Free City of Danzig, 34 km east of...

, Piaśnica was the largest site of killings of Polish civilians in Pomerania by the Germans, and for this reason is sometimes referred to as the "second" or "Pomeranian" Katyn
Katyn massacre
The Katyn massacre, also known as the Katyn Forest massacre , was a mass execution of Polish nationals carried out by the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs , the Soviet secret police, in April and May 1940. The massacre was prompted by Lavrentiy Beria's proposal to execute all members of...

. It was also the first large scale Nazi atrocity in occupied Poland and a harbinger of things to come.

Background: Intelligenzaktion Pommern

After the Nazi invasion of Poland, the Polish and Kashubian
Kashubians/Kaszubians , also called Kashubs, Kashubes, Kaszubians, Kassubians or Cassubians, are a West Slavic ethnic group in Pomerelia, north-central Poland. Their settlement area is referred to as Kashubia ....

 population of Gdańsk Pomerania
Gdańsk Pomerania
For the medieval duchy, see Pomeranian duchies and dukesGdańsk Pomerania or Eastern Pomerania is a geographical region in northern Poland covering eastern part of Pomeranian Voivodeship...

 was immediately subjected to brutal terror. Prisoners of war, as well as many Polish intellectuals and community leaders were murdered. Many of the crimes were carried out, with official approval, by the so-called "Selbstschutz
Selbstschutz stands for two organisations:# A name used by a number of paramilitary organisations created by ethnic Germans in Central and Eastern Europe# A name for self-defence measures and units in ethnic German, Austrian, and Swiss civil defence....

", or paramilitary organizations of ethnic Germans with previously Polish citizenship. They in turn were encouraged to participate in the violence and pogroms by the Gauleiter
A Gauleiter was the party leader of a regional branch of the NSDAP or the head of a Gau or of a Reichsgau.-Creation and Early Usage:...

 of Danzig (Gdańsk), Albert Forster
Albert Forster
Albert Maria Forster was a Nazi German politician. Under his administration as the Gauleiter of Danzig-West Prussia during the Second World War, the local non-German population suffered ethnic cleansing, mass murder, and forceful Germanisation...

, who in a speech at the Prusinski Hotel in Wejherowo agitated ethnic Germans to attack Poles by saying "We have to eliminate the lice ridden Poles, starting with those in the cradle… in your hands I give the fate of the Poles, you can do with them what you want". The crowd gathered before the hotel chanted "Kill the Polish dogs!" and "Death to the Poles". The Selbstschutz participated in the early massacres as Piaśnica, and many of their members later joined police and SS formations which continued the massacres until the Fall of 1940.

Organized action aimed at exterminating the Polish population of the region however, began only after the end of the September campaign, with the Intelligenzaktion in Pomerania
Intelligenzaktion in Pomerania
The "Intelligenzaktion Pommern" was a Nazi action aimed at the elimination of the Polish intelligentsia in Pomeranian Voivodeship and other adjacent areas, at the beginning of World War II...

 (Intelligence Action Pomerania), a part of an overall Intelligenzaktion
Intelligenzaktion was a genocidal action of Nazi Germany targeting Polish elites as part of elimination of potentially dangerous elements. It was an early measure of the Generalplan Ost. About 60,000 people were killed as the result of this operation...

 by Nazi Germany aimed at liquidating the Polish elite. Its main targets were the Polish intelligentsia
The intelligentsia is a social class of people engaged in complex, mental and creative labor directed to the development and dissemination of culture, encompassing intellectuals and social groups close to them...

, which was blamed by the Nazis for pro-Polish policies in the Polish corridor
Polish Corridor
The Polish Corridor , also known as Danzig Corridor, Corridor to the Sea or Gdańsk Corridor, was a territory located in the region of Pomerelia , which provided the Second Republic of Poland with access to the Baltic Sea, thus dividing the bulk of Germany from the province of East...

 during the interwar period. Educated Poles were also perceived by the Nazis as the main obstacle to the planned complete Germanization of the region.

As a result, even before the Nazi invasion of Poland, German police and Gestapo
The Gestapo was the official secret police of Nazi Germany. Beginning on 20 April 1934, it was under the administration of the SS leader Heinrich Himmler in his position as Chief of German Police...

 prepared special lists of Poles which they regarded as representative of Polish culture and life in the region, who were to be executed. According to official criteria, the Polish "intelligentsia" included anyone with a middle school or higher education
Higher education
Higher, post-secondary, tertiary, or third level education refers to the stage of learning that occurs at universities, academies, colleges, seminaries, and institutes of technology...

, priests, teachers
Teachers may refer to:* Teachers, people who provide schooling for pupils and students* Teachers , one of the five Ascension Gift Ministries* Teachers , a British sitcom* Teachers Teachers may refer to:* Teachers, people who provide schooling for pupils and students* Teachers (ministry), one of the...

, doctors
A physician is a health care provider who practices the profession of medicine, which is concerned with promoting, maintaining or restoring human health through the study, diagnosis, and treatment of disease, injury and other physical and mental impairments...

, dentists, veterinarians, military officers
Officer (armed forces)
An officer is a member of an armed force or uniformed service who holds a position of authority. Commissioned officers derive authority directly from a sovereign power and, as such, hold a commission charging them with the duties and responsibilities of a specific office or position...

, bureaucrats, medium and large businessmen and merchants, medium and large landowners, writers, journalists and newspaper editors. Furthermore, all persons who during the interwar period had belonged to Polish cultural and patriotic organizations such as Polski Związek Zachodni (Polish Union of the West) and Maritime and Colonial League
Maritime and Colonial League
The Maritime and Colonial League was a mass Polish social organization, created in 1930 out of the Maritime and River League . In the late 1930s it was directed by general Mariusz Zaruski and its purpose was to educate the Polish nation about maritime issues...


As a result, between the fall of 1939 and spring of 1940, in the "Intelligenzaktion Pommern" and other actions, Germans killed around 65,000 Polish intellectuals and others. The main site of these murders were the forests around Wielka Piasnica.

The executions

Piaśnica Wielka is a small Kashubian village located around 10 km from Wejherowo. The forests around it were chosen by the Germans as the site of the mass murders because it was easily accessible by bus and truck, it had a nearby rail line and at the same time was located far enough from other villages and centers of population.

The most commonly accepted time line for the beginnings of the executions is that of late October 1939. However the date of the first execution is uncertain and disputed among historians. According to Zygmunt Milczewski, this happened on the 21st of October. Prof. Andrzej Gąsiorowski states that the first person to be killed was the priest, father Ignacy Błażejewski, on the 24th of October. Prof. Barbara Bojarska gives the date of the 29th of October. Former prisoners and witnesses likewise give various dates at the end of October, and even the first few days of November.

The victims were transported to the execution sites by cars and trucks. Usually they were forced to strip and on some occasions to dig their own graves. They were then lined up on the edge of the ditches they had dug and machined gun down, although sometimes regular rifles and pistols were also used. Some of the wounded were finished off with hits of the rifle butts, as is documented by the broken skulls that have been exhumed from the graves. Estimates and records suggest that a single platoon of the 36th SS Regiment Wachsturmbann "Eimann" (named after its commander Kurt Eimann) involved in the massacres was capable of killing around 150 people daily. Witnesses report that on numerous occasions, prior to the executions, the victims were tortured and children in particular were treated with utmost cruelty, and often killed by having their heads smashed against trees by German SS soldiers.

The most detailed accounts of one of the executions come from witness accounts regarding November 11, (Polish Independence Day
Polish Independence Day
National Independence Day is a public holiday in Poland celebrated every year on 11 November to commemorate the anniversary of Poland's assumption of independent statehood in 1918 after 123 years of partition by Russia, Prussia and Austria....

). On that day, Germans murdered around 314 Polish and Jewish hostages in Piasnica. According to the testimony of former Gestapo and later, Smersh
SMERSH was the counter-intelligence agency in the Red Army formed in late 1942 or even earlier, but officially founded on April 14, 1943. The name SMERSH was coined by Joseph Stalin...

 agent, Hans Kassner (alias Jan Kaszubowski), made in 1952, the executions on that day lasted from early morning until 3 in the afternoon. Men and women were led in fives to the previously dug graves and shot. Some of the victims were buried alive. One of those killed was Sister Alicja Kotowska
Alicja Kotowska
Alicja Jadwiga Kotowska was a Polish nun, head of the Resurrectionist convent in Wejherowo between 1934 and 1939, and a blessed of the Roman Catholic Church and a martyr killed by the German Nazis in 1939 in the Mass murders in Piaśnica.She is one of the 108 Martyrs of World War Two.-References:...

, the head of the convent in Wejherowo. Witnesses report that as she was being transported from the prison to the execution site, Kotowska huddled and comforted Jewish children which were also being taken to be executed at Piasnica. During the post war exhumation Alicja's corpse had not been identified but a grave was found containing a rosary
The rosary or "garland of roses" is a traditional Catholic devotion. The term denotes the prayer beads used to count the series of prayers that make up the rosary...

 of the kind worn by sisters of her order. The grave where the rosary was found is presently the site of a memorial. In 1999 Alicja Kotowska was beatified by Pope John Paul II
Pope John Paul II
Blessed Pope John Paul II , born Karol Józef Wojtyła , reigned as Pope of the Catholic Church and Sovereign of Vatican City from 16 October 1978 until his death on 2 April 2005, at of age. His was the second-longest documented pontificate, which lasted ; only Pope Pius IX ...

 along with 107 other martyrs.

The area around the forests where the massacres were taking place was surrounded with police and paramilitary groups in order to both prevent any victims from escaping and also to preclude access to any potential witnesses from the outside. Despite these arrangements, the local Polish and Kashubian populace was able to observe the numerous transports going to the forests and could hear the sounds of gun fire.

The last transports to the site were seen in the spring of 1940 and contained mostly patients from mental hospital from within the Third Reich, in particular from Stettin
Szczecin , is the capital city of the West Pomeranian Voivodeship in Poland. It is the country's seventh-largest city and the largest seaport in Poland on the Baltic Sea. As of June 2009 the population was 406,427....

 (Szczecin) and Lauenburg
Lębork is a town on the Łeba and Okalica rivers in Middle Pomerania region, north-western Poland with some 37,000 inhabitants.Lębork is also the capital of Lębork County in Pomeranian Voivodeship since 1999, formerly in Słupsk Voivodeship ....


The total number of victims, killed in an area around Piaśnica of about 250 square kilometers is estimated at between twelve and sixteen thousand, including women, children and infants.

The victims

Due to the fact that in 1944, the Germans exhumed and burned many of the corpses in an attempt to hide the crime, the exact number of victims is not known, and as are not many of the names and their national origins. From investigations carried out after the war, three different groups of victims can be identified:
  • The first group of about two thousand persons, mostly Poles and Kashubians from Gdańsk Pomerenia, arrested in September and October 1939 and subsequently held in prisons in Wejherow, Puck
    Puck, Poland
    Puck is a town in northwestern Poland with 11,350 inhabitants. It is in Gdańsk Pomerania on the south coast of the Baltic Sea . Previously in the Gdańsk Voivodeship , Puck has been the capital of Puck County in the Pomeranian Voivodeship since 1999.-History:The settlement became a marketplace...

    , Gdańsk, Kartuzy
    Kartuzy is a town in the historic Eastern Pomerania region of northwestern Poland, located about west of Gdańsk with a population of 15,472...

    , and Kościerzyn
    Kościerzyn is a village in the administrative district of Gmina Wróblew, within Sieradz County, Łódź Voivodeship, in central Poland. It lies approximately north-east of Wróblew, north-west of Sieradz, and west of the regional capital Łódź....

  • Second group, the largest, of ten to twelve thousand people, consisted of Polish, Czech and German families who had been transported from other areas of General Government and the Third Reich. This group also included many Polish workers who had migrated to Germany for economic reasons in the interwar period. The estimated number is based on the mass graves that had been found and on eyewitness reports by railroad men who observed the arriving transports.
  • The third group included about 1,200 (some sources give 2,000) mentally ill patients, transported from hospitals in Stralsund
    - Main sights :* The Brick Gothic historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.* The heart of the old town is the Old Market Square , with the Gothic Town Hall . Behind the town hall stands the imposing Nikolaikirche , built in 1270-1360...

    , Ueckermünde
    Ueckermünde is a seaport town in northeast Germany, located in the district of Vorpommern-Greifswald, Western Pomerania, near Germany's border with Poland . Ueckermünde has a long and varied history, going back to its founding by Slavs, known as the Uchri and mentioned in 934 by Widukind of Corvey...

    , Altentreptow
    Altentreptow is a town in the Mecklenburgische Seenplatte district, in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Germany. It is situated on the river Tollense, 15 km north of Neubrandenburg. Until 1939 the city's name was Treptow an der Tollense....

     and Lauenburg (Lębork).

Investigations carried out so far have established the names of about 600 of the 14,000 murdered.

The perpetrators

There were three groups which were primarily involved in carrying out the massacres:
  • Einsatzkommando
    During World War II, the Nazi German Einsatzkommandos were a sub-group of five Einsatzgruppen mobile killing squads—up to 3,000 men each—usually composed of 500-1,000 functionaries of the SS and Gestapo, whose mission was to kill Jews, Romani, communists and the NKVD collaborators in the captured...

     16, under the command of the chief of the Gdańsk Gestapo SS-Obersturmbannführer
    Obersturmbannführer was a paramilitary Nazi Party rank used by both the SA and the SS. It was created in May 1933 to fill the need for an additional field grade officer rank above Sturmbannführer as the SA expanded. It became an SS rank at the same time...

     Rudolf Tröger
  • Special units of the Wachsturmbann "Eimann" from the 36th Regiment of SS
  • Local ethnic Germans from Wejherowo, members of Selbschutz, led by the German mayor of Wejherowo G. Bamberg and the county director of the Nazi party Heinz Lorentz.

The headquarters of the command in charge of carrying out the ethnic cleansing were in a villa on Krokowska St. in Wejherowo.A

Attempts at hiding the murders

After the extermination action was ended in the Spring of 1940, the organizers and perpetrators began the process of covering their deeds. Trees and bushes were planted on the site of the graves, and German police restricted access to the area in the following years.

In the second half of 1944, during the Red Army's offensive, Nazi authorities anticipated the evacuation of German military and civilian personnel. During this time, an organized action was undertaken to destroy evidence of the massacres. Thirty-six prisoners from the concentration camp KL Stutthof were chosen and brought to the forests in August 1944. Chained and bound, they were forced to dig up the graves, remove the bodies and burn them in specially prepared forest crematoria. After six weeks of this work, the prisoners were murdered by the SS troops which supervised them, and their bodies burned as well. Local German civilians participated in further covering up any traces of the burning of the bodies.

Despite the attempts by the Germans to cover up the massacre, photographs of the events survived. Two local Germans, Georg and Waldemar Engler who ran a photography studio in Wejherowo took part in the massacres as part of the para military organizations. The younger Engler, Waldemar, made a photographic record of the massacre. Both of them were tried and sentenced for war crimes after the war.

Punishment and responsibility

In 1946 a National Tribunal in Gdańsk, Poland, held Albert Forster, the Gauleiter of the Gdańsk Region and the Nazi administrator of Pomerania and Western Prussia, responsible for the murders at Piasnica, as well as for other war crimes. He was sentenced to death and the sentence was carried out on February 28, 1952, in Warsaw.

A German court in Hamburg
-History:The first historic name for the city was, according to Claudius Ptolemy's reports, Treva.But the city takes its modern name, Hamburg, from the first permanent building on the site, a castle whose construction was ordered by the Emperor Charlemagne in AD 808...

 in 1968 sentenced SS leader Kurt Eimann to four years in prison for his participation in killing of the German mentally ill at Piasnica (but not the Polish intellectuals and citizens also murdered there).

Richard Hildebrandt, Higher SS and Police Leader
SS and Police Leader
SS and Police Leader was a title for senior Nazi officials that commanded large units of the SS, of Gestapo and of the regular German police during and prior to World War II.Three levels of subordination were established for bearers of this title:...

 in Pomerania, was sentenced to death by a Polish court in Bydgoszcz for his part and role in organizing the murders. A British military court in Hamburg
-History:The first historic name for the city was, according to Claudius Ptolemy's reports, Treva.But the city takes its modern name, Hamburg, from the first permanent building on the site, a castle whose construction was ordered by the Emperor Charlemagne in AD 808...

 in 1946, sentenced M. Pauly, a guard at the Neuengamme concentration camp to death for war crimes. During the proceedings, Pauly did not reveal that he had also taken part in the executions at Piasnica, Stutthof and other places in German occupied Pomerania. The sentence was carried out at Hameln Prison in 1946, by Albert Pierrepoint
Albert Pierrepoint
Albert Pierrepoint is the most famous member of the family which provided three of the United Kingdom's official hangmen in the first half of the 20th century...

. The occupation mayor of Puck, F. Freimann was also sentenced to death by a court in Gdynia.
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