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Bodzentyn During WWII

Motorized German troops in Poland.
© Bodzentyn.net, courtesy of Deutsches Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archive), Photo 101I-012-0009-28A.

Local historian Stephan Rachtan describes the situation in Bodzentyn, Poland during WWII.

The Germans entered Bodzentyn on 6 September 1939. Hiding in the dense forest, resistance groups were formed. Similar groups were organized in the nearby villages. In March 1943 the Bodzentyn group was transformed into the partisan unit Chlopcy z Lasu (The Boys from the Forest), and joined the Home Army that was loyal to the Polish-government-in-exile in London.

German soldiers removing Polish symbols.
© Bodzentyn.net, courtesy of Deutsches Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archive), Photo 183-E10458.

During the spring of 1943 some units of the underground army executed several sabotage operations. In revenge the Germans pacified the villages. Many partisans lost their lives. The main spot for the partisan movement was the Wykus camp in the siekierzynski forest with the famous commander Jan Piwnik “Ponury”. In 1957 a memorial chapel was erected on this site to commemorate those who fought for freedom and independence of Poland. Since then every year a special ceremony has been held in June to pay homage to all the soldiers. One of the famous soldiers belonging to the Home Army was Marian Świderski, "Dzik", and Eugeniusz Domaradzki "Grot", from Bodzentyn.

Polish partisans belonging to the Home Army (Armii Krajowej — "A.K.") in the Kielce area 1945. (Editor’s Note: Interaction with Jews by Polish partisans was quite varied, ranging from active cooperation to murderous assaults on Jews by certain units of the A.K. Some Jews rose to leadership roles in the A.K. while some Jewish sources have characterized the Home Army that they encountered as anti-Semitic. The issue remains controversial due to varied experiences.)
© Bodzentyn.net, courtesy of Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe, Sygnatura: 37-1292.

The Kielce-Radom district radio operators routinely communicated with the headquarters of the Home Army. During the autumn of 1942 the radio station was moved from Kielce to Bodzentyn. Later on it was transferred from the house of the Palysiewicz family in Bodzentyn to the guerrilla camp in Wykus. On 28 October 1943 those soldiers responsible for protecting the radio station were rounded up and killed. Only the commander with few soldiers and the radio station were saved. A monument in the churchyard commemorates the death of these 28 men.

Between 1943 and 1944 a German military post was set up on the premises of the presbytery in Bodzentyn, and the basement was set up as a prison. Prisoners were often tortured until they confessed to the crimes and then transported to the main headquarters of the Gestapo in Kielce. At least 30 people were killed on the execution spot behind the wall of the churchyard. There are two tablets to commemorate those horrific events: one on the presbytery and another on the spot where executions took place.

After the outbreak of WWII, Jews were prohibited from attending school. Poles could attend only elementary school to learn basic skills such as reading and counting. However, it was forbidden to study Polish literature, geography and history. There were brave and devoted teachers who took up the dangerous task of clandestine teaching. Despite the threat of capital punishment, teachers, mainly from Kielce, formed groups of students in Bodzentyn and nearby villages and taught them French, German, Latin among other subjects. One of the most distinguished persons responsible for this teaching was Antoni Wacinski. In 1999 The Society of Graduates of Secondary School dedicated a tablet on the wall of the local Lyceum honouring the teachers.

Bodzentyn was in the centre of the underground partisan movement. In retaliation for the guerrilla activities Bodzentyn and surrounding villages met fierce repression in the spring of 1943. The most horrific event of "pacification" took place on 12 and 13 July in Michniów. More than 200 people were killed, most of them burned alive.

On 1 June 1943, 39 people were killed in Bodzentyn. The Germans had entered Bodzentyn at night. In the early morning they started to drive people out of their houses to the lower marketplace, Rynek Dolny. People found in hiding were shot on the spot. At the marketplace the Germans announced names from a list of those that were to be killed, and divided people to the left and the right. The elderly and sick were shot on the spot. The others were forced to walk to the backyard of the Czernikiewicz family home. Those who had been sentenced to death began to cross themselves; the son blessed his father with the sign of the cross and the father blessed his son with the same sign.

The men were killed by a firing squad. After the execution one of the German soldiers ordered the people to thank the Germans for killing the bandits. Then they were ordered to disperse. In 1945 the bodies were removed from the burial site of the backyard of the Czernikiewicz family and reburied at the parish cemetery. A year later a monument was erected in honour of their memory.

The Czernikiewicz family home still exists today.
© Photo adapted from the original by Bodzentyn.net | Old photo: courtesy of local historian Stefan Rachtan.
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