All Saints’ Day: We all have a candle to light

All Saints’ is perhaps the most atmospheric and distinctive of Polish festivals. The cemeteries illuminated by tens of thousands of candles are an awe inspiring sight, and a testament to Polish tradition and faith in the family. It’s also the time of year foreigners living here can feel the most like outsiders. We have no relatives resting in graveyards here—no family roots to celebrate and commemorate. But we are all part of the extended family of people in foreign lands, and we have our own dead to visit.


A quiet and little-visited corner of Krakow’s Rakowicki Cemetery is the final resting place of more than 450 men buried far from their homes and families—British, Indian, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and South African soldiers and airmen who died in Poland during World War II. Many were prisoners of war who succumbed to disease, others were shot down during Allied air operations over occupied Poland. Among their number are more than 20 Polish airmen who served in the Polish Air Force in exile.


Many of us visit Krakow’s cemeteries to appreciate the spectacle, or visit the graves of our partners’ families, but consider also the hundreds of graves that will not be visited and marked with a candle this weekend. Consider Kumba Sing Gurung of the 8th Gurkha Rifles, who died far from his native Nepal in November 1943, somewhere in Poland. Or Nicolas Constantinou of the Cyrus Regiment, or J A C Steel, who was just 18 when he died here in 1944.


Rakowicki Cemetery remains open until 10pm on October 31, until the last visitor leaves on November  1, and until 9pm on November 2. You can find directions to the Rakowicki Commonwealth War Graves cemetery on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website , as well as details of all the war dead buried there.

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One thought on “All Saints’ Day: We all have a candle to light

  • October 31, 2015 at 8:53 pm

    All Saints’ Day resonates with me because I lived in Brazil for the longest time, and it is an actual Holiday there (thus the capital letter). Cemeteries are filled with folks paying their respects to their late relatives. My last Nov. 1 in Brazil was in 1999, when my mother and I went to Parque da Paz Cemetery in Fortaleza and paused before my grandparent’s resting place. I miss having such a day – in the US, unfortunately, we move on way too quickly.


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