An isolated Baltic Sea island was the scene of an ugly chapter in modern Polish history – the revenge killing of dozens of ethnic Germans just after the end of World War II.
The Institute of National Remembrance in Poland has begun trying to discover what really happened on Wolin Island in the harsh winter of 1945 and 1946.
The institute, located in Warsaw, is responsible for gathering documents and information about Polish post-war history and prosecuting war crimes against peace and humanity.
Thick Baltic ice cut off the islands of Wolin and Uznam from the rest of Poland. That meant that would-be victims of any atrocities would be unable to escape. About 22,000 ethnic Germans were living on the islands when the Red Army occupied Poland. The islands also included a few hundred Poles, mainly officials of newly established Communist institutions.
The Poles included Communist secret police and militia officials burning with a desire for vengeance. And, according to historians, they exacted their revenge. The Institute of National Remembrance said Poles killed more than 40 ethnic-German civilians, and robbed or imprisoned others.
Those committing the crimes drew no distinction between those who had been Nazi soldiers and ordinary ethnic Germans whose families had lived for centuries on Polish soil in such places as Silesia, Pomerania and East Prussia.
With many Poles harboring memories of German brutality during the war, acts of retribution against German civilians were common after the war. In fact, fearing retribution, many Germans fled.
When the ice that had isolated Wolin melted, a Communist official from the nearby mainland city of Koszalin arrived to check out the situation on the island. When he began hearing about the number of atrocities committed against Germans there, he launched an investigation. But the seven Poles who were found guilty received slap-on -the-wrist sentences – a few years imprisonment each.
Communist officials never let the public know about this disgraceful part of Polish history. Many facts about the atrocities are still unknown and that’s why the Institute of National Remembrance is looking into the situation.
There are indications that most of the murders took place in a militia building on ul. Piastowska in Swinoujscie that is now a school. Institute staff believe the murder victims may have been buried under what is today an asphalt school playground.