Harrowing images by US photographer of village set ablaze by commie security forces go on display to mark tragic anniversary
Shocking photos of a village burnt to the ground by communist-era security services and captured on film by an American photographer have been put on display to mark the event’s 75th anniversary.
The harrowing images captured on May 2, 1946, show the village of Wąwolnica in eastern Poland engulfed in thick flames as locals desperately try to save their possessions and livestock.
In one, a young girl is seen sobbing as she sits in a field with her few belongings strewn around her.
In another, families are seen running to and from the blazing buildings in a despairing effort to save their livelihoods.
Yet another shows an elderly woman in a headscarf clutching her hands together as she watches her home in flames.
In total, over 100 houses were burnt to the ground in the attack as well as several hundred farm buildings and livestock. Three people lost their lives.
American photographer John Vachon happened to find himself in the village on the day of the attack as part of a mission of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), an international organisation set up in Washington to provide help to liberated regions in Europe and Asia after WWII.
He had been commissioned to document the distribution of mainly U.S.-funded relief goods to war-torn Poland.
As he passed the village on his way towards Lublin, he saw it in flames.
Going unnoticed by the security services and militia carrying out the torching, Vachon stopped, took out his camera and managed to capture 20 or so images of the unfolding tragedy.
Writing in his diary at the time, the photographer said: “From a large field I could see the flames fanned by the wind engulfing one thatched-roof building after another.
“People were running to and fro trying to save their possessions and livestock from the blaze. (…) I snapped a few distance shots of people running about with the flaming village in the background.
“Then I took some close-ups of women dragging their pigs along.
“One sometimes hears or sees pictures of a village aflame but to actually experience it!”
The fire was later blamed on 'forest bandit groups'.
Wąwolnica was known to the Polish security services at the time as a village resistant to the Polish Communist regime and supportive of the Polish partisans fighting in the anti-communist underground, those known today as the Polish cursed soldiers.
It is strongly believed that this was the reason why it was attacked by Communist citizens’ Militia group who were supported by the Polish Communist Security Services.
Many other villages in Poland were burnt down for their support of anti-communist partisans, but the ‘Pacification of Wąwolnica’ was the only one captured on film.
Professor Tomasz Panfil from the Institute of National Remembrance’s Education Department which is sponsoring the exhibition told Polish Radio Lublin: “Unfortunately it was not a unique case.
“We know of more such barbaric acts carried out by the Polish Secret Services (UB). In the Lublin region, more villages were burnt down, some even more drastically…later for whole decades these people suffered because there were treated like bandits. They didn’t get compensation.”
Wąwolnica mayor Marcin Łaguna said: “The 2nd of May 1946 was a very sad day for our community.
“That day a terrible murder was committed on our land, but it didn’t take place by itself.
“The most painful thing is that this was not carried out by invading Soviets or Germans, but our Communist authorities, which in a bestial and unthinkable way, carried out such a heinous crime.”