Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Meaningful Destruction

My great-aunt and great-uncle lived in Warsaw in a tiny flat on the fourth floor of a concrete slab. They had one bedroom, but only because they had told the local authority that my mother, their niece, lived with them. This flat is where I stayed whenever I went to visit.

I could never quite understand why much of the neighbourhood of Wola ("will" in English, as in determination) is composed of Soviet blocks. My great-aunt would mention that the Warsaw Ghetto used to be just across the street, but the houses - anonymous rectangles - didn't evoke anything.

Yesterday I came across this photo.

In the summer of 1944 a whole city rose up to its German occupants, and my grandfather carried coded messages across canalisations. The Nazis retaliated by accelarating their planned destruction of Warsaw, killing one hundred and fifty-thousand civilians while razing most of the city, including ancient palaces, libraries and galleries, to the ground.

It is unclear why this church, Saint Augustin in Wola, was not destroyed. Today my aunt's block stands two centimetres to the left of the church on the photo above. Now I remember her taking me there for Sunday mass. And suddenly "Wola" has taken on a whole new meaning.

Church of Saint Augustin, Warsaw, by Robert Capa


  1. Most of my family died in or near their home on Leszno Street, just about in the foreground of the second photo. Can you please tell me the source of these photos?
    Thank you.
    R Baran

  2. Hello R,
    Apologies for my late reply. I found both images by searching "Kosciol Augustyna Warszawa" on Google Images. They were contained on websites such as this http://okonabalkany.blox.pl/2010/08/Powstanie-Warszawskie-1944-fotografia-na-66.html. I don't know who took the first one, but the second one has been taken by Robert Capa.
    I hope that helps. Please let me know if you have any other questions.