Niwiska –World War II
The village of Niwiska is surrounded by the wild Sandomierz Forests and provided great strategic significance in World War II. The Nazis overtook the area and evacuated Niwiska and Blizna to test their experimental V-1 and V-2 missiles. The goal was to shift the balance of power with these new weapons. The seclusion of the forests made it a perfect location for such tests. This isolation also led refugees and partisans to the Niwiska forests for a place to hide and conduct subversive activities.
Woods near Niwiska
Many of the villagers were in church when the first Nazi bombs struck. They were listening to Father Kurek’s homily and were startled by these initial explosions. Panic broke out, and the parishioners stumbled over one another as they fled.
Shortly after that, a decree by the Nazi occupying forces called for a complete evacuation of Niwiska by May 1941. The people carried only their essential belongings to their new locations in nearby villages.
The church of St Nicholas was also to be emptied. Three stained glass windows were removed and buried for safety. Three bells were hidden from the Nazis, one of which was never discovered by the occupiers and was restored to the church after the war.
Father Kurek described the last mass service before the parishioners were forced to flee. People cried, they made their confessions expecting to be killed. Father Kurek wanted to be with his people during these times, so he moved to a school building in nearby Huciska and set up a chapel. Later, he was forced to move to Kolbuszowa. He experienced many dangers as he rode by bicycle to the remaining faithful. He was allowed to celebrate Midnight Mass during Christmas of 1942 for the Poles who were forced to work in the forests and those assigned to build bunkers for the Nazis.
In 1942, the first V-1 and V-2 rockets were tested, making holes in the soil 36 feet across and 18 feet deep. At first, the Nazis reported the explosions to be an accidental bomb drop from planes headed for the eastern front. It was not long before the admitted to their real purpose of testing the missiles. They threatened to kill anyone who divulged their activities or send them to concentration camps.
V-2 rocket that crashed after take-off near the firing ground in the woods of Blizna
The residents of Niwiska witnessed the weaponry that was used for the bombing of London a full year before their ultimate use. Remarkably, no fatalities were caused by the frequent explosions. One area resident from Poreby was caught taking a fragment of metal from the explosion site and was killed for his act of espionage after a week or interrogation and torture.
V-2 Rocket on Launch Pad in Blizna during WWII
Father Jan Kurek, the priest from St Nicholas in Niwiska was a committed and exemplary priest and patriot. He was a chaplain for the local Home Army and together with Henryk Augustynowicz, played an instrumental role in the decoding of information found on bits of shrapnel and rockets. This activity helped the Allies to know how to dismantle unexploded Nazi shells.
Father Kurek learned that the entire Augustynowicz family was arrested and hid from the SS in a chamber above the sacristy in the church, not realizing he would have to remain there for six months. Jadwiga Bryk (my great grandmother), a widow who worked as Father Kurek’s housekeeper and cook brought food to him on a regular basis on a covert path through the forests. The photo below was taken in 2016 and shows the door to the roof where Father Kurek hid.
The savagery against the villagers by the Nazis was profound. Sometimes, dozens of innocent people were killed for every one Nazi murdered by the partisans. One such victim was the promising student Henryk Pietrzk. He died in prison in Rzeszow. A young mother and her three-month-old child who were caught with him were shot. Two young men from Huciska were shot for illegally slaughtering a calf.
The worse it went for the Nazis at the front, the more they repressed the defenseless populations in the occupied territories. The son of Niwiska forester Jan Bajor tells of the bestial behavior of Captain Albreht of the Nazis, who often shot into innocent crowds of people for unknown reasons. He also enjoyed shooting at the figure of Jesus on the cross in nearby Trzesn. He would curse God for sending a destructive hail on one July 9th. He claimed to be greater than any God who would send calamity.
Albreht spoke of himself as being good for the welfare of the local people. He took down many religious shrines and sacred objects throughout the countryside.
As the war was turning against Germany, the Nazis turned from anger to survival. Many stacked away treasures taken from the locals and prepared to return to their homeland.
On August 3, 1944, an artillery battle lasting several hours took place in Niwiska. The Red Army soundly defeated the Panzer division. As they retreated, the Nazis left a tank in a ravine and burned down two farmhouses.
The appearance of the Soviets was not a cause for celebration in Niwiska as the village suffered under this brutal regime. They set up a military hospital and airstrip whose remnants can still be seen all over Niwiska. A bonfire was kept lit all night so that the airstrip could be used around the clock. Soviet soldiers were quartered in nearly every house in Niwiska for many years.
All the photos were taken by Donna Gawell at the Blizna Historical Park near Niwiska and in the church of St. Nicholas in Niwiska.