Christmas in Prisoners-of-War Camps (1939–1945). Together though apart

World War 2 separated thousands of families. Polish soldiers, who had been beaten, worn out by being defeated and captivated, felt acute loneliness and longing. Some of them found themselves confined in the Wehrmacht-run camps, others ended up in special camps run by the NKVD. Both the former and the latter tried to celebrate Christmas in accordance with Polish tradition.

In the German camps, the atmosphere of Christmas was possible to be felt by December – the huts were tidied up and decorated. At that time, the prisoners prepared and sent cards with greetings to their loved ones. There is no doubt that Christmas Eve vigil supper [Wieczerza wigilijna in Polish] was the most important moment of the festivities. It commenced in the early afternoon. The leader of the hut, acting as the head of a family, would initiate a prayer, and the prisoners broke the Christmas wafer and sat down at a very modestly set table.

In the Soviet camps, on the other hand, where religious life was forbidden mainly for ideological reasons, the prisoners-of-war celebrated Christmas in secret for fear of reprisals. For most of them, who were interned in special camps, this Christmas – as it turned out – was their last one. A few months later, most of them were shot and buried so that no trace of them would remain.

You can find out more about Christmas in captivity in our new mini-lecture, which was prepared for this upcoming special festive season by Dr. Ewelina Klimczak of the Education and Exhibitions Department (concept, script and selection of photos) and Natalia Kryjom-Barylak of the Section of Communication and Public Image (editing, narration).

You are welcome to see it!

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