A picturesque target

Hitler's bombers find their mark

Sulejów, situated amidst expansive forest complexes along the Pilica River, served as an appealing holiday destination during the interwar period.

It is a town with a rich historical tapestry, boasting a past that stretches back centuries. Its origins are intertwined with the establishment of a Cistercian abbey, founded in the early 13th century by Duke Konrad Mazowiecki.

The medieval Cistercian abbey, situated in the Podklasztorze district, remains a prominent architectural symbol to this day, adorned with defensive walls and towers.

The Romanesque church within its confines, built in the first half of the 13th century, stands as a testament to the town's enduring heritage.

Throughout the centuries, Sulejów served as a vital center for trade and commerce. Its strategic location along the Pilica River facilitated transportation and trade routes, contributing to the town's economic prosperity. The interwar period witnessed Sulejów transforming into a sought-after holiday resort, surrounded by vast forest complexes that added to its allure.

By the late 1930s, Sulejów had become a thriving community with a population of around 7500 inhabitants. Notably, almost a third of the residents were of Jewish descent, highlighting the town's cultural diversity. However, the impending storm of World War II cast its shadow, altering the course of Sulejów's history.

As tensions escalated in Europe, the town found itself in the crosshairs of the German aggression against Poland.


Prior to the outbreak of the war, the town boasted a population of around 7500 residents, with nearly a third of them being of Jewish descent.

In early September, the city's population swelled as large groups of refugees, including those from Wieluń, arrived, bringing with them accounts of the German army's atrocities and the aftermath of the 1st September bombings as Hitler’s fearsome military machine was unleashed against the Polish nation.

Panic and fear-induced psychosis gripped the local populace, prompting many to seek refuge in nearby forests and villages. Subsequently, some returned, unable to foresee the impending catastrophe.

The attack

The bombing commenced abruptly on the evening of Monday, 4th September after 5 p.m., persisting intermittently for nearly an hour.

During this period, the city faced three successive air raids executed by Ju-87 B dive bomber, commonly known as "Stukas," originating from airfields in Ligota Dolna, Ottmuth, and Neudorf in Silesia.

Throughout these raids, dive bombers released a total of 249 bombs, amounting to 83 tons, upon Sulejów. Additionally, the population endured shelling from on-board weapons.

Amidst the harrowing moments, there emerged individuals who rushed to aid those physically and psychologically affected.

Following the initial air raid, local priests, namely the parish priest Fr. Borowski and the vicar Fr. Gburczyk, ventured into the city streets to rescue the wounded and administer last rites to the dying.

Fr. Borowski even went to the extent of undressing Jews clad in ritual robes during prayers, saving many lives in the process, albeit sustaining severe burns to his hands.

Władysław Gajda, a medical professional, also joined the efforts, collapsing from exhaustion while tending to the wounded. The following two days witnessed less intense air strikes and artillery shelling.


Determining the precise number of casualties from the bombings proves challenging. Estimates range between 700 and 1200 fatalities.

The process of burying the deceased, along with human remains, spanned several weeks and occurred without formal registration. Most were interred in mass graves, totaling around 700 individuals.

Catholics found their final resting place in the square adjacent to the Catholic cemetery, often outside its bounds.

However, numerous victims of the raid were also laid to rest within the cemetery's enclosure.

The Jewish community was buried in the square neighboring the Jewish cemetery. Witnesses suggest approximately 200 of the victims were refugees. Subsequent investigations revealed that 70-80% of the city had suffered destruction.

By December 1939, German attempts to downplay the severity of their actions during the Polish campaign were evident. A book titled "Unsere Flieger über Polen" was published in Berlin, edited by Air Force General Alfred Kesselring, the commander of the Luftwaffe's First Air Fleet. The book contained recollections of German airmen involved in the battles over Poland.

Major Oskar Dinort, a participant in the raids, sought to justify them by citing the necessities of war:

However, Contrary to this assertion, Sulejów was not situated in the path of the German army's offensive. Additionally, there were no substantial contingents of Polish troops present in the city. It was only on September 3 that the Vilnius Cavalry Brigade traversed the bridge over the Pilica River in Sulejów, en route to the Lubień forests.

In defiance of the guidelines set by the Hague Convention, the Luftwaffe continued to engage in ruthless military operations right from the initial stages of German aggression against Poland.

They subjected defenceless cities, villages, settlements, hospitals, and public buildings to barbaric bombings, showing no mercy to the civilian population. The town on the Pilica River, too, suffered a tragic fate.


Every year on the 4th September, commemorative events take place in Sulejów, where the residents honor the memory of their lost relatives. The recollection of the "fateful day in Sulejów's history" remains vivid and poignant.

Further reading