Magical Polish cemetery

Europe sidewalk

The best part about our European vacation wasn’t the playgrounds, although they were full of rad.  Or the Turkish baths in Budapest, although I’d like to move into one of the changing cabins post haste.  It wasn’t even the bubbly water, or the trains, or the month without a cell phone, even though each and every one of those things were worth the trip.

magical Polish cemetery

The best part about Europe was seeing where my husband grew up, seeing his primary school and where his family lives and where his parents lived during the war.  And part of all that was seeing the cemetery where some of Viktor’s family are buried.

polish cemetery gate

Most of Viktor’s family died in and around World War II and ended up in unmarked graves or concentration camps.  I can count on one hand the number of living relatives on both sides of Viktor’s family combined.  There isn’t  much left but memories and a few photographs, so I was really excited to visit a cemetery and a family grave site.

In Europe, at least in Poland, families take care of the graves.  There’s a chapel in the cemetery and while the priest and some nuns take care of the day-to-day affairs, the families are in charge of maintaining their own family headstones.

old headstones

I was so excited to visit the cemetery in Warsaw.  I know that sounds freaky and super Twilight Zone, but I was.  I don’t normally have a thing for visiting graves, but I want to capture every last scrap of information I can before Viktor’s parents die and everything is lost with them.  I want to share that with my children while I can.

magical Polish cemetery

First of all, the cemetery we visited was huge.  It was built in the 1700’s, and I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.

Warsaw is a huge bustling international city; it’s noisy and filled to the brim with people, but the second we stepped into the cemetery everything was entombed in silence, completely quiet and still.  All the gravestones were covered in moss and flowers, with giant trees forming a green canopy all the way around.

All I could think about was fairies.  Little tiny woodland fairies living in a green and mossy cemetery.

Polish cemetery

The headstones weren’t just headstones, they were mausoleums dedicated to and taken care of by loving relatives.  There were fresh flowers and lit candles everywhere, and the only other living soul we saw was a nun scurrying back to her responsibilities at the chapel.

Polish cemetery

I’ll pay you a thousand dollars on the spot if this is your family name.  There are only eight vowels in the entire thing.

cemetery mausoleum

The kids skipped through rows of graves, dusting leaves and dead flowers off the headstones.  They marveled at the details on the graves, and were floored by row upon row of actual family mausoleums scattered throughout the cemetery.

They wanted to stay for hours, which is the exact opposite of what I expected.  I thought they’d whine and moan about having to spend the afternoon in a cemetery and “Oh my gosh Mom and Dad you’re so boring, why did you bring us to a lame cemetery full of dead people we don’t care about?”

gravestone candles

But we were all transported by the magic of the afternoon so we stayed until the sun went down.

graveyard sunset

It was extraordinary.

Polish memorials

We passed the chapel on our way back out to the street, and I wept as I read the names of the men killed at Katyń and the crosses representing the bodies that never came home.

My children were able to see gravestones bearing their names, and connected to a part of their history they didn’t know existed;  I’ll forever be grateful for the chance we had to be encapsulated between past and present for the space of a summer afternoon.

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Allison

Hello there! I'm Allison Czarnecki, founder + editor of Petit Elefant, a blog all about style on a budget for every part of your life: style / home / travel / family. I do a lot of how-to beauty + style tutorials, travel posts, easy recipes, home remodel projects, and cool DIY crafts you totally want to try. I'm super happily married (to a hot Polish immigrant) and am the mother of two kids, a daughter and son, all of whom are featured here on the regular. We live in the country but we're a little bit rock + roll. Welcome!

9 Comments

  1. dgm :

    What lovely photos. I am captivated by cemeteries as well. How neat that your kids got to make the connection with their history.

  2. Sara :

    I’m Polish:) It’s a nice feeling when you find pictures taken in your own country on foreign blog (which you, by the way, adore!)

  3. Joanne Bamberger aka PunditMom :

    These are beautiful photos and I’m glad to hear that your children were interested, because Eastern Europe is on my wish list. One of the most interesting places we visited on out first trip to Germany MANY years ago, was the cemetery in Worms. My husband is first generation American and many of his relatives died in the concentration camps in WWII. But somehow, our trip to that cemetery where some of his older ancestors are buried was magical in its own way.

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  4. RachelSD :

    What a beautiful tribute! I think cemeteries are fascinating. My brother-in-law is headed to Croatia soon to move his mother’s body back to Bosnia, as it was never properly buried due to the war there. I hope he gets some sense of peace in doing so. And I hope my nephew and niece get to visit their relatives, past and present, there some day.

  5. the emily :

    Who will take care of the graves now that your husband doesn’t live there anymore? Will they fall into disrepair? It looks amazing there! I went to Boston last August and had some of those same feelings–though no family is buried there, seeing graves that old and beautiful was a really great experience. That is a beautiful place.

    • Michal :

      Pensioners supplement their meager income by tending to graves of those who are not around to do so or don’t have time. Your typical pension is about $200 USD per month so every little bit helps. $20 USD in the states can be half of 1% of monthly income here while over there it becomes a 10% bump. Get a couple of these gigs going and pretty soon you can afford both heat and food.

  6. Carol :

    Wow! I am awe-struck! What an amazing trip for you and your family! So important for children to visit their family history! So wonderful for your Husband as well. Wonderful pictures, I understand how you stayed so long, I can just feel the angels there! Thanks for sharing!

  7. Aga :

    Hey My last name is Łopatka :D and I love in Poland , My country is sooo amazingly beautiful and I am happy you got to see it:) My grand grand father was killed In Katyń, we have a very sad history unfortunately …