Friday, January 30, 2015

Grand Duke Commemorates Massacre of Sonnenburg

Photo: Charles Caratini / SIP
Today is January 30, 2015. Exactly 70 years ago today was the day of what became known as the Massacre of Sonnenburg during which 91 Luxembourgers lost their lives. Grand Duke Henri, accompanied by Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, travelled to present-day Słońsk in Western Poland to pay his respects to the the 819 political prisoners killed until the morning hours of January 31, 1945, by an SS execution committee.

Since the beginning of World War II in 1939, the Sonnenburg concentration camp was used as a prison for alleged anti-German people from the occupied territories. Among the prisoners were several well-known resistance fighters as well as more than 90 Luxembourgish citizens who had been sentenced to prison for refusing to join the German armed forces.

From August 1942 on, all male Luxembourgers of draft age were conscripted into the German armed forces. The decision by the Nazis affected about 12,000 men and was met with mass resistance and a general strike. Over 3,500 Luxembourgers refused to become forced recruits. As many as 2,500 of them managed to hide in the country, with others escaping to Belgium and France. Others were imprisoned in several concentration camps and prisons after deserting from the Wehrmacht.

In early 1945, as Allied Forces were approaching Germany, a 20 men SS execution committee was called to Sonnenburg. Within four hours of the late evening of January 30 until around 2am on January 31, they killed 819 of the political prisoners by shots in the neck, among them 91 Luxembourgers. Two days later, the Soviet Red Army liberated Sonnenburg, now Słońsk in Poland, finding only four survivors of the brutal mass murder. The Massacre of Sonnenburg, next to the fate of the Jewish population of the country, is considered one of the biggest war crimes committed against Luxembourg and its citizens during the Second World War.

To commemorate the day, Grand Duke Henri and Prime Minister Bettel travelled to Słońsk where they attended a mass for the the victims at the Our Lady of Częstochowa church, the Grand Duke gave a speech in which he called the Massacre of Sonnenburg "one of the darkest days in Luxembourgish history", and a memorial ceremony at the cemetery of honour. They also witnessed the opening of the Museum of Martyr, laid wreaths of flowers at the memorial for the Luxembourgish victims of the 1945 massacre as well as one dedicated to all victims of political persecution since the opening of the Sonnenburg prison in 1832, and met with locals and dignitaries at a reception offered by the local authorities.

A number of pictures is available on the website of the cour.

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