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The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Warsaw’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier can be found in a remnant of the Saxon Palace that once housed the Polish Ministry of War. The monument is dedicated to all the soldiers who died anonymously in the fight for their homeland. It was founded in 1925 in honour of those who had defended Poland in World War I and in the Polish-Soviet War.

The tomb contains the remains of one unknown soldier, a boy who was probably barely 20 years old when he died defending the city of Lwów (Lemberg). Jadwiga Zarugiewiczowa, a mother who had lost her son under similar conditions, was chosen to pick which unknown soldier would become the symbol; she pointed to one of three coffins that had been dug up in Lwów especially for this occasion. Next to the tomb are urns with soil from various battlefields. An eternal flame burns and there is always a guard of honour to keep watch.

The tomb with the park in the background
The tomb with the park in the background

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A lonely gallery

The monument is located in the gallery which once connected the 2 symmetrical wings of the Saxon Palace. This used to be one of the city’s most prominent buildings, but at the end of World War II the German Wehrmacht almost completely destroyed it in a retaliatory action. While there are still plans to restore the entire palace to its former glory – just like other parts of the city that had been destroyed in the war – for now the work has been limited to the gallery that houses the tomb. The monument was reopened on 8 May 1946. At that time the urns with fresh soil from 24 recent battlefields were added.

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The monument on Pilsudski Square

View on the map

Józefa Piłsudski square

The monument by night

An initiative of the people

In 1923, a group of residents laid a stone slab outside the Saxon Palace to remember the nameless soldiers who had died in World War I and in the subsequent Polish-Soviet War (1919-1921). This was part of a 'trend': after the end of World War I in 1918, for the first time in world history, monuments began to emerge everywhere in honour of the Unknown Soldier. The initiative resonated with General Władysław Sikorski, who made sure that in the next 2 years a careful plan was devised to create a monument that would be part of the Palace. The monument was inaugurated on 2 November 1925: the coffin with the body of the chosen unknown soldier was first brought to St. John's Cathedral for a funeral mass. Then he was buried at the monument.

Guard of Honour

Photo credits

  • The monument on Pilsudski Square: Pawel Szczepanski, Shutterstock
  • Guard of Honour: Hans, Flickr