NEIGHBOURS ON THE EVE OF THE HOLOCAUST
POLISH-JEWISH RELATIONS IN SOVIET-OCCUPIED EASTERN POLAND, 1939-1941
Polish Jews Were Ecstatic When Russians Occupied Poland
The Targeting of Polish Officials and Civilians
Numerous testimonies attest to the prominent role played by Jews in the militias and "revolutionary committees" that sprung up both spontaneously and at Soviet urging. These entities often played a decisive part in getting the new regime and its machinery of repression off the ground. Their activities were buttressed by large numbers of individual collaborators acting on their own initiative in furtherance of the Soviet cause.
The Bandits Took Charge
Throughout Eastern Poland, local Jewish, Belorussian and Ukrainian communists formed militias and "revolutionary committees". With the blessing of the Soviet invaders, they apprehended, robbed, and even murdered Polish officials, policemen, teachers, politicians, community leaders, landowners, and "colonists" (i.e. interwar settlers) - the so-called enemies of the people. They also plundered and set fire to Polish property and destroyed Polish national and religious monuments. Scores of murders of individuals and groups have been recorded.
Robbery of Polish property took on massive proportions with the spoils enriching the collaborators' families and their communities.
One of the earliest and most hideous crimes was the murder of almost as many as fifty Poles in the village of Brzostowica Mala, near Grodno around September 20, before the Soviets were installed in the area.
Vicious Jews Killed A Polish Countess
A pro-communist band with red armbands and armed with blades and axes, led by a Jewish trader by the name of Ajzik, entered the village, dragged people out of their houses screaming, and cruelly massacred the entire Polish population. The victims included Count Antoni Wolkowicki and his wife Ludwika, his brother-in-law Zygmunt Woynicz-Sianozecki, the county reeve and his secretary, the accountant, the mailman, and the local teacher. The victims of this orgy of violence were tortured, tied with barbed wire, pummelled with sticks, forced to swallow quicklime, thrown into a ditch and buried alive.
The paralyzed Countess Ludwika Wolkowicka was dragged to the execution site by her hair. The murder was ordered by Zak Motyl, a Jew who headed the "revolutionary committee" - composed of Jews and Belorussians - in Brzostowica Wielka.
Typically, the culprits were never punished. On the contrary, the NKVD officers praised them for their "class-conscious" actions, and Ajzik was made the president of the local cooperative. The racist aspect of the crime, however, is undeniable - only members of the Polish minority perished at the hands of their non-Polish neighbours.
Janusz Brochowicz-Lewinski, an officer cadet who attained the rank of corporal in 1939, was captured by the Soviets near Stolpce. He was one of fifteen Poles, among them a judge, a pastor, a chaplain, a teacher, and several civil servants, taken before an NKVD tribunal in groups of five and sentenced to death. Fortunately, his group managed to escape while being transported to their unknown execution site. The other ten condemned Poles were executed by firing squad.
Judges, Policemen, Teachers Were All Killed
While Brochowicz-Lewinski was imprisoned in Stolpce, an NKVD officer made the rounds in the company of his aide, a local Jew who identified the members of the Polish educated class, now the so-called enemies of the people, among whom he had lived for years, by their occupation: judge, teacher, policeman, civil servant, forest-ranger, landowner.
Killed Catholic Priests
Equally despicable were the murders of Catholic clergymen carried out by roving gangs of Jews and Belorussians such as that of Rev. Bronislaw Fedorowicz, the pastor of Skrundzie near Slonim, and those of Rev. Antoni Twardowski, pastor of Juraciszki, near Wolozyn, and the latter's cleric, the Jesuit Stanislaw Zuziak.
A rabble of pro-Soviet Jews and Belorussians came to apprehend Rev. Jozef Bajko, the pastor of Naliboki near Stolpce, intending either to hand him over to the Soviet authorities or to possibly lynch him (as had been done in other localities). A large gathering of parishioners foiled these plans, allowing Rev. Bajko to escape before the arrival of the NKVD.
Henryk Poszwinski, the prewar mayor of Zdzieciol, a town near Nowogrodek, described the new order in his town:
... In Zdzieciol, a Jewish woman by the name of Josielewicz stood at the head of the revolutionary committee which was organized even before the arrival of the Soviet army.
Jews Executed Polish Police
The local police left town just after the Red Army had crossed the border. On the evening of September 17, I was informed that a band of criminals released from jail was getting ready to rob some stores. I called a meeting of the fire brigade and civilian guard and these two organizations began to provide security in our town. The stores were spared but the [criminal] bands attacked the defenceless civilians, who were escaping eastward from the Germans. The culprits stripped them of their clothes, shoes and anything else they had on them. Those, who resisted, were cruelly killed on the spot. Outside the town, roadside ditches were strewn with dead people.
... The revolutionary committee, which soon disarmed the fire brigade and civilian guard, stood by idly while all this was taking place.
In the morning hours of September 18, a small detachment of the Polish army still traversed Zdzieciol. It was a field hospital team transported in a dozen or so horse-drawn carriages. The convoy consisted of thirty soldiers led by a sergeant. The revolutionary committee attempted to stop and disarm them. The soldiers discharged a volley of gunfire into the air. The revolutionary committee ran out of town in a stampede and hid in the thickets of the municipal cemetery.
... In the afternoon hours of September 18, the Soviet army entered Nowogrodek. That evening the first three Soviet tanks arrived in Zdzieciol. The entire revolutionary committee, headed by Josielewicz, came out to greet the invaders shouting: 'Long live the great Stalin!' After a short stop the tanks moved toward Slonim. The revolutionary committee ordered owners to display red flags from their houses. The Poles cried like children as they tore the white portion off the [white and red] Polish flags.
... In the morning hours of September 19, a Jew from the revolutionary committee came to the town hall and advised me that I was being summoned by the committee to attend a meeting concerning an epidemic of foot-and-mouth disease which had broken out among some cattle that had been brought to Zdzieciol. Believing what I had been told to be true, I immediately got up from my desk and accompanied that man to the headquarters of the committee located at the other end of town. I had to wait about an hour before I was taken to the chairwoman's office. During that time I observed the true picture of the "revolution". Hundreds of people surrounded the committee premises; most of them were women who had broken out in tears and were wailing. 'Return our stolen property!' they cried. 'Release our husbands and fathers of our children!'
... People who had been badly beaten occupied the corners of the room; most of them were refugees fleeing the Germans. The committee members, who were dressed in civilian clothes with red armbands and had Soviet stars on their hats, carried rifles or revolvers in their hands and competed with each other in brutally mistreating these people. It was a sight that I had difficulty countenancing.
After about an hour's wait the door was thrown open and I was summoned into the chairwoman's office. When I entered I noticed three rifle barrels pointed at me. One of the bandits yelled, 'Hands up!' I raised my hands and turned to the chairwoman. 'What have I done wrong? Why are you treating me like this?' Although she knew Polish well, Josielewicz replied in Russian, 'You will find out in due course'.
After being searched [and stripped of all my personal effects] I was instructed to move toward the table occupied by Josielewicz, the chairwoman, and by a Soviet NKVD officer. The officer removed a form from his bag and started to complete it. ... The last portion of the form asked for the reason for my arrest and imprisonment. Before filling it out, the NKVD officer turned to the chairwoman and asked what to enter. The chairwoman replied, 'He's a Polish officer, a Polish patriot, the former mayor of the town. That's probably reason enough'. The NKVD officer wrote in this portion: 'Dangerous element'.
After filling out this form, three committee members escorted me to police detention. In a small detention room built to hold no more than four people for a short period, there were twenty-three people who had been arrested. Unable to sit down in that crowded place, we had to stand one next to another the whole time. People fainted from lack of air and had to relieve themselves on the spot. Among those arrested were school principals, county reeves, village administrators, officials and various other people who had escaped eastward from the Germans, as well as a priest who often repeated under his breath, 'Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do'.
We spent almost an entire day in this place of detention. Finally, on September 20, we were put in a truck and taken to the jail in Nowogrodek. During the entire journey, which lasted more than an hour, we were lying on the floor of the truck used to transport coal while four Jews from the revolutionary committee watched over us with rifles in their hands. Every now and then one of them would warn us, 'Don't lift your heads, or you'll get a bullet in your skull'.
Along the road over which the truck moved slowly we encountered in many places Soviet artillery going in the opposite direction. Soviet soldiers would approach our vehicle during the stops and ask, 'Who are you carrying and where are you going?'
'We're taking Poles to the jail', the guards would answer.
'What have they done wrong?'
'They haven't done anything. It's enough that they're Poles!'
From Clerk To Head Of The Militia
In Baranowicze, Jews filled the ranks of the "red militia" and denounced Polish officers, policemen, teachers, and government officials to the NKVD. At night black box-like carriages arrived at the homes of these people. They were loaded on, taken to the railway station, and deported to the Gulag - never to be heard from again. Among those arrested with the assistance of local Jews, was the sister of Boguslaw J. Jedrzejec and eight members of her family. Her husband and father were murdered by the NKVD in Baranowicze; the rest of the family was deported to the Soviet interior in the winter of 1939–1940.
According to Nachum Alpert, in Slonim,
... A provisional city administration was organized in Slonim, headed by Matvei Kolotov, a Jew from Minsk. ... Kolotov immediately began organizing a "Workers Guard" (a temporary militia), whose function was to maintain order in the city. Heading this Guard was Chaim Chomsky, a veteran communist.
... And no sooner did the NKVD arrive than it made itself felt everywhere. First they deported merchants, manufacturers, Polish officers and police; then Bundists, Zionists, Trotskyites and Polish "colonists" and "kulaks" from the villages. Many inncocent people were caught in this dragnet.
According to Polish sources, Chaim Chomsky (Chomski), who took charge of the "revolutionary committee", issued a direction to have the Polish mayor Bienskiewicz arrested when he reported to work on September 18; afterwards, all traces of the mayor disappeared. A Jew, soldier in the Polish army, who found himself in Slonim for a brief period in September 1939 claims that the only Jews, who collaborated with the Soviet invaders were long-time communists: ... I don't deny that there were Jews - old-time communists - who disarmed Polish detachments, but adds, quite correctly, ... but can one blame this on all the Jews?
In Dunilowicze, a small town near Postawy, a Jewish woman by the name of Chana, led Soviet soldiers to the home of her neighbour, Jozef Obuchowski, a sergeant of the Frontier Defence Corps. Pointing to his wife she said, ... This is a Polish 'Pani' ['lady' - the feminine of 'Pan'], her husband is in the military.' The soldiers tore apart the house looking in vain for her husband, the sergeant. The Polish woman was taken away instead. During her interrogation, which lasted twenty-four hours, she was forced to keep her hands raised and was drenched with water until she passed out.
Another Polish "Pani", Mrs. Kwiatkowska, was arrested by the Jewish Committee on her estate near the towns of Wolozyn and Wiszniew, soon after the Soviet army passed through. The de facto local authority rested with such groups which had sprung up like mushrooms. It was they, who led the Soviet officials to their prey. Mrs. Kwiatkowska endured Soviet prisons until the end of 1949.
Witold Rozwadowski and his father were arrested on their estate near Kucewicze. The former was held interned in Oszmiana, where he was murdered by a Jewish colleague, who had joined the Soviet militia.
In Oszmiana, They Became Kings
... The temporary authorities consisted of Jews and communists ... who proclaimed themselves the commissars of the town. Power was exercised with the help of the militia consisting for the most part of Jews and communists. The Jews and communists served the Bolsheviks through denunciations out of spite and by betraying soldiers and police out of uniform.
... The militia was the terror of the population because individual militiamen competed with each other in their servility.