Edward Reid 0

Eastern Poland – Jewish collaboration in the Borderlands

Almost everyone knows about the so-called pogroms of Jews in Poland; although they are only so-called, practically no one knows of the pogroms committed against the Poles by Jews.  These horrific crimes began the moment the Soviets entered Poland.  Why don’t we know? Because the Polish were unable to write their own history.  They were behind the Iron Curtain, and others were writing their story.  


Almost everyone knows about the so-called pogroms of Jews in Poland; although they are only so-called, practically no one knows of the pogroms committed against the Poles by Jews.  These horrific crimes began the moment the Soviets entered Poland.  Why don’t we know? Because the Polish were unable to write their own history.  They were behind the Iron Curtain, and others were writing their story.  

What was it really like during the Soviet invasion? Only recently, on the pages of Rzeczpospolita, was a lengthy article by Professor Tomasz Strzembosz, a distinguished researcher of recent Polish history, especially the period 1939-54. Strzembosz’s article demonstrates the Jewish population's actual role in eastern Poland during the first Soviet occupation. 

The discussion to date, declares Strzembosz, “overlooks the most important fact: what happened in Jedwabne after the German army entered the area, i.e. who, when, and in what circumstances carried out the mass murder of the Jewish population of Jedwabne.” Strzembosz analyzes in-depth the behavior of the Polish and Jewish populations in the years 1939-41, especially the initial and final periods of the first Soviet occupation. 

Jews Joined the NKVD “The Jewish population,” writes Strzembosz, “especially the young and the urban poor, participated en masse in greeting the entering [Soviet] army and in introducing the new order, even with guns in their hands. There are also thousands of testimonies to this: Polish, Jewish and Soviet; there are the reports of the Armed Combat Union commander-in-chief, Gen. Stefan Grot-Rowiecki, and there is the report of courier Jan Karski; there are accounts recorded during the war and in the postwar years. Jews Executing Poles, What is more, the “guards” and “militias” springing up like mushrooms right after the Soviet attack were primarily made up of Jews. 

Nor is this all. Jews committed acts of revolt against the Polish state, taking over towns and setting up revolutionary committees there, arresting and shooting representatives of the Polish state authorities, and attacking smaller or even reasonably large units of the Polish Army (as in Grodno). It was armed collaboration, the side of the enemy, betrayal in the days of defeat.” 

Organizers of the red terror 

The Fifth Column 

So it was in the first period when the Polish state was still defending itself when our army units were fighting, and it seemed that not all was lost. The Jews then played the role of a “fifth column.” Later, things became much worse. Strzembosz cites the conclusions of Dr. Marek Wierzbicki as to who implemented the Bolshevik terror – of course, the NKVD and, before that, the Red Army. Still, the miscellaneous guard formations and militias played a decisive role every day. And their ranks were primarily filled with Jews. “Polish Jews in civilian clothes, with red bands on their arms and armed with guns also play a large part in arrests and deportations. 

That was the most drastic thing, but for the Polish community, another glaring fact was the large number of Jews in all the Soviet agencies and institutions. In September-December 1939, numerous arrests took place of those representatives of the Polish population who, before the war, filled high functions in the administrative and political structures of the Polish state or were very involved in community work. The local Jews, members of the temporary administration or militia, provided extensive assistance to the Soviet authorities in tracking down and arresting them.” 

Jews Picked Out Poles For Execution 

Why did this happen? What were the roots of this terrible hatred toward Poland and the cruel revenge on Poles? “It is true,” writes Strzembosz, “things were not going very well for the Jews in Poland. But still, Jews were not being deported to Siberia, shot, sent to concentration camps, or killed by hunger and slave labor. If they did not consider Poland their homeland, they still did not have to treat it as an invader and join its mortal enemy in killing Polish soldiers and murdering Polish civilians fleeing to the east. Nor did they have to take part in designating their neighbors for deportation.” 

Torture in Jedwabne Strzembosz proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that events took precisely the same course in Jedwabne itself. Here is one account from a resident of Jedwabne, Józef Rybicki, summing up what happened in the town after it fell to the Soviets: 

Revenge On Their Polish Neighbors 

“Jews who had put up an archway greeted the Red Army. They changed the old town government and proposed a new one drawn from the local population (Jews and communists). They arrested the police, the teachers . . . They led the NKVD to apartments and houses and denounced Polish patriots.” The description of the tortures inflicted upon Polish conspirators by the NKVD in Jedwabne is shocking. The following is an account by Corporal Antoni B., a member of the anti-Soviet underground who was turned in to the NKVD by Jews: “they took me for interrogation, the investigating judge and the NKVD commander and one torturer came, and they sat me on a stool next to a brick wall, then I look over, and one in civilian clothes took a stick from behind the stove like the kind in the walls of our tents, that long and thick, and suddenly they threw me on the floor and stuffed my cap in my mouth and started to beat me, I couldn’t cry out because the judge sat on my legs and the second one held me by the head and held the cap in my mouth, and I fought back until I tore the cap to bits, and the third torturer beat me the whole time, I got that stick more or less 30 times, and they stopped beating me and sat me on the stool by the wall. I had long hair, and the senior lieutenant grabbed me by the hair and started to beat my head against the wall, I thought that nothing would be left of my head. He tore the whole clump of hair from my head. They threw me on the ground and started to beat me with a hazel stick, they turned me from side to side and beat me, and in addition, two of them were still sitting on me and suffocating me and said that they would finish me off. They kept beating me until they probably knew that I couldn’t take anymore, so they finally let me go. They beat me like a cat in a sack, and at the end, they sat me on the stool and beat me with the stick on the arms.” (from W czterdziestym nas matko na Sybir zesłali [In 1940, Mother, They Sent Us to Siberia], published by the Solidarity Interfactory Structure, p. 82). I took this text from a collection of accounts prepared years ago for print by Professor Jan T. Gross. When writing his book about Jedwabne, Gross skips over the description of Antoni B.’s arrest and torture, although he quotes other fragments of this account. Why? The facts leave no room for doubt: the 

NKVD Ship Poles To Siberia 

Jedwabne Jews, as in the entire territory occupied by the Soviets, constituted the nuts and bolts of the machinery of repression. Up to the last moment, they were delivering Polish patriots into the hands of the NKVD and preparing the next deportation transports to Siberia. 

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 to further 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, 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 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. Zak Motyl ordered the murder 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 neighbors. 

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, 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 escaped 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 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 named 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 fire brigade and civilian guard meeting, and these two organizations began to provide security in our town. The stores were spared, but the [criminal] bands attacked the defenseless civilians 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 took place. In the morning hours of September 18, a small detachment of the Polish army still traversed Zdzieciol. A field hospital team was transported in a dozen 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 in their houses. The Poles cried like children, tearing the white portion off the [white and red] Polish flags.  

On the morning of September 19, a Jew from the revolutionary committee came to the town hall and advised me that the committee was summoning me 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 accurate, 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 accurate 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 town's former mayor. 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. Twenty-three people had been arrested in a small detention room built to hold no more than four people for a short period. Unable to sit in that crowded place, we had to stand next to one 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 others 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 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 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 Soviet artillery going in the opposite direction in many places. 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 “red militia” ranks 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. The NKVD murdered her husband and father 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 innocent 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; afterward, 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 named Chana led Soviet soldiers to the home of her neighbor, 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 most 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 population's terror because individual militiamen competed with each other in their servility. 

In Nowa Wilejka, 

The positions of authority were filled solely by Jews and Soviet citizens, who were very well provided for in every respect by the Soviet authorities. The latter also oversaw the agitators, who had at their disposal Jews and local riff-raff. The Soviet authorities issued the following directives: agitation centres were established, the so-called agitpunkts, and a large number of agitators, mostly Jews, were brought in from Soviet Russia. They were ordered to hold meetings of the local riff-raff with communist leanings, former prisoners and Jews in order to prepare them to help out. They were ordered to hold meetings at which all things Polish, the Polish system, and the Polish government were criticized and condemned and Polish patriots were mocked. The public was called on to denounce such people because they were dangerous for the Soviets, to arrest them, and to deport them. The [Polish] public was not receptive and even replied with a furor: ‘what for?’ All of these insults and demands came from the mouths of Soviet agitators and Jews. These meetings were generally compulsory and those who did not attend faced repercussions. Mass searches were carried out at the homes of former military men, policemen and civil servants, and those people who were thought to be harmful to the Soviet Union were arrested. The searches and arrests all took place only at night; they were carried out by the police which was always overseen by the NKVD. Hardly anyone came out of such a search whole; someone from the entire family inevitably fell victim to it. Very often during the searches they seized documents, money, valuables, photographs of former military men and policemen, and important papers, all of which simply disappeared. The searches were entirely pro forma because these people were already judged (found guilty) in advance, for the most part by the Jewish communists. After these people were arrested examinations and investigations followed, and the most incredible confessions were extracted from them as a result of all sorts of repressions and torture. That was their sole and favourite goal – the destruction and wreaking rage upon the Poles. In order to extract additional information about those Poles who still enjoyed their freedom, apart from formal investigations, Jewish communists were planted in prison cells to investigate and to extract such information from their victims. For example, one night a group of Poles was arrested by local Jews overseen by the NKVD. The victims were then examined and investigated using “light torture” methods such as hitting on the head, while it was covered with cardboard, with the spine of a book or a heavy book or a rubber club. After such investigations people walked around half-dazed, lost consciousness briefly, or even lost their minds. Many of my friends fell into this category, for example, Krawczyk, the headman of the Polish state in Nowa Wilejka, Second Lieutenant Zygmunt Pioko, in the active service of the Third Combat Battalion Wilno, also from Nowa Wilejka, and many others. The former could not endure it and died; Piorko latter suffered a nervous disorder of the brain and went insane. … At this time they ordered the compulsory registration of the population and the issuance of temporary identity documents or attestations for which the population was afraid to go and show themselves to the Soviet authorities, at whose side local Jews sat as clerks and provided an opinion about every Pole, who came to register. Many Poles resided there or hid without registering, which also increased the number of those arrested and the new victims of torture. 

Vicious Little Demigods After fulfilling the orders of the Soviet authorities and packing part of the Polish population into jail as a hostile element for the Soviets, they quickly embarked on their next task, pre-election agitation, which took place on a wide scale. A large number of agitators were sent from Soviet Russia, and these gathered the local riff-raff to help out, such as Jews and former prisoners, not only political ones but also others. They started to convoke all sorts of meetings, which were compulsory under threat. 

On the scheduled meeting days, agitators were dispatched to workplaces. They called a break in the work or an earlier quitting time and led everyone to where the meeting was to take place, advising them in advance that no one was to be missing. … Meetings held on days off work … or those announced by written notices were doomed. … only Jews and some poorly educated children came. 

From Store Clerk To Local Commissar

Every meeting was graced by a large cordon of uniformed and undercover police and the local Jewish population. … the agitators kept repeating that they would take care of the resisters. … The agitators and Jews frequently raised all sorts of nonsense about General Sikorski [the leader of Poland’s government-in-exile] and the former Polish government. They said that one should get out of one’s head the notion that liberation would come from General Sikorski or from England or from anyone else. At this the Jews, agitators and militia replied with applause. The [Polish] population sat there silently without giving any signs of life. A committee was set up to draw up electoral lists. For the most part Jews were assigned to the committee; they went from house to house and registered everyone eighteen and over. For example, to my wife’s parents came two Jewish women, accompanied by an agitator, a young Jew from Wilno, to register them. 

Jews Killed And Then took Estates 


In order to win more people over to their side, they ordered the redistribution of land seized from [Polish] settlers and wealthy landholders to laborers, poor farmers, and Jews … Only the Jews willingly took the land given to them … 

Premises were designated, the city was divided up into regions, and an electoral committee was struck. The electoral committee consisted mainly of Jews, some members of the local riff-raff, and Soviet agitators, many of whom were Jews too. 

From Students To Election Supervisors

The polling stations were manned by Jews, the families of Soviet agitators, and others. The elections got underway. The mood of the [Polish] population was gloomy. The polling stations were full of Soviet agitators, politruks [political commissars], uniformed and undercover police, Jews, and NKVD. A large number of Soviet soldiers and automobiles were assigned to help out. [Because many Poles were evading] … late in the evening, the agitators, Soviet soldiers, NKVD, and Jews set out in automobiles to collect eligible voters from their homes and drive them to cast their votes. 

Up until the last moment, they did not inform us officially of the fact that there was a plebiscite and the actual purpose of the voting [namely, to sanction the incorporation of seized Polish territory into the Soviet Union – M.P.], thus everyone [i.e. the Poles] considered this to be a big joke, because voting for unknown people and unknown purposes was absurd. Even though it was forbidden to cross things off or to make changes on the ballots, there was a lot of crossing out. Any voter who made some inappropriate gesture with his ballot was observed and noted by the agitators. … A few weeks after the elections, searches, arrests, repressions, and torture were recommenced again on a large scale, as well as the deportation of the Polish population to the so-called polar bear country. 

A Polish woman recalls how the shopkeeper Rumkowa’s son, her Jewish neighbors who knew the townspeople well, helped the Soviets round up and arrest targeted Poles in Nowa Wilejka. When the Germans arrived in 1941, and the Lithuanian police started to harass the Jews, this same Jewish shopkeeper bemoaned what was happening to the Jews. The Polish woman then reminded the shopkeeper of how her own son had behaved when the Bolsheviks arrived. Embarrassed, the Jewish woman hung her head in silence. 

In Bialystok, the NKVD utilized the members of the largely Jewish “citizens’ committee,” which was formed before the entry of the Red Army, to create a “workers’ militia” armed with weapons confiscated from Polish soldiers. The militia carried out huge numbers of searches in Polish homes. As one witness reports: … They looked for weapons in every nook and cranny. If they found anything made of gold, such as rings and bracelets, they took it for their own use, and if one offered resistance, they were threatened with death. 

A pro-communist committee made of Jews, which Awraam Laznik led, seized control of the town of Sokolka, north of Bialystok. The “red militia,” composed of local Jews (many of them Bund members and an aggressive cobbler by the name of Goldacki) and headed by Szymon Aszkiewicz, a reserve officer of the Polish army, arrested many Polish officials and prominent local Poles and executed three Polish policemen. They conducted numerous raids, looking for arms and seizing radio receivers and photo cameras. A Jewish blacksmith named Abel Labedych shot a Polish policeman in the nearby village of Bogusze, on September 24. 

A head forester named Labecki was summoned to a Soviet post established in the town of Sokolka. He was kicked and beaten by armed Jews wearing red armbands. Devastated by this brutal treatment, he took his life by throwing himself under a train. His wife and six-year-old son were deported to Irkutsk in the winter of 1940. 

Stefan Kurowski had better luck when he was stopped on his bicycle on a highway on the outskirts of Lapy, west of Bialystok, by a Jewish militiaman. Fanatically consumed by his new role, this young Jew burst into a long tirade against the “Pan’s” Poland, whose “oppression” of the Jews he was now avenging as an enforcer of Soviet authority. Having nearly fallen into a trance as a result of his political agitation, this militiaman, less aggressive and brutal than most, seemed to have forgotten why he had stopped Kurowski in the first place and allowed him to continue on his way. 

Yesterday He Worked As A Clerk At A Butcher Shop today; he is a party official filling out deportation orders on his Polish neighbors. While others also commented on their military incompetence, the local Jewish militia later proved to be an extremely useful tool for the Soviet occupiers in carrying out tasks such as stealing the church bell and preparing lists of Poles for deportation. 

Aleksander Gawrychowski, the former township administrator (wojt), was seized from his home in the small town of Wizna, near Lomza, by Jewish militiamen at the beginning of October 1939 on charges of being an armed supporter of the Polish authorities. More arrests and interrogations of alleged Polish conspirators took place the next day: Jerzy Blum, Stanislaw Drozdowski, Jan Kadlubowski, Piotr Nitkiewicz and Stanislaw Gawrychowski. Among the interrogators were the brothers Chaim and Avigdor Czapnicki, prewar Zionists. Other Jewish militiamen from this small locality included: Abraham Birger, Lejzor Kiwajko, Kalmaniewicz, and Chaim Wegierko. 

In Suprasl, according to a Jewish source, 

Some of the Jews, including Toleh Kagan, Baruch Gamzu, and even Arke Rabinowitz, the Rabbi’s son, received permission to carry arms. … One day, Issar, the decorator’s son Itzik, burst into the priest’s house with a gun and stole a radio. 

In Polesia, Count Henryk Skirmunt and his sister left their manor house in Molodow near Drohiczyn Poleski on September 17, hoping to escape the Soviets. When passing through the nearby Jewish hamlet of Motol, their automobile was stopped, and a group of Jewish communist sympathizers detained them. Not only did their Jewish neighbors fail to come to their assistance, but they prevented their escape. Shortly thereafter, both of them were executed. 

A Polish high school student from Brzesc nad Bugiem (Brest Litovsk) recalled: 

Jews Formed Militias The Germans first occupied Brzesc on September 15, 1939, but already by the end of the month, the Red Army had entered, greeted enthusiastically by the Jewish community with bread and salt and flowers … From that time we Poles often heard slurs and threats directed against us … I will never forget the sight of a Polish policeman, led in handcuffs by policemen along Jagiellonska Street, who was surrounded by Jews howling and spitting at him, throwing rubbish and stones at him, and disparaging him cruelly. 

The Jewish militia seized the brother of Feliks Starosielec from his high school in Brzesc. He was arrested, charged, and promptly executed. A Polish woman and her young daughter were shot and robbed by a mixed Jewish-Ukrainian patrol in the village of Wolynka, near the railway line to Wlodawa. In Janow Poleski, Stanislaw Doliwa-Falkowski, a landowner, was sheltered by friendly Jews only to be apprehended and executed by the local “red militia,” mainly composed of Jews. 

According to a Jewish source, in Pinsk, Basey Giler, a Jewish member of the Communist Party, recognized the Polish Minister of Justice, Czeslaw Michalowski, and pointed him out to the “workers’ guard,” who promptly arrested him. 

Julius Margolin describes the reaction of the Jewish population to the fate of Polish officials: 

First, the officials of the original Polish government disappeared before our eyes. Nobody was concerned, however, and I doubt if a second thought was given to their fate. Yet the method at work, typically Bolshevik, required not merely their dismissal but their liquidation in toto. Thus they disappeared without leaving a trace. 

Jews Killed Town Officials In Sarny (Volhynia), local Jews armed with handguns and a few Soviet soldiers marched Polish town officials in groups of five to their place of execution in a nearby forest. The Jews spat at the policemen during the ordeal and called them derogatory names. 


A Jew by the name of Herszko from Jagodzin, near Luboml, warned a Pole he knew: ‘You, Poles, are already all in a sack; all that remains to be done is to tie it up’. At the beginning of October 1939, a telegram was dispatched to Stalin, signed by 70 Jews from Luboml, thanking the Soviet dictator for “liberating” Volhynia and beseeching him to hold them close to his heart. 

In Jaroslawicze near Luck, 

It started with individual cases — arrests and disappearances, especially of Poles. Great help and great zeal in making all sorts of denunciations of the NKVD were shown by the Jews. 

The predominantly Jewish communist militia seized control of the town of Luck on September 18th and killed a Polish policeman. A Polish officer who had taken refuge in that city was fortunate enough to escape from the clutches of the Jewish militiaman who had attempted to arrest him on the street. 

Other Polish soldiers were not so lucky. As Herman Kruk recalls: 

The day after the entry of the Bolsheviks, groups of the new militia disarmed Polish soldiers. A Jewish fellow stopped a high-profile Polish officer and challenged him to give him his weapon. The officer gave his revolver, which he carried on his belt. Finally, the young militiaman began removing the medals from the officer. The officer complained that he couldn’t take them from him. The fellow threatened him with the rifle. The officer then took another revolver out of a holster and shot the militiaman on the spot. The officer was arrested. 


The officer in question was doubtless executed summarily by the Soviets, as was their practice. There is no question, however, except perhaps for a die-hard communist or an ardent Jewish nationalist, who was the hero and the traitor in this black-and-white scenario. Once the Soviets were installed, Polish officials were brought before a field court-martial at which a 

College Students Become Judge And Jury Jewish law student by the name of Ettinger, the commander of the Workers’ Guard, acted as the local adviser. Proffering opinions about those marked for execution, Ettinger, in effect, sealed their fate 

In Berezno: 

The many Ukrainians and members of the Jewish poorer classes who spontaneously greeted the Red Army soldiers started to show their enmity toward the Poles, who were in the minority. They searched for Polish officials, civil servants, and escapees from the western and central regions who had sought refuge from the Germans and pointed them out to the NKVD. Massive arrests of those fingered and deportations followed. 

In Dubno, on September 17, local Jews spontaneously formed a militia that apprehended the reeve, Bartlomiej Poliszczuk, a Ukrainian who loyally fulfilled his duties to the Polish State. He was eventually handed over to the Soviets – never to be heard from again (his name has appeared on a list of executed Polish officials released by the Russian authorities). 


The Hidden Fifth Column Not realizing how efficient their Jewish fifth column was, a few days later, the NKVD came looking for Poliszczuk at his home; his name had been put on a list, prepared by local communists, of Polish officials earmarked for arrest. 

In Krzemieniec, a self-styled Jewish militia disarmed the citizens’ guard formed by students from the lyceum. A Pole from Krzemieniec recalled: 

When I went out on the streets that day, numerous patrol units, militiamen composed of Jews, were circling the streets. They walked about with red armbands and guns, searching whoever they encountered. There were few Soviet troops. Only in the days that followed did the Soviet divisions march through the city. 

The events and mood in Krzemieniec were vividly captured in the memoirs of Janina Sulkowska, the daughter of the county secretary, Jan Sulkowski, whose ultimate fate is described later on. 

Militias Use Students - The Poles watched the Soviet invaders with a mixture of revulsion and fear. Not a few of us cried. But as disconcerting was the emergence of a local Jewish militia which was friendly to the Red Army and had made its appearance even before the enemy had marched in. Armed and organized its first task was to arrest the students and Boy Scouts who had been posted as guards and who carried old carbines in some cases taller than them. The Jews roughed up the shocked youngsters who had considered their captors as friends and classmates before turning them over to the Soviets from whom they had prior directions. What was the fate of those young Poles? In many cases torture and death. This Jewish militia would help carry out the Soviet’s dirty work during their occupation. My family would fall victim to them. 


Children Turned In Their Teachers In town, Jews and Ukrainians were cheering and ingratiating themselves with the Soviets. I recognized many neighbors and acquaintances among those who were now jostling Poles and eyeing their property for future theft. Jewish men offered gifts to the Russians while their wives and daughters kissed their tanks. 

Among this rabble were criminals released from jail by the Soviets to create mayhem. They were all emboldened by posters that had suddenly appeared urging various groups to attack Poles with axes and scythes. And the Soviet officers indicated they would not stand in the way of slaughter which was already turning the countryside red with the blood of the Polish minority outnumbered by Ukrainians and Jews. On that day I had my first encounter with a swaggering group of traitors attired in leather jackets, red armbands or sashes, stolen pistols, and hatred in their eyes. I beheld a number of classmates among them, including girlfriends. These primarily young Jews, often well-educated and from rich or religious families, now addressed everyone as “comrade.” One of them gestured a slash across the throat at me. Their love for communism and Joseph Stalin would know no bounds—especially human sacrifice. ‘ They were much worse than the blackmailers and denouncers, who emerged in great numbers among the Jews and who were interested in the goods and jobs of their Polish victims. 

From Jews To Kings


 Starting as communist sympathizers who flocked to the militia or acted as informers, these political types would soon graduate into “agitators”, administrators, and even sadistic interrogators for the Soviets as they filled positions in the new order. Knowledge of the language and the local scene, combined with their fanaticism, would be essential to the NKVD’s reign of terror; they eagerly compiled lists and arrested Poles—and Jews, whom they considered to be enemies of the state. On horseback, they would chase my father down the main street like an animal to act as interpreters for their torture victims. 

A sizable minority of Polish Jews from all levels collaborated, usually passively but often actively, with the Soviet occupiers in their liquidation of Poles in eastern Poland from 1939–1941. For many, including my kin, the last sight they had of Poland or their loved ones was a cattle train bound for Siberia – and a Jew or a Ukrainian, or both, with a rifle on every wagon. 

The Jewish militia from the Jewish village of Osowa and the Ukrainian militia from Mydzk, the harbingers of the new Soviet order, wasted no time descending on the Polish settlement of Ozgowo and others near Huta Stepanska to carry out arrests of targeted Poles. The attitude of the Jewish population changed overnight in Katy near Krzemieniec. The better goods were hidden away in their shops, and they became “vulgar and insulting” toward Poles. They openly ridiculed the Polish government and social institutions and made life difficult for the Poles. 

Young Jews entered the militia and, in that capacity, came to our village and beat up some officer trainees (Romek Kucharski and others) for their alleged crimes (as former members of the Officers’ Training Corps “Strzelec”). 


In Rowne: 

In the newly formed militia, which engaged members of the local population, there were very many Jews. Undoubtedly the auxiliary apparatus of the NKVD, and thus agents of all kinds also took in many of them. The local population – Jews and Ukrainians – helped the Soviets a great deal … They chased down Polish patriots and handed them over to the NKVD. 

According to a Jewish witness, 

The day after the entry of the Soviet army into Rowne, enraged mobs recruited from those elements, who were always ready to loot, began to demand that the “exploiters”, bourgeoisie and local “Pans” be punished. Armed with weapons and sticks, they started to drag the guilty out of offices, stores and private houses. The first victims were employees of the courts, the public prosecutor’s office and the police. They were led down the middle of the street under the barrel of rifles, surrounded from all sides and accompanied by a shower of profanities. Apparently, this was supposed to be the revolutionary element of the oppressed national minorities of Ukraine. On the sidewalks, one could see functionaries discretely maintaining order. The following day, the revolutionary element of armed civilians vanished imperceptibly from the streets of the city, and in their place appeared the organs of order 

Thus began the systematic and precisely planned process of plucking out from society those people who were recognized as enemies of the Soviet regime. 


Among the many Polish officials arrested in Rowne were: Dezydery Smoczkiewicz, a deputy to the Seym (Poland’s Parliament), murdered in the Spring of 1940 by the Soviets in Kharkov; Tadeusz Dworakowski, a former senator; five judges of the District Court; and the deputy prosecutor. All of them were later murdered. Two assistant prosecutors were also arrested. One of the principal denouncers was an articling student, the son of a well-to-do local Jewish family. These harsh measures did not dampen the enthusiasm of young Jews for the Soviet regime: whenever a picture of Stalin appeared on the screen in the local cinema, they stood and howled ecstatically. 

In Aleksandria, near Rowne, Jews and Ukrainians formed a militia and disarmed the Polish police in anticipation of the arrival of the Soviets. The militia also invaded the estate of Prince Lubomirski, who was executed. In Wlodzimierz Wolynski, local communists and Jews were quick to denounce local officials, who soon disappeared without a trace. 

A young Pole, who was apprehended in Rozyszcze on September 24, when he tried to obtain a pass to Kowel described his encounter with his interrogator as follows: 

The whole thing became complicated when we were taken before the commissar himself. He was a young Jew with a red star on his lapel. He started a regular interrogation … that I was surely a student, I surely belonged to the ONR [National-Radical Camp], had beaten Jews, etc. 

In Huta Pieniacka near Zborow, a self-styled militia consisting of four Ukrainians and two Jews took over the police station and post office. They donned red armbands and carried out arrests in anticipation of the arrival of the Soviets. 

Hangings In The Town Square A militia, consisting mostly of Jews, soon appeared on the streets of Tarnopol. Dressed in Polish military coats and armed with Polish rifles, they entered homes searching for those who were now wanted by the new “authorities”. The jails were filled and executions abounded: 

“While descending to the first floor level, we saw five Polish officers being led by Soviet soldiers out of an unrented, unfurnished apartment, where the officers had slept the night before. We followed them to the street. … A few moments later, we saw the five officers lined up against the wall of a small white house under the bridge and shot dead by an impromptu firing squad. … Two Polish uniformed railroad men escorted by the Soviets passed us, followed by two escorted mail carriers. Seconds later, we heard a volley of shots. All were executed on the same spot where the five officers had been executed. 

A Polish official (a former mayor of Lodz), a socialist, who had found temporary refuge in the home of a local Jewish doctor, recalled: 

At that time the communists fulfilled the most shameful role. They not only formed a “fifth column”, but also were the veritable right hand of the NKVD in their war against the socialists and Polish political activists. They especially denounced members of the Polish Socialist Party and Bund. Alarmed by the arrests that had begun in town, after about a week our hosts advised us to go to some smaller county town, where it would be easier to hide out for a time. 

When pro-Soviet Jews spread rumors that Polish officers shot at Soviet soldiers from the bell tower of the Dominican church in Tarnopol, the Soviets opened fire and set the church ablaze causing serious damage to the building and its contents. Clergy from the monastery were arrested and almost shot as a result of this false denunciation. Upon examination, however, the tower was found to be locked shut and there was no trace of any activity there. The Soviets, nevertheless, encouraged townspeople to plunder the monastery. 

They Emerged Like Dormant Locust On the eve of the Soviet invasion, armed Jews attacked the railway workers in Stanislawow in order to seize control of the train station. When the Soviets arrived in the city, Jewish houses were decorated with red flags and banners bearing slogans like “Long Live Wise Stalin”. A militia, made up mostly of Jews and Ukrainians, patrolled the town. Leon Rosenthal, the chief of the “red militia”, was particularly active in carrying out arrests of Poles. Local Jews staged a mobile show with effigies mocking prewar Polish leaders. The spectacle attracted a large Jewish rabble that chanted anti-Polish slogans. 

In nearby Dolina, the NKVD, accompanied by two local Jews known to the Poles, descended on a home to arrest young Polish, men who belonged to Polish patriotic organizations. One of the young Poles was killed in the local jail; the others were deported to Siberia. 

Tadeusz Hajda, a teacher of Polish at the King Kazimierz Jagiellonczyk High School in Kolomyja, was arrested by Jewish collaborators and handed over to the NKVD shortly after the entry of the Soviets. Luck was with him – he was freed from prison because of a petition signed by Poles, Ukrainians and German colonists, though banished to a remote village school. 


In Przemysl, Poles – employees – came to the assistance of their Jewish employer. His daughter recalled: 

They [the Soviets] considered us to be “bourgeoisie” and therefore bad. … They had taken everything we had. Everything the Germans left the Russians took. … They arrested my father and then they released him. They emptied our house. We had three Polish employees at the store. They wrote the Russians that my father was a good employer and wanted to continue to work for him. My father wrote that he would give the store to the government, if he could stay on as manager. … And the Russians did not want a bourgeois running the store. 

Not infrequent acts of solidarity such as this belie the much repeated and exaggerated claim of open hostility among these various groups in interwar Poland. 

In Kalusz, the invading Soviet army was greeted boisterously 

Entire throngs of the Jewish community, who called out [in Russian], ‘Our people are coming’. They bore red armbands on their sleeves and bountiful bouquets of flowers which they threw on the vehicles; they embraced the tanks with their bodies. And these were Jews, who we knew had property and shops … 

 Polish children began to be discriminated against by Jewish children, who yelled: ‘Oy vey, where’s your Poland?’ The sons of our Jewish neighbours, Itzek and Munio Haber, called to us: ‘Look, look. Sigit, sigit. A Polish officer is riding on his white horse’. And thus immediately began the cleansing of the Polish population. Jews with red armbands, as representatives of the authorities, started to liquidate the Polish police, post offices, and above all took care of the military officers and soldiers. The officers were deported; those who defended themselves were shot. Polish soldiers, who tried to escape to Romania over the Carpathians were killed. 

In Gwozdziec, 

Jews and Ukrainians decorated the bridge to the town to greet the Red Army. They flocked to meetings organized by the Soviets to slander the Poles and flooded the Soviet authorities with denunciations of all sorts. Communist fighting squads composed of Jews and Ukrainians roamed the streets terrorizing the Polish population and entered the Catholic church to search for arms. 

A Jewish mob set upon and beat a Polish woman as she left church and screamed at her: ‘… Your time is over; ours is just beginning. Stop praying here’. A few days later, at night, a group of masked Poles met up with the Jewish hoodlums in some dark alleys and gave them a good thrashing. Jewish harassment subsided somewhat after that. 

When three Soviet tanks from Kolomyja descended on a company of Polish State Police and border guards in Delatyn, local Jews and some Ukrainians helped to disarm the Poles. In Sambor, the Jews who entered the Red militia roamed the town searching for Polish officials. Many of them were arrested and executed. Those who managed to hide out for a time, like police commissioner Wojciech Bryl (murdered by the Soviets in the Spring of 1940 in Tver/Kalinin) from Horodenka, were denounced by local Jews and Ukrainian nationalists. Jewish and Ukrainian communists hunted down Polish policemen and civil servants in Bobrka and handed them over to the NKVD. Szklanny, department commander of the Polish State Police, was murdered near the brickyard by the NKVD and two Jewish communists, Kahane from Podhorodyszcze and Rod Majorek from Bobrka. 

In Drohobycz, the local militia, made up mostly of Jews, carried out inspections and drew up lists of those to be arrested and deported. Together with the NKVD they arrested Bronislaw Naja (murdered by the Soviets in the Spring of 1940 in Tver/Kalinin), the commander of the Polish State Police in the nearby village of Schodnica. 

Abraham Sterzer, a Jewish doctor from Lwow, recalled: 

When the Red Army marched into [Eastern Galicia], the Jews behaved as if Messiah had arrived. They flocked to sign up for various communist-front organizations, and joined the NKVD secret police. 

On September 26, Leon Kozlowski, a former minister in the Polish government, was taken by Soviet officers from the museum on Plac Mariacki, where he was installed temporarily, to the NKVD premises on Sapieha Street. 

The officers, who arrested me, engaged me in a conversation, a sort of interrogation, and stated that people like me, enemies of the people, the Soviet system destroys and puts out of action. One of them pointed out that he was a Jew and that I should remember well that it was a Jew, who had arrested me and that he, a Jew, would be the cause of my eventual destruction which would inevitably occur. … My cell became overcrowded by the next day. Twelve people were placed in it on a bare wooden floor. … The vast majority of prisoners were, of course, Poles. There was an army officer, a police inspector, a uniformed lieutenant from the reserves who was a lawyer by profession from Lodz, a judge of the district court, a railway worker, a student from the Polytechnic University, and a student from the Higher School of Foreign Trade. A similar make-up of people, as I later learned, was found in the other cells: judges, policemen, captured army officers, social activists, workers, and students. All of them, like I, had been arrested based on denunciations by communists, for the most part, Jews. 

Toward the end of September 1939, Zygmunt Winter, a Jewish colleague from high school days, brought the NKVD to apprehend Zdzislaw Zakrzewski, an activist in the All-Poland Youth (Mlodziez Wszechpolska) organization at the Lwow Polytechnic University. Not finding him at home, the NKVD arrested Zakrzewski’s father, Wilhelm, an officer of the Polish State Police, who was soon executed. Zakrzewski’s mother and sister were later deported to Kazakhstan, where his mother perished. Zdzislaw Zakrzewski, together with a group of colleagues who made their way to the Polish army in France, had several run-ins with armed “revolutionary committees”, composed of Jews and Ukrainians in Jagielnica and a village near Sniatyn, from which they managed to extricate themselves. 

Edward Trznadel, a Polish official, who had taken refuge in Lwow, was apprehended by some Jewish communists from Olkusz. They took him to the commissariat and denounced him as their persecutor. Fortunately for Trznadel, after being interrogated, he was released. Ironically, Trznadel had been on good terms with the Jewish community in Olkusz, where he served as deputy county supervisor (starosta) and was even called on to mediate disputes within that community. 

There are numerous similar examples from Lwow, where Poles continued to be arrested throughout the Soviet occupation. A Polish woman saw her husband, a doctor of gentry origin, killed in their home by Jews. In the fall of 1940, Stanislaw Schultz, a 40-year-old Pole, who had been excused from active military service for health reasons, was denounced as a Polish officer by a Jewish neighbour. He was exiled to hard labor in eastern Siberia and was not heard of again. Michal Byczyszyn was arrested on the street in 1941 by Jewish communists. Jewish students of Prof. Zdzislaw Zygulski advised him that he had been spared in their denunciation of their fellow Polish students, alleged “anti-Semites”. Zygulski thereby escaped arrest by the NKVD. 

Many accounts also identify local Jews acting as jailers and interrogators throughout Eastern Poland already during these early days of the occupation, in towns like Rowne, Wlodzimierz Wolynski, Hrubieszow, Grodno, Lwow, Augustow, and others. 

In Kolomyja, a Polish prisoner recalls: 

In a cell for six people, they packed thirty-six people. By a strange coincidence, Wladek [Wladyslaw Traczuk] found himself in the company of policemen from his town of Gwozdziec. Among them were Zalewski, Wolno, Gosztyla and Klincza. Seeing the emaciated Wladek, one of them gave him a little bread and another a spoonful of soup. They were thus able to nourish him somewhat. These policemen were interrogated every night. After their ordeal, they returned to their cell staggering on their feet, all mangled and bloody. 

Jews and Ukrainians whom we recognized often passed down the corridors. They would stop in front of the cell, point at someone with their finger, and tell the NKVD officer who accompanied them: ‘That’s the one’. After such a visit the fingered victim was treated especially badly. Zalewski and Klincza were beaten the most. Few of them managed to leave that prison alive. 

Witold Sagajllo, an officer in the Polish Navy, who was caught by the Soviet invasion of Eastern Poland, recalled that “nearly every commissar” he had the misfortune to meet, was a Jew. 


Professor Tomasz Strzembosz

John Morrison 

John Sack









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