Only recently, on the pages of Rzeczpospolita, did there appear a lengthy article by Professor Tomasz Strzembosz, a distinguished researcher of recent Polish history and especially the period 1939-54. Strzembosz's article demonstrates the actual role of the Jewish population in eastern Poland in the years of 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 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, attacking smaller or even fairly large units of the Polish Army (as in Grodno). . It was armed collaboration, taking the side of the enemy, betrayal in the days of defeat."
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 the period September-December 1939, numerous arrests took place of those representatives of the Polish population who before the war filled high functions in the administration and political structures of the Polish state or who 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."
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 at last they 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
... 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.
... 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!'
... 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.
... The militia was the terror of the population because individual militiamen competed with each other in their servility.