COLLABORATORS AND INFORMERS
Every town and village in Eastern Poland witnessed daily
displays of collaboration, betrayal and denunciation. Each of these
actions carried with them the potential of a death sentence for the
In Wlodzimierz Wolynski, Janusz Bardach, the teenage
son of an affluent and popular Jewish dentist (undaunted by his adverse
experience with Soviet soldiers, he immersed himself in revolutionary
activities and eventually rose to the rank of vice-chairman of the
city election committee), recalls:
... The Soviet authorities organized a local militia
and city council, filling the ranks with several of my [Jewish]
friends who were members of the underground Communist Party. During
the next several days I attended many political meetings and became a
leader among young people, who admired the Soviet Union. Badly wanting
to be included in the avant-garde of the new society, I improvised
passionate speeches and volunteered to be on committees. The Soviet
authorities noticed my enthusiasm and invited me to many events,
acknowledging me as a young leader.
My parents tried to cool my enthusiasm, however, warning me to stay
away from politics and not to get so deeply involved with people I
did not know and a system I did not understand very well. I didn't
argue with them but continued my activities, believing my dreams of
social justice would be fulfilled now that our city was part of the
... I overlooked the fact that the new regime did not bring happiness
to everyone in Wlodzimierz Wolynski.
But in my youthful zeal I did not pay much attention to how the Soviet
authorities took over the town.
... The Polish authorities and military personnel, who had remained in
town, were arrested, along with clergy of all [Christian?]
denominations. Many citizens, including my parents, condemned these
actions, but to me they seemed logical and necessary; the clergy and
Polish authorities had strong anti-Soviet and anti-communist sentiments.
I absorbed the indoctrination and devoured the propaganda.
... I believed Stalin was mankind's great, progressive leader and that
the social justice [sic] I had dreamed of for so long would be
achieved by the new society.
Later, when this Soviet lackey married in the summer of 1940,
typically he did so in a traditional Jewish ceremony:
... But old Rabbi Meyer Finkelhorn had not been harmed
and was still performing religious ceremonies in private homes. The
wedding took place in the waiting room of my father's dental office.
... We said our vows under the 'hupa' in the middle of the room, and I
stomped on the glass.
Polish sources confirm that Jews from that town actively
denounced Poles to the NKVD. On the basis of denunciations authored by
communists and Jews, targeted people were arrested immediately. In
Wlodzimierz, they arrested the lawyer, Albin Wazynski, Mjr. Julian Jan Karol
Pilczynski, the high school principal Leon Kisiel, the school inspector Mr.
Jedryszka, and Franciszek Strzelecki, the principal of one of the elementary
schools. They were denounced by local Jews. They disappeared without a
trace (all, except Mr. Jedryszka, murdered subsequently by the Soviets in Kiev).
According to the Memorial Book of Rokitno (Volhynia), a
mixture of prewar communists, Bundists and Jews with other affiliations rose
to prominence. While there were denunciations against "Betar" Zionists (and
likely others, especially Poles and those associated with the prewar Polish
authorities), evidence of communal solidarity was strong, even among
According to Baruch Shehori (Schwartzblat):
... On 17 September 1939, several police and army
officers left town. They were joined by tens of Polish families, who
were quite involved in public life. It was clear that changes were coming.
Soon the news came that the Soviet army crossed the border and invaded
Poland. A civilian police force was immediately organized. ... most of
its members were Jews.
At 11:00 a.m., the first Soviet tanks entered town. The reception was
enthusiastic. We received them with red flags and they greeted us with
songs and blessings.
... Several young men had been imprisoned by the Polish authorities for
their communist activities. They suddenly rose to big positions. There
were also communist sympathizers or "Bund" members. They organized the
municipal life and became commissars. Their activities were not helpful
to the Jewish population in town. Most of it consisted of store owners
and members of the middle class.
[Yosef Gendelman, a prewar communist, imprisoned by the Polish
authorities]: ... As [the Soviet army] entered the town, the
prison doors of Kovel [Kowel] were opened and we were liberated.
I immediately returned to Rokitno. It was already in the hands of the
Soviet army. On the strength of my rights as a veteran communist and a
loyalist to communism, I became a member of the town council. From an
economic point of view, as well as a municipal one, we did our best to
prevent any wrong to be done to the Jews of Rokitno.
[Baruch Shehori (Schwartzblat)]: ... Soon, the Soviet regime was
well established. Rokitno officially became the district capital. All
the district offices of the present commissariats were quickly
established. Many administrators arrived.
... The Soviet civil servants attracted all the activist residents and
they were assisted by suspicious looking and unwanted elements. Even in
the first days, several Polish social activists and some Jews were
arrested and exiled. The first Jews to be arrested were the pharmacist,
Noah Soltzman and the teacher, Mordechai Gendelman. They stayed in prison
in Sarny for several months and were released after undergoing special
treatment. The prisoners returned to town mute and it was impossible to
get a word out of them.
Mr. Gendelman, the teacher, was active for many years for JNF [Jewish
National Fund] and he was a distinguished Bible teacher at the "Tarbut"
school. He turned completely and suddenly became a sworn communist. He
announced publicly in school that he felt contempt towards all Jewish
cultural values. He had previously taught these values to his pupils. He
said, they were only reactionary values.
... I served as principal of the Ukrainian high school. My main function
was to gather all the school children and all the young people in a
special evening course. In addition, I had to teach the population the
principles of the Soviet constitution, to call frequent meetings and to
do propaganda for communism. It was a great responsibility. We did not
encounter any limits, when it came to keeping religious values. The two
synagogues were not closed. Services continued without any interruption.
[Yakov Schwartz]: ... Within a few days [after the Soviet invasion]
the whole eastern part of Poland - or the western part of the Ukraine
(so called by the Soviets) was conquered. The government began to establish
itself. Veteran communists, among them Jews from Rokitno, who had been in
Polish prisons for many years, were appointed to important municipal
positions. The fancy clubhouse of the Polish officers was now available
for the youth of Rokitno as a place to have fun. They were drawn to it
mainly out of curiosity. They were mostly Jewish youngsters. Some
non-Jews came, but they did not really fit in and felt uncomfortable.
... The Zionist parties and the youth movements self-destructed.
... A local militia was formed to replace the Polish police. There were
many Jews in it. In general, the Jews were prominent in all new government
On the first day of "Succoth", early in the morning, a soldier came to
our house and asked my father to present himself to the military commander
in town. Several hours later, when my father had not returned, we went to
investigate what was happening. We saw four of our citizens: Shimon
Klorfein, Mordechai Gendelman the teacher, Noah Soltzman and my father
sitting on a truck. They were surrounded by armed soldiers. Another truck
packed with soldiers, their guns cocked, followed them. It was a shocking
We found out that after an inquest they were taken to Sarny. There, they
were held and interrogated for a month. A former P.K.P. [Polish
Communist Party? The Communist Party did not recognize Polish rule over
Eastern Poland, hence the regional organization was the Communist Party
of Western Ukraine. - M.P.] man, a refugee thrown out of "Eretz
Israel", had accused them of Zionist and anti-Soviet activities. He
decided to take revenge on the Zionists and found a convenient location,
when the Soviets entered Rokitno.
... After a month of investigations and interrogations, the detainees
were released. It is important to emphasize the honesty of the communists
from Rokitno. When questioned by the investigators from the NKVD, they
said that the detainees together with other residents had helped them and
their families during the Polish regime. They provided them with lawyers
and other assistance.
The first to be released was Mordechai Gendelman. It was at great personal
cost and most humiliating. He was forced to sign a document promising to
publicly announce that his work up to now was meant to delude innocent
people and to show them the wrong way. The three others signed a promise
to stop all Zionist activities and to be loyal to the Soviet regime.
[Shimon Klorfein, a "Betar" member]: ... When the Soviets occupied
Rokitno, we knew our dream of "Aliyah" had died. Still, a small group of
members continued its activities underground until it was denounced by
local communists. Noah Soltzman, the teacher Mordechai Gendelman, Avraham
Schwartz and I were jailed in Rokitno. This is how the Zionist movement
in Rokitno, including "Betar", was extinguished.
The profile of a Jewish denouncer in the small (largely
Ukrainian) town of Swiniuchy, near Horochow (Volhynia), as recounted by a
fellow Jew from that town, is particularly intriguing:
... A man like this already had many people's blood on
his hands. In the old days, during the Polish regime, he beat children and
screamed in Polish: 'Jews, go to Palestine'. When the Russians came to
the Ukraine in 1939, he was the first one to offer his services to the
police, but because of his record as a teen-ager, his application was
denied, so instead, he became the most nefarious informer in town. He
was responsible for the death of many people. His activities inculcated
the deepest hatred of Jews among Christians in Svyniukhy. When the Red Army
left, he too was gone. The Germans captured him near Kiev. He registered as
a Pole, as one who was exiled to Siberia by the Russians. He received a
pass bearing a Polish name, but because of his arrant cowardice, he
returned to his mother in the ghetto. In Lukacze [Lokacze] very few
knew that Shlomo Giszes had come back; it had to be handled very quietly.
If the Ukrainians learned about it, many in the ghetto would have suffered.
Samuel Manski, a Jew who had graduated in 1937 from a Catholic
high school in Lida run by the Piarist Fathers, reported that he joined a
Jewish militia shortly before the Soviet invasion and patrolled the streets
of the town. He remained in the militia after the arrival of the Soviets and
did their bidding, even to the point of arresting a former teacher, seemingly
oblivious to the consequences of his actions. He wrote unabashedly about his
conduct during that period, not as a communist (which he was not), but from
the vantage point of an ordinary young Jew:
... One day, while we were waiting for the Russians to
occupy Lida, I went to the City Hall. To my surprise, I found a friend
occupying the mayor's chair. He explained that, while a member of the left
wing Zionist youth movement "Hashomer Hatzier", he had also been a member
of the Communist Party. The Communist Party was illegal in Poland. My
friend had used the "Hashomer" as a cover. He asked, if I would like to
join the militia, and I did.
People in the militia were given special privileges. Never did I have to
wait in line for anything. This by itself made joining the militia
worthwhile. People looked up to you; it was a good feeling.
... When the Soviet forces entered Lida, I felt that a new life had began
... That freedom turned out to be short-lived. Zionism was designated as
counter-revolutionary and forbidden.
... the Russians did not know of my Zionist activities. I had earlier
buried my "Honoar Hatzioni" flag ...
I remained in the militia under Russian supervision. For the moment, I was
happy. As a militia member I had privileges and money, although there was
little to buy.
... One day I had the pleasure of escorting a former teacher of mine, a
blatant anti-Semite, to jail. Russian soldiers arrested him and I was told
to accompany them. As we marched the prisoner through the streets of Lida
to the jail, I walked in front with my rifle and two Russian soldiers with
bayonets behind him. What his fate was, I don't know.
The above account is complemented by one authored by a Pole,
at that time the teenage son of the director of a Catholic printing house in
Lida, and another authored by a young Jewish woman, the daughter of dentists
whose social milieu was Polish (although culturally they considered
themselves more Russian than Polish), who had also attended a Polish high
school in that city, but encountered no anti-Semitism:
... I saw how the Jews welcomed the Red Army as it entered
Lida on September 18, 1939. They were greeted with bread and salt. The town
was full of red banners with Russian writing and portraits of Lenin and Stalin.
Jews wore red armbands and neckerchiefs and held up their fists. This is an
indication that they already had to prepare themselves before the war for
this "welcome". Armed militia patrols, composed of Jews from the proletariat,
began to circulate in the streets. The next day our printing house was seized
We were evicted from our home on December 24, while we were eating our
Christmas Eve dinner. Jews assisted in each of these activities and they were
more high-handed than the Soviet NKVD. They looted, what they could from our
home. We became paupers and were taken in by some acquaintances (there were
six of us in one room). My father couldn't obtain work. After a year my sister
and I were employed in a Soviet (Jewish) printing house where Poles were
discriminated against. They were given the worst jobs and Jews got the better
ones. Besides, the entire management was composed exclusively of Jews.
In February 1941, one of the Jewish employees started a fight with me in which
I hit back. In those days it was enough to say the word "Jew" in Polish rather
than in Russian to get oneself arrested, let alone strike a Jew. The next
morning four NKVD members were waiting to arrest me on the spot. The following
day I faced a mockery of a trial in court. I was accused of being a
counter-revolutionary, a spy and above all of being an anti-Semite. I was then
seventeen years old. I was kept in the jail on May 3rd Street in Lida where I
was subjected to severe interrogation and torture. Today, I am an invalid. My
torturers were all Jews. The local Jews were a lot worse than the Soviet ones.
I shall give you one example of many. After being interrogated and beaten for
many hours I was placed before a firing squad. A Jewish NKVD member aimed his
revolver at me and screamed at me to sign a confession or else he would shoot
me. He finally fired a shot. My nerves were shattered, and I lost
consciousness and fell ...
We arrived in Wolozyn hours after its occupation by the Soviet army. Aunt Tanya
was very much alone and she needed the family, and was very happy to see us. My
parents and my aunts were educated in Russia and were brought up in the Russian
culture. They felt much closer to the Russians than to the Poles.
... We went to the street to greet the entering units. Aunt Liza was flirting
with the officers. We settled for the time being, hoping to follow the army and
to return to Lida.
[In Lida] ... The first weeks of the change of the government were confusing.
Many [Jewish] teenagers and young men volunteered as militiamen. They
wore red bands on their sleeves and carried rifles. My cousin Edek was among
them. Sometimes the weapon was in the hands of mentally deficient person. I
have in mind a mentally retarded son of my piano teacher. He came up to our
apartment very excited carrying the rifle. Mother talked him into giving her
the weapon and she phoned his parents. Robert was sent to a mental institution
The communists in Lida were celebrating. They organized anti-capitalist
demonstrations with long speeches. Most of the activists were Jews. There were
some Belorussian and Polish socialists.
... On February 29, 1940 my father was arrested by the NKVD. We were having
dinner, when the doorbell rang. The maid, Hela went to the door. She returned
frightened, followed by 6 or more armed soldiers in NKVD uniforms. They ordered
us to remain seated. Then they spread around to search the apartment. They told
Hela that she is not a servant any longer, but a free citizen of the Soviet
Republic. They did not realize that although Hela was a Belorussian, she was a
Catholic and very much against the Russian occupation. Hela was smart enough to
lead them away from our safe. They took the camera, the radio, and painting of
Marshal Pilsudski sitting in the park in his favored vacation place,
Druskieniki. They took also my father's photo portrait, in which he was wearing
the medal of the Silver Cross [of Merit]. Father received the Silver
Cross for outstanding service to the Polish government. He was always very
proud of receiving it. The search ended. Father was ordered to dress and he was
taken away. Hela and I began to cry. Mother, her face flushed, right away
planned her next move. My sister Ella was not at home. Our mother was an
exceptionally brave woman. The following day she went to the offices of NKVD.
One of the officers was the husband of a dentist working with my parents in
the Polyclinic. He told her that an interrogation would take place. We had no
idea, why he was to be questioned. It all became clear, when we joined father
in the "Gulag". There was a complaint signed by Jewish men, that father was a
"socially dangerous element". Under pressure, father agreed to a "Troika"
verdict of "Gulag" for 5 years. One of the men, who signed, was a teenager
from the orphanage in training in our dental laboratory. It was a charity case
for the period of training and later he became an assistant to two senior dental
mechanics, two brothers from the city of Dubno.
Another Jewish woman from Lida, who was deported to the Soviet
interior in April 1940 together with her parents, recalled how members of the
underground Communist Party rushed to the assistance of a horde of commissars,
who appeared on the scene and: ... felt like heroes and partners to the holy
cause. But, to her chagrin, she also encountered ordinary Jews from affluent
families, like her own, who had flocked to the cause. After her father's arrest
by the NKVD in January 1940, she wrote a fateful letter to Stalin pleading for
... Evidently, it did not reach Moscow, but wound up instead
in the hands of the prosecutor in Lida. A few days later, I was summoned to his
office. The moment I stepped into the waiting room, I had an unpleasant surprise.
... The receptionist was a girl I knew well, though we weren't exactly good
friends. Her parents were well-to-do people whom I also knew well, and I had
never suspected her of having communist connections to the extent that she
should become the prosecutor's receptionist. I suppressed my surprise and said
a friendly "good morning". She didn't answer. How quickly she had learned their
tactics! Her face was cold and hard, and only her big gray eyes smiled a
triumphant smile, without shame, showing delight in my agony.
She looked at the list on her desk and in a loud voice asked: 'What is your
Conspiratorial activities were severely hampered by Soviet
infiltrators and local collaborators, mostly Jews. Even students came under the
penetrating scrutiny of their Jewish colleagues.
A group of female Polish high school students were denounced to
the NKVD by their Jewish classmates, who had prepared a list of suspected
"subversives" among the Polish students in Lida. Jewish residents of that town
confirm this state of affairs:
... Quite early, some Jewish community leaders found their
way to the authorities and the first, who were hit, were the Zionist youth
movements and the Zionist movement in general. The pain was even greater,
when it became known that one of the informers was a pupil in the "Tarbut"
school (a member of my sister's class).
The young people who had before the war belonged to the Zionist organizations,
with the arrival of the Bolsheviks, became dislodged from a strong stream on
to the banks of a river. Suddenly, they were torn out of their habits and
ideas and thrown open to fear of arrest. The NKVD spread out a net of
informers, whose task it was to give the Zionist activists from before the
war, into their hands. Everyone was afraid of his friend - maybe he is a
traitor, and he will tell the NKVD what one did before the war.
Mainly the ones, who were terrified, were those who had belonged to the
"Bais-R" school and to the "Shomer Hatsair". The first were afraid of the
Soviet followers, and the second those who had the nerve to espouse Marxist
In Ejszyszki, a small town south of Wilno which passed from
Polish to Soviet hands in September 1939, and then to Lithuania at the end of
October 1939 before reverting back to Soviet rule in June 1940, the majority
of administrative and state security positions were taken over by Jews.
Yaffa Eliach, a Jewish historian from that town, describes the
situation as follows:
... Under Soviet rule, a regional revolutionary council
known as the Revkum was established, which was responsible for Eishyshok
and all the towns and villages in its vicinity. Headed by Hayyim Shuster,
the Revkum began its program by attacking all the "reactionary" Zionist
organizations and activities within the shtetl. Thus the Hebrew school was
abolished and a Yiddish school for the children of the proletariat was
opened; the speaking of Hebrew was forbidden; and the young people were
pressed to join communist rather than Zionist organizations.
... The exiled shtetl communists did not have to go very far either
[after the Lithuanian takeover in October 1939], most of them settling
in next-door Radun and other towns in Soviet Belorussia. This group
included Moshe Szulkin and his wife and children; Moshe's sister, Elka
Jankelewicz and her husband and children; Hirshke and Fruml Slepak, and
... Luba Ginunski, however, who had been asked to remain in Lithuania to
keep the communist flame burning (and also to supply information), spent
most of her time traveling, in semi-hiding.
On June 15, 1940, the Soviet army crossed the Lithuanian border.
... This time around, during the second Soviet occupation, the local
Jewish communists - those, who remained - had more of an opportunity to
implement their Marxist ideology. Luba [Libke] Ginunski was the head of
the local party, which included among its most active members Hayyim
Shuster, his girlfriend Meitke Bielicki, Ruvke Boyarski di Bulbichke
(the potato), [who headed the komsomol], Velvke Katz, and Pessah Cofnas.
Among Luba's priorities was the redistribution of land and property. The
estates of the great Polish magnate Seklutski [Jozef Sieklucki]
and those of other members of the Polish nobility were parceled out ...
According to Luba, most of the subsequent activities of the communists in
Eishyshok were implemented by the "comitet" - the local communist
governing committee - in her absence.
... Rabbi Szymen Rozowski was thrown out of his spacious house, and the
property of many of the most affluent members of the community was
nationalized, their houses confiscated ...
Like most Jewish authors, Eliach is preoccupied with the
fate of the Jews and fails to notice the impact that the measures undertaken
by local Jewish communists had on the non-Jewish population. Local Jews even
composed a popular rhyme encapsulating their communal sentiments toward their
Szlachta do wywozu, / The gentry for deportation,
chlopi do kolchozu. / the peasants to the kolkhozes.
That Jews themselves feared, above all, fellow Jews is
confirmed by many Jewish accounts.
Joseph R. Fiszman, a Jewish-American historian, writes:
... in the midst of the very severe winter of 1939-1940,
thousands of Jewish refugees [from the German zone] - entire yeshivas,
those who were politically active and feared denunciation by [Jewish]
communists they knew from back home, joined by Jewish businessmen from
the Soviet occupied territories - attempted the trek to Wilno, crossing the
heavily guarded new Soviet-Lithuanian frontier.
It is also worth noting that a local Zionist network, which
smuggled Jews to the still independent Lithuania with the help of peasants on
both sides of the border, was eventually betrayed to the Soviet authorities,
as one Jew involved in the smuggling operation put it, by ... our communist
In Lida, a centre for smuggling Jews into Lithuania:
... Even here were swarms of Yevsektsia [Jewish
Section] and militia, doing their best to inform on us [i.e., the
flight movement] to the authorities and cause arrests and sabotage to
the maximum possible extent.
... there were also not a few Yevsektsis in town, and (even) some traitors
within the movement, who turned their coats and became enthusiastic
communists and collaborators with the Soviet Secret Police.
We felt we were being traced and we received reliable information that the
organizers of the Zionist Flight was being sought. Names, identification
and descriptions of some of our members had been given to the detectives.
... The frequent arrests of our people, the increase in border guards and
the seizure of many groups inevitably resulted in a reduction in activity
that still went on, despite everything, until the outbreak of the
Historian Ben-Cion Pinchuk states that:
... To apprehend those fleeing and hiding, the NKVD used
Jewish informers, who were positioned in railway stations on the
Polish-Lithuanian border, and in the streets of the major cities.
In Szczuczyn, near Lomza, as in countless other communities,
assistance to the Soviets on the part of the local communists and their
supporters, almost all of them Jews, was also indispensable.
As a Jewish source describes:
... The Shtutsin [Szczuczyn] supporters of
communism had after a short conference decided to greet the Red Army with
flowers and music.
... The civilian municipal committee had naturally adopted the right in-law
- members of the Communist Party.
The following evening, one day after the Bolsheviks had seized power, they
conducted arrests of Polish citizens. Arrested were: the former mayor Bilski,
a few rich Poles from the intelligentsia, and all Polish landowners from
around the city. They were sent to the Grayeve [Grajewo] and Lomza
prison, later to Siberia.
A few days later, the Bolsheviks attended to the Jews, those from the
so-called bourgeois class. Some of them were sent to Siberia.
... The local communists had to approve which Jewish citizens could stay put
and who must suffer exile 10 kilometers from the city.
In the nearby village of Radzilow:
... Immediately there appeared in our town supporters,
communists of course, who were at their [the Soviets'] disposal.
... The local flunkies ... denounced us as ardent Zionist activists.
... Then they arrested my husband for his Zionist activity.
... We were always prepared for new harassment, mostly because of the
persecution by the local Jewish devils, whom we avoided as much as possible.
... There were many rogues, but they ran away [with the Soviets].
In 1939, the Soviets arrested my husband [chairman of "Hechalutz"] and
all the others whom I have mentioned above. After a short while, they freed
all of them except Szlapak, whom they tortured for three months, since the
communists strongly accused him. Why? Shlichim [emissaries] used to
come to us from Eretz Yisroel and they would speak to large numbers of Jews.
They spoke in Shul and the [Jewish] communists [from the "Peretz
Library"] would disrupt. Szlapak would bring the police. But we never said
they were communists, only that they were disturbing the peace. They would
be removed. Later, they took revenge on him, and accused him strongly.
Szmul Wasersztajn, a Jew from nearby Jedwabne, traded in the
countryside during the Soviet occupation. He bought livestock from local farmers,
which he kept in the barn of a Polish acquaintance, and filled orders for meat.
His biggest fear was falling into the hands of fellow Jews.
Michel (Mendel) Mielnicki, a Jew who hails from Wasilkow, a small
town near Bialystok, populated by Poles and Belorussians, presents a rather
disingenuous portrait of his father Chaim, a newly recruited NKVD agent. He
trivializes the impact of his father's vile deeds and obscures the true profile
of his many victims. Tellingly, Chaim Mielnicki, had no prior communist
connections (he was an entrepreneur and his political leanings were Bundist), nor
did he have ... any particular enemies in the local Christian community, at
least before the Russian occupation in 1939 (in fact, he had a number of
Christian friends with whom he associated). Nor were there any reported
excesses by the Christian population in September 1939, when the Germans first
arrived in that area. Despite his father's new position with the NKVD and
Mendel's ardent involvement with the "Komsomol" in his high school in Bialystok:
... It never occurred to me ... that there was any contradiction in the fact
that I was at the same time studying privately in preparation for my "bar mitzvah".
[the ceremony was conducted in a synagogue with his father present]. As director
of a local cheese factory (his day job), Chaim Mielnicki reaped considerable
material benefits for his family.
The Mielnicki story, like many others, thus belies the claim that
only a handful of committed ideologues, who had cut off their ties with the Jewish
community, were involved in the "dirty work" which, as it is known, targeted
primarily the Poles in the early part of the occupation.
The lack of any trace of emotion or empathy on the part of the
author in describing his Polish neighbours' fate is noteworthy.
... I don't know exactly, how my father became involved with
the NKVD (the forerunner of the KGB), the Soviet intelligence and
... I do remember, however, the NKVD commissars from Moscow, who would most
often arrive at our house after dark, sitting in the living room, smoking one
cigarette after another until they could barely see each other through the haze,
talking in low voices with Father, as they went over their lists of suspected
fifth columnists (so-called Volksdeutscher Poles), Polish fascists,
ultranationalists, and other local "traitors" and "counter-revolutionaries".
It was my understanding that he served as advisor to the NKVD about who among
the local Poles was to be sent to Siberia, or otherwise dealt with. I don't
think he had anything to do with the arrest of local Jews, or the expulsion of
Jewish refugees, who had flooded into the Bialystok area from the
German-occupied provinces ...
Certainly, it is my firm belief that no one was ever murdered at my father's
Nevertheless, my mother was terribly upset by my father's collaboration with
the Russian secret service.
... I remember her begging him not to get involved. He disagreed. 'We have to
get rid of the fascists', he told her. 'They deserve to go to Siberia. They
are not good for the Jewish people'.
... Naturally, word of Father's clandestine activities got out. The black
limousine that the commissars parked in our driveway, when they came to visit,
was sufficient in itself to blow any cover he might have desired. Consequently,
when the Germans invaded Russia in June 1941, the name of Chaim Mielnicki was
on the hit list of both the local anti-Semites (who proved more numerous than
anyone imagined) and their new-found allies, the Gestapo ...
Because I was Chaim Mielnicki's son, I found myself the target of Polish bullets,
when I returned to Bialystok after the War. That's, how much they came to hate
Of course, one did not have to be a "fascist" to deplore Chaim
Mielnicki's actions. Moreover, they were directed not at some alleged "fascists"
but at ordinary patriotic Poles - neighbours of the Mielnickis, who may have been
politically or socially active in the interwar period and their families (a classic
case of blaming the victims!). That this gave rise to retaliations when the Soviets
fled in June 1941 is not at all surprising - revenge is a leitmotif in
Holocaust memoirs and Jews frequently took revenge on Christians, who betrayed Jews
to the Germans.
What is also noteworthy is that, in helping to deport his Polish
neighbours, Mielnicki openly admitted that he did so qua Jew - ... They
are not good for the Jewish people. In this, he undoubtedly embodied the
sentiments of many Jews in that town. Some, like his wife, sensed that these
specific actions, and not some pathological anti-Semitic syndrome on the part of
Poles, would give rise to problems in the future. But what did ordinary Jews do or
think, when they saw respected members of their community turn into henchmen for
the NKVD and prey on their Polish neighbours? Unfortunately, one encounters a
defeaning and ominous silence about such matters.
In Kamieniec Litewski:
... The situation of the Jewish population changed for the
worst. The local communists, like Leybke Katz, Leyzer Dolinsky, Joseph Wolfson,
Joseph Kupchik, the two Jacobson brothers from Zastavye [Zastawie], Malca
Radisch and other such "prominent party-members" hastily assumed posts of
authority under the new rulers. They were familiar with everyone and they knew
well how and whom to oppress and persecute.
... Tolek [Witold] Rapf remembered how: '... crowds of
young Jews with red armbands and flowers in their hands greeted a Soviet tank ...
There were also a few Ukrainians among them, but no Poles, absolutely none'.
Tolek's sister, Halszka, recalled one of the Soviet propaganda meetings in the
center of the town. 'There were many Jews in the crowd. I remember some, who
threatened my father and myself with their fists, calling him a bourgeois
capitalist. On another occasion a man with Semitic features stood on a balcony
near the Ratusz [town hall], addressing a crowd in broken Polish. He
told them that the time of the capitalists was over'.
A Jew from Zloczow recalls:
... This developing picture did not seem to hamper the
enthusiasm of our domestic communists, who were determined to have their day.
Some of them were known to us; others who revealed themselves as communists
took us by surprise, among the latter a colleague of ours, Mundek Werfel, son
of a prominent Zionist. Some came out of the hideouts in which they were
confined in the closing days of the war; others were released from prison;
still others who had escaped east in anticipation of a German occupation now
came back. The locals, particularly the "intellectuals", decided not to wait
for the arrival of Soviet civilian authorities, and forged ahead with the
nationalization of the larger businesses in town.
... The rule of these self-appointed officials was very short-lived. A few
days later the Russian civil authorities arrived.
... Another few days passed when a car pulled in front of the house and two
Russian officers and a woman got out. My father recognized the woman, Miss
Czyzowicz, a pharmacist and an ardent Ukrainian nationalist. The elder of
the two looked distinguished in his colonel's uniform and was obviously
Jewish. His name was Leibkind. He said that he had been appointed head of
the Pharmaceutical Trust for the Lwow Oblast ... The other Russian, also
Jewish, the glavbuch (head bookkeeper of the trust), said very little.
... Before the war, Zloczow's police force consisted of a commander, a
noncommissioned officer, and about a dozen policemen. ... Now we had a force
of several hundred of the "people's militia", with a number of Russian
captains, lieutenants, and noncommissioned officers. In addition there was
the dreaded NKVD, some in uniforms, others in plain clothes, watching over
our well-being. Informers also infiltrated into each factory and
establishment. More militiamen were posted in adjacent villages and hamlets.
In short, there were literally thousands watching our every move and
listening to our every word.
The first wave of mass arrests came. Always at night. The starosta
[county supervisor], the mayor, the judges, the police (except for those
smart enough to have shed their uniforms and disappear). Many civil officials,
prominent Zionists, and what scared us most, many people at random, whose
arrests were a puzzle to us, were herded into cattle cars and deported deep
inside Russia, to Siberia, to Kazakhstan and to other distant places.
... The factory had only a single member, Narayevski, who was also the
secretary of the cell. To launch the Komsomol, the organizers brought the
first members from outside the factory, who were appointed also the
normirovszczyk and the planowyk. It was Nazimova, who recruited two additional
members from the factory, Chana Letzter and Milek Krumstick, a printer's
apprentice. The two came from very poor Jewish families ... Abronko did join
... A few others, all Jews, followed him ... A year later, the party enlisted
its first Catholic, Miecio, a simple peasant boy ... the other Catholic
workers in the factory offered a Mass for Miecio's soul. This naturally got
back to Comrade Nazimova and to the NKVD with some repercussions ... However,
the Mass incident halted further attempts to recruit more youngsters into the
Komsomol. The Catholics would not join, and obviously the party felt that the
Jewish quota was more than filled ... a young Jewish woman from a middle-class
family, a gimnazjum graduate, became the secretary of the Komsomol.
Conditions in the outlying villages were similar. In Gologory,
near Zloczow, the NKVD constituted a village council ("selrada") and a militia
post consisting of Ukrainians and Jews, who promptly identified about 10 Poles -
they were arrested in early October 1939.
Israeli historian, Ben-Cion Pinchuk, provides the following
... The Soviet governing apparatus entered the provinces of
Eastern Poland well prepared in its experience of rooting out enemies of the
regime. The most active and sophisticated arm of the administration that came
from the East was the security police, the NKVD. Within three or four weeks
the NKVD had spread its net over the entire territory. It was a relatively
easy task to locate and eliminate the first-line political leaders, those of
them who did not escape into non-Soviet territories were apprehended in the
first few weeks. But, in order to achieve the much broader aim of destroying
the existing leadership infrastructure and undesirable elements of all kinds,
the authorities had developed a refined search and control method. State, city
and police archives were among the first institutions to be occupied and
guarded by the new rulers. They were curious to discover the secrets guarded
in the archives. Local collaborators translated from Polish and prepared
detailed lists of suspects, to be used in the future. A fine net of informers
was spread throughout the territories, in every institution, factory,
enterprise and tenement. Local former communists and new recruits were
included among the informers. ... local Jewish communists played an important
role in locating former political activists and compiling the lists of
"undesirables" and "class enemies". The NKVD tried, often with success, to
recruit people, who had previously been active in Jewish institutions and
political organizations and thus created an atmosphere of mutual suspicion
and fear among former friends and colleagues.
In addition to numerous Polish victims, as we have seen and will
see, among these "friends and colleagues" were also a good number of fellow
Pinchuk, like other Jewish historians, however, exaggerates the
role of the relatively few prewar communists. Very many of the collaborators -
and there was no shortage of them - were new converts to the cause or simply
pro-Soviet, and not necessarily committed ideologues.
Israeli historian, Shalom Cholawsky, points out that it was from
the poorer classes, who had no formal ties to the Communist Party, that many of
the volunteers for the "people's militia" came forward.
According to Yitzhak Arad, in Swieciany, north of Wilno:
... There were also many Jews, who had shifted ground and
become enthusiastic communists; for ideological reasons they were quick to
inform the authorities of all Zionist activity.
Arad states that Jews: ... constituted a fairly large
proportion of those in local government and in the Communist Party.
In Volhynia, according to a Jewish source:
... it was the Jewish communists, who abolished the
teaching of Hebrew and the Hebrew schools, in two months. The non-Jewish
politruks (political commissars) did not even know that Hebrew was taught.
Denunciations assumed unheard of proportions. According to Dov
Levin, the assistance of local collaborators who knew intimately the workings
of their own community was indispensable. In addition to arresting "kehillot"
leaders, members of town councils, and officials in now-outlawed political and
party organizations, they also struck at Bundist and Zionist activists:
... The authorities, it transpired, had made preparations
for these arrests and carried them out [in late 1939] with the help of
local communists, who had drawn up detailed lists of Zionist activists, public
functionaries, and individuals who had relatives in Palestine.
Whenever the security services thought the rosters of
functionaries and public figures were incomplete, they consulted local
communists and sympathizers. There is no other way to explain how the security
services were able to carry out arrests within a week or two of having reached
the area. Moreover, the Zionists and socialists could not have been culled
from the masses of refugees from western Poland on such a large scale without
the assistance of Jewish communists, who stalked them 'like beasts of prey
in the streets of Bialystok, Luck, Grodno, and Kowel'.
Subsequently, after nearly all political activists in or around
the previous regime had been uncovered, the security services had no further
need of veteran communists. Any information that they could not supply was
provided by informers who reported everything going on in the here-and-now.
Since the public was oblivious to the informers' relationship with the
security services, the informers were both more efficient in their mission and
more dangerous for their victims. They became even more menacing, when the new
regime settled in and spared no efforts to combine them into a permanent
Examples of Jews turning on fellow Jews abound.
In Radun, a small town near Wilno:
... Yankele Stolnicki was a Jew from Radun, who had been
a young communist leader. When the Russians occupied the city, he had been
appointed secretary of the Communist Party, and in this post, had compiled
lists of affluent Jews for the Russians.
... many of these Jews were subsequently sent to Siberia, losing both their
families and their wealth.
In Nowogrodek, "most" of the members of the militia that had
formed spontaneously were Jews, who allegedly ... belonged to the secret
Communist Party. Denunciations were also a frequent occurrence.
According to the daughter of one of the town's well-to-do
... Most prominent families in town were shipped off at
night and not heard from again. Somebody "snitched" about Papa's Zionism
and the NKVD called him in. I don't know, how he bought his freedom but,
for the moment, we were left alone.
Curiously, this didn't cause her to turn against or shun the
denouncers from among the Jewish community, when after the German entry, in
June 1941, a Polish friend:
... had found many documents in the offices of the former
NKVD - among them a list of informers ...
The list of informers ... had, to my horror, many names I knew. There were
many Jewish names, of course, and also the husband of our beautician. I let
all the people listed know and advised them to hide or leave town. I begged
Eddie and pleaded ... to give me the list so we could destroy it once and
I warned him that, as a Pole, he would be next in line for persecution after
... If he weren't killed by the surviving Jews, he would be treated as a
traitor by his own. [they ended up burning the list]
A shopkeeper in Lida, named Gad Zandman: ... had hidden
some of his merchandise, including expensive fabrics, behind a double wall
in his nationalized shop; someone informed on him, and he was sentenced to
ten years in prison and expelled.
In Pohost Zahorodny (or Zahorodzki), in Polesia:
... Zionist activities, along with other political and
public agencies, were banned. Prominent activists were interned or exiled.
David Bobrow, my oldest brother, was arrested for being a Revisionist leader.
... he'd risen to a high position under the Soviets. Someone got jealous
and made up some lies about him. The Soviets would call it "denouncing"
someone. So David ended up being put in jail by the Russians and freed by
Jozef Zeligman, a principal of a private high school in
Bialystok, was denounced to the NKVD by Wladyslaw Tykocinski, a former Jewish
student of his, for having criticized the Soviet Union in a prewar article.
Zeligman was arrested. His wife gathered materials critical of him published
in the Polish nationalist press in the interwar period and used these to
convince the regional chief of the NKVD that the damning references were not
Zeligman's (in fact, they were). After the war, Tykocinski rose to the rank of
colonel in the Polish People's Army and "defected" from his post as Poland's
military attache in West Berlin.
In Grodno, after witnessing executions and denunciations of
Poles and bullying and harassing of Polish children at school - all at the
hands of local Jews - an obliging Polish family was implored by a Jewish
shopkeeper to conceal her goods from the plague of local Jewish informers,
whom she and other Jews feared. She bemoaned the behaviour of her fellow
Jews who preyed on their own people and praised the Poles for their communal
solidarity in the face of the Soviet occupants. Another Jewish woman blamed
the Jewish pro-communist riff-raff for denouncing her husband, a small
shopkeeper, who was arrested and mistreated as a result.
... The local fifth column helped draw up a list of the
"leisure elements", which included storekeepers, furniture dealers, lawyers,
merchants - hundreds and hundreds of people in all. All these Jews were
expelled from the cities and sent out into the little towns or the
countryside, where nobody knew them and they lived as shelterless refugees.
Two Jews from Lwow described their family's experiences as
... With both parents working, we thought that we had now
become legitimate members of the "working class". Until one night ...
They came after midnight, both wearing NKVD uniforms. ... One was big, fat,
blond and looked like a pig. His name was Brasilovsky. The other was small,
thin, dark, and looked like a rat. His name was Bornstein. Both were
arrogant and threatening, particularly when my mother dared to ask an
occasional question. Of course, her questions were never answered. They
came to search. They looked into all our closets and lockers, into every
drawer. I do not know what they found and what they took. My parents never
discussed this with me. The search lasted a couple of hours. At the end,
they informed my father that he was under arrest and told him to dress.
Then he was led away. My mother was frightened to death and so was I. The
collapse of our empire was now complete.
The next day my mother was notified that we would all be exiled to Siberia,
unless we paid a "contribution" of one kilogram of gold coins to the Soviet
government. The money had to be paid within 24 hours. Somehow mother made
the necessary arrangements and 1 kg of US $20 coins was provided on time.
The next day my father was released. He returned home without a smile and
never told me what happened to him during those two days. Whatever my
mother knew, she kept to herself. As we later found out, the "contribution"
went straight into the pockets of Brasilovsky and Bornstein. A short time
later, their scam of searching homes of wealthy people and extorting
"contributions" was uncovered and they were arrested. During their trial,
my father was subpoenaed as a witness. After answering questions, he was
told that the gold would be returned. 57 years later I am still waiting
for the fulfillment of that promise.
... Seeing my father being led away by a pig and a rat, both in NKVD
uniforms, left indelible marks on my way of thinking. It immensely
influenced my philosophy of life, and to a large extent my later political
allegiances. I became permanently distrustful of the Soviet Union and of
everything that smelled of communism.
September 17: In Lwow there was a great shock, because the war was with
the Germans, but it was the Soviet army that marched into Lwow. From a
window in our skyscraper, we watched how crowds of people greeted the
... This was the first blow for our family, because the Bolsheviks mainly
looked for factory owners, bankers, and other rich people [in fact,
their first target were Polish state officials and military officers].
We were at the top of the list for deportation to Siberia. We thus thought
about going into hiding. We had to watch out for certain Jewish neighbors
whom we knew to be communists.
... For a few days, there was dead silence. One day my sister and I were
in Hotel George, across the street from our skyscraper, because all sorts
of valuables there were being packed up. When we went out of the hotel
with our uncle, we saw that there were two Russian cars and a large army
truck in front of our house. Uncle tried to convince us that we should
wait on the street until they went away or go back to the hotel, but we
insisted that we wanted to go to Mama and Papa. It turned out that the
house was full of guests. There were high-ranking Russian officers, and
we later found out they were Bolshevik NKVD. We did not sense any fear
at home; Mama was lively, and the officers were very courteous. This
whole crowd was brought to us by a communist named Ari Zusman, who came
from a poor Jewish family and not so long before was still selling
lemonade at the market.
Mama was delighted when we arrived. There was plenty of food and wine on
the table, and Zusman behaved as if he were in his own home. We were told
that we were in no danger and that although the Soviet government would
take over our properties, Papa would still remain in charge. The feat
lasted until late into the night. Nobody believed Zusman, and the family
decided to escape, as far from Lwow as possible.
I remember, as if it were today, that very late at night in November 1939,
the NKVD came to our house accompanied by several Jews we knew (because
formerly, they had been our employees), dressed in Russian uniforms.
These Jews were very aggressive. My mama was very beautiful, and as I
recall from a subsequent conversation between my grandparents, two of
these Jews with the NKVD wanted to rape her. An officer calmed them down.
They demanded that the documentation for the factories, hotels, movie
theatres, and other property be turned over to them.
... The Russian officer told them not to touch anything. An argument
ensued; the officer told them he was in charge and took out his pistol.
The situation became dangerous. He put them at attention and told them to
The house was filled with fear. The officer received all the documents;
he even made out a receipt and said: 'Now, my host, give us some vodka'.
... There were three of them, and they even sent for those, who had been
told to get out. They ate and drank their fill, and each got several
bottles of Baczewski vodka and plenty of food for the road. But these
Jews, who had worked for us and were now in Russian uniforms in drunken
condition insisted that the NKVD officer take us this very day to prison.
Once again it nearly ended in shooting. In the end, the officer
telephoned military headquarters, which quickly sent some people who
handcuffed those four Jews collaborating with the NKVD and took them
away in their car.
Connections also assisted those, who might otherwise face
deportations to avoid their fate, as a resident of Wiszniew elucidates:
... So what did the Jews do? They used all their
connections and resorted to cronyism to join the poor class, which was
really the most privileged class under the Soviet rule. One day, a
second committee came, sent by the NKVD to clean the population of all
unwanted elements, meaning anti-Soviet elements. First, they deported
all the Asdoniks [Pol. osadnik, pl. osadnicy];
they were the Polish settlers from the old veterans of Polish
legionnaires, who had received land from the Polish government as a
reward for their service. After that came all the people who were
suspected as anti-communists; these were mostly from the village's
Christian population. Their "crime" got them sent to prison and later
to Siberia. A few of the Jews also suffered. Three Jews, who were
suspected ant-communists (Zeev Davidson, Yishaiau Rubin, and Mordechai
Zallak) were arrested and sent to Siberia - first them alone, and
shortly after also their family members.
A similar situation prevailed in Bereza Kartuska
... Past Polish officials and landowners were
expelled to Siberia. They also wanted to expel Jews that had big
businesses in the past, but the Jewish communists implored them and
achieved the annulment of this cruel ordinance by claiming that they
now were poor and not rich people, and their debts had grown very
Indeed, relatively few native Jewish residents of
Eastern Poland suffered expulsion to the "Gulag". As noted earlier,
most of the Jewish deportees were refugees from the German occupation
zone. Moreover, few Poles lacked the resources or connections to have
escaped their fate.
In Bransk, near Bielsk Podlaski, where Jews came out
in throngs to welcome the Soviet invaders, attitudes changed overnight.
A Pole, who greeted a former Jewish classmate on the street, got a
blunt response in Russian: Kiss my ass! Many local Jews entered
the "red militia" and most of the official positions were handed over
to Jews and to some people brought in from the Soviet Union.
... the communist-leaning Jewish poor and youth
were in their element. They eagerly joined in implementing the new
order. Alter Trus, a Jewish chronicler, described a great many abuses
committed by Jewish communists on fellow Jews. Jews also took up
responsible positions in the town administration closed to Poles.
Half of the "ed militia" was composed of communists who had come
from the East; the other half were local Jews.
... The attitude of the majority of Jews toward the Poles worsened
considerably, and the Poles viewed very critically the close
cooperation of the Jews with the Soviets.
Almost all managerial positions in the city were staffed
by local Jews or newly arrived Belorussians and Russians. At the end of
October and in November 1939, a wide-scale campaign of nationalization
and collectivization of private, state, and cooperative property was
One of the local Jews, Alter Trus, wrote a description
of those events:
... A new privileged class emerged. Store owners
were regarded as the bourgeoisie that had to be destroyed. Welwl
Pulszanski, Benie Fajwel Szustels, Ryfcie Pytlak, all old communists,
become most important persons in the city. They were joined by Szepsel
Preiser and Chaje Man. They occupied themselves with nationalizing
[expropriating] Bransk's bourgeoisie.
Examples of abuses, committed during the execution of
official duties by overzealous and not too honest officials, mainly
of Jewish and Belorussian origin, are provided by Trus. The actions
of these persons were characterized by duplicity. Hiding behind their
lofty goals and the broader social good,
... they [took] goods from stores,
[looked] for money and for valuables which they [stuffed]
into their pockets. This is their payment for nationalization.
A souvenir has to remain. They [hid] the better goods among
their acquaintances in order to sell them later. This is what Welwl
Pulszanski and his wife were doing in the stores belonging to Elko
Gotlib and the son of Lejzer Rubin. Szepsel Preiser and Chaje Man
were doing the same in Motl Konopiaty's shop. Konopiaty protested
that he was not subject to nationalization. When the case was
cleared and the goods had to be returned, it turned out that they
had vanished. Whoever was on good terms with Szepsel Preiser and
Pulszanski had nothing to worry about.
These examples are good illustrations of how the principles of the
new political system were introduced.
The new official apparatus treated all Poles as potential enemies.
They endeavored to sovietize people susceptible to communist ideas
and to liquidate patriots. This situation had a very strong
influence on shaping moods among Poles and among that part of the
Jewish population which did not collaborate with the occupants.
Propaganda posters about Soviet-German friendship provoked
The NKVD created a network of confidants.
... Through denunciations and anonymous letters to the NKVD and
the Communist Party, some people began to settle old scores. This
suited the occupants. At that time one Soviet soldier stated, not
without some reason, that the biggest danger for the inhabitants
of Bransk was themselves.
The fact that there was a power shift in some towns
and that local communists were replaced by those imported from the East
did not signify that the local communists' utility was spent.
In Dawidgrodek, according to a Jewish source,
... The town authority was in the hands of local
communist activists. The Soviets allowed them to run things for the
first few months. About 6–7 Jewish and 3–4 Christian
[Belorussian] communist activists dominated the town during the
course of those first months. These few communist activists
inscribed a sad chapter in the history of the town, on the one hand
because they denounced to the NKVD (Soviet security organization)
the majority of Zionist workers in town, leading to the subsequent
arrest of these people. And on the other hand, they incited the
majority of the Horodtchukas [Belorussians] against the
entire Jewish population.
... Gradually ... All the local communist activists, who had run
the town until then, were replaced by imported Soviet citizens.
The town president, the police chief, the leaders of the various
economic, cultural and social institutions were all replaced by
vastatchnikas [Easterners]. Also, the other more-or-less
responsible posts were occupied by Soviet citizens. The local
communist heretofore-town leaders were then employed in
second-rank posts, and were used by the NKVD to give information
about each and every inhabitant. These local communist activists
willingly took on this "honorable" mission, transforming
themselves into simple informers, devising false accusations
against their victims.
... The mood of the Jews was very depressed. They understood that
the NKVD used not only the local communist activists, but also
other disguised local agents and informants who gave them
information concerning every single town inhabitant. In reality,
there were those in the town, including also upstanding and
elderly Jews, who worked along with the NKVD, giving them
information and carrying out their assignments.
... There were among the informers people of various ages,
political hues and social strata.
Although this source notes that ... Polish
officials and colonists were removed along with their families, close
friends and relatives, no details are provided as to how the
Soviets were able to swiftly identify and to carry out the arrest
and deportation of that targeted minority.
It would be a mistake, however, to conclude, as some
Jewish historians do, that the growing ranks of Jewish communists and
their willing helpers were either revolutionaries or hailed from the
poor or socially marginalized elements, and that they had divorced
themselves from their community and relinquished any ties with and
solidarity for fellow Jews. As copious examples illustrate, many of
them were not committed ideologues but simply pro-communist or
pro-Soviet. Moreover, they hailed from all social strata, often
shifted their political allegiance, and enjoyed popular support in
their communities. Jewish communists were known to promote the use
of Yiddish and Hebrew in state schools, and most of the prewar
Jewish principals and teachers were allowed to keep their positions,
provided they accepted the educational tenets of the new regime. A
substantial portion of Jewish communists circumcized their sons and
had them "bar mitzvaed" and weddings as prescribed by religious law
were commonplace. Moreover, there is ample evidence Jewish
communists often favoured and protected their own, especially in
the smaller localities.
A Jew from Skala Podolska turned to his friend's
brother to obtain permission to transport a large quantity of food,
which was strictly forbidden and severely punished under laws against
... Hersz Schwartzbach, my friend's brother and
the erstwhile pro-communist spiritual leader of the local "Ha-Shomer
ha-Tzair", had become an important personage in the local
He was now a trusted adviser to the Soviet occupation forces. I knew
that neither my family in Tarnopol nor my friends waiting for me in
Lwow had any way of obtaining sufficient foodstuffs. So I decided to
pay a call on Schwartzbach. The worst he could do was say no; I
trusted him not to imprison me. In fact, he greeted me with open arms.
He was worried about his brother Szymon, who was in besieged Warsaw.
... I kept hesitating to come out with my request, since I could sense
the esteem in which the Ukrainians and Russians there held him. But he
himself inquired about my fate and asked, if he could help. I explained
things and he agreed. The current regulations were aimed only at
speculators and black marketeers. He knew I was no speculator. All, he
had to do was draw up a document. He summoned the party secretary.
Now Schwartzbach asked questions and I answered. He stressed the fact
that I was an orphan while omitting any mention of my relatives in
Skala, or their property holdings.
... Everything went smoothly after that. I received the required permit.
Sarka and Zysio packed bags and crates and helped me load it all on the
According to Jewish source, in Luck (Volhynia):
... When the Soviets entered Luck, the Jewish
communists started to collaborate with them immediately. The Folkists
and Bundists also became at once great supporters of the new Soviet
... Before the war, there lived in Luck an important communist activist,
Menachem Librich. He came from a wealthy home; likewise his wife Donia
Blumenkranc was also the daughter of wealthy Hasidic parents. When the
Soviets entered the city, Menachem Librich became the interim chairman
of the gorsoviet [town council]. He was not ill-disposed toward
the wealthy prewar Jews.
On New Year's eve 1940–40, I was stopped by the NKVD because a Jewish
policeman, who worked for the Soviets, Jankl Knepl ... wanted to take
my passport. I didn't want to hand it over so in the ensuing struggle
the passport was torn. I was arrested for destroying a Soviet passport.
The NKVD accused me of being a counter-revolutionary and the son of a
bourgeois. My brother, who was a doctor in Luck, intervened wherever he
could and I was eventually released. But the real reason for my release
was thanks to Gerszonowicz, the secretary of the local section of the
Communist Party, who was a Jew from Kiev.
In Horochow (Volhynia):
... Although we of the younger generation were Zionists,
we did not suffer under the new regime, and this fact is to the credit of
the Jewish communists in our town, who did not take revenge or inform on
the rich, the merchants or the Zionists as Jewish communists in other
places had done. After some time, nearly all my friends, even those whose
families had been rich, received jobs. Most of us worked as teachers. The
"Tarbut" Hebrew School became a government institution with Yiddish as the
language of instruction. Simcha Perlmutter was the director and among the
teachers were: Naomi Hevel, my relative, Yisrael Goldfarb, Herschel
Bierfeld and others. I taught in the High School with Niomka Fisch, Raizel
Blechmann and others. I also began to study at Lvov University at this
period. One had to get used to new times, new people, new habits and new
demands. We, as Jews, knew how to adapt ourselves to new conditions and it
was not long before we settled down to our work.
A witness from the predominantly Jewish town of Warkowicze,
near Dubno (Volhynia), where the Red Army was also "warmly received", recalls:
... They began by harassing the "rich Jews" (merchants)
and anybody known to be a Zionist, threatening them with exile to Siberia.
... Then Warkowicze's own communist, Israel Keitel, came home from Kartus
Bereza [Bereza Kartuska], a Polish jail for political prisoners,
where he had been interned for years (he had naturally been released by
the Russians). He intervened with the Soviet authorities on our behalf,
and as a result, no Jew was sent away from Warkowicze to Siberia.
Still everyone had to register for work, and we Goldbergs were in some
difficulties over how to conceal our status.
... I decided to pass myself off as a notary's clerk. In my work at the
biuro, I often had to go to the notary's office in Rovno [Rowne]
... and I had become very friendly with Shumski, the assistant notary.
Now I contacted him, and though he was a Ukrainian, he agreed to back up
my story. We went to register together.
In the forms that we were given to fill out, Shumski wrote down that he was
an assistant notary. I wrote down that I was a clerk for a notary. The
Russian official read through our forms and then looked us over.
'Why is he an assistant and you only a clerk?' he asked me.
I thought fast. 'Because the Poles are so anti-Semitic', I replied quickly.
'They would never give a high position to a Jew.'
'So', the official said. 'From now on, he will remain the assistant, and
you will be the notary.'
I could hardly believe my good luck. For once, being a Jew turned out to
be an advantage.
... Shumski and I began work a day or two later in the notary office in
Rovno. ... I must have done well, because after I'd been a notary for two
months, a senior official arrived from Kiev and made me the starshii
notarius (chief notary) for all of Volhynia. There were fourteen people
working under me at my own office, and I was in charge of twenty-four other
notaries throughout the region.
A Jew from Stryj recalled:
... Before leaving the city [in June 1941] the
Soviet authorities took a parting shot at several residents, who were
suspected of Zionism, including ordinary residents, who were perfectly
innocent. They were taken out of their beds at midnight and carried away
... An acquaintance of mine in the NKVD told my wife that my name was also
on the list of candidates for Siberia. If I had not hidden with a Polish
family I would also have been taken away.
Both Aleksander and Maria Kahn of Boryslaw received separate
warnings from fellow Jews of their impending arrest and fled to Lwow, taking
their children with them.
A Jew from Przemysl recalled the warning her father had
... There was a Jewish lady, who was the secretary of the
Communist Party in Przemysl. She was the daughter of a friend of my father.
This lady tried to warn my father because he tried to run the yeshiva
underground. The Russians were deporting people, they considered undesirable,
Another Jew from that town described how his father's communal
ties assisted him in getting a reprieve.
... After about a year the Russians found out that we were
wealthy, which was a crime at that time. We were sentenced to ten years in
Siberia. Since my father had connections in the NKVD (later KGB), he bribed
them for an extension of six months to salvage some goods that were in the
Before our time was up, in 1941, once again the German Army attacked. This
time they attacked the Russians.
A Jewish woman from Kolomyja recalled the assistance she sought
for a Jew, who had registered to return to the German zone:
... The refugees were young and middle-aged men (few with
families) who had fled eastward during the first days of the German invasion
of Poland. Many had tried to escape being drafted into the Polish army, and
many had run to avoid the Nazi occupation. All found themselves in the Soviet
zone of Poland and many remained homeless and jobless. Most were heartbroken
about the fate of families left behind in the west. Believing the Soviet
reassurances, they "registered" and made themselves ready for transport. As
soon as I learned that Romek had registered, I convinced him go into hiding.
No sooner did he follow my pleading than a "guest' visited, asking for Romek
and his whereabouts. This "guest" was an old friend of my husband's who had
himself been a political prisoner. We were horrified that a person with his
experience of injustice would allow himself to be used in a police role. He
was embarrassed in front of us, and he left, assuring me that "all will blow
over in a few days". All those who had registered were rounded up the next
A few months later, Romek, along with many other young men, was called up
for the draft. Again, I was petrified that he would end up in the Soviet army
and that I would lose him. So once again I used all of the contacts my husband
and I could find, and I was able to "save" him.
A Jew, who served under the chief of the militia, also a Jew, in
[Chief] ... Kashinsky placed me in the criminology
department, as an interpreter, questioning people and informers. Kashinsky
used to tell me when they were going to search someone's property. I would
then go home and tell my brothers, who would then run to warn the people.
This went on for over two months. Kashinsky knew I was doing this. He didn't
want to hurt people, but he was forced [sic] to conduct these searches.
I was able to warn one [Jewish] man who had a lot of hardware hidden
because he had been in the hardware business; and I warned another
[Jewish] man who had stashed away shoes from his shoe business.
But this "interpreter" with a heart of gold was no slouch. He
was soon sent to the criminology school in Lwow and, in his words: ... I was
the first member of Komsomol from the eastern part of occupied Poland. I became
a real Communist. His father became the agricultural inspector and head of
... I was really a big shot. When I left the criminology
school, I was already a full lieutenant.
... I was in charge of spies working on both sides of the border. I must have
done a tremendous job because I was advanced so quickly.
Among the committed Jewish communists, especially those who had
fled to the Soviet occupation zone in September 1939, denunciations became a
way of life.
Jozef Swiatlo (Fleischfarb), a postwar (People's Poland) colonel
of the notorious Tenth Department in the Ministry of Public Security, who
defected to the United States in 1953, provided the following damning testimony
about the activities of his fellow Jewish communists in Lwow:
[Luna or Julia Brystygier] ... started her career in Lwow,
at the time of the entry of the Soviet army in 1939. As the former wife of Dr.
Nathan Brystygier, a Zionist activist in the prewar period, Luna had all the
required contacts and connections. Immediately after the arrival of the Red
Army in Lwow in 1939 Brystygier started denouncing people on such a scale
that she antagonized even some Communist Party members. That was the beginning
of her feud with Colonel [Józef] Rozanski [actually Goldberg],
now the director of the investigation department of the "Bezpieka"
[Security] political police. At that time, Rozanski and [Jerzy]
Borejsza [Rozanski's brother] competed in denouncing people to the
N.K.V.D. (now known as the K.G.B.). There was sharp rivalry between them in
that area. Eager to win, Brystygier wrote to the N.K.V.D. a report accusing
Rozanski of being a member of a Zionist family. It was true that his father,
Dr. Goldberg, was before the war editor of the Zionist newspaper "Haynt".
Rozanski knew about that report and I recall him complaining: "Just think,
comrade, that ... squealed on me! But comrade Luna forgets that I have had a
longer career in the N.K.V.D. than she".
... After the entry of the Red Army in Lwow Brystygier conducted her activity
as an informer by organizing the so-called Committee for Political Prisoners.
That committee was instrumental in helping the N.K.V.D. to capture party
deviants and that was how Brystygier finished off some of the comrades. She
has now a very strong position at the "Bezpieka" headquarters.
Betrayals of fellow communists became the order of the
day. A writer by the name of Stanislaw Sulikowski (Zalcman), who worked
for the communist newspaper Czerwony Sztandar in Lwow, was turned
in by his fellow journalists. The same was true in Bialystok where,
according to a Jewish source:
... Finger-pointing began to proliferate, sometimes
behind closed doors, sometimes in public. In a literary gathering in
Bialystok ... one of the Warsaw writers began to gesture in the
direction of several of his Polish colleagues, saying: 'This one's a
Zionist, this one's a Bundist', and so forth.
... Refugee writers ... joked about colleagues from Warsaw and Lodz,
who had rushed to "paint themselves red' and churn out enthusiastic
reportage and features in the local newspaper, '... as if their
forefathers had been communists from time immemorial'.
Some Jewish communists had checkered careers with
interludes with the Gestapo.
Izydor Reisler, who under the assumed name of Jerzy
Sawicki was an influential figure on the Lawyers' Council in
Soviet-occupied Lwow and persecuted its Polish members, turned agent for
the Gestapo in the Lwow ghetto. This did not prevent him from
rising to the position of prosecutor at the Supreme National Tribunal
and Supreme Court in Stalinist Poland.
Another example of a Jew, who served many masters, was
described by Stanislaw Taubenschlag, a scion of a prominent Jewish family
from Krakow and son of Prof. Rafal Taubenschlag, dean of the Jagellonian
University. Stanislaw Taubenschlag was pursued by Danek Redlich, the son
of a Jewish official in Krakow, who denounced him to the Gestapo while on
a mission for the Polish underground in Warsaw. Taubenschlag managed to
extricate himself and survived this trap, but his pursuer was now a
... The news of my tribulations in Warsaw quickly
spread in the circles of young people. The hunt was now on for Danek
Redlich who, it transpired, had been in the employ of the Bolsheviks in
Lvov and had betrayed several people there. When Lvov was occupied by
the Germans, this professional agent, entered the service of the Gestapo.
After the war he worked in the security service (UB). In the 1950s he
went to Venezuela, where he met his death in a car accident in Caracas.