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NEIGHBOURS ON THE EVE OF THE HOLOCAUST
POLISH-JEWISH RELATIONS IN SOVIET-OCCUPIED EASTERN POLAND, 1939-1941

Chapter XI

Mark Paul

 

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 fingered victim.

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 Soviet Union.
... 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 communists:

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 institutions.
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 sight.
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 for us.
... 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 and sealed.
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 near Wilno.
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 his release:

... 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 name?'

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 ideas.

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 Hayyim-Yoshke Szczuczynski.
... 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 Polish neighbours:

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 brothers.

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 German-Russian war.

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 internal-security agency.
... 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 behest.
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 him.

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.

In Brzezany:

... 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 synopsis:

... 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 Jews.

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 network.

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 Jewish families:

... 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 for all.
I warned him that, as a Pole, he would be next in line for persecution after the Jews.
... 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 the Germans.

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.

In Pinsk:

... 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 follows:

... 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 Bolsheviks.
... 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 get out.
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 (Polesia):

... 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 large.

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 conducted.

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 additional repugnance.
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 smuggling.

... 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 administration.
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 train.

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 masters.
... 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 to Siberia.
... 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 received:

... 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, to Siberia.

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 warehouse.
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 morning.
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 Stojanow recalls:

[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 a cooperative.

... 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 wanted man.

... 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.

 

NEIGHBOURS ON THE EVE OF THE HOLOCAUST. POLISH-JEWISH RELATIONS IN SOVIET-OCCUPIED EASTERN POLAND, 1939-1941

Chapter X ← XI → Chapter XII