Bożena Jaroszewska (née Kondracka), who presently lives in Szczecin, was three-years old when she lost her dad. She often heard from her mother about Szostak's role in the Roundup.
“Now, I traveled to Augustów, and found out that Szostak had died. Finally, he is paying the debt for his crimes in hell. But, countless others just like him, are still around! Like, for example, the certain Mr. 'K', whose hands are stained with the blood of innocent Poles. He is doing quite well, you see. Only recently, he became afraid to go out because people spat on him. Will these murderers go unpunished in Poland forever? How much longer will they profit from the government combatant allowances, hefty pensions, and other benefits?"
As any theory, the theory of betrayal has many dimensions. It also has many supporters. The names of the villains are being revealed. A certain Miss Starowierka P. from Białogory, was whoring around with the Russians. Both her, and her lover, were killed just before the Roundup. Later, her father was seen in the company of the NKVD men. I suppose, they didn’t talk about the weather.
Although, she was involved with the underground, a certain Melania C., was released only a couple of days after being arrested. Allegedly, she broke down during the 'interrogations', and obliged to cooperate with the Russians. She died in her own courtyard. The response from the 'boys from the forest' was swift and immediate.
Melania’s name was often mentioned in the stories told by the inhabitants of this area. While the author of the account that follows didn’t request explicitly to remain anonymous, we will let him remain anonymous anyhow …
“The Roundups were taking place already in May, and June. I knew that things would get bad; I was careful. When they came for me, I didn’t let them catch me. I know! Sure, there were lists! Melania also used to prepare them. She told me that herself. She … you know Sir … I was also young and attractive, you understand ... she warned me. She was trying to save her life in any way she could. She managed to warn me, but not the others …”
The NKVD took seven men from the village of the author of this particular account. They even took those, who only couple of weeks earlier returned home from the German labor camps in East Prussia.
The sister of one of the prisoners, also speaks a lot about the role played by the Melania C.
“She used to draw up the lists! That is certain! She was liquidated by the partisans. During her funeral a miracle happened. The coffin fell off the cart. May God forgive her! Perhaps she couldn't act any differently? And him, (this refers to the author of one of the testimonies here) went hand-in-hand with her. That’s the way he was. He served many men - and many Gods . He’s old now; let him live up his last days in peace. Maybe, now he's telling this story to clear his guilty conscience?”
If Melania actually drew up these lists, why did they contain names of so many people who, for instance, early on, were deported to the forced labor camps in Prussia by the Germans? They couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the Home Army, or the resistance in general.
“Allegedly, Melania purposefully added names of ‘absolutely’ innocent people, i.e. the ones who had nothing to do with the underground. She believed that this fact would surely surface during the investigations, and that they would be released…”
Personal scores were also settled at the same time. Random people accused of contacts with the Russians, were dying as well. The “death sentences” were frequent, hasty, and at times, carried out in a reckless manner.
The former Soviet partisans from Major Orlov’s unit were identified amongst the members of the NKVD. Throughout the Nazi occupation, Orlov's men had fought hand-and-hand along the Armia Krajowa partisans to root out the Germans from this area. Were they only stealthily, and treacherously gathering intelligence about Polish resistance units in the area, only to wipe them out at an opportune time? This is only one hypothesis, but it is one, that is highly probable! We will get back to this matter later.
“Why did they have to take my husband?” – Wiktoria Laskowska doesn’t understand it. “After all, he had nothing to do with the partisans. What has he done wrong?”
This question is posed often. During the Nazi occupation, and the period after the war, over a half of those arrested had absolutely nothing to do with the Underground. Seemingly, it’s hard to discern any logic in the NKVD actions.
“The Roundup was conducted in a typical, disorderly Soviet manner” - explains a former AK member. He doesn’t believe in the Perestroika, therefore he’s not willing to reveal his identity. “The Soviet soldiers, and the officers alike, probably didn’t feel like chasing after partisans in the forests. They [the Polish secret police] made their jobs easier by dragging people from their cottages. The lists were prepared by the traitors. When a particular person wasn’t at home, somebody else was taken in his place. They [the Russians] just had to be sure that the numbers added up. They looked not only for the Home Army members, but also the foresters, the village leaders, rich farmers, and others. These people were the Russian’s enemies. They were the leftovers from the 'bourgeois' Poland that had to be destroyed.”
Once, an NKVD officer got involved in a political discussion with some of the local farmers.
“Your [Communist] government asked us for help” - he explained. “Once we catch and deport all the ‘bandits’, we are going to live in peace. Just like in the Russian Federation. ‘
However, contrary to what the NKVD man preached, the life wasn’t any different on the other side of the border either. There were mass arrests in Lithuania, and in the Grodno area as well; virtually along the entire border belt. The Home Army soldiers who found themselves in those areas, very quickly realized, that the war didn’t really end. Hunted, arrested, tortured, and executed, they very quickly returned to the forests; they returned to the very same hideouts and shelters they had used during the German occupation.
There are still many other witnesses of these events. Some of them stayed put where they were born, while others were repatriated. Those repatriated usually ended up in some other distant corner of Poland – most often in the so-called Recovered Territories. The following is a story of only one such family. If we were to compare it to the thousands of far-more heart-wrenching stories of other families, it really isn’t even that tragic ...
This man, who today is some seventy year-old, doesn’t stand out from the crowd. He’s now a retired farmer, back then, a lowly Home Army private.
“What kind of enemy could I have been?” - he asks himself this rhetorical question. “I completed only a couple of grades in the elementary school, and owed a few hectares of land. That’s all I had. I was an Armia Krajowa partisan only because all young men used to be in it. It would have been a shame not to belong to the AK ! In my case, luckily, the war had passed by uneventfully. Although, I happened to be captured by the Russians near Lwów, God sent a decent Russian soldier on my path. When our train stopped at a railroad station, and my colleague and I decided to escape, we managed to avoid the bullets from the guard. Even then, when we asked him to ‘go on the side’ (metaphorically, go to the toilet), our guard seemed to be compassionate enough. ‘Idite, Idite’ [‘Just go, just go’] - he told us, as if he suspected what our true intentions were.'”
“I even managed to survive the Nazi occupation. The real hell started after the Germans were gone.”
“Have a look” - our anonymous interviewee encourages us to take a look. He parts his gray hair, and reveals numerous scars on his head. "This is what a rifle butt will do to your head …”
When the NKVD surrounded them, he didn’t have enough time to hide in his earlier prepared, ingenious-bunker under the cowshed. He ran off into the field. The NKVD soldier tried to catch him, aiming and firing his rifle as he was running. He missed. In the end, however, the NKVD man got so close to our interviewee, that he didn’t have any other choice, but to stop. He was asked to turn around. This is when he was hit on the head …
Later, during the interrogations, he found out that the soldier had run out of ammunition, as he had spent it all during his pursuit. He’s still angry with himself for getting caught in such a foolish way. Yes, he survived, but only because they didn’t discover the hiding place where he kept his gun. The interviewee also had a brother. His brother didn’t stick around too long after the Roundup. Instead, he escaped to “Poland”. There, under an assumed name, he settled in Gdansk. He used that fake name until his death. Even the inscription on his gravestone remains different from his actual name.
- “[My] brother had to hide as if he was a common criminal. He was even afraid in Poland, as his fight for a sovereign Poland was considered a crime.”
It was the same around the Grodno area as well. The arrests and roundups in that area also resembled spontaneous, random, and blind blows that lacked any reasonable explanation for their occurrence.
If the NKVD were aiming at getting rid of the Home Army partisans, then why more than half of the arrested had nothing to do with that resistance?
Even if we were to assume, that NKVD’s aim was to annihilate the “people’s enemies”, as they were called – the rich, the “ideologically”-hostile, or those who were theoretically capable of endangering the new authorities, then why did they round up the poor, the children, or even the elderly?
Can such a massive operation be explained by isolated incidents between the Red Army and the Polish inhabitants of this area? The tragic incidents experienced by the inhabitants of Suwalki can neither be explained as a coincidence, nor betrayal.
Perhaps, it is not even necessary to seek any rational explanation for that tragedy. The only perceptible logic of terror is after all, terror itself. Until new evidence surfaces, (i.e. the NKVD archives are opened), this is perhaps the only logical approach to “explain” the reasons behind the Roundups and their aftermath.
These terrorized people simply feared. And so they did. Many of them, and it is evident in their reluctance to reveal their names, fearing to this very day. And, those who fear, are both the arrested, and those who arrested them.
Continue to Part 5: We Regret To Inform You
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