“I was lucky, nonetheless” - he believes. “Had I not escaped from the NKVD, I would have been buried in the sand for forty years; just like the others.”
Stefan Milewski was also a member in “Bęben’s” unit. Yes, he survived, but the Roundup claimed the life of his brother; and he didn’t avoid the UB interrogations, beatings, tortures, and those infamous ice-cold showers.
“This is what their amnesty looked like. The UB torturers were as bad as the NKVD. It’s the same school!” - he says.
When Henryk Chmielewski from Berżałowce was snatched by the NKVD, they didn’t even allow him to put his shoes on. He was dragged, bare-foot, for a dozen or so kilometers; he hurt his feet on gravel and break stone.
“Russian women in uniforms stood on the balcony of what today is a Boarder Guard watchtower in Sejny. They spat at us. They locked me in the cellar. During the interrogations, I didn’t deny that I used to be in the Home Army [Pol. abbr. AK - Armia Krajowa]. I told them about contacting the Soviet partisans during the [Nazi] occupation on orders of my leaders. Thanks to that, I believe, I survived. They threatened to send me to Siberia, but they released me in the morning."
Despite his caution, Józef Szwarc, didn't avoid getting arrested. When he didn’t go to pick-up the medal [the Russians had promised to the Polish partisans], an armed Red Army soldier showed up in his house instead.
“Someone must have reported on me” - he says. “Five ‘Boytsy’ showed up and herded me to the cemetery in Szczerby. I was called for the interrogations for three nights in a row. I believe that a letter from my son, who at that time served in the Berling’s [Communist Polish People's] army, had saved me. I had it in my pocket. They showed an interest in it, and had it translated. I managed to return home. Many people had vanished forever, though. They probably lay buried under the clump ... The problem is, we do not know where?"
There still are more of those who refer to themselves as survivors. It is because of them, that we have an opportunity to reconstruct these distant events today. The author of the following account didn’t want to have his identity revealed. Many others preferred to remain anonymous as well.
When one becomes intimately familiar with these events, it isn’t difficult to understand their fear even today.
"At present, I live in Augustów, but at that time I lived in Mazurki, in the Raczki district. It was a lovely, sunny morning, on July 19th, 1945. I was 29-years old at that time, whereas at the moment, I’m over 60. Along with five other boys, I was arrested by [a Polish secret policeman, Lieutenant] Jan Szostak and by a certain 'K.', and by his many other subordinates, unknown to me. They also arrested Dominik Okrągły, the forester, Bronisław Jesionek, Leon Wisniewski, Bartoszewicz from Toptówka, my brother Stanisław, and then, myself. (…)
After having been taken to the UB [Urząd Bezpieczeństwa Publicznego, or UBP - Office of Public Security, the Polish secret police] in Augustów, and having been searched, we were locked up in a cellar. (…) After a couple of days, two of the prisoners were taken away. Again, after a couple of days, we were handed over to the Ruskis. We were herded to Hoża Street, near the cinema, and later, to the Dowgiert’s courtyard on what presently is known as Partyzantów Street.
After a body-search, we were crammed in the cellar. I realized what was happening on the following day. There were 36 people there … The interrogations began, and I saw horribly beaten people who were coming at night, and retold how they were treated. They were beaten with buckled tabs, they were hit on their heels with sticks, they were asked to lie on the floor, and then they were mercilessly beaten again. Each detainee was asked whether they belonged to the partisans. These partisans [we all thought] were hopelessly stuck in the woods, they were half-starved and cold; and together with [you Russians, they] helped to destroy the [Nazi] enemies – and now, we had to suffer through such torments! I cannot make any sense of it even today - some were awarded medals, while the rest were buried …
One evening, I think it was on the 30th of July, they herded us onto the yard. A group of officers with pieces of paper in their hands swarmed around us. They started to call our names - ‘takhoy i takhoy’ ['such-and-such'] - move to the side. They read everybody’s names, except for mine. ‘Khak etot odin ostaltsa?’ ['How come there is an extra one?'] - they wandered checking their papers. My name wasn’t there! A miracle! “Get dressed and go to that cottage right now”. I ran to the cellar, grabbed my coat and went to the other cottage. There were eight of them; the door was removed from its hinge, and rested against a stool. There was a beaten man, lying on the door. They said it was Rutkowski, a groundskeeper from the Jewish cemetery. After a while, another man came from the other cellar. The Ruskis came at night and removed the beaten man; and along with him some young boy. That night, everyone had died! They had vanished without a trace. After a couple of days, we were released. They warned us not to tell anyone about what they did to us.
After I returned home, the partisans came over and said that I had signed a document to collaborate with the Russians, and that’s why I was released. They hit me with a plank, borrowed my neighbor’s cart, and took away all my belongings. They also told me not to report that to the [Communist] police, as otherwise they’ll come back and kill me …
At times, I see that man ‘K.’ on the street, and think to myself: should I stop him and ask whether he remembers the 19th of July, 1945? What happened to those people they took away? After all, he was [Jan] Szostak’s right-hand man, and should know something about it? If you want, you can ask him yourself …
So, this was my life. I’m going to finish at this point. [Lieutenant Jan] Szostak is dead."
Wladyslaw Cichanowicz from Frącki is another survivor. He retells his story with a senile, melodious voice. We were sitting next to a barn, in the same house where the events from almost half-a-century ago took place. His each sentence is confirmed by his nodding wife.
There were witnesses to that. They confirmed it. However, this almost turned out to be a greater disaster. ‘You helped us before' - they said. ‘Why don’t you help us this time too? Where are the partisans?’ I immediately replied, ‘I don’t know. But, even if I knew I wouldn’t say because they, I meant the partisans, would shoot me for sure. [So, I told the Russians that] I don’t care one way or the other who will be putting the bullet in my head'. They left me alone.
Napoleon Sztabinski’s barn deserves to be called a monument of carpentry. Its owner claims that it is around two-hundred-years-old. It is collapsing now; he can’t afford materials to re-roof it.
‘The local officials won’t allocate any resources to me without a bribe’ - he complains. 'I can’t say anything about the arrests, as I wasn’t at home at that time. Otherwise, they would have taken me for sure. I would’ve probably received a written summons otherwise. Only the numbers mattered to them [the Russians]. Everyone was guilty in their eyes."
Continue to Part 4: "Coincidence or Betrayal"
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