"Not Only Katyn" by Ireneusz Sewastianowicz and Stanisław Kulikowski
PART 7: WE WILL NOT BE SILENCED
In early August, 1987, at St. Alexander’s Church in Suwałki, a statement was distributed by “The Citizen's Committee To Locate Missing Inhabitants of the Suwałki Area in July 1945.”
“In July 1945, in the area of Suwałki, bordering with the Soviet Union, and located between Puńsk and Dąbrowa Białostocka, the Russian military authorities conducted a grand scale operation during which Polish nationals living in this area were arrested en masse. This operation affected many people. The detainees, who were taken away from their homes, were promised to be released as soon as their documents are checked. They never returned home, nor showed any signs of life thereafter […] In order to assist the families in locating their missing, facilitating the return of their loved ones, ascertaining their fate, and believing that exposing the so-called “White Spots” in the Polish-Russian relations, is in the mutual interest of both nations, we are hereby establishing “The Citizen's Committee To Locate Missing Inhabitants of the Suwałki Area in July 1945.
The Committee’s goal is to establish a complete list of the missing individuals, to ascertain their fate, and to facilitate their return home. The Committee appeals to the Governments of the Polish People’s Republic, the government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), the Church, the Red Cross, all Polish and international bodies, and to all people of good will for help.”
- “It all began with the discovery of the mass graves in Giby” - admits Piotr Bajer, who co-founded the committee. “The three of us signed both the first announcement, and others that followed. They were Marek Basiewicz, a famer from Białogóry Stasiek [diminutive for Stanisław] Kowalczyk, who used to work for “Kolbeta” (a railway company), and myself, a worker at a Furniture Factory in Suwałki. We all come from the “Solidarnosc” [Solidarity Trade Union], and we were supported by the outlawed MZK (Pol. abbr. “Inter-Factory Solidarity Trade Union Committee”). Even Zbigniew Bujak supported us.”
“The first to react, was the Voivodeship Council. The head of the Social-Administrative Department summoned all members of our committee, and then in writing, forbade us from conducting any further activities; allegedly, in order to prevent any social unrest that was to allegedly ensue. According to that Director, an informal, and unsanctioned group like this, shouldn’t interfere with [official Communist-lead] organisations such as ZBoWiD, or PCK [Pol. Abbr. Polski Czerwony Krzyż - the Polish Red Cross].
“We knew that they will harass us”- says Bajer. “We’ve known empirically how this [Communist] system works, and what we should expect form him [the Director]. We simply couldn’t remain silent. Helped by our friends and other people of good will, we gathered a list of several hundreds of those who went missing during the Roundup. Fifty intellectualists from Warsaw submitted their petition to the Council of State in order to defend us. This probably saved us from direct persecution. Of course, we were under constant surveillance, and we were followed by both uniformed and plain-clothes [secret police]; they searched our cars, but that was all. It was far more difficult to overcome the fear that so many people still felt. ‘If I talk to you, will they take away my retirement benefits? - a ninety-year old woman asked reassuringly. It has to be emphasized, that we received great support from the members of the former Armia Krajowa (Pol. Abbr. AK – Home Army).”
Piotr Bajer is very critical of the work performed by the District Attorney Monkiewicz’s commission.
“[Monkiewicz’s] statement that ‘I am not saying that there are no bodies of those murdered during the Roundup buried near Giby, because I have no evidence’, is a mockery. We demand a thorough re-exhumation, rather than some sort of exploratory exhumation. Similarly, we don’t want this investigation to be conducted by these so-called ‘experts’ from the Voivodeship Office of Internal Affairs (abr. WUSW - Wojewódzki Urząd Spraw Wewnętrznych) in Suwałki. After Monkiewcz's statements to the "Interpress", no one is taking him seriously anymore.
Left: Piotr Bayer: “One cannot escape the truth. It wasn’t only Katyń… “
The committee set off to reach other goals as well. Among these, is to erect a fitting monument in memory of the Roundup’s victims. The issue of granting compensations to those who lost their loved-ones is still on the table.
“We also demand that the documents we accumulated be openly and publically circulated” - continues Bajer. A documentary on the Roundup was produced, and number of publications in the foreign press, and in independent ‘samizdat’ circulation, had appeared. But, it isn’t sufficient, of course. The monopoly on writing about the recent history of Suwałki, remains in the hands of the likes of Aleksander Omiljanowicz, a former UB [Polish secret policeman], who these days, is a writer specializing in books about the underground resistance.”
“Six years ago, certain S.P, now deceased, from Suwałki, wrote about Omiljanowicz in his (never published) letter to the ‘Krajobrazy’ [newspaper]: ‘Let the truth about what happened emerge once and for all, rather than feeding our youth nonsense, and manipulations […] On September 27, 1946, I was arrested by [secret policemen] Henryk Tarasiewicz (current President of ZBoWiD) and Aleksander Omiljanowicz, from the UB office in Suwałki […] Omiljanowicz would summon me to his office on a number of occasions; and there, with no witnesses present, he showed me his real skills.
He made me stand against a tiled stove and began hitting me all-over my whole body with a rifle butt, and then pounded my head against the stove. And this isn’t all.”
- “You can’t escape from the truth” - believes Piotr Bajer. “It is about time, that all facts concerning the Roundup see daylight. Other crimes committed by the NKVD and their helpers from the Polish secret police, the UB, ought to be exposed as well.”
The Prosecuting Attorney, Waldemar Monkiewicz declares himself to be a proponent of truth as well.
- “Yes, I agree with the accusation” - he admits - “it was only a superficial exhumation. Before we began our work, I was under the impression that these were Russian prisoners of war were buried there. What we found, I am certain, are German [remains].”
The head of the Białystok office of OKBZHwP (Pol. abbr. Okregowa Komisja Badania Zbrodni Hitlerowskich w Polsce - Regional Commission for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes in Poland) cites documents from military archives in Berlin. The dog tags found near Giby belonged to a certain Leo Teschnerr, who died on June 25, 1944, and his colleague from the same Company, Franz Tucholski. The identities of other German soldiers buried on the forest cemetery are yet to be ascertained.
Monkiewicz believes that he is falsely accused of sins that he had not committed. What he presented during the “Interpress” were facts. Jerzy Urban, in turn, commented on these, asserts Monkiewicz.
- “If such doubts remain, and if there is a need, I am willing to resume the exhumation” - says Monkiewicz - I am not opposed to the participation of members of the Citizens’ Committee, or members of the clergy, or local residents.”
- “Personally, I don’t believe that those detained were executed in the Puszcza Augustówska [Eng. Augustów Primeval Forest], but rather, they were transported to the East. Perhaps, they had perished in one of the [Soviet] camps there?”
Waldemar Monkiewicz began his initial talks with members of the Citizen’s Committee. He even proposed a date of the new exhumation, that is, the end of June. But, more detailed arrangements were never made.
- “He wasn’t a trustworthy partner to us” - states Piotr Bajer - “Further more, the situation had changed by then.”
After forty years, the wall of silence has finally broken down. Both, the “Krajobrazy” and Białystok’s “Gazeta Współczesna” newspapers, wrote about the Roundup - and dramatic letters to the editors began to arrive [from the readers].
The legalization of the “Solidarity” Trade Union, and the election primaries that were taking place around this time, caused an open and public discussion about the tragedy that took place forty-five years earlier.
On May 14, 1989, there was an Easter Festival in Studzienniczna. Holy Mass had just ended. The crowd spilled between the stands filled with trinkets, balloons, and whistles. Every moment, or so, one can hear sounds of firecrackers going off. In a small opening between vendors’ stands, a gathering of prospective voters collects around Professor Bronisław Geremek, a historian, and a candidate to the Polish Senate. He reminds them about the tragic fate of those who were arrested by the NKVD.
- “The people have the right to know” - he says. “And, the whole truth about the tragedy that befell the inhabitants of this area must be told.”
General Tadeusz Szacilo, who made an unsuccessful bid for the senatorial seat from the Suwałki Voivodeship, and who is affiliated with the ruling government coalition, takes a stand as well. In one of many press interviews (see “Krajobrazy”, Nr. 22, May 28, 1989), while asked about the Roundup, he declared his good will, and said: “This is a particularly painful episode in our history. The NKVD arrested many, many people then. Among them, were my acquaintances, and my relatives. In my opinion, this issue should be explained.”
Another General, Rudolf Dzipanow, who headed the Historical Commission of the Executive ZBoWiD Office, wrote to the editor of “Krajobrazy” (see Nr. 20, May 14, 1989), criticizing the passive stand of the Voivodeship government: “Its about time, that these people […] are shown where the graves of their loved ones are. And, if that isn’t possible anymore today, it is the responsibility of the regional government, to build them a monument, a symbol [of their grief] where they can lay flowers, light candles, and pay homage to the victims of the Suwałki Region.” Already, in 1987, Gen. R. Dzipanow negatively apprised the work of the Prosecuting Attorney Monkiewicz. He appealed for speedy exhumation of the Giby graves.
The Suwałki area Stronnictwo Demokratyczne (Pol. abbr. SD), also demanded the new investigation.
- “We appealed everywhere we could” - says Marian Luto, heading the WK SD. – “During our last Congress, the Suwałki delegation failed a formal petition to explain this issue. The people must know the whole truth. They must know the truth, not only about the reasons for the Roundup, but also the truth about the fate of those arrested."
"On June 29, 1987, somewhere between Giby and Rygola villages, an inhabitant of the Dworczysko Municipality, discovered a mass grave in the Augustów Forest. This news attracted many locals to the “Wielki Bór” Forest, who are hoping to find graves of their relatives arrested and deported to unknown destinations by the NKVD forces" - This is how the report by “The Citizen's Committee to Locate Missing Inhabitants of the Suwałki Area in July 1945” begins. This typewritten, 10-page document that was compiled in April 1989, summarizes the two-year-long activities of the Committee.
“Thus far, the most scrutinized area is the vicinity of the Dąbrowa Białostocka,and Puszcza Augustówska (The Augustów Primeval Forest). The areas located in the Northern and Western part of the Voivodeship, are still to be further scrutinized. The Roundup didn’t extend beyond the border of the former East Prussia. It is unknown however, to what degree it affected the areas south from Suchowola, and east of the present Russian Federation border […]
Thus far, a few hundred interviews were recorded, and indexed on some 370-evidentiary research cards containing the last names of well over one hundred known victims. According to preliminary calculations, from among 370 missing individuals, 93% were males, 59% were farmers, and less than half of all of them, belonged to the Armia Krajowa (Pol. abbr. AK) […]
The operation to eradicate the Democratic underground (the Roundup was only a part of this) aimed at young people, hence, for the most part, it were the young people who died.
According to the present calculations, the data shows that:
- Among 370 of those killed, there were 13 boys and girls not older than 18 years of age;
- 9 men were older 50 years of age;
- 157 others were between 19 to 30 years of age;
- The age of 187 others ranged from 31 to 50 (or slightly over 50).
[…] After 1 year, and eight-months-long investigation, the names of the 600 missing were established, but in the following five update reports of “The Citizens’ Committee”, […] it listed only 436 last names (see attached). A number of research cards are even lower (as mentioned above - 370). This data is current as of April 1989, but with each passing day, this number grows.
So, where do these discrepancies come from?
Thus far, not all families were contacted yet, and it is anticipated that a number evidentiary research cards will never be completed, as the next of kin, is no longer alive.
The list consists only of the last names of the people whose disappearance in July 1945 was confirmed by existing documents, reports of relatives, or at least, two witnesses who were not related to the victims."
"The search for the missing" - the report reminds us - "was already attempted before. Michał Olechnowicz, a mailman from Augustów, who lost his son, demanded the truth about the 500 missing until the end of his life. He wrote to the Polish Red Cross, the Polish and Russian authorities, and to the International Red Cross. After the events of the Polish October of 1956, the PCK branch in Augustów made similar attempts. When the names of 1,136 missing were compiled and confirmed […], the local Communist authorities forbid any further investigation […]
Zygmunt - a brother of the missing Stanisław Szyszkiewicz, wrote to the Polish and Russian authorities, and to the United Nations, on behalf of the families of 12 men deported from the village of Kopisko.
In 1958-1959, the MPs Jan Kloczko from Augustów and Palczak from Suwałki decided to intervene on behalf of the missing people. They drew up a list of over 500 missing from Augustów, Sejny and Suwałki Counties. The list was submitted to the Parliament, and from there it was redirected to the Central Committee of the Communist Polish United Workers Party (abbr. PZPR). While, allegedly, the list was forwarded to Moscow, the reply never came back […] No trace of those missing in 1945 was found.
“The information revealed in the report by the Citizen’s Committee does not sufficiently answer the question as to what had happened to those arrested during the Roundup. ‘Some circumstantial evidence shows, that the NKVD functionaries carried out murders that can legally be classified as acts of genocide […] Conversely, If the missing individuals who were murdered were not combatants, and were killed without any due process of law, and were not simply transported away, these acts clearly fall under the definition of a genocide.’
We demand that appropriate authorities undertake the process of discerning what had happened to the missing individuals, and if still alive, bringing those responsible to justice; if it is no longer possible, we demand that a public condemnation of their acts be officially issued.
Likewise, the OKPMS ("Citizen's Committee to Locate Missing Inhabitants of the Suwałki Area") also demanded a thorough exhumation of the graves near Giby, rather than a partial exhumation, as carried out previously. The contents of the graves needs to be examined by the international commission, Church representatives, NSZZ ‘Solidarność' and 'The Citizen's Committee to Locate Missing Inhabitants of the Suwałki Area in July 1945.'”
The report was signed by Piotr Bajer from Suwałki and Alicja Maciejowska from Warsaw, and was published in the “Solidarność” weekly (Nr. 4, June 23, 1989).
At that time it has been known that re-exhumation of the graves in the wilderness of the Big Forest will not take place as scheduled for the end of June. The District Attorney, Waldemar Monkiewicz, the Head of the Central Commission for the Investigation of German War Crimes in Poland, retracted his previous promises.
“If I’m accused of negligence and fallibility by the public, I could not proceed otherwise”- explains Monkiewicz. “Moreover, I’m not in a position to carry out the exhumation as expected by the 'Citizen's Committee' due to a lack of money, and technical means.”
According to other sources, his superiors have removed Monkiewicz from his duties. The case has been taken over by Dr. Jacek Wilczur from the Central Commission for the Investigation of German War Crimes in Poland.
“A couple of days ago, I went to Giby”- informs Dr. Wilczur in early July. “I believe we must observe the duty of loyalty towards the 'Citizen's Committee'. This Committee took up the case first, and managed to achieve a lot using meager means. We will not take any action before contacting the Committee. The most important arrangements have been made and the rest should be settled soon.”
“The chief obstacle is the lack of money necessary to carry out the exhumation”- declares Piotr Bajer. “We cannot proceed until substantial financial resources are gathered.”
Gen. Rudolf Dzipanow once again criticizes the district authorities on behalf of the Historical Committee at the ZBoWiD (Society of Fighters for Freedom and Democracy). “Why do they still hide their heads in the sand? What action did they take as administrators of the land? We should wait no longer."
The people who lost their relatives due to the Roundup, also believe that they’ve been waiting far too long. Stefan Milewski recalls his dream, or perhaps a daydream from the November, last year. He saw his brother, Stanisław, and felt his presence. “Remove my remains from the bottom of the Brozane Lake!” - he told him.
Continue to Part 8 - "Wrong Graves"