Unsolved Communist Crimes: The Augustów Roundup in July, 1945
"O earth, do not conceal our blood, so our cries never cease ..." Job 16:18
The Augustów Roundup was one of the most bloody mass murders committed by the Soviets on Polish citizens, after the end of the II World War. Despite that fact however, neither school books, nor encyclopedias, even mention this tragic episode in the post-World-War II history of Poland. The whereabouts of those who perished during this roundup are unknown, as is unknown their place of burial.
In July, 1945 the Red Army units supported by the communist UB (Urząd Bezpieczeństwa - Polish secret police), and MO (pol. Milicja Obywatelska - The People’s Milicia) conducted a grand-scale pacification in the Puszcza Augustówska [eng. Augustów Primeval Forest], and in the surrounding area. The Soviet forces combed through the forests and villages, arresting all those suspected of collaboration with the Polish Underground.
During the course of the roundup, nearly 2,000 individuals were detained. Some of those returned home after being interrogated and tortured, while 600 were sent to an unknown location, never to be heard from again. This is their story.
At the outset of the II World War, the Suwałki and Augustów counties fell under control of two occupiers: the Soviets, who established hegemony over the entire county of Suwałki, along with a portion of the Augustów County, and the Nazis, who reigned over a greater portion of the Augustów County. Right from the outset of this dual occupation, the Polish population residing in this area, began to form underground organizations to resist the occupiers.
Many armed underground organizations, such as Temporary Council of Suwałki Region (Pol. Tymczasowa Rada Ziemi Suwalskiej), the Pilsudski’s Legion (Pol. Legion Piłsudskiego), the Near-Niemen Legion (pol. Legion Nadniemenski), and National Revival (pol. Odrodzenie Narodowe) sprang into action, and ultimately united under the banner of ZWS, the Association of Armed Struggle (pol. Związek Walki Zbrojnej). The underground soldiers didn’t let the occupiers rest.
“During the time I was stationed in Augustów, we lost around 50 of our people […] the Poles were making it [the occupation] really difficult for us. It was real war.” – writes in his memoirs secretary of the Regional Committee of Belarus, which at that time (commonly known as the First Soviet Occupation), occupied this area.
After the Soviet-German war began, the infrastructure of the patriotic underground became unified under the standard of the Home Army, and was known in this area, as the Polish Insurrection Union (pol. Polski Związek Powstańczy). In the beginning of Spring, 1944, the Home Army had nearly 5 thousand sworn members.
During the operation “Tempest” (pol. “Burza”), in Spring, 1944, the Home Army units had to, in large part, reveal their identities, a fact which after the Germans are ejected from the North-Eastern part of Poland, and are replaced by the Soviets, will have tragic consequences. The Home Army soldiers were arrested, and either sent to the East, or forcibly conscripted into the communist Polish People’s Army (pol. Ludowe Wojsko Polskie). These repressions considerably undermined the strength of the underground infrastructure. Only in Spring, 1945, the soldiers who hid in the forests, began to reorganize themselves into new units, and to engage the new communist regime. As a result of these activities, in the Suwałki county, the democratic underground units destroyed seventeen, out of eighteen MO (Pol. abbr. People’s Militia) stations, and from among fourteen rural municipalities (pol. Gmina) created by the communists, only two functioned. Furthermore, twenty three death sentences against the communist collaborators, and dedicated “helpers” of the new “people’s government” were carried out. Equally active were units conducting activities in the Augustów county. The success of the Home Army aggravated the Polish communists, and their Soviet masters, particularly, since the Soviet Red Army, and the NKVD (Russ. The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (Народный комиссариат внутренних дел Narodnyy komissariat vnutrennikh del, НКВД), who took active part against the underground units, and the population at large, became more frequent targets of the democratic underground. After the capture of Berlin and the end of the World War II, a much larger number of personnel from the UB, NKVD, and the Red Army was dispatched to conduct activities against the democratic underground. These activities were conducted mainly by the Soviets, and at the “request” of the provincial, and county “governments”.
"The Roundup of Death"
The largest “cleanup” operation against the democratic armed underground, was conducted in July, 1945, and thus, became known as either the “July Roundup”, or as the “Augustów” Roundup, as it took place in and around Augustów area. The operation was conducted mainly by the Soviet forces, including the NKWD, Smersh (Soviet acronym: "SMERt' SHpionam" - Eng. Death To the Spies) and the soldiers of the 3rd Belarusian Front. The functionaries of the UB, MO, and local informers played the role of the betrayer Judas, pointing out individuals who should be arrested, serving as guides, and as interpreters, during horrific interrogations that ensued. The communist forces which took part in the roundup, amounted to nearly fifteen thousand men. The methods, and circumstances, under which arrests took place varied. The Home Army soldiers, and individuals sympathetic to them who lived in the cities, were arrested either during evenings, or at night. The inhabitants of the villages on the other hand, were dragged out of their homes, snatched from country roads, or fields.
||In the photo: Members of the Polish secret Police at the PUBP (pol. Powiatowy Urzad Bezpieczenstwa Publicznego - County Office of State Security - Polish Secret Police) office in Augustów with their Soviet "advisors" in 1945. Standing from left: 1) Platoon Leader Mirosław Milewski, 3) Sergeant Jan Szostak, 4) Officer Cadet Aleksander Kuczynski. In a short sketch of his life written in 1945, Szostak wrote: "I was brought from the counter-intelligence [rus. transliteration "kontrrazviedkha"] by major Vasilenko to collaborate in locating the leaders of AK [pol. Armia Krajowa - Home Army] and other hostile elements. Major Vasilenko is a "sovietnikh" [advisor] attached to the county office of UBP [Office of Public Security] for the city of Augustów; I work for him to this day under code-name 'Subocki'"
In the village of Jaziewo, for example, all villagers were called for a meeting, and all those who showed up were arrested. Many Home Army soldiers were arrested during firefights and skirmishes that took place during the roundup. Witold Zurawski, a Home Army Soldier from Jastrzebna, near Sztabin, reminisces :
“They encircled the entire village, and there were thousands of them – the Soviet henchmen marched, as if they were attacking in a line formation. They ordered us to exit our homes, so they could check our identity papers. After that they took all of us, men and some women, and they raced us to the barn, where we were held for two weeks. I had a feeling, that I am not going to make it, and when one day they took us out, I jumped into the crop field, and I was gone. The other villagers told me later, that after two weeks, the UB men wearing plain clothes arrived. They brought with them lists [with names] of people who were to be arrested. Those arrested were transported to Sztabin, and from there, they were taken to some unknown place. They vanished into thin air, [never to be seen again].”
Those detained were jailed in various places, and often subjected to horrible tortures. From among 1,900 to 2,000 arrested, around 600 people were selected from the list, which was prepared earlier by the communist collaborators. Among those selected, were women, and 15, or 16-years old boys. According to the information obtained from the witnesses, these individuals were placed on trucks and transported towards the Soviet boarder. From that moment on, their whereabouts are unknown. Today, one thing is certain – they were murdered on orders issued by the Soviets, and their remains are located somewhere on the territory of the former USSR. The search for the missing was undertaken by their families immediately after the roundup, but the trail ended at the selection camps, where they were held for a short time.
Left: Lt. Jan Szostak, Polish Secret Police, the UB; born 11 May, 1917 in Augustów.
1940-1941 - NKVD's TW [pol. abr. Tajny Wspolpracownik - Secret Collaborator] in Augustów operating under code-name "Wrona"
1944-1945 - NKVD's TW [pol. abr. Tajny Wspolpracownik - Secret Collaborator] in Augustów operating under code-name "Subocki"
1947-1948 - Deputy Chief of the Augustów's County Office for Public Security [PUBP]
In the transcript from the Augustów's City Council elections meeting on December 27, 1952 we read: "a speech was given by, among others, Szostak (the present Council's President) who stated that when it was necessary to hang people, to shoot them, and to drown them in toilets, there was no one around [to do it], and now his achievements are not even taken under consideration - this concerned the facts when the above mentioned was employed in the organs of Public security as a Chief of the PUBP."
Ironically, after retirement, Szostak became a "folk artist" with "artistic interests" in such subject matters as "religion" and "patriotism".
The villagers from the rural municipality called Giby, were first to ask about the fate of the missing, as during 1945, 109 individuals were taken away, and among those, 90 were detained during the roundup. In November, 1945, the Giby municipality sent a delegation to Warsaw in order to locate their missing neighbors, friends, and family members. Not surprisingly , they were not given any information. During the Stalinist times, any and all information about the roundup was a taboo, and bringing this subject up, could end tragically for those who dared to ask. During the following years, the subject of the “July Roundup”, was mentioned only during the so called period of Khrushchev's Thaw, that trickled into Poland.
Only in 1987, the matter of those missing received serious attention, when Stefan Myszczynski, who lost three brothers and his step-father during the roundup, discovered graves near the road connecting Rigol and Giby. Initially, it was suspected that they contained remains of those missing from July 1945. After their examination however, it was revealed that they contained remains of German soldiers who died during the war. Impulsively, the public opinion, began to be more interested in the fate of the victims of the July Roundup, and on August 2, 1987, Obywatelski Komitet Poszukiwan Mieszkancow Suwalszczyzny Zaginionych w Lipcu 1945 [eng. The Citizen’s Committee To Locate Missing Inhabitants of the Suwałki Area Who Perished in July 1945”], was formed.
Even though, the local government forbid the Committee to conduct its activity, they refused. Its founding members, Piotr Bajer, Mirosław Basiewicz, Stanisław Kowalczyk (from Suwałki), along with Alicja Maciejewska, Maria Chwalibog, and Jan Krzywosz (from Warsaw), with dedication gathered information about those perished. In 1992, all information they were able to obtain was delivered to the Public Attorney’s Office in Suwałki. However, the Public Attorney’s Office dismissed the case because of lack of the evidence, and its inability to probe through the classified post-soviet-era archives.
In 2001, case files reached the Institute of National Remembrance (pol. abbr. IPN). The investigation into the Augustów murders is presently conducted by the Institute of National Remembrance — Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation. Despite the fact that some progress was made, however, neither the fate of those presumed dead, nor the identities of the perpetrators, or the location of graves, have been discovered. The resources available to the IPN prosecutor to solve this case within Poland itself, have been exhausted.
Number of requests sent to the present government of Russia, to help the investigators by providing information about operations of their units during the "July Roundup", remain unanswered! Today, many families in Giby, and other communities affected by the murderous net of the 1945 roundup, still await the truth about the fate of their husbands, sisters, and brothers … For those perished still lament with Job, “O earth, do not conceal our blood, so our cries never cease ...”
Written by: Adam Bialous
The Names of the Augustów Missing:
Kolonicz Jerzy Stefan
Wisniewski Jan, son of Stanisław Wisniewski
Moroz Jozef (father)
Moroz Jozef (son)
BUDOWIEC, the ZELWY colony
Orlowski Mieczyslaw, son of Antoni
Kulak Stanisław, son of Maciej Kulak
Kulak Stanisław, son of Klemens Kulak
JESIONOWO near KRASNY BOR
KAMIEN near SZTABIN
Terlecki Bronislaw Boleslaw
KOMASZOWKA near KOLNO
KOMASZOWKA near KRASNY BOR
Bielenica Piotr (from Kalety in USSR)
RUDAWKA - KURDYNKI - KIELMINY
Makowski Konstanty (father)
Makowski Konstanty (son)
Fabisiak (the forester)
Andruszkiewicz (detained in Filipowo)
Kalinowski Bronislaw Zynda Antoni
Above: Monument dedicated to the memory of the "Augustów's Missing" erected in 1991. Photo Source: IPN