Kakolewnica - "Little Katyn" Near Radzyn Podlaski (Pol. "Kakolewnica - podlaski Katyn"): Unsolved Communist Crimes In Poland.
The Secret of the Kakolewnica Forest
"Uroczysko Baran" draws on Slavic mythology and lore. The crown of leaves of the tall oaks of Uroczysko cast a dark and ominous shadow over the forest floor. All who enter this world find themselves lost, with neither bearing nor pace. Sudden and silent death awaits every misstep; body and soul disappearing as a shade within a shade; their memory carried away on a fog swamped breeze soon to dissolve among other faint wisps.
The inhabitants of the area surrounding Uroczysko* Baran in Kakolewnica near Radzyn Podlaski, call this place “Little Katyn”. (pol. “Maly Katyn”) During Fall of 1944 and January and February of 1945 stationed here were units of the II Polish People's Army. The Home Army (abbr. AK - Armia Krajowa) soldiers were not the only ones shot here, but also those from WiN (pol. Wolnosc i Niezawislosc - Freedom And Independence) and BcH (pol. Bataliony Chlopskie - The Peasant's Batalions), real and imagined deserters, and others who fell in disfavor with the new communist regime.
To this day, an accurate number of those shot here is unknown. The most conservative estimates give number of several hundreds, but others claim, it should be between 1,300 to 1800 dead.
The Eastern region of Poland between Bug and Visula rivers were abandoned by the retreating German army in the middle of June, 1944.
At this time active in this region were numerous and well organized units of the Home Army. In this new and uncertain situation, they awaited for the future to unfold.
Against the "Law"
The Home Army units were hopeful that an agreement between Polish Government in Exile in London, the Soviets, and the newly formed Polish communist government centered around KRN (pol. Krajowa Rada Narodowa - State National Council) and PKWN (Polski Komitet Wyzwolenia Narodowego - Polish Committee of National Liberation) can be reached. Therefore, they refrained from engaging either the Russians, or the communist Polish People's Army under the Soviet command. During the period discussed here, the sole aim of the Home Army was to fight the Nazi occupiers. Only later, some units began to redirect their activities against the communists. It was a knee-jerk reaction, resulting from months of repression, arrests, torture, and physical extermination.
More than often, it was an issue of physical survival. After the offensive line of the Red Army front established itself firmly along the Vistula river, arrived with them the NKVD, the new administrative organs of PKWN and State Security (the UB) and began their activities on the territories previously occupied by the Nazis. An indiscriminate campaign of mass repression and arrests against, not only the Home Army underground, but also against at the population at large, began. The Home Army units were encircled, disarmed, and their officers arrested. Some of them were sent deep in to the Soviet Russia to never return, while others were murdered in summary executions without a trial. Those few who stood trials, were convicted as "enemies of the democratic system."
In order to dress-up such repressive measures into a semblance of "law", on 30 October, 1944 the PKWN (Polish Committee of National Liberation) issued a Decree about security of the state (pol. ochrona panstwa) signed by the head the of the KRN, (pol. Krajowa Rada Narodowa - State National Council) Boleslaw Bierut, head of the PKWN, Edward Osobka-Morawski, director of the National Defense, Gen. Michal Rola-Zymieski (recruited by the Soviet NKVD already in 1930's), and head of Public Security, Stanislaw Rdkiewicz. The decree went into law on the day it was issued, that is, on the 3rd of October, 1944; enforceable however, from 15 August 1944, thus in contrary with any and all principles and traditions of modern jurisprudence. It introduced punitive measures retroactively, that is acts committed prior to its issuance, and as a result cleverly placed Home Army outside of the Law under the guise of organization operating against the new "democratic system". The refusal to denounce any and all activities and/or individuals involved in activities deemed contrary to this "law" become punishable by death.
Arrested for "desertion"
During Fall of 1944, the General Command of the II Polish People's Army (WP) took location in a portion of the village Kakolwewnica, partially cleared of the inhabitants, and located between Radzyn Podlaski and Miedzyrzecze Podlaskie. They were stationed there from mid-January to February 1945, that is, until the Soviet offensive along the Vistula river began. In the nearby area two NKVD camps were located, in which Poles suspected of "counterrevolutionary activities" were held. Operating there were also units of GRU (rus. Glavnoye Razvedyvatel'noye Upravleniye - Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Soviet Union). Transported to the Kakolewnica were not only soldiers from the Home Army detained in this area (for example, 30 young men arrested in the church in Trzebieszowo), and soldiers captured beyond the Bug river (like those from the 27th Wolyn Infantry Division), but also those from the Peasant's Battalions (pol. Bataliony Chlopskie - BcH).
Systematically arrested were also officers and regular soldiers who joined the ranks of the Polish People's Army (WP). Units of the II Army were formed under difficult circumstances marked by lack of uniforms and food. Further more, it was staffed with non-Polish officers, and therefore an atmosphere of suspicion, paranoia, and internal surveillance were rampant. Under these circumstances many desertion attempts took place. Accused of an attempt to desert were even those soldiers, who left the unit to obtain food from the local Polish homes in the area.
Mercilessly tortured and frightened
An idea of what prisoners were treated like is related by Czeslaw Pekala, an inhabitant of a nearby Zakowola. During the Nazi occupation, Czeslaw, who was born in 1927, was a courier in the Home Army partisan unit in which he served with his older brother. After his arrest by the NKVD in December 1944, and subsequent incarceration in the Radzyn Podlaski's jail, a group of Home Army soldiers of which Czeslaw was also a member, organized a daring escape of 17 of those imprisoned. His brother joined the Polish People's Army (WP) in Lublin under assumed name. On November 3rd, the NKVD arrested then 18-year old Pekala. For three weeks, Czeslaw was held in the cellar without a bed, or even a stool to sit on. The concrete floor was covered with several centimeters of water. Already, during his first interrogation, his jaw was dislocated, while brutal kicking to the head resulted in severe head injuries.
Severely beaten, he was thrown onto the concrete floor of his cell covered with freezing water, where he laid for 4 days unconscious. During the next interrogation, he would feel only the first blow, and than he would loose consciousness - he only heard dimmed sounds of kicks and blows. He would wake up in his cell with smashed fingernails with splinters stock there by his tormentors.
Because of his brother's intervention, the [Polish People's] Army sent a prosecutor in order to look into Czeslaw Pekala's matter. He was released from prison on 15th of January. During 2 months of imprisonment Pekala's weight dropped from 68 kilograms to 36 kilograms, and he was unable to walk for four months. Before he was released, he was dragged into the aid's station, where he was forced to sign a statement, that he will keep secret about what happened to him in jail. "If you even as much as whisper, [about what happened to you] you will come back, but you will never leave [alive]" - he was told. He didn't say anything. He was so petrified that even a sign of a communist militiaman caused him to shake from fear. Only in 1998 did he tell about what happened to him. He also joined the World Union of Veterans of the Home Army, and the Warsaw's office of IPN issued a certificate about his imprisonment.
"Little Barbara, ask God to save your Daddy" (Pol. "Basiu, pros Bozie o twojego tatka")
The prison facilities were designated to be utility buildings, attics, basements, and holes dug up in the ground. It has been established that from September 1944 to November 1945, Kokolewica housed between 2,500 and 3,000 prisoners. On the hollowed plastered walls of an attic in the Zofia Mazur's house, to this day survive many inscriptions scratched on the lime-mortar-covered walls with dates from September 1944 to 16 January, 1945. One can see names of incarcerated prisoners, among them Capt. Gutowski, Capt. Kryszak, and the insignia of Free Poland. There is also one particular inscription that reads: "Little Barbara, ask God to save your Daddy". The arrested were kept in inhumane conditions: in crowded rooms, holes dug in the ground that were flooded with water. They were systematically starved. The interrogations were conducted in Russian and span through many hours, taking place mostly at night, and accompanied by physical and psychological torture.
"The beatings were an everyday occurrence. We were held in holes in the ground in freezing water up to our knees", reminisces Officer Cadet Antoni Stolcman, "Mewa", who commanded 2nd Platoon, Ist Company of the 35 Podlaska Division of the Home Army. The Military Court of the II Polish People's Army (WP) sentenced him to 5 years in prison. Along with him 16 others were sentenced, including 8 condemned to death. Only Jan Motyka's sentence was commuted as he was a cousin of communist party functionary (pol. "apartczyk" - communist party functionary) Lucjan Motyka. - After Motyka received his commutation he was locked up in our cell for two days. He was incapable of saying anything, and prayed nonstop. - says A. Stolcman.
The Truth Hidden Beneath the Moss
Information from the Military Historical Institute reveals that the Military Court attached to the II [Polish People's] Army stationed at Kakolewnica from September 1944 to January 1945, sentenced 144 persons, including 61 sentenced to death, from which 43 were carried out. Those killed were primarily soldiers and officers of the Home Army (AK). Executions were carried out by the head of the jail, Sergeant Bazyli Rogozinski. Antoni Solcman remembers him as follows: "When Rogozinski started drinking in the morning, it was for certain that he will be shooting [prisoners] at night. He told the arrested that he already killed many. I saw trucks being loaded with shovels and picks, and then tossed onto them like bags, were tied-up and gagged Home Army soldiers - my friends form the unit".
The executions were performed in the Kakolewnica forests known as the "Uroczysko Baran". Killed there were those sentenced by the military court, and also those who were denied even an appearance before such court. To this day it is unknown how many bodies of the murdered Home Army and NSZ (pol. abr. Narodowe Sily Zbrojne, National Armed Forces) soldiers rest there. From the testimonies given by the inhabitants of Kakolewnica appears that during the period when the headquarters of the II Army Command were stationed there, the forest was guarded by armed soldiers, and no civilians were allowed there. During the nights shots were heard from that direction and after the dusk military trucks covered with canvas traveled back and forth to that area. The spot where the executions took place were not marked. After bodies of those shot were buried, the area was leveled, and then it was concealed with moss and young tree saplings. When the Army Command left Kokolewnica in January 1945, the area was carefully leveled, and during the Spring hundreds of young trees were planted there. Already during the Summer of 1945, Jerzy Sokoliniec "Kruk", the commanding officer of the WiN detachment operating in the area, who knew the location where the executions took place, erected a birch cross there. Later he was captured the NKWD himself. After some years, the rains began to wash up bones and skulls of those murdered to the surface. A symbolic grave was erected only in 1980.
With Particular Brutality
On 8 March, 1990, the District Public Attorney Office in Radzyn Podlaski opened investigation into the matter of Kakolewnica murders. From 25 to 27 April an exhumation in and around the symbolic gravesite was conducted. The recovered human remains were bone fragments of 12 men between 20 and 60 years of age. In the area of 10x10 meters located were 4 separate burial places. The bodies were buried at the depth of between 50-120 centimeters. The condition of the remains and their location in the graves pointed to the particular brutality of the executioners and to the profound suffering of the victims. The protocol prepared by the Forensic Science Institute reads:
|"The executed had their hands and legs tied with metal wire. At the time of death, some of the victims sustained injuries in the form of broken and fractured arms, thighs, etc. Some of the skulls showed signs of severe trauma caused by a blunt, heavy object. The examiners confirmed injuries sustained by a single [execution style] gun shot with the entry wounds located either in the rear, or on the side of the skull. In one instance gun shot injuries were not confirmed, however confirmed was fragmentation of the scull resulted from severe trauma."
While it failed to identify any victims, obtained during the exhumation were such objects as shoes, a chain with remains of a scapular, a ring with an eagle, embroidered polish military star, covers of a prayer book, two pre-war brass military buttons - confirming that those murdered were Home Army soldiers. During the time of death, the executed wore outdoor or sheepskin coats, which indicate that the executions were conducted during late Fall or Winter. A large number of spent Soviet-made shells manufactured in 1944 were located in the exhumed area.
|"Taking under consideration the entirety of facts ascertained during the investigation of the events in the Kokolewnica during 1944/45, it is prudent to conclude, without any doubt, that at the "Baran" forest are other unknown graves of individuals shot as a result of death sentences rendered by the court of the II Polish [People's] Army (pol. WP - Wojsko Polskie); furthermore it can't be excluded that in this forest, and the area surrounding Kokolewnica, executions were also carried out by the NKVD functionaries completely independent of, and without knowledge, of the Command of the II Army and according with their sole discretion; for many of the Polish nationals disappeared without a trace" - we read in the Decision about suspension of the investigation conducted by the Distric Public Attorney's Office In Radzyn Podlaski in the matter of war crimes regarding executed soldiers of the Home Army and other persons during 1944-1945 in Kakolewnica.
Executioners In Polish Uniforms
According to one surviving document, the Military Court of the II Polish Army consisted of the following individuals:
- Colonel Stefan Piekarski, Chief Judge – an officer in the Bolshevik army from 1920
- Colonel Aleksander Tomaszewski – Soviet Red Army officer
- Tadeusz Malecki
- Maria Bednarska
- Wladyslaw Sobiech
- Aleksander Zawirski
- Michal Frankowski
- Marcin Dancyg
- Marian Barton
Nothing is known about who these individuals were, nor what their whereabouts after the war were. The military prosecutor of the II Polish Army was Prokopowicz, the chief officer of the investigative branch of the Military Intelligence was Tshevtshalov , head of the intelligence was Voznesenskyi, and Boodyrov was a head of the investigations.
The investigation about the mass-murder in the Podlasie region was already undertaken in February or March, 1946 by the examiner of the "Inspectorate North, Biala Podlaska" of WiN, Lieutenant-Colonel Jan Zatynski-Zatowski, code-name(s) "Wrzos", "Jemiola", "Burian", "Zagonczyk", "Dziryt". The Decision about discontinuation of the investigation conducted by WiN reads: "Most likely, they were all officers of the NKVD in Polish uniforms." Based on the testimony given to WiN under oath by prisoners who escaped, and soldiers of the LWP (Polish People's Army) three mass graves containing bodies of the soldiers shot at the Kokolewice forest were discovered. The testimony obtained by Lieutenant-Colonel "Wrzos" came into possession of the UB (Urzad Bezpieczenstwa - State Security) when he was later arrested. Information contained in the WiN report alarmed the Soviet NKVD and GRU (the Soviet military intelligence) so much, that he was transferred from prison in Lublin to the Warsaw's infamous UB prison on Koszykowa Street. The following day, special flight from Moscow brought both the NKVD and a military procurator. During the investigation "Wrzos" was subjected to the most brutal tortures - the Soviets were specifically interested in his knowledge of Kakolewica events, as well as the names of other individuals who may have any knowledge about it. (see "The Craft of Braking A Man" for a synopsis of 49 types of torture methods used by UB against the Polish Armed Underground Soldiers. We also encourage you to visit prof. Marek Jan Chodakiewicz website Project InPosternum.
The Unsolved Mystery
Information obtained by Lieutenant-Colonel “Wrzos” was known to few officers of the WiN in the Radzyn Podlaski region. Jerzy Skoliniec, code-name “Kruk”, who discovered location of places of executions which took place in Kakolewica’s in 1947, planted small pine trees on graves, of which some died out. An opportunity to conduct investigation were at that time nearly impossible. The access to the necessary official information on this subject was nonexistent. All who had some knowledge about what took place were either incarcerated, were in the Soviet punishment camps, frightened, or were dead. Lieutenant-Colonel Jan Szatynski-Szatkowski collected information about Kakolewica murders until his death in Poznan in 1988. According to his findings from 1946 and 1980’s, some 1500-1800 individuals were shot in Kakolewnica and the surrounding area. Majority of those were buried in the “Baran” forest. During the war, this and the surrounding areas were located near the front thus, it is possible that bodies could have been buried around military brigs or jails as well.
The issue of determining the number of buried in the Kakolewnica forests could be resolved with the use of a georadar (ground penetrating radar), however it will not happen in the near future - simply, because of the sheer number of cases investigated by the Lublin branch of the Institute of National Remembrance, Commission for Investigation of Crimes Against Polish Nation (IPN). Leszek Furman, the prosecutor who leads the investigation of murders in Kakolewnica informed IPN , that he had interviewed 100 witnesses, among whom 80 had significant knowledge about those events. He also pointed out complexity of this case: discovery of remains of 12 persons and documents about death sentence against 43 others. The presence of two NKVD prisons in the area suggests however, that there were more victims. In the Decision about closing of the investigation for example, we find information about instances in which prisoners were shot during attempted escapes. An explanation of the circumstances under which sentences were rendered (because of the historical context) is in itself , an extremely complex issue, since it is necessary to take under consideration not only pre-war laws, but also the legality of laws enacted by the PKWN.
Will “Uroczysko Baran” Ever Reveal Its Secrets?
The bloody “Uroczysko”
While one of the main problems in solving the secret of the Kakolewnica forest is lack of witnesses of those events, the testimony given by those who were located was beyond belief. - There were so many bullets and shrapnel encased into the trees from "Uroczysko", that when they were cut at the sawmill, the sparks were flying all over - says Miroslaw Barczynski, a historian at the Museum of Southern Podlasie.
The NKVD Came
In 1944 located in Kakolewnica were at first the headquarters of Marshall Rokossovski, and thereafter, headquarters of the II Polish People's Army (LW) under command of General Swierczewski. The first brought with them the NKVD; the second Polish Military Intelligence (pol. Informacja Wojskowa). These two entities are accused of committing murders in Kakolewica. The military removed inhabitants from the northern, southern, and a portion of the eastern part of the village. The testimony of the witnesses revealed that the inhabitants were forcibly removed from their homes and were not allowed to take any property with them. All granaries, small storage rooms, and cellars were used to jail Home Army soldiers, deserters from the Polish People’s Army (incidentally, may of whom were forcibly conscripted), and also civilians. These individuals were either murdered right on the spot, or were transported to the “Baran” forest, which is located about 3 km from the village of Kakolewnica.
The Institute of National Remembrance which is responsible for conducting investigation into the crimes committed at the “Uroczysko Baran”, interviewed 110 witnesses. According to the testimony given by those interviewed, the following facts were established: 1) during the time when the Command of the II Polish People’s Army (LWP) was stationed there, the “Baran” forest was guarded by armed soldiers; 2) those condemned to death were driven there in trucks after dark; 3) the sounds of shots were heard by witnesses during the night. It was also established, that after the remains were buried, the ground was leveled, and an attempt to conceal the crime was attempted by planting moss and small tree saplings over the crime scene. A description of what was discovered during the exhumation conducted in 1990 is terrifying. The victims’ legs and hands were tied up with cable and wire. At the time of death the victims had their ribs, shoulders, and thighs broken. The sculls had evidence of gun shot wounds located on the back and on the side of the scull. A portion of the exhumed sculls also showed signs of severe trauma resulted from blows to the head by heavy, blunt objects, delivered with considerable force. In one instance, the discovered scull did not show gunshot wound however, the scull was fragmented indicating that it was inflicted by very strong blows to the head. One of the victims, a man around 40 years of age was shot when he was at the bottom of the pit. He was laying on his right side and had his wrists tied on his back. The bullet entry wound was a temporal [side] area of the head. The bullet that caused the death was located under the scull. On the basis of evidence gathered during the exhumation, it was established that the murdered victims were Home Army soldiers.
The Investigation Is Suspended
Two years ago, Leszek Furman, an IPN prosecutor mandated the second exhumation at the Uroczysko Baran. This time, the investigators were not able to locate any human remains. It is estimated that remains of around 700 to 1200 victims rest there. "I spent 6 months in this forest, and can only say, that it will not easily reveal it's secrets" - says Barczynski. The prosecutor Leszek Furman assures, that the investigation will immediately resume if specific location of mass graves is discovered in documents, or through witness testimony. "I will be sifting through the archives of Urzad Bezpieczenstwa and Sluzba Bezpieczenstwa, because they monitored attitudes and behavior of individuals who, for example, attempted to erect crosses at the Baran Forest. Maybe it will be possible to locate information regarding places in which human bones were located. If specific information is located, we will certainly return to the Baran forest" - says the prosecutor.
The Search For Remains
The scope of the mass murder committed in Kakolewnica has not been assessed to this day. An intent to solve this grim mystery, based on the exhumation, documents, and accounts, was already formulated in 1980. However, the imposition of the Martial Law in Poland put an end to that possibility. An exploratory exhumation was possible only in 1990, as a result of initiative of Miroslaw Barczynski and Jan Kolkowicz, an editor, and historian linked with the independence movement. - A sample of 16 remains dug up from two holes by the military, during a 3-day project was more of a symbolic nature - remembers Kolkowicz. Taking under consideration necessary time and technical resources available at the time, searching through the entire “Uroczysko”*, which spans a dozen, or so hectares, was practically impossible. An application of sonar during the search prove to be less than helpful, while the infrared technology, with the aid of aircraft taking photos at night would have been more effective, but was too expensive.
Written by Anna Wasak, "Nasz Dziennik"
* "Uroczysko" - a deserted, mystical, and even dangerous place, capable of casting a spell on somebody. (Source: Otton Hedemann, "Dzieje Puszczy Bialowieskiej w Polsce przedrozbiorowej" at al. Instytut Badawczy Lasow Panstwowych, Seria A, Nr. 41, Warszaw, 1949) The pervasive carnage and secrecy, the progressive loss of such living people remembering this, the necessarily sketchy and deteriorating physical evidence conjures up the image of "Uroczysko" ...