Between the hammer and the nail
Excerpt from the Mark Paul's book "The Story of Two Shtetls"

Not only the Germans "pacified" villages

Excerpt from the book "The Story of Two Shtetls", published by The Polish Educational Foundation in North America. It is an important book, which deals with Polish-Jewish relations in the eastern part of Poland during World War II. The book contains contributions by scholars and publicists, both Poles and Jews, from various countries.

The Story of Two Shtetls Bransk and Ejszyszki: An Overview of Polish-Jewish Relations in Northeastern Poland During World War II (Part Two) - revised and expanded

(Toronto and Chicago: The Polish Educational Foundation in North America, 1998)

Pages 99, 114-16:

Anti-Semitic Pogrom in Ejszyszki?

An Overview of Polish-Jewish Relations in Wartime Northeastern Poland

by Mark Paul


One of the earliest and most gruesome episodes was the "pacification" of Naliboki, whose aim was the liquidation of the nascent pro-Home Army underground organization in that townlet. The Polish and Byelorussian villagers had formed a self-defence unit to fend off Soviet and Jewish marauders.

In Soviet eyes, their chief "crime" was that they had rebuffed overtures from the Soviet partisan command to fall into line.[1] The joint Soviet-Jewish assault on Naliboki occurred on May 8, 1943.

One hundred and twenty-eight (or nine) innocent civilians, including women and children, were butchered in a heinous pogrom that lasted almost two hours. The Jewish factions that did most of the pillaging and murdering of entire families awakened from their sleep were the Bielski ("Jerusalem") and Zorin ("Pobeda") detachments.

Everyone is in tears. The plunderers did not omit a single homestead. Something was taken from everyone. Because he resisted, they killed the father of my schoolmate and cousin, Marysia Grygorcewiczówna. The "soldiers of Pobeda" and "Jerusalemites" took with them the pigs and chickens which they shot, flour, as well as other provisions. They wanted to live! But they took the lives of others. They did not come to fight. …

In the space of almost two hours, 128 innocent people died, the majority of them, as eyewitnesses later testified, at the hands of the Bielski and "Pobeda" assassins.[2]

The Soviet report prepared by General Platon on May 10, 1943 gave the following-grossly embellished (e.g., there was no German police garrison in Naliboki!)-Version of this reputed "military operation":

On the night of May 8, 1943, the partisan detachments "Dzerzhinsky" … "Bolshevik" … "Suvorov" … under the command of the leader of the "Stalin" Brigade … by surprise destroyed the German garrison of the "self-defence" of the townlet of Naliboki. As a result of two-and-a-half hours of fighting 250 members of the self-defence [referred to by its Byelorussian name of "samokhova"-M.P.] group were killed. We took 4 heavy machine-guns, 15 light machine guns, 4 mortars, 10 automatic pistols, 13 rifles, and more than 20,000 rounds of ammunition (for rifles), and a lot of mines and grenades. We burned down the electrical station, the sawmill, the barracks, and county office. We took 100 cows and 78 horses. …

I order the leaders of the brigade and partisan detachments to present those distinguished in this battle for state awards.

In this battle, our units lost six dead and six wounded. Praise to our brave partisans-patriots of the Fatherland.[3]

Other villages, such as Szczepki and Prowzaly, and the townlet of Kamien Nowogródzki met a similar fate in the early months of 1944.[4] These exploits are strangely missing from memoirs of the Bielski partisans and from sanitized Holocaust histories.[5]

Ironically, in August 1943, a few months after the massacre in Naliboki, as part of a massive anti-partisan operation known as "Operation Hermann," some 60,000 German troops descended and, with the assistance of Lithuanian auxiliary forces (attached to the SS) and Byelorussian police, rounded up the civilian population of dozens of villages in the area of Naliboki forest suspected of supporting the partisans (some 20,000 villagers were deported to the Reich for slave labour) and burned down their homesteads.[6] Among those murdered for the crime of aiding partisans and Jews were a number of priests: Rev. Józef Bajko and Rev. Józef Baradyn from Naliboki, Rev. Pawel Dolzyk from Derewna, and Rev. Leopold Aulich and Rev. Kazimierz Rybaltowski from Kamien.[7]

Tuvia Bielski and many other Jewish partisans vividly recalled this German operation.

"One night I sent Akiba and a number of people with him to the village of Kletishtze [Kleciszcze]. Perhaps it would be possible to get some food.

When our people came to the village, they saw numerous German forces. The village was illuminated with the powerful lights of military vehicles.

Akiba returned with empty hands, but the information he had was important. Some time later the farmers told us that the number of Germans that were in the village that night was in the thousands. … After a while we found out that the Germans had gathered all the farmers of the village of Kletishtze and had taken them away from their village in trucks. They burned the village. The farmers were taken to Germany and only about a score managed to escape. Cattle, which they could not take with them, the Germans shot if the fire did not succeed in consuming them.

In the same way, the Germans burned at that time seventeen villages and hundreds of farmers' homesteads. Also, the village of Nalibuki [Naliboki] was consumed by fire.

The intention of the Germans was, as our agents informed us later, to destroy the villages which were close to the forest in order that the Partisans would not be helped by them with supplies and places to hide.[8]


[1] According to Krajewski, the foremost authority on these events, a self-defence group was created in Naliboki in August 1942, at the urging of the Germans, as a condition of not carrying out a "pacification" of this small town in the wake of a nearby assault by Soviet partisans on German troops. The townspeople were given a small quantity of rifles (22) and basically guarded the town against marauding bands. The self-defence group did not engage in military confrontations with the regular Soviet partisans and in March 1943, under the leadership of the local Home Army commander, Eugeniusz Klimowicz, reached a non-aggression agreement with Major Rafail Vasilevich, the local leader of the Soviet partisans. In April, when the self-defence group was summoned to the village of Niescierowicze to fend off a violent assault by marauders, two of its members were killed. The local Soviet command did not question the validity of such interventions. A surprise attack on Naliboki was launched on May 8, 1943 by the Stalin Brigade, with the participation of the Bielski detachment (which reported to it at that time), under the command of Major Vasilevich. A large part of the town was burned to the ground and 129 people were killed. See Krajewski, Na Ziemi Nowogródzkiej, 387-88. See also Komisja Historyczna Polskiego Sztabu Glównego w Londynie, Polskie Sily Zbrojne w Drugiej wojnie swiatowej 3: Armia Krajowa, 529; Antoni Boguslawski's afterword in Tadeusz Lopalewski, Miedzy Niemnem a Dzwina: Ziemia Wilenska i Nowogródzka (London: Wydawnictwo Polskie and Tern (Rybitwa) Book, 1955), 245; Adolf Pilch, Partyzanci trzech puszcz (Warszawa: Editions Spotkania, 1992), 135; Waclaw Nowicki, "W imie prawdy o zolnierzach AK: List otwarty do prof. A. Hackiewicza," Slowo- Dziennik katolicki, no. 141, August 11, 1993; Zygmunt Boradyn, "Rozbrojenie," Karta, no 16 (1995): 127; Tadeusz Piotrowski, Poland's Holocaust: Ethnic Strife, Collaboration with Occupying Forces and Genocide in the Second Republic, 1918-1947 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1998), 102; Tadeusz Gasztold, "Sowietyzacja i rusyfikacja Wilenszczyzny i Nowogródczyzny w dzialalnosci partyzantki sowieckiej w latach 1941-1944," in Adam Sudol, ed., Sowietyzacja Kresów Wschodnich II Rzeczypospolitej po 17 wrzesnia 1939 (Bydgoszcz: Wyzsza Szkola Pedagogiczna w Bydgoszczy, 1998), 277-78, 281-82; Zygmunt Boradyn, Niemen rzeka niezgody: Polsko-sowiecka wojna partyzancka na Nowogródczyznie 1943-1944 (Warsaw: Rytm, 1999), 100-101; Marek J. Chodakiewicz, Piotr Gontarczyk and Leszek Zebrowski, eds., Tajne oblicze GL-AL i PPR: Dokumenty (Warsaw: Burchard Edition, 1999), vol. 3, 251, 253.

[2] Waclaw Nowicki, Zywe echa (Warsaw: Antyk, 1993), 98, 100.

[3] This order is reproduced, in Polish translation, in Gasztold, "Sowietyzacja i rusyfikacja Wilenszczyzny i Nowogródczyzny w dzialalnosci partyzantki sowieckiej w latach 1941-1944," in Sudol, ed., Sowietyzacja Kresów Wschodnich II Rzeczypospolitej po 17 wrzesnia 1939, 281-82.

Eugeniusz Klimowicz, the Home Army commander, was charged with various crimes in Stalinist Poland, among them for activities directed against Soviet partisans! The death sentence imposed on him by a military tribunal in Warsaw was commuted to life imprisonment. Klimowicz described the events leading up to the pacification of Naliboki in a petition he sent to the head of the Supreme Military Tribunal, dated May 30, 1956 (Sygn. Akt Sr 749/51; pismo: Do Ob. Prezesa Najwyzszego Sadu Wojskowego w Warszawie).

[4] Kazimierz Krajewski, "Nowogródzki Okreg Armii Krajowej," in Jaroslaw Wolkonowski, ed., Sympozjum historyczne "Rok 1944 na Wilenszczyznie": Wilno 30 czerwca-1 lipca 1994r., (Warsaw: Biblioteka "Kuriera Wilenskiego," 1996), 54; Krajewski, Na Ziemi Nowogródzkiej, 388; Gasztold, "Sowietyzacja i rusyfikacja Wilenszczyzny i Nowogródczyzny w dzialalnosci partyzantki sowieckiej w latach 1941-1944," in Sudol, ed., Sowietyzacja Kresów Wschodnich II Rzeczypospolitej po 17 wrzesnia 1939, 277. According to Krajewski, 14 villagers were killed in Prowzaly in retaliation for an attempt to organize a local self-defence group. Seven families were wiped out in Szczepki.

[5] The only Jewish account the author has come across that appears to refer to the massacre in Naliboki is one related by one of the Jewish partisans involved in the assault to Sulia Wolozhinski Rubin, his mistress (at the time), and recorded by her almost twenty years later. It is replete with lapses, obvious concoctions and a remarkable lack of detail (place name, date, chronology, etc.), which is surprising given that her husband is said to hail from Naliboki and would have taken part in the massacre of his former neighbours.

The reason given for the assault is also highly dubious, since there was no compelling reason for anyone to have to pass through the isolated townlet of Naliboki (which was not in proximity to Dworzec) other than to forage. Moreover, the decision to launch the assault was entirely in the hands of the local Soviet partisan command.

Sulia Rubin's hearsay account is as follows: "There was a village not far from the [Dworzec] ghetto which escaping Jews would have to pass on the way to the forest, or partisans would pass on the way from the woods. These villagers would signal with bells and beat copper pots to alert other villages around. Peasants would run out with axes, sickles-anything that could kill-and would slaughter everybody and then divide among themselves whatever the unfortunate had had. Boris' [Rubizhewski] group decided to stop this once and for all. They sent a few people into the village and lay in ambush on all the roads. Soon enough signaling began and the peasants ran out with their weapons to kill the 'lousy Jews'. Well, the barrage started and they were mown down on all sides. Caskets were made for three days and more than 130 bodies buried. Never again were Jews or partisans killed on those roads." See Sulia Wolozhinski Rubin, Against the Tide: The Story of an Unknown Partisan (Jerusalem: Posner & Sons, 1980), 126-27.

As for the hostility of the local population, in another part of her memoir, Rubin recalls that when she fell sick, she was sheltered by villagers in nearby "Kletishtche" [Kleciszcze] for three weeks until she recovered her strength. "Kletishtche was a planlessly scattered, muddy village laid between two deep forests. The houses were wooden and primitive, but as clean as possible and the local peasants were good people." Ibid., 134-35.

However, in an interview conducted in 1993 for the documentary film "The Bielsky Brothers: The Unknown Partisans" (Soma Productions-written and produced by David Herman; reissued in 1996 by Films for the Humanities & Sciences), Sulia Rubin, who is interviewed together with her husband Boris Rubin at her side, provides a different version, now claiming that the assault on Naliboki was carried out by her husband when he learned that his father had been nailed to a tree by some villagers: "His father Shlomko … was crucified on a tree … Boris found out. That village doesn't exist anymore. … 130 people they buried that day."

It is difficult to understand how a pivotal event like that, had it occurred, could have been omitted from her detailed memoir. Moreover, the claim that the decision to attack Naliboki was Boris Rubin's is quite simply a concoction. This documentary, however, does inadvertently underscore the true source of the conflict with the local population. As one of the interviewed partisans put it, "The biggest problem was … feeding so many people. Groups of 10 to 12 partisans used to go out for a march of 80 to 90 kilometres, rob the villages, and bring food to the partisans [i.e. partisan base and family camp]."

[6] Zygmunt Boradyn, "Stosunki Armii Krajowej z partyzantka sowiecka na Nowogródczyznie," in Zygmunt Boradyn, Andrzej Chmielarz, and Henryk Piskunowicz, eds., Armia Krajowa na Nowogródczyznie i Wilenszczyznie (1941-1945) (Warsaw: Instytut Studiów Politycznych PAN, 1997), 112. Other "pacifications" carried out by the Germans on a massive scale in this part of Poland are described in Maria Wardzynska, "Radziecki ruch partyzancki i jego zwalczanie w Generalnym Komisariacie Bialorusi," Pamiec i sprawiedliwosc: Biuletyn Glównej Komisji Badania Zbrodni przeciwko Narodowi Polskiemu-Instytutu Pamieci Narodowej 39 (1996): 46-50. The author points out that the armed Soviet partisans would flee the area leaving the defenceless local population to fend for itself.

[7] Mieczyslaw Suwala, "'Boze, cos Polske' w Puszczy Nalibockiej," in Udzial kapelanów wojskowych w Drugiej wojnie swiatowej (Warsaw: Akademia Teologii Katolickiej, 1984), 386.

[8] Albert Nirenstein, A Tower from the Enemy: Contributions to a History of Jewish Resistance in Poland (New York: The Orion Press, 1959), 371-72.

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