The massacre at koniuchy

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The Massacre in Naliboki
One of the most heinous episodes was the “pacification” of the town Naliboki in May 1943. The purpose of this operation was to eliminate a nascent Home Army outpost in that small town located in Naliboki forest (Puszcza Nalibocka). Acting on German orders, the residents had formed a self-defence group to fend off marauders. Gradually, the group was transformed into a clandestine organization with connections to the Polish underground. In Soviet eyes, their chief “crime” was that they had rebuffed overtures from the Soviet partisan command to fall into line.118 The Soviet assault on Naliboki occurred in the early morning hours of May 8, 1943. One hundred and thirty (or 128 by some counts) innocent civilians, among them women and children, were butchered in a pogrom which lasted several hours. Some residents were killed in their beds, others were dragged out of their homes and executed individually or in groups. Buildings were ransacked and set on fire throughout the town.

There is no question that there were many Jews among the large Soviet forces that attacked Naliboki. A Soviet document (dated June 2, 1943) states that Iosif Shimanovich (Szymonowicz), who hailed from the town of Naliboki, was assigned the task of leading a group of partisans from the Dzerzhinsky detachment of the Stalin Brigade to the town for the assault.119 What is in dispute is whether members of the Bielski group were among the assailants. Confusion about this matter is unavoidable in the circumstances. A number of Jews from Naliboki had joined the Soviet partisans (among them, Boris Rubin or Rubizhewski, Israel Kesler, Iosif Shimanovich or Szymonowicz, Akiva or Kiva Szymonowicz, Michel Makhlis or Michal Mechlis, Abraham Viner or Avram Wajner, Avram Kibovich, Chaim Szlusberg, Pnina Szlusberg Szmidt)120; however, it is not always clear which detachment they belonged to at any given time, though almost all of them eventually became part of the Bielski group. Moreover, it is understandable that the residents of the town, who often survived the massacre by hiding, could not identify the assailants by name when questioned sixty years after the event. After all, the assailants not leave calling cards.

According to Wacław Nowicki, who lived through those events, the formations that did most of the pillaging and murdering were the “Pobeda” Brigade and the Bielski partisans, who later established their base and family camp, known as “Jerusalem,” in Naliboki forest.
It was 4:30, perhaps five at night. I was awoken by a powerful boom. A long burst of shots from an automatic rifle blanketed the cottage. Bullets pierced the beams through and flew above our beds. A bullet lodged in the wall a few centimetres above my head. I heard screams. We barricaded ourselves in the house, but the assailants ran further towards the centre of Naliboki. …

What we saw when the partisans left was beyond human comprehension. Burned down buildings. Piles of corpses. Mostly rifle-shot wounds, smashed heads, lifeless eyes staring in horror. Among those killed I noticed a schoolmate. …

Jews who lived among us before the war stood out among the assailants. They knew perfectly well where everyone lived and who was who. …

This was a group of degenerate bandits, and not any partisans. Their main occupation was robbery and murder. Often they also committed rapes. They raped one of my neighbours. Her father, whom they forced to watch this at gunpoint, was told: “Don’t worry, after the war we will come and get married.” During an assault they shot Antoni Korżenko, my godfather’s brother, when he did not want to hand over his horses.121

Everyone was 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 Grygorcewicz. 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.122

Residents of Naliboki who survived the attack make it clear that the assailants did not simply target the organizers of the local self-defence, who were few in number, but also the civilian population and burned down half the town in the process. Wacław Chilicki states: “They followed their noses and burst into cottages. Everyone they came across along the way they killed in cold blood. No one was shown mercy.” Bolesław Chmara, then 15 years old, recalled: “They summoned my brother, who was three years older than me, out to the porch. He came out. There was a woman among them. She raised her rifle and shot him right in the chest. It was a dumdum bullet that ripped his entire arm off. She shrugged her shoulders, turned around on her heel, and they moved on. They robbed what they could and reduced the cottage to ashes.”123 The presence of women is a strong indication that there were Jews among the assailants, since there were very few non-Jewish women in the Soviet partisan movement in this area.

Maria Chilicka (née Grygorcewicz) described the events as follows:

Neither my father nor our tenant nor our neighbours were organizers [of the self-defence]. They robbed us first. They told my father to harness his horse to his wagon and then told him to load onto it whatever was in the granary: flour, buckwheat, lard, smoked and raw meat. While my father was loading the wagon one of them struck him with the butt of a gun so that he would load faster. When the wagon was loaded they told my father to stand by the wall of the granary and they wanted to shoot him. We started to plead with them. At this time our tenant came out of the house so they told my father to remove his shoes. They led our tenant, Albert Farbatka, from the courtyard to the street and shot him near the gate. The bullet did not go through his forehead but pierced his cheeks and he fell to the ground. I can’t say exactly why they didn’t finish him off since I ran to rescue our cows because our cowshed was already on fire. Our pigsty with our pigs was burning down completely. When I was chasing the cows into the field one of the men with a torch went to set fire to the barn, and afterwards set fire to the granary and houses. They also killed our neighbour and burned his property. His body was also charred because there was no one to pull him away from his house. He left behind six children between the ages of twelve and one. The bandits just kept yelling “kill the belak [White Pole] and let him rot,” and they didn’t spare anyone. …

Before the self-defence group [was formed] armed intruders would enter homes in broad daylight and take clothing as well. A female intruder told my sister to open her wardrobe and took whatever she wanted. … If anyone would try not to give it to them then they would take what they wanted and destroy the rest so that nothing remained. They spared no one and nothing. … I do not know why they exacted such revenge on us. Perhaps because we fed them? Our family helped to hide a Jew from Mir named Kaplan. He didn’t stay in our house, but we provided him with food. … After they burned us down and we ourselves had nothing to eat, he went to the partisans. … Another Jew, a dentist who used to work in our hospital, stayed with us for three months. … Once the Germans came to us and demanded a bicycle and started to search our buildings. My mother was really afraid that they would enter our house and asked him to leave the house for a while. But he didn’t leave, and simply moved from one end of the house to the other … When my mother saw him she got upset and told him to leave a little more abruptly. He left right away. When the Germans left he came and took his documents and left … If they had found him in our house they would’ve shot all eight of us …

They [the Soviet partisans] came mostly to the farmers to rob. The worst was when they came or rather assaulted us accompanied by women, then they plundered everything, and when there wasn’t what she wanted, they smashed dishes, mirrors, and broke whatever came into their hands. Only once did a Russian come from the forest and not take [things] himself but told us to give him clean undergarments and food. … Not only did they rob but they also killed … Not one of our buildings remained. They took our horse and wagon. … Every family buried their victims. … They killed my 16-year-old cousin Jan Łukaszewicz in 1942 while he was watching his cows … Some Jews took another of my cousins from his home on May 8, 1943 and killed him. They also killed my cousin’s husband. They would have killed my father too had our tenant not come out of the house …

The Germans came during the day and carried out round-ups for labour in Germany. … In July there were many Germans and the partisans were afraid of them. They hid deep in the forest. They [the partisans] were heroes [when dealing] with the defenceless population. The Germans deported us on August 6, 1943. … They took us to camps like bandits because the real bandits had hidden in the forest.124

The head of the Soviet partisans in the Baranowicze district, Vasilii Chernyshev or Chernyshov, known by his nom de guerre Major General Platon,125 dispatched the following report after the assault on Naliboki, in which he grossly exaggerated the accomplishments of the Soviet partisans:
On the night of May 8, 1943, the partisan detachments “Dzerzhinskii” (commander Shashkin, commissar comrade Lakhov), “Bolshevik” (commander Makaev, commissar comrade Khmelevskii), “Suvorov” (commander Surkev, commissar comrade Klevko) under the command of comrade Gulevich, the commander of the “Stalin” Brigade, and its commissar comrade Muratov as well as the representative of the Iwieniec interregional peace centre, comrade Vasilevich, by surprise destroyed the German garrison of the “self-defence” of the small town of Naliboki. As a result of two-and-a-half hours of fighting 250 members of the self-defence [referred to by its Belorussian name of “samookhova”, actually spelled samaakhova in Belorussian—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, sawmill, 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.126
Later Soviet reports about the assault on Naliboki added further embellishments. In fact, there was no German garrison in Naliboki and the local self-defence group had 26 rifles and two light machine guns.127

Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance arrived at the following preliminary findings after launching an investigation into these events:

Despite a concluded agreement [of mutual cooperation], in the early morning of May 8, 1943 the Soviet partisans attacked [the town of] Naliboki. They pulled out of houses men who were actual members of the self-defence as well as those who were suspected of belonging to that formation, and shot them near their homes individually or in groups of several or a dozen or more. A portion of the buildings was set on fire and practically everything was taken from the houses—clothing, boots, food—and from the farms—horses and cattle. They [the Soviet partisans] also burned down the church, along with the parish records, school, county seat, post office, and coach house. The attack lasted two to three hours. In total 128 people were killed, mostly men, but the victims also included three women, a teenage boy, and a ten-year-old child. Those killed were buried in the local cemetery. Some members of the self-defence, who were taken by surprise by the attack, attempted to fight and killed a few Soviet partisans, but seeing no chance of success withdrew into the forest. It must be especially underscored that the vast majority of the victims were killed in executions, deliberately and with premeditation, and not by accident. …

Soviet partisans from the Second Concentration of the Iwieniec zone, commanded by Grigorii Sidoruk [nom de guerre General] “Dubov,” were active in the region of the Naliboki forest. That concentration formed part of the Baranowicze Partisan Concentration.

Soviet partisans from the following detachments took part in the assault on Naliboki: “Dzerzhinskii,” “Bolshevik,” and “Suvorov,” commanded by Pavel Gulevich, the commander of the Stalin Brigade, and Major Rafail Vasilevich. Jewish partisans from the unit commanded by Tuvia Bielski were among the assailants.128
Oddly, these exploits are missing from almost all memoirs of the Bielski group and the academic and poplar writings about them.129 The only Jewish accounts that describe these events, though in manner that is almost beyond recognition, are those of Sulia and Boris Rubin (Rubizhewski). The Rubins claim that it was Boris Rubin’s group, under the command of Israel Kesler, who actually masterminded the assault on what appears to be Naliboki, as there was no other comparable massacre in the area, in rather bizarre circumstances.130 At that time Kesler’s group was part of Tuvia Bielski’s much larger forest group, and also included Boris’s brother Izaak (or Itsek) Rubizhewski. Both Boris Rubin and Israel Kesler (about whom there is more in Part Three) were natives of Naliboki.131 Thus the participation of the Kesler group in the assault on Naliboki would be consistent with Polish eyewitness accounts, which mention that Jewish residents of Naliboki took part in the assault.

Ironically, a few months after the Naliboki massacre, from July 13 to August 8, 1943, as part of a massive anti-partisan sweep known as Operation Hermann, some 60,000 German troops, with the assistance of various auxiliary forces (Lithuanian, Latvian, and Ukrainian) and the Belorussian police, rounded up the population of scores of villages within a 15-kilometre radius of Naliboki forest suspected of supporting the partisans and burned down their homesteads. In total, 60 villages were razed and more than 20,000 villagers were deported to the Reich for slave labour. Hundreds of partisans and thousands of villagers were killed as a result of this operation.132 Among the civilian victims there were a number of Catholic priests who were executed for the crime of aiding partisans and Jews: Rev. Józef Bajko and Rev. Józef Baradyn of Naliboki, Rev. Paweł Dołżyk of Derewno (or Derewna), and Rev. Leopold Aulich and Rev. Kazimierz Rybałtowski of Kamień.133 This operation is vividly recalled by Tuvia Bielski and other Jewish partisans.

One night I sent Akiva [Shimanovich] and several others to the village of Kletishtza [Kleciszcze], thinking they might be able to get a little food. When they neared the village, they clearly saw several German military units. The village was ablaze with the bright headlights of military cars.

Akiva returned empty-handed, but the news he brought was important. Later, the farmers told us that that night there were thousands of Germans in that village. …

The news came back to us that the Germans had gathered together all the farmers in the neighborhood of the village of Kletishtza, had taken them to safety in cars, and then had set the village afire. The farmers were finally taken to Germany; only a few dozen escaped. The cattle that the Germans couldn’t take with them, they shot; any left behind were lost, of course, in the fire. Thus the Germans burned to the ground 17 villages and hundreds of farmhouses and estates.

The city of Naliboki was also consumed by fire. The intention of the Germans, as our agents explained to us later, was to destroy the villages that were close to the forest, so that the Partisans could not use them as a source of food or find shelter in them.134

However, as Tuvia Bielski recalls, the hardship of the villagers did not end there.
One of the tall men said he could see a woman in the distance walking around among the trees. The guards caught her, and sent to ask me what, according to the rules and regulations, should be done with her. We investigated to find out what she was doing. “I’m searching for my family, they ran away from Kletishtza [Kleciszcze],” (a border village about six kilometers away) [that had been razed by the Germans].

She was soaking wet. I was sure that she was a spy and knew what she was doing; but then again it could be that she would give us away without knowing she was going it. The farmers knew that Partisans were using the forests for cover and they were forbidden to come near them. Both the Russian Partisans and ourselves were forced for security reasons to kill any suspicious person, and so it was that this woman also had to be shot.135

Paradoxically, Operation Hermann turned out to be a godsend for the Jewish partisans, who returned to Naliboki forest after the operation and were now free to strip the homes of the depopulated villages of their contents without hindrance:
… they could seize the food and supplies that the Germans were unable to cart away. And it was quite a bounty.

In the ruined towns the partisans found chickens, pigs, and cows ambling everywhere. They raided beehives for honeycombs and rooted through cellars for potatoes. They discovered vegetables in the gardens ripe for picking and wheat in the fields ready for harvesting. Wagons, sewing machines, cobbler’s tools, and threshing machines were theirs for the taking. …

Over the course of several days, everything was taken …136
The Kesler group, who hid in Naliboki forest during the operation, became ever more aggressive and “would ransack peasant homes for jewelry, watches, and other valuables.”137 The Soviet (Russian) partisans also used this opportunity to strike at Jewish stragglers. As one Bielski partisan recalls, “Because we were split into many small groups some Russian fighters took advantage and attacked us. … They forced my friend to take off his boots and made him give up his shotgun.”138 The Jews experienced no such problems at the hands of Polish partisans.139 Despite strict orders not to raid the villagers who managed to survive Operation Hermann, five partisans from the Bielski fighters’ Ordzhonikidze detachment, led by Kiva Shimanovich, stripped four families of virtually all their food supplies and their cow, necessitating a reprimand from the Soviet brigade commissar.140


Šarūnas Liekis


Report Nr. 53 from the commander of the Baltininkų [Bołcieniki] Lithuanian Police defense station to the commander of the 253 Lithuanian Police Battalion Vladas Zibas of January 31, 1944:
“1A. 1944.01.29 at 6 a.m., around 150 bandits (Jews and Russians) armed with 1 heavy machine gun, 3 light machine guns, machine pistols, rifles and grenades, had attacked Koniuchy village. The village was burnt down, people were killed and cattle were slaughtered. (There were 35 killed in action and 15 wounded in action). Bandits had arrived from Dauciunai [Dawciuny] and WLK Salky [Wielkie Sałki] directions. They spent one hour there. Then retreated to the same directions.”1
The same day at 7 o’clock 52 men armed with machine guns from the 252 Police battalion marched to Koniuchy but did not manage to catch retreating Soviet partisans. Additionally, platoons from the battalion’s defense stations had organized “secrets” in order to ambush Soviet partisans. But they failed.
It is evident from the 253 Battalion’s diary that Soviet partisans threatened and ordered to handle out

[sic—hand over?] arms from the Lithuanian [* SEE COMMENTARY BELOW] villages Klepociai [Klepacze], Butrimonys [Butrymańce], Jononiai [Janiańce], Sauliai [Szawle] and Pasalis [Posolcz?] nearby. The partisans had attacked and robbed Kiemeliskes [Kiemieliszki] village the same day.

Other sources confirm [the] number of the casualties in Koniuchy. Only several of the killed were identified in the sources. Two of them were policemen [* SEE COMMENTARY BELOW].
This was a joint action of the Rudniki forest partisans. Zimanas reported to Snieckus [Genrikas or Henrikas Zimanas, nom de guerre “Jurgis” or “Yurgis”—the Yiddish version of his name was Heinrich Zieman or Ziman—was the secretary of the “South Area” Underground Committee of the Lithuanian Communist Party and head of the Lithuanian Partisan Movement in “Eastern Lithuania”; Antanas Sniečkus was, from 1940 to 1974, First Secretary of the Lithuanian Communist Party, in which ethnic Lithuanians constituted a small minority, and head of the Lithuanian Partisan Movement Headquarters]:
“The joint forces of the Vilnius [Wilno] partisan units “Death to the Occupants”, Margiris and General Headquarters Special Intelligence Group (Soviet Military Intelligence–GRU [S.L.]) destroyed the fiercest Eishyshok [Ejszyszki] self-defence village Kaniukai [Koniuchy]. Kaniukai had not only objected to the Soviet partisans entering [the] village but used to organize ambushes on the roads, were attacking friendly to the partisans villages and forced to take arms neutral to the partisans villages. Self-defense suffered heavy casualties. We did not have casualties on our side.”2
It was a joint action of all Rudniki forest partisans and not only people from the units that mentioned Zimanas participated. There is information that people from other partisan groups were present.
National composition of the partisans. It is impossible at present without several exceptions to prove who personally participated in the attack. We can only generally estimate how many people of what nationality were in those units by their personal files in the archive. … :







Death to the Occupants3









GRU Special Group4


LCSA F.R-666, In.1, File 7, p.29.

2 LVOA F.1, In.1, File 410, p.173.

3 In February 1944 there were only 55 partsans in the unit.

4 I have still to look at the list though its is not complete. Though according

to other sources this unit was made [up] mostly of Russians. And by all

accounts that was the largest unit in Rudniki forest and independent of the

local command. The sources contain many remarks and complaints about

violent and drunken behaviour of GRU special group.

Šarūnas Liekis

The order to attack [Koniuchy] was given by A. Snekius [Sniečkus] of the

Lithuanian Partisan Movement headquarters and carried out by the

“South Area” underground committee.

What is agreed is that the attack involved Lithuanian, Russian (probably
Belorussian [not only—Ed.) and Jewish partisans. The sources give varying numbers of
attackers. Soviet sources gave a figure of 427 attackers in three units:
The “Death to the Occupants” unit (5 Lithuanians, 93 Russians, 79 Jews, 47
“others” for a total of 224), the “Margiris” unit consisting of 21 Lithuanians

and 30 “others,” and the GRU Special Group, whose force of 152 men is

not broken down into nationalities.

Jewish and Lithuanian Police Battalion sources give a smaller figure. The

253rd Lithuanian Police Battalion commander, Vladas Zibas, reported on
January 31 that “150 bandits (Jews and Russians)” had attacked Koniuchy,
armed with machine guns, rifles, and grenades and that “the village was burnt
down, people were killed, and cattle were slaughtered.” Zibas reports that
the partisans had 50 casualties. Jewish sources state that 120-130 partisans
took part in the raid, including 50 Jews. There is general agreement that

members of two Jewish partisan units took part. One was led by Yaakov

Prenner (“Death to Fascism”), the other by Shmuel Kaplinsky (“To Victory”).


The claim that Koniuchy was a village populated by Lithuanians and that two

of the victims were policemen in the service of the Germans is innacurate,

as confirmed by the detailed reports published recently in the Vilnius

weekly Nasza Gazeta. They were simply members of a local self-defence

group. Unfortunately, neither of these academics deals squarely with the

reason why the residents of Koniuchy “objected to the Soviet partisans

entering [their] village.” The rapacious activities of the partisans is well

Many of the Jewish partisans who took part in the slaughter at Koniuchy made

their way to Poland after the war and, rather than face punishment there, were

given lucrative positions in the Soviet-imposed Communist regime, for example,

in the security police. In a shameful display of servility, Genrikas Zimanas,

who carried out the order to pacifyKoniuchy, was awarded Poland’s highest

military distinction, the Virtuti Militari.(Zimanas is the author of the book

Di sovetishe yidn: Patriotn fun zayer sotsialistish heymland [Moscow:

Sovetskii pisatel, 1984].)
When Vitka Kempner Kovner, one of Abba Kovner’s partisans, was awarded a

Certificate of Honor by the Miles Lerman Center for the Study of Jewish

Resistance at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in January 2001,

she underscored the fact that the Jews fighting in the Rudniki forest

considered themselves to be Jewish, not Soviet, partisans: “I am proud that I was

given the privilege to fight as a Jewess, belonging to a Jewish fighting unit,

under Jewish commanders, in which the language spoken and orders given

was Yiddish. There were many other Jewish fighters scattered among the Russian

partisan groups, but they fought as Russians.” ( See United States Holocaust

Memorial Museum, newsletter, February/March 2002: 2.) The latter part of this

Statement is not accurate. The Bielski and Zorin partisan units, whose membership

Was almost exclusively Jewish, also considered themselves to be first and foremost

Jewish partisans. It appears that part of the proud heritage of those partisans,

as evidenced by their own statements and publications, is the massacre of the

defenceless civilian population of Koniuchy and Naliboki.

Archiwum Akt Nowych w Warszawie

W zespole T–454, rolka 19 (w tzw. mikrofilmach aleksadryjskich obejmujące akta urzędów i instytucji III Rzeszy Niemieckiej z lat 1933–1945) – Reichsministerium für die besetzten Ostgebiete (Ministerstwo Rzeszy dla okupowanych teryteriów wschodnich), znaleziono wśród tajnych meldunków sytuacyjnych sporządzonych przez Oddział Operacyjny dowódcy Wehrmachtu – Ostland za okres luty-marzec 1944 r. odnośnie ruchu partyzanckiego (w oryginale “band”) na terenach Generalnych Komisariatów Łotwy, Litwy i Białorusi, wzmiankę o wsi Koniuchy, zniszczonej przez bandę żydowsko-sowiecką.

Tłumaczenie meldunku na język polski:
Kl. 821–822


Ryga, 5.2.1944 r.

Dowódca Wehrmachtu – Ostland

Oddział I a 690/44 taj(ne)

Dotyczy: sytuacji w zakresie band z 5.02.44 r.


7. Różne:


Zgodnie z meldunkiem mieszkańca pojawiła się średniej wielkości banda Żydów i Rosjan w Koniuchach – kwadrat 5585, 43 km na południe od Wilna, tam zastrzelonon 36 mieszkańców, 14 rannych. Miejscowość w przeważającej części została obrócona w perzynę.

Za dowódcę Wehrmachtu

Szef Sztabu

w zastępstwie


(podpis nieczytelny)


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