The massacre at koniuchy



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; and an expanded Polish version of this article entitled “Pacyfikacja wsi Koniuchy (Kaniūkai),” Biuletyn Historii Pogranicza (Białystok), no. 4 (2003): 33–57. A more recent study by a Jewish-Lithuanian Šarūnas Liekis is: “Koniuchy in the ‘New’ and ‘Old’ Polish and Jewish Memory,” Conference Paper, “Between Coexistence and Divorce: 25 Years of Research on the History and Culture of Polish Jewry and Polish-Jewish Relations,” Hebrew University of Jerusalem, March 17–19, 2009. Zizas argues that the assault on Koniuchy was part of a larger partisan operation which targeted villages that had established self-defence groups and provides examples of additional assaults carried out at that time. While providing valuable research and information about the massacre and its background, Zizas (like Šarūnas Liekis) insists that Koniuchy was a Lithuanian village despite considerable evidence to the contrary: some inhabitants joined the Home Army, others “repatriated” to Poland after the war, and those that still live in Koniuchy regard themselves as Poles; moreover, even today masses are said only in Polish in the parish church in Butrymańce. Zizas also makes use of highly questionable Lithuanian nationalist sources which claim that Poles took part in the massacre (though none are named), and that it was even the work of the Home Army. However, given that the Lithuanian Brigade, especially the Margiris detachment, contained a significant Lithuanian component and no more than a handful of Poles (at most), it more likely that a number of ethnic Lithuanians (rather than Poles) actually took part in the massacre. For a Lithuanian report which shifts the blame for the massacre onto “Polish partisans,” see Garšva, ed., Armija krajova Lietuvoje, 266. For another overview see Rimantas Zizas, “Raudonųjų partizanų ir Pietryčių Lieutovos kaimų savisaugos ginkluoti konfliktai 1943 m.,” Genocidas ir rezistencija, no. 1 (15), 2004, posted online at , and Genocidas ir rezistencija, no. 2 (16), 2004. The number of Poles in the Soviet partisan movement in Rudniki forest was very small. Some of them are identified by name in Juchniewicz, Polacy w radzieckim ruchu partyzanckim 1941–1945, 287–89; however, this Communist author greatly exaggerates their strength to as high as twenty percent of all Soviet partisans in this area. Baruch Shub, one of the Jewish partisans in Rudniki forest, states that the Soviet units were composed mostly of Russians, Jews and Lithuanians, with only an “insignificant” number of Poles. See Baruch (Borka) Shuv (Shub), Meever lisheme ha-ananah: Sipuro shel partizan [Beyond the Leaden Clouds] (Tel Aviv: Moreshet, bet edut a. sh. Mordekai Anilevits’, 1995), 122.

34 According to the “Operations Diary of a Jewish Partisan Unit in Rudniki Forest, 1943–1944,” in Arad, Gutman, and Margaliot, eds., Documents of the Holocaust, 463–71, posted on the Internet at: , 30 fighters from the “Avenger” and “To Victory” units, under the operational command of Jacob Prener (Prenner), took part “in the operation to destroy the armed village of Koniuchy” (entry 19). Anatol Krakowski, one of the younger members, states that the two units carried out their activities jointly and that they had, in effect, a common command. Krakowski, Le Ghetto dans la forêt, 57, 81. Members of the “Death to Fascism” and “Struggle” detachments have also been identified among the assailants.

35 According to Dov Levin, “The Jews constituted a majority, at least for a certain period of time, in a considerable number of rifle and other units in the Lithuanian Division. … The existence of a large concentration of Jews within these frameworks … was almost wholly Yiddish-speaking … and whose staff was composed exclusively of Jews, at least in the intermediate and lower ranks, all contributed to the creation of a thriving Jewish existence. The Yiddish language was used predominantly in the Jews’ everyday lives and also served as the official military communications language. … The Jewish soldiers’ feelings of ‘being at home’ was also due in measure to the commanding officers tolerating not only the use of Yiddish, but also communal prayers and evenings of entertainment with songs in Yiddish and Hebrew, which not infrequently ended with dancing the Hora. Just as the mobilization propaganda was in its time carried out partly in Yiddish, this language was used for a particular type of propaganda inside the Division. Thus, for example, on the eve of going to the front-line, commissars and soldiers addressed meetings in juicy Yiddish, bringing forward in their speeches the terrible account that the Jewish soldier had to reckon with the German Fascists for the murder of his people in Lithuania.” See Dov Levin, “Some Facts and Problems About the Fighting of Lithuanian Jews against the Nazis and Their Collaborators (1941–1945),” in Zingeris, ed., The Days of Memory, 274, 276. See also Porat, The Fall of a Sparrow, 162–63. On March 17, 1944, Abba Kovner issued a missive to the Jewish partisans in the Rudniki forest in which he underscored the Jewish character of their partisan units (they were motivated largely by revenge), and that despite recent reorganization to dilute their ranks, the Jewish partisans should continue to regard themselves as Jew partisans (“shomer”). See Abba Kovner, A Missive to Hashomer Hatzair Partisans (Tel Aviv: Moreshet, 2002), xxi, xxiii–xxvi. When Vitka Kempner Kovner, one of Abba Kovner’s partisans and his future wife, 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 Rudniki forest considered themselves to be Jewish, not Soviet, partisans and were instensely nationalistc: “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 Update: Newsletter of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, February/March 2002: 2. In an interview from 1987 she stated: “Our forest was the only place where Jews were fighting as Jews.“ See Aviva Cantor, “She Fought Back: An Interview with Vilna Partisan Vitke Kempner,” Lilith Magazine, no. 16 (spring 1987): 24. The latter part of this statement is not quite accurate: the Bielski and Zorin partisan units, whose membership was almost exclusively Jewish, also considered themselves to be first and foremost Jewish partisans. It also appears that part of the proud heritage of those partisans, as evidenced by their own public statements, is their role in the massacre of the defenceless civilian population of Koniuchy and Naliboki.

36 According to Šarūnas Liekis, the Jewish membership counted: 41 out of 60 members of the “Death to Fascism” detachment; 58 out of 78 members of the “Struggle” detachment; 106 out of 119 members of the “To Victory” detachment; and 105 out of 107 members of the “Avenger” detachment. See Šarūnas Liekis, “Koniuchy in the ‘New’ and ‘Old’ Polish and Jewish Memory,” Conference Paper, “Between Coexistence and Divorce: 25 Years of Research on the History and Culture of Polish Jewry and Polish-Jewish Relations,” Hebrew University of Jerusalem, March 17–19, 2009, Internet:

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