The massacre at koniuchy

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. The quotation in the text is taken from the more recent of these reports. See also Anna Surowiec, “Potrzebni są świadkowie,” Nasz Dziennik, January 21, 2002; “Informacja o działalności Instytutu Pamięci Narodowej–Komisja Ścigania Zbrodni przeciwko Narodowi Polskiemu w okresie 1 lipca 2003 r.–30 czerwca 2004 r.,” Warsaw, January 2005 (Łódź sygnatura akt S 17/01/Zk); Oddziałowa Komisja Ścigania Zbrodni przeciwko Narodowi Polskiemu w Łodzi, “Komunikat dot. śledztwa w sprawie zbrodni popełnionych przez partyzantów sowieckich w latach 1942–1944 na terenie byłego województwa nowogródzkiego,” June 19, 2008 (which distances itself from their original position that partisans from the Bielski group participated in the massacre). According to a recent statement, a spokesperson for the Institute of National Memory noted that the surviving villagers could not identify the assailants by name, nor were there any archival documents supporting their claim. See PAP, “Rzecznik IPN nt. Zbrodni w Nalibokach i braci Bielskich,” Gazeta Wyborcza, July 14, 2009. On the other hand, journalists from that same paper reported that members of the Bielski group did take part in the assault on Naliboki. See, for example, Jacek Szczerba, “Nazywam się Bielski, Tewje Bielski,” Gazeta Wyborcza, January 22, 2009.

129 Recently, Nechama Tec has dismissed allegations connecting the partisans to the massacre as “total lies.” Those allegations, she said, “underline the antisemitic tendencies of the writers and the distortion of history.” Robert Bielski, Tuvia Bielski’s son, was even more blunt, and characteristic, in his anti-Polish venom: “The Bielskis were not in Naliboki in May of ’43. But even if it were true, which I know it’s not, the 128 people are in no way close to the milllions of people that the Polish people herded towards the Germans so they could be extinguished. I believe it’s just a consistent Polish antisemitism and the Poles are sloughing off their own crimes of being an enemy of the Jews during World War II.” See Marissa Brostoff, “Polish Investigators Tie Partisans to Massacre,” Forward (New York), August 7, 2008; reprinted under the heading “Were Jewish Partisans Depicted in New Hollywood Movie Murderers or Heroes?” Haaertz, August 10, 2008. On the other hand, Zvi Bielski, the son of Zus (Zizel) Bielski, Tuvia’s bother, confided: “The Bielskis, if they had to, would wipe out an entire village as an example not to kill Jews. … these guys were vicious killers when they had to be.” See James M. Glass, Jewish Resistance during the Holocaust: Moral Uses of Violence and Will (Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 10. At the time, the Bielski group (consisting of some 400 Jews, including about 100 fighters) had their camps in the forests near the villages of Brzozówka (Stara Huta) and Jasionowo, west of Wsielub and northwest of the town of Nowogródek, about 50 kilometres west of Naliboki. However, the armed men, which were organized into fighting squads of eight to ten men each and included a cavalry reconnaissance team, were mobilized for various military tasks as required by the Soviet commanders. See “History of the Formation of the M.I. Kalinin Partisan Detachment,” “Jewish Units in the Soviet Partisan Movement: Selected Documents,” Yad Vashem Studies, vol. 23 (1993): 404–5; Tec, Defiance, 104; Duffy, The Bielski Brothers, 148–49. Tellingly, over the years, no one has come forward to dispute Boris Rubin’s claim of participating in the Naliboki massacre which was aired in the documentary film The Bielsky Brothers: The Unknown Partisans already in 1993. This massacre has thus been effectively appropriated by the Bielski partisans.

130 Sulia Wolozhinski Rubin, who was Boris Rubin’s mistress at the time, recorded the following rendition of these events in a memoir which she began to write in the 1960s: “There was a village not far from the ghetto [in Dworzec?] 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. That account is replete with lapses, contains obvious concoctions and lacks important detail (place name, date, chronology, etc.), which is surprising given that her husband, Boris Rubin, is said to hail from Naliboki and would thus have taken part in the massacre of his former neighbours. The reason she gives for the assault is also highly dubious, since there would have been no compelling reason for anyone to have to pass through the isolated town of Naliboki, other than to forage. Moreover, as Soviet sources make quite clear, the decision to launch the assault on Naliboki was not Boris Rubin’s or Israel Kesler’s, but was entirely in the hands of the Soviet partisan command. Sulia Wolozhinski Rubin gives a markedly different version of those events in the documentary film The Bielsky Brothers: The Unknown Partisans, produced by David Herman (Soma Productions, 1993; reissued in 1996 by Films for the Humanities & Sciences). Interviewed with her husband Boris Rubin by her side, she now claims that the assault on Naliboki was carried out by her husband after he had learned about the alleged gruesome fate of his father at the hands of the villagers: “His father Shlomko … was crucified on a tree … Boris found out. That village doesn’t exist anymore. … 130 people they buried that day.” Curiously, Sulia Wolozhinski Rubin appears to have forgotten that, in her detailed memoir published in 1980, she maintained that Boris’s father, Solomon Rubizhewski, had been killed by the Nazis when they liquidated the ghetto in Dworzec, where the Jews from Naliboki were taken by the Germans: “The rest of the people were chased to the ghetto where the Nazis killed Solomon Rubizhewski and his son, Shimon.” See Rubin, Against the Tide, 123–24. What this documentary does inadvertently underscore, however, is the true source of the conflict with the local population. As one of the Jewish partisans (interviewed in the film) 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.” Sulia Wolozhinski Rubin’s memoir confirms that the Rubizhewski brothers were engaged in forays in the countryside quite frequently. See Rubin, Against the Tide, 111–20, 136–37, 143. Soviet reports refer to a partisan from the Bielski group by the name of Itsek Rubezhevskii—Boris (Rubin) Rubizhewski’s older brother—as a rapacious plunderer who was caught repeatedly in the act. In response to such activities, the leader of the Frunze Brigade issued a warning that anyone caught robbing in Soviet partisan territory would be executed on the spot. See Boradyn, Niemen–rzeka niezgody, 85–86. According to information from former Soviet-Jewish partisans, it was widely held that the Bielski group took part in the massacre. See Jacek Hugo-Bader, “A rewolucja to przecież miała być przyjemność,” Gazeta Wyborcza, Magazyn Gazety (Warsaw), November 15, 1996.

Sulia Wolozhinski came from a well-to-do family in Nowogródek; her mother was a dentist who obtained lucrative, and much sought after, contracts from the Polish army. Nechama Tec describes some episodes from the courting of Sulia Wolozhinski: “Boris Rubierzewicki [sic], a brave partisan, a scout, and a regular food collector, would be a good choice. … Boris was interested. As proof of his intentions, he presented her with a fur coat, confiscated during a mission [i.e., a raid on a village]. Sulia notes that after she took up with Boris, ‘Right away I was dressed. Right away, I got a pair of boots. I had a fur.’” See Tec, Resilience and Courage, 316–17; Tec, Defiance, 161 (Boris’s surname is given as Rubierzewski). As for the alleged hostility of the local population, Sulia Wolozhinski mentions that, when she fell sick, she was sheltered by villagers in nearby Kleciszcze for three weeks until she recovered her strength: “Kletishtche [Kleciszcze] 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.” See Rubin, Against the Tide, 134–35. A Polish source indicates that when the Jewish residents of Naliboki were seized by the Germans and confined in the ghetto in Rubieżewicze, villagers from Naliboki brought them food. See Jozef Lojko [Józef Łojko], The Wound That Never Healed (Kidderminster, Worcestershire: n.p., 1999), 123. After the “liberation,” Boris Rubizhewski followed his commissar to Lida, where he obtained a position in the militia along with other Jewish partisans. These positions kept them out of the army and saved them from being sent to the front. Sulia Wolozhinski became a “director of cadres” of the railroad. Although she used the knowledge she acquired in her position to help fellow Jews, the couple was betrayed to the NKVD by a Jew when they decided to leave for Poland illegally. Once they finally arrived in the United States and settled in the Bronx, the Rubins would often find a swastika chalked on their door or mail box and their American-born daughter was terrorized by a young anti-Semitic ruffian. See Rubin, Against the Tide, 167, 171, 174, 181–82, 184, 220, 230.

131 Boris Rubin was one of several Jews from Naliboki who joined Kesler’s small group which occupied itself solely with robbing farmers. This group was incorporated into Bielski’s larger group around December 1942 or perhaps in early 1943, and soon grew to about 50 members. They had their own camp and enjoyed a measure of autonomy. Later on, in the fall of 1943, they counted about 150 members and Tuvia Bielski did not appear to exercise any real control over them. Kesler’s group was notorious for its plundering even among the Bielski group. See Tec, Defiance, 76, 112, 123, 128–29, 178–79; Duffy, The Bielski Brothers, 183–85, 187, 206; Rubin, Against the Tide, 126–27, 133, 139–41; Musial, ed., Sowjetische Partisanen in Weißrußland, 201–2 (Itsek Rubezhevskii), 203–5, 214 (Kesler). As described later, a few of members of Kesler’s group, including Izaak (Itsek) Rubizhewski, were caught plundering by Polish partisans, but released on Sulia Rubin’s intervention after receiving a thrashing. Eventually, the Rubizhewski brothers and Sulia Wolozhinski returned to Bielski’s main group. See Rubin, Against the Tide, 142–44. Kesler denounced Tuvia Bielski to General Dubov for financial mismanagement (misappropriation of gold, jewelry and money) and asked for permission to form a separate detachment. When Tuvia Bielski found out about this, he arrested Kesler and then executed him. Afterwards he denounced Kesler to the Soviet command as a “marauder” and “bandit.” Kesler was reportedly a thief and arsonist and ran a brothel in Naliboki before the war. After Hitler’s attack on Stalin in the summer of 1941, he allegedly denounced Communists, including Jewish party activists, to the Nazis. See Tec, Defiance, 179–80, 182–84; Duffy, The Bielski Brothers, 235–37, 243–45; Rubin, Against the Tide, 158; Musial, ed., Sowjetische Partisanen in Weißrußland, 203–5, 214; testimony of Estera Gorodejska, dated August 9, 1945, Archive of the Jewish Historical Institute (Warsaw), no. 301/568.

132 Boradyn, “Stosunki Armii Krajowej z partyzantką sowiecką na Nowogródczyźnie,” in Boradyn, ed., Armia Krajowa na Nowogródczyźnie i Wileńszczyźnie (1941–1945), 112; Boradyn, Niemen–rzeka niezgody, 130–31; Krajewski, Na Ziemi Nowogródzkiej, 44, 405–410; Dean, Collaboration in the Holocaust, 131–33. Other “pacifications” carried out by the Germans on a massive scale in this part of Poland are described in Krajewski, Na Ziemi Nowogródzkiej, 43–45; Maria Wardzyńska, “Radziecki ruch partyzancki i jego zwalczanie w Generalnym Komisariacie Białorusi,” Pamięć i Sprawiedliwość: Biuletyn Głównej Komisji Badania Zbrodni przeciwko Narodowi Polskiemu–Instytutu Pamięci Narodowej, no. 39 (1996): 46–50. Wardzyńska points out that the armed Soviet partisans would flee the area leaving the defenceless local population to fend for itself. The Germans perpetrated heinous crimes against the local population during these operations, such as herding villagers into barns and setting them on fire (for example, in Łapice). The German forces were assisted in these “pacification” actions by indigenous police forces consisting of 19 Schutzmannschaften. Of these, 17 were assigned to the SS and Police Leader for Belorussia in Minsk. Four were Lithuanian, two Latvian, three Belorussian, seven Ukrainian, and one—SS unit “Druzhina”—consisted of 2,000 Russians and Ukrainians. See Frank Buscher, “Investigating Nazi Crimes in Byelorussia: Challenges and Lessons,” posted on the Internet at: . The role of the local Belorussian order police, which included some Poles in its ranks, was for the most part passive. According to German sources, some 345,000 civilians are reckoned to have died as a result of punitive operations directed against the civilian population of Belorussia, which included prewar Polish territories, together with perhaps 30,000 partisans. See Christian Gerlach, Kalkulierte Morde: Die deutsche Wirtschafts- und Vernichtungspolitik in Weißrußland 1941 bis 1944 (Hamburg: Hamburger Edition, 1999), 884ff.

133 Mieczysław Suwała, “‘Boże, coś Polskę’ w Puszczy Nalibockiej,” in Julian Humeński, ed., Udział kapelanów wojskowych w drugiej wojnie światowej (Warsaw: Akademia Teologii Katolickiej, 1984), 386.

134 Barkai, The Fighting Ghettos, 263–64.

135 Ibid., 262.

136 Duffy, The Bielski Brothers, 184.

137 Ibid., 184–85. See also Tec, Defiance, 124–25. Estera Gorodejska, who was a member of Kesler’s group, reported that they had an abundance of food. Testimony of Estera Gorodejska, dated August 9, 1945, Archive of the Jewish Historical Institute (Warsaw), no. 301/568.

138 Tec, Defiance, 124.

139 Ibid., 116.

140 Report to (Zus) Bielski by Captain Korobkin, commissar of the Frunze Brigade, Documents of the Belorussian Partisan Headquarters in the National Archives of the Republic of Belarus in Minsk, fond 3623, opis 1, delo 2, list 64.

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