One of the most widespread myths about the Second World War is that the Soviets “liberated” Poland. It is a myth based on the oblivion of massacres like that of Uroczysko Baran.
The Polish resistance against Nazism in 1944
The story of that massacre begins in 1944. On October 2 of that year the Warsaw Uprising had failed after two months of hard fighting. Stalin had ordered the Red Army to stop its advance on Warsaw, allowing the Germans to raze the Polish capital and defeat the Polish insurgents. At that time the Polish resistance was articulated around four large groups:
Finally, the Armia Ludowa (AL, Popular Army) was formed by communist partisans related to the Soviets. It was the latest of the great groups of the Polish resistance (appeared in 1944), and had no relationship with the rest of the groups, coming to have clashes with the NSZ.
The AK, the BCh and the NSZ were seen by the Soviets as a threat, because just as they fought against the Nazis, they could end up fighting against the USSR, since their objective was the independence of Poland. We must remember that this country had been invaded in 1939 by both Germany and its then ally the Soviet Union, under the secret protocol of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact. In addition, for the Soviets the AK, the BCh and the NSZ were seen as fascists for the mere fact of not being communists. Recall that the German communists had already called “socialfacists” to the SPD socialists in the 1930s, creating a disunity in the German left that facilitated Hitler’s rise to power.
Soldiers of the Armia Krajowa, the largest group of the Polish resistance, during the Warsaw Uprising of 1944.
The Soviet betrayal of the Polish resistance in July 1944
The Polish resistance had already had bad experiences with the Soviets. After the discovery of the pits of the Katyn massacre in 1943, the Polish Government in exile had broken all relations with the USSR. After the Liberation of Vilna in July 1944, the Soviets betrayed the AK fighters who had participated in the offensive, proceeding to arrest them. Similar events occurred in Lviv and Lublin. On July 14 of that year, the Soviet commanders of the Ukrainian and Belarusian fronts had been ordered to arrest and deport all Armia Krajowa forces they encountered. Some members of the AK managed to flee, persecuted by the Soviets, who launch against them a hunting operation in which they capture thousands of Poles who had fought against the Germans. Of those captured, some will be deported to Siberia, and others will be killed. Those who manage to escape continue the struggle, now against the USSR.
Soldiers of the Armia Krajowa with Soviet soldiers in Vilna, after the capture of the city, before the Red Army began the persecution against the Poles (Photo: Archivo Nacional Polaco / Wikimedia)
Kąkolewnica: a makeshift prison run by a drunken sergeant
In September 1944, hundreds of Polish fighters began to be taken to Kąkolewnica. A prison is made with several houses, farms, attics and cellars of that town in eastern Poland. It is estimated that between 2,500 and 3,000 Polish prisoners pass through there in January 1945. Among the prisoners there are members of the resistance (the AK, the BCh and the NSZ), also members of the Wolność i Niezawisłość (WiN, Freedom and Independence, a clandestine group created to continue the fight of the AK, this time against the Soviets), some deserters, soldiers of the Druga Armia Wojska Polskiego (2.AWP, the Second Polish People’s Army, formed in the USSR and to which many members of the Polish resistance were forced to enlist) and also other persons that the communists consider “enemies of the people,” from young people to people of 60 years. Sergeant Bazyli Rogoziński, of the Soviet NKVD, is in charge of this prison. It is said that if he is drunk in the morning, it is known that at night there will be deads, as a witness, Antoni Stolcman, will remember years later.
The forest of Uroczysko Baran, near Kąkolewnica, where the killing was carried out (Photo: Instytut Pamięci Narodowej)
“Little Barbara, ask God to save your dad”
The conditions of this prison are inhuman. The prisoners are hungry and are subjected to physical and psychological torture in interrogations, which are always done in Russian. The rooms of the makeshift prison are overcrowded, and prisoners are even confined to ditches dug into the ground, which ended up being flooded with water. In the attic of Zofia Mazur’s house, which is used as a cell, the prisoners make inscriptions with their nails on the walls: from names like Captain Gutowski and Captain Kryszak, to a “Kotwica”, the AK emblem. An inscription of one of the prisoners demonstrates the anguish they suffer: “Basiu, pros Bozie or twojego tatka” (Little Barbara, ask God to save your dad). Those inscriptions are still preserved today.
Between October of 1944 and January of 1945, when the Second World War has not yet finished, a military court attached to the Second Polish People’s Army is formed, akin to the Soviets. The court, chaired by a Red Army veteran, Colonel Stefan Piekarski, and under the supervision of Soviet Colonel Aleksander Tomaszewski, condemns 144 prisoners; of them, 61 of them are condemned to death, 43 being executed. Almost all AK soldiers and officers imprisoned in Kąkolewnica are killed in the nearby forest of Uroczysko Baran, shot in the head. The locals hear the shots at night and as a result of the killing, the neighbors of Kąkolewnicy call the place “Mały Katyń” (Little Katyn).
Soviet ammunition found at Uroczysko Baran, the place of slaughter (Photo: Instytut Pamięci Narodowej)
A birch cross in memory of the murdered
The bodies of the murdered are buried in common graves. When the executions end in January 1945, the ground is leveled and masked with moss, plants and trees so that there is no trace of what happened. In the summer of that year, Jerzy Sokoliniec “Kruk”, commander of the WiN detachment that operates in that area, erects a cross made with birch wood in the place, in memory of the murdered. Shortly after the neighbors of the place raise an even larger cross to indicate the site. The communists discover and demolish it, but one night the neighbors put it back. The investigation of what happened begins in 1946 when WiN members inspect the area. In 1980 a symbolic tomb was erected in the place.
The small monument that remembers those killed in Uroczysko Baran. The symbol on the lower left is “Kotwica”, the emblem of Armia Krajowa (Photo: Radzyninfo.pl)
The brutality of the executioners: fractured skulls, arms and thighs
In 1990, after the fall of communism, the first exhumations of corpses were carried out. The remains found reveal the brutality of the torture and executions perpetrated by the communists. The report of the Institute of Forensic Sciences of Poland states the following:
“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 skull resulted from severe trauma.“
To this day it is still unknown how many prisoners were executed there, since the Soviets either left no documentary evidence of all the prisoners they killed, or if they left it, those files have not yet been declassified. For the evidence obtained after the investigations made after the fall of communism, it is estimated that between 1,300 and 1,800 prisoners were killed in Uroczysko Baran. My memory to all of them.
For more information:
(Main photo: tvn24.pl. Members of the V Vilna Brigade of Armia Krajowa, the main organization of the Polish resistance against Nazism)
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