The Doomed Soldiers.
Polish Underground Soldiers 1944-1963 - The Untold Story.
Jozef J. Niedzwiecki, "Szary", "Lawina" 1919-1989 - The Stalin's Secret Order.
Above: Jozef Niedzwiecki (1919-1989), nom deguerre "Lawina", "Szary".
In 1939, at age twenty, Jozef Niedzwiecki was a member of the KOP (Korpus Ochrony Pogranicza - Boarder Security Corps; Polish Patriot: military) from Iwieniec, a small borderland city only sixteen miles from Minsk [then Russia, presently Belarus]. His unit took part in several skirmishes with the invading Germans near the Czech border until the end of organized resistance. When he returned home to northeast Poland it had been occupied by the Soviet Union. As the NKVD [NKD/NKVD/NKWD - Narodnyi Komitet Vnutriennykh Del - People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (Soviet Communist: secret police)] was initiating arrests and deportations, Polish patriots, including Jozef and his brother Jan Niedzwiecki, were beginning the formation of an underground resistance.
While walking together on a road near Iwieniec, Jozef and Jan were surrounded and arrested by the NKVD. They had been betrayed and denounced as former military and as enemies of the new regime. They were imprisoned in the NKVD prison in Minsk and began enduring daily interrogations and beatings. Subtle psychology was also used to try and find the size and form of the conspiracy.
For months they continued their refusal to cooperate. Their stubborness proved to be their salvation as they were still being held when Germany attacked Russia on June 22nd, 1941. As the Soviets retreated in chaos, prisoners were hastily driven on a forced march eastward. With panic and confusion all around; Jozef, Jan and another man seized an opportunity and escaped.
They were able to walk back to Iwieniec cross country, surviving by eating raw vegetables found in fields along the way. They then rejoined the growing conspiracy. By 1943 the underground was well organized and incorporated into the Home Army as "Zgrupowanie Stolpeckie" [(Eng.- Belarus hybrid, Group Stolpce; Polish Patriot: military, stationed in Stolpce, Poland, now Belarus and called Stoupcy)].
Niedzwiecki was in the 27th cavalry under Zdzislaw Nurkiewicz, and became a squadron leader. They initiated many actions against the German occupiers. These were characteristically very well planned and successful, with low losses of AK men. During the "Iwieniec uprising" of June 19, 1943, they destroyed the German garrison, killed over one hundred, and siezed a large cache of weapons, with only three AK men lost. The successful attack freed prisoners and headed off a proposed roundup of men by the German authority. One of the three men killed was Jan Niedzwiecki, killed by a grenade while storming the Waffen-SS Panzergrenadieren.
A field Holy Mass of the "Stolpce" Home Army partisan unit. Zdzislaw Nurkiewicz nom de guerre "Noc" is seen on the white horse.
During this time Soviet partisans were also increasing in the Naliboki region. Although much greater in number, the Soviets did not match the Poles in successful actions against the Germans. Their reputation with the local population was poor, with numerous cases of robbery, rape, and murder.
Despite this, commanders of the Home Army were instructed by leadership in London and Warsaw to combine efforts with the Soviet partisans against the "common enemy" of Nazi Germany. The Soviet leadership, however, was secretly undermining the Poles. NKVD operatives were passing information to the Gestapo on where to find AK members, and during joint actions the Soviets would sometimes withdraw and expose the Polish troops to German ambush. Spies infiltrated the AK units.
A field Holy Mass of the "Stolpce" Home Army partisan unit.
Towards the end of 1943, Soviet General Ponomarenko proposed to Stalin a plan to eliminate all patriotic Polish Units in the region. It was the same devious ploy that had worked in the Wilno area, when Polish partisans were surrounded and murdered after being lured to a "friendly" meeting.
Several partisan detachments were sent the secret order. At this time, the Bielski Brothers' camp, subject of the movie "Defiance", was subservient to the Soviets. They sent about fifty men for this action. Prior to this, the Bielskis and other partisan detachments had friendly relations with the local Polish army, sharing meals and even games of chess. This relationship was eclipsed by the larger goals of Stalin and his NKVD.
Adolf Pilch (center) and his men from the "Stolpce" Home Army unit. Pilch was a member of the famous "Cichociemni" commando
unit and was awarded Poland's highest medal for valor, the "Virituti Militari"/
On December 1st, 1943, near Niestorowicze, the leadership of the AK met with the Soviet Partisans at the request of Soviet General "Dubov". Upon arrival the Poles were surrounded and disarmed. The officers were arrested and taken away. Some were flown to Moscow for trial, the others were never seen alive again. The Soviets then launched surprise attacks on the nearby Polish camps.
When some of the Poles resisted they were shot. Some were first beaten and tortured, their bodies found with ears and fingers cut off. The other captured soldiers were forced into Soviet units. Seeing that the Poles were not easily becoming faithful Communists, the Russians began liquidating them, often shooting them in the back while traveling through the forest. Dozens of these Poles escaped as soon as possible and made their way back to the remnants of the AK.
Riflemen of the "Stolpce" Home Army unit.
The ranking officer not captured was Adolf Pilch. He soon linked up with Zdzislaw Nurkiewicz and most of the cavalry (who had not gone to the meeting) and they began gathering the scattered AK men.
The situation for them was desperate. They had lost their leaders, many men, and most of their weapons. They were now being pursued by two enemies, and the NKVD was now openly targeting their relatives. Entire families were murdered and several small villages completely wiped out.
Strictly secret (classified)
Copy No. 7
To: Commanding Officers and Commissars Partisan Stalin Brigade, 30 November, 1943. 1500 hr.
To carry out an order of the chief of staff of the partisan formations at the supreme headquarters of the Red Army, Gen. Lt. Ponomarenko and the authorized main headquarters of the partisan movement at the headquarters of the chif of staff as ruled by C.P(6) W.B. Baranovitz District, Mat. Gen. Platanov.
On the first day of December, 1943, exactly at 7a.m., in all areas and inhabited parts of the district begin to disarm all members and groups of the Polish [partisan] legion.
All taken arms and printed evidence to be recorded. Disarmed members and groups to be delivered to the Polish cap named Mklaszewski, in the vicinity of Nesterowich village, township of Iwieniec.
Should there be any resistance on the part of the Polish partisans they must be shot on the spot.
From the moment of receiving this order it should be immediately dispatched, in strictly classified letters, to the operating areas of your Groups, Companies, and Platoons, for the execution of this order.
REPEAT: Order to be kept in strict secrecy. The leaders and commanding officers will be responsible for keeping this scret.
COMMANDER “STALIN” BRIGADE Col. Gulewicz
COMMISSAR “STALIN” BRIGADE Lt. Col. Muranov
CHIEF OF STAFF “STALIN” BRIGADE Lt. Col. Karpov
Typed 10 copies:
No. 1 For the Records
No. 2 and 3 Group “Bolshevik”
No. 4 and 5 [Group] “Suvorov”
No. 6 [Group] “Tshapayev”
No. 8 [Group] “Budienny
No. 9 [Group] “Ryzak”
No. 10 [Group] “October Revolution”
Round Seal – Brigade “Stalin”
Ironically, orders from Warsaw by radio broadcast were still instructing the men to report themselves to the local Soviets for joint actions. A few days later Jozef Niedzwiecki's squadron captured members of the "Stalin brigade" after surrounding them. On a Russian officer Niedzwiecki discovered a copy of the "secret order" detailing the planned betrayal. They now had proof of Stalin's intentions for the Polish Home Army.
Above: Lieutenant General Panteleimon Ponomarenko, First Secretary of the Communist Party of Belarus.
Above: Major Vassily Chernishev "Platon", Commanding Officer of the Soviet Partisan Units.
Above: Colonel Grigory Sidoruk "Dubov", Deputy Commandant of the II Concentration of the Soviet Partisans' Iwieniec Units.
Above: Major Pavel Gulevich, Commanding Officer of the Soviet "Stalin" Brigade.
Above: Major Sylvester Klutchko, Commanding Officer of the Soviet "Frunze" Brigade.
When the local German authority realized what had occurred, they sent envoys proposing an alliance with the Poles against the Russians. This was unacceptable to Pilch and the Polish men, but in their desperate struggle for survival they struck a modified agreement; a temporary ceasefire against the Germans in exchange for weapons. The Germans then left caches of supplies in locations where the Poles could aquire them. This agreement saved the Polish resistance and many family members in the region, but proved costly for their reputation. For the next 45 years of Communist control, Pilch and his men were labeled as "Nazi collaborators" and "fascists". In some literature this label still occurs to this day. Some accounts by Soviet partisans, not wishing to own up to their actions, put the blame for the events of December 1st squarely on the victimized Poles, saying that the AK had been "killing Jews", or had been "working for the Germans". These claims are disproven easily. The Soviet archives show that the betrayal of the AK was a plan from the highest level for political purposes. Milaszewski's men had not only had friendly relations with Tuvia Bielski, but had a record of warning the local Jewish ghettos about German plans, as well as helping individual Jews escape. The Home army had orders to treat all ethnic groups well. They launched many attacks against the Germans, with such success that the local Nazi command accepted the temporary ceasefire.
During the winter of 1943-1944 the Polish partisans had a large influx of new men and quickly regained their strength and size. They began inflicting heavy losses on the Soviet partisan brigades. As the Russian front moved West, the group vacated the region and headed South. They used the chaos of the German retreat to move their army of about nine hundred all the way to Kampinos forest near Warsaw.
The group now became part of "Grupa Kampinos" [The Kampinos Group] and fought many battles against the Germans before, during, and after the Warsaw uprising. On the night of September 3rd, 1944, Niedzwiecki lead his unit in a surprise attack on the infamous SS RONA (Russkaya Osvoboditelnaya Narodnaya Armiya; Eng., Russian National Liberation Army; Russian Nazi: paramilitary), also known as the "Kaminsky Brigade". The attack, in the town of Marianow, destroyed the brigade to such an extent that it completely ceased to exist as a unit. Over two hundred SS men were killed or injured with only one AK man lost. The previous night Adolph Pilch had destroyed the other camp of SS RONA in the village of Truskaw with similar results.
At the end of September, the Kampinos group came under heavy attack near Zyrardow. Niedzwiecki was commanding his men in a defensive line when he was hit by a bomb blast and knocked unconcious. The next morning he and the young aid who stayed with him were captured by Wehrmacht troops and became prisoners of war. Niedzwiecki ended up interred in Stalag XB until it was liberated by the British.
It was beyond belief to Niedzwiecki and his fellow AK men to see all their hardship and sacrifice result in Poland ceded to the treacherous Communists. Because of his many interactions with the NKVD and Soviet partisans, Niedzwiecki was compelled to cut all ties with family who remained in Poland, for their safety. His beloved home near the Niemen river and Naliboki forest ceased to be a part of Poland.
The men of Zgupowanie Stolpeckie/Grupa Kampinos fought in over two hundred successful battles. Their list of accomplishments is a testament to the Polish character and the bravery of the Home Army.
Joseph Niedzwiecki had lead his men in numerous engagements against two enemies, and had survived arrest, torture, and two bullet wounds before being injured for a third time at Zyrardow.
He was awarded the Virtuti Militari, Poland's highest medal for valor.
He lived briefly in England before settling in the United States. Many men from his unit who remained in Poland, like Zdzislaw Nurkiewicz, were persecuted and arrested. Many were killed after the war by the new regime, punished for their patriotism and loyalty.
This story was contributed by John Nurt.