- July 13, 2014
Conspiracy of Silence over the Eastern Borderline: Anniversary Rumination
Seventy years have passed since the historical events in the Vilnius Region. In the spring of 1944 Operation “Tempest” was launched in the Eastern Borderline. Its aim was to capture Vilnius by the Home Army soldiers. On the initiative of Maciej Kalenkiewicz aka “Kotwicz” it was given the name Operation “Ostra Brama”.
In its essence the July warfare in the Vilnius and Navahrudak Regions was the second Polish liberation rising after the Warsaw Uprising in 1944 and a thesis referring to it as the Vilnius Uprising is legitimate.
Poles in the Borderline were trying to resist the occupants from the first days of war. The political situation of the Vilnius Region was different from that of the other Borderline territories. In the Vilnius Region there was the Soviet occupation – also called “the first Bolsheviks”- starting from 17th September 1939 till 27 October when in exchange for deploying several Soviet military bases in Lithuania Stalin “generously” gave up Vilnius and 7 thousand km2 under the management of Giedymin’s descendants.
Not long did this game of cat and mouse last, in June 1940 the Soviet Union demanded of Kowno “its own property” and marched into the Republic of Lithuania which after a short period of time became the Lithuanian Socialist Soviet Republic. It was the time of the so-called second Bolsheviks. For a year the Soviet Union introduced the communist terror. On 22nd June 1941 Nazi-Soviet war broke out and after the swift march east of the Nazi army, Vilnius found itself under the Nazi occupation. This last occupation lasted until 13th July 1944 when the Red Army entered those territories.
The Poles prepared themselves organizationally for the Operation Tempest in the Vilnius Region from the first days of war. The specific character of the Vilnius Region was that Poles had against themselves not only the Russians and Germans but also Lithuanians who collaborated with the main occupant at that time.
First of all it was the Saugumas that collaborated with the occupants – a secret Lithuanian police that served not only the NKVD but also Gestapo. In 1944 under the command of gen. P. Plechavičiusa, the Germans organised and armed a dozen battalions of Lithuanian volunteers. The aim of this army was to pacify Polish rural areas and to fight with the guerilla divisions of the Home Army. The collaborationist army was completely destroyed in no time.
The first Polish guerilla division in the Vilnius Region was founded due to the bottom-up initiative of Lt. Antoni Burzyński aka “Kmicic” in the spring of 1943. The division was quickly developing. In September 1943 other divisions were also founded. The flagitious reaction of the Soviet Union was unhesitating. On 22nd June 1943 gen. Ponomarienko, a commander of the Soviet guerilla brigades, a Russian ambassador in PPR in 1950s, issued an order, commanding to eliminate all the Home Army divisions. The Home Army soldiers were to be demilitarised and incorporated into Soviet brigades, and those that resisted were to be shot.
In the Vilnius Region the first victims of this order were “Kmicic” and about a hundred of his soldiers. They were brutally murdered in August 1943. His successor, Lt. Zygmunt Szendielarz aka “Łupaszka” was forced not only to fight with the Nazis but also with the Russo-Jewish gangs. 2Lt. Adolf Pilch aka “Mountain-Valley” found himself in the same situation as “Kmicic” in Naliboliki forest, whose Home Army divisions had to fight the same enemies.
In the Vilnius and Navahrudak Regions from the end of 1943 the armed forces of the Home Army organised themselves extremely efficient and their numbers grew week on week. A couple of days before the Vilnius Uprising it comprised of a dozen battalions which in the Vilnius Region were called brigades. The Polish guerilla divisions fought with the German military formations, Plechavičius’ battalions, Lithuanian formations and Belarussian policemen.
On 24th June 1944 the Red Army offensive was launched from the „Smolensk Gate”. The march was carried out extremely fast, the infantry and the armoured forces made 60 km a day.
Col. Aleksander Krzyżanowski aka “Wolf”, the commander of the joint Home Army forces of the Vilnius and Navahrudak Regions issued an order to strike the Germans on 6th July. The main attack on the heavily entrenched German positions from the east was not successful. The Home Army divisions managed however to capture the part of town on the right side of the river – the Calvary district. It was only the attack of the Red Army with the help of heavy artillery, armoured forces and air force that led to the divisions of Home and Red Armies entering Vilnius on 13th July, but the fights lasted for a week.
The attempts of Col. “Wolf” to establish a cooperation between the Red Army and the Home Army ended tragically. Aleksander Krzyżanowski and his staff were treacherously arrested, a similar fate awaited the 7 thousand soldiers of the Home Army. They were locked in the castle in Medininkai, then transported to Kaluga, and when they refused to swear allegiance to the Soviet Union, they were relegated to cut trees in the forest, in extremely difficult living and weather conditions.
After the Warsaw Uprising the fightings with the Nazis in the Vilnius Region were the most mass ones and several thousand soldiers of the Home Army participated in them. Vilnius was the central site of the fightings which was to be captured using their own forces, however in reality the fighting area encompassed the whole Vilnius Region and that was in fact the Vilnius Uprising.
During the Polish People’s Republic the history of the Borderline as the territory organically connected with Poland and from the earlies of times at that, was a topic passed over in silence, and drawing it out met with repressions. Only after 1989 when the censorship was not enforced and the topics inconvenient for the communists, in this what happened to the Poles in the Eastern Borderline, could be discussed. Unfortunately, in the Third Polish Republic this topic has been often avoided for many years.
70th anniversary of the Operation Tempest in the Eastern Borderline is approaching, and with this the anniversary of the Vilnius Uprising. I have serious doubts whether the officials will commemorate this serious and bloody rising of Poles in the Vilnius, Navahrudak, Polesia, Volfynia, Lwów Regions. In most probability, just as it happened during the time of Polish People’s Republic, there will be a conspiracy of silence over what happened to the Poles on half of the Second Polish Republic territories.
Translated by Alicja Dudzik within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.