CHAPTER II

The Tragedy of World War Two

 

The small Podolian town of Jazlowiec, far removed from the war, was unlikely to see military action on its own grounds. So thought the great number of Poles who, in the face of enemy tanks and bombs,

fled to the furthest southeast corner of Poland to escape the death and destruction. Grim news from the front and fear of German bombs sent stream of refugees in spellbound flight toward the Rumanian border. This stream reached the dusty late-summer Podolian roads, including those that ran through Jazlowiec. The local people watched, helpless, as loaded cars, lorries, horse carts and people on foot trudged through their town in their panic-stricken flight from the German army.

Meanwhile, on the western front, Polish soldiers shed great amount of blood, constantly fighting, then retreating to stronger defensive positions, unable to cope with the armor of the German panzers. Foot soldiers and brave cavalrymen were no match for steel and cannons. Some bloody battles were fought at Westerplatte in Gdansk, at Bzura River, along the foothills of Carpathian Mountains, when in an uneven match against German armor, many brave men gave their lives in defense of their country. Actions such as these, when cavalry and foot soldiers faced tanks were witnessed in many other places in Poland. In the end the fighting concentrated around the Capitol City of Warsaw, in which the city suffered terrible bombardment and bloodshed. The city fought the hopeless fight, hoping for a miracle to come from the western allies. It never came - they had to give up fighting. Their capitulation as well as capitulation of all forces in the field was accelerated by the unexpected Soviet attack on Poland from the east.

This unprovoked attack by the Soviets was felt immediately in Jazlowiec. The second day after they had crossed the border, the 16th of September, 1939, Soviet tanks appeared in the main street of the town.

The short-lived Polish independence seemed to be over. Foreign soldiers once again trod on Polish soil, bending the country to their will. This fact in itself was sad and foreboding, but it was the least of the war time tragedies to come.

The first signs of the tragic truths of war were witnesses when some of the soldiers from Jazlowiec began to return home. Of the eleven young men who had gone off in defense of the country, only four came back to Jazlowiec and another four were lost on the battlefield, never to be seen again by their families - Jan Rola, Kazimierz Kowalski, Stanislaw Kurianski and Wladyslaw Krajewski -the whereabouts of their bodies unknown.

The 14th Lancers Regiment carried the name of Jazlowiec into battle in the same spirit as it fought in World War One. During the next war of theirs, of short duration, the men of the regiment carved a place in history in a fight with the enemy in a place far removed from Podole. The regiment, as one of the elements of the Podolian fighting group, was initially assigned to the Poznan region on the western front. They immediately went into action after German tanks crossed the border and for seventeen days fought a continuous action against them, resisting the attempts of several German panzers divisions to encircle and destroy the entire cavalry unit. They eventually broke out of the closing pincers and reached the banks of the Bzura River, where their commander thought the area to be safe from enemy. To his surprise, he found himself facing another strong German army group blocking his path across the river, where he had planned to escape into the Kampinoski Forest. In a fierce attack, the 14th Lancers breached the German infantry lines and took by surprise a Nazi panzer unit. This unexpected Polish movement enabled the entrapped Polish units to break through weak enemy resistance to join the main forces in defense of Warsaw.

This brave attack was witnessed by an Italian war correspondent, which immediately sent the account off to the Italian and French press. In his article, in which he hailed the bravery of the Poles, he called their action "the last military epic in the history of cavalry warfare." It was the last action of the kind for the Lancers and for all the Polish cavalry units as well. A few days later, their outgunned army was defeated at the gates of Warsaw. The city surrendered to the Nazi generals and the brave but outdated Polish army ceased to exist.

The victorious powers, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, quickly divided the spoils between them. In this modern division of Poland, Jazlowiec was incorporated with the entire Podole into the Soviet Union. The whole territory of the former Austrian eastern Galicia was renamed the Western Ukraine and declared a separate Soviet republic.

This of course pleased the Nazi minded Ukrainians, even though many of them were staunch believers in the Nazi ideology. They adopted a 'wait and see' attitude, while a great percentage of other Ukrainians openly cooperated with the Soviets, filling in minor bureaucratic positions in the local administration and security services. With this arrangement, Poles became the subjects of persecution both from the Soviet secret police (NKVD) and the local Ukrainians who collaborated with them.

Communism was immediately introduced in the newly occupied lands. The idea was not well accepted by various ethnic groups and least of all by the Poles.

Their negative attitude towards the new system was no deterrent to the typical Soviet methods of persecution. The security forces and the secret police took charge of internal affairs and promptly proceeded with the elimination of passive resistance. Mass arrests, forcible closure of private enterprise and nationalization of private property were some of the methods employed to keep the population in check.

This system of terror called for victims to be taken from Polish villages, towns and cities, picked at will to satisfy the labor needs of prisons and concentration camps in Siberia. The Poles in Jazlowiec were not exempt from this terror. Some men, like Kazimierz Stanecki, Michal Kuliczkowski, Julian Kurianski and Stanislaw Kowalski, became prisoners and slave laborers in Siberia labor camps of the north taiga. Another group of Polish families, the mayor's family (Kurianskis), the Kowalskis (Wladyslaw and Ignacy), Grzesiowskis, Goldstaubs, Piwowarskis, Staneckis, Baczynskis and some nuns from the convent and assorted others - twenty families in all - were deported to the steppes of Khazakstan to work in collective farms. Most of the victims were rounded up with the assistance of the local Ukrainians. This kind of terror kept the remaining members of the Polish community in total obedience to the new system.

The first Soviet occupation, as it was called, ended abruptly when Hitler and his Nazi armies swept into the fertile territory of the Soviet Union in June of 1941. In a lightning maneuver, they conquered the former Polish territories and penetrated deep into the Soviet Union itself, advancing against light resistance. To some Poles, the Nazi appeared at first to be a salvation from the Soviet terror. It soon became a nightmare for the Jews and another, more terrible, reign of terror, for the Poles.

The Nazi terror gave an almost free rein to the Ukrainian nationalists to ply their trade of hatred against the Poles, exacerbating and accelerating the terror plied by the Soviets, and with much greater destructive effect. For the Jews, it was genocide on a scale unprecedented in history. The motivation behind the Ukrainian terror was the total elimination of both Poles and Jews from territories shared with them, so that in the end there would only be one nationality remaining masters of the land.

As soon as the Nazi armies reached Podole, the only Ukrainian division serving with them quickly occupied Lwow and immediately after, their spiritual leader, Archbishop Andrei Szeptycki, formed a national government and declared the independent state of Ukraine. This proved to be a very temporary and shot-lasting arrangement as the Nazis, who had their own plans for the occupied lands, disbanded the Ukrainian government and their forces, recognizing the whole of the former Galicia as a future Polish province under their direct control.

The ambitious plans of Szeptycki to unite the Soviet part of the Ukraine with his Galician State also proved to be totally unrealistic. There was no ambition in the Soviet Ukraine for this grand nationalistic venture. Those Ukrainians chose to remain faithful to Mother Russia, the state that the Ukrainians had helped to build into a world power over several past centuries. As soon as the Nazis became aware of the fact, they imprisoned some Ukrainian leaders and put an end to their ambitious plans. One German general even went as far as to report to Berlin that if there were to be an independent Ukraine, it would have to be held together with German bayonets.

The Nazi leaders' change of attitude toward an independent Ukraine state did nothing to thwart their plans to utilize the Ukrainians as the police and security forces in occupied Poland.

They put them to excellent use in their auxiliary services of the Banschutze, Ortschutze, schutzmen, militiamen and concentration camp guards. Such responsibilities seemed to suit their characters perfectly.

At a later stage of the war, the Ukrainians were even allowed to have their own military unit of division strength, which went by the name of SS.Galizien. The unit was primarily used for control and persecution of the other ethnic groups, as the Ukrainians, in their frustration with the Nazis, vented their hatred against Poles and Jews. It was in this capacity that they committed some of the most heinous war crimes, many of which have not been brought to the attention of the world.

All persecutions followed the explicit Nazi policy of genocide, in which they provided a specific role for the Ukrainian nationalists. The German Governor General of occupied Poland, Hans Frank, made a declaration to that effect in March, 1940. "In our task to deal with the Polish problem," he said, "we will be helped by 600,000 Ukrainians, the inherent enemies of the Poles. We will draw them to our side and will use them in police and other public services. Here we have in our hands the falcons, who will not spare Polish life." In November of 1941 another Nazi leader, Hermann Goering, sounded the same note when presenting plans for the extermination of the Poles. The Ukranians, jointly with the Gestapo, liquidated the Jewish population in Belzec, Sobibor, Majadanek, Treblinka, Kiev, Zhytomir and many other places of mass destruction of human life. As with regard to the Poles, there were so-called "Pacification Expeditions" in Polesie, Wohlynia, Podole and other areas where total destruction of the Polish population was attempted. In some cases the Nazis inspired these horrendous actions, but in most cases, the initiative and execution of the plans were of Ukrainian making.

The Ukrainian intelligentsia and even most of the priests soon found justification for the savage treatment of their Polish and Jewish neighbors in historic national and ethnic conflicts. Going deep into history, they found the excuse for hatreds that fired their new political ideology: their religious and political writings that had been turned into nationalistic slogans to fuel the passions of the masses. Thus, the SS. Galizien had for its final strophe of its military marching song the obliteration of the Lekhs (the ancient name for the Poles) and every Jews in the territories claimed by the Ukrainians. A pamphlet distributed among the Ukrainian masses called specifically for the death of all Jews, Poles and Hungarians. The latter were the focus of Ukrainian hatred because of a centuries-past occupation of part of future Galicia. Ukrainian priests used the biblical phrase of separating "the weeds from the wheat," which meant the destruction of the Jews and Poles. With this goal in mind, the Ukrainian nationalists turned all of the southeast Polish territories into a bloodbath of hitherto unknown proportions.

In Jazlowiec and the surrounding areas, things could not have looked more bleak. Since the initial German blitzkrieg had missed them and the new German administration was slow in coming, the town was left at the mercy of the Ukrainian nationalists. On June 27, 1941, they declared their independence and immediately sized power. To symbolize the event, they began to raise mounds, called kurgans, with high crosses atop them. In some places, the used the bodies of murdered Poles for a foundation. In Jazlowiec, there were such calls among the Ukrainians, but for some reason none of the Poles was murdered for the foundation of their kurgan.

In the ruthless display of power, the Ukrainians resorted to some drastic and uncompromising measures directed primarily against the Poles. They immediately imprisoned several young Polish men and women (their neighbors) in a provisional detention center they had set up in one wing of the convent. All detainees were severely beaten, and some were killed. The first victim of the Ukrainian terror was Bronislaw Kulesza, the second Jan Kolodziej who died later from injuries sustained while imprisoned. The remaining prisoners were rescued through the intervention of a Hungarian detachment stationed in Czernelica, who obligated Polish request for help.

The disarmed Ukrainian militia were soon re-armed by the Gestapo in Buczacz. However, due to the presence of the Hungarian troops, the local Ukrainians in Jazlowiec temporarily suspended their outrages against the Poles, burning their barbaric instincts against the helpless Jews. Their first victim was a local hairdresser, Joseph Keiler, whom some eager nationalists shot on the street. They also imprisoned some twenty young Jews, detaining them in their provisional prison. After days of relentless beatings and inhumane treatment, the victims had their hands bound with barbed wire and were led to the Strypa River where all, save one who had managed to escape, were shot.

In response to this initial terror, the Jewish population began to engage in passive resistance - hiding, storing food, selling their possessions for next to nothing and in some cases, by moving to larger cities. Those who chose to remain were subjected to Nazi rule and Nazi justice. As in communities all over Poland, a Jazlowiec Jewish council, or "Judenraten" as it was officially called, was organized to supervise their community. Their basic obligation was the collection of taxes and blood money and valuables that were periodically extorted from them by SS gangs on the prowl for loot.

The first incident of Jewish genocide in Jazlowiec occurred in late summer of 1942. The victims were Hungarian Jews, allegedly Polish citizens, expelled to Galicia by Nazi decree. As far as it can be established, all these people spoke Hungarian, which brought into question the claim of their Polish citizenship. There is also no rational explanation as to why Jazlowiec was chosen for their place of execution, unless such a request came from the local Ukrainian nationalists.

According to the Polish information, Hungarian Jews were transported on trucks, two or three times a week for three consecutive weeks, to the courtyard of the convent. There, the Ukrainian militia and the supervising men of the Gestapo stripped them of their personal possessions. After this humiliation, they were led in groups to their place of execution. The most commonly used spot was at a small lake called Pozeze, where the Jews were shot and their bodies tossed into the water. After a group of the doomed Jews revolted in the middle of the town, resulting in a wholesale and bloody public beating, some of the groups were executed in the forest by the banks of the Strypa River. In all, it can be estimated that 3,000 to 4,000 Hungarian Jews perished in this massacre. Any local Jew who tried to help them was either severely beaten or led away for execution with the victims. Two of the executioners, Konowalczuk and Bielowus, later prided themselves by bragging that they had killed 1,500 and 800 Jews, respectively. Since there were also other executioners who took part in the massacre, even the high estimate of 4,000 murdered would not be far from the truth.

Local Jews, although subjected to harassment and persecution, were not yet the targets of genocide. Harassment of the Jews of Jazlowiec took many forms. Many were forced to toil as slave laborers for Ukrainian farmers and do general town work under police supervision. There were many tasks that they performed, but one of the most odious and degrading was a direct result of severe flooding that occurred in the town in May 1942. The rushing torrents of water had wrecked substantial damage, most notably destroying a wall supporting one of the main streets in the town. The police assembled all able-bodied Jews and ordered them to repair the wall, using the headstones from the graves of their ancestors in the Jewish cemetery. Curiously, this in a way may have preserved the memories of the Jewish community in Jazlowiec, as the wall is likely to stand for a very long time.

By then, the Jewish community's days in Jazlowiec were numbered. In nearby Buczacz, the Jewish ghetto was already established and according to Nazi plans was to accommodate all the Jews from the entire county. On several occasions, prior to their deportation, the Jews of Jazlowiec were subjected to the usual deceptions and extortions by which the Nazis used to deprive their victims of their valuables. Each time a purported deportation the ghetto was announced, a ransom was demanded of the Jewish community to stay their removal. This only lasted until the next appearance of the Gestapo in the town, and in the end, with their funds depleted, they were rounded up and taken to the ghetto in Buczacz. Some of them were executed in a place called Fedor and some were sent to concentration camps.

Some remained in hiding and became the subject of constant search by the Ukrainian police. Whenever one was discovered, he was publicly executed on the spot, or led to the Jewish cemetery, which had become the local place of execution.

By the end of 1942, the Ukrainian militia (Ukrainian Sicz), responsible for the massacre of the Hungarian Jews, was disbanded by the German authorities. In its place, another police unit was formed under the command of a man called Batiuk. This was only a nominal change, however, because the men in the unit were recruited from the former militia group. After the establishment of this unit, the local Poles were again subjected to new acts of terrorism. Several of them were imprisoned, severely beaten, then transported to the county prison in Buczacz, where they were subjected to long, senseless interrogations and eventually freed by the German authorities. Further Ukrainian excesses against the Poles were checked by the presence of a Hungarian unit stationed in nearby Potok Zloty. It has to be said of the Hungarians that whenever they were asked to intervene on behalf of the Poles, they always responded positively. In some ways, it became a comic situation of cat and mouse. After every intervention by the Hungarians, the Ukrainians were disarmed, and a few days later, the Germans in Buczacz gave them new weapons.

The Hungarian presence in Potok Zloty did not mean total elimination of the Ukrainian threat to the Poles, however. Ukrainian nationalists did their utmost to stir up anti-Polish feelings among the nearby villages of Rusilow and Leszczance. In the fall of 1942, they had so stirred up the Ukrainians of these villages that they armed themselves with axes, pitchforks and scythes, ready to attack and murder their Polish neighbors. The Poles barricaded themselves in their homes, ready to defend their lives. Some more reasoned minds among the local Ukrainians persuaded the mob to disband and to go home, and bloodshed was averted. This incident made the Poles realize that in order to survive, they had to have arms and an efficient self-defense organization.

Small arms became a very precious and sought-after commodity. It became even more precious than food, which, because of a poor crop that year, was in very short supply. Only the generosity of the Poles in Duliby saved the people of Jazlowiec from starvation. The Jews, deprived of all sources of supply, fared even worse. The main source of supply for small arms became the Hungarian detachment, which by the end of the year moved to Jazlowiec. Trade between the soldiers and the locals was brisk, especially in home-brewed vodka, which was always in strong demand by the soldiers.

With the Hungarians now occupying the convent, the Ukrainian police were forced to move to lesser accommodations in the town. They took over a spacious house which once belonged to a rich Jew, Reinisch. The building was big enough to also serve as a temporary prison and center for detainees destined for eventual shipment to Germany as forced laborers.

A German official named Roth headed the supervision of the operation of the search and arrest of Poles. The actual execution of the program was in the hands of the Ukrainian police, who usually rounded up Poles during the night when most were asleep in their beds. They sometimes used deception to ruse people into assembling themselves for deportation. In one instance, they advertised a big shoe sale, a commodity that was in very short supply, in a village near Jazlowiec. All Poles who responded to the sale announcement were rounded up and sent to Buczacz for deportation. These round-ups were frequent but not always successful. In one case, fifteen Poles were sent to Buczacz under escort and the next day ten of them returned home. Some always found a way to escape.

Self-defense became the main concern for the Polish community in Jazlowiec. Under the light Hungarian protection and with the tacit cooperation in arming the Poles, a small Polish underground unit was formed, organized by Kazimierz Kowalski. This young man, who had escaped Soviet deportation to Siberia and had managed to survive the Ukrainian terror, was assisted by a former military man, Jozef Grzesiowski, in formation of the first secret cell. They were not totally effective - they could not neutralize Ukrainian positions completely, but they managed to keep the town free from the feared night attacks. To increase the cell's effectiveness, they maintained close contacts with similar groups in Buczacz and Duliby. The Polish village Duliby, threatened from the Ukrainians villages that surrounded it, had formed its underground unit in the very early stages of the Ukrainian terror and by this time, they were the best-armed and best-organized of the Polish resistance groups in the Jazlowiec area. In its infancy the Jazlowiec resistance relied heavily upon the assistance of this group and counted on their intervention in the case of a general attack upon the Polish community.

In 1943, a new and more dangerous situation reared its ugly head. The Ukrainian nationalists, realizing that Hitler and his armies may go down in defeat, frantically sought some measures to retain their power after the war. They began the policy of destruction of the Poles in all the territories claimed by them. They reasoned that after the West destroyed the Nazis, they would also destroy the Soviet Union, leaving the Ukrainians with no competition in dominance of the land. At that point, the annihilation of the Poles begun and was conducted at a frantic pace, while the German armies were still around. The first genocide operations affected the territories north of Podole.

Before long, frightening news reached the Polish communities of Podole. In nearby Wohlynia, thousands of Poles had been killed. Their villages had been destroyed, properties stolen, churches burned and entire communities wipes out. In response, some Poles took up arms, in some places putting up an effective defense against the Ukrainian assassins. Polish loss of life was staggering. There were no offices and people to record the exact numbers of the dead. The only organization capable of keeping such records the German Gestapo did not care, or gave support to the Ukrainians.

The news that reached the Poles in Podole was immediately followed by Ukrainian massacres in their territory as well. The area around Jazlowiec was not spared. In nearby Pozeze, three generations of the Sawicki family and all members of the Zielinski family were wiped out. Eight other Poles, who went out in search of food to nearby village Leszczance, were later found dead in the woods, massacred, tied with barbed wire. In nearby Latacz, only one person was left alive from the Kurpiak family. In Polowce, three attacks took place, always at night, leaving a total of 100 Poles dead. Attacks in Barysz resulted in more than 100 deaths, according to sketchy reports, and there were several unrecorded acts of violence committed against Poles in the area.

Jazlowiec also suffered. The first victim in Jazlowiec in this series of killing was the pastor of the Polish parish, Rev. Andrzej Krasnicki. Early in December of 1943, a band of Ukrainian nationalists attacked the parsonage under the cover of the night and tried to force their way in. The young parish assistant, Rev. Aloysius Schmidt, seeing that a gun was pointed at him, wrestled it out of the hands of his attacker. The gang then fled into the darkness. The next day the Ukrainian mayor appeared at the parsonage to recover the gun and warned the priests that they should not harm his young "warriors." In spite of the danger, the priest decided to stay where they were, hoping that their resistance of the night before would discourage the Ukrainians from making further attacks upon them.

On the 8th of December, in the middle of the night, the Ukrainians returned. This time, they gained access to the interior of the parsonage. The terrified priests attempted to seek refuge in the attic. The young assistant managed to jump out of the window, but the older priest was captured by the assailants and thrown to the frozen ground, apparently sustaining several injuries. Moaning, he asked them to spare his life. They threw him into a manure-filled wagon and drove him to the lake outside the town where he was shot and thrown into the icy waters.

There were many priests killed in such attacks - they number may well go over 200. They were heroes and martyrs for the Church, but for some reason, the Vatican and Church hierarchy in Poland remains strangely silent on this subject.

The eradication of the Jews from Jazlowiec by deportation to the Buczacz ghetto was not entirely successful. Many Jewish individuals and families remained in the area, hiding among the Poles, and in the fields and the forests. Their story is one of individual suffering and endurance of terrible hardships as they fought to stay alive. Many were helped by the Poles, who in some cases even kept Jews in their homes, although there was a strict German order that to do so was a crime punishable by death.

Since the hiding of Jews in Polish homes was done in such a great secrecy, it was much later before this fact came to light, naming the Poles who had done so in risk of losing their lives. There was Jan Szablowski, who hid a Jewish girl; Stanislaw Kulesza who kept a Jewish family in a shelter built for them in his field; Stanislaw Kowalski, who for some time had another family hidden in his house; Teofilia Zimirska who his a baby; Emilia Rola, who secretly fed two boys who used to come in the night; plus many other incidents that must have gone unrecorded due to the postwar ejection of Poles from the territory. We do not know how effective the Polish assistance to the Jews was because in 1944, the front line passed right through Jazlowiec and all Poles were forced to leave the town. All that is known that around twenty Jews from Jazlowiec eventually survived the war. The other story tells of those who were killed by the Ukrainian police on the spot - people like Rinder Moszko, Glaser Tylka, the Baruch family, the Auschnit family grain dealer Held, Dr. Goldstaub and his son, and many others.

The Jews also formed a partisan group to fight their persecutors. According to witnesses, their operation relied heavily upon the advice, guidance and help of a Pole named Piszcz. This man was a naturalized American who had returned to Jazlowiec and built a house on the banks of Strypa River. It was an isolated place, ideally suited for secret rendezvous, and some young Jews quickly discovered its potential and made a deal with Piszcz. He supplied them with food and shelter and together they guarded his property against any Ukrainian incursions. They managed to acquire some small arms with which they hunted the game for food and used it in partisan activities.

As far as it can be established these Jewish partisans carried two actions against their persecutors in Jazlowiec. One was undertaken against a Ukrainian nationalist by the name of Begierski, who ruthlessly searched for the hiding Jews to deliver them into the hands of the executioners. Unfortunately, he lived in a two family house and the partisans attacked the wrong family -the whole operation was thus unsuccessful. Another time, relying on Polish information, they attacked the house by the stream in the town, where the self-confessed killer of Jews, Konowalczuk, would spend nights with his girl friend. The partisans attacked the house from three sides, but did not secure the stream side, and Konowalczuk escaped into the water. Of the number of the Jewish partisans who lived with Piszcz only one name came to Polish attention. This man was the son of prosperous Jewish merchant Nurnberg.

This only survivor of the family survived the war and stayed for quite a while in Poland. Later he immigrated to Israel where he changed his name to Nirn, apparently of Israel origin. His wife was also one of the Jewish survivors from Jazlowiec, who was saved by a Polish family in the nearby village of Trybuchowce. No other name of the partisan group is known. Some of these men apparently settled in New York after the war.

The Jewish partisans also secured food for their people hiding in the woods. Apparently there was a route running along the Strypa River from Buczacz to Duliby which served as a secret supply line. According to Franciszek Kowalski, who dealt with the Jewish partisans as supplier for arms from the Hungarians, they were reasonably well dressed and better-armed than Poles. They had a stock of leather goods, which they traded with Kowalski for munitions and they also used American currency for purchasing their other supplies. Although it is not known exactly how large their stockpile and funds were, it is likely that both were limited.

The Ukrainian terror and the deportation of the Poles as slave laborers for Germany continued throughout 1943. For some reason, the Ukrainian terrorists, who called themselves "freedom fighters", did not attack Jazlowiec proper, but anybody who dared venture outside the town limits put himself to danger of brutal murder. So perished Polish people like Glebocka, Brozakowa, Suchecka, Strzelecki, Piekarz and three unnamed villagers from nearby Nowosiolka.

The terror raged all around the town. The dark fall nights displayed the grim flames of burning Polish villages and small settlements around Jazlowiec. Many terrorized Poles, fearing the Ukrainian attacks sought refuge in the town, moving into the vacated Jewish properties. They might have found some safety but they could not be sure that the hand of the Ukrainian terror would not reach them there.

Then, another plague began to inexorably move towards Jazlowiec from the east as the Soviet armies pushed their way towards Polish territories. Fleeing at its front were many Nazi collaborators attempting to escape to the west. Among these was a large group of Donski Cossacks, men and women, who passed through Jazlowiec. They were a lawless group who carried no scruples. They beat people, stole their valuables, food and clothing and vodka was their most prized item for theft. In Nowosiolka, they broke into an alcohol distillery and engaged in a wild party of drinking, dancing and shooting. Fortunately, no one of the local people was killed.

With the coming of winter and the first snowfall, the murderous activities of the Ukrainian thugs subsided to some extent. The weather might have been the factor, as it reduced visibility, and adding to this was the grim fact that most of the Polish properties and villages outside the town had been burned and destroyed. At that time, weapons became easier to acquire and the Poles armed themselves sufficiently to withstand any Ukrainian attack. Local Ukrainian activists knew about this and were not willing to risk their lives in open confrontation with the Poles. One of them stating his opinion about the Poles in Jazlowiec said that "even every Polish girl has a machine gun."

By the end of March, 1944, the first Soviet troops appeared in the vicinity of Jazlowiec, while larger units passing through Buczacz in attempt to close the door on the large German forces fighting in Podole. On Easter Day, the first Red Army detachments entered Jazlowiec. This first liberation was short-lasting, as three days later, the Germans broke out of the Soviet encirclement at Kamieniec Podolski and re-occupied Jazlowiec. This second German occupation was far harsher than anything the people of the town had previously experienced. The front line ran just outside the town, with Jazlowiec on the German side, forcing the entire population to evacuate to other places such as Rusilow and Potok Zloty. The town was left to the mercy of Germans. Only the nuns in the convent were allowed to remain, and with them, a few of the locals who were assigned to service the military by cooking their meals and like tasks.

While in the town, the Germans uncovered the Polish underground organization and arrested four of its members. The two Szablowski brothers managed to escape form a provisional prison. The other two, Franciszek Kowalski and Stanislaw Seretny, were interrogated, beaten and transported west. They eventually escaped from the train around Krakow and with the assistance of local Poles remained in that area until the end of the war.

In July, the Soviet army re-entered Jazlowiec, this time for good. Soon after their arrival, the town's Poles elected a new administration. The new mayor was Kazimierz Kuliczkowski, the last Pole to hold this position. All young Poles were called into service with the new Polish army in the east. All weapons were confiscated and the Soviets organized a local police force, ostensibly for protection of the citizens against the Ukrainian terror groups, who were still playing their nefarious trade.

While Jazlowiec's Poles suffered the tragedy of war, the Polish unit bearing its name on their standard, the 14th Lancers Regiment, was active inside and outside Poland. Although defeated at the gates of Warsaw in 1939, they were resurrected in two places, distant from each other. A new regiment was first begun in Scotland, where it was a unit in the 1st Polish Corps and was originally planned to be included in the 1st Polish Armored Division under the command of Gen. Stanislaw Maczek. Owing to a change of plans, the 14th Lancers was assigned to another unit that never left the shores of Great Britain for action in Western Europe.

Another unit with the same name was formed in Lwow, as part of the Polish resistance movement. Its history and wartime activities were described in brief by one of its members, Stanislaw Garczynski. According to him, pre-war officers of the unit who had survived Soviet imprisonment and deportation organized a secret resistance group soon after the Germans invaded eastern Polish territories in June of 1941 and joined the nationwide organization known as the Polish Underground Army.

Their activity initially included monitoring of Nazi units moving to the Russian front and gathering intelligence about their action. With the outbreak of the Ukrainian terror, the unit took defensive actions to protect Polish civilians. The residents of several Polish villages owe their lives to the men of this unit.

The members of this secret organization also carried out many actions against German Wehrmacht and SS units and saved many Jewish lives.

In 1944, when the Soviet army re-entered the city of Lwow, the unit commander in compliance with orders from higher authorities in the Underground Army, revealed himself to them, in belief that he and his men would be employed by the Soviets to assist the fight against the Nazis. He and his staff were instantly arrested and deported inside the Soviet territory, where they disappeared without a trace. After this gruesome experience, the unit re-organized at Przeworsk-Jaslo and engaged in an action to free imprisoned members of the Polish Underground, who were then being arrested en mass by the secret police of the newly established communist administration.

For a while in the fall of 1945, some detachments of the unit were actively engaged in the administration of the new western territories of Poland. When several of its members were arrested by the secret police, many of them escaped to the west and joined the 2nd Polish Corps, then stationed in Italy. Some of the imprisoned men served sentences as long as ten years, before a change of government in Poland made their release possible.

The immediate post-war fate of the Poles in Jazlowiec was sealed in the Yalta agreement, which awarded all eastern Polish territories to the Soviet Union. Immediately after the Soviets entered the land, they introduced their own administration, which, like the Nazis before them set their goal to destroy the Polish population. They resorted to deceptive methods by employing Ukrainian Nazis for performing this gruesome task. While many young Poles were called into service and the weapons were confiscated from the Polish populace, the Ukrainians who either did not comply with the order to disarm or were allowed to retain the weapon, became the masters of the situation. The Ukrainian terror started afresh. The villages in Podole suffered greatly from the genocide continued by the Ukrainians.

The first village to suffer was a small one, Zaleszczyki Male, only two miles away from Jazlowiec. According to those who witnessed the aftermath of this outrage, some two hundred Poles were brutally murdered in their homes, some burned alive, and most of their properties destroyed to the ground. Only one small girl survived. The massacres was discovered by some of the young men of Jazlowiec who went to investigate why no one from the village showed up for church on Sunday. The picture they described was "hell on earth." Men, women and children lay scattered were they fell as they tried to escape or were shot inside their homes. This was not the only incident of its kind around Jazlowiec.

Another village, Latacz, about five miles southeast of Jazlowiec was also attacked, this time during a February night in 1945. Over eighty Poles were murdered and all their properties set ablaze. Some managed to escape their burning homes, in many cases without proper clothing or shoes. Other villages south of Jazlowiec - Drohiczowka, Szutromince, Chmielowa, and those across the Dniester River - Kunisowce, Korolowka, Dabki, Michalce and Torskie lost all their Polish population to the new Ukrainian terror.

Jazlowiec, protected by a symbolic police unit, was not subjected to any of these night attacks, but there were casualties outside the town. So perished young Jan Kowalski, while returning home from German captivity. And so perished two nuns of the Immaculate Conception and two of their lay companions, whose bodies were discovered cut in two with a wood saw. Such atrocities were common and apparently tolerated by the Soviet authorities.

The terror eventually had its desired effect on the Poles of the Jazlowiec area. They began a mass exodus from their town and villages in an effort to save themselves from the Ukrainian operating with support of the Soviets. This exodus lasted for several months throughout 1945. Most of the populace moved west, into former German territories east of the Odra River. The Poles of Jazlowiec spread out in the area of Silesia, individually or in groups, with the largest contingent settling in the town of Nowa Sol, which, since that time, had been known colloquially as the "Jazlowiec of the West." In 1946, the surviving deportees from Siberia joined the group here.

The Order of the Immaculate Conception also moved to a new location in Central Poland, adopting a place by the name of Szymanow, near Warsaw, as their new headquarters. They took the statue of the Lady of Jazlowiec with them and now it is displayed in their new chapel as the object of special reverence to the Catholics in Poland. The nuns continued their charitable work and educational efforts by opening a school for young girls of high school age. They also opened a branch in the Tatra Mountains in southern Poland, and also provided the same service for the girls there.

Ancient Jazlowiec underwent traumatic changed during the post-war period. Its name, which did not fit in with the Ukrainians and their Soviet overlords' ultimate plans, was changed to Jabloniwka (Appletown). This was done with the purpose of removing all traces of Polish inhabitation on the site. The name was then removed from maps and hidden from the world's geography. Polish and Jewish cultural traces were wiped out - the Catholic Church was let to go to ruin, the synagogue was thorn down and many properties were taken apart and used as building materials in sites elsewhere.

There were some indestructible properties, like the ruins of the castle and the massive structure of the convent, which defied physical limitations of those who would have had them thorn down. The Soviets found a rational use for the convent, utilizing it as a convalescent home for tuberculosis patients. But the property, once immaculately clean and always in a peak condition, was let go to a sad state of deterioration. The town, in fact, ceased to exist, as it was given the status of a village of no great importance to anybody and with no prospects of resurrecting to its former state.

Recently, in the late 1980's, some reports filtering out of Poland that the name Jabloniwka reverted back to the old name of Jazlowiec. Apparently, some old residents of the town realized that the real values of the place where they live lie in its history and antiquity, not with the ideology of Ukrainian nationalism. After forty years plus the name of Jazlowiec came back quietly to serve once again the people who live in the valley of two streams Jazlowczyk and Olchowczyk; it came to remind them that long before Ukrainian nationalism the name served various national groups, like Poles, Armenians, ancient Lekhs and perhaps the forgotten Sarmatians. Hopefully it will live again for many centuries as the proof of its deep appeal to the people of every nationality that lived or will live in the walls of the town.

 


RETURN TO INDEX <== NEXT CHAPTER