Wilenszczyzna in World War II
In the early hours of 17th September 1939, I was awoken by a telephone call. The caller was a "Starosta" from the village of Nieswiez (Winczewski), he obtained the telephone connection after leaving Nieswiez. He informed me that the Soviet Army crossed our border on 4:45 am and with the assistance of tanks have taken Nieswiez. This situation became clear, it wasn't just a local action but a total invasion of Poland from behind on the whole length of our border. I informed the caller to keep retreating until Wilno. There was no other option.
Grodno, in 1939 it had about 58.000 inhabitants, it was the cradle of Polishness and had lots of historical traditions. As soon as the Soviets occupied the town they showed their mettle, in their short occupation they terrorised the Polish populace and used the Psie Gory (Dog's Hill) as a place of executions. Grodno had a large Military area, it was the Headquarters of the III Corps under which came the Wilno and Nowogrod districts.
September 20, early morning, foggy and cloudy day. From the early morning mist the tops of the closest houses can be seen on the Plac Wolnosci (Liberty Sq). A shout comes from somewhere, "Look there's a Bolshevik tank". It can be seen on the Orzeszkowa street. In a few moments it starts to shoot at the nearest buildings from it's armament. The old buildings take the punishment and bits of cement fly in all directions.
A young corporal with the help of a civilian is seen dragging a small anti tank gun, which in a few moments starts to shoot at the tank, he hits the tank's tracks and imobilises it. Two students from the local school start to fill up bottles with petrol from a barrel. Between the trees and fences they creep up to the tank and throw the bottles, the tank instantly bursts into flames.
On the bridge spaning the river Niemen stands mobilised a Soviet radio truck, the crew has been taken prisoner and the young Russian soldier is scared out of his wits. He's been told that the Poles are animals and don't take prisoners, and if he falls into their hands he will not get out alive.
On the corner of Napoleon and Hoover street another Soviet tank is burning, on the ground there is lying one dead and one wounded Soviet soldier, one of the defenders raises his rifle but to kill the wounded soldier but is stopped by another Polish soldier. The wounded Soviet soldier screams, "nie ubiwajtie, ja prijechal was oswobodit*", these words make the people who are standing around even more angry. On the dead soldier they find a street map of the town, the dead soldier is known to the police, he is a Jew who before the war was wanted for spreading communist propaganda. He came back to "Liberate" the city.
The Polish Underground movement in Grodno started soon after the end of September 1939. It's members were hunted initially by the Soviet and then by the German occupying forces.
* don't kill, I came to free you
© Copyright 2003; Paul Havers