Witnesses of massacre speak out
Poles who survived genocide in Volhynia recount some of the most horrifying stories of the century.
“In the first farmstead we saw a horrifying picture. A boy aged not more than ten was impaled on a sharp pole at the gate. These words were written on the fence “Litak Sikorskaho” [Sikorski’s airplane]. Dead bodies of men and two women brutally massacred with an axe were lying at the doorstep."
"Three of my children, Stanisława, Janek and Leon, were murdered by Ukrainians. I took my youngest son and ran out of the barn. I heard a loud noise and heard my son Józio let out a horrific cry. I fell to the ground holding my baby in my arm. I felt pain in my left arm. Blood was trickling from the wound. The dumdum bullet went through the muscle and the bone of my left arm. I wasn’t aware if my son Józio was alive or not. I was very weak from the loss of blood.
I don’t recall how long I lay there unconscious. I soon felt thirsty so I began to crawl. I was lucky because I saw my husband’s brother Aleksander Soroka, miraculously saved, appear. He brought me water so I could quench my thirst. I decided to crawl back to my house so I could die there. I lost everything I had in my life. Those I loved the most, passed to eternal life. I wanted to join them there, in the other world, where God dwells."
"In one of the villages near Derażny, after the pogrom, a small child whose intestines had been ripped out was found in a hut. His intestines were splashed against the wall in an irregular shape, and on one of the nails a piece of paper was hung which read: “Poland from sea to sea.”
"A few Banderites [Called after their leader Stefan Bandera of the Ukrainian Insurrectionary Army (UPA)], caught up with my mother and one of them hit her on the head with an axe. My mother fell to the ground and let go of my brother Tadzio, while I was crying with horror. My mother began to crawl holding on to Tadzio who was crying awash with blood, and tried to breastfeed him. After a while, the Banderites again ran up to her and cut her throat. She was still alive when they stripped her naked and cut off her breasts. Mom and Tadzio were in excruciating pain. She was in such pain that she began to pull her long hair out, her expression completely changed, and I started to be afraid of her.
I ran up to my father and saw how hard they were beating him. I saw them chopping off our neighbor Wasylkowska’s head on a stump. My cries were so terrifying that one of the Banderites ran up to me and forcefully stabbed me with a knife a little below my throat, but I didn’t stop crying and was paralyzed with fear. The Banderites yelled out to my father calling him by his name and my father pleading with Ivan, also calling him by his name, because he used to constantly come to our house to see my father as a friend.
When they saw me the second time, they decided to do me in, stabbing through my right hand with a knife and stabbing me twice in my left arm below the elbow. One of the banderovtsy grabbed me by the skin on my back like one grabs a cat and cut off that part of the skin which he scooped up in his hand. Then he stabbed me again twice in my shoulder blades and threw me into a huge ant nest. I probably fainted and when I came around I was in great pain, and the ants stung me so hard that my body swelled up. The neighbor’s head, chopped off and lying next to me, was all covered with ants."
"In 1943 (I was ten at the time) our village, Aleksandrówka, had gone through the painful experience of being attacked several times by Ukrainian rizuns coming from our and nearby villages. The most tragic attack took place on 15 July around 9 p.m. Bandits armed with pitchforks, axes, clubs, knives and firearms surrounded our village and began to round up people in one place. We dispersed running to all sides. As I was running towards a wheat patch, I heard a shot and felt excruciating pain in my leg. A gun bullet went right through my foot. Reeling from the gunshot I fell to the ground and began to crawl through the wheat field to the nearest high balk, under which I dug a hole where I stayed until daybreak.
Sounds of shooting and terrifying cries of suffering and murdered people were heard until morning. The pain in my leg became more excruciating. I was close to fainting. After a week, on Sunday or Monday - I don’t’ remember exactly – I heard noises coming from the direction of the village. I soon recognized the voice of a Ukrainian – Ulana Sidor, our neighbor with whom my parents were on good terms and I even called her ‘auntie.’ Hungry and in great pain, I mustered the courage to approach her, but I couldn’t stand on my wounded leg, which was badly swollen and hurt me greatly. I crawled with difficulty to a nearby farmyard, where this ‘auntie’ was standing and, with tears in my eyes, I begged her for a piece of bread. She gave me a threatening look and, with hatred in her eyes, yelled out: “You Polish trap, you are still alive?!” Then she grabbed a hoe propped up against the wall. Numb with fear, I felt no pain in my wounded leg, and began to run. The vengeful Ukrainian running after me lost my trail. She probably thought that I was running in the direction of the road, but I zigzagged my way back around farm buildings and went back to my hideout in the field under the balk. My leg swelled up badly and it hurt me so much that I could not move. I could not see my foot under the swollen leg.
The only thing there was to eat were wheat grains. I began to think about the approaching death, constantly praying the way my mother had taught me."
"Next to one of the dead bodies sat two small children, who cried desperately:
“Mummy, mummy! Wake up! We are hungry! Take us home!”
"One of the bandе́rovtsy saw me and shot at me point-blank, but missed. He fired another shot, but also missed and I managed to escape. My father and brother also fled from the house. My brother was shot. A banderovtsa riding a horse caught up with my father and murdered him. My mother was standing in the entryway, holding her baby in her arms. Banderites fired shots through the closed door. One bullet hit the baby in the chest and my mother in her arm.
My mother jumped out of the window, put the dead child on the ground and crawled into a rosebush near the house. The Banderites broke through the door, plundered the house and set fire to the buildings. The roof fell in; the charred remains of the house fell as far away as the rosebush, so that my mother got painfully burned. This is how the tragedy of our family was sealed."
"My dad said to a banderovtsa:
“Fellows, what grudge are you holding against us? What do you want from us?” The Banderovtsa hit him with a butt and started calling him names. A moment later, I head our neighbor – a mute man – give out a fearful gurgle. He got married and had normal, pretty kids. They hit them with clubs. I heard loud blows. I think they stubbed them because the victims gave out terrifying cries. Soon after they started beating up Irka and Paulinka. They were doing something very cruel to them because a terrible squeak was heard. A moment later they began to murder my father. I heard his stifled cries, moaning, wheezing and the sounds of hitting amidst shouts and laughter. I covered my ears. A moment passed and I looked through an opening in the fence and saw someone lying on the ground, bleeding. It must have been a man. Father maybe? I whispered incessantly: “God, save [him], cover him so they won’t see him. Virgin Mary, help!” The cries subsided. Only voices of Ukrainians were heard – they were talking, laughing, digging a hole in the ground to bury the people they had murdered. Suddenly a woman’s terrifying cry pierced the air: “God Almighty, [my] baby!” This was the voice of my older sister. She had a one-and-a-half-year old daughter. After her cries, I heard shots and then a child squeaking. Then silence fell."
"At daybreak I found my father’s dead body in the farmyard. He was lying next to a tree trunk used for chopping wood and his throat was slit. I found my mother inside the house. She had marks on her head from being hit several times with a hammer and a stab wound from a bayonet in her throat. My sister Helena had a deep wound in the head from being hit by an axe, so deep that her murderer left his axe in her head. My youngest brother, Edzio – aged two – was lying in a pool of blood with his small head smashed and a knife stuck in his chest. Lying next to him was my sixteen-year-old brother Bronek. It was his voice, begging for mercy, that I heard for the longest time at night. When I took a closer look, I saw something that looked like a lump of battered meat. His arms and legs were broken. It was him that the murderer tortured the longest."
"During the singing of “Gloria” the first shots were fired at Father Bolesław Szawłowski and the congregation. I was in the church with my sister. When I heard murderers walking around the church and saying: “O toj jeszcze żywyj” (Oh, this one is still alive), I quickly grabbed a cap soaked in warm, sticky blood and rubbed my and my sister’s face with it and we pretended to be dead. People were choking from thick smoke, so they tried to escape from the church. Ukrainians were shouting: “Wychadi chto żywyj,” (come out if you are alive) and then they would kill people leaving the church at the door. They tried to blow up the church, but we only felt a terrible tremor and then there was silence."
"My granddad would always try to calm me down. He would say: “I am already old, grandma as well, and Weronika is an eleven-year-old child. So they probably won’t kill us. Why would they want to do that?” [….] Grandma’s dead body and the chopped up corpse of little Weronika were lying on the kitchen floor. Granddad was lying in a room. There was blood everywhere. We were able to recreate this bestial murder from neighbours’ accounts of it. The bandits told grandpa to lie down on the bedroom floor and then beat him to death.
Their daughter jumped out of the window and started running. A Ukrainian shot her in the leg. Then she fell. The Ukrainian ran up to her and taking her by the leg, dragged her to grandparents’ house. They threw her over the body of grandma, her mother, and chopped her with an axe. She let out ear-piercing screams: “Don’t’ kill [us]! They murdered them by stabbing them in the back, chopping them into pieces. The murderer literally stuck grandpa’s head into his lungs.
When we turned grandpa over on his back to take him out into the yard to bury him and I took him by the arms, grandpa’s brain spilled out onto my chest. It was hot and his blood was still warm. Some of it still remained inside grandpa, even though the entire floor in the room was soaked in it, and stuck to the wall were pieces of bones and brain, which splashed all around when the bandit hit his head with an axe."
"There were only around 100 of us remaining: women, children and old people. One of the women – a mother of three children – approached the armed murderers who were standing at the door and turned to them, begging: “Look, just a few of us remain, let us live. Look at these children, they are innocent, their eyes beg for mercy, so please show them mercy.”
Then one of the murders spoke – naturally in dialect spoken in Podlasie – (roughly):
“You, Poles. We will wipe all of you out and we will burn down your homes. No trace of you will remain.” In response to these cruel words, this woman threw a curse at the murderers’ face: “Be dammed for all times. Let the blood of our innocent children fall on you, your children, grandchildren and grand grandchildren.”
Murderers decided not to kill each person individually, but to do it collectively. We were rounded up in classrooms and they began to throw hand grenades and fired shots from machine guns at the inside. The first shots and grenade explosions had already killed some people and wounded others. We found ourselves in the circle of an infernal abyss: the wounded were moaning, children were crying, mothers let out agonising cries, shots boomed, and finally there was smoke. The criminals the of the Tryzub set fire to the school building. It burned like a torch on that hot August day; those who were still alive were trapped with no way out, doomed to die in flames. It is not possible to express the horror of the situation, because langue fails here.
I somehow escaped death. I lay on the floor flattened out as much as I could. Next to me lay my neighbour Bohniaczka. I heard another boom. A grenade blew her to pieces. Her book and blown up body gushed at me. I was in shock and I crawled towards my sister, Ania. She was dead. A bullet at the entry to her skull tore out a big hole. I went numb and lost the sense of reality. I raised my head and saw my mother on the floor, bleeding. She was still alive. I huddled up against her. She was conscious, she offered me to God and the Most Holy Virgin Mary, because only a Divine miracle could help me escape from this infernal abyss. My mother could not move; a grenade tore through her feet; she bled and was burned alive. I don’t remember how I got to the other class room. Fragments of human bodies and lots and lots of blood on the floor. I lost all my family and wanted to die. I began choking on the smoke and I thought: “I am going to swallow up smoke, suffocate and that will be the end.” But no! I choked once, twice, and nothing happened. Meanwhile the ceiling of the building caught fire, it became extremely hot. I was horrified by this fire; the burning ceiling could fall on me any time. I managed to jump out of the window at the last moment. A shot was fired, I fell on the ground, felt excruciating pain, and my forehead was bleeding. The heat coming from the burning building forced me to crawl away from it. I lay in the school garden with dead bodies and wounded people all around me. The seriously wounded begged the murderers to finish them off. Ukrainians tortured them with great passion. Seeing this, I wanted to get up and shout. Fear nailed me to the ground. I was no longer afraid of death, but of the torture I saw them inflicting on the wounded. I was smeared with my own and other people’s blood. They turned me three times and kicked me but they did not realise that I was still alive.
Next to me lay a woman – Maria Jesionek, a mother of three: two sons, one eight years, the other five years old, and an eight-month baby. She also jumped out of the burning building with her children, just before I did. A murderer shot her; she lay dead over her strangled baby. Her eight-year-old son was also shot dead, while the five year old sat close to his mother, tugging at her clothes and calling to her: “Get up, mummy! Let’s go home.” He was crying. A Ukrainian ran up to him, put a gun to his head and shot him. The kid fell on his mother’s back and, pressing his back against hers, held out his hands as if in prayer."
"I saw my murdered friend, who was also an excellent pupil. His name was Prończuk. When bandе́rovtsy were killing his mother, he ran to her rescue. The murderers chopped off his arms and legs and put him on a stool. He bled to death."
"Twenty boys went to Hermanówka for Easter to attend Resurrection Mass. None of them came back. They had all been killed in a cruel way. The oldest one only had his head twisted the other way. The younger ones had been tortured by Ukrainians in a more sophisticated way. They had their tongues, genitals cut off, and their skin stripped off. We were shocked."
The above accounts are taken from the following books: Grzegorz Motyka’s Od rzezi wołyńskiej do akcji “Wisła” (From the Volhynian massacres to Operation Vistula), Lucyna Kulińska’s Dzieci Kresów I (Children of the Borderlands I),” Marek A. Koprowski’s Wołyń, Epopeja polskich losów, akt I i I (Volhynia, Epic of Polish Fate, act I and II) and the website www.Genocide.pl