My grandfather Albin Kisielewicz     Foto


My father, Wojciech Kisielewicz, was born on 18 April 1928 in Zawonie village, Sokal County, Lviv Province. The village does not exist today. It was burnt during the war by Germans and Ukrainians. After the war, these areas were incorporated into the Soviet Union by virtue of agreements between the Allies. Today they belong to Ukraine.

World War II in Eastern Europe was much more tragic than in Western Europe. This great tragedy is still almost unknown to the western world. The history of my father's village depicts how "in a pill" the history of WWII in this area, and even if only because of that it is worth telling....

Zawonie was a small village located on the Bug River, on the left bank of the river, with 200 inhabitants of Polish nationality. It was an island of Polish descent, since most of the surrounding villages were inhabited by Ukrainian people. In Zawonie there were 37 farms, a school and a chapel. The residents ran a cooperative shop (because it was not worthwhile to run a shop individually). Many other projects were of a community character. Almost half of the inhabitants were named Kisielewicz (also written Kisilewicz). For this reason, many of them had nicknames like, for example, "Zakaplicznyj" (the one living behind the chapel). The moment the village was founded dies in the darkness of history. According to the legend, Zawonie was established in the 16th century (?) by some outlaw with the name or nickname Kisiel.

The beauty of the surrounding areas, the beauty of the land of childhood, was described by my dad many times, but I can't repeat that. I only have in my imagination Bug river, meadows with tall grasses and forests, a hill on which the house of my grandfather Albin and grandmother Tekla stood. And somewhere on the other side of the Bug river, behind the horizon, the Ukrainian village of Jastrubice, which in terrible times of war grew into a symbol of hostility and danger from strangers.

The outbreak of World War II did not directly affect Zawonie. The war took place somewhere far away, next to it. Only occasionally it was possible to see the moving armies.

It was known that as a result of the September Campaign 1939, these areas were taken over by the Soviet Union (as a result of the secret Ribbentrop-Molotov pact), and the only sign that could be seen was the establishment of a Soviet mayor in the village. It was not good news for the inhabitants, because with the arrival of Soviet power free hand to act was obtained by hostile to Poland Ukrainian nationalists. News on mass murders of Poles and on other terrible events began to reach the village. The war liberated the worst instincts and broke the civilization's brakes in many people. (I say "in many", because sometimes it is forgotten that not everyone! There were also some people in whom the war liberated more heroism and nobility of a higher trial - unfortunately, the less spectacular events connected with it have fewer or no witnesses at all).

In 1941, the Germans broke off their hitherto comfortable arrangement and attacked the Soviet Union. In the village, this was revealed by the fact that the head of the village has since then represented the German authorities. This has not mitigated the threat from Ukraine. Quite the contrary. Many Ukrainians started to cooperate with Germans (against Russians and Poles). The Ukrainian SS divisions were founded under German command and there word had circulated that they were more cruel than their German prototype.

The village received news about the "Volhynia slaughter", about scheduled and performed with unimaginable cruelty murders on the Polish and Catholic population of Volhynian Voivodeship and other areas of eastern Poland, aimed, according to the mad nationalist ideology, at "clean Ukraine from the Polish element".

In this situation, the only real goal that could be set was "not to be taken-aback in the sleep". The inhabitants of Zawonie have established a self-defense unit, conceived as a Home Army structure. Its main task was to perform guards around the village and take up defence in case of an attack. Quickly it turned out that the branch and the whole village had to take on a number of other tasks. In the village they sought shelter for refugees from other villages, Russian soldiers fled from captivity, as well as Jews fleeing from the planned and incarnated by the Germans extermination of Jews. Residents gave shelter to all these fugitives regardless of the cause. In 1944, it was about 20 newcomers from other villages, and the number of several or more Jews in hiding, difficult to determine.

My father remembers my grandfather was worried loudly that their house would suffer misfortune because of hiding Jews, but my grandmother saw no other possibility than to continue this help. She saw this as a ruthless Christian duty.

As if it wasn't enough, in 1943, Zawonie was chosen by the Soviet partisan unit operating in the area under the command of Captain Ivan Moroz. The inhabitants were at least reluctant to provide help and shelter to partisans, who returned to the village after longer or shorter rallies (in March 1944 there were 23 of them). The reluctance of some residents was not so much due to increased risk (the danger from the Germans was growing, but it was decreasing from the Ukrainians' side), as it was due to the general hostility between pre-war Poland and Bolshevik Russia, and the reluctance of Poles towards Bolshevik ideology. It was rather unusual that the Polish Home Army unit cooperated with the Soviet partisans. Nevertheless, some of the inhabitants were helping the partisans, including my 15-year-old father whome partisans used for intelligence tasks. The 15-year-old boy was obviously interested in those who came with weapons, those who fight and are not afraid of anyone. Father wanted to be a soldier in the future.

It is not clear what was the direct cause of the tragedy that came about soon. Four days earlier, 22-year-old Michal Kisielewicz and 17-year-old Wiktor Kisielewicz were killed, shot from machine guns by Germans driving an armored train near Zawonie. Probably, the young men were sent for weapons (by the partisans or a self-defense unit) and started to flee after encountering the Germans. Some people think that the Germans got information about the Soviet unit and attacked the village in order to liquidate it.

On 6 March 1944, early in the morning, Zawonie was surrounded by German and Ukrainian soldiers from the 14th SS "Galizien" Division. The soldiers threw grenades into the buildings, set fire to them and shot at the inhabitants. In particular, they went to the holdings of Ludwik and Jadwiga Chudy, where the radio station was hidden in a masked shelter, and where the Soviet partisans were at that time. The Germans shot a 16-year-old son of Chudy's, Joseph, after taking him out of the barn, and Jadwiga's brother, Ignacy Kisielewicz, after taking him to the attic. They probably tried to get information about the partisans. At this point, the Russians took up a fight in which all the partisans died, except for one, whose further fate is unknown.

The inhabitants of the whole village were spent in the chapel. During this time many of them were shot dead: some as a result of attempts to escape, others as a result of infirmity. Ozjasz Wecker (who had fled the Sielec ghetto earlier) was killed together with 17-year-old Agnieszka Kowal when they escaped towards the chapel. Agnieszka, who was initially only wounded, was thrown alive into the flames of a burning house. Elżbieta Kisielewicz, paralysed, unable to move on his own strength, whom his husband had previously led to the yard, was also thrown into the fire. The blind Michal Kisielewicz died in the flames of his house. 17-year-old Dionizy Szermeta was shot during the escape. Tadeusz and Wladyslaw Ptasznik were executed in the chapel's courtyard, because they did not want to provide information about hiding places of weapons and partisans. A Jew named Michał burned alive in my grandfather's stable. Four-person Jewish family from the Great Bridges, hiding in the barn of Bronislaw Kisielewicz, died trying to escape after the barn was set on fire: two men, a woman and her daughter were shot dead in the race. Many others have died in unspecified circumstances. The corpses of many were found in the ruins of the buildings, and the corpses of Bronislawa Just and her son Pawel were found in the nearby forest.

As a result of the pacification action, Zawonie village was burned down almost completely: the school building, chapel and four houses survived (for some time only), including my grandparents' house on the hill. People locked up in a chapel, mostly women and children, thought that they would be burnt alive, but fortunately this did not happen. In this group was my father, whose grandmother Tekla had previously dressed up as a girl. Most of the men and some women (including the teacher) were driven to nearby Jastrubice (during the march Józef Kisielewicz was shot dead) and then about 50-60 people were taken to prison in Lviv. After interrogations, after a few weeks, the men arrested were taken to the concentration camp in Gross Rosen and the women to the concentration camp in Ravensbruck. Only 11 people survived the camp (including my uncle Dominik).

My grandfather Albin Kisielewicz was murdered in the concentration camp at Gross Rosen, in circumstances not determined much closer. I sometimes visit his symbolic grave with my family. The camp, its remains, is located near Wroclaw, the city I currently live in. The camp was located in an exceptionally picturesque area. I try to imagine how my grandfather looked at such beautiful nature from this place. I once realised that although it was the Russians, with the consent of the Allied Forces, who displaced Poles from the Eastern part of pre-war Poland and settled them in those areas, which before the war were the homeland of many Germans - it was first the Germans themselves who prepared a place for our graves here.

It was not until the 1970s that I myself had the opportunity to learn more and more new elements of my parents' and grandparents' past. My grandmother Tekla, with whom I spent a lot of time, especially on holidays, never told me anything about those days. I was too small. She never received any honours from anyone; she never aspired to any distinction. She was good. Very good and warm, I remember her - and I hope that something of her goodness has permeated me. Perhaps most importantly, what I got out of it, is my belief that in those terrible times there were tens of thousands of people like her, and that those few appreciated and rewarded (righteously rewarded), are not special exceptions. I believe that everyone can and should behave decently and heroically, when the hour of trial comes.

It is a pity that I couldn't get to know my grandfather Albin.