Critical revision of the research papers regarding the Genocide of Jews in Białowieża

Information about the Genocide of Jews in Białowieża collected thus far is largely unstructured and chaotic. There's an fair unanimity concerning the murder of 77 people in the Jagielońskie Gravel Pit on 10th of August 1941 – the same amount of victims, same place and date is mentioned in German journals [1], recalled by senior citizens of Białowieża, and by prosecutor Waldemar Monkiewicz, author of three books about the German occupation in Białowieża and Hajnówka [2; 3; 4]. There are few non-adherences; for example a different date (8th of July) is mentioned in The Encyclopaedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust [5]. In his coverage for the Jewish Historical Institute, Symcha Burnstein speaks of the end of September 1941 [6], and Simon Datner, an employee of the Jewish Historical Institute, well merited for his research and gathering Holocaust coverages unfortunately complicates the problem by erroneously referring to the 13th of July 1941 in his article „Extermination of Jewish citizens in the region of Białystok[7]. The sources he cites are accounts gathered in the Jewish Historical Institute which do not contain such a date; they belong to Joseph Blinder who doesn't state any date at all [8], and Symcha Burnstein, mentioned above, who speaks about the end of September [6].

Available information about the remaining citizens who were deported to the ghetto and their following fate is in complete chaos. Though it is perfectly understandable for the citizens themselves to indicate different places of deportation and annihilation of their neighbours, being by now mainly second-hand knowledge (accounts heard from other people, or from their parents) or assumptions, it is difficult to explain the unreliability of published books and their authors. In the book „War journal of the Police Battalion 322”, Kazimierz Leszczyński publishes a summary of the titular journal, written by a German officer and describing all actions undertaken by Battalion 322, also in Białowieża. The passages which Leszczyński decided to edit for brevity are at the very least surprising – as in the case of the history of the Białowieża Jews, they contain crucial information.

A record from the 9th of August 1941 which speaks about deporting the Białowieża Jews is edited by Leszczyński to omit the name of the ghetto where they were taken! Admittedly, the book's preface contains a sentence specifying that the Jews were deported to the Kobryń ghetto, but as the information isn't supported with any additional information in the book or sources, it cannot be considered reliable. This situation creates room for speculations and additional assumptions by other researchers.

It was, however, Waldemar Monkiewicz, a prosecutor from Białystok, who is most guilty of blurring the understanding of the Holocaust of Białowieża Jews. Failing to pay proper attention to the information concerning the executions of August 2nd in the previously mentioned War Journal, he published incorrect information in his research [3; 4]. In the War Journal of the Police Batalion 322, under the date of 1st August 1941, we see a record of the planned detention and execution of 72 people accused of communist activity; and under the date of 2nd August, information about the failure to detain all of them, resulting in the death of only 36 targets [10]. Despite this record, Monkiewicz claims 72 people were executed by firing squad. Worse yet; he also writes that the Jews of Białowieża detained in the Prużany Ghetto were later murdered in Treblinka [3], a piece of information later repeated by many authors (among them Piotr Bajko, a writer popular in the region and author of many works dedicated to the spread of knowledge about Białowieża in local communities).

Monkiewicz also gives the wrong date of the liquidation of the Prużany ghetto – it didn't happen in Autumn 1942 [3] but at the turn of January and February 1943 [11]. Monkiewicz points to testimonies from the investigation held by the District Commission for the Investigation of Hitlerite Crimes (Okręgowa Komisja Badania Zbrodni Hitlerowskich) in Białystok, which were made by the citizens of Białowieża [14; 15]. Those citizens who remained in Białowieża only had access to second-hand knowledge, and as none of them were in the Prużany ghetto, or in Treblinka and Auschwitz Concentration Camps, they were liable to make mistakes. The only exception in this case is the testimony of Aleksander Krawczuk, who was in the Prużany ghetto, visiting his friend's wife [16]. Monkiewicz should have compared the testimonies with the documents about the Prużany ghetto, memoirs written by Holocaust survivors, testimonies from the Jewish Historical Institute and documents from the concentration camps. All of them clearly state that the people living in the Prużany ghetto were deported to Auschwitz between the days of 28th January and 1st February 1943 [11]. In the '80s, when Monkiewicz was publishing his books, the only documents left unpublished were the name lists of the Auschwitz prisoners, although they were probably accessible at the Auschwitz Museum. The testimonies from ŻIH (Jewish Historical Institute) and the memorial books of Prużany were released a fair time before Monkiewicz's books appeared.

Although we don't have any remaining sources containing a list of surnames of people deported to the Treblinka concentration camp [17] which could exclude the possibility of the presence of Jews from the Prużany ghetto, the archives of the extermination camp in Auschwitz seem to make an indisputable case. They contain dated records of transports from the Prużany ghetto, together 9170 people [12; 17], making up to the total number of the ghetto inhabitants, registered a few weeks before by the Germans during a census [12].  It is not out of the question that some people born in Białowieża could have been imprisoned in Treblinka, although most likely they lived in other cities during the war and found themselves in different ghettos such as the ones in Bielsk Podlaski, Białystok or Grodno, from where the Jews were deported, among other places, to Treblinka [13].

It's important to be cautious as well when analysing the materials concerning Białowieża coming from investigations and terrain surveys held toward the end of the 1960s and in the 1970s by the  previously mentioned prosecutor Waldemar Monkiewicz, and other members of the District Commission for the Investigation of Hitlerite Crimes, currently employed at the IPN (Institute of National Remembrance) archives. [16; 15]. Mirosław Tryczyk, the author of „Cities of Death” proved that Monkiewicz was manipulating the testimonies of witnesses which documented the responsibility of Poles for the deaths of the Jewish citizens of Jedwabne, so that the blame would be placed solely on the Germans [18]. We suspect that similar manipulations protecting both Polish and Belarusian citizens may have occurred in regards to Białowieża.


Link to the text about the Extermination of the Jews from Białowieża


  1. Ernst Klee, Willi Dressen, Volker Riess, The Good Old Days: The Holocaust as Seen by Its Perpetrators and Bystanders, (Konecky&Konecky 1988);
  2. Monkiewicz Waldemar, Zbrodnie hitlerowskie w Hajnówce i okolicy, Okręgowa Komisja Badania Zbrodni Hitlerowskich w Białymstoku, (Towarzystwo Przyjaciół Hajnówki, 1982);
  3. Monkiewicz Waldemar, Zbrodnie hitlerowskie w Białowieży, (Białowieża- Białystok 1981);
  4. Monkiewicz Waldemar, Białowieża w cieniu swastyki, (Krajowa Agencja Wydawnicza, 1984);
  5. Encyclopaedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, Volume I, ed. Sh. Spector, (New York 2001), 138;
  6. Symcha Burstein’s testimony, ŻIH archive 301/1970;
  7. Datner Szymon, Eksterminacja ludności żydowskiej w okręgu białostockim, vol. 60 of Biuletyn Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego, 1966;
  8. Józef Blinder’s testimony, ŻIH archive 311/1072;
  9. Leszczyński Kazimierz, Dziennik wojenny Batalionu Policji 322, vol. 17 of „Biuletyn Głównej Komisji Badania Zbrodni Hitlerowskich w Polsce”, 1967;
  10. Leszczyński Kazimierz, Dziennik wojenny Batalionu Policji 322, vol. 17 of „Biuletyn Głównej Komisji Badania Zbrodni Hitlerowskich w Polsce”, 226-227;
  11. - Symcha Burnstein’s testimony,1946, ŻIH archive 301/1970;
    - Symcha Burnstein's testimony, 1945, ŻIH archive  301/1269;
    - Szyja Bortnowski's testimony, 1947, ŻIH archive  301/2256;
    - NN testimony, Short story of the Prużany ghetto, ŻIH archive 301/7225;
    - Pinkas Pruzany. A chronicle of the destroyed Jewish communities of the town of Pruzana, Bereza, Malcz, Scherschev and Seltz, ed. Morecai W. Bernstein, (Buenos Aires-Argentina 1958);
    - Pinkas Pruz'any and its vicinity. Chronicle of six communities perished in the Holocaust, ed. Joseph Friedlander, (Tel Aviv 1983);
  12. Żydzi polscy w KL Auschwitz: wykazy imienne, edited by S. Mączka, M. Prokopowicz, (Żydowski Instytut Historyczny, 2004);
  13. Datner Szymon, Eksterminacja ludności żydowskiej w okręgu białostockim, vol. 60 of Biuletyn Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego, 1966 (Ed: the excerpt about Białystok based on his own experiences in the Białystok ghetto);
  14. District Commision for the Investigation of Hitlerite Crimes, IPN DS 296/68;
  15. Terrain questionnaire of the District Commision for the Investigation of Hitlerite Crimes in Białystok "Represje na ludności żydowskiej przed utworzeniem getta" Białowieża pow. Hajnówka, IPN Bi 1/1946;
  16. Main case files in the issue of the murders in 1942-1944 executed by Nazis in Białowieża, Hajnówka, IPN District Commision for the Investigation of Hitlerite Crimes in Białystok DS 296/68, Aleksander Krawczyk's testimony;
  17. Katrin Stroll, Deportacje żydów z okręgu Białystok do obozu zagłady w Treblince [in:] Co wiemy o Treblince. Stan badań, pod red. Edwarda Kopówki, (Siedlce 2013);
  18. Mirosław Traczyk, Miasta śmierci. Sąsiedzkie pogromy Żydów, (Warszawa 2015);
  19. The author writes: “Monkiewicz, young prosecutor of the Poviat Prosecutor’s Office in Białystok, delegated by the main prosecutor to the Regional Commision for the Investigation of Hitlerite Crimes, engaged with determination in the process of blurring the memory about the Polish contribution to the Holocaust during the 2nd World War, and starting to write the history from scratch (…) How did the process look like? Speaking in general, in the ’60’s he was repeatedly calling the witnesses of the Polish crimes on the Jewish population in 1941, and convincing them to testify putting the responsibility solely on the Germans.”