Soviet occupation

September 17, 1939, USSR forces invaded Poland. The area of the Białowieża Forest, Hajnówka and its environs was within the range of the Red Army. September 28, the German-Soviet "Treaty of Friendship and the border between the USSR and Germany," was signed which has led to establishing the national boundaries between the Third Reich and the Soviet Union along the Narew, Bug and San rivers. Under this treaty, Białowieża from mid-October 1939 was under Soviet occupation - was incorporated into the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (Brest region). Residents of Bialowieża were arbitrarily considered the citizens of the Soviet state [1; 2; 3].

The first move of the authorities, which has severely affected the local society, and especially the Jewish community, was the nationalization of industry, trade and services, which was adopted during the session of the People's Assembly (National) of the Western Belarus. All the: Belarusian, Polish and Jewish shops and craft workshops were closed [4]. Włodzimierz Dackiewicz says: "In 1939, as the Soviets has entered, all the shops were closed (...) and clerks were not allowed to work in Soviet nor Polish shops." In another interview, he adds that after the stores had been closed: "The Jews had a lot of goods stored, so, fortunately, we could buy from them secretly" [5]. The craftsmen were obliged to work in public co-operatives created by the Soviets, "who was a tailor, a shoemaker, barber, etc. has to work in those Soviet cooperatives and factories " [5]. One of them, a tailors' cooperative "assembled of all tailors of Białowieża" has been arranged in the synagogue [5].

On the other hand, Jan Sawicki remembers that one organization was also established in the building of a Jewish school, located near the synagogue: "The Soviets has fixed the co-operative in the southern part of the building, the people working there were repairing shoes, fitting cut glass in frames." [6].

Borys Russko remembers the fact of closing the Jewish sawmill owned by Abraham Szerman, located in Podolany: "I think he might get away, he left after the Soviets closed his sawmill. He employed many people." [7].

The process of nationalization was accompanied by removal of Polish zloty from the use and the replacing it off the Russian ruble. The authorities have allowed the people to exchange only up to 300 Polish zlotych to rubles, which meant losing their life savings.

Also, the elimination of the Jewish communities began, (the local government) which took care of the religious schools, synagogues, cemeteries, charitable activity before the war [4]. It means that also cheder in Białowieża was closed. Also, the Polish school, where Belarusian, Polish and Jewish children attended was closed, as recalls Olga Szurkowska, the kids were divided between Belarusian and Jewish: they were attending one Russian school, and Polish children were allowed to participate in the class led by the Polish Catholic priest [8], where, as remembers Włodzimierz Dackiewicz, the Russian language was the only one of the subjects [9]. Boleslaw Rychter recalls that in the common-room (in the building, which then was the seat of the German police and jail, today it houses the post office and an Orphanage), the Soviet authorities organized a choir class for young people. "There was such a large room and the Soviets gave two hours once a week to the working young people between 18- 20 years to have singing classes. Mr Sacharczuk was a conductor of the class. And there, among them was a Jewish girl who could play the accordion. We sang Russian songs together." [10].

According to Włodzimierz Dackiewicz "as the Soviets came, the Jews, as well as others, were the object of torment and humiliation, like everyone else, so as the Jews" [5]. He breaks the stereotype that the Jews welcomed Soviets with flowers: "in Białowieża Jews did not heartily welcomed the Soviets", adding that the part of the Belarusians did it: "Most of the residents of Białowieża consisted of the Orthodox Belarusians. Before 1939 there was quite an active Communist Party of Western Belarus. Members of this party were very keen to welcome new authorities; they called them "saviours". On the contrary, the reality quickly proved to be entirely different. Many people were deported to Siberia, and the Cossacks were moved to the Brest Fortress" [9]. This is also noted in the memories of Tadeusz Łaźny: "For the welcoming the Soviets, the locals have to build a high gate on Stoczek (Waszkiewicza Street today ), festively decorated with red and green branches of conifers" [11]. However, many residents quickly got rid of illusions.

Apart from the closure of private shops and craft workshops, the situation had worsened when the Soviet authorities forced people to work in the forest - as lumberjacks, to deliver wood for timber, according to specific standards (a defined amount of cubic meters of the material). This order has affected especially the Jewish men, who had no experience in such work nor the proper tools to work in the forest. As Włodzimierz Dackiewicz recalls "a noncompliance to this obligation was punishable by the deportation to Siberia or Brest." [9; 12]. So the Jews asked their neighbours to work instead of them. Both, father of Włodzimierz Dackiewicz from Krzyze, and the family of Alexy Dackiewicz from Zastawa, had been doing this. Alexy Dackiewicz says: "Everybody was obliged to work as was ordered, everyone should go where directed and do his work. So [the Jews] hired us, paid us, and we worked" [13]. Włodzimierz Dackiewicz describes: "The Soviets forced everybody to work, Jews as well. Everyone had to work out the norm in cutting the trees in the forest. We had a good horse, so the father used to work for all the Jews. (...) Father drove for them. How would they go 40 km to work with the wood! They [the Jews] didn't have a good saw, no axe, and haven't been experienced enough. It was my father, who did the wood transport for them (Russian "leshos" and "lespromhoz" [14]) to the sawmill. There were two sawmills, one was Jewish at the Białowieża Towarowa station (Soviets has nationalized it), and in Gródki, the Polish state-owned mill and there was even one more sawmill, founded by The Century European Timber Corporation at the place where the Hotel Bialowieski is located today. For example, the father has done work for Chanani [Jewish blacksmith] and gave Chanin's name instead of his own in the "leshos" and they marked, that the Chanani worked out his norm. Next, Chanani gets the money for the job, later pays my father back, and gives some extra for helping him out" [5].

During the second year of the Soviet occupation - in February 1940 nearly 1,500 representatives of the Polish forestry administration and members of their families were deported to the Soviet Union, to Siberia. Włodzimierz Dackiewicz remembers it well. "In February 1940 Soviets organised deportations of a large group of representatives of the Polish forest administration and their families far into to the Soviet Union" and also just before the arrival of Germans in June 1941: "Immediately before the Germans came to Białowieża, the Soviets within last minute, deported all associated with administrative office work, people who worked in the forest district management in the state forests, at school, or if someone was a village mayor, all the people like this were deported to Siberia" [9].


  1. Gnatowski M., Monkiewicz W., Kowalczyk J., Wieś białostocka oskarża, Białystok 1981;
  2. Monkiewicz W., Białowieża w cieniu swastyki, Krajowa Agencja Wydawnicza, 1984;
  3. Datner S., Eksterminacja ludności żydowskiej w okręgu białostockim. Bulletin of the Jewish Historical Institute, 1966 No. 60;
  4. Wierzbicki M., Poles and Jews in the Soviet annexation: Polish-Jewish relations in the lands of the north-east of the II RP under the Soviet occupation from 1939 to 1941, Warsaw 2007;
  5. Włodzimierz Dackiewicz, interview by Katarzyna Winiarska, 9th of June 2015;
  6. Jan Sawicki, interview by Katarzyna Winiarska, 15th of March 2016;
  7. Borys Russko, interview by Katarzyna Winiarska, 10th of March 2016;
  8. Szurkowska O., Dzieje białowieskiej rodziny, Białowieża 2001;
  9. Włodzimierz Dackiewicz, interview by the Holocaust Museum in Washington, 11.10.1998, RG-50.488*0051
  10. Rychter Bolesław, interview by Katarzyna Winiarska, 20th of May 2015;
  11. Białowieża mego dzieciństwa. Interview with Tadeusz Łaźny, Piotr Bajko. Czasopis nr 7-8/11;
  12. Włodziemierz Dackiewicz, interview by Katarzyna Winiarska 21 of July 2015;
  13. Aleksy Dackiewicz, interview by Katarzyna Winiarska, 10th of May 2015;
  14. The Russian word "leshoz" and "lespromhoz" means "forest farm" and " forest farm and wood processing";