Archive for the ‘Lwów’ Category

MY LIFE IN THE RED ARMY   2 comments

 Alfred Kornreich

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Fredek (full name Alfred Kornreich, but sometimes Fredzió: Polish is a language with many pet derivatives) was the son of my grandfather Henryk’s brother Matteusz. The photo above shows him after the events here described as a Second Lieutenant in the 4th Armoured Regiment “Skorpion” of the Polish Second Corp, which had been formed from Polish prisoners-of-war and deportees held in Soviet territory in 1941-42. How joining up with a regiment which, after a perilous exodus from Soviet territory and a stint guarding Iraqi oil fields, would go on to fight with ultimate success but deadly attrition at Monte Cassino, the Battles of Ancona, Cesano, and Bologna, could be viewed at one time as salvation for the young officer is the subject of the following history.  

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The Sikorski-Mayski Agreement which facilitated the recruitment of Polish units on Soviet territory would save Fredek from execution for deserting the Red Army.

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A native of Cracow, Fredek was twenty years old when the Second World War began. He managed to leave German-occupied Poland, where he was studying law at the Jagiellonian University, and reach Soviet-occupied Lwów where his knowledge of auto mechanics (he could drive a car) landed him a job at a factory. There, he thought he had been spared the enforced Soviet deportation which awaited all those who had come from the western German-controlled zone, as, he would later recall, in Communist eyes ‘they were considered “unreliable” or simply suspect‘. Unfortunately for Fredek, he, like many other Polish citizens of varied ethnicities, was drafted into the Soviet Red Army. He had quite an experience and after the war when he had moved to America he wrote a book about his adventures, My Life in the Red Army. My father Wojtek didn’t read Fredek’s book until much later, but would recall when he was in London, just after the war, reading a review of it in the Polish Catholic Press. There a somewhat sanctimonious reviewer wrote disapprovingly, rebuking Fredek for being more interested in wooing women than informing the world about the moral degeneracy of the Soviets. Although Wojtek would have little doubt that people like Fredek did more to rid the world of dictatorships than that reviewer.

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Fredek Kornreich

Fifteen year old Fredek in 1935.

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As a Pole, caught in Soviet-controlled territory in 1940, it was difficult for Fredek to decide what was best: to be sent to a labour camp or to fight for the ‘glorious’ Red Army. A prison camp or a military camp. The Soviet officers were to tell their new ‘recruits’, in Lwów, that, coming from capitalist Poland, they would be amazed and honoured to join the ‘only democratic army in the world!’ Fredek took it with a pinch of salt although it wasn’t easy. He was shot at, wounded, half-starved, almost had his legs unnecessarily amputated, and ultimately ended up deserting the Red Army and joining the reconstituted Polish Army (General Anders’ Army was formed following the Sikorski-Mayski Agreement from Polish prisoners-of-war on Soviet territory who had not yet succumbed to the executioner’s bullet or the Gulag’s workload and privations). He had the secret police on his trail and memorably describes standing at a Soviet train station, on crutches, up to his knees in snow and mud, and seeing his own face on NKVD Wanted posters.  Fredek’s salvation from being shot as a deserter was the formation of Anders’ Army and, a fugitive from Soviet justice, he enthusiastically enlisted at a reception centre in Jangi Yul, Uzbekistan. He would end up fighting with the Polish II Corp’s 4th Armoured Regiment at the Battle of Monte Casino where he was to distinguish himself, leading a tank unit up Mass Albaneta.

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Monument to the Polish 4th Armoured Regiment “Skorpion” (Fredek was a Second Lieutenant), erected from the shell of a mine-destroyed Sherman tank, in which the regiment’s first casualties fell during the Battle of Monte Cassino.

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Years later, when I tracked down the original 1949 edition of Fredek’s book, my father read it for the first time with relish, comparing it to an up-dated version of The Good Soldier Šwejk, the Czech writer Jaroslaw Hašek’s satire on the Austro-Hungarian Army in the First World War. But it couldn’t have been that funny to live through. Perhaps, humour or mental instability were indeed effective tools in helping to increase the odds of coming out of those things alive. Fredek was a forced conscript in the Soviet Army, fighting for a cause he despised against an enemy he despised even more. The moral dilemma he faced, as a Pole, in fighting for the Soviets was one of a myriad of moral wars which the millions of representatives of ‘smaller nations’ and ethnic minorities  experienced during the war. To understand the vulnerability of nationhood at the time makes it clear in the maze of conflicts which formed the war, why there were Slovak, Romanian, Ukrainian, or Baltic contingents within the German advance on Russia. Why Finland joined the attack on Russia. This was a time when the cost of not being on one side, together with at least one strong nation, be it ‘great’ or not, signalled the death-knell of recently-won nationhood. On the eve of Operation Barbarossa, Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union, Fredek realized that, as a Pole in Soviet hands, he had little choice in the matter.

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“Today Russia was an ally of Germany. If she entered the war on the side of Germany, against the Allies, I would be forced to fight everything that had been dear to me for years, on the side of the two greatest foes of my country. If Russia were to go to war against Germany (or vice versa), which was generally considered possible, I would gladly fight against the Germans, but for whose sake? In whose interest? Russia’s?”

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Fortune decided for Fredek that he would fight against the Germans, and not with them. He could ruefully thank heaven for small mercies. When the Germans attacked Russia, Fredek was conscripted and packed off to Odessa on the Black Sea to undergo military training and marvel at the sadly-absent wonders of the world ‘under the sun of Stalin’s Constitution’. His detachment, composed mostly of Poles, Ukrainians and Jews, under Russian officers, trained with other representatives of the many Soviet nationalities, ‘natzmeny’, or national minorities, which included Uzbeks, Tajiks, Turkmens, and an Armenian called Aram. Fredek recounts his first experiences of combat along the river Dniester, on the Bessarabian Front. He did his best to stay alive and managed somehow to distinguish himself for bravery, outwitting both German soldiers and his over-zealous Communist superiors. One night’s reconnaissance patrol across the river beyond German lines would almost cost him his life. He describes leading nine other soldiers to map enemy troop positions and considered his survival a major accomplishment. He recounts with alarm Aram proudly presenting him with the severed head of a German sentry and standing with two wounded men for seven hours in the ice-cold Dniester waiting for a break in fire to retreat to safety. Amidst the fighting, an existence exacerbated by the Soviets’ criminal disregard for the welfare of their own soldiers, Fredek recounts his experiences of mean-spirited petty despotism amongst his officers, but also the kindness of strangers and the camaraderie of the dispossessed. He deals with over-officious NKVD officers whose principle duty is to convict their own soldiers of ‘crimes against communism’ but also fights alongside men who selflessly pay for their comrades’ survival with their own lives.

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My Life in the Red Army Cover

Fredek changed his name and does not mention the Red Army unit in which he served and deserted from in order to protect his fellow conscripts from possible reprisals.

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Fredek deftly evokes the drudgery, boredom, and irrationality of war, together with picaresque interludes of ironic counterpoint. An account of his unit’s bawdy week of respite from the war at a man-starved Bessarabian collective farm provides much mirth as does his description of Cuckoo! -his comrades’ favourite vodka-fuelled after-dinner game which involves turning off the lights in a room, diving for cover behind desks, chairs and couches, and shooting blindly at whomever shouts Cuckoo! Despite the vagaries of his lot (and there is much suffering and foreboding there) if there is a party to be had or an officer’s sister to charm, his spirits never flag.

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Amidst Soviet propaganda that boasted inconceivable victories over the Germans, though the Soviets were the ones going backwards, Fredek found out in July 1941 from a fellow Pole that Lwów had been captured. He wished he were fighting for something as dear to him as Lwów. He recalled only a year earlier leaving Lwów on a Soviet train to begin his life as a Red Army soldier. It seemed like an age had passed since then. Now he was stuck in his own little corner of the world’s greatest war:

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Then everything disappeared, and we plowed into the darkness. All forty of us milled around the two doors of the car. No one spoke. For all of us Lwów was the symbol of our young lives, our homes and families. Even I, a Cracovian who had lived in Lwów for only a year, loved that city dearly. Three hundred and fifty thousand before the war, it was today a city of one million inhabitants, pulsating with life, wit, and music.

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Fredek survived both the Red Army and the Polish II Corp, later emigrating to the United States and living a full and varied life. When he found out my father had survived the war and was living in Ireland he kept in touch for the rest of their lives. Niech spoczywa w pokoju!

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Alfred & Karol

Fredek and Karol: many years later, Fredek presents a copy of “My Life in the Red Army” to an old fellow student from Cracow’s Jagiellonian University.

DRAŻA THE SERBIAN CHETNIK IN THE POLISH UNDERGROUND   3 comments

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What follows is the story of Dragan Mihajlo Sotirović, a figure known little outside Poland and Yugoslavia. A Serbian Captain who made a vital contribution to the efforts of the Polish Home Army in South-Eastern Poland during World War II. There is surprisingly little material available. It was certainly in the interests of the Communist Polish authorities and the Soviet Union to write him out of the history books of the Second World War.  And Tito, whom he met when both were guerilla fighters (and political opponents), would tar all chetniks with the collaborationist brush. There is a cinematic wholesomeness to his character, in the recollections of his friends and soldiers, so much so that I am still searching for Ukrainian, Yugoslav, or Soviet sources which might describe him as an enemy. The information here comes from Polish sources, including Jerzy Węgierski’s histories of Home Army operations in Lwów and Rzeszów, from Draża’s own memoir Europe for Sale (L’Europe aux enchères. Paris. 1952), written in French immediately after the war, as well as the recollections of my father, who fought under his command in the 14th regiment of Jazłowiecki Lancers.

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Draza 5

Dragan Mihajlo Sotirović (1912-1987)

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From 1941, “Draża”, as he was known, fought as a chetnik in the Yugoslav Army, in the Ravna Gora Movement, where he served as the adjutant of General Dragoluba Mihalović, the royalist general and staunch enemy of Yugoslavia’s future leader, Joseph Broz Tito. He was captured by the Germans and transferred to a prison in Rawa Ruska, on formerly Polish territory. But his captors would underestimate his love of freedom. Draża was to make of escape a professional art. He escaped once from the Germans, three times from the Soviets, and avoided arrest countless times. Everyone seemed to have had a bounty out on his head at one time or another – Germans, Soviets, and the Ukrainain Insurrectionary Army.

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JUNE-JULY 1941   Leave a comment

There has been some interesting new research into the events of June-July 1941 in Lwów as the Germans occupied the city from the retreating Soviets. The NKVD Prison Murders, the Massacre of the Lwów Professors, and two Lwów Pogroms, occurred in the days before, during, and after the German occupation. Probably the most contenscious issue is over what role Ukrainian nationalists may have had in the violence which claimed thousands of lives.

Here’s Philip Friedman’s account of the extermination of Lwów’s Jews in English. What’s interesting is that it’s partially based on an eye-witness report written in 1945.

This article has excerpts from the recently-published Polish translation of Dieter Schenka’s “Der Lemberger Professorenmord und der Holocaust in Ostgalizien” (“The Murder of Lwów professors and the Holocaust in East Galicia”).

Here’s a Russian translation from another German text about the controversial events surrounding the capture of Lwów, Hannes Heer’s “Einübung in den Holocaust: Lemberg Juni/Juli 1941”:

POSTCARD FROM A WAR 1915   Leave a comment


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Postcard from ‘the war to end all wars’.

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A large plastic photo frame filled with a mosaic of weather-beaten images on the shelf in my father’s bedroom contained the memories of his life. That was where my search began, the journey which would lead us to Poland and beyond. They are like relics to me. There is an unnerving mystery behind them, as though history stole these people from us and left the images in their place. There are black and white photos of Wojtek’s mother and father. And, of course, my mother, his wife. Wojtek is the last living link between these long-dead people and me.

There is one image of my grandfather, Henryk, which stood out in my mind from the time I was a child. It shows him as a young man in his officer’s uniform and was taken during the First World War. The image is mounted on a postcard. In those distant days, people would often visit the photographic studio, wherever it was that circumstances had compelled them to endure separation from their loved ones, and have a living image of themselves taken and mounted on post office cardboard. Kind words were inscribed along with the addressee’s information and within a few days, by the grace and wonder of the technology of those times, the self-same addressee would delight in the warm radiance of their distant loved ones gazing out at them.

He cuts a smart figure in his officer’s uniform. It is well-tailored, with six shining buttons, two stars on the collar, and a pill-box hat with his regimental badge. Dignified. Debonair even. Later, he would come to resemble Hercule Poirot, with a sort of studious decorum and elegant awkwardness. But here he is young. He was just twenty seven years old when the photograph was taken. The verdant background – a hospital garden – serves to soften the reality that mass carnage is taking place in the world around him. A single medal decorates his chest, attained either through some sterling act of bravery, or, by simple virtue of the fact that he was still standing when the battle declined. This was the First World War after all; when the battlelines marched out on a conveyor belt of attrition. Henryk was born a Pole (a Jewish Pole) at a time when Poland had all but ceased to exist, so he fought under the colours of an Empire, the Empire of Austro-Hungary, a strange unwieldy sounding entity to twenty-first century ears. One of those old worlds, which sit in history books and are, in name at least, no more. Entente Cordiale, Tripartite Agreement, Little Entente –  political expediencies of a now ancient Europe, which heralded peace and protection through amalgamation and somehow are no more. No more because the peace and protection they afforded some were at the expense of others.

Henryk rests his right hand on a cane to support his injured leg while his left hand is tucked dandily into his hip jutting his elbow out in a pose that seems to defy the sombreness of the moment. He is young and handsome and looks unwilling to yield to the fatalism of the clouds that have gathered in spades over Europe. Clouds that will soon blemish Vienna and Westphalia, and Waterloo. Clouds that will create benchmarks of suffering and disappointments for future generations under simple Frankish and Slavic names – Verdun, Somme, Ypres, and Brusilov. Clouds that will eventually reach their breaking point in an apocalyptic precipitation that will curse city and village, forest and vale, from north to south, and east to west, to the camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Maidanek, Treblinka, Czenstochau, Bełżec, and Sobibor.  Henryk’s records in the archives of the Austro-Hungarian Army offer a cursory outline of his personality, distilled into categories which highlight his usefulness in purely military matters. They record him as an ensign in the Imperial and Royal Siege Artillery Regiment Baron de Beschi No. 2. He is described as ‘very useful in company duties, dedicated to duty.’ There is a description of his deployment on duty (‘obedient to superiors and polite, demanding discipline from subordinates’) as well as his deployment off duty (‘very tactful, courteous’). His private circumstances are recorded as: ‘Single. Personal finances orderly.’

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‘A kiss and good wishes to all! -Henryk’

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According to the postmark on the back of the postcard, it is the ninth day of August 1915 and Henryk is recuperating in a hospital for officers in Bistra, Silesia. He writes in the elegant hand of that time when so much was written by hand. The original addressee of this military portrait is given his titles in German, Herren Wohlgeboren Joachim Kornreich. The double honorific hints at the politeness of the age and the standing of the addressee: Mister Well-Born Joachim Kornreich.[1] The main message appears in Polish: A kiss and good wishes to all. Henryk. It seems surprisingly cheery for a postcard not simply from a war, but from a war which was christened ‘Great’ and bore H.G. Wells’ unfortunately inadequate sobriquet ‘the war to end all wars.’  This Joachim was then living at the centre of the Empire, in Vienna. He is Henryk’s father, and so my great-grandfather. Their surnames differ, father’s and son’s, out of no family dispute. Our family were in fact the Kornreich-Korowicz’s, a double-barrelled conjunct of good Austrian and Polish surnames. A sign perhaps of my progenitors’ life under Austrian rule and in particular in eastern-most Galicia, an Austrian-administered territory whose capital Lwów held a majority Polish population. The names were used interchangeably, with a preference for using each in its respective milieu, the Polish name in Polish circumstances, the Austrian when dealing with more international issues. This was certainly true before 1918 when Henryk, who was to become a successful economist, began to publish books and papers on monetary issues affecting the global economy and the Austrian Empire under the name Kornreich. After Polish independence, when the best of his career was achieved, the name Korowicz dominated but he was known professionally in Kraków and Lwów both before and after Polish independence as Dr. Korowicz.[2] This was not remarkably strange in those times, in those circumstances, in a multi-ethnic Empire, before the clash of nationalisms and ideologues. The use of multiple names also hints at another more sinister aspect of Europe one hundred years ago. It was not uncommon among minority groups and especially the Jews to adopt a name of the land where they lived. This was both a salute towards integration, and a form of protection against the pogroms which had become a disturbingly repetitive feature of the Jews’ European migrations. The Polish King Casimir III had famously bucked a trend once and invited Jewish immigration in the 14th century but these were different times. This was the age of the scapegoat, the birth of populism and people power, when political shifts demanded the unmasking of a hidden enemy. Anti-Semitism would soon find a warm niche in the new Polish Republic, which had been starved of nationhood for so long: while to the east and the west of Poland, the Jews would fare far worse.

The changing game of Europe’s Empires and dominions was about to lead to a bloody re-christening of the past in the years that were to follow Henryk’s Great War. In a brutal atmosphere of blind nationalism and radical social experimentation, names became badges of honour and marks of shame. Names would lose the nuances that described the communities they had lived in, the neighbourhood recognition of interconnections, local histories, friendships, and loves lost and gained. A time would come when your name would denote only your national allegiance, your ethnicity, and your social class- three elements which marked your cards before your interview with destiny, when the knock on your door might be the last time you opened the door. Many names disappeared forever. On a wisp of wind, like grains of dust. Some names remain only on gravestones, on brass plaques, on stone monuments, in history books, or on the lips of the old.

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[1] Wohlgeboren (‘Well-Born’) was a honorific title, used by lower noble ranks and civic notables.

[2] Henryk’s publications, written for the specialist and the student, in both Polish and German, include the following titles: “Gold Currency in Light of War” (1918); “Proprietor and Peasant in Poland and particularly in Galicia”; “Studies on the Depreciation of Currency and Other Economical Questions”;  “An Outline of Commercial Politics” (1930); “Politics of Trade” (1931).

EASTER 1935 LWÓW   1 comment


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A family gathering at my Great-Grandfather Antoni’s house, Lwów. Easter 1935. My father Wojtek, then eight years old, tussles with a friend in the right foreground.

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A few months before my father died in May 2011, we discovered our long-lost relations still living in Poland. For seventy years, Wojtek had had no idea where they had gone, and they had thought him long dead. So my cousin Agnieszka came to visit us bearing a great pile of old photos which her mother had copied for us from their family album and labelled. We gathered around as she laid them out one by one and told us who they were. There was Wojtek’s mother as a child with his Aunt Jadwiga and Uncle Zdisław. There were his grandmother and his grandfather in his starched collar and with a fine waxen-tipped moustache. There were Wojtek’s great-grandparents, my own great-great-grandparents. There was also the Łazowski family, his cousins, whom Wojtek had once told me about: Zbyszek and his mother, his wife and sisters – those who were exiled to Kazakhstan by the NKVD. I finally could see what they looked like, and so put faces to the characters who populated my father’s stories…

“Did they survive?” Wojtek asked. “Kazakhstan, I mean.”

“Zbyszek and the family, you mean? Oh yes! They all made it back to Poland after the War. Zbyszek died only in 1997.” Agnieszka said with a smile, as she realized once again that Wojtek had no idea what had happened to his family for the last seventy years.

“And Zbyszek’s father, Władysław, who ran the pharmacy on Listopad Street?” Wojtek asked.

“You didn’t know?” Agnieszka asked. “He was taken by the NKVD before the rest of his family was exiled. Mother only found out much later through the Red Cross what happened to him. He was taken to the prison camp at Starobielsk. He had been a lieutenant-colonel in the Polish Army in the inter-war period. Although he was already sixty-four years of age and retired, they took him along with the other officers. He became one of the victims of the infamous Katyń massacres.”

The parade of photographs continued, from the ancient past right up to images of Agnieszka’s own children. As she laid them down before us, I watched them float by like the years. I pictured myself for a moment within the frames of this lost world, a hereditary time-traveller putting on the moustaches and pocket watches of the times, standing next to my great-grandparents. The wonder is all the greater for the fact that I am separated from them not only by time, but by geography, by politics, by war, and by exile.

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My great-grandparents Antoni and Olga Pawłowski, my grandmother Olga (far left), her sister Jadwiga, and brother Zdisław. Photo circa 1900

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My great -great-grandparents Antoni Pawłowski Sr. and Zuzanna Carolina Pawłowska. Photo circa 1890

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“I think there are some here with your father.” Agnieszka said to me, searching quickly through the remaining photos. “Ah-ha! There they are!”

There were two photos of a family gathering in Wojtek’s grandparents’ house, during Easter, 1935. They were all there. Wojtek’s grandparents, his parents, his aunt Jadwiga, his grandaunt Mudzia, Zbyszek and his wife Wanda, Zbyszek’s parents and his sister Kazia. And there lying down in the foreground, resting his head in one hand, with a great beaming smile, lay a young Wojtek. I had to laugh.

“Are you wearing a sailor suit, Wojtek?” I asked.

“ That was three-quarters of a century ago. People used to dress up their kids like that back then.” Wojtek replied laughing.

“By the way, Wojtek, my mother asked me to ask you something.” Agnieszka said. “She knows your grandparents both died in 1941. She knows how your father was killed by the German Einsatzgruppen, and that your mother was deported to Kraków after the War. But she doesn’t know what became of your grandaunt Mudzia.”

“Oh, that was another sad tale.” Wojtek said. “She suffered a nervous breakdown. That was soon after the Germans invaded. My father had already been killed, my grandparents were dead. She went to the psychiatric hospital and died soon after. I think she was buried in the grounds of the hospital. Those were terrible times.”

I have a strange sensation looking at the photo below, at little Wojtek and the grown-ups around him. They have no idea what is about to befall them in the years ahead. Perhaps the photo is a microcosm of Polish history during the period. Wojtek’s father would be shot by the Germans, his cousin Władysław would die by Soviet hands, and Władysław’s son Zbyszek and the rest of his family would be exiled to Kazakhstan. Wojtek’s grandparents both in their eighties died in 1942, of ‘natural causes’, no doubt exacerbated by the times they lived in. His grandaunt ended her days later that same year in a psychiatric ward unable to comprehend what had become of the world around her. Wojtek, his mother and Aunt Jadwiga would be the last of their family to remain in Lwów. Then Wojtek would leave, an exile. Finally, his mother and aunt would be deported to Kraków in the Polish People’s Republic. And that, my friends, is history.

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A microcosm of Polish history: Władysław Łazowski (1) died in a Soviet prison camp. Zbyszek (2), his wife Wanda (3.), his sister Kazia (5), and his mother Zuzanna (9) deported by Stalin to Kazakhstan. Mudzia (4) suffered a nervous breakdown after the German invasion and died in a psychiatric hospital. Olga Pawłowska (6) and her husband Antoni (10) died ‘a natural death in unnatural times.’ My grandfather Henryk (8) murdered by a German Einzatsgruppe. My grandmother Olga Korowiczowa (11) and her sister Jadwiga (7) deported to the Polish People’s Republic in 1947. My father Wojtek (12) forced into exile.

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Posted June 22, 2012 by jkorowicz in History, Lwów, Poland, Second World War, Soviet Union

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EDUCATION IS DANGEROUS   3 comments

Education is dangerous – every educated person is a future enemy.”

Hermann Goering

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THE PROFESSORS OF LWÓW

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It is a strange thing to investigate the murder of one’s own family. Although it happened some seventy years ago, long before my birth, I am familiar with some of the effects of my grandfather’s murder.  There are generational ripples still emanating from this tragic stone cast into the social pond of my father’s youth.

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My grandfather, Dr. Henryk Marian Korowicz, professor of economics and rector of Lwów’s Foreign Trade Academy, was executed in the early hours of 12th July 1941, by a Nazi Einsatzgruppe. Much has been written about the murder of Lwów’s professors as well as subsequent attempts to identify and prosecute the perpetrators.  My father Wojtek  was fifteen years old when his father was taken from him. He saw the car pulling off as he returned home from the market and knew something wasn’t right. Only when he entered the house was he told:  ‘They’ve taken your tatush.’

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“YES, IT SOUNDS CRUEL, BUT THAT’S LIFE.”

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The Germans entered Lwów with a plan. The executor of this plan was SS Brigadenführer Dr Eberhard Schöngarth, head of the Security Police in the Nazi Generalgouvernement.[1]  He lectured at the infamous Security Police Academy Bad Rabka, known locally as ‘Death’s Head Resort,’ south of Kraków. He was already known to the professors of Lwów with horror. Schöngarth had been one of those responsible on November 6th 1939 for rounding up their colleagues in Kraków and dispatching them to concentration camps. This was an essential part of Nazi military protocol.

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Germans Enter Lwow June 30th 1941 (German Newsreel)

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There were at least four massacres which took place before during and after the German occupation of Lwow. The NKVD Prison Massacres refer to the mass killing of Polish, Ukrainian, and Belarussian prisoners by the Soviet NKVD, following the German invasion of the USSR on June 22nd 1941. Two Lwów Pogroms took place; the first when the Germans occupied the city  from 30 June to 2 July 1941 and a second during 25–29 July 1941. They involved attacks on Jews by German Einsatzgruppen and Ukrainian militia. The fourth massacre was the execution of twenty five professors along with members of their families and guests by German Einsatzgruppen. This massacre took the life of my grandfather and is the one described here.

SS Brigadenführer Dr Eberhard Schöngarth, Nazi Security Police Chief , commander of Einsatzgruppe ZbV, and architect of Henryk’s murder.

Special units, Einsatzgruppen (Action Squads), had been created which travelled with the Army, and carried out the sensitive task of identifying and disappearing the intelligentsia, mopping up high level political opponents and preparing the ground for Nazi administration. Schöngarth was in charge of his own Einsatzgruppe (zbV). Other Einsatzgruppen, such as ‘C’, under the command of Dr. Otto Rasch, also played the shadowy hand of executioners in the first days of Lwów’s capture. These special units carried out their carefully planned social interventions according to a malicious maxim: a community without its leaders is easier to enslave. The Einsatzgruppen were devised by Heinrich Himmler himself, and were led by senior SS and Gestapo officers; they were officially above any judicial inquiry, answering only to the Reichsfürher. Even before they arrived, they had begun to fill the proscription list for Lwów, assembling information from informers, prisoners, and, more prosaically, the telephone directory and Who’s Who in Central and East Europe 1933-34, in order to identify the pillars of society, the well-educated, and the civic-minded. Once inside the city, Schöngarth and his men began their assault on culture, society and the mind. The overriding plan was intellecticide. Of course, the strategy is nothing new, but, sadly, never seems to get old. Hitler, in a famous speech, identified the necessity of this crime for the functioning of his own world vision:

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“The Poles can have only one master – the Germans. You can’t have two masters and there ought not to be two masters. Therefore, all representatives of the Polish intelligentsia must be destroyed. Yes, it sounds cruel, but that’s life.”

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THE LOOTING DUTCHMAN

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Pieter Menten, during the war in SS uniform. The ‘Looting Dutchman,’ made a fortune out of the art and antiques he pilfered from those he helped execute, including the Lwów Professors. He wasn’t imprisoned until 1980, and served six years of a ten year sentence for murdering Jewish villagers in 1941.

The first to fall victim was one of Henryk’s friends, former Polish Prime Minister and Professor of the Technical University, Kazimierz Bartel. He would remain in detention for the next three weeks, after which he was disappeared. The others wouldn’t last as long.  On the night of July 3rd to 4th, between 10pm and 2 am, they arrived at the professors’ houses with orders to arrest the professors and, like the Angel of Death collecting ripe cargo for eternal dispatch, any male over the age of eighteen found in their houses. While the inhabitants were questioned, other members of the arrest team confiscated any easily-pocketable loot, such as money, watches, and gold jewellery, while a note was made of any decent antiques or paintings which could be pilfered later. The intestate property of those who were about to die could be attained with the right connections, once death certificates could be produced. The Dutch lumber merchant and art collector Pieter Nicolaas Menten played a significant role in identifying the best antiques and paintings in Lwów. He had lived in South-Eastern Poland since the 1920’s and knew many of the professors, as well as art dealers, businessmen and politicians. Before the war, he became a naturalised Pole, as well as the Dutch Honorary Consul to Kraków. When the Germans invaded, he saw an opportunity for self-advancement. He offered his services to the SS as an adviser/interpreter, was given the rank of SS Hauptscharfuhrer and was put in charge of administrating Jewish art and antiques. He apparently advised the Einsatzgruppen to put prominent citizens, whose possessions he coveted, onto the death lists. While the possessions of the dead were supposed to be sent back to Berlin, he seems to have had some sort of private deal agreed with Schöngarth, and his subordinate in the security services, Capt. Hans Krueger, to shift part of these valuables into their own pockets. Menten eventually returned to Holland, in 1943, with Schöngarth’s assistance and a private train filled with art seized from his executed victims. When Schöngarth himself was later transferred to Holland, the two men remained in cordial contact. There, Menten remoulded himself as an art dealer after the war. Although he served eight months in prison in 1948 for serving as a Nazi interpreter in uniform, he was only brought to justice and put on trial for murder in 1976, after he had put the contents of his Amsterdam apartment up for auction and the provenance of his objets d’art drew attention to his shadowy past. He eventually served six years of a ten year sentence for the mass killing of Jews in the Stryj Valley. He was unrepentant to the last, claiming in court he had been promised immunity from prosecution by a deceased former Minister for Justice, on condition that he kept a secret file on the collaboration of Dutch officials with the Third Reich buried. When he was released from prison, in 1985, he decided to evade the spotlight of public opinion and retreat to his mansion in Ireland, but by then his reputation was already too tarnished and the Irish government refused him entry because of his war crimes.[2]  He died in Holland in 1987.

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COMPLY AND YOUR FAMILIES ARE SAFE’

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The Einsatzgruppen didn’t mention to those they were taking away what was going to happen to them. They had their ways, developed through experience, on how to create the maximum efficiency and the least commotion when forcing a man, men, or whole families to vacate their houses and come with them into the night. Don’t worry. It’s just some routine questioning. You’ll be back by morning. They were taken to a makeshift interrogation centre, which, ironically, was housed in an academic institution, on Abrahamowicz Street. Here men and women, educated and respected in their community, were harassed and harangued for all things imaginable. All of the professors could be accused of collaborating with the Bolsheviks, as indeed could any citizen of Lwów who had lived through the Soviet occupation. However, the interrogation was mostly routine, for the sentences were a given. They weren’t interested in beating information out of these custodians of knowledge and tradition. The Nazi theory of civil administration had different priorities. While the professors and family members were made stand against a wall, awaiting individual interrogation, they were insulted and beaten. One unfortunate man, an engineer by the name of Adam Ruff suffered an epileptic fit. A Gestapo officer shot him on the spot. Ruff had had the misfortune to be with his parents, Dr. and Mrs. Stanisław and Anna Ruff, visiting a family friend, Professor Ostrowski, when the Germans came. The Ruff family wasn’t on the Germans’ list but they were arrested nonetheless. Later, his body, carried by his colleagues, was placed in the same pit on Wulecka Heights where the bodies of the Professors, shot four at a time, collapsed and fell. They were executed in the early hours of the morning when the curfew was still in operation. But despite the precaution, witnesses on Nabielak St. and Małachowski St. could see this gruesome scene played out again and again, as group after group make their final walk to a hole in the ground on a scrap of wasteland on a hillside. They were ordered to stand before the hole facing a line of soldiers. . They were then ordered to remove their hats. They always ordered those whom they were about to shoot to remove their hats. The reason was not to sanctify the unholy act but rather to make the head shots count. There was no mercy on the part of the firing squad and probably little thought of rebellion on the part of the victims. The Einsatzgruppen had a way of dealing with their captives, a process of execution which minimized any fuss. The professors, even though there were veterans among them, were not young. They were not armed, nor dressed for war. They were hidden from their compatriots who might have been able to help them. They were alone. Perhaps they did consider giving their executioners something to remember. And then perhaps they thought of their wives, their children, their parents, of what might happen in reprisal. That is most likely what the killers said to them at the outset. Comply and your families are safe.

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ROMAN SHUKHEYVICH

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Roman Shukheyvich, military commander of the Ukrainian Insurrectionary Army (UPA) and the Nachtigall (‘Nightingale’) Battalion, a SS Ukrainian unit.

While Schöngarth’s Einsatzgruppe was behind the round-up, the firing squad may have included several members of the Ukrainian Gestapo. Later, during a Soviet trial (whose instigation had overtly political motives) the Ukrainian SS Nightingale Battalion was implicated in the murder of the professors. The issue of Ukrainian-Nazi collaboration continues to haunt Ukrainian-Polish relations and it is not surprising to see historical evidence at times being muted to the benefit of insinuation or manipulated by false accusations and even show-trials. Suffice it to say, we know more or less the Germans involved in the murder of the professors, but we don’t know which, if any, Ukrainians aided or attended, or took part in the murders. Even those who agree on the complicity of members of the Nightingale Battalion and their military commander Roman Shukheyvich, have different opinions on whether members took part in an official capacity, as representatives of a more extremist sub-group, or, indeed, as individuals.  Among his supporters, Shukheyvich remains a champion of national resistance, who did what he did, playing the hand he was dealt, with the goal of creating an independent Ukraine. Among his detractors, his realization of that new Ukraine promoted a narrow vision of ethnic exclusivity which undoubtedly contributed to the persecution and execution of tens of thousands of civilians in the balancing of a racial equation.  Of course, not only are the guilty rarely forthcoming with admissions of guilt but the multivectored re-telling and branding of history as myth has consciously and unconsciously served to fan political and ethnic schisms.

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DEATH AND EXILE

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Professor Bartel, the first of the Lwów professors to be arrested was the last to be murdered. As a former Polish Prime Minister, he may have been kept alive by virtue of being seen as a possible figurehead for a Nazi puppet government. He had been in negotiations previously with the Soviets, a sign of his political value. He was sentenced to death on July 26th. Much later, Die Welt claimed that unearthed Nazi documentation indicated that Professor Bartel had refused to collaborate with the Germans and was executed on Hitler’s direct orders. Dr. Schöngarth no doubt executed his master’s order. With Bartel now dead, Dr. Schöngarth, the architect of all these murders, moved into the Professor’s house on Herburtów Street. Bartel’s wife and daughter had been evicted the night he was first arrested.

With the murder of the Lwów professors, their families and friends, a significant part of the culture and society of Lwów also died. They were chosen precisely because they were eminent scholars, surgeons, and civic leaders. The Nazi philosophy sought to eliminate any figureheads, rallying points around whom the population might gather. They hoped thus to speed up the process of enslavement. Before the Russians, and, then, the Germans, came, Lwów had been a vibrant and distinguished academic and cultural centre. Lwów of the 1930’s was famous for its scientists, writers and mathematicians.  There were many luminaries. Some died, some were murdered, and some left Lwów in the years immediately prior to the war and so survived: Ludwig von Mises, one of the most influential economists of the 20th Century; his brother, Richard von Mises, mathematician and aero-dynamist; Stanislaw Marcin Ulam, one of the principle creators of both the Atom bomb and the Hydrogen bomb; his brother Adam Bruno Ulam, who would become America’s leading Sovietologist. Lwów was a city fertile with creativity. There the mathematicians Stefan Banach, Juliusz Pawel Schauder, Hugo Steinhaus, Mark Kac, Kazimierz Kuratowski, and Karol Borsuk flourished, the nucleus of an informal mathematical society which used to convene at the Scottish Café, to set brain-teasers and conundrums for each other. There the philosopher Martin Buber grew up, and the Jew turned Muslim scholar Mohammad Asad was born. The city was full of fascinating personalities, bright minds, and eccentric characters.

My grandfather ran something of a salon for the bridge players of Lwów, of whom there were many before the war. There were often many interesting characters to be seen bustling about the house, a fact which added a touch of colour to my father’s childhood. One of Henryk’s friends was the anthropologist, Jan Czekanowski, who used to visit the family house regularly. Czekanowski was a fantastic linguist. During the war, he was credited with saving the Karaim peoples of Lithuania, whom the Nazis wished to see exterminated, on account of the fact that they spoke a form of Hebrew.[3] One of grandmother’s friends was the Countess Karolina Lanckorońska. She lectured in art history at Lwów University. She worked actively in the Polish underground during the war and she would play an important part in uncovering the truth behind the execution of her colleagues, the professors. A couple of years later, while she herself was in prison, awaiting execution, her interrogator Hauptsturmfuhrer Hans Krueger, SS Captain and formerly a subordinate of Schöngarth, mockingly confessed to the execution of the Lwów professors. Krueger was connected in one way or another with the deaths of up to 70,000 people, mostly Jews. By a stroke of good fortune and the intercession of the Italian Royal family, the Countess was not executed but instead sent to Ravensbruck women’s prison. She publicised what she knew about Krueger’s guilt, and, in a strange twist, Krueger, was tried by the German military for betraying secret information. He lost his post at the Security Police Command in Stanislawów, where he had waged a blood-thirsty pogrom against the region’s Jewish populations, enforcing the Nazi Final Solution with a salacious zeal. The Countess survived the war, and lived in exile in Italy until her death, aged 104, in 2002. She bequeathed a valuable art collection to the Polish State after the fall of Communism.[4]

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HANS KRUEGER

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SS – Hauptsturmfuehrer Hans Krueger, co-conspirator in Menten’s appropriation of art and antiques.

Hans Krueger also survived the war. His story is somewhat darker. He was born in Posen in 1909, which was, at the time, a part of Prussia within the German Empire. He was therefore of an age to remember his expulsion from that city following the creation of Poland’s Second Republic at Versailles. Perhaps in that humiliation laid the source of his anger. He joined the National-Socialists at a young age, rose through the ranks and distinguished himself in the ruthlessness of his dedication to the Nazi cause. He was picked up by the British Army, in Holland, at the end of the war, but released in 1948 due to lack of evidence. Later, he would work for a while as a travelling salesman. He created an anti-fascist past for himself and then entered local politics, even running as a candidate in the North Rhineland-Westphalia State Assembly Elections for the League of Eastern Expellees and Victims of Justice. He thus saw himself always as a victim, a crusader against injustice, oblivious to the devastation his own cruel excesses had wrought. He will long be remembered for Stanislawów’s ‘Bloody Sunday’, on October 12th 1941, when he and his men corralled the city’s entire Jewish population into a graveyard and executed up to 10,000 of them. His wartime activities finally caught up with him and he was put on trial for a long list of war crimes in 1967. He openly admitted that he was a SS Captain in Stanislawów, for he obviously believed he had left no victims behind who could tie him to any crimes. He seemed genuinely shocked when Countess Lanckorońska appeared as a witness in the trial. He was found guilty of numerous crimes arising from his time as Gestapo Chief in Stanislawów, where his savagery reached its cruellest proportions.  Although he received a life sentence for those crimes, his implication in the murder of the professors wasn’t established. Later, a nephew of one of the murdered professors together with a group of Polish scholars tried to have Krueger tried separately for the Lwów crime. The German Prosecutor denied them on the grounds that he was already serving a life sentence for mass murder and no further sentence could be reasonably passed. He was released in 1986, and spent the last two years of his life a free man.

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DEATH OF SCHÖNGARTH

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Dr Schöngarth, who had orchestrated and coordinated the deaths of the Lwów professors, became the subject of an investigation, launched by Himmler himself, into the theft of Jewish property in Galicia, in 1943. He was removed from his post in Poland, and sent to Greece. At the same time, his henchman, Krueger, was transferred to Paris. Schöngarth was eventually captured by the British in Germany and convicted of a crime which had taken place in the grounds of the local Headquarters of the German Security Services at Enschede in Holland. Schöngarth had been attending a conference there when an Allied airman from a downed bomber parachuted unintentionally onto the grounds of the German Headquarters. Schöngarth was convicted of ordering the airman’s execution and was himself sentenced to death. His other crimes were not widely known at the time. He was hanged on May 16th 1946. Before his execution, he wrote a letter to his wife, requesting that she contact the Dutchman Pieter Menten, and remind him of his obligation to his old friend from the Galicia days. In this way, he hoped his family would be looked after with part of the proceeds of the murder and theft carried out by Schöngarth and his Einsatzgruppe in Galicia.

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THEODOR OBERLANDER

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Theodor Oberlander, liaison officer to the Nightingale Battalion.

Another character associated with the Professors’ murder was a German professor of political science, an expert on Polish and Slavic affairs, who is claimed to have acted as a liaison officer between Himmler and the Nightingale Battalion – Theodor Oberlander. Some have argued that he was in overall charge of the Ukrainian Battalion which may have collaborated with Schöngarth’s Einsatzgruppe in July 1941 and that Roman Shukeyvich, the Ukrainian military commander, answered to him. He entered politics after the war and was elected to the Bundestag for the League of Eastern Expellees and Victims of Justice, the same party of which Hans Krueger was a member. He rose to the position of Minister for Refugees in Adenauer’s government. It was in this capacity, in 1959, that the Soviet Union saw the political merits of opening a case against him for the professors’ murders. The implication of Oberlander suited a dual political agenda for the Soviets. Not only could they embarrass a sitting minister of the West German government, but they could further tarnish the legacy of Ukrainian nationalism by presenting Shukheyvich’s troops as the Nazis’ compliant henchmen. Oberlander was eventually found guilty by the East German Supreme Court and sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment. He was subsequently tried in West Germany and acquitted, due to lack of evidence. He stepped down from his ministerial post in 1960. His political career, associated with anti-immigration and right-wing nationalism, never recovered. He died, in 1998, with another trial against him pending which concerned a murder which took place in Kislovodsk in 1942.

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WALTER KUTSCHMANN

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Einsatzgruppe Officer Walter Kutschmann.

Walter Kutschmann (left), as Political Affairs Commissar of the Lwów Gestapo, may have played some role in the Professors’ murders. Kutschmann managed to take one of the so called ‘ratlines’ to South America, at the end of the war. He travelled to Argentina on a Vatican passport, and lived there unperturbed by the atrocities of his past. The Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal, himself a native of Lwów, discovered he was living in Buenos Aires under the assumed name Pedro Olmo. He was held briefly by Argentinian Police in 1975 but was somewhat mysteriously released before the German authorities could process his extradition. He went into hiding but was arrested again in 1985; he died while awaiting trial. In addition to the murder of the Lwów Professors, he was accused of the deaths of 1,500 Jews in Brzeziny and Podajce, Poland, in 1942.

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WILHELM ROSENBAUM

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SS Untersturmfuher Wilhelm Rosenbau

And there were others. Sturmbannführer Kurt Stawizki, a subordinate of Schöngarth, may have been involved, as well as two other German officers named Hacker and Köhler, who were reported by surviving members of the professors’ families to have composed part of the arresting party.There was also SS Untersturmfuher Wilhelm Rosenbaum, Schöngarth’s sadistic subordinate. He had worked with both Schöngarth and Krueger at the Security Police Academy “Bad Rabka,” where his way of demonstrating his loyalty and devotion to his ideological hero, Schöngarth, was to excel his peers in his savagery towards the Jews. In 1939, Rosenbaum had been sequestered to the Security Police HQ in Kraków, which was then headed by Schöngarth. There he was assigned to collect ‘contributions’ from the city’s Jewish residents. Later he joined the teaching staff at Bad Rabka. In early 1941, he joined Schöngarth’s Einsatzgruppe and took part in its nefarious activities in Lwów in July. He subsequently returned as Head of the Bad Rabka School, and is remembered there for the torture and execution of Jews. He survived the war, unpunished, eventually opening a confectionery shop in Hamburg. In 1951, he visited the ‘looting Dutchman’ Pieter Menten in Amsterdam, allegedly to claim his share of the pilfered art and antiques amassed under Schöngarth’s tenure in Lwów and Galicia. In a bizarre and disturbing incident, the Dutchman had Rosenbaum act as witness in a case he was taking against the post-war German government for his arrest and detention by the SS in 1943 (when Himmler had launched a crack-down on the theft of Jewish property by members of his own security forces and Menten was expelled from Kraków.) With the crimes of both men still uncovered, Menten was awarded $200,000 in compensation. Rosenbaum was eventually tried for war crimes in 1961, and received sixteen life sentences.

As in all these cases, the families of the victims seek to reclaim their dignity, and honour their dead; while the perpetrators seek to hide their involvement. When cornered, and put on trial, they all say variations of the same line: We were following orders. Those who do most damage, feel most victimized when faced with their crimes. For some of those who conspired to round up and murder the professors, there was some small measure of accountability and justice.


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GRANDFATHER DISAPPEARS

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Henryk Marian Korowicz (1888-1941)

My father’s  memories of the execution of the Lwów Professors are concentrated in the events of 11th July 1941 when he saw my grandfather being taken away. Henryk of course would have heard rumours of what had happened to his colleagues after 4th July, as friends spread the word that a large number of professors had been ‘taken in for questioning’ by the Gestapo and were still missing. It was not widely known that they were all dead, until sometime later. He knew many of these missing men, and he could guess that they were targeted because, like him, they were professors. There were few precautionary steps though he could have taken. The German Army undisputedly held Lwów under its control. He would have found it difficult to leave should he have chosen to. Where should he run to? Germany ruled everything west of Lwów to France’s Atlantic coast. If he fled east, he would merely be following the German Wehrmacht into the Soviet zone, and into what was to become the bloodiest battlefield of the entire Second World War. Perhaps he could have sought shelter in the mountains. But there were his wife and his son. How could they pass through unnoticed? He did not know for sure that he was already on Dr. Schöngarth’s list. If he hadn’t already disappeared, perhaps he was safe? This was the gamble, despite the lack of options.

A week passed. It was July 11th. My father had celebrated his fifteenth birthday the previous month:

“I was coming back from a village outside the city where Mother had sent me to buy food. From a distance I saw the German car parked outside our house. It moved off as I got closer. I walked up the steps. The door was open. When I entered the kitchen, Mother was sitting at the table, her head buried in her arms. She couldn’t speak. Janka, the maid, was standing beside her. It took them an age to tell me:

“They came, Wojtusz. They took your father. They took your tatusz.”

No-one knows where Henryk’s remains are.  What happened to him is our dark mystery. He was ‘disappeared’ in the true sense of the word, for there is no evidence, no sightings, no extant Gestapo paperwork, no DNA, no photograph, which explains where he went that day. He was shot, perhaps, in the woods outside town. Maybe he was shot in the head at Krzywczycki Forest. Maybe it was on Janowska Sands where his body was disposed of. These were places the Nazis set aside for mass murders. Here Poles and Jews were ‘processed’. They were brought here, ordered to undress, shot, burnt, any valuables such as gold teeth sifted from the ashes, any remaining bone fragments grist in a gravel mill, and, finally, the dust scattered in the forest. Later, when the tide was turning against the Germans, the Gestapo began a policy of hiding its crimes. This meant unearthing mass graves, a gruesome task which was carried out by Jewish prisoners and aided by the Gestapo’s meticulous recordkeeping. The remains of the professors shot on Wuleska Hill were apparently exhumed not so long after the executions and no doubt disposed of in a similar manner. The location, manner, and perpetrators involved in Henryk’s demise remain shrouded in mystery. [5]

Perhaps there is some solace in the fact Henryk did not leave his bones. He did not leave a description of his death in the eyes of witnesses who peered with horror from their windows and saw what was happening to their city. He walked out of his home and never came back. Perhaps his spirit still wanders the streets of Lwów. As his grandson, and knowing how his murder would forever change Wojtek’s life, that’s how I like to think of him, his spirit intact, and content that, now at least, Lwów is peaceful again.

Ukrainian and Polish representatives gather in Lviv to celebrate the unveiling of a new monument to the murdered professors, on the seventieth anniversary of the massacre, July 2011.

There are many monuments to Henryk and the other professors, in Lwów, in Warsaw, in Kraków, and in Wrocław. Their murders became a symbol, one of a litany of sad symbols, of the destruction of civilization. More recently, on the seventieth anniversary of the murders, a new monument was unveiled, under a joint initiative of Polish and Ukrainian scholars. When Wojtek was informed about it, in his final days, he would express his satisfaction that his father was remembered in Lwów. Though the monument is a grateful and encouraging sign of warming Polish-Ukrainian relations, he simply remembered the personality of the man who was his father. He was irreplacable.

A few days after they took Henryk away, the Germans kicked Wojtek and Olga out of their house on Listopad Street. Some German officers would move in instead. They collected their things and moved in with Olga’s parents, Wojtek’s grandparents Antoni and Olga Pawłowski, and Aunt Jadwiga, who lived together on Krasiński Street. Wojtek’s grandparents were both old and ailing by that stage and would die of natural causes (no doubt exacerbated by the invasions) before the year was out.


[1] Albert, Zygmunt, “Kaźń profesorów lwowskich – lipiec 1941 / studia oraz relacje i dokumenty zebrane i oprac. przez Zygmunta Alberta” Wrocław 1989 , Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego.

An eye-witness of the murders himself, the Albert study is also based upon extensive interviews with other witnesses of the executions and with surviving family members of the victims.

Here’s Philip Friedman’s account of the extermination of Lwów’s Jews in English.  An eye-witness report written in 1945.

This article has excerpts from the recently-published Polish translation of Dieter Schenka’s “Der Lemberger Professorenmord und der Holocaust in Ostgalizien” (“The Murder of Lwów professors and the Holocaust in East Galicia”).

This is a Russian translation from another German text about the controversial events surrounding the capture of Lwów, Hannes Heer’s “Einübung in den Holocaust: Lemberg Juni/Juli 1941″

[2] Pieter Menten, who bought a mansion in County Waterford, lived intermittently in Ireland from 1963 until his arrest. Several other prominent Nazis or Nazi sympathizers also used the country as a sanctuary or base. These included ‘Hitler’s favourite paratrooper,’ Otto ‘Scarface’ Skorzeny, who was a prominent supporter of fugitive Nazis in the post-War period. Perhaps with that aim in mind, he bought up many estates in Ireland, before finally moving to Franco’s Spain in the 1960’s and founding  a consultancy firm for right-wing paramilitaries, who would soon find a rich seam of employment as advisers to the military governments of South America. Bizarrely, Skorzeny would later be recruited by The Mossad to track down and eliminate German scientists working in Egypt. Another unsavoury exile who settled in Ireland was former Croatian Minister of the Interior Andrija Artukovic, otherwise known as the ‘Butcher of the Balkans.’

See: Leach, Daniel, “Fugitive Ireland: European Minority Nationalists and Irish Political Asylum, 1937-2008”, Four Courts Press, 2009. Also, Cathal O’Shannon’s television documentary “Hidden History: Ireland’s Nazis”, first broadcast by RTE1, 09/01/2007.

[3] Czekanowski convinced the Germans correctly that the Karaim were in fact descendants of the Turkic Crimean Karaites, who had converted to Judaism and taken its language sometime after the 10th Century. This meant that they were racially free of Jewish blood, and would thus not be sent to the camps.

[4]An act which no doubt would have earned the contempt of the above-mentioned ‘looting Dutchman’, Pieter Menten.

[5] Felix Landau, SS Haptscharfürher, a Gestapo officer who volunteered for Action Squad duty, kept a diary of his deadly activities. On the morning after Henryk’s arrest, Landau describes his activities in Drohobyc, two hours south of Lwów, which may give a clue as to the manner if not the circumstances in which he was killed.

Drohobycz – 12 July 1941… At 6:00 in the morning I was suddenly awoken from a deep sleep. Report for an execution. Fine, so I’ll just play executioner and then gravedigger, why not?… Twenty-three had to be shot, amongst them … two women … We had to find a suitable spot to shoot and bury them. After a few minutes we found a place. The death candidates assembled with shovels to dig their own graves. Two of them were weeping. The others certainly have incredible courage… Strange, I am completely unmoved. No pity, nothing. That’s the way it is and then it’s all over… Valuables, watches and money are put into a pile… The two women are lined up at one end of the grave ready to be shot first… As the women walked to the grave they were completely composed. They turned around. Six of us had to shoot them. The job was assigned thus: three at the heart, three at the head. I took the heart. The shots were fired and the brains whizzed through the air. Two in the head is too much. They almost tear it off…

Landau ran a painting and decorating business in Bavaria after the war, and was finally arrested in 1959 and sentenced to life in prison for his crimes.

CITY OF LIONS   3 comments


This is the story of a city and a man who was a citizen of that city. It is a city which history seldom forgot to visit when wars ignited and washed over Europe. The citizen is my father and the city is Lwów. Others know it by other names. Today it is Львів, in Western Ukraine. Once it was Lemberg, when Austro-Hungary reigned and later when Nazi Germany invaded. Russians who occupied it in both World Wars call it Львов. Jews, who once thrived and were annihilated here, called it לעמבעריק. In medieval times, it was known as Leopolis. The city was founded by the Ruthenian King Danylo in the 13th Century and was named for his son Lev. Lev means ‘lion’, and a fashion developed to place lions in all symbolic representations of the city, its crest, civic seals, and on the facades of administrative buildings. I knew the city of Lwów firstly as the place my father fled from, and only later began to put the pieces of the shattered jigsaw of his life back together. City of Lions has its origins in my childhood pestering. I had many questions for my father, accumulated over the years and stemming from my own mixed identity as his son – the son of a refugee, who after more than half a century living in Ireland still spoke with a Polish accent. I remember the stories he told me as a child: they carried an air of both fairy tale and nightmare. They described a lost world; and those vibrant descriptions and foreign names wove a spell which was irresistible. My childish imagination was often populated with wild bears, campanulas, and gun battles in the Carpathian Mountains. And if I did not comprehend the historical significance of such events, I understood that the land he came from, whence he brought all his stories, could never exist again. That added a fearful excitement to them.

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Before the world came crashing down. My father with his parents on holiday. Norway 1938

Before the world came crashing down. My father Wojtek with his parents on holiday. Norway 1938

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As I got older I began to appreciate the journey he had taken, and reflect on how it might have left certain historical or psychological traces within me. He was the last of his line. He had nobody left in that lost land of his. But he seemed to carry the archives of those memories with him in his personality. He rarely brought up the topic of Poland himself in conversation but when you asked him something about it, his eyes would light up and he revealed a treasure trove of characters and events. On a good day, he would describe his early life in the grand old city of his birth, relate the dark days of occupation by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, describe how he joined the underground resistance, tell you about the girl he loved and lost, and round it off with some ancient poem or a rousing song in the dialect of his home. And once he was warmed up, the stories began to flow. The detail and the intimacy he offered made you feel as though he had taken his home with him when he left and was now not describing it but showing it to you. If later I loved my father’s stories because we were so similar, in the beginning I loved them because we were so different. For a start, he is Polish, a refugee whom time and fate forced west: and I am Irish born and bred, as Irish as any other, if I didn’t have my father’s name. We come from different worlds. In school, I was taught, among other things, about the Irish rebellion, how English tyranny was overcome by the sacrifice of her Fenian martyrs, from the safety of my desk and chair. My father’s youth, on the other hand, was marked by war and invasions, true horror and strife. I remember Ireland’s Troubles like her winter weather, a constant grim rat-tat-tat on the window pane of my childhood. My father’s teenage years were spent in combat, in urban warfare or guerrilla operations high in the mountains, fighting not only Nazis and Soviets, but other factions our history books forgot to mention.

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Several years ago, I decided to find out what had happened to my father and his family. It was not that he did not wish to speak of his past, but that he had had no-one to tell it to. Ireland, his adopted land, had given him sanctuary from the war and its aftermath, but also deprived him of the company of those who shared his fate. He arrived in Ireland on an autumn day in 1948, on a scholarship to study medicine at University College Dublin. Barely a quarter century a ‘Free State,’ Ireland was still peeling back the layers of her often tempestuous relationship with Britain, in an attempt to free herself from shackles which were as much psychological as political. Three months after he arrived, Ireland became officially a Republic. Ireland was as far as my father could hope to get from the war-ravaged mainland of Europe. Here, he was greeted warmly, as an exotic visitor, in a land whose insular homogeneity, while creating its own internecine strife, had meant it had remained largely untouched by the war. This was a land neither for tourists nor refugees. Even a quarter of a century later, long before the Celtic Tiger, European integration, and labour migration, I would be known as the Polish boy. In school, I would sit next to the Italian boy, in a sea of Irish surnames, and wonder why exactly I was different.

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That larger question of identity, and historical curiosity, would spur me towards understanding more about the world beyond my name, or any name for that matter. I read the histories, memoirs, and polemics. I followed the Cold War and the political residues of the Second World War with the knowledge that somewhere, at the back of all the threads of these so called great events, I would somehow find my father and a world which perhaps had left faint traces in me. As though above and beyond history, I would locate his own story. In school, we learned by rote the themes of the Second World War like a political liturgy, absorbed the lessons to our age of the threats of unchecked democracy and one-party states. I knew the names of dead heroes and the ageing villains who even now come to the surface to strike a solemn warning that justice is endless and always incomplete. But my own search was always something personal and pragmatic; it had to do with chasing knowledge, with filling in the gaps, restoring a sense of family where there had been only shadows.

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When I was a child the story came to me. My father’s old world threw up surprises, which were also challenges and puzzles to my young mind. When I was five years old, I and a handful of other Polish refugees and exiles who had made Ireland their home, were granted a special audience with Pope John Paul II, on an official visit to Ireland in 1979. This was both the politics of the age and was also somehow connected with the battles my own father had fought long before. Once every few years we would receive a letter or even a visit from my father’s few surviving relatives. None of them lived in Poland then of course. They came from America, Austria, and Israel, brought old photographs, and embraced us with what I now realize was the wonder of rediscovering family, a precious commodity in their world. As I grew up, I realized that, one day, this generation, neither these international relations of mine, nor my father, would be here to tell their story. It wasn’t the momentous events I wanted; those I could read in history books. It was the simple, the day-to-day, the personalities, the human setting – the things that I could not read in books. I wanted firstly to add faces to history, to see the big beside the small. Then I would measure our History (upper-case ‘H’, of text books and political rhetoric) against my (humble, human, lower-case)  history, and discern the irony and the tragedy that lie between.

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I studied Slavic languages at university and went to see the world. I found myself attracted unconsciously to the places where refugees conglomerated, and only later consciously found in their movements an answer to my own. East Timor, Dharamsala, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran. I eventually found a home of sorts in former Soviet Central Asia, the place Stalin had once sent the exiles of his empire, from throughout the territory of the Soviet Union, from the Caucasus, the Crimea, the Far East, and Europe. It was there too that I met ethnic Poles whose parents and grandparents had been forcibly relocated during the Second World War. I remembered my father once telling me we had some cousins who were among them. I had the thought one day, that in the bazaar in Samarkand, or on the streets of Almaty, I might pass my own bloodline and never know about it. That thought alone brought me home. I told my father we should go to Lwów, to the city he grew up in, and he should tell me about the family I had never known, and the circumstances which had all but destroyed them. Before he had joined them.

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The Empire before Nationalism.  Austro-Hungary: an ethnographic map 1911

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City of Lions is a series of conversations, descriptions, questions and answers, historical puzzles with human solutions.  Sometimes I added to the story, if I discovered what happened to an old acquaintance, an old enemy, or found a distant relative my father had thought long dead. After I had taken him back to Lwów in 2005, when I had pulled all the threads of this family saga together, interspersed with photographs and with a picture of my father on the cover, I proudly presented it to him one day, not long before his death. I told him: “This is the story of your life, Wojtek. I put all our conversations together, and bound them in a book!” He put his glasses on, leafed through the pages, and smiled. Then he handed it back to me.

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“Don’t you want to read it?” I asked.

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“Oh,” he laughed, “I lived it. Once was enough!

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