Vol. 1: 1918–1943, Vol. 2: 1944–1959, ed. Agnieszka Knyt

(Warsaw: Ośrodek KARTA 2007) (Świadectwa) 412 pp. and 371 pp., illus.


Few biographies provide as impressive a picture of the terrible ordeal endured by the people in East Central Europe in the middle of the twentieth century as that of the physician Zygmunt Klukowski (1885–1959).[i] Born into a Polish family in Odessa, raised in Ukraine, near Vilna, and in Moscow, he studied medicine in Kraków. After serving as a military doctor in the Russian army, he returned in 1918 to Poland, settling near Zamość. For a quarter-century he was the director of the hospital in the small town of Szczebrzeszyn.

With his interests in culture, local and regional history, his socialist sympathies, and free-thinking ideas, it was difficult for Klukowski to fit into the society in a small provincial backwater. In addition, people in Szczebrzeszyn found his private life rather objectionable: in the early 1930s, he married for a second time, to a woman who was less than half his age. He had a large number of acquaintances among the Jewish community in the town, which was a large part of the population.

Klukowski is remembered today not only in the region of Zamość but also far beyond the borders of Poland thanks to his diary for the years 1939–1946. There he shows himself to be an exemplary patriot, noting and describing in daily entries the appalling events transpiring in his town. His diary is a work that is indispensable now for the history of the Generalgouvernement. He had supported the Polish resistance movement under the German reign of terror; the early post-war years brought him some gratification for the suffering of that ordeal. He saw the occupation army, Nazi organs of terror, and German colonists supporting the routing of the resistance; there was revenge as collaborators were brought to account for their treachery. He was active in encouraging new historical research on crimes against the Polish people.[ii] He also participated in 1947 in the trial of the Rasse- und Siedlungshauptamt (Race and Settlement Main Office) of the SS in Nuremberg. After giving testimony there as a witness for the prosecution, he saw his son from his first marriage once more. After having been released as a prisoner of war, that son remained for several years in Germany, and later emigrated to the United States because he did not want to return to communist Poland. Already in Nuremberg, Klukowski noted that the delegation from Poland at the trial was exercising a high degree of self-restraint: ‘All are exceptionally cautious, distrustful, they carefully monitor every word they say. Apparently they are all under surveillance and being watched. I have the impression we are too’ (II, 260).

For those who were not prepared after the arrival of the Red Army to accept its regime and that of its Polish helpers, the war was not yet over. Klukowski was arrested several times, and spent a number of years behind bars until 1956, even as the communists condemned his younger son to death and executed him.

The first edition of his diary dealing with the German occupation of 1939–44 was published in Poland in 1958, with some small changes added by the censors.[iii] A second volume published in 1990 covers the period from mid-1945 to March 1946.[iv] Later an English edition appeared, initially shortened, in an inaccurate translation, for the years 1939–44, and another volume covering the period from August 1944 to November 1947 was issued as well.[v] The new two-volume edition also includes the post-war entries. But it is not an annotated, scholarly edition. The editor has largely avoided the correction of historical inaccuracies and clarification of unclear matters; numerous cuts detract from the text’s authenticity, and the reader is left to wonder about their content. But an index of persons is useful for the reader’s orientation, and a biographical sketch gives an informative picture of the author (II, 329–48).

As Klukowski admits in the foreword to the first edition, he began his diary on the eve of the war with the conscious intention of recording his impressions of the course of expected heavy battles and difficult times to come (II, 343). He was unable to grasp then what great personal risk would be involved in such a task. Klukowski survived only thanks to the fact that he was indispensable for the National Socialist occupation, which was more brutal in Szczebrzeszyn than in other localities in the Polish province: arrested in the course of the extermination operation against the Polish intelligentsia, the author owed his release to the fact that he was indispensable as director of a hospital for the local fight against epidemics (I, 172). Because of his post, he was treated with respect even by the Herrenmenschen of the Nazi occupation regime.

The maltreatment and killing (individual and mass) of Jews marked and altered everyday life between 1939 and 1942. After the extermination of the Jews, the SS intended to subject the region of Zamość to a total racial restructuring. This reordering began at the end of 1942 with the expulsion of more than 100,000 Polish residents. The SS settled 8,000 German colonists in their stead. The consequence was an upsurge in Polish resistance and repeated indiscriminate reprisal measures by Nazi police formations. That went hand in hand with a chaotic situation in the administration, since the occupiers had transferred the city to the Biłgoraj district (I, 147) subsequent to a change in district boundaries, only to revoke this change a bit later.

Starting in September 1939, Klukowski recorded the brutality of the conquerors, who plundered shops and forced Jews to work at degrading labor. Among the occupiers, the ‘Austrians predominated, many were from Vienna’ (przeważnie sami Austriacy, wśród nich dużo wiedeńczyków; I, 103). The local commander encouraged the persecution of Jews, and soldiers from a nearby airbase participated in such activities regularly. But in the town, a major role was played by Mayor Borucki, Gestapo informers, Polish auxiliary police, administrative clerks, volunteers, and so-called ‘ethnic German’ henchmen. As early as October 1939, Klukowski noted: ‘You can even observe a certain sense of unease among those who fear the Jews may take revenge, because a number are not worse than the Germans when it comes to making the Jews look ridiculous and to mock them’ (Daje się już nawet zauważyć pewne zaniepokojenie wśród tych, którzy obawiają się zemsty ze strony Żydów, bo też niektórzy w wyśmiewaniu i naigrawaniu nie ustępują Niemcom; I, 106).

As in other municipalities in the Generalgouvernement, Szczebrzeszyn had to absorb countless refugees and expellees from the western Polish territories annexed by the Reich (I, 154, 177–78), and the Judenrat had to provide assistance for the Jewish expellees (I, 129). In the summer, the occupiers began to recruit hundreds of Jewish men, who were deployed in forced conscript labor projects under atrocious conditions. Many tried to avoid this by fleeing (I, 181–83). The occupiers significantly worsened the situation of the Jews during renewed preparations for war in the spring of 1941. The virtually unlimited power of the police units over persons and matériel gave rise in the Lublin District in the Generalgouvernement to a new and extreme idea: to perpetuate German rule by means of a program of planned systematic genocide. After the killing center in Bełżec had begun operating, Klukowski noted a huge intensification of the brutal policy against Jews (I, 267–69). The news of what had happened to those who in Lublin, Zamość,and elsewhere had been forced aboard freight cars for the purpose of ‘resettlement’ to the East spread like wildfire among the Jewish population. Gestapo men from Biłgoraj and local gendarmes organized a bloody pogrom on 8 May, shooting people indiscriminately. Klukowski, who had been given strict orders not to tend under any circumstances to injured Jews, had to accommodate to the terror: when his Jewish colleague asked for help given the large number of Jewish injured, Klukowski wrote: ‘I was forced to reject that request, but it was so incompatible with my conscience as a physician that it shattered my nerves like never before’ (zmuszony byłem odmówić, lecz ta niezgodność z moim sumieniem lekarskim roztrzęsła mnie nerwowo jak rzadko kiedy; I, 276). On 8 August, the killing squads embarked on a special operation: they rounded up 2,000 Jews, who were to be crammed into 55 waiting railway cars. But no one reported voluntarily for ‘resettlement’; all tried to hide. The occupiers declared a local ‘state of emergency,’ and this allowed the police formations to shoot at anybody (I, 291–93). In an entry dated 15 October 1942, Klukowski notes the murder ofLejzor Zero, who had worked more than ten years as a butcher for the hospital, and whom he knew well personally: ‘He was a wonderful Jew, we all liked him a great deal. . . . Every evening he would come to me with the latest radio news and other news. . . . Only yesterday evening we spoke a long time about the general situation. He constantly explained how ‘he’ [Hitler] was losing the war, and then immediately asked: ‘But will we make it?’ (wyjątko­wo sympatyczny Żyd, wszyscy ogromnie go lubiliśmy. . . . Co dzień wieczorem przychodził do mnie i przynosił najświeższe wiadomości radiowe i inne. . . .  Jeszcze wczoraj wieczorem długo rozmawialiśmy z Lejzo­rem o sytuacji ogólnej. Stale dowodził, że „un [sic]’ wojnę przegrał i zaraz za­dawał pytanie: ‘Ale czy my wytrzymamy?’, I, 300f.).

The end of the genocide came at the end of October, when the Germans and their assistants rounded up the remaining Jewish population and proceeded to shoot hundreds at the Jewish cemetery (I, 302–6). From that time on, only a few fled; some of these banded together as groups that were hunted by the police and rural population in the surrounding countryside. Klukowski wrote on 26 November 1942: ‘The farmers are seizing the Jews in the villages, out of fear of possible reprisals, and are taking them to the town, or sometimes simply killing them on the spot. In general, there has been a strange brutalization in relation to the Jews. A psychosis has seized hold of people, and following the German example, they do not consider Jews to be human, regarding them rather as an injurious pest that must be exterminated using all available means . . .’ (Chłopi w obawie przed represja­mi wyłapują Żydów po wsiach i przywożą do miasta albo nieraz wprost na miejscu zabijają. W ogóle w stosunku do Żydów zapanowało jakieś dziwne zezwierzęcenie. Jakaś psychoza ogarnęła ludzi, którzy za przy­kładem Niemców często nie widzą w Żydzie człowieka, lecz uważają go za jakieś szkodliwe zwierzę, które należy tępić wszelkimi sposobami . . .;I, 312).

In July 1944, mass graves were dug up at the Jewish cemetery: the Germans tried to obliterate the traces of their crimes by burning the corpses. At this time, of course, life in and around Szczebrzeszyn was marked by new contrasts and other acts of violence: from 1943 on, the Polish–Ukrainian nationality conflict claimed thousands of victims, and after the arrival of the Red Army, the persecution of the Home Army (Armia Krajowa) by the new rulers was set to commence. In the eyes of the patriots, the war continued on past 1944 and 1945. At the end of November 1944, Klukowski noted: ‘the government can be as far left as is possible--I’ve always said it that there is no alternative to this after the war is over--but our life has to return again to a normal situation. There has to be an end to the dying of our best people. And no one we haven’t specifically requested will be allowed to interfere in our internal affairs’ (Niech rząd będzie jak najbardzej lewicowy--ja zawsze twierdziłem, że po wojnie nie może być inny--ale niechże życie nasze wejdzie na jakieś normalne tory, niech już wreszcie przestaną ginąć najlepsi ludzie. I żeby nikt nieproszony nie wtrącał się do naszych spraw wewnętrznych; II, 136). But this hope of Klukowski and his comrades-in-arms was, of course, in vain in the face of the onslaught of Stalin’s policies.


Klaus-Peter Friedrich


Translated from the German by Bill Templer


[i]See also Aleksander Przysada and Zygmunt Klukowski, Lekarz ze Szczebrzeszyna 1885–1959 [Z.K., a Physician from Szczebrzeszyn] (Szczebrzeszyn: Miejski Dom Kultury, 2000), and the brief information online: http://www.klukowski.webpark.pl

[ii]From 1945 to 1947, Klukowskipublished the series in ZamośćWydawnictwo materiałów do dziejów Zamojszczyzny w latach wojny 1939-1944(Vol. 1: Terror niemiecki w Zamojszczyźnie, Vol. 2: Zamojszczyzna w walce z niemcami [sic], Vol. 3: Niemcy i Zamojszczyzna, Vol. 4: Dywersja w Zamojszczyźnie). The next year he published the brochure Zbrodnie niemieckie w Zamojszczyźnie (Warsaw: Główna Komisja Badania Zbrodni Niemieckich w Polsce).

[iii]Zygmunt Klukowski, Dziennik z lat okupacji Zamojszczyzny (1939–1944), ed. Zygmunt Mańkowski (Lublin: Lubelska Spółdzielnia Wydawnicza, 1958, 1959).

[iv]Zygmunt Klukowski, Dziennik 194445, ed. Wojciech Samoliński (Lublin: Oficyna Wydawnicza Fundacji Solidarności Regionu Środkowowschodniego, 1990). This edition contains the complete text from July 1945 to March 1946.

[v]Zygmunt Klukowski, Diaries from the Years of Occupation 19391944, edited by Andrew Klukowski and Helen Klukowski May; translated by George Klukowski (Urbana, Chicago: University of Illinois Press,) 1993; excerpted online at: http://www.geocities.com/shebreshin/extermination.html. The entries from 1 August 1944 to 11 November 1947 were published in full: Zygmunt Klukowski, Red Shadow: A Physician’s Memoir of the Soviet Occupation of Eastern Poland, 19441956, ed. George Klukowski,trans. George Klukowski (Jefferson, North Carolina, 1997), 5-130.