Germans crack down as Red Army gets closer

German machine gunner in the burning center of Zhitomir, Ukraine. Zhitomir was liberated by Soviet troops of the 1st Ukrainian Front at the end of 1943.

German machine gunner in the burning center of Zhitomir, Ukraine. Zhitomir was liberated by Soviet troops of the 1st Ukrainian Front at the end of 1943.

In eastern Poland people were beginning to anticipate the arrival of the Red Army. Their new offensive had made good progress and news of the Soviet successes was reaching the Polish borderlands.

For many the moment of liberation could not arrive too soon. How that would happen and what fighting it would involve remained great uncertainties.

Many people had reason to be fearful apart from the occupying Germans. Chief amongst these were the Volksdeutsch, people of German ethnic origin who had been brought as settlers from other parts of Poland and from the former Soviet territories. Often Poles had been evicted from their homes to make way for them. Their prospects were bleak if they did not evacuate with the retreating Germans.

Dr Zygmunt Klukowski was a hospital doctor in the Zamosc county hospital in Szczebrzeszyn. Here he did his best to discreetly help partisan resistance fighters when they were wounded. He also kept a diary of the daily events in the town, chronicling the changes as he had done throughout the war:

January 15

Throughout the villages the Germans have begun new mass arrests. Last night they came for teacher Bohun in Czarnystok. He started a fight and wounded a gendarme, but then he was killed. Some people say he killed himself; others, that the gendarme shot him.

More people are fleeing from the east. I talked with a clerk from the county office in Ostrog. He arrived in Szczebrzeszyn this morning. He gave me more details about the situation.

The Russians are only 200 km away from us, in a straight line. For the motorized units this is only a few hours. All cities in the Wolyn region are in a state of evacuation, but so far most of the Polish population has decided to stay. Only employees of city offices, policemen, and particularly Volksdeutsch are moving out quickly. Also doing the same are people who are known as German sympathizers and informers, all the people who are afraid of the future, when the Russians will arrive.

The overall feeling is that this time the Germans are unable to stop the Russian offensive. In the German administration and also the German military you can see complete chaos. Germany is already finished. Their might is breaking apart and the time for the end is near. This is an all-embracing feeling, but the people who are more realistic are still counting on very difficult days.

I myself feel and hope that Germany will capitulate before the Russian armies arrive in our area, and in this way we will be spared street fighting.

In my hospital no one is planning to evacuate and go west with the Germans. From experience I am sure that during the critical time some will escape, but the majority will stay on the job.

In case of bombardment and street fighting, the most difficult task will be keeping everyone in line. This is the time I am most afraid of.

In our commune, all Dorffuhrers drafted a detailed list of all Volksdeutscb, including ages, for city hall. I am sure it was prepared in connection with drafting all Germans into the military service. The gendarmes are working on a list of Polish men.

See Zygmunt Klukowski: Diary from the Years of Occupation.

Images courtesy Russian War Albums

Armoured  of 16th Panzer Division of the Wehrmacht on the march, January -February 1944.

Armoured of 16th Panzer Division of the Wehrmacht on the march, January – February 1944.

Leave a Comment

Earlier in the war:

Later in the war: