In September 1939, when
the Red Army invaded Eastern Poland pursuant to Joseph Stalin's agreement with
Adolph Hitler, about 200,000 soldiers of the Polish army
who were in the occupied territory were taken as prisoners. Among them were
thousands of Jewish soldiers and officers, one of them being my father, Moshe
Shimon Bursztyn [born Mosze Szymon Sawicki].
Mosze Szymon Sawicki
[L]: Taken in Suwalki, ca 1935,
in Polish Army uniform
[R]: Poland or Russia, ca 1939-40
Went to Israel, 1941
The soldiers taken
prisoner by the Red Army were transferred at first to a prisoner of war camp.
Later on they were exiled by Stalin, together with thousands of Polish civilians,
including many Jews, deep inside the Soviet Union, to the very harsh conditions
and extreme cold of Siberia.
The thousands of exiled
Poles constituted the main work force in the establishment of the Polish army
within the framework of the Soviet
Union's "Anders Army."
The "Anders Army" was
established in July 1941, after the German attack on the
Soviet Union. In the pact that was signed between Stalin and General Wladyslaw Sikorski -
the exiled Polish Prime Minister in London, (Britain established the Polish
army), it was agreed to establish a "Polish regiment" within the framework of
the Red Army.
This "Polish unit" was
named after its General - General Wladyslaw Anders.
The "Anders Army"
numbered 70,000 soldiers, among them about 5,000 Jews, mostly volunteers. At the
end of 1942, the "Anders Army" troops left the Soviet Union, joining the British
High Command in the Middle East, traveling through Iran, Iraq and Palestine.
When the "Anders Army"
reached Israel, most of the Jewish soldiers, including my father, Moshe Shimon,
deserted the regiment and joined the veteran settlement in the land of Israel.
After some time the mass desertion of
the Jewish soldiers was called "Anders Aliyah."
The Polish Jews in the "Anders Army"
had additional goals apart from fighting the Nazis. When the "Anders Army" left
the Soviet Union on its journey towards the Middle East, families of the
soldiers and groups of Jewish children, war orphans, joined the Jewish soldiers.
After arriving in Tehran [Iran], the children were transferred into the hands of the
Israeli emissaries who brought them to Israel on the famous "immigration of the
children from Tehran."
The soldiers who deserted the
"Anders Army," thanks to their army expertise, contributed greatly to the
defense of the Jewish settlement in Israel, and later on also fulfilled the
important role of laying down the foundations of Zahal, especially the tank,
armored, and medical corps.
Israel, early 1940's
Mosze Szymon Sawicki (upon arriving in
Israel, took on his mother's maiden name
of Bursztyn and became Moshe Bourstein)
and Shoshana (nee Kowalski) Bourstein
Mosze went to Israel, 1941
Shoshana went to Israel, 1935
father was born in Radzilow on 11/25/1916, under the name Mosze Szymon Sawicki.
He was the son of a butcher, as were many other members of the Sawicki family in
both Radzilow and Szczuczyn. Also in Israel, in the 1960's and 1970's a number
of Sawicki families, Gedalia and Yonah, distant relatives, were butchers in
Ramat Gan before emigrating to the USA.
In Israel, my father
sought assistance from the Kowalski family, Nochym Wolf & Etka Leah, who lived in
Givatayim, since they had been neighbors back in Radzilow. He didn't know where
else to turn to, being fearful, having recently deserting the Polish army. They gave him shelter in their home and new clothes. My father would later marry Sosia/Shoshana Kowalski, the daughter of Nochym Wolf and Etka Leah. They
known each other back in Radzilow.
Yoel Sawicki's Radzilow home
My father then changed his
surname from Sawicki to Bursztyn, which was his mother's [Estera Rywka
Bursztyn's] maiden name. He received a new ID in Israel, ensuring his not being
found by the Polish army.
My father was the only
survivor of his immediate family, as five siblings and both his parents [Yoel
Sawicki and Estera Rywka (nee Bursztyn)] perished in the Holocaust, killed in
Radzilow in July of 1941. He also had many cousins. Some of those were likewise
killed in Radzilow, but others were able to emigrate to America. I am named
after my grandfather Yoel Sawicki. He was one of eight siblings. Two sisters married two brothers from the Chunowicz family
in Makow Mazowiecka. There was a third Sawicki/Chunowicz marriage involving
Yoel's brother Gutman.
My father also has family in
Uruguay, two sisters of my grandmother, Estera Rywka Bursztyn, whose family name
my father adopted. My elder sister, Rivka Shapira is named after her.
General Anders facilitated the release of Jewish soldiers from the Polish
Army in Palestine, and many took advantage of the opportunity. Menachem
Begin was one such soldier. See
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menachem_Begin, which states he was
from that army along with many other Jewish soldiers."
About 30,000 soldiers from the Polish
officers, policeman, and draftees with good education; Polish prisoners,
from August 1939 through June 1941, of Hitler's closest ally, Stalin),
were executed by the Soviets in 1940 and 1941 in the Katyn forest near
Smolensk. These graves were discovered by the Nazis in 1943 and this fact
caused Polish-Soviet relationships to go from bad to terrible. Initially,
the Soviets blamed the executions on the Germans and only Yeltsin (not
Gorbachev) finally admitted Soviet guilt in this matter.
The Polish Prime
Minister in exile, Wladyslaw Sikorski died on July 4, 1943 in a plane
crash in Gibraltar. Theories abound as to whether it was an accident or
not, related to the Katyn forest massacre. Sikorski had refused to accept
Stalin's claim that the atrocity was carried out by the Germans. See
The Anders Army's most famous
battle occurred at Monte Cassino, Italy, in May 1944. It was one of the
most historic and strategic campaigns during Would War II. See