Attack on the NKVD Camp in Rembertów
On May 20/21, 1945, a unit of the Home Army (Armia Krajowa, AK), led by Colonel Edward Wasilewski, attacked a Soviet NKVD camp located in Rembertów on the eastern outskirts of Warsaw. The Russians incarcerated there many hundreds of Polish citizens; members of the Home Army and underground fighters, whom they were systematically deporting to Siberia. However, this action of the pro-independence Polish resistance freed all Polish political prisoners from the camp.
Rembertów is now located within the boundaries of Warsaw, but in the 1940s it was a separate town. There, in the summer of 1941, after the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the Wehrmacht opened "Stalag 333" — a camp for Soviet POWs, located in the former munitions factory "Pocisk". Three years later, the advancing Soviets captured the camp and soon afterwards opened it again. This time, the prisoners were mostly members of the Home Army — a Polish resistance movement, treated by Moscow as hostile to the Soviet authorities due to its loyalty to the Polish government in exile.
Rembertów was seized by the Red Army on September 11, 1944. NKVD opened the camp some time later, apart from Poles, they kept their German POWs as well as Soviet POWs who had been held by the Nazis, and who were regarded by NKVD as traitors.
However, in the course of the time, more Poles were brought in. They were not only soldiers of the Home Army, but also other Polish underground organizations, such as Narodowe Siły Zbrojne (NZS) [National Army Forces] and Bataliony Chłopskie (BCh) [Peasant Battalions]. NKVD agents had free hand to act on Polish territories. This was granted to them by the puppet, pro-communist Polish government Polish Committee of National Liberation, by a decree of July 26, 1944. Rembertów camp was regarded as a gathering point - Polish patriots were brought there on their way to Siberia. NKVD guards would call the Polish soldiers in broken German, to convince the locals they kept German POWs.
The camp was surrounded by two fences enhanced with barbed wire. Between the fences there was a path used by armed guards and their patrol dogs. In several places there were towers with NKVD officers armed with machine guns.
A day at a camp would begin at 6 a.m. by an assembly, during which Colonel Alexandrov of NKVD would check on number of prisoners. Half an hour later was breakfast. The day would end with another assembly at 6 p.m., after that time nobody was allowed to leave their barracks. Polish prisoners were tortured by the Soviets on a regular basis, hunger and disease were common. According to witnesses, in the winter of 1944/45 hundreds of Home Army members died, their bodies were buried in a nearby park or in a specially dug pit.
Norman Davies mentions the camp in his book "Rising '44". He writes that "A man who passed through Rembertów described the conditions. They were not to be compared to the relative luxury at Sandbostel or Murnau". According to Davies, throughout the freezing 1944-45 winter, "prisoners were frequently held in the open, without shelter, in a compound surrounded by barbed wire (...) According to the reports, when locals enquired about the suffering prisoners, who were clearly visible from a nearby road, they were told that the compound contained Volksdeutsche and Nazis".
Deportations to Siberia
First rail transport of Polish soldiers left Rembertów for Siberia on March 25, 1945. It consisted of more than a thousand people, of whom some 25% died on the way. The dead were carried to a special rail car, attached to the last one. It was forbidden to bury them as, according to Soviet regulations, the number of people at the destination had to be the same as the number of people at the starting point.
Unsuccessful first plan of attack
In early March 1945 the NKVD arrested General Emil Fieldorf, aka "Nil". The Soviets did not know whom they had caught, as Fieldorf was using fake name Walenty Gdanicki. Polish resistance quickly found out that the General was kept in Rembertów and Colonel Jan Mazurkiewicz aka "Radosław" gave an order to work out a plan to free "Nil". It was not carried out, and Fieldorf was quickly sent in one of the transports to Siberia.
In April and May 1945 NKVD brought to the camp hundreds of Home Army and NSZ soldiers, caught in several counties around Warsaw. Among the captured there were such notable figures as General Edward Gruber, Colonel Kazimierz Marszewski and a famous philosopher, professor Kazimierz Ajdukiewicz.
The final decision of attack was taken by the commandant of Home Army District of Mińsk Mazowiecki, Captain Walenty Suda aka "Młot" [Hammer]. The Poles calculated that the Soviets would send another transport on May 25, thus an attack must have been carried out before this date.
Captain Suda chose a well-prepared and trained unit of 44 soldiers, under the leadership of Lieutnant Edward Wasilewski aka "Wichura" [Gale]. Out of this number, 32 soldiers were members of Wichura's unit, the remaining 12 came from a unit of Colonel Edmund Swiderski. Dressed as a soldier of the Polish Communist Army (Ludowe Wojsko Polskie), Wasilewski checked the surroundings of the camp.
The night of May 20–21
On Saturday, May 20, families of the imprisoned brought large quantities of alcohol and that night several NKVD guards were drunk. Taking advantage of this, the POWs were informed about the oncoming attack. Also, Soviet commandant of the camp left for a party at nearby village of Kawęczyn.
The Poles did not plan to destroy the whole camp, as this would mean freeing German POWs and Russians from units of General Andrei Vlasov. In the evening of May 20, the 44 soldiers were transferred to Rembertów by horses from the nearby village of Długa Kościelna. Considering the fact that the camp was guarded by some 150 NKVD officers, the Poles decided to catch the Soviets by surprise.
The soldiers were divided into three groups. First one, led by "Wichura" [gale] was going to seize the gate, go inside and open the barracks, freeing the prisoners. Second group was going to eliminate the guards, and the third one was keeping an eye on the surroundings.
The attack started at midnight on the night of May 20–21 and lasted for some 20–25 minutes. Everything was carried out promptly, the guards, totally shocked, did not resist. Around 100 wounded or sick prisoners were placed on two trucks, and the remaining POWs dispersed in the forests and villages. According to the Home Army dispatch sent to London, NKVD lost 15 men, but witnesses counted as many as 68 dead Soviet soldiers. Polish loses were up to 40 prisoners, who were killed by a Soviet machine gun while running away. Home Army did not lose anybody, although three men were wounded.
It is difficult to establish how many persons were freed on that night. NKVD assessed them at 466, describing all as "criminals". However, Home Army members stated to have released some 800 men, and some historians put the number up to 1400.
In the morning of Sunday, May 21, Soviet troops, supported by aircraft, started to comb the area of Rembertów, searching for prisoners. On the first day they caught 27 persons, most of them Germans, who did not know where to go. Following days were more successful. The Soviets caught up to 50 men, executing some of them on the spot.
News of the attack reached Moscow, causing anger in NKVD's headquarters. A special investigation was carried out, camp's commandant was released from his post and Lavrentiy Beria ordered a check of all camps. Soon afterwards, the camp in Rembertów was closed.
On May 21, 1995, a monument to commemorate the camp and the attack was unveiled in Rembertów. Here is what the tablet on the monument says:
"W miejscu tym na terenie dawnej fabryki "Pocisk" znajdowały się obozy od września 1941 do początku 1944 - hitlerowski obóz pracy jeńców sowieckich - komando stalag 333 - od lipca 1944 do września 1944 - hitlerowski obóz pracy dla więźniów polskich - od września 1944 do lipca 1945 sowiecki obóz specjalny NKWD nr 10. Żołnierzom oddziału partyzanckiego Armii Krajowej Obozu "Mewa - Kamień" Mińsk Mazowiecki który pod dowództwem ppor. Edwarda Wasilewskiego "Wichury" nocą z 20 na 21 maja 1945 roku rozbił obóz specjalny NKWD nr 10 w Rembertowie. Z obozu uwolniono ponad 500 więźniów akcja ta przerwała zsyłkę więźniów na wschód. Więźniom obozu NKWD nr 10 w Rembertowie żołnierzom i działaczom Polskiego Państwa Podziemnego represjonowanym i mordowanym których szczątki spoczywają na terenie dawnej fabryki amunicji "Pocisk" i na obszarach sowieckiego imperium".
"In this place on the grounds of the former factory "Pocisk" the following camps were located: from September 1941 until the beginning of 1944 - Nazi labor camp for Soviet prisoners of war - Komando Stalag 333, from July 1944 until September 1944 - Nazi labor camp for Polish prisoners, from September 1944 until July 1945 - Soviet NKVD special camp No. 10. (The monument is dedicated to) the soldiers of the partisan unit of the Home Army from Camp "Mewa-Kamień" Mińsk Mazowiecki who under the command of 2nd Lieutnant Edward Wasilewski "Wichura" overran the special NKVD camp No.10 in Rembertów on the night of 20/21 May 1945. Over 500 prisoners were freed from the camp and this action interrupted the deportation of the prisoners to the East. (This monument is dedicated to) prisoners of the NKVD camp No. 10 in Rembertów, soldiers and activists of the Polish Underground State, repressed and murdered, whose remains lay on the grounds of former factory "Pocisk" and in the lands of the Soviet empire".
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