The Second World War: The Soviet Occupation

In August 1939 the Foreign Ministers of Germany and the USSR met in secret and agreed to divide Poland in two, the eastern part to be absorbed by the Soviet Union and the western part by Germany. The agreement, known as the Ribentrop Molotov Pact was to come into effect if Germany invaded and occupied Poland. By the terms of this agreement Novogrudek was to become part of the USSR.

On 1 September 1939 Nazi Germany attacked and invaded Poland on its Western border. Previous international agreements meant that Britain and the Western Allies declared war on Germany, and the Second World War began.

In response the Soviet Army crossed into the Eastern part of Poland on 17 September 1939. For Jews living on both sides, life would be dramatically changed.

In Novogrudek as across all the Soviet territories all Jewish institutions had to be closed. Hebrew was not to be taught any more and Synagogues were shut down. Some of the leading Zionists and very wealthy Jews together with their families were arrested and sent to Siberia. The same happened to wealthy non-Jews or those who were suspected of being political opponents of Communism. Oskar Delatycki and his family were among those sent to Siberia. He has written down his memories of what happened when Soviet soldiers came to arrest his family in the middle of the night:

"In September 1939 the Germans attacked Poland. The Soviets followed 17 days later. On arrival they started a succession of individual arrests and mass deportations. By the time my story starts my father’s pharmacy was nationalized, we were thrown out of our home and we moved in with my uncle. They came at two a.m. Heavy pounding on the door. My aunt openied it. ‘Delatycki – does he live here?’ ‘Which one?’ asked aunt. I remember lying in my bed, trying to control a fine tremor of my body and thinking that on the answer will hang my destiny. ‘Borys’. It was us. A party of five; I entered our room – three soldiers, one junior officer and a civilian functionary in a mandatory leather jacket."

They arrested his father, and the rest of the family and in July 1941 they arrived in Siberia…

"We were placed in a large empty barn at the Achinsk railway station. A day or two later an echelon from Latvia arrived. They were farming families. All arrivals (estimated at 3,500) were gradually dispersed in the Achinsk district. We were working mainly on the land and in forestry. The war was on. A few months later we were ‘amnestied’ as Polish citizens. Most of us drifted back to Achinks. After ‘liberation’ my father worked in a collective farm."

Memories from Bloshoy-Alug. Siberia. 1941

The majority of the Jews in the town were not threatened. The community organisations were closed but they were not to be persecuted or singled out from the rest of the town. It is recorded that many Jews from the town were “pleased with the arrival of the Red army as we knew the alternative”.