Bereza Kartuska Prison
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Bereza Kartuska Prison
Bereza Kartuska detention camp
Detention Camp
Bereza concentration camp + monument.jpg
Main prison building. The white structure on the right is a post-war Soviet monument, dedicated to victims of the camp.
Bereza Kartuska prison is located in Belarus
Bereza Kartuska prison
Location in modern day Belarus
Coordinates52°33?N 24°58?E / 52.550°N 24.967°E / 52.550; 24.967Coordinates: 52°33?N 24°58?E / 52.550°N 24.967°E / 52.550; 24.967
LocationBereza Kartuska, Polesie Voivodeship
Built bySecond Polish Republic
Operated byPolish police force
Original usePolitical and criminal prison
InmatesPolish National Radical Camp members, Communists, far-wing parties' members, Ukrainian nationalists, Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists members, recidivists
Number of inmates+3000
Liberated byAbandoned, September 17, 1939

The Bereza Kartuska prison (Polish: Miejsce Odosobnienia w Berezie Kartuskiej, literally "Place of Isolation at Bereza Kartuska") was a Detention Camp in the Second Polish Republic, based in Bereza Kartuska, Polesie Voivodeship (today Biaroza in Belarus).

It was established in 1934 by the Polish Sanation government for the purpose of isolating and tormenting both psychically and physically political opponents, including National Democrats, communists, members of the Polish People's Party, as well as Ukrainian and Belarusian nationalists. The prisoners were sent to the camp on the basis of an administrative decision, without formal charges, judicial sanction or trial, and without the possibility of using an appeal. The use of torture was a permanent element in the treatment of prisoners. Detainees were supposed to perform penal labour, and at least 13 people died during their stay.[1] Several academics and authors referred to Bereza Kartuska as an "internment camp".

Created on June 17, 1934 by an order of President Ignacy Mo?cicki, the camp was officially established to detain people who were viewed by the Polish state as a "threat to security, peace and social order".[2] The prisoners were detained for the time of three months with the possibility of prolonging the detention indefinitely. Beside the political prisoners, starting from October 1937, "notorious" and financial criminals were also sent to the camp.[3]

The camp de facto ceased to exist on the night of September 17-18, 1939 after the Soviet invasion of Poland, the detainees were released, and staff abandoned the facility.[4]


Former building of the prison in 2010

The institution was created on July 12, 1934, in a former Tsarist prison and barracks at Bereza Kartuska on the authority of a June 17, 1934, order issued by Polish President Ignacy Mo?cicki. The event that directly influenced Poland's de facto dictator, Józef Pi?sudski, to create the prison was the assassination of Polish Minister of Internal Affairs Bronis?aw Pieracki on June 15, 1934, by the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN).[5] It was intended to accommodate persons "whose activities or conduct give reason to believe that they threaten the public security, peace or order."[2]

The Bereza Kartuska prison was organized by the director of the Political Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Wac?aw ?yborski, and the head of that Department's Nationalities Section (Wydzia? Narodowo?ciowy), Colonel Leon Jaros?awski. The institution was later supervised by the Governor of Polesie Province, Colonel Wac?aw Kostek-Biernacki.[6] In the view of some historians, Kostek-Biernacki did not serve as commandant; they identify its commandants as police inspectors Boles?aw Greffner (whose given name is sometimes stated as "Jan"), of Pozna?, and Józef Kamala-Kurha?ski.[7] Officially, Bereza Kartuska was not a part of Poland's penitentiary system, and the staff was composed of policemen, sent there as a punishment, rather than professional prison guards.

Former prison building in 2010, to be reconstructed

Individuals were incarcerated at Bereza Kartuska by administrative decision, without right of appeal, for three months, although this term was often extended while Colonel Wac?aw Kostek-Biernacki served as its commander.[6] The average prisoner would spend 8 months in the camp.[8] In the first three years of its history, the camp incarcerated people perceived as subversives and political opponents of the ruling Sanation regime. Recidivists and financial criminals were also detained starting from October 1937.[3] Citizens suspected of pro-German sympathies were first detained in Bereza in middle 1938.[9] In the first days of the September Campaign of 1939, Polish authorities started mass arrests of people suspected of such sympathies.[10] Some members of the German minority in Poland were detained in whole families, including women (previously never detained in the camp).[10]

The camp de facto ceased to exist on the night of September 17-18, 1939 when, after learning about the Soviet invasion of Poland, the staff had abandoned it.[4] According to two reports, the departing policemen murdered some prisoners.[11]


Prison building in 2010

According to the surviving documentation of the camp, more than 3000 people were overall detained in Bereza Kartuska from July 1934 until August 29, 1939.[12] However, the camp's authorities stopped formally registering detainees in September 1939, after mass arrests began.[13] According to incomplete data from Soviet sources, at least 10,000 people had gone through the prison.[14]

Reasons for arrest

Prisoners included members of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), Polish Communist Party (KPP) and National Radical Camp (ONR), as well as members of the People's Party (SL) and Polish Socialist Party (PPS). The detainees included Boles?aw Piasecki and, for some dozen days, the journalist Stanis?aw Mackiewicz (the latter, paradoxically, a warm supporter of the prison's establishment). Also a number of Belarusians who had resisted Polonization found themselves in the camp.[15]

The first inmates - Polish ONR activists - arrived on July 17, 1934. A few days later, OUN activists arrived: Roman Shukhevych, Dmytro Hrytsai and Volodymyr Yaniv.[16] By August 1939, Ukrainians constituted 17 percent of prisoners.[17]

In April 1939, 38 members of Karpacka Sicz organization were detained in the camp.[18] They were ethnic Ukrainians, previously residing in the Carpathian Ruthenia region of Czechoslovakia, where they were attempting to create an independent Ukrainian state. After this region was annexed by Hungary, Hungarian authorities deported them to Poland, whey they were sent to Bereza Kartuska. Unlike other prisoners, they didn't have to perform any labours and had the right to freely talk to each other in low voice.[18]

Some political prisoners, including prominent Ukrainian political activists such as Mykola Lebed and Stepan Bandera, either escaped or were released from prisons by Polish authorities in early September 1939.[19][20]

Reason for detention by percentage of inmates:[13]

1934 1935 1936 1937 1938 I-VIII 1939 Summary
Communists 70% 66% 100% 73% 39% 50% 55%
Far-right parties' members 10% 17% - - - - 2%
Ukrainian nationalists 30% 17% - - - - 4%
Peasant parties' activists - - - - 1% - 1%
Nazism supporters - - - - 1% - 1%
"Anti-state activists" (szkodnicy) - - - - - 1% ?0%
Karpacka Sicz members - - - - - 2% ?0%
Criminals - - - 23% 55% 41% 35%
Financial criminals - - - 4% 4% 6% 2%

Known inmates


From 1934-37, the facility usually housed 100-500 inmates at a time. In April 1938 the number went up to 800.[21] Conditions were exceptionally harsh, and only one inmate managed to escape.[22] Only one suicide occurred; on 5 February 1939, inmate Dawid Cymerman slit his throat in a toilet.[23] The number of deaths in detention was kept artificially low by releasing prisoners who were in poor health.[24] According to ?leszy?ski, 13 inmates died during the facility's operation, most of them at a hospital in Kobry?.[23][25] In other sources, the total number of deaths, is variously given as between 17 and 20.[26] This number is also repeated in recent sources; for example, Norman Davies in God's Playground (1979) gives the number of deaths as 17.[27]

Ukrainian historian, Viktor Idzio, states that according to official statistics, 176 men - by unofficial Polish statistics, 324 Ukrainians[clarification needed] - were murdered or tortured to death during questioning, or died from disease, while escaping, or disappeared without trace. According to Idzio, most were OUN members.[16]

In early 1938, the Polish government suddenly increased the number of inmates by sending 4,500 Ukrainians to Bereza Kartuska without right of appeal.[16]

OUN members who were incarcerated at Bereza Kartuska have testified to the use there of torture. There were frequent beatings (with boards being placed against inmates' backs and struck with hammers), forced labor, constant harassment, the use of solitary confinement without provocation, punishment for inmates' use of the Ukrainian language, etc.[16]

Prisoners were accommodated within the main compound, in a three-story brick building. A small white structure served for solitary confinement (in Ukrainian, "kartser"; in Polish, "karcer"). South of the solitary-confinement structure was a well, and south of that was a bathing area. The whole compound was encircled by an electrified barbed-wire fence.

Across a road from this compound were the commandant's house and officers' barracks.

In the prisoners' building, each cell initially held 15 inmates. There were no benches or tables. In 1938 the number of inmates per cell was increased to up to 70. The floors were of concrete and were constantly showered with water so that inmates could not sit.[16]

By the time they were released from Bereza Kartuska, many Ukrainians had had their health destroyed or had died. Taras Bulba-Borovetz, who later became otaman of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), developed epilepsy as a result of his stay in Bereza Kartuska.[16]

Naming controversy

The Polish government called the institution "Miejsce Odosobnienia w Berezie Kartuskiej" ("Place of Isolation at Bereza Kartuska"). From the facility's inception, the Sanation regime's opponents openly criticized the legal basis for its establishment and operation, calling it a "concentration camp."[28] This term was also used by Western media sources such as The Times, both during the interbellum[29] and immediately after World War II.[30] It was later popularized by communist propaganda,[31] which cited the prison as evidence that Poland's prewar government had been a "fascist" regime (despite the fact that Pi?sudski had regarded fascism as a menace and that some of his government's most immoderate attacks had been directed against home-grown fascism).[32]

A number of modern non-Soviet sources have also characterized the facility as a concentration camp, including Yale University professor Timothy Snyder, the Library of Congress, Polish Nobel prize-winning author Czes?aw Mi?osz, and historian Karol Modzelewski, who was political prisoner and one of the leaders of the democratic opposition in the communist Poland.[33][34][35][36] Ukrainian sources such as Kubijovych and Idzio representing the Ukrainian Nationalist camp of the interpretation of history also categorize Bereza Kartuska as a concentration camp.[37] Polish-American historian Tadeusz Piotrowski who also calls it a concentration camp, notes that the establishment of the facility was a norm of its times, similar to other facilities where political opponents were locked up, often in an extrajudicial manner. (Like the giant German or Soviet networks of concentration camps, degrees of brutality and number of prisoners aside.).[27][38] In 2007, the Polish Embassy objected to the use of the term in a memorial plaque in Paris for the Bereza Kartuska inmate Aron Skrobek. Its objections were successful and the plaque instead described the facility as a seclusion camp.[39]

See also


  1. ^ ?leszy?ski 2003a, p. 53.
  2. ^ a b ?leszy?ski 2003a, p. 16.
  3. ^ a b ?leszy?ski 2003a, p. 85.
  4. ^ a b ?leszy?ski 2003a, p. 92.
  5. ^ (in Polish) Andrzej Misiuk BIA?YM ?ELAZEM Archived January 15, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, Gazeta Wyborcza, 12/07/1994
  6. ^ a b Jerzy Jan Lerski; Piotr Wróbel; Richard J. Kozicki (1996). Historical dictionary of Poland, 966-1945. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 33.
  7. ^ Miko?aj Falkowski (2008). "Wac?aw Kostek-Biernacki". (in Polish). Polish Radio. Retrieved .
  8. ^ ?leszy?ski 2003a, p. 100.
  9. ^ ?leszy?ski 2003a, p. 90.
  10. ^ a b ?leszy?ski 2003a, p. 91.
  11. ^ ?leszy?ski 2003a, p. 93.
  12. ^ ?leszy?ski 2003a, p. 83
  13. ^ a b ?leszy?ski 2003a, p. 84
  14. ^ Ladusev U.F. Communist party of Western Belarus as organizer of workers struggle for democratic rights and freedoms. Minsk, 1976, Page 24.
  15. ^ Jan Zaprudnik, "Belarus: At a Crossroads" (1993, ISBN 0-8133-1794-0), p. 85
  16. ^ a b c d e f Viktor Idzio, Ukrainska Povstanska Armiya: zhidno zi svidchennia nimetskykh ta radianskykh arkhiviv (The Ukrainian Insurgent Army: Gleanings from German and Soviet Archives), Lviv, 2005, ISBN 966-665-268-4, p. 6.
  17. ^ G. Motyka, Ukrai?ska partyzantka, 1942-1960, PAN, 2006, p. 65
  18. ^ a b ?leszy?ski 2003a, p. 88.
  19. ^ Timothy Snyder. (2003). The Causes of Ukrainian-Polish Ethnic Cleansing 1943, The Past and Present Society: Oxford University Press. pg. 205
  20. ^ R. Torzecki, Polacy i Ukrai?cy. Sprawa Ukrai?ska w czasie II wojny ?wiatowej na terenie Rzeczypospolitej, PWN, 1993, p. 26
  21. ^ ?leszy?ski 2003a, p. 84.
  22. ^ ?leszy?ski 2003b, 48.
  23. ^ a b ?leszy?ski 2003b, 49.
  24. ^ ?leszy?ski 2003a, p. 51.
  25. ^ ?leszy?ski gives the full names of the deceased inmates, as well as the dates of their deaths and their camp numbers.
  26. ^ Zdzis?aw J. Winnicki, "Bereza Kartuska - jak by?o naprawd", 2008 Archived February 26, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  27. ^ a b Norman Davies, God's Playground: A History of Poland, Columbia University Press, 2005, ISBN 0-231-12819-3, Google Print, p. 316.
  28. ^ ?leszy?ski 2003a, p. 151.
  29. ^ The Times "Anti-Jewish Agitation in Poland". Archived from the original on 2011-07-22. Retrieved . March 24, 1938
  30. ^ The Times "M. Biernacki to be tried" [1][permanent dead link] November 23, 1946
  31. ^ Lagzi 2004, 203.
  32. ^ Richard M. Watt, Poland and Its Fate, 1918 to 1939, New York, Simon and Schuster, 1979, p. 302.
  33. ^ Timothy Snyder, The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569-1999., 2004.[2],
  34. ^ Library of Congress Subject Headings.[3]
  35. ^ Czes?aw Mi?osz, The History of Polish Literature, New York, Macmillan, 1969, p. 383: "Pilsudski soon revealed himself as a man of whims and resentments... He founded a concentration camp, where he sent several members of the Diet." [4]
  36. ^ Kalina B?a?ejowska (7 November 2018). "Prof. Modzelewski: Za rodaków wstydzi si? tylko patriota". Magazyn Opinii Pismo. Retrieved 2018.
  37. ^ (Ukrainian) Idzio, Viktor (2005). Ukrainska Povstanska Armiya - zhidno zi svidchennia nimetskykh ta radianskykh arkhiviv (The Ukrainian Insurgent Army, according to Testimony in German and Soviet Archives). ISBN 966-665-268-4.[page needed]
  38. ^ Tadeusz Piotrowski, Poland's Holocaust: Ethnic Strife, Collaboration with Occupying Forces and Genocide in the Second Republic, 1918-1947, McFarlandMcFarland, 1998, ISBN 0-7864-0371-3, p.193
  39. ^ "Intervention of the Embassy of Poland in Paris against the term "Polish concentration camp" used on the memorial plaque for Aron Skrobek. December 2007, Paris". Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland. Retrieved .

Further reading

  • (in Polish) "Bereza Kartuska," Encyklopedia Polski (Encyclopedia of Poland), p. 45.
  • Idzio, Viktor (2005). Ukrainska Povstanska Armiya - zhidno zi svidchennia nimetskykh ta radianskykh arkhiviv (The Ukrainian Insurgent Army, according to Testimony in German and Soviet Archives) (in Ukrainian). Lviv: Spolom. ISBN 966-665-268-4.
  • Lagzi, Gábor (2004). "The Ukrainian Radical National Movement in Inter-War Poland - the Case of Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN)". Regio - Minorities, Politics, Society (1): 194-206.
  • Polit, Ireneusz (2003). Obóz odosobnienia w Berezie Kartuskiej 1934-39 (The Bereza Kartuska Isolation Camp, 1934-39) (in Polish). Toru?: Adam Marsza?ek. ISBN 83-7322-469-6.
  • Siekanowicz, Piotr (1991). Obóz odosobnienia w Berezie Kartuskiej 1934-39 (The Bereza Kartuska Isolation Camp, 1934-39) (in Polish). Warszawa: Instytut Historyczny im. Romana Dmowskiego.
  • ?leszy?ski, Wojciech (2003a). Obóz odosobnienia w Berezie Kartuskiej 1934-39 (The Bereza Kartuska Isolation Camp, 1934-39) (in Polish). BENKOWSKI. ISBN 83-918161-0-9.
  • ?leszy?ski, Wojciech (2003b). "Utworzenie i funkcjonowanie obozu odosobnienia w Berezie Kartuskiej (1934-1939)". Dzieje Najnowsze (in Polish). 35 (2): 35-53.

External links

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