The Skidel revolt (Polish: Powstanie skidelskie) or Skidal uprising (term used in Soviet historiography) was an anti-state and anti-Polish sabotage action of the Jewish and ethnic Belarusian inhabitants of the Polish town of Skidal (now Skidzyel’, Belarus) at the onset of World War II. It started on the second day of the Soviet invasion of Poland in an attempt to assist the external attack.
In 1940 the NKVD found clear evidence of the widespread robberies and mass murders committed on the side by scores of intoxicated peasants and criminal opportunists, but the Soviet military court threw out the case as a misrepresentation of the actual class struggle. After the annexation of eastern Poland, the Soviet propaganda turned the Skidzyel’ events into a liberation movement, and mythologized them.
The revolt of 18 September 1939 was organized and helped by a fifth column from the Communist Party of West Belarus delegalized in 1938. According to Russian documents, it consisted of around 200 men, although their number has been contested by Polish historians as exaggerated. A group of Soviet-armed Jews and Belarusians, all citizens of Poland, carrying assault rifles and a Soviet heavy machine gun (but also axes and home-made weapons), massacred an unspecified number of ethnic Poles including civil servants, landowners, priests, rural settlers, Polish policemen and reserve officers at Skidel, Brzostowica Mała, Lerypol, Budowla, Ostryna, Jeziory and other locations. Several Polish families were rescued by their Belarusian neighbors in the village of Sawalówka.
On 19 September 1939 the 102nd Uhlan Regiment of the Polish Army was sent to the area from Grodno, assisted by the local police and a group of volunteers from the prewar Strzelec organization. After some heavy fighting around Ostryna, Dubno and Jeziory, the soldiers put down the revolt and took control of Skidel and neighboring settlements. The traitors against the nation captured with weapons and guilty of committing treason were summarily executed on 19 September (some 18 to 31 men according to Soviet sources), but the fighting continued. One day after the Red Army tanks took over Skidel on 20 September 1939, the rebels massacred all Polish males in the village of Kurpiki. Some of the local saboteurs were executed by the Polish self-defence. Soviet historians blamed them later for most of the extrajudicial killings.
One of the first to be killed in the rebellion was a Polish soldier walking through Skidel alone. The subsequent pogrom of the Polish population in the area included burying alive (see Massacre of Brzostowica Mała), mass killings in the forest near Lerypol on the outskirts of Skidal, and torture murder in Budowla of dozens of Polish nationals. Tens if not hundreds of such incidents took place in Grodno county, wrote historian Marek Wierzbicki of the Institute of National Remembrance. Some massacres were committed by the Jewish-Belarusian partisan squads, others by peasants and bands of local criminals released from the Grodno prison and others.
Although the uprising was put down by the Polish troops one day ahead the Soviet takeover of Skidel, the anti-Polish violence spread to other locations including Jeziory, Wiercieliszki, Wielka Brzostowica, Dubno, Wołpa, Indura (near Grodno), Sopoćkinie, Zelwa, Wołkowysk, Ostryna, Zdzięcioł (near Nowogródek), Janów Poleski, Horodec, Antopol, Drohiczyn Poleski and Motol nearby among other locations. The attackers were aided by the Soviets in the first hours of invasion, but also conducted welcoming celebrations as soon as the area was overrun by the Red Army. Notably, in some settlements, the withdrawal of Polish administration ahead of the Soviet advance prompted Jewish councils to form self-defence groups against the Belarusian raids which further complicated the issue of allegiance. Some of the self-defending Jews were driven by deep-seated Polish patriotism.
When Soviet forces took over Skidel, many Poles were immediately arrested. Some time later in 1940 there was a show trial in Skidel of 15 individuals including three women, two Tartars and two Polish Russians, accused of crimes against the Soviet Union. There is no historical record of what happened to them, although their admittance of guilt extracted during interrogations, was widely popularized by Soviet propaganda as proof of Polish subversion. After the end of World War II, and the annexation of eastern Poland, the mass murders and robberies were hushed up and the sabotage action in Skidzyel’ turned by the Soviet Union into a province-wide liberation movement.
- Marek Wierzbicki (2007). "Western Belarus in September 1939 – Polish-Jewish Relations in the kresy". Shared History, Divided Memory: Jews and Others in Soviet-occupied Poland, 1939-1941 by Elazar Barkan, Elizabeth A. Cole, Kai Struve. Leipziger Universitätsverlag. pp. 139–140. ISBN 3865832407. Retrieved December 13, 2012.
- Marek Wierzbicki. "Czystki kresowe" [Soviet purges in the Polish Kresy region]. Tygodnik Wprost, No. 5/2014 (1613). page 1, 2, 3. Retrieved 1 February 2014.
- Marek Wierzbicki (1997). "Powstanie skidelskie 1939". Białystok: Białoruskie Zeszyty Historyczne, nr 7. Archived from the original on July 16, 2011. Retrieved December 13, 2012 – via Internet Archive.
- Wojciech Wybranowski (2 October 2002). "Kłopotliwe śledztwo. Dochodzenie w sprawie mordu na Polakach w Brzostowicy Małej utknęło w martwym punkcie" (in Polish). Nasz Dziennik. Retrieved 31 January 2014.