On April 1920, ataman Bulak’s division, the Finnish volunteers included, joined the Polish offensive against the Bolsheviks and attacked from Mozyr to the Dniepr, fighting side by side with the Polish forces of colonel Józef Rybak in Polesie. Kaarlo Kurko embraced the savage nature of the war with enthusiasm and genuine enjoyment. As mentioned in the previous episodes of this story, Kurko had already witnessed the White terror of the Finnish Civil War, and was consequently not the least shocked by the vicious character of the Polish-Soviet War. His memoirs make laconic comments on the Bolshevik terror, massacres, looting and rapes. He’s equally frank of the Polish response of occasionally shooting the captured Soviet commissars and hanging the agents of the Cheka outright.
As expected, the behavior of Bulak’s irregular forces was often particularly brutal, and in his memoirs, Kurko openly speaks of the atrocities and even of his own participation in them without hesitation. As one example, Kurko tells the story of how he and his men turned their machine-gun against a synagogue during a firefight in the small Byelorussian town of Luninets (Łuniniec). During his service, Kurko seems to have adopted the anti-Semitic attitude which was widespread among Bulak’s soldiers. For a young, 20-year old man from a country where Jews were basically an invisible minority, he proved to be remarkably prone to the anti-Semitic propaganda which was all too common among the White Russians and also among certain segments of the Polish society. In his memoirs, Kurko repeatedly describes the “children of Israel” as greedy, opportunistic, drug-dealing Bolshevik agents and collaborators, who were continuously sabotaging the Polish war effort. Ironically enough, even though ataman Bulak himself was an equally violent anti-Semite for whom pogroms were standard operational practice, his quartermaster, captain Elin, was – at least according to Kurko – also Jewish. As another testimony of hatred, Kurko’s memoirs portray the Jewish captain as a “lecher with a short figure, a greasy face and two small Jewish eyes, twinkling with deceit”.
Although pogroms and anti-Semitic atrocities were a common feature of the Polish-Soviet war, the Polish command was certainly not indifferent towards such actions. According to a later testimony by Kurko, he was also eventually charged by a Polish court-martial for his actions at Luninets. He avoided the sentence only because he was able to show a written order from one of the local commanders, ordering him to “crush all resistance without mercy”.