This is the story of the Poles from Eastern-Poland who were occupied by the Sovjets in September 1939, and who suffered a great deal in Siberia, Kazakhstan and NKVD prisons in Lviv (Lwów/Lemberg', Minsk, Kiev, Moscow and probably Saint Petersburg too. Their fate and story is less known than the story of the Polish Roman-Catholics and the Polish Jews that suffered under Nazi occupation. Their story is worth while to tell. There was Polish family of my family amongst these people.
Many Poles died in the SovjetUnion (Siberia, Kazakhstan, and in the Lubyanka headquarters of the NKVD (later KGB) and affiliated prison in Moscow) and they shouldn't be forgotten.
Treatment of Polish citizens under Soviet occupation
By the end of Polish Defensive War the Soviet Union took over 52.1% of territory of Poland (~200,000 km²), with over 13,700,000 people. The estimates vary; Prof. Elżbieta Trela-Mazur gives the following numbers in regards to the ethnic composition of these areas: 38% Poles (ca. 5,1 million people), 37% Ukrainians, 14,5% Belarusians, 8,4% Jews, 0,9% Russians and 0,6% Germans. There were also 336,000 refugees from areas occupied by Germany, most of them Jews (198,000). Areas occupied by the USSR were annexed to Soviet territory, with the exception of the Wilno area, which was transferred to Lithuania, although soon attached to USSR, when Lithuania became a Soviet republic.
Initially the Soviet occupation gained support among some members of the linguistic minorities who had chafed under the nationalist policies of the Second Polish Republic. Much of the Ukrainian population initially welcomed the unification with the Soviet Ukraine because twenty years earlier their attempt at self-determination failed during both the Polish–Ukrainian War and the Ukrainian–Soviet War. There were large groups of prewar Polish citizens, notably Jewish youth and, to a lesser extent, the Ukrainian peasants, who saw the Soviet power as an opportunity to start political or social activity outside of their traditional ethnic or cultural groups. Their enthusiasm however faded with time as it became clear that the Soviet repressions were aimed at all groups equally, regardless of their political stance. British historian Simon Sebag Montefiore states that Soviet terror in the occupied eastern Polish lands was as cruel and tragic as Nazi in the west. Soviet authorities brutally treated those who might oppose their rule, deporting by 10 November 1940, around 10% of total population of Kresy, with 30% of those deported dead by 1941. They arrested and imprisoned about 500,000 Poles during 1939–1941, including former officials, officers, and natural "enemies of the people", like the clergy, but also noblemen and intellectuals. The Soviets also executed about 65,000 Poles. Soldiers of the Red Army and their officers behaved like conquerors, looting and stealing Polish treasures. When Stalin was told about it, he answered: "If there is no ill will, they [the soldiers] can be pardoned". In one notorious massacre, the NKVD-the Soviet secret police—systematically executed 21,768 Poles, among them 14,471 former Polish officers, including political leaders, government officials, and intellectuals. Some 4,254 of these were uncovered in mass graves in Katyn Forest by the Nazis in 1943, who then invited an international group of neutral representatives and doctors to study the corpses and confirm Soviet guilt, but the findings from the study were denounced by the Allies as "Nazi propaganda".
Restructuring of Polish governmental and social institutions
While Germans enforced their policies based on racism, the Soviet administration justified their Stalinist policies by appealing to the Soviet ideology, which in reality meant the thorough Sovietization of the area. Immediately after their conquest of eastern Poland, the Soviet authorities started a campaign of Sovietization of the newly acquired areas. No later than several weeks after the last Polish units surrendered, on 22 October 1939, the Soviets organized staged elections to the Moscow-controlled Supreme Soviets (legislative body) of Western Byelorussia and Western Ukraine. The result of the staged voting was to become a legitimization of Soviet annexation of eastern Poland. Subsequently, all institutions of the dismantled Polish state were closed down and reopened under the Soviet appointed supervisors. Lwow University and many other schools were reopened soon but they were restarted anew as Soviet institutions rather than continuing their old legacy. Lwow University was reorganized in accordance with the Statute Books for Soviet Higher Schools. The tuition, that along with the institution's Polonophile traditions, kept the university inaccessible to most of the rural Ukrainophone population, was abolished and several new chairs were opened, particularly the chairs of Russian language and literature. The chairs of Marxism-Leninism, Dialectical and Historical Materialism aimed at strengthening of the Soviet ideology were opened as well. Polish literature and language studies ware dissolved by Soviet authorities. Forty-five new faculty members were assigned to it and transferred from other institutions of Soviet Ukraine, mainly the Kharkiv and Kiev universities. On 15 January 1940 the Lviv University was reopened and started to teach in accordance with Soviet curricula. Simultaneously, Soviet authorities attempted to remove the traces of Polish history of the area by eliminating much of what had any connection to the Polish state or even Polish culture in general. On 21 December 1939, the Polish currency was withdrawn from circulation without any exchange to the newly introduced rouble, which meant that the entire population of the area lost all of their life savings overnight. All the media became controlled by Moscow. Soviet authorities implemented a political regime similar to a police state, based on terror. All Polish parties and organizations were disbanded. Only the Communist Party was allowed to exist along with organizations subordinated to it.
All organized religions were persecuted. All enterprises were taken over by the state, while agriculture was made collective.
Rule of Terror
An inherent part of the Sovietization was a rule of terror started by the NKVD and other Soviet agencies. The first victims of the new order were approximately 250,000 Polish prisoners of war captured by the USSR during and after the Polish Defensive War (see Polish prisoners of war in Soviet Union (after 1939)). As the Soviet Union did not sign any international convention on rules of war, they were denied the status of prisoners of war and instead almost all of the captured officers and a large number of ordinary soldiers were then murdered (see Katyn massacre) or sent to Gulag. Thousands of others would fall victim to NKVD massacres of prisoners in mid-1941, after Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Similar policies were applied to the civilian population as well. The Soviet authorities regarded service for the pre-war Polish state as a "crime against revolution" and "counter-revolutionary activity", and subsequently started arresting large numbers of Polish intelligentsia, politicians, civil servants and scientists, but also ordinary people suspected of posing a threat to the Soviet rule. Among the arrested members of the Polish intelligentsia were former prime ministers Leon Kozłowski and Aleksander Prystor, as well as Stanisław Grabski, Stanisław Głąbiński and the Baczewski family. Initially aimed primarily at possible political opponents, by January 1940 the NKVD aimed its campaign also at its potential allies, including the Polish communists and socialists. Among the arrested were Władysław Broniewski, Aleksander Wat, Tadeusz Peiper, Leopold Lewin, Anatol Stern, Teodor Parnicki, Marian Czuchnowski and many others.
During 1942–1945, nearly 30,000 Poles were deported by the Soviet Union to Karachi (then under British rule). This photo shows a memorial to the refugees who died in Karachi and were buried at the Karachi graveyard. In 1940 and the first half of 1941, the Soviets deported more than 1,200,000 Poles, most in four mass deportations. The first deportation took place 10 February 1940, with more than 220,000 sent to northern European Russia; the second on 13 April 1940, sending 320,000 primarily to Kazakhstan; a third wave in June–July 1940 totaled more than 240,000; the fourth occurred in June 1941, deporting 300,000. Upon resumption of Polish-Soviet diplomatic relations in 1941, it was determined based on Soviet information that more than 760,000 of the deportees had died – a large part of those dead being children, who had comprised about a third of deportees. Approximately 100,000 former Polish citizens were arrested during the two years of Soviet occupation. The prisons soon got severely overcrowded. with detainees suspected of anti-Soviet activities and the NKVD had to open dozens of ad-hoc prison sites in almost all towns of the region. The wave of arrests led to forced resettlement of large categories of people (kulaks, Polish civil servants, forest workers, university professors or osadniks, for instance) to the Gulag labour camps and exile settlements in remote areas of the Soviet Union. Altogether roughly a million people were sent to the east in four major waves of deportations. According to Norman Davies, almost half of them were dead by the time the Sikorski-Mayski Agreement had been signed in 1941. According to the Soviet law, all residents of the annexed area, dubbed by the Soviets as citizens of former Poland, automatically acquired Soviet citizenship. However, actual conferral of citizenship still required the individual's consent and the residents were strongly pressured for such consent. The refugees who opted out were threatened with repatriation to Nazi controlled territories of Poland.
Exploitation of ethnic tensions
In addition, the Soviets exploited past ethnic tension between Poles and other ethnic groups, inciting and encouraging violence against Poles calling the minorities to "rectify the wrongs they had suffered during twenty years of Polish rule". Pre-war Poland was portrayed as a capitalist state based on exploitation of the working people and ethnic minorities. Soviet propaganda claimed that unfair treatment of non-Poles by the Second Polish Republic was a justification of its dismemberment. Soviet officials openly incited mobs to perform killings and robberies The death toll of the initial Soviet-inspired terror campaign remains unknown.
Restoration of Soviet control
While formal Polish sovereignty was almost immediately restored when the forces of Nazi Germany were expelled in 1945, in reality the country remained under firm Soviet control as it remained occupied by the Soviet Army Northern Group of Forces until 1956. To this day the events of those and the following years are one of the stumbling blocks in Polish-Russian foreign relations. Polish requests for the return of property looted during the war or any demand for an apology for Soviet-era crimes are either ignored or prompt a brusque restatement of history as seen by the Kremlin, along the lines of "we freed you from Nazism: be grateful."
thanks for researching this issue. The majority of civilians who lives in Siberia were women and children. Men were mainly sent to the labor camps where they were dying in terrible conditions. I need to watch some of these videos to see what these men have to say.
“Kołyma: Poles in Soviet Gulags” (“Kołyma. Polacy w sowieckich łagrach”) is a book by Sebastian Warlikowski which recounts the horrifying stories of inhumane conditions in which Poles were imprisoned and forced to work to the point of complete exhaustion in the largest complex of Soviet gulags – the Kolyma.
While collecting the memoirs of those who were lucky to survive the hell of Kolyma, Mr Warlikowski had only one goal in his mind, which was, he said, “to restore the memory of Poles who survived… Most of the memoirs found in the book have never been published before. Those accounts reveal immense suffering and torment in the Kolyma gulags.”
Poles who had been unfortunate enough to find themselves in the Kolyma complex were treated as the worst enemies of the USSR. Most of the prisoners were people sent to the gulags after the Soviet Union treacherously attacked Poland from the east in September 1939 while the country was making a stand against the German Third Reich invading from the west.
The second round of prisoners of war filled the Kolyma complex in 1944. This time they were Poland’s Home Army (AK) soldiers captured by the Red Army on the pre-WWII Polish territory that now belongs to Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine.
After WWII had officially ended in 1945, the third spell of Polish prisoners consisted of anti-communist underground soldiers and activists, including the so called Indomitable Soldiers.
According to the book’s author, the image conjured by the memoirs is that of people driven to the brink of death from exhaustion. The prisoners were working mainly in coal mines, in appalling conditions, nearly whole-year-round. Hiatuses in work would be ordered only when the temperature dropped below 50 degrees Celsius. In addition, prisoners had to withstand blizzards, hunger, malnutrition and ensuing diseases, all of which contributed to a very high death rate.
The number of Poles sent to the Kolyma gulags complex has not been precisely established yet. From the complex’s establishment in 1931, till 1953, the estimated number of casualties, irrespective of nationality and ethnicity, amounts to two up to four million lives.
The book, patroned by Polish Radio 24, includes copies of Soviet and prisoners’ documents, and photos. source: IAR, POLAND IN