Jan. 10, 2019– Mary Greeley News – In the aftermath of the German and Soviet invasion of Poland, which took place in September 1939, the territory of Poland was divided in half between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
The Soviets had ceased to recognize the Polish state at the start of the invasion. Both regimes were hostile to the Second Polish Republic as much as to the Polish people and their culture, thus aiming at their destruction. Since 1939 German and Soviet officials coordinated their Poland-related policies and repressive actions.
For nearly two years following the invasion, the two occupiers continued to discuss bilateral plans for dealing with the Polish resistance during Gestapo-NKVD Conferences until Germany’s Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet Union, in June 1941.
Poland invasion German and Soviet officers
By the time German-Soviet alliance was broken and the new war erupted, the Soviets had already arrested and imprisoned about 500,000 Polish nationals in the Kresy macroregion including civic officials, military personnel and all other “enemies of the people” such as clergy and the Polish educators: about one in ten of all adult males. There is some controversy as to whether the Soviet Union’s policies were harsher than those of Nazi Germany until that time.
Hitler watching German soldiers marching into Poland in September 1939
Large groups of pre-war Polish citizens, notably Jews and, to a lesser extent, the Ukrainian peasants, perceived the Soviet entry into Poland as an opportunity to take part in Communist activities outside of their traditional ethnic or cultural environment. Their enthusiasm faded with time, as it became clear that the Soviet repressions were aimed at all groups equally, regardless of their ideological stance.
It is estimated that at least 150,000 Polish citizens died during the Soviet occupation. It is a conservative estimate confirmed by analysis, while the unconfirmed number proposed by Prof. Czesław Łuczak reaches 500,000.
The Soviet Union never officially declared war on Poland, and ceased to recognise the Polish state at the start of the invasion.
The Soviets did not classify Polish military personnel as prisoners of war, but as rebels against the new Soviet government in today’s Western Ukraine and West Belarus.
Katyn Massacre, Memo from Beria to Stalin, proposing the execution of Polish officers
The reign of terror by the NKVD and other Soviet agencies began in 1939 as an inherent part of the Sovietization of Kresy. The first victims of the new order were approximately 250,000 Polish prisoners of war captured by the USSR during and after the invasion of Poland.
As the Soviet Union had not signed international conventions on rules of war, the Polish prisoners were denied legal status. The Soviet forces murdered almost all captured officers and sent numerous ordinary soldiers to the Soviet Gulag.
In one notorious atrocity ordered by Stalin, the Soviet secret police systematically shot and killed 21,768 Poles in a remote area during the Katyn massacre. Among the 14,471 victims were top Polish Army officers, including political leaders, government officials, and intellectuals. Some 4,254 dead bodies were uncovered in mass graves in Katyn Forest by the Nazis in 1943, who invited an international group of neutral representatives and doctors to examine the corpses and confirm the Soviet guilt.
More than 20,000 Polish military personnel and civilians were killed in the Katyn massacre, but thousands of others were victims of NKVD massacres of prisoners in mid-1941, before the German advance across the Soviet occupation zone.
Mass deportations to the East
The “Road of Bones” constructed by inmates of the Soviet Gulag prison camps; including those of Polish citizenship
Road of Bones
Approximately 100,000 Polish citizens were arrested during the two years of Soviet occupation. The prisons soon got severely overcrowded, with all detainees accused of anti-Soviet activities. The NKVD had to open dozens of ad-hoc prison sites in almost all towns of the region.
The wave of arrests and mock convictions contributed to the forced resettlement of large categories of people (“kulaks”, Polish civil servants, forest workers, university professors, “osadniks”) to the Gulag labor camps and exile settlements in remote areas of the Soviet Union. Altogether the Soviets sent roughly a million people from Poland to Siberia.
According to Norman Davies, almost half had died by the time the Sikorski-Mayski Agreement had been signed in 1941. Around 55% of the deportees to Siberia and Soviet Central Asia were Polish women.
In 1940 and the first half of 1941, the Soviets deported a total of more than 1,200,000 Poles in four waves of mass deportations from the Soviet-occupied Polish territories. The first major operation took place on February 10, 1940, with more than 220,000 people sent primarily to far north and east Russia, including Siberia and Khabarovsk Krai.
The second wave of 13 April 1940, consisted of 320,000 people sent primarily to Kazakhstan. The third wave of June–July 1940 totaled more than 240,000. The fourth and final wave occurred in June 1941, deporting 300,000.