Poland First To Fight
Soviet Invasion of Poland

The Soviet Occupation of Poland - part 4



Text: The Soviet Occupation of Poland, with an introductory note by J. B. Morton, Free Europe, London, 1940
Photos: Ministry of Information WW2 IWM Print Collections, Evening Standard



Wholesale Deportation

The night of February 8 to 9, 1940, was a memorable date in the development of this hideous system. Hundreds of villages were surrounded by the O.G.P.U. and militia, and whole families were seized. Neither were old people, women in childbed or new-born children spared. But worse was to come. Between the 4th and 6th of March, ten trains passed into Russia through the station of Baranowicze, each carrying separate loads of men, women and children, which showed that here unfortunate families had been torn asunder.

And then this wholesale transfer of vast groups of the population became an outstanding feature in Bolshevik policy in Poland. Certainly it serves some large scheme. And in this character it is not new. It was first put into practice in Russia in 1929 and continued in 1936 and 1937. In the Polish frontier regions, on the river Zbrucz and further north, it was well known that the population of the adjoining Soviet territories had completely changed twice in the period of eight years. There was the question of establishing a defensive belt 50 kilometres wide, and also of removing Polish and Ukrainian elements suspected of disloyal tendencies. This appeared to be the chief aim. Now the same plan was to be realised along the new border on the Carpathians, which afforded the Poles certain facilities for reaching neutral countries. Something similar, on a smaller scale, was carried out on the new Lithuanian frontier.

Under this plan 5,000 persons were deported from the districts of Kuty (on the Rumanian frontier) and Kołomyja, 1,000 families from Podhajce, 1,400 persons from Drohobycz.

These figures show that a complete evacuation of these densely populated areas was not achieved. But the sudden shifting of whole communities into the depths of Asia has taken the place of the old Tsarist practice of sending individual convicts to Siberia - a practice which was so justly stigmatised in the 19th century.

Soviet Invasion of Poland 1939
Soviet Commissar Borovensky and German officers discussing details of demarcation line between two invading armies at the captured town of Brześć Litewski (Brest-Litovsk). General Heinz Guderian, the Commander of the XIX German Corps, was also present at this meeting, 18/09/1939

It has not been abandoned by the successors of the Tsarist regime. Bolshevik justice, like Nazi justice, is not over-scrupulous. Regular sentences are reserved for a small minority. Suspects are deported to concentration camps or places of hard labour. The choice in Polish territory is wide.

At one time the prisons in Lwów held 20,000 people. On January 29 and 31, 1940, 850 arrests were made in that city. Two thousand persons were in gaol in the small town of Czortków. So in one form or another, these ghastly practices continue under various pretexts. First it is the removal of refractory peasants, then it is the forcing of labour, the transportation of refugees, the relief of unemployment, or simply the exile of political prisoners. The Soviet government is shifting the population of the country it has seized in accordance with its own motives and plans, and in a matter that has not been practised since the days of the Assyrian despots. The aim is clear: all people capable of independent judgement, the educated classes, and all those accustomed to a certain measure of independence, such as the peasant farmers - if they cannot be starved out rapidly enough - must be removed lest they should hinder the introduction of Communist institutions. Poles and Ukrainians must disappear in order to make room for the Russian element. Russians are favoured everywhere because they are already cowed into submission, and are therefore more reliable. The Russian language is encouraged everywhere.

Revolution in Russia to-day seems to be advancing hand in hand with imperialism, to which the Poles have fallen victims. In February it was estimated that 100,000 people had been removed from their native country in one week, as about 100 trains with deportees are known to have passed through the station of Podwołoczyska during that time. Between the 12th and the 15th of April about 25,000 people were arrested in the city of Lwów alone, and taken to some unknown destination. The figures, as given here, do not seem to be exaggerated, if we recall Russian practices in the past years. The victims of these measures are chiefly the Polish educated class, officers' families being picked out for specially brutal treatment. Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, and members of pre-military organisations are nearly always separated from their parents.

In Western "White Russia" wholesale arrests and deportations were made on the 25th and 26th of April. The first to be rounded up were the families of military men, policemen, foresters, railway employees and political prisoners, then also people prominent in any sphere. Thus in Lida some 700 families were affected. The prisoners were herded in railway trucks, which remained at the station for several days, waiting for new contingents from other districts to join the transport.

On the 28th, permission having been granted for the relatives to visit those in the train, practically the whole population of the town, without distinction of language and religion, flocked to the railway station carrying parcels with food. This invasion of the station alarmed the military guard. Quickly a locomotive was put before the train and the signal for departure given. At that moment some 200 persons advanced and threw themselves down across the rails to prevent the train from passing. Strong detachments of infantry were sent for to clear the line and another 100 arrests were made. As the train moved out of the station the deportees and the crowd on the platform joined in singing the national anthem. Cases are known of women having lost their reason when they were separated from their children.

Rendezvous by David Low 1939
David Low cartoon from September 1939 satirising the Russian-German brotherhood in arms. It appeared in the Evening Standard on September 20th, 1939

The atmosphere attending these proceedings is not merely one of revolutionary commotion, but also one of national oppression. At the outset the Ukrainians were played off against the Poles. Old grievances were encouraged and led to many cruel outrages against Polish neighbours. The wholesale release of convicts often gave the first impulse. Later, however, the common suffering at the hands of the invader made them forget old injuries and brought them together. "An incredible force," wrote a correspondent recently, "has been developed: both sides have striven to forget the past , to understand each other and to form a joint Polish and Ukrainian 'peasant' front."

Similar feelings have been roused in other parts of the country. Men speaking the White Russian dialect were heard saying "For twenty years the Polish Government failed to teach us who we are. But now we know." There are on record numerous instances of Ukrainian families protecting Polish families against assaults.

Propaganda, Education and Religion

This widespread revulsion of feeling has produced results which were quite contrary to those sought by the Bolsheviks. It was a reaction not only against material wrong, but also against moral pressure and debasement which human beings who have known better things could not bear. Moral torture is one of the features of Bolshevik rule; it is not unknown to men familiar with conditions in the U.S.S.R., and at present frequently witnessed by innumerable involuntary observers in Poland. Ostensibly the whole administration of the Soviets is based on local and professional autonomy, on the initiative of groups and "cells" of different rank and order. In reality all the subordinate bodies are simply instruments in the hands of those in power.

In a recent letter from Soviet occupied Poland we read: "In the initial stage, local factory committees were formed in the occupied area to win the workers over and the workers themselves assumed control. But very soon, after a short period of demonstrations, they were assigned to their real task of keeping the zeal and the state of mind of their comrades under observation. Actual control was taken over by Party commissars sent from distant parts, men who never work themselves and form a sort of privileged upper class in the Soviets. Lavish of attractive sounding catchwords, they were in unrestrained control of the toil and way of thinking of the workers and could even interfere with their outward appearance. It was highly characteristic that in one of the factories in Lwów, the first order of the commissar was that all men had to shave their moustaches."

In a short time people came to see that although under the Soviets the working classes are declared to occupy a privileged position, their privileges in reality are limited to forming delegations to various unions and councils, where they are called upon noisily to approve the decisions of the governing group and to give them wide publicity as truly revolutionary measures. Labour meetings have no other choice than to express opinions in strict keeping with the course steered by those in power, and to carry motions for raising the output of work for the benefit of "socialist construction." Any attempt at true independence of judgement and genuine criticism is soon stifled. In reality, therefore, the ordinary workman is less important than in any country governed by the "middle classes."

The peasant is even worse off and is given every opportunity to feel it in occupied Poland. There is no question of any peasant self-government. The collective farms are made to work for the delivery of assigned quotas, and the country committees take orders from the bureaucrats without having the slightest chance of discussing them beforehand.

Soviet Occupation of Poland 1939
Troops of the Red Army distributing Soviet propaganda newspapers to local inhabitants of a village near Wilno (Vilnius) in the Soviet occupied part of Poland, September 1939

As the intellectual worker does not belong to a privileged group, his lot is, if possible, even harder and the claims on the complete surrender of his critical faculties more absolute. Flattery and servility are prevalent everywhere, and anybody wishing to succeed and secure any position has to resort to them. "Our life is happy and joyful," "Our army is heroic and invincible," "Comrade Stalin is the leader of the international proletariat, the sun of humanity," "Nothing can be happier than to live under the Stalin constitution, the most democratic in the world" - these phrases have to be repeated on every occasion. Otherwise one is immediately suspected of being a "Trotskyist dog," or "an agent of the criminal West European capitalists." To secure or retain a job, one must submit to the ordeal of being schooled in Communist doctrines, generally in the form of special evening classes. These are mainly concerned with the defilement of everything Polish, everything connected with democratic culture or the Christian faith, as well as blasphemy and atheism.

In a general way it must be stated that there is no education under the Soviets which is not reduced to propaganda. A person who recently managed to send a letter abroad says: "The Red circles and clubs, the news posters, the debating societies for promoting education, the workmen's universities, the different ways of raising and developing the masses intellectually lead in reality to nothing more than the obliteration of truth and a distorted picture of reality by putting it into the frame of officially organised opinion. As a result of this kind of education the Bolsheviks strike one as being like big children, monkeys or parrots, who have acquired mechanically the art of reading and certain strangely contorted pieces of knowledge. They give the impression of being absolutely incapable of reasoning in the simplest way, of criticising intelligently, of drawing a logical conclusion or of associating ideas in a way familiar to any brain which functions normally."

A prodigious proficiency in expounding the Communist dogma is combined with the most shocking ignorance and the complete absence of rudimentary education in every other department of knowledge. It is well known that industry in Russia, highly developed in certain directions, is greatly hampered by its incapacity to overcome elementary difficulties which demand independent judgement and rapid application. It can also easily be imagined to what level medical science has sunk, considering that the term of study has been reduced to three years, and may be taken on the strength of an elementary school certificate.

The prevailing atmosphere is obvious from one striking event which took place in the University of Lwów. Here a statue of the Blessed Virgin was removed and replaced by a kind of altar in honour of Stalin, in front of which the red lamp continues to burn. Threatening as these symptoms of triumphant obscurantism are for the future, they are not the most painful point of Poland's contact with Bolshevik educational methods.

Seeing their incapacity of making headway in their endeavour to win over the population, the Bolsheviks at present direct all their efforts towards inculcating their principles in the young generation. As they have absolute power and no scruples, their methods can easily be imagined. After having done away with most of the former teachers, they replace them by their own men, without the slightest regard to qualification. Besides, four or five commissars are attached to every school in order to supervise the methods of teaching, and to spy on the teachers. Religion, Polish History and Literature, Latin and Greek, were immediately removed from the curriculum, but the doctrines of Marx and the principles of the Stalin constitution - "the most magnificent in the world" - are driven home to the unfortunate children, even in the elementary classes. All libraries and bookshops have, of course, been methodically purged, and the schools submerged with worthless propagandist literature. Then the children are forced to take part in meetings, lectures and debates in which the Soviet officers and specialised propagandists direct their criticism against the bourgeois regime, and against Poland as a country controlled by "landlords." This teaching is intended to destroy their hearers' faith in everything they had hitherto been taught to love and respect. Immediate impressions and recent experiences did not appeal very strongly to the children's minds in favour of Bolshevism as the shortest cut to happiness, and they often gave spirited answers or put embarrassing questions to their teachers. But fair play is something which is not to be expected under a totalitarian government. Courageous boys and girls were very often arrested. Boys of eight are known to have been flogged in prison to induce them to give away their school-fellows who inspired them in their opposition. It is not uncommon for schoolchildren to disappear like any adult suspected of political heterodoxy. Not only is every imaginable method of spying and trapping applied to the children themselves, but the greatest efforts are made to induce them to spy and denounce each other or members of their families. Apart from more drastic methods employed , this is represented to the children as "heroism in the service of the working class."

Soviet Occupation of Poland 1939
Russian soldier destroys Polish border marker, October 1939

Atheism is of great importance in the Bolshevik system of education. Even children in nurseries are subjected to special training in this branch of wisdom. Everything that we heard about the U.S.S.R. in this respect has been verified in Poland. Even the crude experiment of a prayer to God remaining vain and the invocation of Stalin ending in the distribution of rolls to the hungry children, has been applied. But practices no less despicable and even more loathsome are in use. A sort of maniacal stress is laid on the dissolution of morals. Soviet officers have been called upon to make disclosures concerning sexual life in classrooms attended by little girls, and to explain that chastity was a prejudice of the decayed bourgeoisie. The helpless indignation of parents forced to put up with these shameless inroads on everything they hold sacred can be imagined. Their helplessness and misery are callously discounted by those in power. Many a starving mother has consented to send her child to a Bolshevik boarding school simply to save it from starvation. Children without parents are of course subjected to Communist education. Religious orders concerning themselves with the care of destitute children have been evicted and replaced by Bolshevik educationists, trained in all the devices of propaganda.

It is in keeping with this that every effort is made to undermine all feelings of respect and trust of child towards their parents. Religious practices are not directly forbidden, but are hindered and hampered by every possible means. Sunday mornings or Feast days are picked out for meetings, demonstrations or additional occupation in the schools. The same method of unrelenting, though somewhat disguised, destruction is put into practice against the religious communities throughout the country. Their property is not confiscated, but burdened with enormous taxes and seized under the pretext of their being in arrears. In this way the important educational establishment for poor boys directed by the Salesians in Białystok was suppressed, as was the convent of the Capuchines in Lwów and the well known Jesuit college in Chyrów. The Soviet Atheist League was also let loose on the country and its president Jarosławski recently boasted of having had 4,000 Polish priests sent to Siberia. Whether some of them were of the Greek Rite, we do not know, but it is a notorious fact that every effort is made to starve the Ukrainian clergy, even their children being excluded from receiving any employment.1 That all Ukrainian organisations, which were very numerous, such as educational societies, private schools, reading circles, sport clubs, co-operative societies - have been suppressed need scarcely be mentioned.

General Conditions

The state of utter destitution to which all people dependent on the Polish State have been reduced is also evident. The whole population of the country is now beggared. And still it is a fact that of those who - with their consent or without - have found themselves in Russia, great numbers have used every possible device to return, preferring a shattered existence at home to life in a country laid waste by twenty years of Bolshevik sway. A letter recently received throws light on the conditions and moral atmosphere in which people in Eastern Poland are compelled to live.

A journalist writes from Wilno to a friend who had left the country earlier: "Despite all my great efforts, and as I was several times arrested, I have not succeeded in getting across to Hungary or to Rumania. Lithuania remained as a last resort, and that is the way I chose. A man accustomed to a certain measure of liberty cannot endure existence in a totalitarian country. You have passed too short a time on Soviet territory to be able to judge how burdensome life is there. And I do not speak of the most primitive comforts of life such as lodging and food. You most likely know from the Press how things stand; one has to queue up from 8 to 10 hours to secure a piece of bread; a kilogram of butter costs 50 roubles, a dinner 15, boots are unobtainable. In Warsaw we had no adequate idea of the horror of life in a totalitarian State. We wrote about it, we talked about it, but we were far from understanding the real state of things. We did not know how totalitarianism can debase a human being."

"Spies at every corner, arrests, the everlasting threat of being sent into the depths of Russia, being searched in the streets, endlessly standing in queues to get bread, sugar, bootlaces - that was a normal working day of our 'happy and joyous life.' And what is worse, the everlasting declarations, the applause, the greetings, the carrying of motions. When certain words were pronounced one had to rise and applaud. And then the Press wrote of frantic applause. Under these conditions, there is not a sound instinct in human nature which is not made to suffer, not a nerve which is not put to special agony."

Soviet Occupation of Poland 1939
Soviet 24th Light Tank brigade in occupied Lwów, November 1939

The plight of Poland, as all available information shows, is pathetic beyond expression. Not only has she again been torn in two by hostile and aggressive neighbours. But she exemplifies before the world the effect of the gigantic but soulless machinery contrived by totalitarian states, when directed against the body and the soul of a living people. On the German side there is the monstrous conception of national interest which has turned the German nation into a savage horde, coveting the spoils of an enslaved world. On the Russian side a relentless system built up on ruins and blood for the alleged happiness of mankind is blindly crushing all human happiness, and waging a fierce war on those very things which heretofore have been looked upon as the honour and nobility of man.

There is something fatal - or providential - in the history of nations. Long ago, the great poets of Poland announced that she would have to suffer cruelly for a better future of the world. Generations of Poles have striven to convince Western statesmen that her cause and the cause of European freedom were one. This point at least seems to be clearly established by now.


(1) In the Greek Catholic or "Uniate" Church celibacy is not obligatory for priests, and until quite recently the vast majority of them were married.




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