Polish prisoners of war in the Soviet Union (after 1939)

Polish prisoners of war in the Soviet Union (after 1939)

As a result of the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939, hundreds of thousands of Polish soldiers became prisoners of war in the Soviet Union. Thousands of them were executed; over 20,000 Polish military personnel and civilians perished in the Katyn massacre.Fischer, Benjamin B., "", "Studies in Intelligence", Winter 1999-2000.]

oviet invasion of Poland

On September 17 1939 the Red Army invaded the territory of Poland from the east. The invasion took place while Poland had already sustained serious defeats in the wake of the German attack on the country that started on September 1 1939. The Soviets moved to safeguard their claims in accordance with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.Encyklopedia PWN [http://encyklopedia.pwn.pl/33490_1.html 'KAMPANIA WRZEŚNIOWA 1939'] , last retrieved on 10 December 2005, Polish language]

During the Red Army's quick advance that met little resistance, about 6,000–7,000 Polish soldiers died fighting the Red Army,pl icon [http://www.dzp.wojsko.pl/dzial/wydawnictwa/zwarte/pdf/EHW_1_2005.pdf Edukacja Humanistyczna w wojsku] . 1/2005. Dom wydawniczy Wojska Polskiego. ISNN 1734-6584. (Official publication of the Polish Army). Last accessed on 28 November 2006.] and 230,000–450,000 were taken prisoner—230,000 immediately after the campaign and 70,000 more when the Soviets annexed the Baltic States and assumed custody of Polish troops interned there.pl icon [http://encyklopedia.pwn.pl/haslo.php?id=3949396 obozy jenieckie żołnierzy polskich] (Prison camps for Polish soldiers) Encyklopedia PWN. Last accessed on 28 November 2006.] ru icon Молотов на V сессии Верховного Совета 31 октября цифра «примерно 250 тыс.» (Please provide translation of the reference title and publication data and means)] ru icon Отчёт Украинского и Белорусского фронтов Красной Армии Мельтюхов, с. 367. [http://www.usatruth.by.ru/c2.files/t05.html] (Please provide translation of the reference title and publication data and means)]

The Soviets often failed to honour terms of surrender. In some cases, they promised Polish soldiers freedom after surrender and then arrested them when they lay down their arms.Sanford, [http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN0415338735&id=PZXvUuvfv-oC&pg=PA20&lpg=PA20&ots=_1tnCiY3_f&dq=Soviet+invasion+of+Poland+1939&sig=WpYsVr5jLk6yIVAYnQqeR3hdXMU Google Books, p. 20-24.] ] Some Polish soldiers were murdered shortly after capture and surrender, like General Józef Olszyna-Wilczyński, who was captured, interrogated and shot on 22 September, during the invasion itself.pl icon [http://encyklopedia.pwn.pl/haslo.php?id=3950966 Olszyna-Wilczyński Józef Konstanty] , entry at Encyklopedia PWN. Last accessed on 14 November 2006.] pl icon [http://web.archive.org/web/20050107121610/http://www.ipn.gov.pl/sled_bialystok_9.html Śledztwo w sprawie zabójstwa w dniu 22 września 1939 r. w okolicach miejscowości Sopoćkinie generała brygady Wojska Polskiego Józefa Olszyny-Wilczyńskiego i jego adiutanta kapitana Mieczysława Strzemskiego przez żołnierzy b. Związku Radzieckiego. (S 6/02/Zk)] Polish Institute of National Remembrance. 16.10.03. From Internet Archive.] On 24 September, the Soviets murdered forty-two staff and patients of a Polish military hospital in the village of Grabowiec near Zamość.pl icon [http://www.grabowiec.gmina.woi.lublin.pl/portal/publikacje/historia_epizod1939.HTM Tygodnik Zamojskim, [15 September] 2004 ] . Last accessed on 28 November 2006.] After a tactical Polish victory at the battle of Szack on 28 September, where the combined KOP forces under general Wilhelm Orlik-Rueckemann routed the Soviet 52nd Rifle Division, the Soviets executed all the Polish officers they captured.pl icon [http://encyklopedia.interia.pl/haslo?hid=106003 Szack] . Encyklopedia Interia. Last accessed on 28 November 2006.] Also, the Soviets executed hundreds of defendants of Grodno, exact number of those killed has not been established yet.

First period (1939-1941)

Poland and the Soviet Union never officially declared war on each other; the Soviets effectively broke off diplomatic relations when they withdrew recognition of the Polish government at the start of the invasion.See telegrams: [http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/nazsov/ns069.htm No. 317] of September 10: Schulenburg, the German ambassador in the Soviet Union, to the German Foreign Office. Moscow, September 10 1939-9:40 p.m.; [http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/nazsov/ns073.htm No. 371] of September 16; [http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/nazsov/ns074.htm No. 372] of September 17 Source: The Avalon Project at Yale Law School. Last accessed on 14 November 2006; pl icon [http://ibidem.com.pl/zrodla/1939-1945/polityka-miedzynarodowa/1939-09-17-nota-sowiecka-grzybowskiemu.html 1939 wrzesień 17, Moskwa Nota rządu sowieckiego nie przyjęta przez ambasadora Wacława Grzybowskiego] (Note of the Soviet government to the Polish government on 17 September 1939 refused by Polish ambassador Wacław Grzybowski). Last accessed on 15 November 2006.] The Soviets chose therefore to regard Polish military prisoners not as prisoners of war but as counter-revolutionaries illegitimately resisting the legal Soviet reclamation of West Ukraine and West Belarus. [Sanford, pp 22-3; See also, Sanford, p 39: "The Soviet Union's invasion and occupation of Eastern Poland in September 1939 was a clear act of aggression in international law...But the Soviets did not declare war, nor did the Poles respond with a declaration of war. As a result there was confusion over the status of soldiers taken captive and whether they qualified for treatment as PoWs. Jurists consider that the absence of a formal declaration of war does not absolve a power from the obligations of civilised conduct towards PoWs. On the contrary, failure to do so makes those involved, both leaders and operational subordinates, liable to charges of War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity."] The USSR refused to allow Red Cross supervision of prisoners on the grounds that it had not signed the 1929 Geneva Convention on the Treatment of PoWs and did not recognise the Hague Convention. Prisoners were handed over by the military to the NKVD and sentenced under clauses in the Soviet Penal Code, including treason and counter-revolution, and were not considered subject to the "Regulations for the Treatment of Prisoners of War" approved by the Soviet Council of Ministers. [Sanford, p 25 and p 41.]

As early as September 19 1939, the People's Commissar for Internal Affairs and First Rank Commissar of State Security, Lavrenty Beria, ordered the NKVD to create the Administration for Affairs of Prisoners of War and Internees to manage Polish prisoners. The NKVD took custody of Polish prisoners from the Red Army, and proceeded to organize a network of reception centers and transit camps and arrange rail transport to prisoner-of-war camps in the western USSR. The camps were located at Jukhnovo (Babynino rail station), Yuzhe (Talitsy), Kozelsk, Kozelshchyna, Oranki, Ostashkov (Stolbnyi Island on Seliger Lake near Ostashkov), Tyotkino rail station (56 mi/90 km from Putyvl), Starobielsk, Vologda (Zaenikevo rail station) and Gryazovets. [http://www.coldwarhistory.us/Cold_War/Katyn_Massacre/Miednoje__Katyn.htm "The grave unknown elsewhere or any time before ... Katyń – Kharkov – Mednoe"] , last retrieved on 10 December 2005. Article includes a note that it is based on a special edition of a "Historic Reference-Book for the Pilgrims to Katyń – Kharkow – Mednoe" by Jędrzej Tucholski]

Kozelsk and Starobielsk were used mainly for military officers, while Ostashkov was used mainly for Boy Scouts, gendarmes, police officers and prison officers. Prisoners at these camps were not exclusively military officers or members of the other groups mentioned, but also included Polish intelligentsia. The approximate distribution of men throughout the camps was as follows: Kozelsk, 5,000; Ostashkov, 6,570; and Starobelsk, 4,000. They totalled 15,570 men.Zawodny, Janusz K., "Death in the Forest: The Story of the Katyn Forest Massacre", University of Notre Dame Press, 1962, ISBN 0-268-00849-3 [http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=27886543 partial html online] ]

Once at the camps, from October 1939 to February 1940, the Poles were subjected to lengthy interrogations and constant political agitation by NKVD officers such as Vasily Zarubin. The Poles were encouraged to believe they would be released, [http://www.polandsholocaust.org/katyndiary1.html "The Katyn Diary of Leon Gladun"] , last accessed on 19 December 2005, English translation of Polish document. See the entries on 25 Decembert, 1939 and 3 April 1940.] but the interviews were in effect a selection process to determine who would live and who would die. According to NKVD reports, the prisoners could not be induced to adopt a pro-Soviet attitude. They were declared "hardened and uncompromising enemies of Soviet authority."

On March 5 1940, pursuant to a note to Joseph Stalin from Lavrenty Beria, the members of the Soviet Politburo — Stalin, Vyacheslav Molotov, Lazar Kaganovich, Mikhail Kalinin, Kliment Voroshilov, Anastas Mikoyan and Beria — signed an order to execute 25,700 Polish "nationalists and counterrevolutionaries" kept at camps and prisons in occupied western Ukraine and Belarus.Excerpt from the minutes No. 13 of the Politburo of the Central Committee meeting, shooting order of March 5, 1940 [http://www.electronicmuseum.ca/Poland-WW2/katyn_memorial_wall/kmw_resolution.html online] , last accessed on 19 December 2005, original in Russian with English translation] This became known as the Katyn massacre.

econd period (1941-1944)

The diplomatic relations were, however, re-established in 1941 after German invasion of the Soviet Union forced Stalin to look for allies. Thus the military agreement from August 14 and subsequent Sikorski-Mayski Agreement from August 17, 1941, resulted in Stalin agreeing to declare the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in relation to Poland null and void,"In relation to Poland the effects of the pact have been on the basis of the Sikorski-Mayski agreement".
René Lefeber, Malgosia Fitzmaurice, "The Changing Political Structure of Europe: aspects of International law", Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, ISBN 0792313798, [http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN0792313798&id=oGGSGhFbCDEC&pg=PA101&lpg=PA101&ots=oMTzLEUFfB&dq=Sikorski-Mayski+null+and+void&sig=MU4kcmGL_ZuTCrwpZTBXPgztXYM Google Print, p.101] ] and release tens of thousands of Polish prisoners-of-war held in Soviet camps. Pursuant to an agreement between the Polish government-in-exile and Stalin, the Soviets granted "amnesty" to many Polish citizens, from whom a military force was formed. Stalin also agreed that this military force would be subordinate to the Polish government-in-exile. This force was known as the Anders Army. Since 1943 Poles were recruited to the Berling Army.

Third period (after 1944)

Third group of Polish prisoners were members of Polish resistance organizations (Armia Krajowa, "cursed soldiers") loyal to the Polish government-in-exile and seen by Soviets as threat to their estabilishment of power base in Poland. Relatively few were sent to Soviet Union (although there were notable exceptions, see Trial of the Sixteen); most were transferred to the Polish communist security forces and prisons, or enlisted in the Berling Army.


ee also

*Camps for Polish prisoners and internees in Soviet Union and Lithuania (1919-1921)
*Treatment of Polish citizens by occupiers

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