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HOME > POLAND > RUSSIAN CONQUEST

How Stalin scooped up eastern Poland

Jan Gross, Revolution From Abroad: The Soviet Conquest of Poland's Western Ukraine and Western Belorussia (Princeton University Press 2002)

Jan Gross is not very popular among Polish readers, and the title of his book is an obvious reason: Stalin's seizure of eastern Poland is described as a revolution rather than an invasion, and the territory is oddly described as that part of Poland comprising the western regions of Ukraine and Belarus. Well, that's what they became after the September 1939 invasion, but it's hardly what they were in August!

"about 30 percent of Lwow's and Wilno's populations ... were Jewish, and in numerous smaller towns Jews were actually in the majority." p5

"in the year 1931 thirty periodicals were published in the city of Wilno in Belorussian, Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian, and Lithuanian and that sixty-eight were published in Lwow in Ukrainian, Yiddish, and German." p8

Russians formed militia from local ethnic populations, which terrrorized the ethnic Poles who formerly were in the ruling class: "One is bound to conclude that thievery, or the appropriation of material objects for personal use while on duty in the militia, was officially sanctioned." p59

The Red Army plundered also: "With pointed rifles they sprawled all over the buildings, and took everything.... We were plundered around the clock. They took grain, hay, horses, cows, and all the equipment, as well as household items." p64

All over [eastern Poland] landowners, well-to-do peasants, colonists, and their families were chased out of their properties--lucky to escape alive--and much of the forcibly vacated land was promptly divided among residents of neighboring villages." p65

"During those beautiful autumn days of 1939 the role of the state was instantly revolutionized in [eastern Poland]: from a routine, dull, and predictable bureaucratic instrument, it became arbitrary and capricious. Worse still, it no longer attempted to shield its subjects from violence; on the contrary, it now meted out violence against them." p70

Rally in the Atlantic Cinema in Lwow to hear speeches by Nikita Khruschev among others, 4 Oct 1939. p75

Newly elected National Assembly met at Lwow Oct 26 and 28. Every third seat occupied by NKVD agent. Delegations dispersed so that everyone sat beside a stranger. Evidently only one dissenting vote was cast. p107

After first deportation 10 Feb 1940: "Those who remained in their homes were in a state of panic fearing deportation, so that they were prepared to do anything the Soviets might order them to do." quoted p110

People were shamed by their surrender to Soviet intimidation, going along in public though they might protest in private. "But the importance of symbolism in collective life weighs heavier than such protests; public humiliation severs bonds between victims. No irony exchanged in private can repair this damage entirely. Neither can one completely cleanse oneself of a residual feeling of shame in the aftermath (and thus fear that others no longer hold one in respect), or overcome in the future the suspiciousness of others whose compliant behavior one witnessed." p113

Private schools were abolished and public schools reorganized on the Soviet model: coed four-year elementary school, followed by seven-year secondary school in rural areas or ten years in cities. Polish language replaced by Ukrainian, Belorussian, Yiddish, or Russian. The teaching of religion and Polish history was banned, as were Latin, Hebrew, and geography; the Polish language was restricted to two hours per week or forbidden altogether. pp126-127

"The sight of a dense crowd made up of wives, children, and mothers waiting for hours in front of the Kolomyja prison for permission to hand in a meager food parcel or a pot of already cold soup to the loved one was so moving and tragic that I will probably keep it forever in my memory and in my heart." quoted p156

"After my husband's arrest I stood everyday in front of the prison, waiting for him to be taken to interrogation. I was looking at men being led for interrogation. Until recently full of health and strength, they were thin, with tormented eyes, barely walking. Pushed by their torturers to walk faster." quoted p164

Discovering that one's profession as soldier or lawyer was retroactively a crime: "Suddenly one's whole life history was stood upside down. Virtually all sacrifice, all distinction, and all achievement throughout the preceding twenty years turned into liabilities overnight." p169

"when the NKVD men finally fled from Brygidki prison [in June 1941], they had killed all but some 600-700 of their approximately 13,000 inmates." p181

8 Jan 1940 issue of Czerwony Sztandar reported that "5,407 rather spacious apartments" in Lwow had been reassigned to workers and their families. "In fact, each assignment meant that the current occupants had to be thrown out of their house or apartment so tht new tenants could move in." p189 (This bit of social engineering would no doubt be applauded by the Occupy Wall Street movement.)

Soviet records show that 387,932 Polish citizens were held in confinement or resettlement into USSR interior at the outbreak of the Russo-Soviet war. "It is a wild guess, at best, and more likely a deliberate deception." p193 Gross thinks Polish estimates are more reliable: 1.25 million from 1939-1941, of whom 900,000 were actual deportees, half to camps, half to spetspereselentsy or "special settlements." (The remainder included prisoners of war, conscripts into Red Army, and some who went voluntarily. "[T]he grand total may have been in truth closer to 1.5 million." p194

Gross's word for the Russian occupation of eastern Poland is dispoilation: "No other word better described the result of Soviet policies. They spoiled things--depleted stocks, destroyed crops, vandalized cities." pp222-223 As one Polish woman described her city after the Russians came: "The city, neat and pretty before, now assumed an eerie appearance: dirty streets full of mud, lawns walked over and covered with mud, lawn fences and small trees lining the streets all broken down. Display windows, unkempt and covered with dust and cobwebs, were decorated with portraits of Soviet rulers. Store billboards were mostly ripped off, with empty spaces left where they were once attached. All this made an impression of a dying city." p223

"I submit that the existence of Stalin's regime in the USSR and of Soviet power and all its variations in other countries was predicated on massive extermination of its subjects." The same is true of the environment. " No understanding of left-wing totalitarianism ia possible, it seems to me, without recognition that in the process of imposing their power and while striving to make it absolute, Communists do not hesitate to tamper with the biological substance of nations." p224

The book's concluding chapter is titled "The Spoiler State" pp225-240 "[A]ll nationalties were victimized during the Sovietization of [eastern Poland]. Almost 50 percent of those removed to the Soviet interior, whether into camps or forced settlements, were Jews, Ukrainians, and Belorussians." p225

Polish zloty withdrawn from circulation 20 Dec 1939. Only 300 zloty could be converted into rubles. p227

"the Soviets killed or drove to their deaths three or four times as many people as the Nazis from a population half the size of that under German jurisdiction" from September 1939 to June 1941. "Life was more dangerous in many respects under the Soviets than under the Nazis." He estimates (footnote) 300,000 deaths among the exiles. p229

"Poland ... suffered proportionately the largest casualties of all the belligerants. In addition to three million Polish Jews, over two million other citizens died of war-related causes." p246