Poland's Daughter


Looking for the missing officers

Inhuman Land tells the story of Joseph Czapski's year-long search for the thousands of missing officers of the Polish Army. It was written in Polish about 1946 and translated into French after Czapski settled there in 1947. The notes below were taken from a 1987 translation by the Polish Cultural Foundation, since superceded by a far superior version by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, with an introduction by the "Bloodlands" scholar Timothy Snyder. The links now lead to that book, which I recommend highly.

When the Germans uncovered the first mass graves at Katyn: "At that time most Englishmen were convinced that these men had been killed by the Germans: it would have been just one more example of the sort of things the Germans did so well, and the Soviet regime was known to be a bastion of chivalry and light." p.2

General Anders visited the camp in which Czapski was held, late August 1941: "He arrived at the camp by air, with an escort of NKVD officers... He walked with the aid of a stick, and limped slightly." pp7-8

Padded anorak: he spells it foufaika. p.13

He was assigned to draw up the names of officers known to have been taken prisoner but not yet released. "By the end of October we had drawn up the first alphabetical list of those left behind at Starobelsk, Kozelsk, and Ostashkov.... It contained about 4,000 names and was handed to Stalin by General Sikorski and General Anders when they visited the Kremlin on the 4th December." p.45

Quotes the account of a Lieutenant Solczynski who was held at a camp at Artemovsk in Ukraine and released in September 1941 with a thousand others including eighty women. "As we marched through the streets of Artemovsk, the inhabitants gave us every sign of sympathy, throwing us black bread, and even white. About twenty or so women ran beside us on either side of the road, trying to creep through the cordon that surrounded us. They had husbands and brothers among the prisoners. Our guards beat them up with their rifle butts, and chased them away." p.70

"Those of us who were prisoners cannot seriously believe that a locality housing 15,000 prisoners-of-war, including 8,000 officers, could possibly remain unknown to officers of NKVD." p.121 These were "the kernal of the Polish army captured in the field during the month of September, 1939." p.123

"during that cruel winter in L'vov, the inhabitants had been forced to cut down the trees in the public squares in order to heat the icy rooms in which their children were dying of hunger." p.137

At the Aral Sea (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan) saw "a Kazakh woman in a scarlet cloak." p.152 "These patches of colour were a novelty, because in Russia the mass of the people wear clothes so faded and so shabby that the general impression is one of uniform greyness. Here, by contrast, everyone was wearing great fur caps of red or black with a powdering of silver, and large ear-pieces that flapped on either side of their faces." p.153

"In front of the [railroad] stations, replacing earlier monuments to the Czars now demolished, were smaller monuments to the twin "prophets", Lenin and Stalin." p.153 Heads or busts in "imitation bronze, mounted on whitewashed plinths." p.154

"one was constantly encountering Koreans who had been transported en masse from Manchuria to Uzbekistan to cultivate the rice" p.161

"Our files grew larger and larger, our information more and more precise, but we found less and less reason to hope that we could interest the Soviet authorities in the fate of the missing." p.162 Heard this story: in Oct 1940, Russians gathered in a camp near Moscow Polish staff officers including Col Berling, suggesting they help raise a Polish army in Russia. Berling agreed and had an interview with Beria and Mierkulov. Berling: "We have an excellent nucleus for this army in the camps at Starobelsk and Kozelsk." Mierkulov: "No, not those men. In dealing with them we have been guilty of a gross error [bolshuyu oshibku]." p.163

"The new arrivals were lice-ridden, already infected with typhus and acting as carriers. Most of them died in quarantine." p.167

When the Russians cut the Poles' rations in half, Anders realized that "he would be condemning half of our troops to ... a life of slavery and starvation" if he remained in the Soviet Union. Ninety-minute conversation with Stalin; got agreement he could evacuate the formations that could not be fed to Iran. This caused an immediate surge in civilians coming to the Polish camps. p.171

He knew Anders as a captain in 1917: "harebrained daring, a passion for horses, ... a distinct liking for the more elegant and spectacular aspects of full-dress reviews ... brilliant, courageous to excess, and very friendly. But there was always something rather cold and hard in the expression of his widely set and brooding eyes." Now, in his maturity, the ability to bring "extraordinary concentration" to a problem. Never in a hurry, never raised his voice--but still with a coldness in his eyes. p.174 He was determined to raise an army and to save as many people as possible. p.175

Some of the Polish soldiers "were struck with sudden blindness when darkness fell" p.176 (lack of vitamin A)

Stalin presented Anders with a "magnificent 'ZIS'" 101 limousine, styled after the upscale American Packard. p.189

The "ancient Orthodox church" at Starobelsk was "divided up into five superimposed layers of bunks which were so low that they looked like boxes piled one on top of the another, into which their occupants had to worm themselves like dogs creeping into their baskets." p.199

"Everywhere I saw the same pasty faces, the same discoloured rags. This Soviet world into which we were living was becoming, for me, more and more a synonym for thinly disguised despair and degradation." p.228

"Close on one-half of our effectives (44 percent) were admitted to hospital suffering from contagious diseases." Typhus, typhoid, dysentery, malaria. p.236. "In Turkestan alone, epidemics were responsible for the deaths of more than 2,000 men, and this figure does not include those soldiers and civilians ... who ... died on their way to us, in railway stations, in trains, and in the mud and snow of the countryside." p.237

Quotes a "high official of the NKVD: "It will take us twenty years to efface the impression of your passage through our country." When the Polish distribution centers were set up, used precious items like canned "bully beef" to exchange for needs like cameras and automobile tires. "The second-hand boots and clothing sent from America were [a] veritable treasure-trove in Russia.... To a destitute and starving population the mere fact that clothes and food could be distributed at all was propaganda of an extremely dangerous kind." p.242

The tattered, suspicious civilians being inspected by Russian? customs as they left the country: "Three years of wandering and ill-treatment had sown distrust in their minds. Rags of material, old buttons, bits of string knotted together, a mass of rubbish which no old-clo' merchant would have looked twice, emerged from the bags." p. 272

"What struck us as soon as we entered Iran was the friendliness of the population.... The children, and many of the grownups as well, waved their hands as we passed. At Kushan, ... two young men brought us a gift of grapes. They knew we had no money.... For weeks now our compatriots had been passing through this district without money, so it was clear that the gesture made by these young people was entirely disinterested." pp.276-77

30 Jul 1944 Russian radio broadcast (as noted in his sister's diary): "To arms, people of Warsaw ... assist the Red Army's crossing of the Vistula River!" p.335

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