General Wladyslaw Anders & "Anders Army"
General Władysław Albert Anders (11 August 1892 – 12 May 1970) was a Polish Army General who became a notable member of the Polish government in exile based in London.
General Anders was born in Krośniewice–Błonie in 1892, 60 miles west of Warsaw. At the time, this was part of the Russian empire because Poland no longer politically existed as an independent state due to the partitioning of Poland in the late eighteenth century. His parents were Baltic-German. Why am I telling you this? Well, I find it quite notable and indeed one of lifes great ironies that despite his Baltic-German parents and essentially Russian birthplace, he single-handedly ends up being the saviour of a vast portion of the Polish people.
A Quick History Of General Anders, The Man Who Saved The Poles
The Polish-Russian Mix
Baptised as a Protestant in a Polish church, Anders went to a technical school in Warsaw. Upon graduating, Anders entered the Russian Imperial Army in World War 1.
This is the fascinating bit, his upbringing was essentially Polish, he ends up fighting in the Russian Army, but, wait for it....when Poland gained independence again in 1918, he then joins the Polish Army. So, he switches sides.
This is born out by the fact that in 1919, as part of the Polish Army, he commands the 15th Poznań Uhlans Regimentand fighting the Russians in the Polish-Soviet war of 1919.
Anders Capture By Russians
In 1939 General Anders is commanding the Nowogródzka Cavalry Brigade during the invasion of Poland by Germany. (Remember the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement being broken?).
Anders fights a few battles and then hears that the Soviets are also now invading Poland. Anders retreats to the south of Poland to Lwow with the intention of reaching either Romania or Hungary.
However, Anders is wounded and then on 29 Sept 1939 is captured by the Russians ending up in jail in Lwow and then transferred to Lubyanka prison in Moscow in February 1940.
Once the Germans invaded Russia during their Operation Barbarossa and in direct contravention of the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement, Britain came into the arena. Britain signed an agreement with Russia called the "Sikorski Mayski agreement" . The agreement was named after it's 2 founders: The Polish Prime Minister Wladyslaw Sikorski and the Soviet Ambassador Ivan Mayski.
The agreement came into existence due to Stalins concerns over Germanys invasion of the Soviet Union. Stalin sought assistance from other nations including the UK and in return agreed to null the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement. Therefore, all Poles were no longer "guilty" of anti-bolshevism etc and were "pardoned" for the previous crime (that is to say, the crime of being a pole). It was called an "amnesty" and all poles including General Anders were released.
The Forming Of "Anders Army"
One of the leveraging factors in the Sikorski-Mayski agreement was no doubt the ability for Stalin to now utilise the military might of the Polish soldiers in partnership with the Red Army, to fight the Germans, currently in exile in the Soviet Union. They would need a leader to command them, who better than Anders? He was known to the Russians, having fought in their army and was seen to have the commanding personality that would be required.
However, Stalin expected something for nothing out of Anders and his army. Stalin failed to provide adequate food, munitions, clothing and suchlike for the Polish soldiers and despite protests from Anders, little was resolved, in fact, the soldiers were suffering from poor health and malnutrition.
A plan was hatched by Anders, with the assistance of Britain, to evacuate all the Polish Soldiers (and civilians) from the Soviet Union. Some would go back to Poland, others elsewhere. Note that at this point Stalin is working with Britain and Poland over this plan.
In March 1942 the evacuations began. Shortly thereafter, Stalin closed the borders and stopped all evacuations. This was a direct consequence of the Red Cross bringing to light that Stalin had systematically murdered Polish Soldiers in Katyn forest. One must come to the conclusion that he knew he was guilty and knew that the outside world, including Poland and Britain would soon cease to be on such good terms with him so presumably, he decided to shutdown the borders ahead of this. As a direct consequence, many poles were no trapped inside the Soviet Union forced to accept the Soviet nationality and way of life.
Joining Anders Army
Military Signup Posts
When the "amnesty" came about it was announced by a variety of methods, including posters that were posted in areas where exiles existed in the Soviet Union. You would think that the soldiers in hard labour camps, upon release, would be running as fast as they could to get away from their labour camps. This was not the case. The labour camps were often in remote areas, winter was upon them, it was cold, they were starving and struggling to understand the course of events from the previous 12 months or so. Many soldiers did not immediately leave but rather waited for the better weather to arrive. Meantime, the Soviets did not look after them any better, rations were at a level that was barely enough to keep them alive let alone provide them with strength to travel.
However, travel they did and vast distances too! Here is a modern day map depicting the route from where my grandfather was exiled in hard labour in Archangelsk to the signup point of Buzuluk. As you can see the distance is x miles.