Arrest & Deportation
Assuming you have now read the 1939 Molotov Ribbentrop section, you will understand that the USSR was now invading Poland in the Eastern Kresy region.
Vast amounts of polish people, from soldiers down to their babies, were arrested and deported. How did this come about? Who controlled it and why was it allowed to happen? What Stalin got away with and has never been accountable for is shocking. Even more shocking is what happened in 1989. the "pardoning" of these formerly arrested people.
The actions of the NKVD coupled with the Russian army was at the heart of the whole matter.
Let's now examine what led to the arrests and deportations of the polish people in 1939.
The NKVD Who Were They?
The USSR had an internal ministry called the NKVD that had existed prior to Stalin and continued right through his reign.
The NKVD was known as "The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs"
- In Russian this is: Народный комиссариат внутренних дел
- A western translation would be: Narodnyi Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del), abbreviated NKVD
They acted as the Police force and oversaw Police work as well as prisons and labour camps along with Soviet border protection. They had their own professional spies as well as civilian ones. The NKVD had a huge part to play in the political repression of the Polish people, the mass deportation of them to Siberia and Kaazakhstan, as well as mass executions, including the Katyn forest massacre. It is quite worrying really that the same department could act as judge and jury.
In 1939, after Poland was invaded by the Russians, a puppet Russian government was installed in Poland. The NKVD moved into Poland also and thus began a geo-political reordering that lead to terrible atrocities, arrests and deportations. Around 21% (6 million) of Polands inhabitants were directly affected.
Bolshevism - What Is It?
You could spend many hours Googling the term "Bolshevism" and still not get a clear idea of what it is. Suffice to say the Bolseviks believed in the violent overthrow of capitalism.
So anything that was deemed to be capitalist (owning land, being in particular professional trades etc) could potentially lead you to getting a visit from the NKVD and ending up in you being deported.
It's not hard to see how this could be a source of contention for many who ended up airing their views, sometimes in public. This lead to the term "being outspoken against Bolshevism" which in itself was a crime in the USSR, punishable by deportation, even death.
So, many polish people had the choice of either quietly accepting the invasion from the USSR in the Kresy region or resisting it and being outspoken about it. Any pole being outspoken against Bolshevism or who was seen to resist it gave the NKVD the leverage they needed to deport them to Siberia and Kazakhstan, which if you will remember from the 1939 Molotov Ribbentrop section suited Russia purposes just fine as they had plans to re-apportion large sections of the eastern block countries between themselves and Germany. This was of course easier to do if large amounts of the inhabitants were no longer there to resist.
In trying to make a classless society, Russia decided that certain things would be classed as being Anti-bolshevist, making the person carrying out these actions a target for the NKVD to visit and deport or execute.
Some of the actions that were classed as anti-Bolshevist were:
- Treating one class of people differently to another
- Holding certain professional titles / jobs
- Speaking out against Bolshevism
- Owning land
- Being a colonist of "koloniści" - Somone who moved to Kresy to buy land
- Being a Polish officer
- Being Patriotic to Poland
- Being a: Professor, Scientist, Teacher, Doctor or Artist
- Refusing to accept an invitation to take the Russian nationality, this was the case in some circumstance and could result in deportation as well.
- Being an "Osadnik" (Someone who was given land in the Kresy area as reward for fighting for Poland in WW1
- "ASA"(Anti-Soviet Agitation) - This took in: contact with foreigners "with counter-revolutionary purposes", not recognizing the equality of communist political system or striving to overthrow it, non-reporting of a "counter-revolutionary activity, counter-revolutionary sabotage, conscious non-execution or deliberately careless execution of "defined duties", aimed at the weakening of the power of the government and of the functioning of the state apparatus, damage of transport, communication, water supply, warehouses and other buildings or state and communal property with counter-revolutionary purpose etc.
- All former members of anti-soviet political parties, organisations and groups, social democrats, revolutionists etc
- Former policemen, former employees of prisons, former officers of military courts.
- Deserters, political emmigrants, citizens of foreign countries, foreign firms.
- People having contact with abroad, foreign consulates
- Former workers of the red cross
- Religionists & active members of religious communities
- Former noblemen, estate owners, bankers, commercialists, shop owners, owners of hotels and restuarants.
Wow, who isn't on that list!
Article 58 Penal Code (RSFSR Penal Code)
In 1927, Bolshevism introduced a new concept called "enemy of the workers". Although it is oversimplifying things, Bolshevism was aimed at keeping people as classless workers, peasants if you like. Anything that encouraged rising above that or anyone whose activity was "anti-peasant" was essentially anti-bolshevist.
The Soviet Union didn't just apply the concepts of this code against Poland in the 1939 invasion. They also applied it against their own people even returned Soviet prisoners of war. They argued that because the POW had not fought to the death he was essentially anti-soviet and therefore anti-bolshevist.
Hopefully, you can now see how easy it was to be deemed "anti-bolshevist". It is no wonder then that so many were deported on flimsy trumped up charges that often were suitably vague. You can just imagine the poor polish person after the charges were read out to them, standing there in a state of bewilderment knowing what this meant for them and their family. To know that these trumped up charges ripped entire families apart forever is to understand the evil that was Bolshevism.
The 4 Waves Of Deportation
In February 1940 the Soviet Union started to deport Poles to exile in Siberia. There were four major deportations:
- Feb 1940 - Polish military settlers, policemen and foresters.
- Apr 1940 - Families of officers imprisoned in the Soviet Union and Poland, in hiding and abroad.
- Jun 1940 - Refugees from German occupied Poland who had not accepted Soviet passports.
- Jun 1941 - Polish citizens from the Baltic states and those missed in earlier deportations.
Soviet Gulags & Kazakhstan Labour Camps
The Soviet Union did not operate concentration camps, rather they operated hard labour camps called "Gulags".
The term “Gulag" is an acronym for the Soviet bureaucratic institution, Glavnoe Upravlenie ispravitel'no-trudovykh LAGerei. In western terms this means "Main Administration of Corrective Labor Camps". This bureacracy operated the forced labor camps in the Stalin era.
Release From Labour Camps
The amnesty in July 1941 didn’t immediately lead to the release of all poles in exile in the USSR. The majority in Siberia, Kazakhstan, Altayski Kray remained in their place of exile. However those in Archangelsk & Komi decided to move south where it was warmer, typically they went to the Tashkent area, where at a later stage the Polish Army was situated and increasing in size.
Unfortunately, neither Poland nor the UK wanted to assist in the rescue of the Polish citizens trapped in USSR. Neither was the USSR keen to financially assist Poland, so it took till December 1941 before Russia agreed to lend Poland the money (100 million rubles) to pay for the Exodus. By spring 1942 the money started to reach the deportees. Russia was struggling to finance the feeding of the deportees, this is likely a leading reason why they organised fast and efficient transport to get all the Poles out of the USSR as it would save them money.
Further Research Opportunities
There is so much more information to this subject than I could possibly put here, if you would like to learn more the resources below will be a good starting point.