Release From Labour Camps

Announcement Of "Amnesty"

On August 12, 1941, it was broadcast by radio that, in pursuance of the Polish-Soviet treaty, the presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet declared an amnesty (release) for all Polish citizens in the Soviet Union.

Thus, for the thousands of masses of Poles, scattered over the endless expanses of the Soviet land, the days of uncertainty, days without gleam, and nights without sleep ended.

Delay in Release Of Poles In The USSR

The amnesty in July 1941 didn’t immediately lead to the release of all poles in exile in the USSR.

Unfortunately, neither Poland nor the UK wanted to assist in the rescue of the Polish citizens trapped in USSR.

Although in principle Stalin had agreed to the release of the Poles, the Russians, specifically the NKVD, were not prepared to suddenly turn martyr on the Poles. Thus there were delays in conveying that the Poles were free, not all were told about it, some became aware weeks later.

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. Yes, taking them prisoner was for free, but releasing them, well Poland would have to pay for that travel privilege!

Confusion

General Anders was from August to December 1941 still in the process of forming the various divisions of the Polish Army in Exile (Anders Army) and so for around 4 months, even though the Poles were free, they could not make it back to Poland and they also didn't necessarily have a place to go to.

There was also the travel, money and food factor to be considered should any Pole wish to make the long trip of around 1500 miles south to a recruitment point.

Thus many Polish exiles continued to stay at their labour camps and collective farms for weeks, even months. However, as long as they stayed there they were expected to work as per usual because in the Soviet Union "If you don't work, you don't eat".

Leaving The Gulags

By spring 1942 the money started to reach the deportees.

This was just as well as 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.

Eventually, some Poles put together travel plans (travelling in groups) whilst at other collective farms and labour camps they were directly recruited i.e transport was organised and notice was sent to that location of the day and time they could expect transport to take them south to a recruitment point.

Some 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. There were also specific attempts by Polish Command to arrange transport for those in Archangel and to bring them south to recruitment points.

The Soviet authorities, on this occasion, supplied heated railway carriages as well as 14 days of food rations to keep them going as they headed south.

The saddest part of the whole "amnesty" saga is that Poles suffered 2 major setbacks. The first was that if your travel papers were not completely in order they would simply detain you and you would be eternally stuck in the Soviet Union.

The second setback was that even if your travel (to Krasnovodsk, the extraction point) went successfully, you might still be stuck in the Soviet Union after Stalin closed the borders following the Katyn Forrest Massacre.

Camp Life

Once the Polish soldiers reached the recruitment points and signed up they were admitted to camps. At the camps training, drills and suchlike took place in preparation of fighting the Germans.

However, due to their experiences in the Gulags, severe malnutrition and a lack of food, many Polish soldiers were severely weak and ill.

General Anders had meetings with Stalin but he could never get enough rations to care for the soldiers and so began a standoff between Anders and Stalin.

Relations With Russia Sour

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 continued suffering from poor health and malnutrition.

General Anders Starts To Turn

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.