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The Documentary Evidence of the West's Betrayal
By Eugenia Maresch
The History PressCopyright © 2010 Eugenia Maresch
All rights reserved.
DRANG NACH OSTEN AND PRISONERS OF WAR
Seventy years ago, Hitler's quest for domination of Eastern Europe continued with a blistering attack on Poland on 1 September 1939. Seventeen days later, Stalin 'plunged the knife in Poland's back', as agreed by both tyrants on 23 August 1939. The German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop and the Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs Vyacheslav Molotov signed the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, which contained a Secret Supplementary Protocol dealing with territorial allocations. Initially, boundaries had been along the rivers Narew, Wisla and San, but after the formal German-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Borders, signed in September, they settled on the Pisa, Narew, Bug and San. The new boundary stretched roughly east of Bialystok, through Brzesc Litewski (Brest Litovsk) to the west of Lwów (Lviv, Lvov), a south-eastern Polish fortress, which for centuries had withstood the invasion of Turkish and Tartar hordes. The Soviet strategy was to create two fronts: the Belorussian heading from Smolensk and the Ukrainian from Kiev, enabling a swift destruction of the Polish regular army divisions and some 24 Frontier Defence Corps (KOP, Korpus Obrony Pogranicza) stationed on the Polish borders. Under the guise of 'rescuers' of the Ukrainian and Belorussian minorities, the Red Army overran the eastern territories of Poland, always known as Kresy, inhabited by 12 million people – in just twelve days.
On 18 September 1939 the two aggressors met to discuss further political cooperation; a communiqué was signed, declaring that the sovereignty of Poland had been 'disestablished'. The demarcation line was confirmed and the new territorial sphere of influence endorsed. As early as 19 September 1939, Lavrenty Beria, People's Commissar of Internal Affairs, head of the Secret Police the NKVD (Narodny Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del) by order No.0308, had created a separate directorate of the UPV (Upravlenie po Delam Voennoplennykh) – an authority to administer wartime operations of the NKVD, primarily to deal with prisoners of war (PoW) headed by Major Pyotr Soprunenko.
On 2 December 1939, Beria produced another official note for Stalin's approval, which was endorsed by the Politburo of the Communist Central Committee on 4 December – to organize four mass deportations of Polish civilians to the wilderness of Siberia and other Soviet Republics. In 1940–1941, according to émigré sources, at least 980,000 were deported; incomplete statistics, gathered to date from GULag's NKVD documents, show only 316,000. These were combatants of the 1920 war with their families, landowners, police and civil servants, 'enemies of communism and counter-revolutionaries', destined for hard labour and death.
December was also a month of intensive consultations between Germany and Russia on the subject of the massive prisoner problem. Three joint meetings of the security services the UPV and the Gestapo for RSHA, the Reich Central Security Office (Reichsicherheitshauptamt), were held to discuss the possibility of territorial exchange of the PoWs as well as relocation of forced labour to GULags in the USSR and concentration camps in Germany. It is possible that the fate of some 15,000 Poles detained in Soviet camps and over 7,000 kept in prisons was decided at one of these three meetings, Lwów in October 1939, Kraków in January 1940 and Zakopane in March 1940. It is as yet unknown, due to lack of documentation, if this treachery is analogous to, or part of, the German 'pacification action', the Aktion AB (Ausserordentliche Befriedungsaktion), designed not only to stop any resistance by the people but also to exterminate Polish leaders and the elite, which was planned by the Generalgouvernment in early 1940 and reached its height from May to July. Aktion AB was sanctioned by Adolf Hitler and carried out by Generalgouverneur Hans Frank, Governor General of the occupied part of Poland, with its seat in Kraków and acting SS-Obergruppenfuhrer, head of the Nazi Security Service in Poland, ably assisted by Friedrich W. Kruger and others.
Soon after one of those secret meetings, the NKVD started to compile a list of their captives with full particulars as well as addresses of their families, including those under the German occupation. By February 1940, Soprunenko had sent to his superior Beria detailed proposals on the 'clearing out' (rozgruzky) of PoW camps at Kozelsk and Starobelsk. He categorised the prisoners as those too ill (about 300), and those who were residents of the western region of Poland whose guilt could not be proven (about 500); these were to be sent home.
'Special procedures' were to be applied to those who were 'hardened, irremediable enemies of Soviet power': officers, police, landowners, lawyers, doctors, clergy and political activists. They were to suffer the 'supreme punishment' by shooting, without prior call to face the charges in any court. Stalin and others of the Politburo duly signed the order presented to them by Beria on 5th March 1940. The executions were to start in early April and last till May 1940.
'Operation Barbarossa', the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, put an end to the volatile Nazi-Soviet Pact. For Poland it offered the opportunity to ally with the Soviets, albeit reluctantly and with British inducement. General Wladyslaw Sikorski, Prime Minister of the Polish government in exile and Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Armed Forces, with the Soviet Ambassador Ivan Maisky, signed a Pact in London on 30 July 1941. It was an uneasy alliance, but had one important military outcome, as it allowed the raising of a Polish Army on USSR territory made up of deported prisoners. The agreement stated that all Polish citizens held in the USSR were to be released on 'amnesty' – an irrational term as no war had been declared between Poland and the Soviet Union. The Polish government-in-exile did not argue, perhaps they considered it as a 'face saving' gesture to the Soviets. The pre-war border issue was provisionally settled by an ambiguous statement: 'The Government of the Union of Soviet Republics recognizes that the Soviet-German Treaties of 1939 relative to territorial changes in Poland, have lost their validity.'
The release of men from prisons, PoW camps and forced labour GULags started in September. By October 1941, it was clear that the majority of army officers were missing and there was no news of them. After repeated enquiries, which remained unanswered, Molotov and Stalin finally maintained that 'all officers were released.' The Poles had good reason to disbelieve them but were powerless to do anything about it.
A Top Secret report of those detained by the NKVD was prepared by Captain Pyotr Fedotov, head of 2ed Administration of the NKVD for his superior Soprunenko and handed to Stalin on the day he met with Sikorski and General Wladyslaw Anders, Commander of the newly formed Polish Army in the USSR, on 3 December in Moscow. This most secret report indicated that the total number of prisoners of war captured by the Red Army was 130,242: some 42,400 were conscripted into the Red Army and a similar number, 42,492, were exchanged with Germany. Only 25,115 soldiers were released to join the Polish Army formation centres. 1,901 were rejected by the army or handed over to the German Embassy, some were invalided out, or counted as runaways, or were dead. Most importantly, Fedotov's report included a reference to 15,131 men 'disposed of in April-May 1940 by the 1st Special Department', which surely indicates the officers of Kozelsk, Ostashkov and Starobelsk camps. Stalin avoided mentioning these during the Kremlin meeting. A much later document reveals that in March 1959, Aleksandr Shelepin, head of the KGB wrote a note for Nikita Khrushchev, 1st Secretary of the Communist Party and head of state, putting the figure at 14,552, which is generally accepted as a more probable number of those massacred from the three camps. Fedotov's report brings the total – alive and dead – to 257,186. Again, by Western calculations, based on archival sources, about 250,000 is the more likely figure.
Absolute silence over the existence of these 'missing' prisoners baffled the British Military Mission in Moscow. Brigadier Colin McVean Gubbins, one-time member of the British Military Mission to Poland in 1939 and later head of the SOE (Special Operations Executive), was also concerned about the strength of the Polish forces, with the core of the military men missing or imprisoned. SOE's aim was to foster resistance movements in Western Europe. Although the distance and geographical position of Poland made the task difficult, SOE did have a Polish Section, responsible for clandestine operations. They used the secure communication facilities of Oddzial VI, the Special Operations Bureau of the Polish General Staff headed by Staff Lt Colonel Michal Protasewicz in London. It is through him that signals from the Home Army – AK (Armia Krajowa) were analysed, translated and distributed to various Departments, including the British.
Lieutenant General Mason MacFarlane's Report
The British Cabinet Office already knew of the Polish plight through successive British Ambassadors, Sir Stafford Cripps (till December 1941) and later Sir Archibald Clark Kerr, as well as from No.30 Military Mission in Moscow, headed by Lieutenant General Noel Mason MacFarlane, who despatched his reports regularly to Major General Francis Davidson, Director of Military Intelligence (DMI) at the War Office. One 'personal for DMI' report, dated 7 August 1941, expressed his fears about the situation and unwittingly indicated a stance for the British Government to take. His words were prophetic:
I am frankly terribly worried about this Russo-Polish business. I see innumerable snags ahead. I won't mention Polish BBC gaffs because they are too blatantly deplorable to merit further attention except that they MUST be stopped.
We are going to find ourselves being pulled in as mediators in a situation which holds promise of developing in the most awkward way. I only hope the business won't sow a lot of discord.
What is going to happen when the Poles find out the number of Poles who have been 'lost' since 1939 is clearly an awkward one to answer. What will the British Press want to say when they find out? We've got to keep out of the affair as much as we can, and when we do intervene we must remember that Russia can help us to beat Hitler, and not Poland. [Author's italics]
Mason MacFarlane also advised the FO that Captain Józef Czapski, a plenipotentiary to General Anders, had raised the question of the missing officers during his first meeting with the NKVD. He was kept in the corridor for five hours and sent home with nothing. MacFarlane advised Czapski to deal directly with Vsevolod Merkulov, Deputy Commissar to Beria involved with PoWs, or alternatively, to go through General Georgy S. Zhukov, Chief of the NKVD, who was in charge of the affairs of the Polish Army in Russia and was on good terms with Anders. Mason MacFarlane despatched a 'Most Secret/Private/Most Immediate' cipher to the War Office, telling them that the Polish goverment were anxious to invite Zhukov to London for discussions. 'Zhukov is a very big noise, second only to Beria, a prominent figure in Russian secret organisations and has Stalin's ear.'
MacFarlane was sympathetic towards Czapski and invited him to the British Embassy to write up his report, which he eventually submitted to the Russians and gave a copy to Mason MacFarlane, who in turn sent it to the War Office and Foreign Office. Frank Roberts, First Secretary of the Central Department of the FO made a cryptic remark that the whole affair was very odd and underlined Polish suspicions of the Soviet government.
The SOE had a desk officer in Moscow who reported regularly to London on the predicament of the Poles in the Soviet Union. The first report, which SOE received from the Poles dated 1 November 1941, came from Buzuluk USSR, one of several centres where soldiers flocked in anticipation of joining the Polish army; others were at Tatischev, Totskoe and Kuibyshev. In accordance with the 1941 Soviet-Polish agreement, they were being released from prisons and forced labour camps scattered throughout the vast Soviet empire. The report by Lieutenant Bronislaw Mlynarski was intended for the Polish government-in-exile based in London. A copy was sent to Professor Stanislaw Kot, the Polish Ambassador to the USSR (1941–1942) who was temporarily in Kuibyshev, after being evacuated from Moscow with the Diplomatic corps.
Kot had set up an agency, the function of which was to gather information on Poles who were still in Soviet detention. It was staffed by a group of officers recently released, among them Professor Wiktor Sukiennicki. Armed with their testimony, Kot would intervene with the Soviet authorities, sometimes not directly informing Anders, who acted similarly. This caused a great deal of friction between them as both claimed primacy of responsibility for the missing. Within the newly formed Polish army in the USSR, Anders had set up Biuro Dokumentów run by Lt Adam Telmany and Lt Gen Kazimierz Ryzinski, which was moved to Jerusalem and in 1944 to Rome. By then it was reorganised and renamed Biuro Studiów (Research Bureau) headed by historian Zdzislaw Stahl.
After leaving his post as Ambassador to Russia, Kot became the Minister of State for the Middle East and was in charge of Centrum Informacji of the Ministry of Information and Documentation, which continued to collate information gathered by Biuro Dokumentów.
One of the most important reports – which clearly indicated the journey and final destination of the last deportation of the Polish officers from Kozelsk – was not amongst Kot's papers. Although not being able to identify the place as Gnezdovo station, the witness saw the prisoners being unloaded from prisoner's freight cars at a siding on 30 April 1940 and taken away in groups by a bus with blacked out windows. It would return at intervals to pick up the others and take them to a place he thought must be nearby. This secret observation came from Lt Stanislaw Swianiewicz, Professor of Economics at Wilno University, who was the only one to be separated from the others at Gnezdovo. He was taken to Smolensk prison and from there eventually to Moscow for a trial and sentence of eight years hard labour in Komi District. Swianiewicz was not aware that he was so close to the place of the massacre. In April 1942, he was released from GULag (Glavnoe Upravlenie Lagernie) forced labour camp and eventually reached Kuibyshev to tell the tale. He wrote a short report on 28 May 1942 for Brigadier General Romuald Wolikowski, Military Attaché, which is reproduced below. It still remains a mystery why this vital information did not reach Mason MacFarlane or the Polish government-in-exile any sooner. Was it the fault of an incompetent individual, who failed to register the statement from a civilian witness on the list of officers, or simply forgot to pass the information to the appropriate authorities?
Similarly, Mlynarski's report does not indicate Gnezdovo as a possible place of evacuation for prisoners, but it contained first-hand information on the missing Polish officers and gave precise dates and number of prisoners in each of the three camps who had been mysteriously evacuated to an unknown destination in April and May of 1940. Mlynarski asked for help from the British and American governments to impress upon the Russians the need to indicate the whereabouts of these people and to recover them. Historically, Czapski's concise report, written almost at the same time, tends to overshadow Mlynarski's important document.
Lieutenant Bronislaw Mlynarski's Report
Strength of Starobelsk camp
The first batch of prisoners arrived at the camp on 30 IX 1939. About 5,000 other ranks were removed from the camp during October. The winding up of the camp commenced on 5 IV 1940, when the strength amounted to about 3,920, including the sections reserved for Generals and Colonels. This also included over 30 civilians (mostly judges and Government officials) and about 30 officer cadets. The remainder were officers, of whom half were professionals. This included 8 Generals, over 100 Colonels and Lieutenant Colonels, about 230 Majors, about 1,000 Captains, about 2,500 subalterns and about 380 medical officers.
Two other camps, which existed at the same time, were at Kozelsk and Ostashkov. Their strength when wound up on 6 IV 1940 was: Kozelsk about 5,000 men including 4,500 army officers; and Ostashkov about 6,570 men, including 384 Field Police, frontier guards and prison guard officers.
Excerpted from Katyn 1940 by Eugenia Maresch. Copyright © 2010 Eugenia Maresch. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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Table of Contents
Chapter One Drang nach Osten and Prisoners of War,
Chapter Two Katyn 1943,
Chapter Three Crime Scene Reports,
Chapter Four The Foreign Office Attitude,
Chapter Five FORD Analysis of the Burdenko Report,
Chapter Six Preparation for the Nuremberg Trials,
Chapter Seven BWCE and machinations at Nuremberg,
Chapter Eight The American Committee,
Chapter Nine Publications,
Chapter Ten Failure at the UN – Success with the Memorial,
Chapter Eleven Gathering of Documents by the FCO,
Chapter Twelve Actions and Reactions in Poland,