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Polish voivodeships 1922–1939.
One can consider the eastern voivodships as roughly equivalent with 'Kresy'.

The Polish term Kresy, meaning "Outskirts" or "Borderlands", was used to define the Polishmarker eastern frontier. Polish name of today's western territories Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania, which once belonged to Poland. The term refers to the eastern frontiers of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. During the period of the Second Polish Republicmarker, these territories roughly equated with the lands to the east of Curzon Line. In September 1939 the Soviet Unionmarker annexed these territories and incorporated them into the Soviet republics of Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania. When the Soviet Union broke up, they remained part of those respective republics after they gained independence.


According to the Dictionary of the Polish Language (1807) by Samuel Bogumil Linde, Kresy referred to territories bordering the eastern frontier of Poland. The Tatar Horde settled on the Lower Dnieper River in the "Wild Fields". For the first time in literature, this term was probably used by Wincenty Pol in his poems entitled “Mohort” from 1854 and in “Pieśń o ziemi naszej”. Pol claimed that it was the line from Dniestermarker to Dnieper River so the land of Tatar borderland. At the beginning of the 20th century the meaning of the term Kresy expanded to include the lands of the former eastern provinces of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, to the east of Lwówmarker-Wilno line, and in the period of the Second Polish Republicmarker the Borderlands were equated with the land to the east of Curzon line. Currently the term Eastern Borderlands describes former, eastern lands of the Second Polish Republicmarker (1918–1939).


The Republic of the Two Nations

Between the 16th and 18th centuries, the Eastern Borderlands were situated on the lower Dnieper River under so-called ‘porohy’ in the then Kijov province. After the Union of Lublin of 1569 the "Wild Fields" were incorporated into the boundaries of the Republic of the Two Nations. At this time these areas were thought to have been uninhabited.

Partitioned between Austria and Russia

1772 marked the beginning of the partition of theRepublic of the Two Nations. This process took place in three stages (annexations). In the first partition (1772) the tsarist Russian Empiremarker annexed Polish Inflanty, the northern part of Polotskmarker province, Vitebskmarker province, Mscislaw provincemarker and the southeast part of Minskmarker province (about 92 thousand km², 1,3 million people). Austria annexed entire Galicia, certain regions near Zamoscmarker and northern Lesser Poland (about 83 thousand km² and 2,65 million people). During the second partition in 1793 Russiamarker took Belarus and Ukrainian lands to the east of Druja-Pinsk-Zbrucz line, concretely: Kievmarker, Bratslavmarker, part of Podolia, the eastern part of Volhynia and Brestmarker, Minskmarker and part of Vilniusmarker ( ) (about 250 thousand km²) provinces. The third partition took place in 1795 and Lithuania, Belarusianmarker and Ukrainianmarker areas to the east of the Bug River and Niemirow-Grodno line (about 120 thousand km²) were annexed.This period in the history of Polandmarker, especially in its eastern part, was a period of frequent national rebellions (November Uprising, January Uprising), persecutions, forced resettlement and penal deportations to Siberiamarker and denationalization of Poles. The eastern borderlands of Poland historically belonged to the last regions in Europe where serfdom was abolished: In 1848 it was eliminated in the Austrian partition and in 1861 in the Russian partition.

March 1919

March 1919 was especially turbulent for the Kresy of Poland, as it was the time of the rebirth of the Polish state and the formation of new borders. At that time, Poland was fighting three wars to establish its eastern borders: with Ukrainemarker, Soviet Russia, and Lithuaniamarker. As a result, Poland annexed territories that had previously been under Russian administration situated to the east of the Curzon line. This territory later formed the eastern provinces of the Second Republic of Poland and comprised the eastern part of Lwów Voivodeship, Nowogrodek Voivodeship, Polesie Voivodeship, Stanisławów Voivodeship, Tarnopol Voivodeship, Wilno Voivodeship, Volhynia Voivodeship and the eastern part of Białystok Voivideshipmarker.

The interwar Kresy and its population

The population of the Kresy was multi-ethnic, primarily comprising Poles, Ukrainians and Belarusians. According to Polish research, Poles formed the largest ethnic group in these regions, and were demographically the largest ethnic group in the region's cities. Other national minorities included Lithuanians (in the north), Jews (scattered in cities and towns across the area), Czechs (in Volhynia), and also Russians.

Polish language in 1918
Mother language given in 1931 Polish census was following:
Dominating nationalities in Poland around 1931.
(according to "Historia Polski 1914–1939" by Henryk Zieliński, a Polish historian)

In 1931, according to the Polish National Census, the largest cities in Polish Eastern Borderlands Voivodeships were:

As a consequence of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, on September 17, 1939 the territory was annexed by the Soviet Unionmarker, and a significant part of the ethnic Polish population of the eastern Kresy was deported to other areas of the Soviet Union including Siberiamarker and Kazakhstanmarker.

The Nazi and the Soviet occupation

When Nazi Germany and Soviet Unionmarker signed their mutual Non-aggression treaty on August 23 1939 in Moscowmarker, it included a secret protocol regulating the Curzon demarcation line between Germany and the Soviet Unionmarker. The Soviet Union invaded Poland on September 17 quickly moving to the agreed Western border. On September 22 both aggressors celebrated the success of their armies in a joint victory parade held in Brest-Litovsk (today's Brestmarker). The border was designated by a formal agreement on borders and friendship between the Third Reich and the Soviet Unionmarker signed on September 29. Communist governments for Western Ukraine and Western Belarus were formed and immediately announced their intention of joining their respective republics to the Soviet Union.

The Polish military and government were unprepared for the Soviet attack and for three months, until December 18, were unable to announce an official state of war between Poland and the USSR or even give clear orders to their soldiers.

After the German invasion of the USSR which took place June 22, 1941, the Germans moved approximately a thousand kilometers eastwards in the first weeks, capturing Soviet troops. Part of this newly captured territory was included in the Greater Germany, whilst the rest was passed to the Reichskommisariats.

In January 1944, Soviet troops reached the former Polish-Soviet border (by September 17, 1939), and by the end of July they again brought the whole territory that was annexed by the USSR with the German-Soviet Boundary and Friendship Treaty of September 28, 1939 under their control.

During the Teheran Conference in 1943, a new Soviet-Polish border was established, in effect sanctioning most of the Soviet territorial acquisitions from September 1939 and ignoring protests from the Polish emigre government in Londonmarker.

The Potsdam Conference, via substantive recogntion of the "Lublin Poles" as the controlling faction of the "Provisional Government of National Unity", implicitly consented to the deportation of the Polish people from the Kresy, but the issue with the Polish western border was unresolved. The Allies decided to hand over to Poland officially recognized pre-1937 territories of Germany situated east of the Oder and the Lusatian Neissemarker River, east of this Oder-Neisse line (excluding the northern part of former East Prussia, which became part of Russia as Kaliningrad Oblastmarker) during the period of the temporary Polish jurisdiction and up to the moment, where territorial borders were finally acknowledged by the peace treaty.

Białystok Voivodeship

Relations with Soviet partisans

In January 1943, 11,000 partisans were operating in the Kresy, which was 3.5 less per 10 thousand local people in Belarus, and even more so (up to 5-6 factor) if one takes into account the evacuation measures in Belarus in 1941. This discrepancy wouldn't be sufficiently explained by the German treatment of local people, nor by the quick German advance in 1941, nor by the social circumstances then existing in these regions. There is strong evidence, that this was decision of the central Soviet authorities, who abstained from the greater buildup of the Soviet partisan forces in East Poland, and let Polish underground military structures grow unopposed in these lands in 1941–1942, in the context of relations with the Polish government in exile of Władysław Sikorski. A certain level of military cooperation, imposed by the respective commands, was noted between Soviet partisans and Armia Krajowa, the people of Polish ethnicity were, to a degree, made scape-goats in terror campaign of 1942. After the break of diplomatic relations between USSR and Polish government in exile in April 1943, the situation changed. From this moment, Armia Krajowa was treated as hostile military force.

Uderzeniowe Bataliony Kadrowe

In late May 1943, Uderzeniowe Bataliony Kadrowe, with permission of the headquarters of the Home Army, concentrated its forces (200 men) around Wyszkowmarker. The Germans soon found out about it and surrounded the Poles. A skirmish ensued, in which 4 Poles were killed and 8 wounded. German losses were estimated at 15 killed and 22 wounded. Those who were not caught, divided themselves into two groups and headed north, to Bezirk Bialystok. On June 11, 1943, the UBK forces under Major Stanislaw Pieciul (Radecki) of the 4th Battalion engaged the Germans near the village of Pawly (Bielsk Podlaski Countymarker). 25 Poles and approximately 40 Germans died. In July 1943 the Uderzeniowe Bataliony Kadrowe units, active in Bezirk Bialystok, consisted of five Battalions. Altogether, there were 200 fighters, and during a number of skirmishes with the Germans (including the 1943 Polish underground raid on East Prussia), 138 of them were killed. These heavy losses were criticized by the headquarters of the Home Army, who claimed that the UBK was profusely using lives of young Polish soldiers. On August 17, 1943, upon the order of General Tadeusz Bor-Komorowski, the UBK was included into the Home Army. Soon afterwards, all battalions were transferred to the area of Nowogrodekmarker.

Nowogródek Voivodeship

The Bielski partisans' activities were aimed at the Nazis and their collaborators, such as Belarusian volunteer policemen or local inhabitants who had betrayed or killed Jews. They also conducted sabotage missions. The Nazi regime offered a reward of 100,000 Reichmarks for assistance in the capture of Tuvia Bielski, and in 1943, led major clearing operations against all partisan groups in the area. Some of these groups suffered major casualties, but the Bielski partisans fled safely to a more remote part of the forest, and continued to offer protection to the noncombatants among their band. During process of reorganization of the Nowogrodekmarker Area of the Armia Krajowa, the Uderzeniowe Bataliony Kadrowe units created a battalion, which became part of the 77th Infantry Regiment of the Armia Krajowa, under Boleslaw Piasecki. In February 1944 the battalion had around 700 soldiers (some sources put the number at around 500). The unit took part in the Operation Tempest, fighting the Germans around Lidamarker and Wilnomarker (see: Wilno Uprising), where it suffered heavy losses.

Wilno Voivodeship

As the front line moved further away, the logistical conditions steadily worsened for the partisan units, as the resources ran out, and there was no wide-scale support from over the front line until March 1942. One outstanding difficulty was the lack of radio communication, which wasn't addressed until April 1942. So, for several months, partisan units in Poland were virtually left to themselves. Especially difficult for the partisans was the winter of 1941–1942, with severe shortages in ammunition, medicine and supplies. The actions of partisans were prevailingly uncoordinated. Itzhak Rudnicki was active in the Wilno Ghettomarker underground movement from 1942 to 1944. In February 1943, he joined the Belarusian partisans in the Wilno Battalion of the Markov Brigade, a primarily non-Jewish unit in which he had to contend with antisemitism. Apart from a foray infiltrating the Wilno Ghetto in April 1943 to meet with underground leader Abba Kovner, he stayed with the partisans until the end of the war, fighting the Germans and their collaborators in the Narocz Forest. V Wileńska Brygada Armii Krajowej, commanded by Zygmunt Szendzielarz (Łupaszko), fought against the German army and SSmarker units in the area of southern Wilno Voivodeship, but was also frequently attacked by the Soviet Partisans paradropped in the area by the Red Army. In April 1944, Zygmunt Szendzielarz was arrested by Lithuanian police and handed over to the German Gestapo. Łupaszko escaped or was released in unknown circumstances at the end of April. In reprisal actions his brigade captured several dozen German officials and sent several threatening letters to Gestapo but it remains unknown if and how these contributed to his release. On June 12, 1944 General Tadeusz Bór-Komorowski, Commander-in-Chief of the Armia Krajowa, issued an order to prepare a plan of liberating Wilnomarker from German hands. The Armia Krajowa districts of Wilno and Nowogródekmarker planned to take control of the city before the Sovietsmarker could reach it.


The Commander of the Armia Krajowa District in Wilno, General Aleksander Krzyżanowski "Wilk", decided to regroup all the partisan units in the northeastern part of Poland for the assault, both from inside the city and from the outside. On June 23, two squads of V Wileńska Brygada, commanded by "Maks" and "Rakoczy", attacked the Lithuanian policemen in Dubingiaimarker. The starting date was set to July 7. Approximately 12,500 Armia Krajowa soldiers attacked the German garrison and managed to seize most of the city center. Heavy street fighting in the outskirts lasted until July 14. In Wilno's eastern suburbs, the Armia Krajowa units cooperated with reconnaissance groups of the Soviet 3rd Belorussian Front. General Krzyżanowski wanted to group all of the partisan units into a re-created Polish 19th Infantry Division. However, the advancing Red Army entered the city on July 15, and the NKVD started to intern all Polish soldiers. In August the commander of all Home Army units in the Wilno area, Gen. Aleksander Krzyżanowski "Wilk" ordered all six brigades under his command to prepare for the Operation Tempest - a plan for an all-national uprising against the German forces occupying Poland. In what became known as the Operation Ostra Brama, the V Brigade was to attack the Wilno suburb of Zwierzyniecmarker in cooperation with the advancing units of the 3rd Belorussian Front. However, for fear of being arrested with his units by the NKVD and killed on the spot, Zygmunt Szendzielarz - Łupaszko - decided to disobey the orders and instead moved his unit to central Poland. The Operation Ostra Brama was a success and the city was liberated by Polish soldiers, but the Polish commander was then arrested by the Soviets and the majority of his soldiers were sent to Gulags and sites of detention in the Soviet Union. It is uncertain why Szendzielarz was not court-martialled for desertion. It is highly probable that in fact his unit was moved out of the battlefield by Gen. "Wilk" himself, due to the fact that Łupaszka's unit has been long involved in fights with the Soviet partisans and he did not want to provoke the Red Army. Regardless, after crossing into Podlachia and Białystokmarker area in October, the brigade continued the struggle against withdrawing Germans in the ranks of the "Białystok Home Army Area". After the region was overrun by the Soviets, Łupaszka's unit remained in the forests and Łupaszka decided to wait for the outcome of Russo-Polish talks held by the Polish Government in Exile. At the same time the unit was reorganized and captured enough equipment to fully arm 600 men with machine guns and machine pistols. After the governments of the United Kingdom and United States broke the pacts with Poland and accepted the so-called PKWN as the provisional government of Poland, Łupaszka restarted the hostilities - this time against a new oppressor, in the ranks of Wolność i Niezawisłość organization. However, after several successful actions against the NKVD units in the area of Białowieża Forestmarker, it became apparent that such actions would result in a total destruction of his unit.

The Post war period

After the Second World War, the Polish eastern lands were incorporated into Soviet Unionmarker as part of the republics of Ukrainemarker SSR, Belarusmarker SSR and Lithuanianmarker SSR. The annexation of these territories was celebrated in the former Soviet Unionmarker and is also currently celebrated in independent Belarusmarker as the “unification of Belarus”.

The official name of the attack on Poland in 1939 had been the Liberation Conquest of Western Ukraine and Western Belarus in the Soviet Union. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, these territories formed the independent republics of Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania; they retained their inter-republic and 1945 borders to Poland.

See also


  • Mały rocznik statystyczny 1939, Główny Urząd Statystyczny, Warszawa 1939 (Concise Statistical Yearbook 1939, Central Statistical Office, Warsaw 1939).

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