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In the aftermath of the German and Soviet invasion of Poland (September, 1939) the territory of Poland was divided between the Nazi Germany and the Soviet Unionmarker (USSR).

Both powers were hostile to the Polish culture and the Polish people, aiming at their destruction. Before Operation Barbarossa, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union coordinated their Poland-related policies, most visibly in the four Gestapo-NKVD Conferences, where the occupants discussed plans for dealing with the Polish resistance movement and future destruction of Poland."Terminal horror suffered by so many millions of innocent Jewish, Slavic, and other European peoples as a result of this meeting of evil minds is an indelible stain on the history and integrity of Western civilization, with all of its humanitarian pretensions" (Note: "this meeting" refers to the most famous third (Zakopane) conference).
Conquest, Robert (1991). "Stalin: Breaker of Nations". New York, N.Y.: Viking. ISBN 0670840890

There is some controversy as to whether Soviet policies were harsher than those of the Nazis.

Aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Poland

By the end of Polish Defensive War the Soviet Union took over 52.1% of territory of Poland (circa 200,000 km²), with over 13,700,000 people. The estimates vary; Elżbieta Trela-Mazur gives the following numbers in regards to ethnic composition of these areas: 38% Poles (ca. 5,1 million people), 37% Ukrainians, 14,5% Belarusians, 8,4% Jews, 0,9% Russians and 0,6% Germans. There were also 336,000 refugees from areas occupied by Germany, most of them Jews (198,000). Areas occupied by USSRmarker were annexed to Soviet territory, with the exception of area of Wilnomarker, which was transferred to Lithuaniamarker, although soon attached to USSR, when Lithuania became a Soviet republic.

Initially the Soviet occupation gained support among some members the non-Polish population who had chafed under the nationalist policies of the Second Polish Republic. Much of the Ukrainian population initially welcomed the unification with the rest of Ukraine which Ukrainians had failed to achieve in 1919 when their attempt for self-determinationmarker was crushed by Poland and Soviet Union.

There were large groups of pre-war Polish citizens, notably Jewish youth and, to a lesser extent, the Ukrainian peasants, who saw the Soviet power as an opportunity to start political or social activity outside of their traditional ethnic or cultural groups. Their enthusiasm however faded with time as it became clear that the Soviet repressions were aimed at all groups equally, regardless of their political stance.

The Soviets arrested and imprisoned about 500,000 Poles during 1939-1941, including former officials, officers, and natural "enemies of the people," like the clergy. This was about one in ten of all adult males. The Soviets also executed about 65,000 Poles.

In one notorious massacre, the NKVD-the Soviet secret police—systematically executed 21,768 Poles, among them 14,471 former Polish officers, including political leaders, government officials, and intellectuals.3 Some 4,254 of these were uncovered in mass graves in Katyn Forestmarker by the Nazis in 1943, who then invited an international group of neutral representatives and doctors to study the corpses and confirm Soviet guilt.

The Soviet Union had ceased to recognise the Polish state at the start of the invasion. As a result, the two governments never officially declared war on each other. The Soviets therefore did not classify Polish military prisoners as prisoners of war but as rebels against the new legal government of Western Ukraine and Western Byelorussia. The Soviets killed tens of thousands of Polish prisoners of war. Some, like General Józef Olszyna-Wilczyński, who was captured, interrogated and shot on 22 September, were executed during the campaign itself. On 24 September, the Soviets killed forty-two staff and patients of a Polish military hospital in the village of Grabowiecmarker, near Zamośćmarker. The Soviets also executed all the Polish officers they captured after the Battle of Szack, on 28 September. Over 20,000 Polish military personnel and civilians perished in the Katyn massacremarker.

The Poles and the Soviets re-established diplomatic relations in 1941, following the Sikorski-Mayski Agreement; but the Soviets broke them off again in 1943 after the Polish government demanded an independent examination of the recently discovered Katyn burial pits. The Soviets then lobbied the Western Allies to recognize the pro-Soviet Polish puppet government of Wanda Wasilewska in Moscow.

On 28 September 1939, the Soviet Union and Germany had changed the secret terms of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. They moved Lithuaniamarker into the Soviet sphere of influence and shifted the border in Poland to the east, giving Germany more territory. By this arrangement, often described as a fourth partition of Poland, the Soviet Unionmarker secured almost all Polish territory east of the line of the rivers Pisa, Narew, Western Bug and San. This amounted to about 200,000 square kilometres of land, inhabited by 13.5 million Polish citizens.

The Red Army had originally sowed confusion among the locals by claiming that they were arriving to save Poland from the Nazis. Their advance surprised Polish communities and their leaders, who had not been advised how to respond to a Bolshevik invasion. Polish and Jewish citizens may at first have preferred a Soviet regime to a German one, but the Soviets soon proved as hostile and destructive towards the Polish people and their culture as the Nazis. They began confiscating, nationalising and redistributing all private and state-owned Polish property. During the two years following the annexation, they arrested approximately 100,000 Polish citizens and deported between 350,000 and 1,500,000, of whom between 250,000 and 1,000,000 died, mostly civilians.

Land reform and collectivisation

The Soviet base of support was even strengthened by a land reform program initiated by the Soviets in which most of the owners of large lots of land were labeled "kulaks" and dispossessed of their land which was then divided among poorer peasants.

However, the Soviet authorities then started a campaign of forced collectivisation, which largely nullified the earlier gains from the land reform as the peasants generally did not want to join the Kolkhoz farms, nor to give away their crops for free to fulfill the state-imposed quotas.

Restructuring of Polish governmental and social institutions

Pro-Soviet caricatures published in Polish language in Lvov in September 1940, ridiculing "enemies of the state" - Polish businessmen, army officers and aristocracy.
While Germans enforced their policies based on racism, the Soviet administration justified their Stalinist policies by appealing to the Soviet ideology, which in reality meant the thorough Sovietization of the area. Immediately after their conquest of eastern Poland, the Soviet authorities started a campaign of sovietization of the newly-acquired areas. No later than several weeks after the last Polish units surrendered, on October 22, 1939, the Soviets organized staged elections to the Moscow-controlled Supreme Soviets (legislative body) of Western Byelorussia and Western Ukraine. The result of the staged voting was to become a legitimization of Soviet annexation of eastern Poland.

Subsequently, all institutions of the dismantled Polish state were being closed down and reopened under the Soviet appointed supervisors. Lviv University and many other schools were reopened soon but they were restarted anew as Soviet institutions rather than continued their old legacy. Lviv University was reorganized in accordance with the Statute Books for Soviet Higher Schools. The tuition, that along with the institution's Polonophile traditions, kept the university inaccessible to most of the rural Ukrainophone population, was abolished and several new chairs were opened, particularly the chairs of Russian language and literature. The chairs of Marxism-Leninism, Dialectical and Historical Materialism aimed at strengthening of the Soviet ideology were opened as well. Polish literature and language studies ware dissolved by Soviet authorities. Forty-five new faculty members were assigned to it and transferred from other institutions of Soviet Ukraine, mainly the Kharkivmarker and Kiev universities. On January 15, 1940 the Lviv University was reopened and started to teach in accordance with Soviet curricula..

Simultaneously Soviet authorities attempted to remove the traces of Polish history of the area by eliminating much of what had any connection to the Polish state or even Polish culture in general. On December 21, 1939, the Polish currency was withdrawn from circulation without any exchange to the newly-introduced rouble, which meant that the entire population of the area lost all of their life savings overnight.

All the media became controlled by Moscow. Soviet authorities implemented a political regime similar to police state, based on terror. All Polish parties and organizations were disbanded. Only the Communist Party was allowed to exist with organizations subordinated to it.

All organized religions were persecuted. All enterprises were taken over by the state, while agriculture was made collective.

Rule of Terror

An inherent part of the Sovietization was a rule of terror started by the NKVD and other Soviet agencies. The first victims of the new order were approximately 250,000 Polish prisoners of war captured by the USSR during and after the Polish Defensive War (see Polish prisoners of war in Soviet Union ). As the Soviet Union did not sign any international convention on rules of war, they were denied the status of prisoners of war and instead almost all of the captured officers and a large number of ordinary soldiers were then murdered (see Katyn massacremarker) or sent to Gulag. Thousands of others would fall victim to NKVD massacres of prisoners in mid-1941, after Germany invaded the Soviet Union.

Similar policies were applied to the civilian population as well. The Soviet authorities regarded service for the pre-war Polish state as a "crime against revolution" and "counter-revolutionary activity", and subsequently started arresting large numbers of Polish intelligentsia, politicians, civil servants and scientists, but also ordinary people suspected of posing a threat to the Soviet rule. Among the arrested members of the Polish intelligentsia were former prime ministers Leon Kozłowski and Aleksander Prystor, as well as Stanisław Grabski, Stanisław Głąbiński and the Baczewski family. Initially aimed primarily at possible political opponents, by January 1940 the NKVD aimed its campaign also at its potential allies, including the Polish communists and socialists. Among the arrested were Władysław Broniewski, Aleksander Wat, Tadeusz Peiper, Leopold Lewin, Anatol Stern, Teodor Parnicki, Marian Czuchnowski and many others.


In 1940 and the first half of 1941, the Soviets deported more than 1,200,000 Poles, most in four mass deportations. The first deportation took place February 10, 1940, with more than 220,000 sent to northern European Russia; the second on April 13, 1940, sending 320,000 primarily to Kazakhstan; a third wave in June-July 1940 totaled more than 240,000; the fourth occurred in June, 1941, deporting 300,000. Upon resumption of Polish-Soviet diplomatic relations in 1941, it was determined based on Soviet information that more than 760,000 of the deportees had died—a large part of those dead being children, who had comprised about a third of deportees..

Approximately 100,000 former Polish citizens were arrested during the two years of Soviet occupation. The prisons soon got severely overcrowded. with detainees suspected of anti-Soviet activities and the NKVD had to open dozens of ad-hoc prison sites in almost all towns of the region The wave of arrests led to forced resettlement of large categories of people (kulaks, Polish civil servants, forest workers, university professors or osadniks, for instance) to the Gulag labour camps and exile settlements in remote areas of the Soviet Union. Altogether roughly a million people were sent to the east in four major waves of deportations. According to Norman Davies, almost half of them were dead by the time the Sikorski-Mayski Agreement had been signed in 1941.

According to the Soviet law, all residents of the annexed area, dubbed by the Soviets as citizens of former Poland, automatically acquired the Soviet citizenship. However, since actual conferral of citizenship still required the individual consent and the residents were strongly pressured for such consent. The refugees who opted out were threatened with repatriation to Nazi controlled territories of Poland.

Exploitation of ethnic tensions

In addition, the Soviets exploited past ethnic tension between Poles and other ethnic groups living in Poland, inciting and encouraging violence against Poles calling the minorities to "rectify the wrongs they had suffered during twenty years of Polish rule". Pre-war Poland was portrayed as a capitalist state based on exploitation of the working people and ethnic minorities. Soviet propaganda claimed that unfair treatment of non-Poles by the Second Polish Republicmarker was a justification of its dismemberment. Soviet officials openly incited mobs to perform killings and robberies. The death toll of the initial Soviet-inspired terror campaign remains unknown.

Restoration of Polish sovereignty

While formal Polish sovereignty was almost immediately restored when the forces of Nazi Germany were expelled in 1945, in reality the country remained under the firm Soviet control as it remained occupied by the Soviet Army Northern Group of Forces until 1956. Thousands of Poles opposed the new regime, and according to some Polish historians, events of late 1940s amounted to a full-scale civil war, especially in eastern and central parts of the country (see: Cursed soldiers).

To this day the events of those and the following years are one of the stumbling blocks in Polish-Russian foreign relations. Polish requests for the return of property looted during the war or any demand for an apology for Soviet-era crimes are either ignored or prompt a brusque restatement of history as seen by the Kremlin, along the lines of "we freed you from Nazism: be grateful."[623826]

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