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Immediately after the German invasion of Poland in 1939, which marked the beginning of World War II, the Soviet Union invaded the eastern regions of the Second Polish Republicmarker, which Poles referred to as the "Kresy," and annexed territories totaling 201,015 km² with an ethnically mixed population of 13,299,000 people.Most of these territories remained within the Soviet Union in 1945 as a consequence of European-wide territorial rearrangements configured during the Tehran Conference of 1943. Poland was compensated for this territorial loss with the prewar German eastern territories much of which had been devastated during the war, and had been looted and pillaged by the Red Army. The Communist Poland described the territories as the "Recovered Territories". The post-World War Two territory of Poland was significantly smaller than the pre-1939 land areas, shrinking by some 77,000 square kilometers (roughly equaling that of the territories of Belgiummarker and the Netherlandsmarker combined).

Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact

Early in the morning of August 24, 1939, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed a 10-year non-aggression pact, called the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Most notably, the pact contained a secret protocol, revealed only after Germany's defeat in 1945, according to which the states of Northern and Eastern Europe were divided into German and Soviet "spheres of influence". In the North, Finlandmarker, Estoniamarker and Latviamarker were assigned to the Soviet sphere. Poland was to be partitioned in the event of its "political rearrangement"—the areas east of the Narev, Vistula and San Riversmarker going to the Soviet Union while Germany would occupy the west. Lithuaniamarker, adjacent to East Prussia, would be in the German sphere of influence, although a second secret protocol agreed in September 1939 assigned majority of Lithuania to the USSR. According to the secret protocol, Lithuania would retrieve its historical capital Vilniusmarker, subjugated during the inter-war period by Polandmarker.

Soviet occupation of Poland, 1939–1941

Dominating nationalities in Poland around 1931.

Under the terms of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, adjusted by agreement on 28 September 1939, two weeks after the German invasion of western Poland, the Soviet Union invaded the portions of eastern Poland assigned to it by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, followed by co-ordination with German forces in Poland. The Soviets annexation included all Polishmarker territory east of the line of the rivers Pisa, Narew, Western Bug, and Sanmarker, except for western part of the Wilno Voivodship with its capital Wilno (Vilniusmarker), which was given to Lithuaniamarker (see map), and the Suwałkimarker region, which was annexed by Nazi Germany.

The First draft of the Pact stipulated that Soviet gains in Poland would also cover the territory of the Lublin Voivodeship and eastern part of the Warsaw Voivodeship, and the Soviet-German demarcation line would reach the outskirts of Warsawmarker (Lithuaniamarker was to be occupied by the Germans). Therefore, the border of the spheres of interest of Germany and the USSR would run along the Pisa, Narew, Vistula, and San rivers. This was changed, and the Germans were granted Lublin Voivodeship, while the Soviet sphere of interest included Lithuania.

Initially annexed by Poland in a series of wars between 1918 and 1921 (primarily the Polish-Soviet War), these territories had mixed urban national populations with Poles and Ukrainians being the most numerous ethnic groups, with significant minorities of Belarusians and Jews. "Among the population of Eastern territories were circa 38% Poles, 37 % Ukrainians, 14,5 % Belarusians, 8,4 % Jewish, 0,9 % Russians and 0,6 % Germans"
, also in Wrocławskie Studia Wschodnie, Wrocław, 1997 Much of this rural territory had its own significant local non-Polish majority (Ukrainians in the south and Belarusians in the North)."Ukrainians made up a majority in the population of Stanisławów, Tarnopol, and Lwów Voivodships constituting Eastern Galicia, and the contiguous territory of Wolyn Voivodship (70 percent Ukrainian). The eastern territories of Poland could be divided into three ethnically different zones from north to south. A clear Ukrainian majority resided in the south, except in some areas where Poles more or less equaled their Ukrainian neighbors; in the central part, in Polissia and Volhynia, a small Polish minority (14 and 16 percent respectively) faced a mostly Orthodox peasantry (Ukrainian to the south, then "local" and finally, on the northern fringe increasingly Belarusian); and in the northern part, in Białystok, Wilno and Nowogródek voivodships, Poles were in majority, confronted by a numerically strong Belarusian minority. Jews constituted the principal counterpart of the Poles in urban areas."
Jan Tomasz Gross, Revolution from Abroad, pp. 4, 5, Princeton, 2005, ISBN 0-691-09603-1 ( Google books link)

The "need to protect" the Ukrainian and Belarusian majority populations was used as a pretext for Soviet invasion of Eastern Poland (including Western Ukraine and Belarus) carried out in the wake of Poland's dismemberment under the Nazi invasion with Warsaw being besieged and Poland's government being in the process of evacuation. The total area, including the area given to Lithuania, was 201,015 square kilometres, with a population of 13.299 million, of which 5.274 million were ethnic Poles and 1.109 million were Jews.Concise statistical year-book of Poland, Polish Ministry of Information. London June 1941 P.9 & 10 An additional 138,000 ethnic Poles and 198,000 Jews fled the German occupied zone and became refugees in the Soviet occupied region

Stalin had decided in August 1939 that he was going to liquidate the Polish state, and a German-Soviet meeting in September addressed the future structure of the "Polish region." Soviet authorities immediately started a campaign of sovietization of the newly-acquired areas. The Soviets organized staged elections, the result of which was to become a legitimization of Soviet annexation of eastern Poland. Soviet authorities attempted to erase Polish history and culture,, withdrew the Polish currency without exchanging roubles, collectivized agriculture, and nationalized and redistributed private and state-owned Polish property. 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 citizens. During the initial Soviet invasion of Poland, between 230,000 to 450,000 Poles were taken as prisoner, some of which were executed. NKVD officers conducted lengthy interrogations of the prisoners in camps that were, in effect, a selection process to determine who would be killed. On March 5, 1940, pursuant to a note to Stalin from Lavrenty Beria, the members of the Soviet Politburo (including Stalin) signed an order to execute 25,700 Polish POWs, labeled "nationalists and counterrevolutionaries", kept at camps and prisons in occupied western Ukrainemarker and Belarusmarker. This became known as the Katyn massacremarker.

During 1939–1941 1.450 million.of the people inhabiting the region were deported by the Soviet regime, of whom 63.1% were Poles, and 7.4% were Jews. Previously it was believed that about 1.0 million Polish citizens died at the hands of the Soviets,Franciszek Proch, Poland's Way of the Cross, New York 1987 P.146 however recently Polish historians, based mostly on queries in Soviet archives, estimate the number of deaths at about 350,000 people deported in 1939–1945.Project In Posterum [44211] (go to note on Polish Casualties by Tadeusz Piotrowski)

Territories around Wilnomarker (now Vilnius) annexed by Poland in 1920, were transferred to Lithuaniamarker on a base of Lithuania-Soviet Union agreement (however Lithuania was soon annexed by Soviet Union to become the Lithuanian SSR). Other northern territories were attached to Belastok Voblastmarker, Hrodna Voblastmarker, Navahrudak Voblast (soon renamed to Baranavichy Voblast), Pinsk Voblast and Vileyka Voblastmarker in Byelorussian SSR. The territories to the south were transferred to the Ukrainian SSR : Drohobych Oblastmarker, Lviv Oblastmarker, Rivne Oblast, Stanislav Oblastmarker, Tarnopil Oblastmarker and Volyn Oblast.

German occupation 1941–1944

These areas were conquered by the Nazi Germany in 1941 during Operation Barbarossa. The Nazis divided them up as follows:

During 1943–1944 ethnic cleansing operations took place in Ukraine (commonly known as the Massacres of Poles in Volhynia) which brought about an estimated 100,000 deaths and an exodus of ethnic Poles from this territory.

The Polish and Jewish language population of the regions in 1939 totaled about 6.7 million. During the war, an estimated 2 million persons perished (including 1.2 million Jews). These number are included with Polish war losses. 2 million (including 250,000 Jews) became refugees to Poland or the West, 1.5 million were in the territories returned to Poland in 1945 and 1.2 million remained in the USSR. Contemporary Russian historians also include the war losses of Poles and Jews from this region with Soviet war dead.Rossiiskaia Akademiia nauk. Liudskie poteri SSSR v period vtoroi mirovoi voiny:sbornik statei. Sankt-Peterburg 1995 ISBN 5-86789-023-6 p. 84

Soviet annexation

The Curzon Line and territorial changes to Poland, 1939 to 1945
At the end of World War II, the Soviet Union annexed most of the territories it had occupied in 1939, although territories with an area of 21,275 square kilometers with 1.5 million inhabitants were returned to Poland, notably the areas near Białystokmarker and Przemyślmarker." U.S. Bureau of the Census The Population of Poland Ed. W. Parker Mauldin, Washington, 1954 p. 140

After the Soviet re-invasion of Poland in July 1944, the Polish government-in-exile prime minister flew to Moscow with Churchill to attempt to oppose annexations of its Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact portion of eastern Poland by the Soviet Union. He offered a smaller section of land, but Stalin declined, telling him that he would allow the exiled government to participate in the Polish Committee of National Liberation. An agreement was reluctantly reached at the Yalta Conferencemarker where the Soviets would annex the entirety of their Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact portion of Eastern Poland, but would grant Poland part of Eastern Germany in return. Thereafter, eastern Poland was annexed into the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic.

On August 16, 1945 the communist dominated Polish government signed a treaty with the USSR to formally cede these territories. The total population of the territories annexed by the USSR, not including the portion returned to Poland in 1945, had an estimated population of 10,653,000 according to the 1931 Polish census. In 1939 this had increased to about 11.6 million. The composition by language group was Ukrainian 37.1%, Polish 36,5%, Belarusian 15.1%, Yiddish 8.3%, Other 3%. Religious affiliation: Eastern Orthodox 31.6%,Roman Catholic 30.1%, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church 26.7%, Jewish 9.9%, Other 1.7%." U.S. Bureau of the Census The Population of Poland Ed. W. Parker Mauldin, Washington, 1954 pp. 148–149

From 1944 until 1952 the Ukrainian Insurgent Army were engaged in an armed struggle against the communists (in the early 1940s, the UIA, supported by local Ukrainian peasants, participated in the Ethnic cleansing operations). As a result of the skirmishes between the UIA and Soviet units, the Soviets deported 600,000 people from these territories and in the process 170,000 of the local population were killed in the fighting (See also Akcja Wisła).Vadim Erlikman. Poteri narodonaseleniia v XX veke : spravochnik. Moscow 2004. ISBN 5-93165-107-1 pp. 22 & 34.

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