Being a Brief History of the Time and Place of Ark’s Origins
Many histories of World War II and its aftermath have been written by persons far more qualified than the present writer, so it would be redundant to reproduce the fine work of legitimate historians here. Nevertheless, having studied the matter at some length, there ARE a few remarks I would like to make about the subject while, at the same time, continuing with our story. In order to understand the forces at work today, first, we have to know the forces that shaped Poland because they are an important part of the story as the reader will understand soon.
The end result of World War II was the division of Europe between East and West, with the line running through Germany. The war prepared the ground for Soviet domination over most of Eastern Europe which resulted in the emergence of the Soviet Union as a world power and Soviet-American rivalry began in what developed into the “Cold War.” Soviet Russia never gave up its claims to the Polish territories annexed in 1939, even after the German attack of June 1941, made Russia an ally of Poland. Yet, the vast majority of Poles opposed giving up almost half of their country to the USSR. (Why are we not surprised?!)
Behind the scenes, both the British and U.S. governments pressed the Polish government to give into the Soviet demands, saying that this was necessary to keep the USSR on their side to achieve victory in the Pacific theatre. In British public opinion, Poland was an ally who had to be fairly treated, (after all, Britain had gotten the whole “war ball” rolling by declaring war on Germany when it invaded Poland), and in the U.S., there was a large number of Polish-Americans whose votes mattered to Roosevelt. So, neither government could afford to openly abandon Poland for fear of alienating the public.
The vast majority of Poles put a lot of faith in the “Atlantic Charter, ” in which it was proclaimed that the West opposed territorial changes made during the war, and all changes contrary to the wishes of the people concerned. The charter also stated that there was the desire to see the restoration of sovereign rights and self-government to those peoples who had been forcibly deprived of them.
So, in public, the American and British governments claimed that Stalin would allow the Poles a free and democratic form of government. Stalin saw Poland as the key to Germany and, thereby, control of Eastern Europe. He needed the cooperation of the Western powers to win the war, so he pursued his aims under various camouflage and pretexts until he accomplished them in 1944-45.
One of the means of control of large masses of people, used by all totalitarian regimes down through history, has been to destroy the intelligentsia – the educated classes. (This can be done either by killing them, or, in the case of the U.S. at present, simply downgrade the education system until there is no one left who can think). Stalin was a shrewd strategist, and he set about doing this in a methodical way. The previously mentioned Katyn massacre is a case in point.
In 1941-42, when it was agreed that a Polish army ought to be formed in Russia to help the Russians fight the Germans, some 15, 000 Polish officers could not be accounted for. Of this number, regular army officers were about 8, 000 and the rest were reservists with civilian professions: doctors, lawyers, professors, etc. These were ALL taken prisoner by the Soviets in 1939 at almost the very instant the Russians set foot in Eastern Poland!
Polish Premier and Commander-in-Chief, General Wladyslaw Sikorski, who had moved with his government to London after the fall of France, was told by Stalin in early December 1941, that all the prisoners of war (including those 15, 000 in question) had been released, and that some might have gone to Manchuria!!
Well, the Polish authorities learned from survivors who had joined the army in Russia, that these prisoners had been held in three large camps: Ostashkov, Kozelsk, and Starobelsk. These prisoners had corresponded with their families in German-occupied Poland until contact suddenly broke off in the spring of 1940. So, this question of what happened to the missing officers was a priority on everyone’s mind. (And, it was obviously a priority of Stalin’s to prevent anyone from finding anything out, as facts will show.)
After the Germans had turned against Russia and pushed them out, taking over eastern Poland, they set about with single-minded efficiency, cataloging and listing everything and everybody. On April 13, 1943, the Germans announced that they had discovered mass graves containing the bodies of Polish officers in Katyn Forest, near Smolensk. The case of the missing officers was widely known in the Polish Army. Also, thousands of relatives in German -occupied Poland waited for news of their loved ones so the Polish Government had to do SOMETHING.
Rather than antagonize Stalin, they did not blame the Soviets, but asked for an investigation by the International Red Cross. As it happened, the German Government made the same proposal on its own. Stalin claimed that the Polish Government was in cahoots with the Germans and he used this excuse to break off Polish-Soviet relations in April 1943. This effectively prevented the Red Cross from carrying out an investigation. And, it created an impossible tension between Poland and the Allies who were so busy trying to stroke Stalin’s ego.
The Germans carried out their own investigation. (When they WEREN’T responsible, they were particularly forthcoming!) So, they invited Allied officers – prisoners of war – German and other forensic specialists, and members of the Polish Red Cross from German-occupied Poland, to come to Katyn and examine the bodies. The records of this investigation were presented to the U.S. Congressional Commission of Inquiry into Katyn in 1951-52. This information showed that the victims buried at Katyn came from the Kozelsk camp and that they had been killed between March and May of 1940 – when the territory was in Soviet hands. It is true that the bullets used to shoot the victims in the back of the head were German, but it was known that they had been exported to Russia before 1933. The ropes used to tie the victims’ hands behind their backs were Russian.
The Germans also found other mass graves dating back to the 1930’s, with remains of Ukrainians and other Soviet citizens. They had all been killed in the same way, by a bullet in the back of the head. This was the standard NKVD method of liquidating “enemies of the people.” This is still the method of execution used in Russian prisons today.
However, these Poles were prisoners of war under special protection of the Geneva Convention. But Stalin only saw that they were enemies of Communism because they were educated men of honor. For this they had to die.
Despite Soviet opposition, the Poles DID manage to evacuate quite a few Polish citizens of Ukrainian, Belorussian, and Jewish origin, (including Menachem Begin, the future Prime Minister of Israel). Though many civilians died of exhaustion and malnutrition, most of the soldiers survived. (They went on to Palestine, where most of the Jews left the ranks to fight the British for an independent Jewish state. Later, these soldiers formed the first cadres of the Israeli Army. The Polish Army formed in Russia went on to fight the Germans in Italy as the Polish Second Corps, led by General Anders, but under overall British command in the British Eighth Army. They were to take Monte Cassino in May 1943, opening the way to Rome.)
Among the educated Polish families that managed to survive the hell created in Eastern Poland by Hitler and Stalin, was the Jadczyk family of Lutsk. Maria, Joseph, sons Michal, Roman and Zbigniew. Maria related that, during the night artillery attacks on Lutsk, she would take the infant Zbigniew out into the fields, where they would sleep in the open, knowing that they were safer there than in a building which may be targeted by the many bombing raids.
There was almost no food, but Maria related that occasionally, an onion would be found in the fields which could be traded to Jews in the area for other foodstuffs.
There is no explanation as to WHY, in the summer of 1944, the Jadczyks were offered the option of leaving Lutsk rather than being sent directly to Siberia or shot by the Russians, but they were. Leaving hundreds of years of family history as well as everything but what they could carry in their hands, they traveled first to Chelm.
The living conditions were impossible. There was no housing. What had not been destroyed was crowded with refugees. The Jadczyks were all living in a house with aunts and uncles and assorted relatives just trying to survive. Knowing that he had to do something for his family, Joseph traveled alone to Brzeg seeking work. A long time passed with no word, and then a letter came: “Come to Brzeg.”
Maria was frightened, but undertook to travel with the two boys and infant Zbigniew. What could it be like to grow up in post-war Poland?
The Brzeg apartment was on a street that is now named Jean-Paul II after the present Polish Pope. It was on the second floor, and the young Zbigniew once dropped all the books in the apartment onto the street below, believing that it would make passersby happy to have access to such treasures.
At the same time that the family was settling in Brzeg, 400 km away, terrible things were happening in Warsaw.
As mentioned above, when Poland was invaded, the entire Polish government had been refugeed to France where they continued to operate as a diplomatic organ for their German occupied country. With the fall of France to the Germans, the Polish government relocated to London where they continued to work to assist in the freeing of their country and the reestablishment of Polish rights and nationhood.
On July 4, 1943, the president of Poland, General Sikorski was killed in a plane crash just off Gibraltar as he was returning to Britain from a tour of the Polish Second Army corps in the Middle East. It has never been established whether this was an accident or the result of sabotage. There was a Polish commission of Inquiry, and also a British one. The latter declared that there was no evidence of sabotage, but could not establish the cause of the crash. The Czech pilot, who was the only one to survive, always claimed that the elevator controls of his Liberator jammed and caused the catastrophe, and, the Soviets had the opportunity and the means to damage the plane.
The new Polish Prime Minister was Stanislaw Mikolajczyk. He was the émigré head of the largest political party in prewar Poland, the Peasant Party, and had been Deputy Prime Minister under Sikorski. Mikolajczyk was very anxious to re-establish good relations with Stalin, just as Sikorski had been. But, just like Sikorski, he could not afford to simply accept Soviet frontier demands. Neither Polish opinion, nor the Polish Army would accept such a solution, especially the soldiers and officers of Anders Second Corps, most of whom came from Eastern Poland, and had survived Soviet prisons and labor camps.
On July 12, 1943, the first unit of the new Polish Army in Russia came into existence. This was the Kosciuszko Division, recruited from the masses of Poles deported to the USSR. Since Polish officers were scarce (why are we not surprised?!), most of the ones in the new army were Russians. Many of these had Polish names and had been selected for this reason. They were the descendants of Polish exiles deported to Russia in the 19th century. The soldiers were subjected to intensive “political re-education” by Polish communists who served as political officers. Part of the propaganda was that pre-war Poland had been “feudal, ” reactionary toward Russia, and “anti-Soviet.” They explained that the TRUE future of Poland lay with a close alliance with her “real” friend, Soviet Russia. The object was to make this army the decisive force in postwar Poland.
The first of the “Big Three” conferences between Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin, was held at Tehran, Iran, on November 28-December 1, 1943. The three leaders spent a lot of time discussing strategy and devoted much time to discussing the future of Poland.
Many historians see this conference as the decisive one regarding the future of Poland and Eastern Europe. Roosevelt kept repeating that everything must be done to keep Stalin friendly since it was obvious that Russia was emerging as the dominant power in Europe. Also, there was a need to focus on the Pacific theatre, so it was claimed that there would be less cost in terms of time and resources with Russia as an ally.
Roosevelt reportedly said to Francis Spellman, archbishop of Boston, in September of 1943, “There is no point to oppose the desires of Stalin, because he has the power to get them anyhow. So better give in gracefully.”
He assuaged his conscience by telling others (and perhaps, himself) that the population of eastern Poland “wants to become Russified.” And, he hoped that “in ten or twenty years the European influences of Poland would bring the Russians to become less barbarian.”
It is difficult for this writer to understand the manipulations of FDR. He has been quoted as saying: “Nothing in politics happens by accident; if it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.” There are numerous historians today who, with rather extensive evidence, claim that Japan was INDUCED to attack Pearl Harbor by certain machinations of the American diplomatic corps. The ostensible reason for this was to engender the support of the American people for the U.S. to enter the war. If that is so, then it makes the laissez faire attitude that Roosevelt had toward the idea of half of Europe coming under Communist domination even MORE puzzling! Not to mention the fact that Japan was a tiny island as opposed to the entire continent of Eurasia! After all, the Manhattan project to build the atomic bomb was in the works, and it seems that it would have been far more useful to have dropped it on Hitler and/or Stalin and thereby assuring the defeat of Communism, than to focus so much energy on Japan, a nation already defeated BEFORE the bomb was dropped.
(Yes, we know the claims about shortening the war and so forth that were behind the decision to use the A-bomb on the Japanese, but what was already happening in Europe under Stalin was a far worse crime against humanity, and it went on for years and years and years with incalculable cost in terms of human life and resources! Was Roosevelt REALLY that stupid?!)
In any event, Roosevelt continued to whine and complain about needing to make Stalin happy so that Stalin would help him fight the Japanese, and he lied and manipulated everything and everybody in sight, including Winston Churchill and the British nation.
The U.S. solved the problem by washing their hands of the matter saying that Polish-Soviet relations were the exclusive concern of the parties involved. Stalin demonstrated his pleasure that things were moving his way when Ambassador Hull told him the Soviets would occupy East Germany. He took Hull’s hand in both of his own and smiled broadly.
Yet, Churchill went to the Tehran conference determined to solve the “Polish Question.” His goal was to get Stalin to agree to compensate the Poles with former German territories in return for Soviet annexation of eastern Poland. Churchill also wanted Stalin’s recognition of Polish independence. This was important to Britain, since, as stated, they had literally started the whole ball rolling by going to war with Germany over Poland’s independence. Churchill knew that British public opinion would be VERY critical of any agreement that threatened Polish independence.
On November 28, at Tehran, Churchill proposed to Stalin that Poland should “move westward, that she should be shifted bodily to the west. Stalin, of course, agreed and said that Poland’s western frontier would be on the Oder River.
Three days later, Roosevelt talked secretly to Stalin on December 1st. FDR told the Soviet dictator that U.S. presidential elections were due in late 1944, and that he might have to run again. There were, he told Stalin, some 6 to 7 million Americans of Polish extraction and, “as a practical man, he did not wish to lose their vote.”
Churchill tried very hard to settle the Polish issues fairly, but Roosevelt’s agenda undermined Churchill’s efforts. Molotov had suggested to Roosevelt that a new Polish government might include three Polish-Americans, Lange, Orlemanski, and Krzycki, who were all pro-Soviet. These three, an economist, a priest, and an industrialist, traveled to Moscow to hobnob with the Communists.
When this was reported in the U.S. press, there was a tremendous outcry from the Polish-American community. They established the Polish-American Congress which met and condemned Lange and Orlemanski, and expressed its support for the Polish government exiled to London. Since the Congress would have a great influence on most Polish-American voters, Roosevelt made a show of support for the Polish government by meeting with Mikolajczyk. (Mikolajczyk had been asking to see the president since January without any success. Now, all of a sudden, Roosevelt could see him!)
However, Roosevelt tried to persuade Mikolajczyk to accept the Soviet demands – that is, to give up eastern Poland and “reorganize” the Polish government a la Stalin. In exchange, Roosevelt was going to try to get Lwow and the adjoining oil fields for Poland.
It is significant that even the PPR (Polish Communists) in occupied Poland resisted Moscow’s pressure to publicly recognize the Curzon line as Poland’s eastern frontier. Even they realized well that most Poles would not accept the loss of eastern Poland willingly.
Stalin refused to consider this. The Red army crossed the prewar Polish-Soviet frontier in January, 1944, but did not move into Eastern Europe until July-September. On July 22, 1944, the Red Army crossed the Bug River and began moving into what Stalin recognized as Polish territory. On that day, the Polish Committee of National Liberation (Polski Komitet Wyzwolenia Narodowego, PKWN), proclaimed its existence in the city of Chelm and issued a “manifesto” to the Polish people. This manifesto, (called the “Lublin Manifesto” because the PKWN almost immediately moved to that city), was very carefully worded so as to attract maximum support in Poland. It promised land reform and new Polish frontiers in the west.
As for the Polish-Soviet frontier, the manifesto stated it was to be settled on the base of “self-determination.” This gave the false impression that it might be decided by a plebiscite, thus leaving the predominantly Polish areas, especially Lwow and Wilno, in Poland.
Many years later it came to light that the PKWN was formed not in Chelm, but in Moscow, and that its manifesto was worked out there by the delegates of the KRN under the close supervision of Stalin and Molotov!
The Polish Home Army had orders from the Polish government in London to cooperate with the Red Army. So, as the Red Army advanced westward, Home Army units came out into the open, helping the Soviets fight the Germans on the territories of former eastern Poland. Thus, the Polish Home Army hoped that their actions would manifest the Polish claim to these lands.
On each occasion, the Red Army accepted cooperation, but then arrested the officers and men, ordering them to join the polish Army commanded by Berling. The officers who refused were either shot or deported to Russia, while the rank and file were forcibly conscripted.
Meanwhile, Mikolajczyk decided to go to Moscow for talks. An uprising against the Germans was being planned, and it was decided to leave the timing up to the Commander-in-Chief of the home Army, General Tadeusz Bor-Komorowski.
The original plan was for the Home Army to rise up consecutively in different parts of the country, just as the Germans were pulling out. Warsaw and other big cities were not to rise so as to avoid civilian losses.
In summer 1944, however, there was a new situation which had both military and political aspects. From the military point of view, the Polish government and the Home Army Command assumed that the Russians would soon enter Warsaw. It was the key road and rail center between Moscow and Berlin. It was thought that the Red Army would need full speed to get to Berlin before the Western Allies in order to have the upper hand. From the political point of view, it was assumed that if the Home Army helped the Russians free Warsaw, the Russians would have to recognize the Home Army and the Council of National Unity which was loyal to the legitimate government in exile. In this way, it was hoped that the anti-Communist Poles – who were the vast majority – would have a voice in deciding the future of their country. And last, the political and military leaders in Warsaw expected an agreement of military cooperation to ensue from the forthcoming meeting between Stalin and Mikolajczyk.
Therefore, the government in exile authorized the Home Army in Warsaw to choose the moment for the uprising. However, the Home Army Command did not exclude the possibility that the Russians would accept their help in liberating Warsaw, and then turn against them, as had been their pattern up to that moment. In that case, the Home Army planned to defend itself to the end. They also planned to make this as public an event as possible so as to reveal to the rest of the world the true intentions of Stalin regarding Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe. The western powers were then expected to oppose the Soviet domination of this whole area because this would be an obvious threat to Western Europe as well. After all, the Polish Home Army leaders reasoned, Britain went to war with Germany when it invaded Poland in September 1939, so she would not now abandon Poland to the USSR.
But, Poland did not count on the strange hidden agenda of FDR and Stalin. When Mikolajczyk saw Stalin, he told him that Warsaw would rise against the Germans. Stalin was skeptical, but said he expected the Red Army to enter the city soon. It is not clear whether Mikolajczyk knew that Polish language broadcasts from Soviet radio stations were calling on the people of Warsaw to help the Red Army. But, if he did know, this was all the more reason to secure Soviet help for the insurgents.
In Warsaw, General Bor-Komorowski and his staff decided on the afternoon of July 31st that the rising would begin the next day. This was, more or less, a forced decision.
The Germans, who seemed to be in full retreat a few days earlier, had recovered somewhat and demanded that 100,000 people report for work on fortifications on August 1st. The Home Army could not allow this without losing its soldiers. At the same time, Russian guns could be heard east of the Vistula and sightings of Russian tanks were reported. And, there were the endless Soviet radio broadcasts urging all Poles to rise up and fight the German invader!
When the rising broke out in Warsaw in the late afternoon of August 1, the fighting was expected to last a few days, after which the Russians would come in. However, in a devastating maneuver, Stalin not only gave the home Army no help, but also refused permission for Allied planes to land behind Soviet lines after flying from Italy and dropping supplies to the Home Army in Warsaw!
What were his motives?
It seems that Stalin might have been willing to help the Warsaw insurgents if Mikolajczyk had accepted his territorial demands and joined the Polish Committee of Nation Liberation PKWN, which would then have become the new Polish Government. However, Mikolajczyk did not have powers to accept either territorial changes, or the offer of the post of deputy premier along with a miserably small number of ministerial posts for his Peasant Party which was, after all, the largest party in Poland. He left Moscow saying he would transmit Stalin’s proposals and the PKWN offer of a few seats to his Cabinet in London.
As soon as Mikolajczyk had departed on August 9, the Soviet press and radio, which had kept silent on the Warsaw rising, condemned it as a “political racket” and blamed the Polish Government in London!!
Having previously refused permission for the landing of Allied aircraft, Stalin now allowed one landing by American flying fortresses which flew from London and dropped supplies over Warsaw in mid-September. These supplies were dropped from a great height at a time when the insurgents held only a small part of the city, so most of the material fell into German hands!
Rokossovsky’s troops took east bank Warsaw in mid-September. At this time, Soviet planes made some supply drops to the insurgents, but without parachutes, so that most of the supplies were destroyed!
Somehow, the present writer finds it difficult to believe that this was not planned this way by an agreement between FDR and Stalin. I can’t believe that such incompetent actions were just “accidents.” But, the result was that both parties could say that they “tried to help,” even if they did it in a way that was doomed to be no help at all!
It was also at this time that the Soviets put out feelers again to Mikolajczyk in London, suggesting he join the PKWN. The only attempt from the Soviet side to give direct help to the Home Army was the landing of a battalion of infantry from Berling’s Polish Army in west bank Warsaw. However, they did not get adequate Soviet artillery support and had to retreat back across the Vistula with heavy losses. Although Berling was, for a long time, blamed for this action which was thought to have caused his dismissal shortly thereafter, it is unlikely that he could have moved without Moscow’s consent. It is likely that this was a Communist ruse to pretend to help the insurgents because the fact is, Berling soon after criticized the Polish communist leadership in a letter to Stalin. Directly afterward, came his dismissal!
The Home Army Command, bereft of support, surrendered to the Germans on October 2, 1944, after 63 days of fighting. By that time, the insurgents held only small parts of the city, they had no ammunition, the people had no food, water, and no electricity. Large parts of Warsaw had been reduced to rubble.
After the surrender, Hitler ordered the evacuation of the remaining civilians to special camps from which many were taken as forced labor (slaves) to Germany. The soldiers were taken to POW camps, and then the final destruction of the city was ordered. The Germans methodically burned and dynamited everything they could in the heart of the city and surrounding districts. They destroyed libraries, ancient palaces, museums and churches without regard for historic value.
Some have compared the destruction of Warsaw to that of Dresden and Hiroshima. And, that is not to mention the losses in terms of human life. It is estimated that some 250,000 people lost their lives in the Warsaw uprising. Of the quarter million dead, only some 10 000 were Home Army soldiers. Most of the victims were civilians who were either killed while helping the army in the fighting, or were massacred by SS and Ukrainian units, or died in the cellars where they had taken refuge as the houses collapsed over them.
For years, as Warsaw was being rebuilt, workers continually found remains of people killed in the summer and autumn of 1944.
What is the truth about the destruction of Warsaw?
It seems likely that if Mikolajczyk had accepted Soviet territorial and political demands and had joined the PKWN, Stalin would have ordered Rokossovsky to take Warsaw. We know that Rokossovsky’s War Council cabled Stalin on August 8, saying that their army group could attack the Germans in Warsaw beginning on August 25, provided they were assisted by some units from the First Ukrainian Front to the south of them. However, the attack on Warsaw did not take place. The units which Rokossovsky needed were sent to Romania by Stalin!
At this time, the Soviet media were maintaining absolute silence about the Warsaw rising, while Soviet military superiority over the Germans in this sector of the front was overwhelming, particularly in the air. Added to this was the refusal to allow Allied planes to land, so that those who risked flying from Bari Italy and back without landing risked almost certain death. Instead of advancing, Rokossovsky’s army group sat on the eastern bank of the Vistula, and then occupied east bank Warsaw in mid-September. In fact, Rokossovsky did not “liberate” what was left of the city until January 17, 1945.
In the meantime, the Red Army had entered and taken Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary, and was driving into northern Yugoslavia and Austria. It was also fighting the Germans in East Prussia. On January 24, 1945, its main forces stood on the Oder River preparing to advance on Berlin.
So, it seems that Stalin’s attitude toward Warsaw was dictated by political considerations. He very likely deliberately allowed the Germans to destroy both the Home Army and the Polish capital because Mikolajczyk refused his demands.
In Moscow, Mikolajczyk learned officially for the first time that Churchill and Roosevelt had agreed to Stalin’s terms, and he tried to salvage what he could of the Polish government in exile by getting them to agree to such demands. They refused and Mikolajczyk resigned. He could do nothing more. He was succeeded by Tomasz Arciszewski, an old Polish socialist.
We should remember that, just before the presidential elections of November 1944, Roosevelt assured Polish-American leaders that he would work for a strong and independent Poland. He even received a delegation of the Polish-American Congress in the White House and posed with them in front of a large map of prewar Poland, clearly indicating that he supported the reestablishment of the prewar Polish-Soviet frontier. He assured the Polish American s that he would uphold the principles of the Atlantic Charter with regard to Poland. He made this pledge one week before the elections with no apparent intention of keeping it. But, not long after he was elected, he was dead. Karma?
During the late summer and early autumn of 1944, while the Jadczyks were adjusting to life in Brzeg, Poland was being sold out, betrayed and crucified.
By the time the three Allied leaders and their staffs met at Yalta in the Crimea, on February 4, 1945, Soviet armies were within striking distance of Berlin. Also, a month earlier, despite Churchill’s and Roosevelt’s pleas that he not do so, Stalin had recognized the Polish Committee of National Liberation as the Provisional Government of Poland (established December 31, 1944.) Stalin’s armies had flooded Poland and most of Eastern Europe, while the Allies had not yet crossed the Rhine. The Western Allies could not exert any real influence in Eastern and Central Europe once they had been “liberated” by Soviet troops since the die had been cast already in 1943.
But, there was still the problem of British and American public opinion which supported the principles of the Atlantic Charter. Poland was seen as a “test case” of Soviet-Western relations, so Churchill and Roosevelt had to find solutions, or at least, explanations, to satisfy their peoples.
Despite admiration for the Russians for defeating the Germans, the British people felt honor bound to support an independent Poland. There could be no “sell-out” or there would be outrage!
In America, the Polish-American public had to be appeased for popularity and voting purposes. In the end, a bland statement was issued from the Yalta conference which specified that the Eastern frontier of Poland would be based on the Curzon line, but leaving the northern and western frontiers undefined. There was also the inclusion of a statement that Poland was to receive substantial accessions of territory in the north and west to compensate and that this would be determined in consultation with the Polish government. Churchill and Roosevelt had both agreed that they would work for the establishment of a new Polish government that represented the Polish people. However, at the Yalta Conference, they gave into Stalin.
He insisted on the communist dominated Polish Committee of National Liberation which had proclaimed itself the “provisional government of National Unity. The reorganized government was to pledge itself to hold free elections, based on universal suffrage and the secret ballot process. All parties were supposed to be able to take part, and whatever government was elected would be recognized by the Allied powers. Roosevelt and Churchill were “persuaded” to give up their demands that their ambassadors in Poland supervise the elections and were simply satisfied that they could have embassies in Warsaw. The “fuzzy” nature of this agreement was to become apparent very soon!
Stalin had achieved what he wanted and he interpreted terms such as “democratic and anti-Nazi” and “free and unfettered elections” to mean, specifically, pro-Soviet parties and rigged elections!
Roosevelt went to the conference with the intention of selling out Poland and he lied repeatedly to the American public, which opposed power deals and spheres of influence in international relations.
The consequences of the Yalta agreement were not long in coming. In the spring of 1945, the Soviets lured 16 underground leaders to a meeting with a Soviet general. They were promptly arrested and taken to Moscow. Due to the intervention of Roosevelt’s former advisor, Harry Hopkins – sent by Truman to Moscow in June 1945 (Roosevelt had died by this time) three of the accused were set free while the rest were sentenced to jail terms. Most survived, but two died rather quickly in prison. One wonders how and why?
At the same time that the Allies were recognizing the new Polish government, the Polish security police and armed forces, led and advised by the Soviets and working with the Soviet army and NKVD, were hounding former Home Army members and arresting them. Many were shot and many were deported to Siberia.
Poland, which had been home to the largest Jewish community in the world, almost all of this 3 million Jews, were killed by the Germans. The Potsdam Conference confirmed the borders of Poland and the zones of Germany.
Roosevelt’s agenda included the United Nations, and he very much wanted Russia to participate. He wanted to maneuver not only the actual participants to agree to this path, but he also wanted to avoid the appearance of doing so, and most particularly, to avoid turning the American public against the idea of the United Nations. He got Stalin to sign “The Declaration on Liberated Europe, ” and presented the Yalta conference as a great achievement.
There is a famous photo of the “Big Three” at the Yalta conference (see it above), where all are smiling and looking pleased But, there is ANOTHER shot, which I include here Study the faces and body language closely! Churchill seems resentful, but helpless his hands even look limp. Roosevelt’s is resigned, but obviously thinks he is in control; he looks like the cat that ate the canary. Stalin is the most interesting. He is ready to leap into action like a snarling and barely restrained beast.
It was only in the last two months of his life that FDR began to doubt whether the world was a big enough place for Stalin’s ambitions and whether he had done the right thing. And, there is always the possibility that knowing what he had done killed him!
It should be remembered that Churchill and Roosevelt had decided as far back as 1942, that Stalin’s territorial demands in Poland were justified. However, Churchill wanted a check on Soviet domination of all of Central and Southeast Europe. He wanted a balance between Britain and Soviet powers after the U.S. withdrew its forces. When Soviet domination over most of Eastern Europe became obvious to the American and British public soon after the war’s end, there was a sharp reaction. All actions went against the Atlantic Charter which was the ideal of the public, and the abnegation of this caused a mixture of fear and hostility toward those nations that seemed to “participate willingly” in the March to Communism.
The Polish are among the hardest working people in the world, and they worked willingly and hard to rebuild their destroyed cities, especially Warsaw. And, without Soviet domination, Poland would be a GREAT NATION today, by virtue of the hard work and generally superior intellectual capacities of its population. It must be remembered that some of the greatest minds in history have originated from this area of the world no matter what political power was in control.
It is interesting to speculate on what Poland could do. But, at present, this can only be speculation because many of the present institutions there are STILL controlled by “closet communists.” The creation of Communist Poland did not happen overnight!
Most Poles of the former generation were vigorous anti-Communists. In Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe, Poland was a “special case.” Here, Stalin consolidated his power more slowly because he was aware of the eyes of the West looking over his shoulder. British and U.S. interests SEEMINGLY wanted an independent and democratic Poland. But, there were also the Polish Communist elements that had the backing of the NKVD. They used terror and repression to crush their opposition. They hunted down the remnants of the heroes of the Polish underground army. In some parts of the country, there was a state of civil war until 1948, while, in some areas, armed resistance survived until 1952.
At first, the press enjoyed relative freedom; however, the Polish Socialist Party and Mikolajczyk’s Peasant Party were increasingly harassed and restricted. Stalin acted innocent in these matters and referred to them as “an internal Polish affair.” However, Stalin had made sure that the key ministries of the Interior (Police), Information (Propaganda), Agriculture (Land Reform), Western Territories (resettling displaced Poles) and the Armed Forces were ALL in Communist hands.
Mikolajczyk and three other ministers from the former, legitimate, Polish government became members of the new Polish government, formed in Moscow in late June 1945 and recognized by the Western powers in July of 1945. In the beginning of this “new estate,” Poland had a mixed economic layout. The state owned and controlled heavy industry, transportation and banking, but 90 % of land was still in private ownership, primarily farming. Very limited private enterprise also continued to exist in light industry and services.
The huge membership of Mikolajczyk’s Peasant Party worried the communists, but they found unexpected help in U.S. policy. It seems that Mikolajczyk was doomed when U.S. Secretary of State James F. Byrnes made a speech at Stuttgart on September 6, 1946. Byrnes indicated that the U.S. did not view Poland’s new western frontier, the Oder-Neisse Line, as final. Apparently, Stalin read the speech to mean that the U.S. and Great Britain were courting the Germans and had lost interest in Poland. He seems to have decided at this time that the Polish communists should get rid of Mikolajczyk and destroy his Peasant Party. So, the communists worked to split the socialist and peasant parties into right and left and to fuse their “left” splinters with their own party. And, at the same time, terrorism increased.
Mikolajczyk found the British and American ears deaf to his appeals that they ought to at least protest to Moscow. The communist Polish Worker’s Party organized a Referendum in June of 1946. The population was encouraged to “vote three times yes” on the following issues: land reform, the new western frontier, and a one chamber legislature. Mikolajczyk and his party had made it clear that a “no” vote on the third issue would represent opposition to the communists. The referendum was preceded by a wave of terrorism directed specifically at the Peasant Party. About 100 local leaders and some 100,000 members were in jail when the voting took place. Even so, as Polish communists were to admit years later, the vast majority of the people voted “no” on the one chamber legislature, thus indicating support for Mikolajczyk. But, the voting precinct staffs simply resorted to lies (standard communist solution to any problem) and faked the results to show “yes” on all three issues. So, they claimed a “popular mandate” for the communist party!
Some forty years later, former communist minister, Jerzy Morawski said that he was not going to allow a “mere ballot” to stand in the way the program to build a socialist Poland!
After the referendum, the terrorist tactics increased. The duly rigged Polish election held in January 1947 returned a majority for the Polish People’s Party (communists). Why are we not surprised?
Mikolajczyk, whose life was threatened, decided to flee in October that year and found refuge in the United States. In December, 1948, the PPR was transformed into the United Polish Worker’s Party, or PZPR, which included those members of the socialist and peasant parties who “opted” (read: forced) to join. The First Secretary of the PPR, Wladyslaw Gomulka opposed forced collectivization, so he was ousted, imprisoned, and then put under house arrest. Thus, by December of 1948, communist power in Poland was complete.
Meanwhile, in the good old U.S. of A., “Give ’em Hell” Harry Truman proclaimed the “Truman Doctrine.” This was, essentially, a commitment of U.S. aid to any government that asked for help against communism. At the time, it was really designed for aid to anti-Communist forces in Greece and Turkey. Truman’s statement was followed by massive U.S. military aid to the Greek and Turkish governments, and the U.S. Sixth Fleet was sent to the Mediterranean. The United States had replaced Britain as the major power in this part of the world.
What it would have taken to change Stalin’s determination to dominate all of Eastern Europe shall remain forever unknown because Western opposition was not in the cards. Churchill continued to show interest in an independent Poland, but could not do much about it.
But, something DID come along that caused Stalin a bit of worry!
The Marshall Plan. In June of 1947, Secretary of State General George C. Marshall announced a major change in U.S. policy. This was an offer of U.S. economic aid to all European countries, including the USSR and its East European satellites. No strings attached. The countries, which wanted U.S. aid, simply had to state their needs and commit themselves to give an accounting afterward.
The Marshall Plan was conceived to help Western Europe, especially France and Italy, where the communist parties seemed strong enough to win elections. This was due, in part, to their popularity for participating in the resistance against the Nazis, but mainly because the economies of these countries were in ruins after the war.
Nevertheless, Truman also decided to offer aid to Russia and her East European allies. This was a gamble because there was no guarantee that Congress would agree to give aid to Moscow, considering the anti-Communist feeling in the U.S.
As it turned out, Stalin rejected the U.S. aid. He decided that it was a move to undermine the Soviet hold on Eastern Europe. Molotov DID attend the conference, but declined on behalf of Russia because he complained that giving a list of needs, and then accounting for expenditures constituted “interference in internal affairs!”
The Czechs and Poles, however, WERE ready to ask for aid. A delegation of the Czech government was summoned to Moscow and told to refuse the Marshall Plan because it was a ploy to undermine the Soviet position in Europe. The same “summons” was issued to the Polish government. Thus, the chance that Eastern Europe had to become industrially and technologically advanced along with the rest of the world was thrown away by Stalin who simply could not give up his fanatical control. And, it seems that at this point, Stalin also made the decision to impose total Soviet control on his satellites.
The first step was to overthrow Yugoslavian leader Tito. This led to the Soviet-Yugoslav split and the “Stalinization” of the Soviet bloc. Stalin’s new policy was heralded by the establishment of the Cominform, or Communist Information Agency. It was established at a meeting of western and eastern party leaders at Szklarska Poreba, Poland in September, 1947. The Cominform was supposed to facilitate the exchange of information between the Soviet bloc states, but the real purpose was that it was to be an instrument of Soviet control.
In the fall of 1947, the communists in Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia were instructed to prepare to implement the Soviet model in their countries. This came as a great shock to those communists who had looked forward to following their own “national paths to communism.” In Poland, this meant increased persecution of the Peasant Party.
Western-Soviet relations became strained over what was being done in Germany. Stalin demanded billions of dollars in reparation as well as the industrial production of the Ruhr. The Western powers refused because they were occupying the area and wanted to facilitate economic recovery. As the German communists imposed their control over the Soviet occupied zone of Berlin, the Western powers fused their zones into a single economic unit. The Soviets demanded an explanation for this “ganging up” on them, and walked out of the Allied Control Council meeting in a huff on March 28, 1948.
On April 1 st , the Soviets began to harass Allied traffic to West Berlin. On July 24 th , they proceeded to cut off all land routes from West Germany to West Berlin. It was a clear statement that if the Western powers abandoned West Berlin, the West Germans and other West Europeans would conclude that Germany would be united under Soviet Domination and the rest of Western Europe would be threatened as well.
Well, FINALLY, the U.S., British and French governments decided to make a stand!
Under President Truman, they mounted the Berlin airlift, which kept West Berlin supplied with everything, including coal. Stalin must have decided that discretion was the better part of valor under the circumstances, because he backed down and did NOT order Soviet planes to attack the Western planes. He finally lifted the blockade on May 12th , 1949. However, he HAD provoked a reaction that was to shape the Cold War.
On April 4th , the Western Powers and other Western states established NATO to defend Western Europe. Having failed to overthrow Tito, Stalin now proceeded to eliminate suspect communist leaders in the other satellite states. Violent party purges took place in Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria. A limited purge took place in Romania, and in Poland, the purges were accompanied by the ruthless repression of veterans of the Home Army. The goal of this action was to eliminate all known and possible opponents of communism and the USSR. Torture was used against selected “home grown” communists and sympathizers to force them to incriminate others marked out for liquidation.
Two American communists, Noel and Hermann Field, who had fled to Eastern Europe were arrested, accused of being U.S. spies, and forced to implicate those that Stalin wanted to “liquidate.” Although the Field brothers were NOT spies, Stalin had some basis for his “spy mania.” There were clumsy CIA attempts to infiltrate Eastern Europe and there WAS U.S. financial support being given to the Polish underground organization. There were also instances where groups were smuggled to Belorussia and Albania to organize anti-Soviet resistance. All were caught and killed after being exposed by Kim Philby, the Soviet “mole” in the British intelligence establishment.
In Poland, veterans of the Home Army, those who had come out of hiding to accept “amnesty” in 1947, were the objects of Stalin’s fanatical purges. Many were tortured to death when they refused to “confess.” During this period, the torture included beatings, tearing out of fingernails, standing naked in cells with open windows in winter, and/or standing in barrels of icy water up to the arm pits. They were also deprived of sleep and/or made to sit or stand in the same position for hours or days until they broke down and signed “confessions.” Repression was also directed at all those viewed as potential enemies of the regime.
It is difficult to estimate the number of people in Polish prisons at any one time in the period 1948-55, but it was probably in the range of 50 to 60 thousand; possible as many as 100,000 out of a population of 28 million.
The Roman Catholic Church was attacked and several bishops were forced to confess to misuse of charity funds, and Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski (1901-1980) was kept for several years under house arrest in isolated monasteries. In Poland, the survivors of the terror were released in 1955 and “rehabilitated” in 1956-57. The people who lived through the terror were generally broken, or at least convinced that resistance to Soviet power was useless.
Even so, there were some exceptional people who did NOT break, and would later join dissident movements.
But, while events were moving toward the creation of an international situation that kept two people apart, (one of whom was not yet even born), one of them was passing through infancy and soon would be going to school. The war was over, it was time to move on. And, in 1949, the Jadczyks moved to Wroclaw.
Arkadiusz grew up to be the youngest recipient of a Ph.D. in physics in the history of the Institute of Mathematical Physics at the University of Wroclaw. In 1996, he wrote to Laura Knight, and in 1998, they were married. But that story is told by Thomas French in the St. Petersburg Times.
Hi! A message from the story-teller. No, I am not Polish. I am just a simple American girl. I am writing this story because of the GREAT LOVE I hold for my Arkadiusz, in this and all other lives, and because, despite the obstacles of time and distance, our story is a story of FAITH and LOVE that DOES have a happy ending.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers – the gift of interpreting the divine will and purpose; and understand all the secret truths and mysteries and possess all knowledge, and if I have faith so that I can remove mountains, but have not love I am nothing…
“Even if I dole out all that I have to feed the poor, and I surrender my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. […] Love never fails – never fades out or becomes obsolete or comes to an end. As for prophecy, it will be fulfilled and pass away; as for tongues, they will be destroyed and cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away and be succeeded by truth. […] And so, faith, hope and love abide; these three, but the greatest of these is love.” (1Corinthians 13, excerpts)