Front Page Titles (by Subject) 11: Poland: The Great Betrayal - America's Second Crusade
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11: Poland: The Great Betrayal - William Henry Chamberlin, America’s Second Crusade 
America’s Second Crusade (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, Amagi, 2008).
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Poland: The Great Betrayal
The questions are not: Shall Poland’s eastern border be shifted westward? Shall she lose her eastern territories or, losing them, acquire in their place western territories at the expense of Germany?
“The question is: Shall Poland exist?
“Beyond this there is another question: Shall Europe exist—the Europe we have known, and hope to know again, the Europe for which the War is being fought, the Europe which alone gives the War any meaning, a Europe that is neither anarchy, nor servitude, the Europe that is a balanced and integral whole, . . . the Europe that is so much more than a geographical expression, Europe the stronghold of the Graeco-Roman and Christian heritage? That is the question.”1
One wonders what would have happened if the British Government, when offering its guarantee against aggression to the Polish Government in the spring of 1939, had said:
“You must understand that this guarantee applies only against Germany. If the Soviet Union proposes to take almost half of your territory and impose on what is left of Poland a Communist-dominated government, you cannot count on our help. On the contrary, we will make no serious effort to prevent the Soviet Government from accomplishing these designs and will even support its case against yours.”
Suppose that, while the Yugoslav Government was being pushed and prodded by the Roosevelt Administration into entering an unequal struggle against Germany, some candid and far-sighted American diplomat had offered the following prophetic warning:
“You will experience all the sufferings of foreign occupation. More than that, your country will be devastated by a savage social civil war. In this war the Moscow-trained Communist Josip Broz Tito will enjoy the support not only of the Soviet Union, but of Great Britain and the United States. You, and other non-Communist Yugoslav patriots, will be lucky if you save your lives in exile or in obscurity at home.”
Suppose some authoritative voice had warned the American people before Pearl Harbor:
“Our policy of giving unconditional support to Chiang Kai-shek’s regime in China will lead to war with Japan. This war will be fought to the complete ruin of Japan. However, we will not worry about Soviet and Communist aggression in China. In fact, we will bribe Stalin, at China’s expense, so as to draw him into our grand crusade against Japan. The end of this will be that China will fall into the grip of Chinese Communists, devoted disciples of Moscow, bitter enemies of the United States. These Communists will inflict upon American diplomatic representatives insults unheard of since the Boxer uprising.”
Would our crusade have made much sense if its consequences in Eastern Europe and East Asia had been accurately foreseen?
The betrayals of those groups in Poland and Yugoslavia and China which looked to America and Britain for sympathy and support were also acts of profound stupidity, from the cold-blooded standpoint of national interest. Can any American or Briton believe in retrospect that a great outlay of blood and treasure was vindicated by the emergence of a Moscow-trained clique as rulers of Poland, of Tito as dictator of Yugoslavia, of Mao Tse-tung as the Communist overlord of China?
The betrayal of Poland was the crudest and most flagrant of the three, if only because Poland was the pretense for the whole crusade. Therefore this betrayal will be examined in detail, as a symbol of what went wrong with a war that was being waged ostensibly for national self-determination and against aggression.
During the period 1939-41, when Poland was partitioned between the Nazi and Soviet regimes, both these dictatorships did everything in their power to stamp out Polish national consciousness. The Nazis expelled Poles from cities like Gdynia and Poznan and from some regions which were marked for German colonization. They closed universities and higher schools. They were ruthless in dealing with every sign of resistance and sent large numbers of Poles to concentration camps, where many perished. Especially terrible was the planned extermination of the Jews. Most of the large Jewish population of Poland had been destroyed by the end of the war.
The Soviet masters of Eastern Poland did not resort to this maniacal policy of exterminating a whole ethnic group. But on every other count they equalled and sometimes exceeded the brutalities of the Nazis. They systematically arrested and in some cases killed individuals who were associated with political activity: leaders of Polish, Ukrainian, and Jewish organizations, members of the Diet, judges, intellectuals. They carried off about 1,200,000 persons in mass deportations to Russia. Most of the deportees were sent to slave-labor camps.
The deportations were carried out with revolting cruelty. Villages were surrounded by soldiers and police. People were rounded up and thrown like cattle into unheated freight cars. On the long trips, there was an appalling lack of food, water, and sanitary facilities. When Polish representatives were able to carry out investigations in Russia, it was found that about one-fourth of the deportees had perished as a result of hardships on the trips and maltreatment in concentration camps.2
A principal aim of the deportations was to diminish the number of people of ethnic Polish stock in the eastern provinces, which were annexed to the Ukrainian and Byelorussian Soviet Republics. These annexations occurred after typically farcical totalitarian “elections,” held without the most elementary safeguards of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and secrecy of voting.
It was often suggested in later discussions of the Soviet-Polish issue that there was some valid Soviet claim to Polish territory east of the so-called Curzon Line. It was suggested that this line was a final impartial award on Poland’s eastern frontier, which the Poles willfully transgressed.3 It was also argued that the population of eastern Poland was mainly Russian and that the Soviet Union needed this region for reasons of strategic security.
These contentions are without any basis in fact. The Curzon Line (with the fixing of which Lord Curzon had little to do) was never thought of as a final frontier settlement. It was proposed as a temporary demarcation line by the Supreme Allied Council in Paris on December 8, 1919. Later Lord Curzon, as British Foreign Secretary, proposed that this should be the provisional frontier at a time when the Red Army held the military advantage over the Poles in the Soviet-Polish war of 1920. But the Soviet leaders at that time were bent on sovietizing all Poland. They refused to halt their armies at the Curzon Line. The Soviet Government even stated officially that the line was unjust to Poland; it was willing to grant a more favorable boundary to a Communist Poland.
The Soviet-Polish frontier, as finally established by the Treaty of Riga, in March 1921, was almost identical with the boundary imposed on Poland at the time of that country’s second partition at the hands of Russia, Austria, and Prussia in 1791. Only about 150,000 Russians were on the Polish side of this frontier, while about 1,500,000 Poles were left in the Soviet Union.
To be sure, the population of eastern Poland is ethnically mixed. This is equally true of many parts of the Soviet Union and most countries of Eastern and Central Europe. According to the Polish census of 1931, the territory seized by the Soviet Union in 1939 was inhabited by 4,794,000 Poles, 4,139,000 Ukrainians, 1,045,000 Jews, 993,000 Byelorussians, 120,000 Russians, 76,000 Lithuanians, and 845,000 others. All these figures had somewhat increased in 1939. The two principal cities of eastern Poland, Wilno and Lwów, were Polish by the tests of population, language, architecture, and long historical association. Lwów had never belonged to Russia.
There was a nationalist movement among the Ukrainians of eastern Poland. But a large majority of these Ukrainians, as subsequent events4 showed, were bitterly anti-Communist. Their aim was an independent Ukrainian state, not absorption into the Soviet Union.
As for the security argument, it is disposed of by simple and indisputable historical facts. Russia was twice invaded by Germany when the former was in possession of eastern Poland. It was never thus invaded while this region was in the possession of an independent Poland.
The Soviet Government accepted the boundary fixed by the Treaty of Riga in free negotiation. It gave a new voluntary endorsement of this frontier by concluding a nonaggression and neutrality pact with Poland in 1932. In short, there is nothing to distinguish the Soviet seizure of eastern Poland from any of the acts of predatory aggression which were supposed to warrant a global crusade against Hitler and the Japanese militarists.
Molotov had gleefully exclaimed in October 1939 that nothing remained of Poland, “that ugly offspring of the Versailles Treaty.” But the Polish Government continued to function abroad, first in France, later in London. Polish aviators played a heroic and brilliant part in the Battle of Britain. Polish armed forces increased in numbers after it was possible to recruit soldiers among the war prisoners and deportees in Russia. By 1944, 140,000 Poles were fighting on land, on sea, and in the air, and there were substantial Polish units on the Italian and western fronts.
The Polish Government in London was composed of representatives of the four principal Polish political parties: the National Democratic, the Peasant, the Socialist, and the Christian Labor parties. It was in close touch with one of the most daring and active underground movements in Europe.
Communism had never been strong in Poland, even among the industrial workers. It was closely linked in the people’s memory with the hated Russian rule. The Polish Communist party was so weak and so torn by factional strife that it was dissolved by the Communist International in 1937.
The Union of Polish Patriots5 which evolved into the Lublin Committee and furnished the nucleus of the government which was forced on Poland by Soviet armed force, was a highly synthetic creation. It possessed a hard core of fanatical Communists who were willing to play the role of Red Quislings, reinforced more and more by opportunists who realized that the western powers would not protect Poland against Stalin’s designs.
Hitler’s attack on Russia marked the beginning of a new phase in Soviet-Polish relations. Stalin’s spoils from the pact of August 1939, eastern Poland and the Baltic states, were rapidly overrun by the Germans, uprisings against Soviet rule in Lithuania and eastern Galicia hastening the process. Always astute and flexible, Stalin saw the advantage of reaching a temporary agreement with the Polish Government.
This government, then headed by General Wladyslaw Sikorski, was willing to forget the painful experience of Soviet occupation of eastern Poland in the interest of the common struggle against Nazi Germany. So the British-Soviet agreement of July 12, 1941, pledging the two powers to support each other and not to conclude a separate peace or armistice, was followed by the Soviet-Polish agreement of July 30. The Soviet Government recognized that the Soviet-German treaties of 1939 dealing with territorial changes in Poland had lost their validity. There were assurances of mutual support, and it was agreed that a Polish army should be raised in the Soviet Union and that there should be an amnesty for Poles detained in Russia.
There were significant omissions in this instrument. There was no specific Soviet recognition of the 1939 Polish frontier. Sikorski tried hard to obtain this, but in vain. Several members of his cabinet felt so strongly on this subject that they resigned. There was strong British pressure to get the agreement signed, and Foreign Secretary Eden, in a note of July 30, assured Sikorski that “His Majesty’s Government do not recognize any territorial changes which have been effected in Poland since August 1939.” This was to prove a very brittle and short-lived assurance.
Sikorski went to Russia at the beginning of December 1941. Stalin gave him a hospitable reception. After discussing the common war effort and the details of forming the Polish Army in Russia, Stalin raised the question of the Polish eastern boundary. He suggested that he would be satisfied with “very slight” alterations. Sikorski flatly refused to discuss any change and the subject was dropped.
But the Soviet Government was already seeking to undermine Polish claims to sovereignty in its eastern provinces. In a note of December 1, 1941, the Soviet Government asserted the right to conscript for the Red Army Polish citizens of Ukrainian, Byelorussian, and Jewish origin who formerly lived in eastern Poland, described in the note as western Ukraine and western Byelorussia. The note contained the statement that “the question of the frontier between the Soviet Union and Poland has not been settled and is subject to settlement in the future.”6
Stalin, who had tried to soothe Sikorski with assurances that he wanted only “slight” alterations in the Soviet-Polish frontier, showed his true intentions plainly when Anthony Eden, British Foreign Minister, visited the Soviet Union in December 1941. The Soviet dictator demanded the restoration of the Soviet borders as they were before Hitler’s attack. He intimated that the conclusion of the Anglo-Soviet treaty which was under discussion would depend on British willingness to concede this point.7
Both Churchill and Eden, quickly forgetting the British official assurance that no territorial changes in Poland were recognized, were inclined to yield to Stalin’s demand. But this was one of the very few occasions when the United States Government took a strong line in defense of the Atlantic Charter. A State Department memorandum, prepared by James C. Dunn and Ray Atherton, and approved by Secretary Hull, flatly rejected the proposed Soviet annexation of Polish territory. To yield to the Soviet demand, so stated the memorandum, “would affect the integrity of the Atlantic Charter.”
The British Cabinet continued to waver. Eden, despite his reputation as an upholder of international morality, was willing to buy Stalin’s precarious friendship by turning over millions of people in Eastern Europe to the rule of the Soviet political police. But Roosevelt backed up the State Department. He assured General Sikorski in March that the American Government had not forgotten the Atlantic Charter.8 The affair came to a head in May, when Molotov went to London for a final discussion of the terms of the Anglo-Soviet treaty. He pressed strongly for recognition of the Soviet claim to eastern Poland, the Baltic states, and part of Finland.
The British might well have given way if the State Department had not interposed an attitude of uncompromising opposition. Hull suggested that if the treaty contained the proposed territorial provisions, the United States might issue a separate statement of repudiation. The British then altered their viewpoint. The treaty, a twenty-year alliance, was signed on May 26 without territorial commitments.
The subsequent political history of the war might have been different if Roosevelt and Hull had maintained this firm attitude. This they conspicuously failed to do. But the American position, as stated by the President and the Secretary of State at this time, is the most decisive condemnation of the subsequent surrenders at Teheran and Yalta. Obviously Soviet demands which were considered inadmissible and inconsistent with the Atlantic Charter in 1942, did not become more justified with the passing of years.
But the American attitude steadily weakened, curiously enough, as American military power increased. Both in Washington and in London there was fear that Stalin might make a separate peace with Hitler. This fear was unwarranted, because Stalin’s interest in smashing German military power was far greater than America’s. The United States was safe from any danger of overseas invasion as soon as it had built up its wartime air and naval power. Had Stalin made a separate peace with Hitler and thereby broken his alliance with the West, he would have exposed himself to another devastating onslaught from the German war machine.
However, fear of a Soviet separate peace weakened western opposition to Soviet annexationist schemes almost to the point of paralysis. This fear was cunningly stimulated by petulant Soviet gestures, such as complaints about the failure to invade France in 1942 or 1943 and the recall of the Soviet ambassadors in Washington and London, Litvinov and Maisky, in 1943. Another factor which predisposed the American Government to a policy of appeasing the Soviet Union was the artificial building up of pro-Soviet sentiment by government agencies.9 This sentiment became a Frankenstein’s monster, hard to control.
So there was little reaction to the secret killing by the Soviet police of two prominent Polish Jewish Socialist leaders, Henryk Ehrlich and Viktor Alter. These men, arrested during the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939, were released under the amnesty for Polish citizens in the summer of 1941. They were engaged in organizing an international Jewish antifascist committee when both disappeared in Kuibyshev, the temporary Soviet capital, in December 1941. Inquiries about their fate remained unanswered until Litvinov in December 1942 informed William Green, President of the AFL, that they had been shot by order of a Soviet tribunal “for collaboration with the Nazis and for their work among the Red Army and among the Soviet population on behalf of Hitler.”
This defamatory and wildly improbable charge (both as Jews and as Socialists, Ehrlich and Alter were irreconcilable enemies of nazism) was vigorously denied by the Polish Government in a note of March 8, 1943.10 The contrasted experience of Ehrlich and Alter under Soviet and under Polish rule is an instructive commentary on the familiar apologetic argument that Soviet rule, with all its faults, was an improvement on the “feudal” and “reactionary” conditions which were supposed to exist in prewar Poland.
The Polish Government in the years before the war was authoritarian. Anti-Semitism existed in Poland. Yet Ehrlich and Alter sat in the Polish parliament, attended international socialist congresses, carried on fairly free political activity. The Soviet Union, professing to bring liberation to eastern Poland, shot them without public trial and on a fantastically improbable accusation.
Strengthened by the victory at Stalingrad, conscious that little serious opposition was to be feared in Washington and London, the Soviet leaders pushed ahead with their plans for the territorial mutilation and political subjugation of Poland.
The plight of the million or more Poles who had been deported to Russia was desperate. Almost all were destitute of food and clothing. Many were in the last stages of exhaustion and disease. In December 1941 the Polish Government, by agreement with the Soviet Government, tried to furnish relief through agencies which were set up in various Soviet cities. But in the summer of 1942 these agencies were closed and many of their personnel were arrested.
A further step in the same direction was taken on January 16, 1943, when the Soviet Government extended its earlier ruling that Ukrainians, Byelorussians, and Jews born in the eastern provinces of Poland were Soviet citizens, to include people of Polish ethnic origin. All these provocations were hushed up by the Polish embassies abroad under strong pressure from the American and British governments.
The final blow fell on April 25, 1943, when the Soviet Government cynically used the discovery of a crime, almost certainly committed by its own agents, as an excuse for breaking off relations with the Polish Government. This action followed a German statement that thousands of bodies of Polish officers, killed by shots in the back of the head, had been discovered in the Katyn Forest, near the town of Smolensk in western Russia.
The Polish Government, in a declaration of April 17, asked for an International Red Cross investigation of the affair. This declaration emphasized that the Germans themselves had committed many atrocities and denied the right of the Germans “to pose as the defenders of Christianity and western civilization.”
The appeal for a Red Cross investigation was used by the Soviet Government as an excuse for breaking off diplomatic relations. This cleared the way for building up a puppet government for Poland, recruited from refugee Communists and other Poles willing to accept Soviet dictation.
Behind the Polish request for an investigation lay almost two years of unsuccessful effort to penetrate a very sinister mystery. There were about one hundred eighty thousand prisoners of war in Russia in 1939, including some ten thousand officers. Only a few hundred of these officers were found among the masses of Poles who were released after Hitler’s invasion of Russia. Many thousands had vanished without a trace.
Prime Minister Sikorski, General Anders, commander of the Polish Army which was raised in Russia and later transferred to the Near East, and Ambassador Kot all raised the question of the fate of these officers in talks with Stalin. They received only evasive, noncommittal replies, varied with suggestions that were merely ridiculous, such as that the officers might have escaped to Manchuria. Stalin talked with Kot on November 14, 1941, and called up the headquarters of the NKVD to inquire what had become of the officers. He put down the receiver after receiving a reply, and changed the subject.
There were many Polish official inquiries. There was no Soviet official reply to the effect that the officers had been left in a prison camp, abandoned at the time of the German invasion. This version was only thought of when the corpses were discovered.
There were apparently no survivors of the massacre. The Germans held an inquiry, attended by medical experts from a number of European countries. They reached the conclusion, on the basis of letters, newspapers, and diaries found on the bodies and other circumstantial evidence, that the killings took place in March and April 1940. After the Red Army retook the area, there was a Soviet investigation which ended in the conclusion that the slaughter occurred in the autumn of 1941.
Neither the German nor the Soviet investigation could be regarded as impartial. With one exception11 the members of the German commission were citizens of countries associated with Germany in the war or occupied by Germany. The witnesses in the Soviet inquiry were obviously under the strongest pressure to testify as the Soviet Government desired. There is, however, an overwhelming weight of circumstantial evidence pointing to Soviet guilt for the Katyn massacre.12 The following points would seem to be decisive:
General Sikorski lost his life in an airplane accident in July 1943. He was succeeded as Prime Minister by Stanislaw Mikolajczyk, leader of the Peasant party.
The tendency in Washington and London to sacrifice Poland’s territorial integrity and national independence proceeded at an accelerated pace during 1943 and 1944. Eduard Beneš, leader of the Czechoslovak government-in-exile found the United States Government ready to throw over Poland as early as May 1943. As he wrote in retrospect:
From Roosevelt’s remarks and even more from Harry Hopkins’s I saw that the United States had already made a decision. In principle it accepted the Soviet stand on changes in Poland’s former Eastern frontier and agreed that an accord must be reached between Poland and the Soviet Union. I was convinced that the London Poles’ expectation of receiving support from the United States for their claims against the Soviet Union was sheer wishful thinking. (Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles expressed this view to me the next day.)13
Beneš himself displayed great energy in getting his country accepted as the first Soviet satellite. He broke off discussions with Poland about a Central European federation because this would displease Stalin. He was the first representative of an East European state who signed a special treaty of friendship and alliance with the Soviet Union. He lived long enough to realize the value of this treaty, especially of the clause which stressed the principle of mutual noninterference in internal affairs. The first Soviet satellite enjoyed only the dubious privilege of being the last to be devoured.
Early in 1943 Sumner Welles asked Ciechanowski whether the Polish Government was determined not to yield an inch of its eastern territory. The British Ambassador in Washington, Lord Halifax, asked him whether the acceptance by the Polish Government of the Curzon Line as a frontier “would really be such a hardship.”14
Sensing the attitude of weakness on the part of the western powers, the Soviet Government became more and more truculent in its diplomatic manners and methods. America and Britain on August 11, 1943, submitted a joint proposal to Moscow. They suggested a resumption of Soviet-Polish diplomatic relations and such elementary humanitarian measures as the evacuation of Polish refugees to the Near East, recognition of the Polish nationality of ethnic Poles, and permission for other Polish refugees to opt for Polish or Soviet citizenship.
The Soviet reply was delayed until September 27 and was aggressively un-co-operative in tone. The Soviet note alleged that the American and British proposals
almost coincide with the pretensions of the Polish Government, which refer in demagogic fashion to the necessity of liberating and evacuating unfortunate Polish citizens from the Soviet Union. A statement of this type is lacking in any foundation whatever and cannot be considered in any other way than as an insulting attack against the Soviet Union, to which the Soviet Government does not consider it necessary to react.15
A stoppage or suggestive slowing down of lend-lease shipments would probably have produced more courteous language and a more accommodating attitude. But this, as Hull tells us, was a suggestion which neither he nor the President entertained for a moment. The psychology of the rabbit vis-à-vis the boa constrictor continued to prevail. The more Stalin insulted the western leaders, the more they endeavored to placate him.
Hull gave Ciechanowski some encouragement before he left for the Moscow Conference of Foreign Ministers, but very little after he returned. And there was a still more significant occurrence. When Sikorski visited Washington in March 1943, plans had been worked out for parachuting munitions and supplies to the Polish patriot underground army. After the Moscow conference, these plans were canceled. Stalin might be displeased. The Poles, who had been fighting when Stalin and Ribbentrop had been exchanging toasts of friendship and cooperation against the “decadent democracies,” were left defenseless at the moment when their unequal struggle against two totalitarian oppressors was reaching its climax.
There is still no full and authoritative account of the highly secret Teheran conference, although it is fair to assume that much that was put in written form at Yalta was predetermined at Teheran. However, Churchill, in speeches before the House of Commons, has given a frank, realistic picture of the roles which he and Roosevelt played in the betrayal of Poland. Churchill apparently took the initiative in proposing to give away Polish territory. He told the House on February 22, 1944: “I took occasion to raise personally with Marshal Stalin the question of the future of Poland.”
According to an American participant in this conference, Churchill shifted match sticks about to show how Poland’s frontiers were to be shifted from east to west. Churchill let more light into the dark places of Teheran when he informed the House on December 15, 1944, that Poland would gain in the west and north territories more important and highly developed than what would be lost in the east.
That many millions of persons, Poles in eastern Poland, Germans in the ethnically German regions of Silesia, East Prussia, and other areas east of the Oder-Neisse boundary line, would be driven from their homes under conditions of terrible misery did not disturb Mr. Churchill.
“After all,” he said, “six or seven million Germans have been killed already in this frightful war. . . .16 Moreover we must expect that many more Germans will be killed in the fighting which will occupy the spring and summer.”
“These ideals,” said Churchill, “arose at the Teheran conference.” And in the same speech, the British Prime Minister gave a clear characterization of the President’s silent complicity in this colossal repudiation of the Atlantic Charter, to which Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin continued to pay lip service.
The President is aware of everything that has passed and of all that is in the minds both of the Russians and of the British. . . . I am particularly careful not ever to speak in the name of any other power unless so directed beforehand, and I hope the House will make allowance for the care with which I pick my words upon this point. All I can say is that I have received no formal disagreement in all these long months upon the way in which the future of Poland is shaping itself,—or being shaped.
Here is a clear indication of the distribution of roles. Churchill was the outright executioner of Poland’s territorial integrity and political independence. Roosevelt was the Pontius Pilate who tried to wash his hands of the whole affair. The President avoided any blunt statement or direct commitment that might have alienated the important Polish-American vote in the United States. But the spirit of 1942, when there was outspoken and successful American opposition to the recognition of Soviet annexationist claims, was gone.
The venerable Hull hopefully told a joint session of Congress on November 18, 1943, after his return from Moscow:
“There will no longer be need for spheres of influence, for alliances, for balance of power, or any other of the special arrangements through which, in the unhappy past, the nations strove to safeguard their security or to promote their interests.”
But a shrewder student of diplomacy, Eduard Beneš, noted in his memoirs17 that at the Teheran Conference, where Hull was not present, “the first attempts were made to establish military and political spheres of influence for the Eastern and Western powers.” The Soviet Union, without encountering American and British opposition, put in a claim for a zone including northeastern Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Rumania. Beneš found that because of this zonal arrangement it was difficult to get American and British help during the uprising against German occupation in Slovakia in the autumn of 1944.
The kind of settlement for Poland envisaged at Teheran became clear on January 22, 1944, when Churchill and Eden proposed a five-point solution to the Polish Government. The five points were: acceptance of the Curzon Line frontier; assignment to Poland of East Prussia, Danzig, and Upper Silesia as far as the Oder River; removal of the entire German population from the newly annexed territory; return to Poland of Poles living east of the new frontier; American-British-Soviet approval of the new boundaries.
Prime Minister Mikolajczyk found it impossible to accept these proposals. More than territorial dismemberment was at stake. For when the United States Government, on January 19, 1944, offered mediation with a view to restoring Soviet-Polish diplomatic relations, the Soviet reply, which rejected mediation, offered the following insidious suggestion:
“The exclusion of all profascist imperialist elements and the inclusion in the Polish Government of democratic elements would be a fundamental improvement and would create a favorable basis for the re-establishment of Soviet-Polish relations and the settlement of the border question.” In Soviet terminology, later to find illustration not only in Poland, but in many other countries, “profascist imperialists” were men who stood for the independence of their countries. “Democratic elements” were either Communists or individuals who were willing to accept Communist dictation. The Soviet reply was a veiled demand that Poland accept the status of a vassal state.
Mikolajczyk placed his hopes in American support. During the first months of 1944 the American attitude was vague and noncommittal. Expressions of abstract sympathy with Poland’s cause were not accompanied by any steps calculated to check the trend which had set in since Teheran.
When Mikolajczyk, after some delays, was invited to America in June 1944, Roosevelt received him very graciously and talked with him five times in ten days. The President promised to use his influence with Stalin in favor of leaving the important city of Lwów and the economically valuable Galician oil wells to Poland. He thought possibly Wilno might also be saved. Mikolajczyk was soon to learn the value of these assurances.
The Red Army advanced deep into Poland during the first half of 1944. Polish underground forces harassed the Germans and rendered considerable help in the capture of Lwów and Wilno. At first the leaders of these units were thanked, praised, and sometimes decorated by the Red Army commanders. Later they were usually arrested, deported, shot, or hanged. There was a vast and ruthless purge of all known enemies of communism.
Late in July the Red Army was within a few miles of Warsaw. A considerable detachment of the Home Army (the Polish underground force) was in the Polish capital under the command of General T. Bor-Komorowski. His radio picked up on July 30 a Polish-language broadcast from Moscow ending with the names of Molotov and Edward Osubka-Morawski, a leading figure in the Moscow-organized Polish Committee of National Liberation. The broadcast was a call to immediate revolt:
“Poles, the time of liberation is at hand! Poles, to arms! Make every Polish home a stronghold against the invader! There is not a moment to lose!”18
On the following day London picked up a similar appeal, broadcast from Moscow. At the same time it was announced from London that Mikolajczyk was going to Moscow to see Stalin. Believing that Soviet military aid was certain and that the signal for action had been given, Bor gave the order for revolt.
What followed was one of the most heroic and tragic episodes of the war. For two months this guerrilla army, with the enthusiastic support of the Warsaw population, without tanks, airplanes, or heavy artillery, fought against strong and well-equipped German units. The city of Warsaw was completely demolished in the process.
During the first two weeks, the insurgents won remarkable success and held a considerable part of the city. But the Soviet advance abruptly stopped. During the decisive days of the struggle for Warsaw the Soviet Government refused even to allow American and British airplanes to use near-by Soviet bases in order to drop desperately needed munitions and supplies to the insurgents.
Stalin had promised Mikolajczyk that he would do all in his power to help the Home Army. At the same time the Soviet dictator tried to extort from Mikolajczyk acceptance of the loss of East Poland and consent to be prime minister in a cabinet in which four of eighteen members would be Communists or Communist sympathizers.19
Mikolajczyk refused this offer and left Moscow for London on August 9, still hoping that Soviet military aid would be forthcoming for Warsaw. He dispatched another plea for this aid to Stalin. But Tass, the official Soviet news agency, issued a statement on August 14 which revealed the true design of the Soviet Government with brutal frankness:
Tass is in possession of information which shows that the Polish circles in London responsible for the Warsaw uprising made no attempt to co-ordinate this action with the Soviet High Command. In these circumstances the only people responsible for the results of the events in Warsaw are the émigré circles in London.
There was, of course, no mention of the Moscow broadcasts which had encouraged the revolt or of Stalin’s promise to Mikolajczyk to aid the uprising. When Averell Harriman, American Ambassador to the Soviet Union, pleaded with Molotov on August 14 for permission to use Soviet shuttle bases for American bombers, the Soviet Foreign Minister flatly refused, calling the uprising a “purely adventurous affair,” to which the Soviet Government could not lend a hand. In a later discussion, on the night of August 16, Molotov admitted to Harriman that Stalin had promised Mikolajczyk aid to Warsaw. However, the Soviet Government could not countenance association with the insurrection, because it was evident from newspaper and radio statements emanating from the Polish Government in London that the movement was inspired by men antagonistic to the Soviet Union.20
When the revolt was almost completely crushed, the Soviet Government permitted one shuttle flight, on September 18, and the Red Army dropped some supplies from its own airplanes. By this time it was too late for such assistance to be of any value. By first provoking, then abandoning the insurrection, the Soviet Government had procured the exposure and destruction of a large part of the Home Army. It was in line with the deportations of 1939-40, designed to eliminate or greatly reduce the Polish ethnic population east of the Curzon Line, and with the Katyn massacre, which deprived Poland of patriotic trained officers.
With the endorsement of his Cabinet in London, Mikolajczyk offered counterproposals to Stalin’s inacceptable suggestions in Moscow. Some modification of the eastern frontier, without giving up Lwów and Wilno, was admitted. It was also proposed to admit three representatives of the Communist party, along with three delegates from each of the four main political parties, into a Polish provisional government.
The British approved this scheme; and there was a last attempt to reach agreement with Stalin in October. Churchill and Eden took part in the negotiations, along with Mikolajczyk, Stalin, Molotov, and the American Ambassador Harriman.
The emptiness of Roosevelt’s assurances to Mikolajczyk during the latter’s visit to Washington was dramatically exposed. When the Polish Prime Minister argued that Poland deserved a better eastern frontier than the Curzon Line, Molotov suddenly broke in:
“But all this was settled at Teheran. We all agreed at Teheran that the Curzon Line must divide Poland. You will recall that President Roosevelt agreed to this solution and strongly endorsed the line.”
According to Mikolajczyk’s account, he looked at Churchill and Harriman, hoping for a denial. But Harriman looked silently at the rug and Churchill replied:
“I confirm this.”21
Later Churchill bullied Mikolajczyk almost as ruthlessly as Hitler had bullied the Czechoslovak President Hacha on the eve of his march into Prague. A painful and extraordinary scene occurred. The Polish representative held out as best he could for his country’s independence and territorial integrity—the very issue for which the war was ostensibly being fought. Churchill tried to impose the deal he thought he had made with Stalin by threats and abuse.
The climax was reached when Churchill told Mikolajczyk that he would personally guarantee freedom from Russian interference for what was left of Poland. This was too much for the normally patient and rather phlegmatic Pole. He bluntly retorted that he would rather die fighting with the underground than “be hanged later in full view of your British Ambassador.”
This was what almost literally happened later to Nikola Petkov, leader of the Bulgarian opposition. Mikolajczyk most probably escaped a similar fate only by a timely and successful flight from Poland.
The Polish Prime Minister on October 27 addressed an appeal to Roosevelt, recalling the hopes the President had held out to him in June and asking the latter to address a personal appeal to Stalin for the retention of Lwów and the Galician oil fields by Poland. Roosevelt’s reply of November 1722 evaded the points raised in the appeal. It coldly intimated that America would raise no objection if an agreement on frontier changes were reached between the Polish, Soviet, and British governments.
Harriman met Mikolajczyk in London and offered to intercede with Stalin for Lwów. In view of the Soviet dictator’s unbending attitude, there was little prospect that such intercession would succeed. A break between Mikolajczyk and the majority of his Cabinet occurred on the question of whether to use Harriman’s good offices. The majority argued that this would constitute a recognition of the Curzon Line as the frontier, except in the Lwów area and was, therefore, unacceptable. Mikolajczyk, impressed by the absence of American and British support and fearing the complete isolation of Poland, was in favor of making greater concessions.
The desertion of the western powers placed Poland’s patriots before an agonizing dilemma. Honorable difference of opinion was possible because of the unpromising nature of the two alternatives between which a choice had to be made. An attitude of refusing to yield an inch of the prewar frontier was logical and consistent. Poland’s moral case was unanswerable. But, with the visible American and British willingness to try to appease Stalin at Poland’s expense, an uncompromising policy meant, in all probability, that the government-in-exile would never be able to return to Poland.
On the other hand, given the Soviet record, the deportations, the Katyn massacre, the incitation and betrayal of the Warsaw uprising, the growing support for a puppet communist regime, there was little chance that Poland’s independence could be saved by the sacrifice of its eastern provinces. However, Mikolajczyk and some of his political associates in the Peasant party believed that the chance, however slight, must be grasped, that they should return to Poland at any price.
Despite pleas for delay from Roosevelt, Stalin recognized his own creation, the Polish Committee of National Liberation, as the provisional government of Poland on January 5, 1945. From this time the Soviet Government took the position that this regime, which was completely dependent on Moscow for its support and its very existence, was the legitimate government of Poland.
The Polish issue figured prominently in the discussions at the Yalta Conference of the Big Three. This conference is described in more detail in Chapter 10. The agreement on Poland conceded the substance of Stalin’s demands, while it contained a few face-saving phrases, designed to win the approval of western public opinion. The text of this agreement was as follows:
A new situation has been created in Poland as a result of her complete liberation by the Red Army. This calls for the establishment of a Polish Provisional Government which can be more broadly based than was possible before the recent liberation of the Western part of Poland. The Provisional Government which is now functioning in Poland should therefore be reorganized on a broader democratic basis with the inclusion of democratic leaders from Poland itself and from Poles abroad. This new government should then be called the Polish Provisional Government of National Unity.
M. Molotov, Mr. Harriman and Sir A. Clark Kerr are authorized as a commission to consult in the first instance in Moscow with members of the present Provisional Government and with other Polish democratic leaders from within Poland and from abroad, with a view to the reorganization of the present Government along the above lines. The Polish Provisional Government of National Unity shall be pledged to the holding of free and unfettered elections as soon as possible on the basis of universal suffrage and secret ballot. In these elections all democratic and anti-Nazi parties shall have the right to take part and to put forward candidates.
When a Polish Provisional Government of National Unity has been properly formed in conformity with the above, the Government of the USSR, which now maintains diplomatic relations with the present Provisional Government of Poland, and the Government of the United Kingdom and the Government of the USA will establish diplomatic relations with the new Polish Provisional Government of National Unity, and will exchange Ambassadors by whose reports the respective Governments will be kept informed about the situation in Poland.
The three Heads of Government consider that the Eastern frontier of Poland should follow the Curzon Line with digressions from it in some regions of five to eight kilometers in favour of Poland. They recognize that Poland must receive substantial accessions of territory in the North and West. They feel that the opinion of the new Polish Provisional Government of National Unity should be sought in due course on the extent of these accessions and that the final delimitation on the Western frontier of Poland should therefore await the Peace Conference.
Signed: winston s. churchill,
One of the most striking features of this agreement, which dealt with the most vital problems of Poland’s future, is that no Pole had a word to say about it. The Big Three proceeded to carve up Poland, to take away land that was historically and ethnically Polish, to assign to Poland land that was historically and ethnically German, without even listening to any representative of the Polish people. No conquered enemy nation could have received more contemptuous treatment.
The tragic drama of Munich was re-enacted at Yalta with startling fidelity. Only the personalities changed; the atmosphere of appeasement was the same. For Czechoslovakia substitute Poland. For Hitler read Stalin. Roosevelt and Churchill played the parts of Chamberlain and Daladier. One difference, however, may be noted, American and British moral obligations to Poland, in view of that country’s war sufferings, were far greater than British and French obligations to Czechoslovakia.
The phrases about free and unfettered elections, universal suffrage, and secret ballot looked well on paper. But with the Red Army in military occupation of Poland and Soviet secret police operatives all over that country, there was only one chance of assuring that these phrases would bear any relation to realities. This would have been the presence of numerous American and British observers. But every effort was made to exclude such observers during the decisive period when the new regime was consolidating its power.
The meetings of the commission composed of Molotov, Harriman, and Clark Kerr ended in deadlock. The American and British members argued that representatives of the three groups mentioned in the Yalta Declaration (the Soviet-sponsored provisional government, democratic Poles in Poland, and Poles abroad) should be included in the new government. But Molotov insisted that the existing puppet regime should be the nucleus of the new government and refused to accept any names not approved by this regime. It was a preview of how the Soviet veto would work in the United Nations. Molotov also rejected a proposal that American and British observers should be permitted to visit Poland on the ground that this would “sting the national pride of the Poles to the quick.”
There was soon to be a dramatic illustration of the Soviet attitude toward “democratic Poles in Poland.” Sixteen prominent Polish underground leaders, relying on the “word of honor” of a Soviet police officer, Colonel Pimenov, who assured them safe conduct, came out of hiding for consultation with the Soviet authorities. They were promptly arrested and taken to Moscow for trial on charges of having carried on diversionist activities in the rear of the Red Army.
This incident gives the impression of having been contrived as a deliberate insult to the western powers, as a sign that the Soviet authorities were able to do as they pleased in Poland. It was a patent contradiction of the spirit of the Yalta Agreement. Inquiries from Washington and London about the fate of the Poles were left unanswered for weeks.
But the American and British appetite for appeasement was still insatiable. The arrests were casually announced by Molotov at the San Francisco conference for the organization of the United Nations. There was a mild protest from Anthony Eden, who might well have felt some personal responsibility for the fate of the Poles, since the British Government had advised them to reveal their whereabouts. There was a feebler statement from the American Secretary of State, Stettinius, who probably did not know what it was all about.
And the man who, after Roosevelt, was most responsible for the policy of giving in to Stalin on every disputed point, Harry Hopkins, was sent to Moscow to straighten things out. Hopkins fulfilled this mission in his usual fashion, by accepting all Stalin’s assurances at face value and giving the Soviet dictator everything he wanted.
Hopkins did not even make the release of the treacherously arrested Polish underground leaders a condition of American recognition of the new Polish Government. And he went far beyond the Yalta concessions by assuring Stalin that “as far as the United States was concerned, we had no interest in seeing anyone connected with the present Polish Government in London involved in the new Provisional Government of Poland.”23
The result was that Mikolajczyk and a few Poles from abroad were given minor posts in the new government. Hopkins brushed off the reproach of a friend for having consented to such an unfair arrangement with the remark: “After all, what does it matter? The Poles are like the Irish. They are never satisfied with anything anyhow.”24 Polish independence had been murdered, and there was a general desire in Administration circles to get the corpse buried with as little unseemly fuss as possible.
As a State Department official said to Ambassador Ciechanowski: “The Polish problem had to be settled because it had become an impossible headache.” And on July 5, 1945, the great betrayal was finally consummated. The United States Government withdrew its recognition of the Polish Government in London and formally recognized Stalin’s regime in Warsaw.
The rest of the story could easily be anticipated. The new Polish government used every police-state method to discourage, break, and finally outlaw political opposition. The Yalta promises of free, unfettered elections and democratic procedures were turned into a sorry joke.25
The United States sent to Poland as ambassador an able career diplomat, Arthur Bliss Lane. But he was handicapped by a timid and wavering policy in Washington. By extending recognition before the new government had held an election or possessed any mandate from the Polish people, the western powers had lost any means of pressing for the observance of the Yalta assurances.
The men who held key positions in the new regime, Bierut, Berman, Radkiewicz, were politically unknown in Poland before the war. They were Moscow-trained Communists. The armed forces and the security police, headed by Radkiewicz, were heavily infiltrated with Russians. Complete Soviet control of the new state was emphasized in 1949 when the Soviet Marshal Constantine Rokossovsky, a Pole by origin, but a Soviet citizen for thirty years, was appointed head of Poland’s defense forces.
Despite the abandonment of Poland by the western powers, there was a prolonged guerrilla struggle during 1946 and 1947, with substantial losses on both sides. Several Polish underground organizations kept up the fight during these years, and Ukrainian partisans were active in southeastern Poland. This guerrilla movement later subsided because of the impossibility of getting arms from abroad.
The “free, unfettered elections” promised at Yalta took place on January 19, 1947, after two years of terrorist repression which became intensified as the day of voting approached. The main issue was between a bloc of government parties, dominated by the Communists, and Mikolajczyk’s Peasant party. The American Government on January 5, 1947, sent the following note to the Soviet and British Governments, as cosignatories of the Yalta Agreement. Its indictment of the bankruptcy of this agreement was worded as follows:
The methods used by the [Polish] Government in its efforts to eliminate the participation of the Polish Peasant Party in the election include political arrests and murders, compulsory enrolment of Polish Peasant Party members in the “bloc” political parties, dismissal of PPP members from their employment, searches of homes, attacks by secret police and members of the Communist Party on PPP premises and party congresses, suspension and restriction by government authorities of PPP meetings and suspension of party activities in twenty-eight districts, suppression of the party press and limitation of circulation of party newspapers, and arrest of the editorial staff of the party bulletin and of the Gazeta Ludova.
The crusade for Polish independence and territorial integrity which began with a bang ended in a pitiful whimper. Ambassador Lane reported after his arrival in Poland:
Despite the sufferings which the Poles had endured under the Nazi occupation and especially in Warsaw, many of the Poles with whom we spoke amazingly admitted that they preferred Nazi occupation to their present plight.26
Legal opposition of any kind became virtually impossible after the fraudulent election of 1947. Mikolajczyk escaped from Poland in October. In all probability he narrowly escaped the fate he had foreseen in his argument with Churchill three years earlier. Poland, so far as its government could achieve this purpose, became a thoroughly anti-western country. Its delegates in the United Nations voted invariably as the Kremlin dictated. Its human and material resources were at Stalin’s disposal.
Was all this inevitable? Were Roosevelt and Churchill, in their step-by-step abandonment first of Poland’s territorial integrity, then of Poland’s independence, obeying the dictates of inescapable historical necessity? This is what their apologists contend in representing Teheran and Yalta as the products of sheer military necessity.27
I do not believe the weight of evidence supports this view. Naturally Stalin’s aggression knew no bounds when it met with co-operation or only the feeblest opposition in Washington and London. But suppose the American and British Governments from the outset had taken a clear, uncompromising stand for Poland’s rights under the Atlantic Charter. Suppose they had exacted specific pledges of renunciation of the spoils of the pact with Hitler when the Soviet Union was hard pressed in 1941. Suppose they had made it clear, not only by unequivocal words, but by deeds, by slowing down lend-lease shipments, for instance, that the restoration of an independent Poland within the boundaries of 1939 was a war aim which would not be compromised.
Who can say with certainty that Stalin would not have respected this attitude and pursued a more conciliatory policy, looking to the establishment in Poland of a regime that would be on good terms with Russia without being a subservient vassal? And if Stalin had overrun Poland with military force, the situation would surely have been better if the western powers had refused to recognize the legitimacy of this action. What was perhaps most demoralizing to the Polish people was the positive co-operation of America and Britain with the Soviet Union in according full recognition to a Soviet puppet regime.
The same pattern was repeated, with minor variations, in Yugoslavia and in Albania. With almost incredible blindness, Roosevelt and Churchill helped to build up Stalin’s Eurasian empire, abandoning their natural friends in Eastern Europe. And the whole political sense and purpose of the war in the Far East were lost when Roosevelt handed Stalin the key to China at Yalta.
It is not true that Roosevelt and Churchill had no alternative to appease Stalin by sacrificing Poland and on other issues. But if this hypothesis were accepted as valid, what a revealing light is shed upon the futility and hypocrisy of the whole crusade, supposedly for freedom and international righteousness!
Was it really worth while to fight a destructive war so that Poland might be the victim not of Hitler but of Stalin, so that there might be a Soviet empire, not a German empire, in Eastern Europe, so that we should face not Japan but Stalin’s henchman, Mao Tse-tung, in the Orient? War and postwar emotionalism have inhibited a frank facing of these questions. But the tragic factual record of what happened to Poland, set down in this chapter, surely suggests that there is a case for a negative answer.
[1. ] F. A. Voigt, “Poland,” The Nineteenth Century and After, 35 (February 1944), 63.
[2. ] For details of the Soviet reign of terror in Eastern Poland, see Elma Dangerfield, Behind the Urals; Ann Su Cardwell, Poland and Russia; Dark Side of the Moon, a collection of narratives of Polish deportees; and Jerzy Gliksman, Tell the West. The barbarous character of Soviet rule places an especially dark blot on all transfers of territory to Soviet possession.
[3. ] Raymond Gram Swing was especially zealous in giving this misrepresentation wide publicity through his radio broadcasts.
[4. ] Many of these Polish Ukrainians fought with the Germans in the hope of achieving a free Ukrainian state. Disillusioned with the Germans, Ukrainian nationalists carried on a two-front war, both against the Nazis and against the Soviet Communists. There are authentic reports of guerrilla activity in Ukrainian regions long after the end of the war.
[5. ] This was a small group of Poles who acted as a mouthpiece for Soviet policy. It is doubtful whether the word “patriot” was ever so conspicuously misused.
[6. ] For the text of this note, see Polish-Soviet Relations, 165-66.
[7. ] Hull, Memoirs, 2:1166-67.
[8. ] Ciechanowski, Defeat in Victory, 100.
[9. ] The Polish Ambassador in Washington was a shrewd, well-informed diplomat, with many good contacts in Washington. Describing the Quebec conference of 1943, he writes: “According to the President, pro-Soviet sentiment in America was superficial and, as a matter of fact, it had to be artificially fed” (Defeat in Victory, 201).
[10. ]Polish-Soviet Relations, 178-79.
[11. ] The exception was Professor François Naville, of the University of Geneva. He has maintained his conviction that the Russians were responsible for the Katyn massacre. The International Tribunal at Nürnberg showed a rather undignified inclination to run away from the danger of discovering the truth about Katyn. It refused to call Professor Naville or General Anders as witnesses and failed to find the Germans guilty of this crime or to indicate who was guilty.
[12. ] I have never found a Pole who did not believe that the Soviet Government was responsible for the Katyn slaughter. And I have discussed the question with many Poles who were bitter in their resentment over German cruelties and certainly would have felt no desire to whitewash any Nazi atrocity.
[13. ] See the part of Beneš’s abridged memoirs published in the Nation of July 17, 1948, p. 70.
[14. ] One wonders whether Halifax was naive or cynical in this inquiry. Acceptance of the Curzon Line meant for Poland the loss of almost half its territory, of rich agricultural areas, and of its only domestic source of oil.
[15. ] This language is omitted in Hull’s account of the incident (Memoirs, 2:1271), but it is included in a report which Arthur Bliss Lane submitted to the State Department on June 1, 1945. Mr. Lane placed a copy of this report at my disposal.
[16. ] This estimate was considerably exaggerated.
[17. ] See The Nation, July 24, 1948.
[18. ] See “The Unconquerables,” by General T. Bor-Komorowski, in Reader’s Digest for February 1946.
[19. ] Mikolajczyk, The Rape of Poland, 77.
[20. ] All this information, based on State Department documents, is to be found in the report of Arthur Bliss Lane, submitted on June 1, 1945.
[21. ] Mikolajczyk, The Rape of Poland, 96ff.
[22. ] The American reply was probably deliberately held back until after the election, in which Roosevelt was elected President for the fourth time.
[23. ] Sherwood, Roosevelt and Hopkins, 907.
[24. ] Ciechanowski, Defeat in Victory, 382-83.
[25. ] Full details of repression and fraud are described in Lane, I Saw Poland Betrayed, and Mikolajczyk, The Rape of Poland.
[26. ] Lane, I Saw Poland Betrayed, 160.
[27. ] This line of argument is heavily overworked in the concluding chapters of Stettinius, Roosevelt and the Russians.