Russian Victims of Polish Concentration Camps
Nikolai MALISHEVSKI | 19.10.2014 | OPINION

Russian Victims of Polish Concentration Camps

The idea to erect a memorial in Krakow devoted to Red Army soldiers who lost their lives in Polish concentration camps sparked a scandal in Poland. The Russian Military Historical Society collected funds for a monument to commemorate the Red Army servicemen taken prisoner who died in a concentration camp located in Dąbie and were buried in common grave. The design is ready and the construction is slated for next year. 

The Society’s website says those willing to make a contribution can use the offered bank account. The same post says «Over 1, 2 thousand Red Army prisoners, the victims of the 1919-1921 Soviet-Polish war, are buried at the Krakow cemetery. The names are mainly unknown. Paying respect to their memory is the duty of their successors». 

Poland is outraged - the idea of erecting a memorial is seen as an attempt to «distort history» and «distract attention from Katyn». 

The Krakow municipal Department of Cemeteries is under Jacek Majchrowski, the mayor of Krakow, who believes that the Rakowicki cemetery is a wrong place for a memorial to Russian victims of the war. He says that the many more Soviet servicemen lost lives near Raszyn near Warsaw. According to him, «It would be proper to install an ordinary Orthodox cross in honor of Russian victims. The same way we honor the memory of German soldiers who died in Poland.» And then he let understand that there is no intention to do even that because the issue is the responsibility of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

It’s not only an exquisite mockery of a seasoned bureaucrat who makes no difference between Red Army soldiers and fascists, but also brazen falsification of facts. As a historian, the mayor perfectly understands that there is a difference between the Red Army soldiers who died in the battle of Warsaw and the prisoners of war who died as martyrs in concentration camps. He also knows well that many thousands of Red Army soldiers had died in concentration camps long before the battle called in Poland the «Miracle of Vistula» took place. 

Polish propaganda lies when it says that Russia was launching an offensive in Europe. It was a counter strike of Red Army in response to the Polish blitzkrieg launched in the autumn of 1920 to seize and make Polish the cities of Vilna (Vilnius or Wilno), Kiev, Minsk, and Smolensk and, as luck would have it, Moscow. Pilsudsky had a dream of personally writing on Kremlin walls, «Russian language is banned».

It’s a pity the mass extermination of many thousands of Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, the people coming from the Baltic States, Jews and Germans is a historic event poorly highlighted in the countries of former Soviet Union. 

More than 150 thousand Red Army soldiers became prisoners of war (POWs) as Poland unleashed an attack against Soviet Russia. In total, together with political prisoners and civilian internees, there were over 200,000 Red Army soldiers, civilians, White Guards, members of anti-Bolshevik and nationalist (Ukrainian and Belarusian) formations - all held in Polish concentration camps.

Second, Rzeczpospolita created a vast «archipelago» of concentration camps, stations, prisons, and fortress prison cells located in Poland, Belarus, Ukraine and Lithuania. It included dozens of concentration camps, including «death» or internment camps such as Stshalkovo, Szczypiorno, Łańcut, Tuchola, as well as railway interchange yards, points of concentration, and various military installations like Modlin and Brest Fortress including the four camps - Bug-Schuppe, Fort Berg, Graevskii barracks and the camp for commissioned officers….. The islands and islets of the archipelago were located in cities and populated areas like: Pikulice (near Peremyshl), Korosten, Zhitomir, Alexandrov, Lukov, Isle-Lomzhinsky, Rombertov, Zdunskaya Volya, Torun, Dorogusk, Plotsk, Radom, Przemyśl, Lvov, Fridrihovka (on the Zbruch River), Zvyagel, Dąbie (near Krakow), Deblin, Petrokow, Wadowice, Bialystok, Baranovichi Molodechino, Vilno, Pinsk, Ruzhany, Bobruisk, Grodno, Luninets, Volkovysk, Minsk, Pulawy, Povonzki, Stry (Western Ukraine), Kovel ...

These figures also should include the labor units of prisoners working in the area. Often they served neighboring landowners. In their case the death rate exceeded 75%. 

According to the data presented at the High Command meeting held on December 20, 1920 convened to discuss the issue of POWs, there were 3824 prisoners at the front area including working teams at assembly points. 

The Polish military GULAG did not exist for a long time – it lasted around three years but it exterminated dozens of thousands. The most deadly concentration camps were located in Poland - Stshalkovo and Tuchola.

In Polish prisons Red Army soldiers were exterminated the following ways: 1) mass murders and executions. Before going to places of detention prisoners were killed without trial and left on the battlefield. Unbearable conditions were created during transportation to prisons, b) the prisoners were tried and verdicts were handed down by courts and tribunals, c) POWs were shot for insubordination. 2. Creating unbearable conditions in the concentration camps (humiliation, abuse, beatings, hunger, cold and deceases). 

In early 1920s Polish authorities tried to distract the attention of world public from mass extermination of Soviet prisoners of war and their inhumane treatment by putting in focus the plight of Polish POWs imprisoned in Soviet Russia. No matter the conditions there were much harder – the raging civil war foreign intervention, devastation, hunger, mass epidemic deceases and lack of funds – the plight of Polish prisoners in Russia was much better in comparison. 

Polish historians greatly underestimate the number of Soviet prisoners of war and often do not take into account that not all of them fall into the camp. Many died before. Around 40 % of POWs died before getting to prisons – on the battlefield or while being transported to camps or back home. Third, they don’t count White Guard fighters, the soldiers of anti-Bolshevik and nationalist formations, as well as the members of their families, political prisoners and interned civilians (supporters of Soviet power and refugees from east). 

Totally over 50 thousand people - Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians – perished as a result of being kept in Polish prisons and internment camps: around 10-12 thousand Red Army soldiers died in concentration camps, 40-44 thousand in prisons (around 30-32 Red Army servicemen and 10-12 civilians) and the fighters of anti-Bolshevik and nationalist formations. 

I believe it would be expedient for Polish and Russian history researchers and legal experts to conduct a joint study and shed light of the fate of dozens of thousands Red Army soldiers who «disappeared» without a trace in Polish prisons. No doubt Poland has the right to investigate the fate of Polish people who lost their lives in Katyn. The same way Russia has a right to investigate the circumstances of the death of Red Army soldiers in Polish prisons and make, or to be more precise, upgrade the early 1990s list of compatriots perished in Polish concentration camps. 

There is a worthy proposal put forward by Russian bloggers. They believe it is expedient to establish an official date to honor the memory of Red Army soldiers who died in Polish prisons in 1919-1922. There is also a proposal put forward by Kemerovo governor Aman Tuleev. He believes it would serve the purpose to establish a Russian institute of national memory to investigate the crimes committed abroad against Soviet and Russian citizens.

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