February 19, 2007 (the date of publication in Russian)

Alexei Chichkin


In 1920-1921 forty-five thousand prisoners of war, soldiers of the Red Army, were put to death in Poland


Poland's leaders and media often remind Russia of its moral responsibility for the Katyn massacre. The "Katyn" is often used as a trump card by Warsaw to exert pressure on Moscow, especially when difficulties arise in Russian-Polish relations.

Furthermore, some Polish politicians insist on declaring Katyn and several other similar events (the forced emigration of the Polish from the Baltic States and former East Poland to the Ural Mountains, Siberia and Kazakhstan in 1939-1940) as acts of genocide against the Polish people. This will have obvious consequences for Russia's international image. Ukraine wants to conduct a similar status change, not without support from Polish political analysts, regarding the Golodomor that took place in 1920-1930s. But Warsaw prefers not to remember the deaths of thousands of Russian POW in Polish concentration camps in 1919-1921. The USSR, for obvious political reasons, did not want to attract attention to this tragedy, while Poland didn't even attempt to vindicate itself, much less apologize.

However in 1951 Stalin and B. Berut, then head of Poland, signed a document which supposed that no later than 1953 a memorial would be created in Tuchola (near Lublin), where in the 1920s one of the largest Polish concentration camps for soviet prisoners was located. In order to do this, documents of a special committee that worked in the 1920s and A. Serafimoviches' archives were used (he was a writer, historian and journalist who was part of those events).

An obituary, with a leading article by Serafomovich, was supposed to be published in 1941, commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Treaty of Riga, which ended the Polish-Bolshevik War. But they were unable to complete it by March 1941 (the anniversary itself) and were already thinking about supporting the anti-German resistance in Poland. In April Hitler occupied the Balkans, and WWII intervened. Construction of the monument in Tuchola, begun in 1952, was halted on March 7 1953- two days after Stalin's death.



Supported financially and politically by the Allies, Pilsudski and the leaders of Poland, the independence of which had been granted in 1917 by the Russian Provisional Government, laid claim to lands of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In other words, Warsaw offered Moscow a new border from Smolensk to Kiev to Vitebsk to Velikie Luki, the way it was in the XVII century.

Poland, as soon as declared independence and established official government borders (autumn 1918), decided to stake a claim to expropriate Lithuanian Vilnius region, Belarus and half of Ukraine. The last almost happened in autumn 1920. However, a Poland from "sea to shining sea" (as in the Baltic and Black seas), which is what the countries leaders were hoping for, never appeared.

Warsaw hoped that Soviet Russia would be more than willing to negotiate with Pilsudski, in order to prevent a possible Polish-White Army alliance. This idea seemed especially reasonable in 1919, when Pilsudski refused to support Denikin's army, which was defeated in battle after battle on the Southern front. Denikin in his memoirs later wrote that Pilsudski stole the victory from them. And the Polish leader informed Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin of his decision (see "Josef Pilsudski: Legends and Facts", Warsaw, 1987).

But Poland's expansion East, supported by the Allies and the Vatican, didn't end there. Soviet Russia also didn't plan to alter its intention to carry out a revolutionary war in Eastern Europe (at least before the NEP began). That’s why in 1920 war was declared.

According to Lenin's biography (Moscow, 1977-1978), the volume "Lenin: War Correspondence" (Moscow, 1956) and Polish sources, including those published during the Socialist period (for example A. Leivand, Polska Partia Sotsialistytszna vobets voiny polsko-radzietskiej, 1919-1921.-Warsczawa, 1964), Bolshevik leaders of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union planned a quick sovietization of Poland and establishing Bolshevik rule there. In July 1920 Lenin demanded a "drastic increase of pressure on the Polaks".

The result of that war is recorded in the annals of history. In the summer of 1920 the League of Nations attempted to intervene and offered the conflicting sides an "ethnic border". This border, known as the Curzon line after the British politician who proposed it, lay west of the current Belarus-Polish and Ukrainian-Polish borders. But the complete defeat of the Red Army during the Battle Warsaw allowed Poland to ask for the border to run much to the East of this line. The Riga treaty, signed on March 18, 1921, gave Poland control over West Belarus and a quarter of Ukraine.



What happened to the victims of this military escapade, the soviet POW and relocated citizens? According to Russian historian I. Sukhov's data, the people's defense commissariat of the RSFSR-USSR reported 140 thousand missing, wounded, sick or dead outside the battlefields. The number of imprisoned and interned citizens of the soviet republics of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus was a respective 66 and 50 thousand. According to Russian and Belarus emigrants' sources dated 1920-1922 (including reports by the command of the 3rd Russian army and the Belarus People's volunteer army) there were more than 73 thousand Soviet POW in Poland at the time. According to G, Chicherin's (head of the People's Commissariat for Foreign Affairs of the RSFSR) memorandum dated September 9, 1921, to the Polish Embassy in Moscow "…60 thousand of the 130 thousand Russian POW died in Poland during the last two years". The Polish Embassy did not deny this.

The first signs of trouble surfaced in November 1918, when the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland, L. Vasilevskiy, while warning Moscow of the possible repercussions of detaining the Polish mission in Moscow (this wasn't going on!), officially stated that Warsaw would take measures against Russian citizens in Poland. In spring 1919 almost all staff of the repatriation embassy of the RSFSR, headed by Veselovsky, in Warsaw were killed (see "Tribune Communistichna", Moscow, February 9, 1920; May 22, 1921).

The Russian-Ukrainian delegation, headed by People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs D. Manuylskiy, which attempted to discover the fate of the POW and internees of 1921-1923, in its final report stated that: "the Polish government saw them as slaves…In some camps detainees were forced, under threat of death, to move their own excrements instead of horses. Punishments were barbarically severe. Negotiations were ineffective, because of the sabotage of the Polish delegation". (see, for example, the inquiry for the People's Commissariat for Foreign Affairs of the plenipotentiary of the RSFSR in Warsaw dated August 10, 1922).

Alexander Serafimovich, "Pravda" and "Izvestiya's " special correspondent on the Polish front, also reported on the inhumane treatment of Red Army POW: "The torture and humiliation that Russian prisoners were subject to caused privates of the Polish Army to shudder with horror, but the officers in one voice advocated 'destroying the Red dogs, the Russian occupants'. The attempts of the Russian command to agree on humane treatment of the POW and local inhabitants were ignored by Warsaw. Our country's attempts to alter the situation by asking for the help of the League of Nations and Poland's neighbors also proved fruitless- because of the White Polak's interference."

The delegation mentioned above was transformed into a special committee in late 1922. But its work was hindered by Trotsky, Tukhachevsky and Gamarnik who led the "attack" on Warsaw. These leaders, who constituted the RSFSR's military command, expressed their lack of interest in the repatriation of POW to the Polish side. Even regular Red Army soldiers knew about this, and those that successfully escaped imprisonment and emigrated to Germany and Lithuania later spoke out about this.

With the help of the Red Cross, A. Serafimovich, Comintern and the Polish Communist party the committee was able to complete a list of 80% of the Soviet soldiers and officers, who remained imprisoned in Poland, had been killed or were missing in action. They planned on publishing this list or at least handing it over to the Polish side. However, the decision was made to add this document into the soviet archive.

Also, let's note that in the 1920s and 30s Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolayevich and Vladimir Kirillovich, the widowed Empress-mother Maria Fedorovna, General A. Denikin and Metropolitan Anthony (then head of the Russian Orthodox Church abroad) attempted to convince Warsaw to at least bury the dead POW in a civilized, Christian manner. However, their appeal was ignored by Warsaw.



The inhuman orders of the Polish command caused the protest of some Polish officers. I. Matushevsky, a colonel of the Joint Staff of the Polish Army, reported to Pilsudski in February 1922: "… the camp at Tuchola was called the camp of death by prisoners; over 22 thousand were killed there"

Polish, Russian, Belarusian and Ukrainian sources state that four such camps existed. But the forerunners of Auschwitz-Maydanek-Katyn were the two most terrifying: at Stashalkovo and Tuchola.

According to recent Polish, Russian, German and Lithuanian historians, out of 120-130 thousand Soviet POW detained in Poland in 1919-1921, 65-70 thousand returned to Russia, over 6 thousand turned to the White Guard (in Poland, Germany, Romania and the Baltic nations). 2 thousand became residents of Poland and adjoining countries. Therefore, over 45 thousand perished in the camps.



In conclusion, a few recommendations for those who wish to conduct a little research of their own and peruse the documents, describing the massacre. Data on the "Polish Katyn", according to available information, can be found in the respective Central Archives of the Russian and Ukrainian Departments of Defense. Probably A. Serafimovich's personal archive contains such documents; he studied the problem for quite a while. His full works and letters have not been published. Perhaps information can be found in Polish archives, as in 1921-1923 and 1950-1951 inquiries were made.

In 1994 in the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza published an article based on Pilsudski's documents reporting that Polish command directed officers to take no prisoners, to kill those already imprisoned or wounded etc. Polish authorities didn't even comment on these facts.

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