The crime of genocide committed against the Poles by the USSR before and during World War II: an international legal study.

Author:Karski, Karol
Position::I. Introduction into VI. The Policy of the Soviet Authorities with Regard to the Poles and the Polish Nation, p. 703-731
 
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The USSR's genocidal activity against the Polish nation started before World War II. For instance, during the NKVD's "Polish operation" of 1937 and 1938, the Communist regime exterminated about 85,000 Poles living at that time on the prewar territory of the USSR. In Soviet newspapers and literature the image had been created of the Pole as an enemy. The USSR citizens were afraid to acknowledge Polish nationality because that meant death. After the aggression of the Third Reich and the USSR against Poland in 1939, this policy was extended into territory annexed by the USSR and its Polish inhabitants. On the basis of the Political Bureau of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) decision of March 5, 1940 about 22,000 Poles were exterminated. Despite the different places of the slayings, activities included in its execution are described as the Katyn Massacre. Further, four waves of deportations from 1940 to 1941 were conducted as a way of disintegrating ethnic ties. This genocide lasted until the moment when the USSR--not of its own will--became a member of the anti-Hitler coalition in 1941.

Genocide was legally separated as a new type of international crime by virtue of the 1948 Genocide Convention. Post-war genocide cases, including the Adolf Eichmann trial, are not affected by nullum crimen sine lege principle, since acts, especially murders, being elements of the crime of genocide were already forbidden by international law at the time of its commission. Their new classification based on the intent, which is the destruction of the group, does not violate that principle. On the basis of the 1948 Genocide Convention, German perpetrators of pre-war and the World War H genocide were brought to justice. On the Soviet and then Russian side no one has been punished for the Katyn Massacre.

CONTENTS I. INTRODUCTION II. NKVD's "POLISH OPERATION" OF 1937-1938 AS AN EXAMPLE OF GENOCIDE CRIME COMMITTED BY THE USSR AGAINST THE POLES BEFORE THE OUTBREAK OF WORLD WAR II III. THE KATYN MASSACRE AS AN EXAMPLE OF GENOCIDE CRIME COMMITTED BY THE USSR AGAINST THE POLES AFTER THE OUTBREAK OF WORLD WAR II IV. THE CONCEPT OF THE CRIME OF GENOCIDE V. THE DOCTRINE ON THE CLASSIFICATION OF THE KATYN MASSACRE UNDER INTERNATIONAL LAW--AN OUTLINE VI. THE POLICY OF THE SOVIET AUTHORITIES WITH REGARD TO THE POLES AND THE POLISH NATION VII. THE NKVD's POLISH OPERATION IN 1937 1938 AND THE KATYN MASSACRE AS THE CRIME OF GENOCIDE WITH REGARD TO THE PRINCIPLES OF LEX RETRO NON AGIT AND NULLUM CRIMEN SINE LEGE VIII. THE PROBLEM OF RESPONSIBILITY IX. CONCLUSION I. INTRODUCTION

"People belonging to national minorities 'should be forced to their knees and shot like mad dogs.' It was not an SS officer speaking, but a communist party leader, in the spirit of the national operations of Stalin's Great Terror." (1) Timothy D. Snyder makes us realize that the communist propaganda was highly effective in shaping the narrative concerning the Stalinist terror in a way that would discourage us, as much as possible, from associating it with the German Nazi terror. (2) He notes that:

[T]he picture of Stalin's terror, both in the West and in Poland, was shaped by Khrushchev's 1956 speech in which he talked about repressions against the party, against the communists. Not against those who really suffered, i.e., the people, peasants and also some nationalities. (3) During the Great Terror period in the USSR there were cases of whole nationalities being destroyed. (4) The motives behind the Soviet authorities' actions varied, although they were largely political. As a result, both political and national groups were annihilated. (5) Under modern principles of international law, if a national group is destroyed for any reason, we are dealing with a case of genocide crime. (6)

According to the Russian historian Natalia Lebedeva, Soviet Stalinism and German Nazism were an example of twin regimes. (7) As Yuri Stetsovsky, a Russian lawyer, points out, even before the USSR's and Third Reich's attack on Poland (i.e., before the beginning of World War II), the USSR authorities launched a smear campaign against Poles and began to create a negative Polish stereotype in Soviet society. (8) Stetsovsky stresses that the "image of Poles as enemies could be found not only in newspapers but also in fiction, in works by Sholokhov, Babel and Ostrovsky." (9) The anti-Polish attitude created by the Soviet authorities gave birth to the image of the "Polish lord" as a dangerous and untrustworthy exploiter of other nations. (10)

Joseph Stalin's anti-Polish sentiment has been a well-known and widely described fact. (11) George Sandford discusses this issue in detail. (12) There were many manifestations of this attitude. For instance, when the People's Commissar for Internal Affairs, Nikolai Yezhov, reported that as part of the Soviet secret police's (NKVD) so-called Polish operation between 1937 and 1938, as many as 23,216 people had already been arrested, the dictator was very pleased: "Very good! Keep on digging up and cleaning out this Polish filth. Eliminate it in the interest of the Soviet Union." (13)

  1. NKVD's "POLISH OPERATION" OF 1937-1938 AS AN EXAMPLE OF GENOCIDE CRIME COMMITTED BY THE USSR AGAINST THE POLES BEFORE THE OUTBREAK OF WORLD WAR II

    Deportations and murders of Poles living in the USSR as well as the destruction of "Polishness" in that country had been going on, with greater or lesser intensity, from the very moment the Bolsheviks came to power. (14) By definition, the Poles were regarded as a nationality with a particular predilection for spying, sedition and wreaking havoc, a view that can be seen in the surviving extermination instructions issued by the Soviet authorities. As the American historian Terry Martin has calculated, among the various national groups subjected to repression, it was the Poles who suffered most in the USSR in terms of loss of life. (15)

    In the period preceding World War II, the extermination of Poles in the USSR reached its apogee during the Great Terror. (16) The so-called Polish operation was one of the national operations carried out at the time by the NKVD. It was based on an order issued by the People's Commissar for Internal Affairs, Nikolai Yezhov, and approved by the Political Bureau of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) (hereinafter the Politburo) on August 9, 1937. (17) The broad scope of repressions meant that in practice the action covered all Poles, regardless of their social group or class. (18) What constituted a crime and could lead to death was, for instance, having relatives in Poland and staying in touch with them, even if only through correspondence. The decisive factors were national origin and links to Poland and Poles. In order to be shot, one did not even have to be a pronounced member of the "Polish Military Organisation;" (19) "potential membership" was enough. (20) There is some logic in it, if we bear in mind the fact that the Soviet authorities knew that this organisation did not exist. (21)

    According to Snyder:

    Between 1937 and 1938 Poles were blamed in the USSR for the failures of collectivisation and the Great Famine, allegedly caused by an extensive spy network masquerading as the Polish Military Organisation. Of course the name of this WWI independence-oriented organisation is well-known, but in areas that came under Soviet rule it ceased to operate in ... 1921. However, the NKVD decided to reactivate it for its own purposes; as a result, among the 143,000 people arrested on a charge of spying for Poland, 111,000, including at least 85,000 Poles, were executed. As far as I know, none of the victims of this terror against a nation was a spy. (22) When it comes to sheer numbers, this was NKVD's largest operation against members of a specific nationality, in this case Polish. (23) Those who were arrested but not murdered were deported to the Central Asian republics and to Siberia. (24) The scale of the operation was so huge that, for instance, in Berdichev, 60% of Poles living there were arrested by June 1938. The graves of people murdered at the time are scattered throughout the former USSR. (25) Dariusz Kucharski notes that:

    There are well-known cases of Poles (and Latvians) being arrested in Rostov-on-Don on the basis of information received from address bureaus (for their Polish-sounding names), often without any charges; only after they were executed were actions "unworthy of Soviet citizens" attributed to them. People, including minors and pregnant women, were shot without exception for [Polish] nationalism. (26) During the NKVD's so-called Polish operation, "data on local Poles would be collected on a mass scale. The anti-Polish pressure created in society was so huge that in practice the very fact of being Polish and admitting it was tantamount to suicide." (27)

    Even the "correct ideological attitude" was no protection against extermination. It was at that time that members of the Communist Party of Poland (KPP) who had found themselves in the USSR were murdered. Among the members of the KPP's Central Committee, those that survived were kept in Polish prisons at the time, which meant that they could not be political refugees in the USSR. As Tomasz Sommer emphasizes:

    A genocide of Poles took place in the Soviet Union in the late 1930s. The victims were selected on the basis of national and political criteria, with their ethnicity being cited in both cases as a function that determined their alleged "guilt." The decision to carry out the genocide was made by the highest ranking Soviet officials. (28) III. THE KATYN MASSACRE AS AN EXAMPLE OF GENOCIDE CRIME COMMITTED BY THE USSR AGAINST THE POLES AFTER THE OUTBREAK OF WORLD WAR II

    As Germany and the USSR started World War II in September 1939, millions of Poles found themselves under these two invaders' power. (29) The USSR expanded its criminal policy against the Poles to its expanding territories. (30) Nationalistic...

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