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:Continuation of VI. The Policy of the Soviet Authorities with Regard to the Poles and the Polish Nation through IX. Conclusion, with footnotes, p. 731-760

Also, some Russian scholars studying the crimes of Stalin's era--including Lebedeva--admit that the treatment of the Poles by the Soviet authorities was influenced by their nationality (i.e., being Polish was an incriminating circumstance). (135) The attitude of the Soviet authorities to the Poles can be seen, for instance, in a proposal submitted by the People's Commissar for Defence, Grigoriy Kulik, on September 21, 1939, to Stalin, regarding "the release of Belarusian and Ukrainian prisoners," but not Polish prisoners. (136) Lebedeva points to the arrests of Poles. She stresses that these arrests:

[W]ere not isolated excesses of overzealous NKVD officers, but were a result of a carefully planned policy of destroying the representatives of the Polish statehood, a policy that began to be pursued long before Katyn, Kharkhov and Mednoye. The idea was to demolish the foundations of the Polish state and its culture. The arrests were overseen by the central authorities. In December [1939], for instance, they ordered the arrest of all reserve officers, also those that had retired, and shortly before in the war [of 1941] the arrests included people from central and western parts of Poland. (137) Petrov explains why the Poles murdered at the time were not, for instance, sent to forced labor camps, where, after all, they would not be able to do any harm to the Soviet authorities. As the Russian scholar notes:

Stalin thought otherwise. For him, those young, very well-educated and very patriotic Poles were Poland itself. Little crystals or, rather, seeds that would sprout wherever they would be thrown. They would return to Poland and create Poland in it. Sent to Voronezh or Magadan, they would build Poland there. And for Stalin, after September 1939 your state was to be no more. He agreed that within the territory of the former Second Polish Republic there would remain a mass of ordinary people he would be able to mould into whatever he chose. (138) Historical publications compare the fates of various victims:

[S]ome of the best scholars--not only in Poland but also in the world--became victims of [both] totalitarian regimes. The Krakow Gestapo wrote down just one cause of the arrest: Aktion gegen Univers. Professoren [action against university professors], while the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) condemned to death 25,700 Polish citizens as "diehard, inveterate enemies of the Soviet authorities. (139) It is worth noting here that the extermination of the Polish intellectual elite happened simultaneously on either side of the German-Soviet partition border. (140) Some authors, when comparing the German Nazi and the Stalinist crimes, point out that in some respects the Stalinist regime was even more criminal than its German Nazi equivalent. For example, according to Marek Rezler:

The murder of the Polish POWs from the three camps was completely different in nature to the extermination in the Nazi concentration camps or the Soviet labour camps. The attack was deliberate and--as it turned out--effective, because the murdered officers were often part of the elite of Polish science, medicine, culture and politics. (141) Rezler also notes that this was unique, at least when it comes to World War II, as there were no other cases of deliberate extermination of an entire camp, not to mention three camps at the same time. He adds:

Even the Germans, who had a specific extermination plan, provided for a similar action only after they had won the war. By liquidating the Kozelsk, Starobelsk and Ostashkov camps, the Soviet leaders assumed from the very beginning that the decisions sanctioning the division of the Polish state were final; they did not consider a possibility of the rebuilding of Poland or a military conflict in which the newly imprisoned Polish officers would become useful--not to mention their becoming allies. (142) In his analysis Rezler points to features common to different acts of genocide. He observes that:

Just like the Germans in their decisions made during the Wannsee Conference confirmed their 'final solution to the Jewish question', so too the Kremlin, at the turn of 1939 and 1940, decided to finally resolve the question of the Polish elite that had found themselves in its power. This led to the pits of death in the Katyn Forest, in Piatykhatky and Mednoye, as well as the camps in Siberia and the Polish settlements in Kazakhstan. (143) The author also notes that the Katyn Massacre is not just a tragic event that took place in the past and can be analysed today only as a one-off event, as an act, which, although terrible, is in its consequences solely historical. The criminal effects of the Massacre are still felt today. As Rezler wrote, "[t]he results of these decisions combined with the effects of the actions of the western invader, can still be seen in Poland today, and it will take several generations to fill those gaps; an avalanche of university degrees as well as high-level positions or financial status are not enough." (144) These words, spoken and written down in 1995, are to a large extent still valid today. A similar view is expressed by Grzegorz Lukomski. He notes that in the case of both invaders we were dealing with:

[P]lanned and mass extermination. Universities played a special role in the occupying powers' plans. The losses among the intellectual elite and intellectuals unlike material losses--are immeasurable and the most difficult to compensate. The mass murders committed by both invaders in Polish science and culture created a huge generational gap and the effects of the losses can still be felt today. For the murders not only broke the continuity of research work and programmes; first and foremost, they caused an irretrievable loss of distinguished, often brilliant individuals, who represented nearly all areas of knowledge and human intellectual activity. (145) Both the German Nazis and the Soviets would murder the Polish intellectual elite first.

We often hear that the Poles were treated as an objective political opponent and not as a national opponent. Some claim that repression against members of the nation was directed at specific individuals for political reasons. Even if this had been the case, which is by no means obvious, this does not change the fact that these individuals as a nation were regarded collectively as an element resisting Sovietization. (146) Does it really matter that the Polish nation as a whole was regarded as a politically suspect element? According to the definition of the crime of genocide, it does not. Rather, it seems to confirm the argument that actions directly against the Polish nation took place in the USSR.

Not all Polish prisoners of the Soviet POW camps were murdered; some individuals survived. (147) Yet the view that this is an argument for concluding that the "massacre was political and not genocidal in nature" is not justified. (148) In the German Nazi concentration camps, too, there were isolated cases of representatives of nations subjected to genocide leaving the camps for various reasons. (149) This may have been caused by external interventions, both political and financial (e.g., economical), or justified or unjustified expectations of the occupation authorities with regard to the usefulness of the various individuals to the regime. These almost incidental cases confirm the genocidal rule by virtue of their exceptional nature. (150) Not all Poles, including soldiers, who found themselves under Soviet rule died. (151) However, in no case of genocide, did the perpetrators kill all members of a national or ethnic group to which they had access; nor did they always do so immediately after such a physical possibility had opened up. (152)

What deserves recognition and support is the concept included in the grounds for the decision to launch a Polish investigation into the Katyn Massacre--that the main motive behind the decision to execute Poles, motive expressed directly in the decision of the Politburo on March 5, 1940, is not what they had done in the past but what they could do in the future. Kuzniar-Plota writes, "Therefore, the proposal to murder [the Poles] was a preventive measure intended to prevent the rebirth of Polish national aspirations which, obviously, had to be directed also against the USER as an aggressor and invader, and therefore possessed an 'anti-Soviet' dimension." (153)

Another argument against the Katyn Massacre being regarded as genocide is the fact that the victims included not only Poles but also some individuals of other nationalities, including Jews, Ukrainians, and Belarusians. (154) The Poles constituted a vast majority of the people that were kept in POW camps and prisons and subsequently murdered. (155) Subjected to extermination, they were treated as members of the Polish nation in the ethnic sense of the term or as people who supported or could support the Polish nation in its state-building activities. In addition to an ethic concept of the "Polish nation" there is also its formal meaning. As Kuzniar-Plota has indicated,

It has to be noted that Poland at the time was a multi-national state in which coexisted representatives of various nationalities treated by the law as 'ethnic elements' of the Polish nation. This formulation was adopted by eminent Polish lawyers in a commentary on Article 152 of the 1932 Criminal Code ("Those who publicly malign or deride the Polish Nation or the Polish State...."), with the legal term "Polish nation" encompassing all citizens of Poland regardless of their nationality. (156) This is a definition of nation adopted with regard to many states, especially those that are or were inhabited by a number of ethnic groupings (American nation, Yugoslav nation, Czechoslovak nation, etc.). (157) We have to bear in mind that this is how we should understand the intent expressed in Article 2 of the Genocide Convention...

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