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Occupied Poland

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Title: Occupied Poland  
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Subject: Extermination camp, 1943, Irena Sendler, Juliusz Schauder, List of famines, Nazi crimes against the Polish nation, Horia-Roman Patapievici
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Occupied Poland

"Occupation of Poland" redirects here. For other uses, see Occupation of Poland (disambiguation).
For general history of Poland during that period, see History of Poland (1939–1945).

The occupation of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union during the Second World War (1939–1945) began with invasion of Poland in September 1939, and formally concluded with the defeat of Nazism by the Four Powers in May 1945. Throughout the entire course of foreign occupation the territory of Poland was divided between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union (USSR). In summer-autumn of 1941 the lands annexed by the Soviets were overrun by Nazi Germany in the course of the initially successful German attack on the USSR. After a few years of fighting, the Red Army was able to repel the invaders and drive the Nazi forces out of the USSR and across Poland from the rest of Eastern and Central Europe.

Both occupying powers were equally hostile to the existence of sovereign Poland, her culture and the Polish people, aiming at their destruction.[1] Before Operation Barbarossa, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union coordinated their Poland-related policies, most visibly in the four Gestapo-NKVD Conferences, where the occupants discussed plans for dealing with the Polish resistance movement and future destruction of Poland.[2]

About 6 million Polish citizens—nearly 21.4% of Poland's population—died between 1939 and 1945 as a result of the occupation,[3][4][5] half of whom were Polish Jews. Over 90% of the death toll came through non-military losses, as most of the civilians were targeted by various deliberate actions by Germans and the Soviets.[3]

Occupation, annexation and administration

After Germany and the Soviet Union had partitioned Poland in 1939, most of the ethnically Polish territory ended up under the control of Germany while the areas annexed by the Soviet Union contained ethnically diverse peoples, with the territory split into bilingual provinces, some of which had a significant non-Polish majority (Ukrainians in the south and Belarusians in the north).[6] Many of them welcomed the Soviets, alienated in the interwar Poland. Nonetheless Poles comprised the largest single ethnic group in all territories annexed by the Soviet Union.[7]

Areas annexed by Germany

Under the terms of two decrees by Hitler, with Stalin's agreement (8 and 12 October 1939), large areas of western Poland were annexed by Germany. The size of these annexed territories was approximately 94,000 square kilometres with a population of about 10 million, the great majority of whom were Polish. Nearly 1 million Poles were expelled further east from this Nazi-controlled area. Soon, 600,000 Germans from Eastern Europe and 400,000 from the Third Reich were settled there.[8] The Nazis kept in place 1.7 million Poles deemed Germanizable, including between one and two hundred thousand children who had been taken from their parents.[9] Duiker and Spielvogel note that by 1942, the number of new German arrivals in pre-war Poland had already reached two million.[10]

Creation of General Government

The remaining block of territory was placed under a German administration called the General Government (in German: Generalgouvernement für die besetzten polnischen Gebiete), with its capital at Kraków. A German lawyer and prominent Nazi, Hans Frank, was appointed Governor-General of this occupied area on 26 October 1939. Frank oversaw the segregation of the Jews into ghettos in the largest cities, particularly Warsaw, and the use of Polish civilians as forced and compulsory labour in German war industries. In April 1940 Frank made the morbid announcement that Kraków should become racially "cleanest" of all cities under his rule.[11]

Significant border changes were made after the German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, and again in late 1944 and 1945, when the Soviet Union regained control of those lands and moved further west, eventually taking over all Polish territories.

Soviet administration zone

By the end of the Polish Defensive War against the two invaders, the Soviet Union had taken over 52.1% of the territory of Poland (~200,000 km²), with over 13,700,000 people. The ethnic composition of these areas, according to Elżbieta Trela-Mazur, were as follows: 38% Poles (~5.1 million people), 37% Ukrainians, 14.5% Belarusians, 8.4% Jews, 0.9% Russians and 0.6% Germans. There were also 336,000 refugees who fled from areas occupied by Germany, most of them Jews (198,000).[7] All territory invaded by the Red Army was annexed to the Soviet Union (after a rigged election), with the exception of Wilno area, which was transferred to sovereign Lithuania. A small strip of land that was part of Hungary before 1914, was also given to Slovakia.

Treatment of Polish citizens under Nazi German occupation

From the beginning, the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany was intended as fulfillment of the future plan of the German Reich described by Adolf Hitler in his book Mein Kampf as Lebensraum ("living space") for the Germanic peoples in Eastern Europe. The occupation goal was to turn former Poland into ethnically German "living space", as well as to exploit the material resources of the country and to maximise the use of Polish manpower as a reservoir of slave labour. The Polish nation was to be effectively reduced to the status of Serfdom, its political, religious and intellectual leadership destroyed. One aspect of German policy in conquered Poland aimed to prevent its ethnically diverse population from uniting against Germany. In a top-secret memorandum, "The Treatment of Racial Aliens in the East", dated 25 May 1940, Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, wrote: "We need to divide Poland's many different ethnic groups up into as many parts and splinter groups as possible".[12] Historians, J. Grabowski and Z.R. Grabowski wrote in 2004:

The Germanisation of Polish territories occurred by deporting and exterminating the Jews, depriving Poles of their rights and supporting the local Germans and the ethnic Germans resettled from the East. The German minority living in this ethnically mixed region was required to adhere to strict codes of behaviour and was held accountable for all unauthorised contacts with their Polish and, even more so, their Jewish neighbours. The system of control and repression strove to isolate the various ethnic (‘racial’) groups, encouraging denunciations and thus instilling fear in the populace.[13]

According to the 1931 Polish census, 66% of the prewar population of the country totaling 35 million inhabitants spoke Polish as their mother tongue. Most of them were Roman Catholics. Fifteen per cent were Ukrainians, 8.5% Jews, 4.7% Belarusians, and 2.2% Germans.[14] Poland had a small middle and upper class of well-educated professionals, entrepreneurs, and landowners. Nearly 75% of the population were peasants or agricultural laborers, and another fifth, industrial workers.

In contrast to the Nazi policy of genocide targeting all of Poland's 3.3 million Jewish men, women, and children for elimination, Nazi plans for the Polish Catholic majority focused on the elimination or suppression of political, religious, and intellectual leaders. This policy had two aims: first, to prevent Polish elites from organizing resistance or from ever regrouping into a governing class; second, to exploit the less educated majority of peasants and workers as unskilled laborers in agriculture and industry.[15] This was in spite of racial theory that regarded most Polish leaders as actually being of German blood,[16] and partly because of it, on the grounds that German blood must not be used the service of a foreign nation.[15]

From 1939–1941, the Germans deported en masse about 1,600,000 Poles, including 400,000 Jews. About 700,000 Poles were sent to Germany for forced labor, many to die there. And the most infamous German death camps had been located in Poland. Overall, during German occupation of pre-war Polish territory, 1939–1945, the Germans murdered 5,470,000–5,670,000 Poles, including nearly 3,000,000 Jews.[4][5] Altogether, 2,500,000 Poles were subjected to expulsions, while 7.3% of the Polish population served as slave labor.

Generalplan Ost and expulsion of Poles

Main article: Generalplan Ost
Main article: Expulsion of Poles by Nazi Germany

The fate of Poles in German-occupied Poland was decided in Generalplan Ost. Generalplan Ost, essentially a grand plan for ethnic cleansing, was divided into two parts, the Kleine Planung ("Small Plan"), which covered actions which were to be taken during the war, and the Grosse Planung ("Big Plan"), which covered actions to be undertaken after the war was won. The plan envisaged differing percentages of the various conquered nations undergoing Germanisation, expulsion into the depths of Russia, and other gruesome fates, the net effect of which would be to ensure that the conquered territories would take on an irrevocably German character.

In 10 years' time, the plan called for the extermination, expulsion, enslavement or Germanisation of most or all Poles and East Slavs still living behind the front line. Instead, 250 million Germans would live in an extended Lebensraum ("living space") of the 1000-Year Reich (Tausendjähriges Reich / 1000-Year empire) . Fifty years after the war, under the Große Planung, Generalplan Ost foresaw the eventual expulsion and extermination of more than 50 million Slavs beyond the Ural Mountains.

By 1952, only about 3–4 million Poles were supposed to be left residing in the former Poland, and then only to serve as slaves for German settlers. They were to be forbidden to marry, the existing ban on any medical help to Poles in Germany would be extended, and eventually Poles would cease to exist.

Operation Tannenberg

Main article: Operation Tannenberg

During the 1939 German invasion of Poland, special action squads of SS and police (the Einsatzgruppen) were deployed in the rear, arresting or killing those civilians caught resisting the Germans or considered capable of doing so as determined by their position and social status. Tens of thousands of wealthy landowners, clergymen, and members of the intelligentsia – government officials, teachers, doctors, dentists, officers, journalists, and others (both Poles and Jews) — were either murdered in mass executions or sent to prisons and concentration camps. German army units and "self-defense" forces composed of Volksdeutsche also participated in executions of civilians. In many instances, these executions were reprisal actions that held entire communities collectively responsible for the killing of Germans.

In an action codenamed "Operation Tannenberg" ("Unternehmen Tannenberg") in September and October 1939, an estimated 760 mass executions were carried out by Einsatzkommandos, resulting in the deaths of at least 20,000 of the most prominent Polish citizens. Expulsion and murder became commonplace.

Proscription lists (Sonderfahndungsbuch Polen) identified more than 61,000 Polish activists, intelligentsia, actors, former officers, etc. who were to be interned or shot. Members of the German minority living in Poland assisted in preparing the lists.

The first part of the action started in August 1939 with the arrest and execution of about 2,000 activists of Polish minority organisations in Germany. The second part of the action started on 1 September 1939 and ended in October resulting in at least 20,000 murdered in 760 mass executions by special units, Einsatzgruppen, in addition to regular Wehrmacht units. In addition to these, a special formation was created out of the German minority living in Poland called Selbstschutz, whose members trained in Germany prior to the war in diversion and guerilla fighting. The formation was responsible for many massacres and due to its bad reputation was dissolved by the Nazi authorities after the September Campaign.

A-B Aktion

The Außerordentliche Befriedungsaktion (AB-Aktion in short, German for Special Pacification) was a German campaign during World War II aimed at Polish leaders and the intelligentsia. In the spring and summer of 1940, more than 30,000 Poles were arrested by the German authorities of German-occupied Poland. Several thousand university professors, teachers, priests, and others were shot outside Warsaw, in the Kampinos forest near Palmiry, and inside the city at the Pawiak prison. Most of the remainder were sent to various German concentration camps.

Suppression of the Roman Catholic Church and other religions

Main article: Nazi persecution of the Catholic Church in Poland

According to historian Ian Kershaw, in his scheme for the Germanization of Eastern Europe, Hitler made clear that there would be "no place in this utopia for the Christian Churches".[17] Catholicism had a presence in Poland stretching back almost 1000 years. By 1939, around 65% of Poles professed to be Catholic.[18] The Nazi plan for Poland entailed the destruction of the Polish nation, which necessarily required attacking the Polish Church, particularly in those areas annexed to Germany.[19] Thousands of priests died in prisons and concentration camps; thousands of churches and monasteries were confiscated, closed or destroyed; and priceless works of religious art and sacred objects were lost forever. Church leaders were targeted as part of an overall effort to destroy Polish culture.

Historically, the Catholic Church had been a leading force in Polish nationalism against foreign domination, thus the Nazis targeted clergy, monks and nuns in their terror campaigns to eliminate Polish culture. Nazi ideology was hostile to Christianity and Hitler held the teachings of the Catholic Church in contempt. Ethnic "Poles" - the mainly Catholic ethnic majority of Poland - were viewed as "sub-humans". Following their 1939 invasion of West Poland, the Nazis instigated a policy of murdering or suppressing the ethnic Polish elites: including religious leaders.[20] During the 1939 invasion, special death squads of SS and police arrested or executed those considered capable of resisting the occupation: including clergymen.[21] Of the brief period of military control from 1 September 1939-25 October 1939, Davies wrote: "according to one source, 714 mass executions were carried out, and 6,376 people, mainly Catholics, were shot. Other put the death toll in one town alone at 20,000. It was a taste of things to come."[22]

In the aftermath of invasion, the Primate of Poland, Cardinal August Hlond, submitted an official account of the persecutions of the Polish Church to the Vatican.[23] In his final observations for Pope Pius XII, Hlond wrote: "Hitlerism aims at the systematic and total destruction of the Catholic Church in the rich and fertile territories of Poland which have been incorporated into the Reich...".[24] The Vatican used its press and radio to tell the world in January 1940 of terrorization of the Polish people. On 16 and 17 November 1940, Vatican Radio said that religious life for Catholics in Poland continued to be brutally restricted and that at least 400 clergy had been deported to Germany in the preceding four months:[25]

The Catholic Associations in the General Government also have been dissolved, the Catholic educational institutions have been closed down, and Catholic professors and teachers have been reduced to a state of extreme need or have been sent to concentration camps. The Catholic press has been rendered impotent. In the part incorporated into the Reich, and especially in Posnania, the representatives of the Catholic priests and orders have been shut up in concentration camps. In other dioceses the priests have been put in prison. Entire areas of the country have been deprived of all spiritual ministrations and the church seminaries have been dispersed.

— Vatican Radio, November 1940

Nazi policy towards the Church was at its most severe in the territories it annexed to Greater Germany, where they set about systematically dismantling the Church - arresting its leaders, exiling its clergymen, closing its churches, monasteries and convents. Many clergymen were murdered.[26][21] In these areas the Polish Church was to be thoroughly eradicated, though German Catholics could remain or settle there.[27] In Pomerania the Nazi Gauleiter Albert Forster permitted German priests, and believed that Poles themselves could be Germanized, but under the exceptionally aggressive policies of Arthur Greiser, the Nazi Gauleiter of the Warta region, German Catholics and the Protestant Church suffered in his campaign to eradicate the Polish Church, prompting the head of the German Bishops Conference to ask the Pope for assistance.[28]

From 1940, the Nazis established dedicated Clergy Barracks at Dachau Concentration Camp.[29][30] Of a total of 2,720 clergy recorded as imprisoned at Dachau, some 2,579 (or 94.88%) were Catholic.[31] By far the greatest number of clerical prisoners came from Poland - in all some 1,748 Polish Catholic clerics, of whom some 868 died in the camp.[32] The Nazis introduced a racial hierarchy - keeping Poles in harsh conditions, while favouring German priests.[33] 697 Poles arrived in December 1941, and a further 500 of mainly elderly clergy were brought in October the following year. Inadequately clothed for the bitter cold, of this group only 82 survived. A large number of Polish priests were chosen for Nazi medical experiments. In November 1942, 20 were given phlegmons. 120 were used by Dr Schilling for malaria experiments between July 1942 and May 1944. Several Poles met their deaths with the "invalid trains" sent out from the camp, others were liquidated in the camp and given bogus death certificates. Some died of cruel punishment for misdemeanors - beaten to death or run to exhaustion.[34]

No exception was made for Poland's higher clergy. Bishop Michael Kozal of Wladislava died in Dachau; Bishop Nowowiejski of Płock and his suffragan Bishop Wetmanski both died in prison in Poland; Bishop Fulman of Lublin and his suffragan Bishop Goral were sent to a concentration camp in Germany. In 1939, 80% of the Catholic clergy and five of the bishops of the Warthegau region had been deported to concentration camps. In Wrocław, 49.2% of the clergy were dead; in Chełmno, 47.8%; in Łódź, 36.8%; in Poznań, 31.1%. In the Warsaw diocese, 212 priests were killed; 92 were murdered in Wilno, 81 in Lwów, 30 in Kraków, 13 in Kielce. Seminarians who were not killed were shipped off to Germany as forced labor. Of 690 priests in the Polish province of West Prussia, at least 460 were arrested. The remaining priests of the region fled their parishes. Of the arrested priests, 214 were executed, including the entire cathedral chapter of Pelplin. The rest were deported to the newly created General Government district in Central Poland. By 1940, only 20 priests were still serving their parishes in West Prussia. Many nuns shared the same fate as priests. Some 400 nuns were imprisoned at Bojanowo concentration camp. Many were later sent to Germany as slave labor. Of the city of Poznań's 30 churches and 47 chapels, the Nazis left two open to serve some 200,000 souls. Thirteen churches were simply locked and abandoned; six became warehouses; four, including the cathedral, were used as furniture storage centers. In Łódź, only four churches were allowed to remain open to serve 700,000 Catholics.

The small Evangelical churches of Poland also suffered. All the Protestant clergy of the Cieszyn region of Silesia were arrested and sent to the death camps at Mauthausen, Buchenwald, Dachau and Oranienburg. Among the Protestant martyrs were Karol Kulisz, director of the Evangelical Church's largest charitable organization, who died in Buchenwald in November 1939; Professor Edmund Bursche, a member of the Evangelical Faculty of Theology at the University of Warsaw, who died in the stone quarries of Mauthausen; and the 79-year-old Bishop of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland, Juliusz Bursche, who died in solitary confinement in Berlin.

The Polish Home Army was conscious of the link between morale and religious practice and the Catholic religion was integral to much Polish resistance, particularly during the Warsaw Uprising of 1944.[35] Despite persecution, Catholic priests preached national spirit and encouraged resistance across Poland, and the Resistance was full of clergy.[36]

Abolition of secondary and higher education

As part of wider efforts to destroy Polish culture, the Germans closed or destroyed universities, schools, museums, libraries, and scientific laboratories. Many university professors, along with teachers, lawyers, intellectuals and other members of the Polish elite, were arrested and executed. They demolished hundreds of monuments to national heroes. To prevent the birth of a new generation of educated Poles, German officials decreed that Polish children's schooling end after a few years of elementary education.[37]

Himmler wrote in a May 1940 memorandum, "The sole goal of this schooling is to teach them simple arithmetic, nothing above the number 500; writing one's name; and the doctrine that it is divine law to obey the Germans. . . . I do not think that reading is desirable".[37]

Germanization and expulsion of Poles

Main article: Expulsion of Poles by Nazi Germany (1939-1944)

In the territories which were annexed to Nazi Germany, the Nazis' goal was to achieve complete "Germanization" which would assimilate the territories politically, culturally, socially, and economically into the German Reich.[38] They applied this policy most rigorously in western incorporated territories—the so-called Wartheland. There, the Germans closed even elementary schools where Polish was the language of instruction. They renamed streets and cities so that Łódź became Litzmannstadt, for example. They also seized tens of thousands of Polish enterprises, from large industrial firms to small shops, without payment to the owners. Signs posted in public places warned: "Entrance is forbidden to Poles, Jews, and dogs."

The Germanization of the annexed lands also included an ambitious program to resettle Germans from the Baltic and other regions on farms and other homes formerly occupied by Poles and Jews.[39] Only those Poles selected for Germanization were permitted to remain,[40] and if they resisted Germanization, they were to be sent to concentration camps, because "German blood must not be utilized in the interest of a foreign nation".[41] Beginning in October 1939, the SS began to expel Poles and Jews from the Wartheland and the Polish Corridor and transport them to the General Government. By the end of 1940, the SS had expelled 325,000 people without warning and plundered their property and belongings. Many elderly people and children died en route or in makeshift transit camps such as those in the towns of Potulice, Smukal, and Toruń. In 1941, the Germans expelled 45,000 more people, but they scaled back the program after the invasion of the Soviet Union in late June 1941. Trains used for resettlement were more urgently needed to transport soldiers and supplies to the front.

During the German occupation of Poland in World War II attempts to divide (Divide and rule) the Polish nation by the new rulers led to the postulation of a separate ethnicity called "Goralenvolk". In 1941, the German Nazis also started forceful enrollment of Kashubians onto the Deutsche Volksliste due to losses in the Wehrmacht.[42]

In late 1942 and in 1943, the SS also carried out massive expulsions in the General Government, uprooting 110,000 Poles from 300 villages in the ZamośćLublin region. Families were torn apart as able-bodied teens and adults were taken for forced labor and elderly, young, and disabled persons were moved to other localities. Tens of thousands were also imprisoned in the Auschwitz and Majdanek concentration camps.

Kidnapping of children

Main articles: Kidnapping of Polish children by Nazi Germany and Kinder KZ

The Nazis kept an eye out for Polish children who possessed Nordic racial characteristics.[43] Promising children were separated from their parents and sent to Łódź for further examination.[44] If they passed the battery of racial, physical and psychological tests, they were sent on to Germany for "Germanization".[45] As many as 4,454 children chosen for Germanization were given German names,[46] forbidden to speak Polish,[47] and reeducated in SS or other Nazi institutions. Few ever saw their parents again. Many more children were rejected as unsuitable for Germanization after failing to measure up to racial scientists' criteria for being "racially valuable". These children were shipped to orphanages or to Auschwitz, where they were killed, most often by intercardiac injections of phenol.

An estimated total of 50,000 children were kidnapped in Poland, the majority taken from orphanages and foster homes in the annexed lands. Infants born to Polish women deported to Germany as farm and factory laborers, if deemed "racially valuable", were also usually taken from the mothers and subjected to Germanization.[48] If an examination of the father and mother suggested that a "racially valuable" child might not result from the union, the mother was compelled to have an abortion.[48] And if a child was born who did not pass muster, they would be removed to an Ausländerkinder-Pflegestätte, where many died from the lack of food.[49]

German People's List

Main article: Deutsche Volksliste

The German People's List (Deutsche Volksliste) classified Polish citizens into four groups.[44]

  • Group 1 included so-called ethnic Germans who had taken an active part in the struggle for the Germanization of Poland;
  • Group 2 included those ethnic Germans who had not taken such an active part, but had "preserved" their German characteristics;
  • Group 3 included individuals of alleged German stock who had become "Polonized", but whom it was believed, could be won back to Germany. This group also included persons of non-German descent married to Germans or members of non-Polish groups who were considered desirable for their political attitude and racial characteristics;
  • Group 4 consisted of persons of German stock who had become politically merged with the Poles.

After registration in the List, individuals from Groups 1 and 2 automatically became German citizens. Those from Group 3 acquired German citizenship subject to revocation. Those from Group 4 received German citizenship through naturalization proceedings; resistance to Germanization constituted treason because "German blood must not be utilized in the interest of a foreign nation," and such people were sent to concentration camps.[44] Persons ineligible for the List were classified as stateless, and all Poles from the occupied territory, that is from the Government General of Poland, as distinct from the incorporated territory, were classified as non-protected.[44]

Concentration camps

Camps such as German death camp Auschwitz in Poland and Buchenwald in central Germany became administrative centers of huge networks of forced-labor camps. In addition to SS-owned enterprises (the German Armament Works, for example), private German firms – such as Messerschmitt, Junkers, Siemens, and IG Farben — increasingly relied on forced laborers to boost war production. One of the most infamous of these camps was Auschwitz III, or Monowitz, which supplied forced laborers to a synthetic rubber plant owned by IG Farben. Prisoners in all the concentration camps were literally worked to death.

Auschwitz (Oświęcim) became the main concentration camp for Poles after the arrival there on 14 June 1940, of 728 men transported from an overcrowded prison at Tarnów. By March 1941, 10,900 prisoners were registered at the camp, most of them Poles. In September 1941, 200 ill prisoners, most of them Poles, along with 650 Soviet prisoners of war, were killed in the first gassing experiments at Auschwitz. Beginning in 1942, Auschwitz's prisoner population became much more diverse, as Jews and other "enemies of the state" from all over German-occupied Europe were deported to the camp.

The Polish scholar Franciszek Piper, the chief historian of Auschwitz, has estimated that 140,000–150,000 Poles were brought to that camp between 1940 and 1945, and that 70,000–75,000 died there as victims of executions, of cruel medical experiments, and of starvation and disease. Some 100,000 Poles were deported to Majdanek, and tens of thousands of them died there. An estimated 20,000 Poles died at Sachsenhausen, 20,000 at Gross-Rosen, 30,000 at Mauthausen, 17,000 at Neuengamme, 10,000 at Dachau, and 17,000 at Ravensbrueck. In addition, tens of thousands were executed or died in other camps and prisons.

Forced labor

Main article: Forced labor in Germany during World War II

Labor shortages in the German war economy became critical especially after German defeat in the battle of Stalingrad in 1942–1943. This led to the increased use of prisoners as forced laborers in German industries. Especially in 1943 and 1944, hundreds of camps were established in or near industrial plants.

Between 1939 and 1945, at least 1.5 million Polish citizens were transported to the Reich for labor, most of them against their will. Many were teenaged boys and girls. Although Germany also used forced laborers from Western Europe, Poles, along with other Eastern Europeans viewed as inferior, were subject to especially harsh discriminatory measures. They were forced to wear identifying purple P's sewn to their clothing, subjected to a curfew, and banned from public transportation. While the actual treatment accorded factory workers or farm hands often varied depending on the individual employer, Polish laborers as a rule were compelled to work longer hours for lower wages than Western Europeans, and in many cities they lived in segregated barracks behind barbed wire.

Polish identity cards

Polish identity cards were replaced by the "Kennkarte" (identifying card). Those who applied for it had to fill out an affidavit that they were not Jews. Ultimately, the Nazis' "New Order" policy in Poland would result in the death of 20% of the population, some 6 million people, half of them Jewish.


In response to the German occupation, Poles organized the largest underground movement in Europe[50] with more than 300 widely supported political and military groups and subgroups. Despite military defeat, the Polish government itself never surrendered. In 1940, the Polish government in Exile was established in London.

The Leśni) killed about 150,000 Axis during the occupation.

In August 1943 and March 1944, Polish Secret State announced their long-term plan, partially designed to counter the attractiveness of some of communists' proposals. That plan promised land reform, nationalisation of the industrial base, demands for territorial compensation from Germany as well as re-establishment of the pre-1939 eastern border. Thus the main difference between the Underground State and the communists, in terms of politics, amounted not to radical economic and social reforms, which were advocated by both sides, but to their attitudes towards national sovereignty, borders, and Polish-Soviet relations.[51]

Resistance groups inside Poland set up underground courts for trying collaborators and others deemed to be traitors to Poland. The resistance groups also set up clandestine schools in response to the Germans' closing of many educational institutions. For example, the universities of Warsaw, Cracow, and Lvov all operated clandestinely.

Officers of the regular Polish army formed an underground armed force, the "Home Army" (Armia Krajowa—AK). After preliminary organizational activities, including the training of fighters and stockpiling of weapons, the AK activated partisan units in many parts of Poland in 1943. A Communist underground resistance group, the "People's Guard" (Gwardia Ludowa), also formed in 1942, but its military strength and influence were relatively weak compared to the Armia Krajowa.

The Polish Home Army was conscious of the link between morale and religious practice and the Catholic religion was integral to much Polish resistance, particularly during the Warsaw Uprising of 1944.[52] Adam Sapieha, Archbishop of Lvov, became the defacto head of the Polish church following the invasion. He openly criticised Nazi terror tactics.[53] One of the principal figures of the Polish Resistance, Sapieha opened a clandestine seminary in an act of cultural resistance. Among the seminarians was Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II.[54] Wojtyla had been a member of the Rhapsodic Theatre, an underground resistance group, which sought to sustain Polish culture through forbidden readings of poetry and drama performances.[55]

Poland had a large Jewish population, and according to Davies, more Jews were both killed and rescued in Poland, than in any other nation: the rescue figure usually being put at between 100-150,000.[56] Thousands of Poles have been honoured as Righteous Among the Nations - constituting the largest national contingent.[57] When AK Home Army Intelligence discovered the true fate of transports leaving the Jewish Ghetto, the Council to Aid Jews (Zegota) was established in late 1942, in cooperation with church groups. The organisation saved thousands. Emphasis was placed on protecting children, as it was nearly impossible to intervene directly against the heavily guarded transports. The Germans implemented several different laws to separate Poles and Jews in the ghettos with Poles living on the "Aryan Side" and the Jews living on the "Jewish Side", despite the risk of death many Poles risked their lives by forging "Aryan Papers" for Jews to make them appear as non-Jewish Poles so they could live on the Aryan side and avoid Nazi persecution.[58] Another law implemented by the Germans was that Poles were forbid from from buying from Jewish shops in which if they did they were subject to execution.[59] Jewish children were also distributed among safe houses and church networks.[60] Jewish children were often placed in church orphanages and convents.[61]

When the arrival of the Soviet army seemed imminent, the AK launched an uprising in Warsaw against the German army on 1 August 1944. After 63 days of bitter fighting, the Germans quashed the insurrection. The Polish resistance received little or no assistance from the Soviet army. The Soviet army had reached a point within a few hundred meters across the Vistula River from the city on 16 September, but failed to make further headway in the course of the Uprising, leading to accusations that they had deliberately stopped their advance because Joseph Stalin did not want the Uprising to succeed. The reasoning behind the allegation was that Stalin preferred to have the Polish resistance suppressed by the Nazis so as to weaken any forces that might resist Soviet domination after the war.

Catholic religious fervour was a feature of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. General Antoni Chruściel issued instructions on how front-line troops could continue religious observance. Churches were destroyed, but congregations were not deterred. Clergy were involved on many levels - as chaplains to military units, or tending to the ever increasing numbers of wounded and dying. Among the hundreds of chaplains attached to the Home Army was Stefan Wyszyński, who later served as the defiant Cardinal Primate of Poland in the Communist era. "Nuns of various orders", wrote Davies, "acted as universal sisters of mercy and won widespread praise. Mortality among them was higher than among most categories of civilians. When captured by the SS, they aroused a special fury, which frequently ended in rape or butchery".[62] The religious communities in general remained during the Uprising, converting their crypts and cellars to bomb shelters and hospitals, and throwing themselves into social work.[63]

Nearly 250,000 Poles, most of them civilians, lost their lives in the Warsaw Uprising. The Germans deported hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children to concentration camps. Many others were transported to the Reich for forced labor. Acting on Hitler's orders, German forces reduced the city to rubble, greatly extending the destruction begun during their suppression of the earlier armed uprising by Jewish fighters resisting deportation from the Warsaw ghetto in April 1943.

Impact on the Polish population

The Polish civilian population suffered under German occupation in several ways. Large numbers were expelled from areas intended for German colonisation, and forced to resettle in the General-Government area. Hundreds of thousands of Poles were deported to Germany for forced labour in industry and agriculture, where many thousands died. Poles were also conscripted for labour in Poland, and were held in labour camps all over the country, again with a high death rate. There was a general shortage of food, fuel for heating and medical supplies, and there was a high death rate among the Polish population as a result. Finally, thousands of Poles were killed as reprisals for resistance attacks on German forces or for other reasons. In all, about 3 million (non-Jewish) Poles died as a result of the German occupation, more than 10% of the pre-war population. When this is added to the 3 million Polish Jews who were killed as a matter of policy by the Germans, Poland lost about 22% of its population, the highest proportion of any European country in World War II [5].

Some three million non-Jewish Polish citizens perished during the course of the war, over two million of whom were ethnic Poles (the remainder being mostly Ukrainians and Belarusians). The vast majority of those killed were civilians, mostly killed by the actions of Nazi Germany.[64][65]

Rather than being sent to concentration camps, most non-Jewish Poles died through in mass executions, starvation, singled out murder cases, ill health or forced labour. Apart from Auschwitz, the main six "extermination camps" in Poland were used almost exclusively to kill Jews. Stutthof concentration camp was used for mass extermination of Poles. A number of civilian labour camps (Gemeinschaftslager) for Poles (Polenlager) were established inside Polish territory. Many Poles died in German camps. The first non-German prisoners at Auschwitz were Poles, who were the majority of inmates there until 1942, when the systematic killing of the Jews began. The first killing by poison gas at Auschwitz involved 300 Poles and 700 Soviet prisoners of war, among them ethnic Ukrainians, Russians and others. Many Poles and other Eastern Europeans were also sent to concentration camps in Germany: over 35,000 to Dachau, 33,000 to the camp for women at Ravensbrück, 30,000 to Mauthausen and 20,000 to Sachsenhausen, for example.

The population in the General Government's territory was initially about 12 million in an area of 94,000 square kilometres, but this increased as about 860,000 Poles and Jews were expelled from the German-annexed areas and "resettled" in the General Government. Offsetting this was the German campaign of extermination of the Polish intelligentsia and other elements thought likely to resist (e.g. Operation Tannenberg). From 1941, disease and hunger also began to reduce the population. Poles were deported in large numbers to work as forced labour in Germany: eventually about a million were deported, and many died in Germany.

About one fifth of Polish citizens lost their lives in the war [6], most of the civilians targeted by various deliberate Naxzi actions.

Treatment of Polish citizens under Soviet occupation

Main article: Soviet repressions of Polish citizens (1939–1946)
Further information: Soviet annexation of Western Ukraine, 1939–1940

By the end of Polish Defensive War the Soviet Union took over 52.1% of territory of Poland (~200,000 km²), with over 13,700,000 people. The estimates vary; Elżbieta Trela-Mazur gives the following numbers in regards to ethnic composition of these areas: 38% Poles (ca. 5,1 million people), 37% Ukrainians, 14,5% Belarusians, 8,4% Jews, 0,9% Russians and 0,6% Germans. There were also 336,000 refugees from areas occupied by Germany, most of them Jews (198,000).[7] Areas occupied by USSR were annexed to Soviet territory, with the exception of area of Wilno, which was transferred to Lithuania, although soon attached to USSR, when Lithuania became a Soviet republic.

Initially the Soviet occupation gained support among some members the non-Polish population who had chafed under the nationalist policies of the Second Polish Republic. Much of the Ukrainian population initially welcomed the unification with the rest of Ukraine which Ukrainians had failed to achieve in 1919 when their attempt for self-determination was crushed by Poland and Soviet Union.[67]

There were large groups of pre-war Polish citizens, notably Jewish youth and, to a lesser extent, the Ukrainian peasants, who saw the Soviet power as an opportunity to start political or social activity outside of their traditional ethnic or cultural groups. Their enthusiasm however faded with time as it became clear that the Soviet repressions were aimed at all groups equally, regardless of their political stance.[68]

British historian Simon Sebag Montefiore states that Soviet terror in the occupied eastern Polish lands was as cruel and tragic as Nazi in the west. Soviet authorities brutally treated those who might oppose their rule, deporting by 10 November 1940, around 10% of total population of Kresy, with 30% of those deported dead by 1941.[69] They arrested and imprisoned about 500,000 Poles during 1939–1941, including former officials, officers, and natural "enemies of the people", like the clergy, but also noblemen and intellectuals. The Soviets also executed about 65,000 Poles. Soldiers of the Red Army and their officers behaved like conquerors, looting and stealing Polish treasures. When Stalin was told about it, he answered: "If there is no ill will, they [the soldiers] can be pardoned".[70]

In one notorious massacre, the NKVD-the Soviet secret police—systematically executed 21,768 Poles, among them 14,471 former Polish officers, including political leaders, government officials, and intellectuals. Some 4,254 of these were uncovered in mass graves in Katyn Forest by the Nazis in 1943, who then invited an international group of neutral representatives and doctors to study the corpses and confirm Soviet guilt, but the findings from the study were denounced by the Allies as "Nazi propaganda".

The Soviet Union had ceased to recognise the Polish state at the start of the invasion.[71][72] As a result, the two governments never officially declared war on each other. The Soviets therefore did not classify Polish military prisoners as prisoners of war but as rebels against the new legal government of Western Ukraine and Western Byelorussia.[n] The Soviets killed tens of thousands of Polish prisoners of war. Some, like General Józef Olszyna-Wilczyński, who was captured, interrogated and shot on 22 September, were executed during the campaign itself.[73][74] On 24 September, the Soviets killed 42 staff and patients of a Polish military hospital in the village of Grabowiec, near Zamość.[75] The Soviets also executed all the Polish officers they captured after the Battle of Szack, on 28 September.[76] Over 20,000 Polish military personnel and civilians perished in the Katyn massacre.[77][78]

The Poles and the Soviets re-established diplomatic relations in 1941, following the Sikorski-Mayski Agreement; but the Soviets broke them off again in 1943 after the Polish government demanded an independent examination of the recently discovered Katyn burial pits.[79] The Soviets then lobbied the Western Allies to recognize the pro-Soviet Polish puppet government of Wanda Wasilewska in Moscow.[80]

On 28 September 1939, the Soviet Union and Germany had changed the secret terms of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. They moved Lithuania into the Soviet sphere of influence and shifted the border in Poland to the east, giving Germany more territory.[81] By this arrangement, often described as a fourth partition of Poland,[78] the Soviet Union secured almost all Polish territory east of the line of the rivers Pisa, Narew, Western Bug and San. This amounted to about 200,000 square kilometres of land, inhabited by 13.5 million Polish citizens.[6]

The Red Army had originally sowed confusion among the locals by claiming that they were arriving to save Poland from the Nazis.[82] Their advance surprised Polish communities and their leaders, who had not been advised how to respond to a Bolshevik invasion. Polish and Jewish citizens may at first have preferred a Soviet regime to a German one,[83] but the Soviets soon proved as hostile and destructive towards the Polish people and their culture as the Nazis.[84][85] They began confiscating, nationalising and redistributing all private and state-owned Polish property.[86] During the two years following the annexation, they arrested approximately 100,000 Polish citizens[87] and deported between 350,000 and 1,500,000, of whom between 150,000 and 1,000,000 died, mostly civilians.[b][4][5][88]

Land reform and collectivisation

The Soviet base of support was Rstrengthened by a land reform program initiated by the Soviets in which most of the owners of large lots of land were labeled "kulaks" and dispossessed of their land which was then divided among poorer peasants.

However, the Soviet authorities then started a campaign of forced collectivisation, which largely nullified the earlier gains from the land reform as the peasants generally did not want to join the Kolkhoz farms, nor to give away their crops for free to fulfill the state-imposed quotas.

Restructuring of Polish governmental and social institutions

While Germans enforced their policies based on racism, the Soviet administration justified their Stalinist policies by appealing to the Soviet ideology,[89] which in reality meant the thorough Sovietization of the area. Immediately after their conquest of eastern Poland, the Soviet authorities started a campaign of sovietization[90][91] of the newly acquired areas. No later than several weeks after the last Polish units surrendered, on 22 October 1939, the Soviets organized staged elections to the Moscow-controlled Supreme Soviets (legislative body) of Western Byelorussia and Western Ukraine.[92] The result of the staged voting was to become a legitimization of Soviet annexation of eastern Poland.[93]

Subsequently, all institutions of the dismantled Polish state were closed down and reopened under the Soviet appointed supervisors. Lwow University and many other schools were reopened soon but they were restarted anew as Soviet institutions rather than continuing their old legacy. Lwow University was reorganized in accordance with the Statute Books for Soviet Higher Schools. The tuition, that along with the institution's Polonophile traditions, kept the university inaccessible to most of the rural Ukrainophone population, was abolished and several new chairs were opened, particularly the chairs of Russian language and literature. The chairs of Marxism-Leninism, Dialectical and Historical Materialism aimed at strengthening of the Soviet ideology were opened as well.[7] Polish literature and language studies ware dissolved by Soviet authorities. Forty-five new faculty members were assigned to it and transferred from other institutions of Soviet Ukraine, mainly the Kharkiv and Kiev universities. On 15 January 1940 the Lvov University was reopened and started to teach in accordance with Soviet curricula.[94]

Simultaneously, Soviet authorities attempted to remove the traces of Polish history of the area by eliminating much of what had any connection to the Polish state or even Polish culture in general.[7] On 21 December 1939, the Polish currency was withdrawn from circulation without any exchange to the newly introduced rouble, which meant that the entire population of the area lost all of their life savings overnight.[95]

All the media became controlled by Moscow. Soviet authorities implemented a political regime similar to a police state,[96][97][98][99] based on terror. All Polish parties and organizations were disbanded. Only the Communist Party was allowed to exist along with organizations subordinated to it.

All organized religions were persecuted. All enterprises were taken over by the state, while agriculture was made collective.[100]

Rule of Terror

An inherent part of the Sovietization was a rule of terror started by the NKVD and other Soviet agencies. The first victims of the new order were approximately 250,000 Polish prisoners of war captured by the USSR during and after the Polish Defensive War (see Polish prisoners of war in Soviet Union (after 1939)).[101] As the Soviet Union did not sign any international convention on rules of war, they were denied the status of prisoners of war and instead almost all of the captured officers and a large number of ordinary soldiers[102] were then murdered (see Katyn massacre) or sent to Gulag.[103] Thousands of others would fall victim to NKVD massacres of prisoners in mid-1941, after Germany invaded the Soviet Union.

Similar policies were applied to the civilian population as well. The Soviet authorities regarded service for the pre-war Polish state as a "crime against revolution"[104] and "counter-revolutionary activity",[105] and subsequently started arresting large numbers of Polish intelligentsia, politicians, civil servants and scientists, but also ordinary people suspected of posing a threat to the Soviet rule. Among the arrested members of the Polish intelligentsia were former prime ministers Leon Kozłowski and Aleksander Prystor, as well as Stanisław Grabski, Stanisław Głąbiński and the Baczewski family. Initially aimed primarily at possible political opponents, by January 1940 the NKVD aimed its campaign also at its potential allies, including the Polish communists and socialists. Among the arrested were Władysław Broniewski, Aleksander Wat, Tadeusz Peiper, Leopold Lewin, Anatol Stern, Teodor Parnicki, Marian Czuchnowski and many others.[106]


In 1940 and the first half of 1941, the Soviets deported more than 1,200,000 Poles, most in four mass deportations. The first deportation took place 10 February 1940, with more than 220,000 sent to northern European Russia; the second on 13 April 1940, sending 320,000 primarily to Kazakhstan; a third wave in June–July 1940 totaled more than 240,000; the fourth occurred in June 1941, deporting 300,000. Upon resumption of Polish-Soviet diplomatic relations in 1941, it was determined based on Soviet information that more than 760,000 of the deportees had died – a large part of those dead being children, who had comprised about a third of deportees.[107]

Approximately 100,000 former Polish citizens were arrested during the two years of Soviet occupation.[87] The prisons soon got severely overcrowded.[68] with detainees suspected of anti-Soviet activities and the NKVD had to open dozens of ad-hoc prison sites in almost all towns of the region.[93] The wave of arrests led to forced resettlement of large categories of people (kulaks, Polish civil servants, forest workers, university professors or osadniks, for instance) to the Gulag labour camps and exile settlements in remote areas of the Soviet Union.[91] Altogether roughly a million people were sent to the east in four major waves of deportations.[108] According to Norman Davies,[109] almost half of them were dead by the time the Sikorski-Mayski Agreement had been signed in 1941.[110]

According to the Soviet law, all residents of the annexed area, dubbed by the Soviets as citizens of former Poland,[111] automatically acquired Soviet citizenship. However, actual conferral of citizenship still required the individual's consent and the residents were strongly pressured for such consent.[112] The refugees who opted out were threatened with repatriation to Nazi controlled territories of Poland.[3][113][114]

Exploitation of ethnic tensions

In addition, the Soviets exploited past ethnic tension between Poles and other ethnic groups, inciting and encouraging violence against Poles calling the minorities to "rectify the wrongs they had suffered during twenty years of Polish rule".[115] Pre-war Poland was portrayed as a capitalist state based on exploitation of the working people and ethnic minorities. Soviet propaganda claimed that unfair treatment of non-Poles by the Second Polish Republic was a justification of its dismemberment. Soviet officials openly incited mobs to perform killings and robberies[116] The death toll of the initial Soviet-inspired terror campaign remains unknown.

Restoration of Polish sovereignty

Over 600,000 Soviet soldiers died fighting Nazi troops in Poland.[117] While formal Polish sovereignty was almost immediately restored when the forces of Nazi Germany were expelled in 1945, in reality the country remained under firm Soviet control as it remained occupied by the Soviet Army Northern Group of Forces until 1956. To this day the events of those and the following years are one of the stumbling blocks in Polish-Russian foreign relations. Polish requests for the return of property looted during the war or any demand for an apology for Soviet-era crimes are either ignored or prompt a brusque restatement of history as seen by the Kremlin, along the lines of "we freed you from Nazism: be grateful."[118]


Main article: World War II casualties of Poland

Over 6 million Polish citizens – nearly 21.4% of the pre-war population of the Second Polish Republic — died between 1939 and 1945.[119] Over 90% of the death toll involved non-military losses, as most civilians were targets of various deliberate actions by the Germans and Soviets.[119]

Both occupiers wanted not only to gain Polish territory, but also to destroy Polish culture and the Polish nation as a whole.[1]

Tadeusz Piotrowski, Professor of Sociology at the University of New Hampshire has provided a reassessment of Poland's losses in World War II. Polish war dead include 5,150,000 victims of Nazi crimes against ethnic Poles and the Holocaust, the treatment of Polish citizens by occupiers included 350,000 deaths during the Soviet occupation in 1940–41 and about 100,000 Poles killed in 1943–44 in the Ukraine. Of the 100,000 Poles killed in the Ukraine, 80,000 perished during the massacres of Poles in Wołyn by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. Losses by ethnic group were 3,100,000 Jews; 2,000,000 ethnic Poles; 500,000 Ukrainians and Belarusians.[64]

The official Polish government report prepared in 1947 listed 6,028,000 war deaths out of a population of 27,007,000 ethnic Poles and Jews; this report excluded ethnic Ukrainian and Belarusian losses. However some historians in Poland now believe that Polish war losses were at least 2 million ethnic Poles and 3 million Jews as a result of the war.[120]

Another assessment, Poles as Victims of the Nazi Era, prepared by USHMM, lists 1.8 to 1.9 million ethnic Polish dead in addition to 3 million Polish Jews[121]

Losses by geographic area were 3.3 million in present day Poland and about 2.3 million in the Polish areas annexed by the Soviet Union.

POW deaths totaled 250,000; in Germany (120,000) and in the USSR (130,000).[122]

The genocide of Roma people (porajmos) was 35,000 persons.[123] Jewish Holocaust victims totaled 3,000,000[124]

See also


External links

  • Michael Phayer, 'Et Papa tacet': the genocide of Polish Catholics
  • Research guide to biographical sources for victims of World War II in Poland

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