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The Polish minority in the Soviet Union refers to people of Polish descent who resided in the Soviet Union before its dissolution, and might remain in post-Soviet, sovereign countries as their significant minorities.


History of Poles in the Soviet Union



Millions of Poles lived within the Russian Empire as the Russian Revolution of 1917 started followed by the Russian Civil War. While some Poles associated with the communist movement, the majority of the Polish population saw cooperation with Bolshevik forces as betrayal and treachery of Polish national interests[1]. Marian Lutosławski and his brother Józef, the father of the Polish composer Witold Lutosławski, were murdered in Moscow in 1918 as "counter-revolutionaries"[1]. Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz lived through the Russian Revolution in St. Petersburg, which had a profound effect on his works, many of which displayed themes of the horrors of social revolution. Famous revolutionaries with Polish origins include Konstantin Rokossovsky, Julian Marchlewski, Karol Świerczewski and Felix Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Cheka secret police which would later turn into the NKVD. However according to their ideology they didn't identify as Poles or with Poland, and members of the communist party viewed themselves as Soviet citizens without any national sentiments. The Soviet Union also organized Polish units in the Red Army and a Polish Communist government-in-exile, however these organisations were Polish in name only and led by non-Poles, Russians in the case of the "Polish Army".


Polish communities were inherited from Imperial Russia after the creation of the Soviet Union. After World War I, Poland became an independent country, and its secession was finalized by the Peace of Riga in 1921 at the end of the Polish-Soviet War, which left significant territories populated by Poles within the Soviet Union. According to the 1926 Soviet census, there were a total of 782,334 Poles in the USSR. The largest concentration of Poles was in Ukraine, where according to the Soviet census in 1926 476,435 Poles lived. Those estimates are considered to have been lowered by Soviet officials. Church and independent estimates show estimates of 650,000 to 700,000 Poles living in that area[1]. This suggests that the total Polish population of the USSR was in excess of 1,000,000. Initially the Soviets pursued a policy where the local national language was used as a tool for eradication of national identity in favour of "communist education of masses". In the case of the Poles this meant a goal of Sovietisation of the Polish population. However this proved extremely difficult as the Soviet communists themselves realised that the Poles were en masse opposed to communist ideology, seeing it as hostile to Polish identity. The policy of religious discrimination, plunder and terror further strengthened Polish resistance to Soviet rule. As a result the Soviet authorities started to imprison and forcefully remove all those seen as an obstacle to their policies. In a short time prisons in areas with a Polish minority were overcrowded by 600%[1]. The Poles were given 2 Polish Autonomous Districts, one in Belarus and one in Ukraine. The first one was named Dzierzynszczyzna, after Felix Dzierżyński; the second was named Marchlewszczyzna after Julian Marchlewski. Following the failure of Sovietisation of the Polish minority, the Soviet rulers decided to portray Poles as enemies of the state and use them to fuel Ukrainian nationalism in order to direct Ukrainian anger away from the Soviet government[1]. After 1928 Soviet policies turned to outright eradication of Polish national identity. Special centers were established where the youth was indoctrinated towards hatred against the Polish state, all contacts with relatives within Poland were dangerous and could result in imprisonment. Newspapers printed out in the Polish language were de-facto used to print anti-Polish propaganda [1]. Following attacks on the Polish minority, from 18 February 1930 till 19 March 1930 over 100,000 people from Polish areas were expelled by the Soviet authorities[1].

Following the collectivization of agriculture under Joseph Stalin, both autonomies were abolished and their populations were subsequently deported to Kazakhstan in 1934–1938[1]. Many people starved during the deportation and after, since the deported were moved to sparsely populated areas, unprepared for migration, lacking basic facilities and infrastructure. The survivors were under the supervision of the OGPU/NKVD, cruelly punished for any sign of discontent. 21,000 Poles died during the Holodomor.

In 1936 the Poles were deported from the territories Belarus and Ukraine adjacent to the state border (the first recorded deportation of a whole ethnic group in the USSR). Tens of thousands of ethnic Poles became victims of the Great Purge in 1937–1938 (see Polish operation of the NKVD). The Polish Communist Party was also decimated in the Great Purge and was disbanded in 1938. Another decimated group of Poles was the Roman-Catholic clergy, who opposed the forced atheization.

A number of Poles fled to Poland during this time, among them Igor Newerly and Tadeusz Borowski.


During World War II, after the Soviet invasion of Poland the Soviet Union occupied vast areas of eastern Poland (so called Kresy), and another 5.2-6.5 million Poles (from the total population of about 13,5 million of these territories) were added, with further large-scale deportations to Kazakhstan and other areas.

On March 30, 2004, the head of the Archival Service of Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, General Vasili Khristoforov gave final exact numbers of deported Poles. According to him, in 1940 exactly 297,280 Poles were deported, in June 1941 another 40,000. These numbers do not include P.O.W.s, prisoners, small groups, people who voluntarily moved into the SU, and men drafted into stroybats.

In August 1941, following the German attack on the USSR and the dramatic change in Soviet/Polish relations, former Polish citizens held in special settlements and prisoner of war camps were granted 'amnesty' and allowed to enrol in Polish army units. The location of reception centres was kept secret and no travel facilities provided.[2] Nevertheless, 119,855 Poles were evacuated to Persia (Iran) with General Anders' army, which subsequently fought alongside the Allies in Iran and Italy; 36,150 were transferred to the Polish Army which fought with the Red Army on the Eastern Front and 11,516 are reported to have died in 1941–1943. [3]

The following are cases of direct executions of Poles during the 1939–1941 occupation:

After World War II most Poles from Kresy were expelled into Poland, but officially 1.3 million stayed in the USSR. Some of them were motivated by the traditional Polish belief that one day they would become again lawful owners of the land they lived on. Some of them were kept forcefully in. Some simply stayed, without force or ideological reasons. There are reasons to believe that those expelled were happier than those who stayed.

Wanda Wasilewska was an exceptional case - she became a Soviet citizen and didn't return after the war.


The Polish minority was one of the few whose numbers decreased over time, according to official statistics. There was also the repatriation of Poles (1955–1959).

After 1989, Poles who survived in Kazakhstan started to emigrate due to national tensions, mainly to Russia and, supported by an immigration society, to Poland. The number remaining is between 50,000 and 100,000.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the following post-Soviet countries have significant Polish minorities:

List of prominent Soviet Poles

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g J. M. Kupczak "Stosunek władz bolszewickich do polskiej ludności na Ukrainie (1921–1939)Wrocławskie Studia Wschodnie 1 (1997) Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego , 1997 page 47–62" IPN Bulletin 11(34) 2003
  2. ^ Michael Hope, 'Polish Deportees in the Soviet Union', Veritas Foundation, London, 2000, ISBN 0-948202-76-9
  3. ^ Stephen Wheatcroft, "The Scale and Nature of German and Soviet Repression and Mass Killings, 1930–1945", Europe-Asia Studies, Vol.48, No.8, 1996, p. 1345

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