A treacherous stab in the back: 75 years ago the Soviet army invaded Poland

75 lat temu wojska sowieckie wkroczyły do Wilna Fot. archiwum

September 17, 1939- breaking the Polish-Soviet non-aggression pact  the Red Army entered the territory of the Republic of Poland.

The Soviet invasion of Poland was the implementation of the agreement signed in Moscow on 23 August 1939 by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Third Reich Joachim von Ribbentrop and the People’s Commissar of Foreign Affairs of the USSR Vyacheslav Molotov.

Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact is often called the fourth partition of Poland. Two neighbouring with Poland countries reached an agreement on the division of the territory among themselves.

September 1,1939 German troops invaded Poland.

Since the third day of the war Germany had been urging Moscow to occupy the areas considered in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact the zone of interest. Stalin delayed making a decision, waiting for the reaction of Great Britain and France against the German invasion of Poland. He was also watching how strong was the resistance of Polish army against the German one. However, at the same time in the USSR lasted the hidden preparations for war. August 24, 1939 began a gradual concentration of troops.

September 3, the defence commissioner Kliment Woroszyłow gave the order to increase the combat readiness in the military districts, which were supposed to take a direct part in the attack on Poland and to start a secret mobilization. For actions against the Polish state were meant two fronts: Belarusian and Ukrainian. In total, they numbered at least 620 000 soldiers, more than 4 700 tanks and 3 300 aircrafts. The Polish border with the USSR, of more than 1 400 km length was guarded only by  sparse troops of Border Protection Corps.

September 17, 1939 at 3 am. ( in Poland was 1 am.) to the Commissariat of Foreign Affairs in Moscow was summoned the Ambassador of Poland Wacław Grzybowski, whom Vladimir Potemkin – the deputy of Molotov –  had read the contents of the earlier agreed with Berlin note.

At the same time, the Red Army began the invasion of Poland. Since 3 am. till 6 am. the troops crossed the entire length of the eastern border with Poland.

Three moving groups of Belorussian Front received the task to take control of Vilnius (through Swieciany and Michaliszki), Grodno and Bialystok (through Wołkowysk). Behind them were supposed to follow the borderline troops of NKVD, eliminating based on the previously prepared lists people who were considered anti-Soviet elements and who could hinder the permanent strengthening of the conquered territories.

In  Vilnius and  in Nowogrodek with the Soviets fought the troops KOP “Iwianiec”, “Głębokie” and “Krasne”. Invading troops of the Red Army were resisted by the cities, among them Vilnius.

The President of the Polish Section of the Vilnius Community of Political Prisoners and Exiles Janina Gieczewska remembers these events in such a way:

“When the Second World War started on September 1, 1939 I was 15 years old. I was a student of III class of the National Gymnasium of Eliza Orzeszkowa.

Important, tragic events and strong experiences remain in memory for a lifetime. And I, despite the passage of 75 years, still remember the period from 1 to 17 September; the beginning of the war and the day when Poland had lost its independence for many years once again. The independence which had been dreamt and expected during 123 years of slavery. Everyone cried – adults and children.

The terrible news was also the fact that from the east Poland was invaded by the Soviet Union. “

On  September16, 1939 Vilnius survived several raids during which 300 bombs were dropped. There were wounded and killed among civilians, mostly women and children. Several houses in different parts of the city were destroyed. September 17, Soviet tanks rolled on the streets of Vilnius.

“I had lived around the Ross cemetery, near the Minsk highway by which the Soviet army entered. We have never seen such soldiers, nor tanks – the horror hung over the city. During the short term of the first Soviet occupation – from September to October – hundreds of Poles were arrested and exported to Russia. In 1944, there was another occupation which lasted 50 years. Suffering, famine, humiliation – in such way suffered not hundreds but thousands of Poles from Vilnius and Lithuania. The celebrations of 17 September are held every year in Vilnius and Poland. In Poland, this day is declared the Day of Siberians- people who have suffered the most from the Soviet regime “- summed up her memories Mrs. Janina.

As a result of the partition of Poland the Soviet Union seized an area of ​​over 190 thousand sq km. with a population of approx. 13 million people. Decreased Vilnius region in October 1939 was ceremonially handed over by the Soviet authorities to Lithuania. However, it wasn’t for long because in June 1940 Lithuania together with Latvia and Estonia became a part of the USSR.

Here’s how these events are seen from the perspective of the past years by the Lithuanian historian, professor dr. hab. Alvydas Nikžentaitis in an interview with  the “Courier” : “In 1939, Polish fate was sealed, it was clear that the country would not be able to defeat the aggressor and would be a victim of  the war. The fact that Vilnius and Vilnius region were returned to Lithuania was beneficial not only for Lithuania, but also for Poles living here. It is not known what fate would meet Vilnius, probably it would become a Belarusian city, maybe even the capital city of the Socialist Republic of Belarus. I believe that Vilnius should belong to Lithuania – these are the historical realities. “

In clashes with the Red Army were killed about 2.5 thousand of Polish soldiers and approx. 20 thousand were wounded or missing. Approximately 250 thousand soldiers were captured by the Soviets, including more than 10 thousand officers who under the decision of the Political Bureau of the WKP(b) on the day 5 March 1940 were shot.

Soviet losses were evaluated to approx. 3 thousand people killed and 6-7 thousand wounded.

On Wednesday, September 17 at the Ross cemetery the Polish Embassy in Lithuania organized a celebration dedicated to the events of September 17, 1939. The beginning was at 11.00.

Source: http://kurierwilenski.lt/2014/09/16/podstepny-cios-w-plecy-75-lat-temu-wojska-sowieckie-zaatakowaly-polske/

Tłumaczenie by Katarzyna Ratajek w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Katarzyna Ratajek within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

© 2011 efhr.eu. All rights reserved.