• September 17, 2014
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75th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland. Polish and Lithuanian points of view

At dawn on September 17, 1939 the troops of the Red Army crossed the Riga’s border and attacked  defending itself against the Germans Poland. The assault had sealed the fate of the Second Republic of Poland. In 2014 falls the 75th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland, which historians call the fourth partition of Poland.

September 17, 1939 the aggressors attacked in the direction of Vilnius, Suwalki, Brest on the Bug, Lublin, Lvov and Kolomyia. The most important battles of Polish troops (mainly by the Border Protection Corps, the Reserve Cavalry Brigade Wolkowysk and SGO Polesie) were: the defence of Vilnius, Grodno and Lvov and Fortified Zone Deer, as well as clashes in Szack, Wytyczno, Jabłoń and Milanów.

September 22, 1939 in Brest on the Bug took place a symbolic event: the kombrig Semyon Kriwoszein and the general Heinz Guderian accepted a joined parade of German and Soviet troops. It was a visible sign of the alliance of Hitler and Stalin against 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 and the President of the Council of People’s Commissars Vyacheslav Molotov. As a result of the partition of Poland the Soviet Union seized an area of ​​over 190 thousand sq km. with a population of approximately 13 million people. Decreased Vilnius region was ceremonially transferred to Lithuania by the Soviet authorities in October 1939. However, it was not permanent  because soon in June 1940 Lithuania together with Latvia and Estonia became a part of the USSR.

Currently in Lithuania the knowledge of the events of 75 years ago is scarce. As Waldemar Szełkowski, the history teacher at Gymnasium of J.I. Kraszewski in Vilnius, Vilnius City Local councilor says in Lithuanian history books are just a few sentences  about 17 September 1939 within the context of the Polish history. Vilnius region history and the consequences of Soviet aggression on the Vilnius region and its inhabitants are not even mentioned there. In Polish and Lithuanian schools little is said about it and if an involved history teacher does not tell the story to the students, youth will know anything about it.

The same opinion as Waldemar Szełkowski has Lithuanian historian, the chairman of the Board of Cooperation Forum and Polish-Lithuanian Dialogue of J. Giedroyc dr hab. Alvydas Nikžentaitis. “In Lithuania, these events are not at all known. The bigger knowledge we have about the Ribbentrop – Molotov pact and its consequences for the country’s independence. Meanwhile, for Vilnius it is an important date.” – says Alvydas Nikžentaitis. According to Lithuanian historian, in this case we are dealing with “national egoisms”. “On the other hand, it would be naïve to expect that the Polish and Lithuanian historians will have the same look at the same historical event. In such situations, it is important to understand the arguments of the other side. It opens the way for discussion” – says A. Nikžentaitis.

“September 17, for Poles that day began an occupation, for Lithuanians that day opened the way to regain Vilnius. October 26, 1939 the Soviets handed Vilnius to Lithuania. Along with the coming of the Lithuanians for local Poles started better times: Vilnius revived a little, deportations and plundering of the city stopped but after all it was not their rule. Therefore, they have ambiguous opinions about those events. Lithuanians have its own look, also ambiguous. A group of people would say that thanks to it Lithuania regained Vilnius, but the others would add: “Vilnius mūsų, a mes rusų ” (Vilnius is ours and we are – the Russians) – says Waldemar Szełkowski.

According to Alvydas Nikžentaitis, a big mistake was committed after 1994, that is after the signing of the Polish-Lithuanian Treaty on friendly relations and good-neighbourly cooperation, when the history was left to deal to historians. “Yes, historians have explained many things to each other, but it did not become a  part of the knowledge of the whole society and that is why now we have separate truths, the differences and the chronology of events” – explains the Lithuanian historian.

According to Alvydas Nikžentaitis, Lithuanians and Poles should celebrate such important dates as September 17 because this would contribute to a better understanding of the neighbour. “What is needed is a dialogue, especially among young people, it could be – for example – the cooperation between schools. Why not some school from Kaunas could  come to Vilnius on September 17 in order to together with the Polish school visit places associated with that date? On October 26 Polish and Lithuanian schools could meet in Kaunas “- the chairman of the Management Cooperation Forum and Polish-Lithuanian Dialogue of J. Giedroyc Alvydas Nikžentaitis hopes that one day this will become possible.

Based on: histmag.org, inf.wł.

Translated by Katarzyna Ratajek within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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