• February 9, 2015
  • 252

The 75th anniversary of the first massive deportation of Poles to Siberia

On the 10th of February 1940, the Soviet authorities conducted the first out of four massive deportations of the Polish citizens. According to different statistics, 140 to 250 thousand people were deported. The action conducted by NKVD (People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs) took place at the -40 degrees cold. Those being deported had a couple of minutes to pack their things up. The travel in cattle trucks, which lasted a couple of weeks, was fatal to many people. Children had the least chance of survival.

“On the 10th of February 1940, I was deported, together with my parents, sister, and mother during the last month of pregnancy, from the area near Vilnius – said Melania Szyller – we were taken beyond Tobolsk, to the forest. My mother delivered her baby in the forest, who half a year later died because we all suffered from pneumonia. My sibling also died there, and only I survived. My father came back to Poland with the Kościuszko Division, and I came back with my mom in May 1946. My parents died in Sopot; I graduated from the secondary and post-secondary schools, and worked in the health service for 37 years.”

As an almost one year old child, also in 1940, the vice-chairman of the Sybirak Union in Lublin Józef Lis was moved from the area near Grodno to the north Kazakhstan. “My parents worked in Kazakhstan in kolkhoz in Wołyńskoje. I remember that there was a severe famine – he mentions – not only we, but also the local populace starved, and the soviet authorities were not lenient to anybody. We went to the Kazakhs’ yurts to beg them because they got along better than us.” He was lucky – he managed to survive, after all. He moved to Poland with his family in 1946.

The terror that started after the 17th of September 1939 in the Soviet occupied territories was to force people to be submissive and prevent their attempts to resist. One of the forms of the repression were massive deportations of the Polish citizens deeply into USSR, conducted in the years 1940-1941. The first and most tragic was conducted at the -40 degrees cold and affected the families of the military settlers, civilian settlers, and the workers of the forest service. It took place at the night from the 9th to 10th of February 1940. The second deportation happened two months later, on the 13th of April. This time, mainly families held in prison camps and those jailed and arrested were deported. The third turn of deportations took place on the 29th of June and affected mainly the refugees that fled from the areas occupied by Germany, the so-called “bieżeńcy” (rus. Беженство). During the fourth deportation, which took place in May and June 1941, mainly the members of the conspiracy and their relatives, the families of those executed by firing squads, arrested for counter-revolutionary activities or hiding or fled to the areas occupied by Germany, were deported.

The deportations that took place during the first Soviet occupation were only the beginning of the repression that affected Poles, Lithuanians, and the members of other nationalities living in the areas included to USSR after the Second World War. During that time, Czesława Salwińska, mother of our workmate from the editorial office Edyta Maksymowicz, was also among the exiled. On her way to Siberia, as an eight year old child, she spent 31 days in a cattle truck. She was taken with her mother and two siblings. Her father and the older brother hid in the forest. Why it was them that were deported? No one could tell. After the years, it turned out that they were deported by mistake. “For somebody it was a mistake, but for the other the years of suffering” – said Ms Czesława. She lived 6 years in Siberia.

Out of consideration for the political situation, the memory of sibiryaks and their drama was forbidden, and after their arrival from the exile they had to live with a sort of stigma themselves. To commemorate their drama, there will be the Museum of the Memory of Siberia – the institution documenting the history of exiles and the voluntary settlement of Poles and other nations on the territories of the former Russian Empire and USSR, from the 16th century to the fifties. It is being built in Białystok, from where in the years 1940-1941 around twenty thousand people were deported to Siberia and Kazakhstan. The Museum of the Memory of Siberia operates now as the branch of the Army Museum in Białystok. The opening of the institution is scheduled for 2016.

Based on: radio.radiopomost.com, sybir.com.pl, ipn.gov.ple

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

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