- April 22, 2015
The last knight of the Eastern Europe Commonwealth
“Here the pattern and good intentions are not enough. One must become intimate with the local land, empathise with and know well local, complicated relationships just to regulate them into common agreement of citizens of the country” – these are the words from the Stanisław Swianiewicz’s article called “The Concept of the Domestic” (pl. Idea krajowości) published in the ‘Kurier Wileński’ (tr. note: the newspaper for Poles in Vilnus) in 1928. They are eternal thrust and it is worth to recall them when speaking about the Vilnius area.
Even when the domestic idea would died irremediably. Similarly, a Vilnius’ citizen by choice, Stanisław Swianiewicz, is worth of recalling – the outstanding figure but currently known only to historians and freaks. The leading scientist, the writer, the lawyer. Yet before the World War Two he became famous as a kremlinologist, one of the most insightful connoisseurs of the Soviet economic system, the co-author of the Science and Research Institute of Central and Eastern Europe in Vilnius. The only one survived witness of the Katyn Massacre. Nowadays, known as the author of the book “In the Shadow of Katyn”, which was described by Józef Mackiewicz as “the most outstanding, the most compelling work about Katyn so far”. However, not many know that he was a federalist, a native, a Lucjan Żeligowski’s forces’ soldier. He was a determined antagonist of conjoining Vilnius and Poland. In the interwar period – one of the most strict critics of Polish nationalism. He fiercely criticised not only endeks but supporters of Piłsudzki, who in the late 30s’ put into practise the ideology of Roman Dmowski, as well. He perceived chicanes toward non-Polish citizens of the II RP, such as burning the orthodox churches, closing down the Lithuanian and Belorussian schools, as a madness. He notoriously dunned for the autonomy of Lithuanian-Belorussian lands in Poland. After the war, he became a proponent of Lithuania’s, Ukraine’s and Belorussia’s independency. In 1963, he actively encouraged others that when the Soviet would have collapse, Poles should have immediately “reached brotherhood and cooperation with Ukrainians, Lithuanians and Belarusians scattered around.” Create together “new, suggestive idea of the Commonwealth” of new Europe. Unfortunately, Swianiewicz did not recognised destructive influence of nationalism and communism on our nations.
He was born in the patriotic, intelligentsia, noble Polish family. His great-grandfather was executed after the November Uprising, his grandfather with a brother took part in the January Uprising. He was born on 7th November 1899 in Dyneburg (Dźwińsk) in Latvia. This city developed very well into the crucial trade point located at the cross of two railways in the middle of 20th century: Petersburg-Warsaw and Orzeł-Riga. His father, Stanisław, the engineer of the railway, worked as the governor of the rail section Dyneburg-Orzeł. His mother, Katarzyna, graduated the German institute for the noble born misses in Vilnuis and she worked as a teacher in wealthy, Russian homes. Since the childhood, he had spoken three languages: Polish, Russian and German.
Childhood and youth in Dyneburg
When he turned 11 years old, he started education in the middle school in Dyneburg, where he attended the secret organisation “Liberation” – Polish, self-developmental association for the youth. After the beginning of the World War One and the evacuation of his family to Orzeł, sice 1915 he continued education in the local middle school. In September 1917, he took studies on the Faculty of Law and Social Science in Muscovite University. There, he met the Bolshevik Revolution. One day in November, during his coming home, he was hit by few bullets. The reason for this was a student cap – students were, in the majority, the antagonists of Bolsheviks. He found that the situation in Moscow is too tense and he left the city in a goods train to Orzeł. After the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, he came back with the family in 1918 to Dyneburg, which was occupied by the Germans.
The Germans withdrew from the city in December 1918. In Dyneburg, which was occupied by the Red Army, there was an announcement that all the graduates from high schools can be teachers. Since, Stanisław Swianiewicz became one of them. Meanwhile, he got the order from the Polish Military Organisation, with which he had made contact in Orzeł, to organise its structures in Livonia. At the beginning of 1919 he was nominated as the commandant of the PMO in Dyneburg. But, after intensified arrestment he realised he must escape. He arranged the meeting with his mother – it was after the Mass in one of the churches. Later, in the book “Childhood and youth”, he wrote: “He observed his mother as long as she vanished from the view on the slightly crowded pavement. Painful thought that he might not see her never again squeezed his heart”.
The Pole today loves the concept of the Polish nationality, The Lithuanian – the Lithuanian one
In May 1919 he penetrated the front to Vilnius and he joined the Polish Army. He fought in the 7th ranks of the field artillery regiment. In May 1920 he enlisted in the 201st infantry regiment commanded by major Marian Zyndram-Kościałkowski. He took part in the battle of Wkra in August and the battle of Niemno in September. After joining the regiment of the 1st Division on Lithuanian-Belorussian Infantry (Lucjan Żeligowski) he participated capturing the Vilnius on 9th October 1910. It was so ironic that a man living with traditions of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania believed Vilnius to be the capital of independent Lithuania. The Grand Lithuania, uniting not only Lithuanians but also Poles and Belarusians. The idea was buried by the nationalisms: “The Pole today loves the concept of the Polish nationality, The Lithuanian – the Lithuanian one, The Belarusian – the Belarusian one”. Disheartened at the end of the 1920, in the rank of lieutenant, he settled down in Vilnius where he worked in the Lucjan Żeligowski’s office and he engaged in Belarusian matters.
Yet during the campaign, because of the student book of Muscovite University, after finishing the first year, he applied for the Faculty of Law in Stefan Batory University in Vilnius. “I put the rifle into a corner, unzipped my uniform and pulled a pouch with documents around my neck ” – he recalled after years his visit to the dean’s office in SBU. He learned, from professor Władysław Zawadzki, who looked at him intently, that he had been accepted, even though it meant skipping some regulations: “We looked into each other’s eyes and it seemed that a thread ties between us .” He felt as a student of Władysław Zawadzki, future Chief Secretary to the Treasury in years 1932-1935, trough all life. He was an assistant in his Department of Political Economy, then he became his successor and by his influence, Stanisław took up economic systems of the “new kind” (the Soviet system, the Italian fascism) and finally, he spoke over the coffin of his master … He held complementary studies in Paris, Wroclaw and Kiel. He cooperated with the nationalistic paper – “National Newspaper”, then the “Word” – the one of Stanislaw Cat-Mackiewcz as well as in the years 1926 to 1929 he edited the economic pages in ” Vilnius Kurier “.
In 1926 he got his doctorate. In 1931, on the basis of the work, “Lenin as an economist” he habilitated. He became one of the best experts in the Soviet matters, initiated in Poland a detailed studies of the Soviet economy. He announced a number of books and treatises on this subject, while carrying out research on the economic policy of the Third Reich. Along with Witold Staniewicz, Stefan Ehrenkreutzem and Janusz Jędrzejewicz he founded the Scientific-Research Institute of Eastern Europe in Vilnius and was the secretary of the Economic Section. In the School of Political Science in the Institute he taught, inter alia, political economy and economic politics as well as the ideology of communism in the USSR. The Institute has gained the largest, not counting the Soviets, collection of Soviet books at that time. Even communists used this library. When he went to a Soviet labour camp a few years later, investigators while gathering opinions about him marvelled: on the one hand, he showed to be a hardened reactionary, but on the other – the opinions among communists were sometimes favourable.
He was a supporter of the national concept, a representative of passing borderland intelligentsia class brought up in the spirit of multinational Republic of Poland, for which the “With Fire and Sword” by Henryk Sienkiewicz the positive character is not Jarema Wiśniowiecki but Bohun. He was an antagonist of nationalisms, he actively worked in the Club of Seniors Rangers, in the Vilnius Discussion Association. During one of the meeting of the Club of Naturalists he met his wife-to-be, Olimpia Zambrzycka, the future mother of his four children.
How more mindful were the Belarusian peasants and the “cribs” from Vilinus
In April 1939 the president Ignacy Moscicki awarded him with an associate professor award, although Swianiewicz was critical of his decisions; he found the II RP’s policy towards Germany to be suicidal. He was convinced that the war against Germany means the inevitable interference of Soviets: “A typical answer for the remark that, in case of war against Germany Soviets may attack us, was that “Russia is great and does not need any new territory”. Politicians, journalists, higher servicemen, professors at the universities – people who, one could suppose, knew the history of Poland and the history of partitions – they all were repeating it”. Call up – despite the age census – on 24th August 1939 and relegation to the line military unit came as a surprise to Swianiewicz; he supposed that it was “a punishment” for his “Germanophile” views. He said to his family at his farewell: “Pray for Lithuanians to come here instead of Bolshevists”. Back in this day, in the hot summer night at 3am, saying goodbye to his wife, the 39 year-old scientist, the USB professor, the father of four children had no clue that the next time he sees his wife will be…18 years later at the airport in Jakarta, Indonesia.
He served as a commander of quartermaster company of 85th Infantry Regiment of 19th Infantry Division, took part in fights against Germans near Kielce and Lublin, and took part in a fight near Krasnodar. After the Soviet Invasion he tried to make his way to the Hungarian border together with tail-end soldiers. Private soldiers who did not want their gun to come to hands of Soviets decided to destroy it. “A doused with paraffin oil pile of guns was burnt. The flame belched immediately. Meanwhile, some educated people in our Regiment thought that Soviets were coming as…friends. I thought: How more mindful were the Belarusian peasants and the “cribs” from Vilinus who, few hours ago, decided to destroy their weapons so that Bolshevists cannot intercept it” – he wrote years later in his memorial.
“Czajok” from Katyn
He was taken into slavery by the Red Army together with the Regiment’s tail-end on 28th September near Jarosław. He was sent to Kozielsk through the temporary camp in Putywl. At first he tried to keep in secret his identity but one of the interrogated had accidentally given him away when asked what professors did he know in the camp. On 29th April 1940 he was deported by a prison train to Gniezdowo near Katyn together with other prisoners. He was in a group meant to be killed but suddenly he was taken away from the rest of his group. “When we were walking next to each other between the tracks, a colonel turned his face to me and asked if I did not want to drink some czajok” – he mentioned. He was left in the train when other officers were taken away. He watched through a little opening under the carriage’s ceiling as others were placed in buses with windows covered with whitewash and taken away in an unknown direction….
Then he was taken to the prison in Smoleńsk, to the inside prison of NKWD in Łubianka, and to the prison in Moscow. After a long-lasting interrogation he was sentenced to 8 years of labour camp in the Komi Republic for his “spying” activity. The penal gang he was placed in consisted of, almost exclusively, Chinese who were sentenced for “spying” against Japan. Amongst them few Europeans stood out, for example a Hungarian Matyas Rakosi, a vicegerent of Stalin in post-war Hungary.
At some point he was even rated as a so-called “dochodiaga”. Food sneaked from time to time by Rakosi, who got work in a kitchen thanks to his old Moscow connections had saved him, as did a dugout in which frozen dead bodies were warmed before they could undergo post-mortem examinations. He was let inside by an anarchist prisoner who “tried to smuggle inside a still-alive human being who needed some warmth to somehow extend his life, when had some bodies to warm sent”.
In August 1941 he was released within so-called amnesty being a result of the Sikorski-Mayski Agreement. The RP Ambassador in ZSRR, Stanislaw Kot, hired him as one of his co-workers. When the personnel was leaving ZSRR in 1942, the Soviet authorities tried to postpone the surrender of his passport until the very last moment. He jumped onto a ship when it was putting off. He avoided death one more time again. He reached the army of Anders, submitted the relation from his stay in Kozielsk and forests near Katyń, then he submitted it to the Great Britain’s Ambassador by Polish government. It became a part of a paperwork shown in 1948 in the publication of Józef Mackiewicz and Zdzisław Stahl “Katyn massacre in the light of relations” – Polish White Paper, the most comprehensive indictment of the Soviet Union for genocide of Polish prisoners of war. In 1944 he arrived to London where he became the governor of the Eastern Faculty in The Information and Documentation Ministry; at the same time he was a lecturer at the Polish Faculty of Law at Oxford. After the war he worked at Polish University College in London since 1946 until its shutdown in 1953. He cooperated with Paris “Culture”. His views concerning the case of East resulting in him being close to “Polityka” released by Jerzy Giedroyć. In September 1951, when the US Congress erected a special commission for the investigation of the Katyn Massacre, Swianiewicz made his appearance in front of it in a mask, bearing in mind the safety of his family.
The veteran from „Antkol”
After the war, he moved to London. He worked at London School of Economics and Political Science till 1954 and next, between 1954-1945 at the University in Manchester. He was in Jakarta (Indonesia) in 1956-58, where he organized local university and after the return to London he worked in the Royal Institute of International Affairs. In 1963, he settled down in Halifax (Canada), where he attended lectures from the economics and statistics. In 1965 he published in the Oxford University Press his the most famous economic work „Forced Labour and Economic Development”, which was about the economic justification of Soviet slave labour camps. Only Katyn and deportation of particular nations, primarily Caucasian, did not fit with that reasoning.
In 1976 Stanisław Swianiewicz published “In the Shadow of Katyń”, for which he got not only the prize from London “News” but also the knock-down to his head. Before the departure to Denmark for interviews about human rights in Eastern Block, on an empty street, 80-years-old Swianiewicz survived an attempt on his life – he received shot in the back of his head from the unknown offender who run away from the place of assassination.
For his last years, he lived in the House of Veteran “Antokol” in Chislehurst (Kent) near London. This name was particularly close to the professor, who till the last days said with the lilting Vilnius accent because it is the Vilnius Atnokol where he lived with his family before the war. He died 22nd May 1997 in Londyn at the age of 98 years. He was buried next to his wife in Halifax.
This entry is based on: Stanisław Swianiewisz, Idea krajowości, palityka.org; Stanisław Swianiewicz, Obywatel W. Ks Litewskiego, palityka.org; Piotr Zychowicz, Nić Swianiewicza, rp.pl; Piotr Lisiewicz, Świadek w masce, Nowe Państwo 27/2008; Stanisław Swianiewicz Biografia, www.kulturaparyska.com; Jedyny świadek zbrodni katyńskiej, www.thepolishobserver.co.uk; tadeuszczernik.wordpress.com; en.wikipedia.org;
Translated by Paulina Lipińska within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.