- April 22, 2015
The Last Knight of the Eastern-European Commonwealth
“Here, patterns and good will are not enough. One needs to become familiar with the land, feel and properly know local, complicated relations in order to regulate them towards common unity of the nation.” These words by Stanisław Swianiewicz from an article titled Idea Krajowości published in “Kurier Wileński” newspaper in 1928 are still valid and worth reminding, when it comes to discussing the Vilnius Region.
Even if the national idea died forever, it is still worth reminding, equally like the character of Stanisław Swianiewicz – Vilnius citizen by choice, a remarkable person, today, well-known only to historians and enthusiasts. Outstanding scientist, writer and lawyer. He became famous before the Second World War as a Kremlinologist, as one of the most thorough experts on the Soviet economy and as one of the creators of Research Institute on East-Central Europe in Vilnius. He was the sole witness of the Katyn massacre. In contemporary times he is known for his book W cieniu Katynia which Józef Mackiewicz acknowledged as “the most notable and striking work about Katyn massacre”. However, only a few know that he was a federalist, the Krajowiec and a soldier in gen. Lucjan Żeligowski unit, and simultaneously an outright opponent of… incorporating Vilnius into Poland. In the interwar period, Swianiewicz was one of the most eager critics of Polish nationalism. He heavily criticised not only National Democracy fraction members but also Sanation government which in the end of the 30s of the XX century started to implement Roman Dmowski’s ideas. Swianiewicz regarded the harassment of un-Polish citizens of the Second Polish Republic such as incineration of the Orthodox Churches or enclosing of Lithuanian and Belarussian schools as madness. He notoriously demanded an autonomy for Lithuanian and Belarussian lands. After World War II he became a proponent of giving independence to Lithuania, Ukraine and Belarus. As soon as in 1963 he claimed that when the USSR disintegrates, Poland should immediately cooperate and form amicable relationships with bordering Ukraine, Lithuania and Belarus. His opinion was that those four countries should create “a new, potent concept of Eastern European Commonwealth”. Unfortunately, Swianiewicz did not consider how nationalism on one side and communism on the other side destructively influenced our nations.
He was born into patriotic, noble family. His great grandfather was executed after the November Uprising and his grandfather and great-uncle fought in the January Uprising. Swiniewicz was born on the 7th of November 1899 in Dyneburg (Dźwińsk), Latvia. The city developed incredibly in the middle of the XIX century as a trading point situated on the crossing of two railroad lines: Petersburg – Warsaw and Orel – Riga. His father, Stanisław, a railroad engineer, was the chief of Dyneburg – Orel railway section. Swianiewicz’s mother, Katarzyna, had finished a German institute for noblewomen in Vilnius and worked as a teacher in rich Russian houses. Since his childhood, Stanisław knew how to speak in three languages: Polish, Russian and German.
Youth Years in Dyneburg
At the age of 11, Swianiewicz began learning in Dyneburg Gymnasium in which he attended the secret circle of self-study organised by the Polish liberation group “Wyzwolenie”. After the beginning of the Great War he and his family were evacuated to Orel and in 1915 he began learning in the local gymnasium. In September 1917 he started attending Moscow University’s Law Faculty, which then also included all social sciences. In Moscow, he witnessed the October Revolution. One day in November, when he was walking home, he was fired upon by some revolutionists. The reason of this assault was his student’s hat – majority of the students opposed the revolution. He recognized that the situation in the city is too tense and left to Orel by cargo train. After the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk he with his family returned in September 1918 to German-occupied city of Dyneburg. German troops retreated from the city in December 1918. In Dyneburg, now taken by the Red Army, it was announced that the secondary school graduates can become teachers, so 18-year-old Swianiewicz became one. At the same time he received an order from the Polish Military Organisation (PMO), which he contacted while he was in Orel, to create its structures in Livonia. In the beginning of 1919 he was appointed as a commanding officer of the PMO in Dyneburg. After subsequent apprehensions he realised that he must escape the city. He met his mother for, as he thought, the last time while they were exiting one of the city’s churches after the service. Later in his life he wrote in a book Dzieciństwo i młodość that he had watched his mother slowly walking away from him until she disappeared from his sight on a slightly crowded pavement. His heart was stricken with a sad thought that he might not see his mother ever again.
A Pole Loves the Polish National Idea, a Lithuanian Loves Lithuanian One
In May 1919 Swianiewicz broke through the Polish – Soviet War front, reached Vilnius and joined the Polish Army. He fought in the 7th Field Artillery Regiment. In May 1920 he enlisted to the 201st Infantry Regiment under major Marian Zyndram-Kościałowski. Swianiewicz respectively fought in the Battle of the Wkra River in August and then in the September of the same year in the Battle of the Niemen River. After incorporation of his unit into the 1st Lithuanian-Belarussian Infantry Division under gen. Lucjan Żeligowski, Swianiewicz took part in the capture of Vilnius on the 9th of October 1920. It was a bit ironic, because he cultivated the traditions of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and believed that Vilnius should be the capital city of the independent Lithuania. The Great Lithuania which would unite not only Lithuanians but also Poles and Belarussians and which concept was destroyed by nationalisms. Swianiewicz was demobilized in the end of 1920 and after that, in the rank of lieutenant he settled in Vilnius where he worked in the general Lucjan Żeligowski’s office, managing Belarussian affairs.
In the course of the war, basing on Moscow University’s student record book with the passed first year of studies he signed up to Stefan Batory University’s Law Faculty in Vilnius. This is how he, in his later life, remembered his first visit to this University: “I had put the rifle aside, unbuttoned my uniform and pulled out the pouch with documents that was hanging on my neck”. During his first visit he learned from his interviewer, Władysław Zawadzki, that he was accepted even though it meant violating some of the University’s laws. “We looked each other in the eyes and I though that there is some connection being formed between us”. Swianiewicz thought of himself as a student of liberal Zawadzki, a minister of the treasury in the years 1932-35, his whole life. He was his assistant in the Chair of Political Economy, then his successor. Because of Zawadzki, Swianiewicz became interested in the economies of the “new type” countries (soviet system, Italian fascism). He additionally studied in Paris, Wrocław and Kiel. He cooperated with “Gazeta Krajowa” newspaper, then with Stanisław Cat-Mackiewicz’s “Słowo” and in the years 1926-29 he edited the economy column in “Kurier Wileński”. All of this because of Zawadzki. Finally, Swianiewicz spoke over the coffin of his mentor.
In 1926 Swianiewicz obtained a doctorate-level degree. In 1931 he achieved the habilitation with a paper Lenin jako ekonomista. He became one of the most knowledgeable people about the Soviet system and, in Poland, he initiated a thorough research of the Soviet economy. He published many books and studies on this topic and simultaneously conducted examination of the Third Reich’s economic policy. Along with Witold Staniewicz, Stefan Ehrenkreutz and Janusz Jędrzejewicz he founded the Research Institute on East-Central Europe in Vilnius and became its economics section secretary. Swianiewicz in the Institute’s School of Political Science, thought about, among other things, economic policy, political economy and the USSR communist ideology. In those times, the Institute had accumulated the most numerous, with the exception of the Soviets, collection of the soviet books. Communists were frequent guests in the Institute’s library. When Swianiewicz got sent to the soviet labour camp a few years later, the investigating officers that collected opinions about him were puzzled. From one side he was turning out to be a confirmed reactionary, however, the opinions about him coming from the communists were sympathetic.
Swianiewicz was a determined supporter of the national idea. He was a representative of the fading Kresy intelligentsia, that was raised in the spirit of the multinational Republic of Poland and for which the hero of the Henryk Sienkiewicz’s With Fire and Sword was Bohun, not Jeremi Wiśniowiecki. He was an opponent of nationalism. He was a part of the Senior Ramblers Club, a debating club from Vilnius. He met his future wife and the mother of his four children, Olimpia Zambrzycka, on the Naturalists Club meeting.
Oh, How Much More Common Sense Had the Belarussian Peasants and the Vilnius “Dimwits”
In April 1939 the Polish president Ignacy Mościcki awarded Swianiewicz a professorship, even though Swianiewicz regarded his politics towards Nazi Germany as suicidal. He was convinced that war with Germany will inevitably provoke the entrance of the Soviets into Poland. “The standard answer to the claim that in the case of the war with Nazi Germany, the Soviets will invade Poland was that ‘the USSR is very big and it does not need any more lands’. Politicians, journalists, highly ranked military officers, university professors, that is the people who should know Polish history and the course of the Partitions of Poland, all repeated that sentence.” Swianiewicz’s call-up to the military unit, in spite of the age census, on the 24th of August 1939 was a certain surprise for him. He even suspected that this call-up was a “punishment” for his “germanophile” opinions. During saying farewells to his family he said: “pray that the Lithuanians, not Bolsheviks come here”. Back then, on the summer night, at 3 in the morning he had not suspected that he will see his wife for the next time 19 years later in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Swianiewicz served as a commander of the quartermaster company of the 85th Infantry Regiment 19th Infantry Division. He fought the Germans in Kielce and Lublin Voivodeships and took part in the Battle of Krasnobród. After the Soviet’s entrance into Polish lands, together with the survivors of his unit he tried to reach the Hungarian border. Privates that wanted to run on their own, decided to destroy their weapons so it would not get into the Soviet hands. “The weapon pile that was poured over with oil was set on fire. It burst into flames momentarily. Meanwhile some of the intelligentsia were convinced that the Soviets enter as… friends. I thought to myself: how much more common sense had the Belarussian peasants and the Vilnius “dimwits” that were included into our division, who couple hours before had destroyed their weapons so they would not get into the Bolshevik hands.” – Swianiewicz wrote in his memoirs years later.
A Cup of Tea Near Katyn
Together with the survivors of his unit, Swianiewicz was captured by the Red Army on the 28th of September. He was transported to Kozelsk through the transit-camp in Putyvl. In the beginning he managed to keep secret who he is, but it accidentally became known, when one of the interrogated prisoners was asked what professors he knows in the camp. On the 29th of April 1940 he was transported by a prison train from Kozelsk to Gnyozdovo station near Katyn. He was in a group meant to be executed, but was unexpectedly separated from it. “While we were walking between the rail tracks, a lieutenant asked me if I would like to drink a cup of tea” – Swianiewicz remembered. He was left in the train while the rest of the Polish officers were taken outside. Through a small hole under the carriage ceiling Swianiewicz watched the officers being put into buses with windows smeared with lime and taken away in unknown direction…
From the Katyn forrest he was respectively put in Smolensk prison, internal NKVD prison in the Lubyanka building in Moscow and then in the Butyrka prison. After a probe lasting for several months he was sentenced to 8 years of forced-labour in a gulag in the Komi Republic because he conducted scientific research on the USSR economy, which for the communists meant espionage. His penal brigade that was assigned to cut down trees consisted almost exclusively of the Chinese convicted for espionage on behalf of Japan. Several Europeans stood out, including a Hungarian, who turned out to be Matyas Rakosi, a Stalinist governor of Hungary after the war.
Swianiewicz in a certain period of his stay in the gulag could be ranked among so called “dochodiagas”, that is people severely weakened by the deadly labour while getting little to no food. The things that saved him was the food smuggled by Rakosi, who thanks to his old connections in Moscow got a job in the kitchen and a dugout used for warming the frozen bodies before conducting post-mortem examination. Swianiewicz was let inside the dugout by some anarchist prisoner who “tried to smuggle a living person among the dead bodies purposed to be warmed up, in order to give him some warmth that he needed in order to survive”.
In August 1941, as a result of the Sikorski – Majski agreement, Swianiewicz was released from the gulag. The Polish ambassador in the USSR, Stanisław Kot, employed him as one of his co-workers. When the diplomatic staff was leaving the USSR in July 1942, the Soviets delayed issuing him a passport until the last possible moment. Swianiewicz jumped on the leaving ship when it was at least 1 metre off the shore. He escaped death yet another time. He reached gen. Władysław Anders army, described his stay in Kozelsk and Katyn forrest to him and to the British ambassador. This report became a part of Józef Mackiewicz and Zdzisław Stahl’s 1948 publication Zbrodnia katyńska w świetle dokumentów – the Polish white paper which is the most comprehensive accusation of the genocide of the Polish prisoners of war that was conducted by the USSR. Swianiewicz came to London in 1944 and became chief deputy in the Department for Eastern Europe of the Ministry of Information and Documentation. Simultaneously he lectured on University of Oxford’s Faculty of Law. After the war he worked in the Polish University College in London since 1946 until its closure in 1953. He started working with the Polish monthly paper “Kultura”. Unsurprisingly, even before war Swianiewicz’s political views on the Eastern affairs brought him close to the “Polityka” paper that was being published by Jerzy Giedroyc. In September 1951, when the US Congress appointed special commission to examine the Katyn Forrest massacre, Swianiewicz appeared in front of it in a mask, in order to protect his family that was still in Poland.
A Veteran from the “Antokol” Hotel
After the war, Swianiewicz settled in London. Until 1954 he worked in London School of Economics and Political Science, then from 1954 to 1956 in the University of Manchester. He spent the years 1956 to 1958 in Jakarta, Indonesia, where he co-organized the local university. After returning to London he worked in the Royal Institute of International Affairs until 1960. In 1963 he permanently settled in Halifax, Canada where he gave lectures on economy and statistics at Saint Mary’s University. In 1965 he published, through Oxford University Press, his most famous work titled Forced Labour and Economic Development which treated about the economic reasons of slave labour in the Soviet gulags. The only events that did not fit those reasons were the Katyn Forrest massacre and the deportations of certain nations, in particular, Caucasians.
In 1976 Stanisław Swianiewicz published W cieniu Katynia. For his publication he received not only a prize from the Polish newspaper situated in London called “Wiadomości” but also a punch in the head. Before his leave to Denmark in order to participate in the hearing about violating human right in the Eastern Bloc countries, on an empty London street, 80-year-old Swianiewicz survived an assault. An unknown person punched him in the head and run away.
During his last years, Swianiewicz lived in the “Antokol” Veterans House in Chislehurst near London. The name “Antokol” was close to the professor’s heart, who to the end of his days spoke with the beautiful Vilnius accent. It was exactly there, in the Vilnius Anatakalnis district where he lived with his family before the war. He died on the 22nd of May 1997 in London at the age of 98. He was buried next to his wife in Halifax, Canada.
Sources: Stanisław Swianiewicz, 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; pl.wikipedia.org.
Translated by Marcin Wus within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.