Polish Landed Gentry in the North-east Borderland of the Republic of Poland under the Soviet Occupation 1939-1941 -- A Study of the Extermination of a Former Political Nation.

(Warsaw: Institute of Politcal Studies, 1996)

Krzystof Jasiewicz

The fate of the Polish landed gentry at the Eastern Borderland of the Second Polish Republic constitute a "white blank" in the Polish history books and no relevant research has been published to date. The blank is filled with this monograph, based on rich archives and manuscript sources. The notion of landed gentry covers all owners, co-owners, leaseholders and administrators of landed property; and their families, as well as persons without the ownership title, but accepted by the social layer to belong thereto. A vast majority of the Borderland landed gentry originated from the nobility, a former political nation, with centuries of family traditions and undeniable merits. Therefore the phrasing of the book's subtitle was almost. The existence of the political nation had to raise varying interrelations in the rural milieu. They can also be seen in another interpretation by the local, partially non-Polish people, after the Soviet attack on Poland on 17 September 1939.

The gentry had a prominent role in the history of Poland, especially in the 19th century, after the uprisings had collapsed. It voluntarily took over many functions which had traditionally been performed by an independent state. Such activity was especially visible in establishing varying foundations and in a wide-spread actions for the improvement of the agrarian culture in the countryside and for the spread of technical advancement in agriculture, which was the main branch of Polish economy until the outbreak of World War II. After regaining independence in 1918, the gentry went into seclusion, for many reasons. It produced, however, a large number of official, economic and local government activists operating in the public life, some of the officers and generals, people of science and culture. The effect of the gentry and nobility traditions prevailed in a way until the outbreak of World War II. Before 1939 at the Eastern Borderland with its multinational population, the gentry manor often attempted to be the heart of Polishness, Catholicism and the core of civilisation progress, such attempts not always being skilful or sensible.

This monograph discusses the experiences of gentry in the north-eastern voivodships of the Second Republic of Poland, excluding the so-called Vilnius District (Vilnius and the surrounding areas given by Soviets to Lithuania in October 1939, since June 1940-after the annexation of Lithuania-included in the Lithuanian Soviet Republic), in the Soviet historical writings referred to Western Belorussia. In 1939 there lived a quarter of the Polish gentry population.

The monograph includes 12 chapters grouped into four parts. Part 1 is of an introductory character. Chapter 1.1. described the class of landed gentry in terms of numbers and quality before the outbreak of the war, with many references to the whole group in the country's area. The outside world, except for the closest vicinity, perceived as a certain unity. Apart from the numerousness of this group, their state of possession, difficulties in management, also the relations of the gentry with the external surrounding have been presented, especially those in the form material support (charity, foundations etc.) and public activities. Chapter 1.2 is devoted to the ways of survival during the war and occupation. Although many of them could be easily used when analysing other groups, some survival factors were characteristic only for this social layer (e.g. nobility, aristocratic titles, international connections etc., and mainly the fact of possessing a property and the related social and economic relations). In order to present the specific features of gentry's survival factors and their relativity, it became necessary to present in fragments the functioning of the same factors in the German occupation zone, the time perspective sometimes going beyond 1939-1941. Part 2-"Autumn intermezzo" discusses very special beginnings of the Soviet occupation and starts our proper research. Such period of absence of leadership, clearly different from the later occupation, reminded of the period of the Bolshevik revolution in terms of the order. The citizens of the Second Polish Republic were not subject to the law of the already non-existent Polish state. However, neither were they subject to the Soviet law, as formally they were not the citizens of the Soviet Union. Thus everything was improvised, which brought about detrimental effects. Chapter 2.1 describes the background of the "spontaneous" murders committed on the gentry, and chapter 2.3 describes the plunder of property and its economic, social and mental results. The "autumn intermezzo" has been defined as the beginning of the Soviet aggression and the formal subjugation of the conquered territory into the Belorussian Soviet Republic on 14 November 1939. One or two months later the legal and economic grounds for communism were developed in the Eastern Borderland. The fundamental significance of the whole monograph lies in part 3. It is an overview of the landed gentry problem. As there is no Polish literature to which the Reader could be referenced, this part, and especially part 3.3 presents the imperial points of reference for the subject. They may be useful in further studies. Chapter 3.1 has been devoted to the theory of "the people's enemy", who did actually perform a very special and surprising function in the Soviet system. Chapter 3.2 analyses the main trends in arrests and deportations of gentry, evidencing that the global factor had its important and fundamental share in the events. Chapter 3.3 describes the mechanisms of extermination of gentry which are an integral part of another extensive process. Part 4 is in a way a reverse of the preceding part. It is a comprehensive description of the history of the Borderland gentry seen from below, from the lowest point of reference, with the eyes of the participants of the events. Especially in those parts of the text a large number of individual examples appear, which are necessary for the presented issues to have real points of reference. Probably if not for that way of recording, it would not be possible to reconstruct the gentry's history. Chapter 4.1 describes the attitudes of the non-gentry environment to the extermination of landed gentry and chapter 4.2 presents the attitudes of the gentry themselves at that dramatic period. The subsequent chapter 4.3 reconstructs the experiences of those representatives of the class who had fled to the German occupation zone, with a comparative description of the reality of gentry's life under German occupation. Chapter 4.4 discusses the problems of everyday life of gentry in the Soviet occupation zone and in the deportation zones. The final chapter 4.5 describes in detail the Soviet attempts to take over the post-gentry infrastructure. Finally, the most important result-for the gentry-of the first Soviet occupation of the Borderland follows-the Soviet guerrilla and its homicidal practices.

The conclusions from the monograph for the researchers are as follows. First of all-the facts cannot prove the stereotype which implied an apparently repressive attitude of the Soviets to the landed gentry. It was actually treated at least like other social layers and professional groups, and sometimes in a more liberal way. The thesis of mass arrests of gentry in September-October 1939 is not confirmed, although we do have fairly "spontaneous" and perhaps even coincidental September murders. The main thrust occurred in 1940. Also the scope of the Borderland gentry losses is at the level of a few per cent of the population, which seems marginal against the background of the (untrue) numbers regarding the global losses of the Polish society or persons deported from the Eastern Borderland in 1939-1941. But the research into the population losses with the method of creating name lists of the victims has proven that e.g. the total losses of the people in Great Poland (Wielkopolska) during the war and occupation were from 0.6% to 1.9% of the total population, depending on the region. In such context we should look at the parallel parameters of other social groups (although the gentry, was subjected to a massive scale repression, in relation to its size). The Soviet system in its everyday practice (and not propaganda) did not encompass the problem of "excessive land possession". There was no policy towards landed gentry. Its history, which we are reconstructing, was the resultant of many, often uncoordinated and mutually contradictory tendencies, with a lot of mess and negligence, characteristic for the system. A Polish "excessive land possessor", "a master" only existed as a propaganda notion serving to win specific objectives. Initially, in the first weeks and months of occupation-they were to ridicule and to rouse repugnance against the Polish-centuries-long presence in the Borderland, to distract attention from the plunder and sovietisation and to raise anti-Polish moods among the Belorussians (and Ukrainians). Later on the propaganda notion was to serve as the instrument in the internal fights of the system at the lower layers and a special kind of alibi to cover the system's errors, chaos and incompetence. Landed gentry was not noticed in the main document by NKVD (People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs) at the end of 1939, which has been widely presented in part 3, dealing with the categories of crimes and places of reeducation of the perpetrators. The practical results of anti-gentry propaganda offensive were the September murders and looting.

Secondly-in the Eastern Borderland in 1939-1941 the Great Purge took place according to the Soviet standards of the 1930s. Despite the existence of varying directives, mentioning the categories of persons to be repressed, there were discrepancies between the written word and the actions. Arrests and deportation mainly resulted from coincidence, which was very beneficial for the system. Arrests, including those of gentry, were a function of time and increasing anarchy in economy and social life of the Eastern Borderland. Their main purpose, from the very beginning, was to catch any "enemies of the USSR", with a completely free definition of the word, for the great murder planned also from the beginning. There were no rules of penalising or reeducating policy, as it was replaced with the selection done only at the highest level of the political authority. It included, with no exceptions, all persons who had been in the hands of NKVD in 1939-1941 and was superior over the statements of the Soviet jurisdiction. Selection was done with respect of the usability of human material (prisoners of war of 1939 and those taken over at the Baltic republics in 1940, as well as those deported in 1939-1941) for the main purpose of the empire-subjugation of Europe. In that context, the theory by Victor Suvorov has been presented (partially confirmed by the sources, including the author's own inquiries), describing the Soviet preparations to attack the Third Reich on 7 July 1941. Suvorov's concept does not deform the history of the Borderland gentry, it allows to order the events in a cause and effect chain. In the initial period, until summer 1940 there was, so to speak, positive selection among the prisoners of war (including gentry). Naturally, they were all "confirmed enemies of the USSR" to be exterminated. There was a search and selection-which was the core of the system-of persons to survive, to match the idea of creating a "Polish" army. At the same time there was, so to speak, a negative selection among the prisoners. People who would not be useful for any purposes of the empire were searched for to be killed. It was of a fundamental meaning with respect of gentry, because-as it turned out-ordinary "land possessors" were eliminated, and the chance to survive was given to those with a "record" (i.e. an activist, a member of parliament, an officer, etc.), as they could be possibly used in the future, e.g. in political inspiration or intelligence work. It was the will of intervention in the West that resulted in such a huge scale murders in 1940. That was the spirit of the contemporary Russian historical writing. The second period, since summer 1940 until June 1941, is distinguished in a natural way as the consequence of the new balance of power after the fall of France and the failure of creating the "Polish" army. Then the negative selection was performed among the prisoners of war. Positive selection was done in prisons. The second period ends with another mass homicide of about 10 thousand prisoners, known as the June murders, executed in a hurry and against the initial plans.

Thirdly-the process of extermination of gentry was not supported by the non-gentry environment in the Eastern Borderland. It was rather negatively perceived. Various exaggerated accounts by persons of another origin were the sign of a shock and unbelief that something like that was happening. Apart from the signs of aversion, personal issues to be settled and the activities of bands (in terms of quantity they were a complete margin of the Borderland) there was a lot of positive approach towards gentry. A relatively large number of people actively opposed their detriment (petitions to release the arrested land owners). A lot of people helped in escapes, in hiding, or supported them in a material way (providing food). The tendency of neutral good-will was dominating. There were also some signs of human impulses among Soviets. The attitudes of gentry should be generally considered heroic and full of dignity, considering the fact that they were devoid of their work places, abruptly deprived of their social position, that there was a propaganda drumbeat, and no possibilities of finding means of support. There was also the psychologically justified threat of arrest. The looting stripped the landed property of production capacities almost immediately. Since the early autumn 1939 the phenomenon can be observed which has been called a concealed collectivisation in this study. It indeed involved collective farming at the estates by the former workers, partly out of the necessity.

The consequence of the chosen method, as well as of the wide use of differing sources were also, as it seems, important establishments of facts, reaching far beyond the gentry theme. We have briefed the Suvorov theory and the principles of selection-the most curious issue from the point of view of the Polish historical writing, with the key of survival in the Katy¤ operation. We have also established that part of the victims-prisoners of the Katy¤ atrocity in spring 1940, probably about one thousand people, included in the general amount of the prison victims (7,305 people) appeared in the prisons mainly in April 1940. They were arrested (an actually sentenced to death) basing on a completely different decision by the Politburo of the Bolshevik Communist Party [VKP (b)] No P 13/114 of 2 March 1940 (item 2b) which automatically became the prologue of the Katy¤ murder, or even commenced it. In the course of 1939-1941, apart from that commonly known homicide committed under the decision of the Politburo of the Bolshevik Communist Party of 5 March 1940, we present the evidence that there was another decision by the Politburo of the Bolshevik Communist Party of June 1941, identical in its essence. Subsequently, there were executions in the Borderland's prisons. We also suspect that the Katy¤-two operation was continued in the depth of the USSR in summer 1941. We think that another operation following such decision-making procedure was carried out in the Eastern Borderland probably in 1945.

Translated by Katarzyna Piotrowska


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