On 17 September 1939 the Soviets invaded Poland with an army of 600,000 that included 24 infantry divisions, 15 cavalry divisions, and nine tank brigades [ii]. They immediately set about carrying out their policy of ethnic cleansing [iii].
They came with previously-prepared lists and ordered that all Kresy Polish military residents, police, civil servants, civilian farmer settlers and well-to-do land-owning peasants (Kulaks) have their property appropriated and their bank accounts frozen. Homes, businesses and farms were ransacked, personal property destroyed and owners imprisoned.
more about Russian train wagons here
The war crimes of the deportations of Polish citizens from the Eastern Borderlands of Poland and of the Katyń massacre of Polish officers [i] were never mentioned at the Nuremberg Trials.
Both these war crimes were carried out by Soviet Russia during that period when Germany and Soviet Russia were allies from September 1939 to June 1941.
The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact was a non-aggression pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed in Moscow on 23 August 1939 by German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop and Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov. Germany and the Soviet Union promised not to attack one another for 10 years. Germany was thus able to invade Poland without fear of Soviet intervention. (Less than two years later, in June 1941, Germany broke the agreement and invaded the Soviet Union.)
In accordance with secret provisions of the pact, Poland was partitioned between Germany and the Soviet Union, thus enabling Soviet forces to occupy eastern Poland. The signatories agreed to divide Poland along the line of the Narev, Vistula and San Rivers.
Map showing Eastern Europe after the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact
click to enlarge map
Source: US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Summary chart of the Civilian Deportations
these figures are based on the lists of deportation trains located (to date) by the Russian Memorial group
showing departure, destination, and numbers of deportees. You can download the lists here.
| February 1940|
Archangelsk, Sverdlovsk, Omsk, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk
| 138 616|
| 56 828|
| 48 188|
Archangielsk, Kazakhstan, Sverdlovsk, Altai Kraj, Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk
| 26 994|
From around Wilno
| 25 039|
More details on our Research page
The Soviets have not yet revealed all their wartime statistics; therefore, the estimated figures of those deported can range from under one million to two million depending on how the deportees are categorised.
A relatively small percentage of Ukrainians, Jews and Belarusians were included in the deportations.
The majority of the February deportations were mostly the families of settlers (osadnicy), policemen and foresters, civil servants and government officials.
Most of the April deportees were the families of officers and ex-officers, many of whom were murdered in the Katyń massacres, but also included in this category were some families of Polish military settlers, small farmers, policemen, foresters, civil servants, government officials imprisoned in the Soviet Union and Poland and also families of those in hiding or abroad and families of landowners, soldiers, tradesmen, farmers and the families of the previously-arrested intellectuals.
The deportations of June and July 1940 were principally refugees from German-occupied Poland who had not accepted Soviet passports, intellectuals, professionals and “those likely to prove difficult to convert to communism”.
The June 1941 deportees were Polish citizens from the Baltic States and those previously missed.
‘Stalin’s terror [was] on a far greater scale than Hitler’s; it was also incomparably more lethal’ [iv].
[i] 250,000 Polish servicemen were taken as POWs. The officers were arrested and sent to three special prisoner-of-war camps administered by the NKVD in Kozielsk and Ostashkov in western Russia and Starobielsk in eastern Ukraine.
[ii] L.Rees: Behind Closed Doors [Page 36] A secret protocol limited British obligation to German aggression only.
[iii] A plan was composed and signed by Colonel Serov, Deputy Commissioner for Security to deport over a million Polish citizens.
[iv] Bloodlands, Timothy Snyder. [Pages 85-86]
Hania Kaczanowska: God How I Hate the Cold
ARCHIVAL LISTS - Evacuation USSR to PERSIA www.polishexilesofww2.org/archival-lists-ussr-to-persia
The overwhelming majority of those arrested were never tried. Many of them were to disappear for ever, probably murdered.
The families of those arrested and other civilians were deported to Posiolki (family work camps), collectives, construction projects and lumber camps in isolated areas of Siberia, Kazakhstan and East Asia. The civilian deportees were never tried or convicted of crimes.
Prisoners of War and convicted criminals, including many political prisoners (on trumped up charges) were sent to Gulags in places like Vorkuta, Pechora, Uktha and Magadan. These were already established as part of the Russian prison system for convicted criminals.
The deportees were forced to endure long train journeys, sometimes up to several weeks, under brutal conditions in appallingly overcrowded and unhygienic boxcars. They were kept locked in, with only a tiny grated window at the top so it was dark and stuffy. There was a stove for heating food, and for occasionally boiling snow to wash themselves, and a hole in the floor as a toilet.
They were very rarely let out into the fresh air. Once in a while they were given watery soup, maybe some bread or cereal. Many died, especially small children and the elderly. Their bodies were just thrown out and left in the snow.