S T A L I N ' S E T H N I C C L E A N S I N G
STALIN’S ETHNIC CLEANSING in Eastern Poland
Tales of the Deported 1940-1946
ISBN 1 872286 88 7
FOREWORD TO THE ENGLISH EDITION
In presenting this book in English – using the oral and almost literal translation of my friend and co-author Bronia Kacperek, I have attempted not only to reshape her vocabulary and phrasing from the taut structures of literary Polish into acceptable modern English but, simultaneously, have tried to maintain the manner of expression of each of the individual story tellers. Many of these are not skilled writers, but merely desire to record their evidence of these events before they vanish from human memory. To this end, in honouring their integrity, the book should be viewed as an historical document.
A further reason for the appearance of this translation is that already just two generations on from the people whose experiences are described here - even within the families so intimately involved – the understanding of Polish is beginning to wane. The offspring of these same families are now spread across the entire globe, more often than not in places where the normal means of communication is English. Bronia and I believe that these new generations of Poles should be able to read for themselves what happened to their immediate predecessors. Indeed as I worked my way through these pages I felt an almost bounden duty to complete this project which I had urged upon Bronia without realising just how meagre was my knowledge of what had occurred on the far side of Europe during the years of my boyhood.
From almost the outset it became obvious that I needed to do a great deal of peripheral reading so as to understand the historical, political and cultural events which underpin the complex background of these stories. Besides accruing information through the printed word I have been particularly fortunate in that my strong empathy with Bronia and her close Polish friends did allow me to seek explanations of sensitive relationships, beliefs and patterns of social life – concerning such matters as Wordsworth calls “Thoughts that lie too deep for tears” – without their feeling I was being shamelessly curious about those tensions of fear, hope and pride which characterised the lives of those inhabiting Poland and Eastern Europe in the first half of the twentieth century.
In reality, the Polish experience stretches back hundreds of years through a myriad layers of complexity, but for the purposes of this book it is probably sufficient to start with the apparent closure of hostilities in 1918 when many Poles envisaged a chance of resurrecting a sovereign Polish State, something which had been squeezed out of existence over a hundred years previously.
The end of the Great War of 1914-18, with its break-up of three mighty European Empires, catapulted much of the eastern half of the continent into a geopolitical shambles. Many different nationalities, as well as various political, religious and ethnic groups, replete with their own particular views of history and events, laid claim to a bewildering array of tracts of territory and possessions. The Peace Conference called in 1919 at Versailles in order to settle these many differences, eventually recognised Poland’s legal representative as being the government of Marshal Józef Piłsudski. However, within a very short time of being accepted as Poland’s leader, his government had to face the threat of Bolshevik armies massing on the country’s Eastern Frontier. So started the Polish-Soviet War of 1920. Initial Polish defeats were rendered insignificant by the “Miracle of the Vistula” when the heavily outnumbered Polish forces routed the Red Army, and harried them into retreat beyond the frontier thus causing a spontaneous eruption of Polish national rejoicing.
At this point Poland, feeling herself a truly sovereign state once more, like so many of the other states of Europe, became dominated by ideas of nationalism. Marshal Piłsudski who remained in power until 1922, had a policy of creating a buffer zone in the east as an insurance against future Bolshevik invasion. Thus amongst other schemes adopted, vast acres of land on the Eastern Borders were offered along with a small grant of money, and quite often an overused military horse to those young soldiers who had fought the Bolsheviks in 1920. These men, mostly bachelors drawn from all walks of both rural and urban life, with limited financial means and known as military settlers (there were others who simply purchased their land), were presented with the challenge of creating their own farms out of this emptiness.
Their settlements (osadas – they themselves being known as osadnicy) were sited separate from the already existing villages, but often contiguous with them. Such villages had generally a mixed population of Poles, Ukrainians and Belorussians. Through painstakingly hard work and determination the settlers prospered over the ensuing years and the osadas formed the necklace of experiments in cooperative living which stretched north to south along the entire length of eastern Poland.
Each of these stories, generally related by one of the children born to the original settlers, starts on one of these osadas. They tell of what happened when the constant threat of Russian revenge for the outcome of the 1920 War eventually burst over them from mid-September of 1939. It is a further example of the human degradation which we now know existed in many parts of Europe fed by the ideas of furthering various political causes. However, unlike some of the well-known atrocities, as for example such as are happening in the globally witnessed exiling of peoples in the Balkans at the present time, this one, perpetrated secretively at the time and now enmeshed in half a century of communist dissembling and diversionary propaganda (for example all the osadas have been razed to the ground so as to create the doubt that they ever existed), has been almost forgotten apart from the oral testimony maintained among the survivors. It must however be remembered, if for no other reason than as an obviously still needed warning of what man can do to man. To achieve this in today’s world, over as wide a swath of humanity as possible, requires these stories to be in English.
In closing this foreword I must thank those without whose encouragement and help this enterprise would have stumbled to a halt in its early stages. Foremost among these is Bronia Kacperek herself, the initial translator of the whole. We tried to meet at her home twice weekly and I would arrive to find her surrounded by dictionaries – Polish, Russian and English – books of maps, an array of photographs and stacks of printed reminiscences. She would already have pre-read the next part of the text in preparation for the plunge into my first rough script. Even as this progressed there was much discussion between us as to whether a particular idea would be readily understood by the younger generation, or whether a means of expression would be acceptable in English. It all took time and I thank her for being patient, and aware of the clouds of difficulties which I raised. Then I must thank my wife Joan for her support and the realisation that to maintain the momentum I did need to work on into the night or rise earlier than the lark.
I am grateful for much advice and extra knowledge from our circle of Polish friends in Preston, and from the original Editorial Committee, especially those who took on the extra burden of typing from my final handwritten version: Janina Walbach, Henryka Łappo, Tadeusz Walczak and his secretary Mrs Karen Pittaway, Stanisław Świercz and Bronisław Wawrzkowicz – the last of these via his English friend, John Libberton, who took immense care and interest in the work he did. A further outworker was Bronia’s daughter-in-law Lynn Kacperek, who became engrossed in the project and volunteered her help. I am also grateful to our mutual friend, Lady Grenfell Baines, a Czech by birth and a refugee of the 1939-45 War, who allowed me to Xerox all my completed scripts so that I might have a back-up copy in case of loss in the post as the originals went back and forth across the country. To all of these and the very many who have bolstered my commitment by their regular enquiries as to progress, I offer my sincere thanks.
Eric J Whittle.
Preston, May 1999