Poland first to fight – Poles in World War II

On 1 September 1939 Germany started World War II by invading Poland. At 4.45 am the German warship Schleswig-Holstein shelled Polish posts on Westerplatte in the absence of an official declaration of war. German air forces simultaneously began bombarding Polish cities and major communication facilities. In the Free City of Gdańsk (Danzig) German troops attacked the Polish Post Office building, while numerous Wehrmacht soldiers crossed the Polish border. From the very first moments of the War German troops sought to terrorise civilians and spread panic. Air actions were mainly directed at residential buildings, with Wieluń, a city with no military infrastructure, being one of the most-severely-bombed localities. As the German army inflicted terror, the Polish civilians seeking to escape the approaching enemy were shelled by the Luftwaffe. Wehrmacht soldiers executed residents of villages under the pretence of fighting down partisan movements. The Polish Army, along with various law enforcement and public services, including employees of the Polish Post Office, had to face their life-and-death struggle. Several major battles were fought on the first day of the War, including the Battle of Mokra, in which the Volhynian Cavalry Brigade (in Polish: Wołyńska Brygada Kawalerii) held up the 4th Panzer Division for the whole day, causing substantial losses and successfully delaying the German march further into Polish lands. Other fierce fights, including the four-day Battle of Mława and the five-day battle in the Tuchola Pinewoods, also began on 1 September. The following days saw the proliferation of fighting, envelopments, retreats, and struggles by Polish troops against the more numerous German forces. The heroic acts of the Polish soldiers fighting at Wizna, sometimes referred to as the Polish Thermopylae, certainly went down in history. In the battle, which started on 8 September, one Polish battalion fought off the German Corps led by Gen. Guderian for two days, at a distance of 9 kilometres. The Germans outnumbered the Polish forces 40 to 1. When it became obvious that the battle would end in defeat, the Polish commander, Captain Władysław Raginis, sent his soldiers to the back and committed suicide, having fought to the end and refusing to surrender. 8 September also marked the beginning of the Warsaw siege which continued until 26 September.

For three weeks the Polish Capital City held up against the overwhelming German forces. The city’s defence involved all residents, who were digging ditches, building barricades, extinguishing fires, taking care of the wounded, and burying the dead. Warsaw suffered substantial damage throughout September 1939 although it was not until the Warsaw Uprising in 1944 that the City was put into ruins by the German invaders. At the outset of the September campaign the key figures in the Polish Government were evacuated from Warsaw and headed to the country’s southern borders. They soon left for France where they formed the first Polish Government outside the country (in-exile), with Władysław Sikorski in the lead. The Battle of Bzura, fought between 9 and 18 September, was the largest battle in the September campaign. Although it eventually ended with the defeat of the Polish “Poznań” and “Pomorze” military troops, it forced the Nazis to change their initial plans and put off the conquest of Warsaw.

On 17 September 1939, while the Polish Army was struggling against the German Forces, the Soviet Red Army crossed the eastern border of the Republic of Poland, violating the Soviet-Polish Non-Aggression Pact signed on 25 July 1932. Plundering the country and slaughtering its people, the Soviet forces gained control of nearly half the territory of Poland, along with its 13 million population. The Soviet Red Army’s invasion was carried out in collusion with the Germans – in accordance with the secret protocol of the Molotov– Ribbentrop Pact dated 23 August 1939 – and did not trigger any major international response. The Red Army captured around 242,000 Polish soldiers, officers and noncommissioned officers, along with reserve soldiers who came from various social classes. These included teachers, state officials, engineers, entrepreneurs, police officers, doctors and lawyers, i.e. the Polish elite. Nearly 22,000 of those captured, including approximately 10,000 soldiers and policemen, were executed in 1940 shot in the back of their heads by the order of the leading Soviet authorities. They were buried in mass graves, including in Katyn, Mednoye and Kharkiv (the Katyn massacre).

The Soviet Red Army’s invasion rendered obsolete the Polish defence plan, which envisaged the regrouping of the Polish troops at the eastern border and proceeding with the counter-attack. Once the Polish soldiers were enveloped, they had nowhere to retreat. On 5 October 1939, following the Polish defeat at the Battle of Kock, the last troops surrendered their weapons. Although the Germans pronounced their victory, the fight was not over. Despite the German and Soviet occupation of the Polish lands, the continuity of the Polish State was preserved and heroic fights continued. By the end of September 1939, i.e. in the aftermath of the invasion, the first underground resistance organisations were formed, which then gave rise to the Polish Underground State.

The Underground State traces its origins to the Service for Poland’s Victory (in Polish: Służba Zwycięstwu Polski), following which the Prime Minister of the Polish government-in-exile established the Union of Armed Struggle (in Polish: Związek Walki Zbrojnej), which in 1942 was transformed into the Home Army (in Polish: Armia Krajowa, abbreviated as AK). Poland was the only country under German occupation in which the underground activities and fierce fights against the occupier were so proliferated that a number of secret organisations could eventually merge into a viable State structure, led by the internationally-recognised Government of the Republic of Poland in exile, having its seat in Paris, and then in London. The Secret Government Delegation for Poland (in Polish: Tajna Delegatura Rządu na Kraj) represented the Polish authorities in the occupied areas and performed the functions of an underground administration. It comprised underground courts, the duties of which included sentencing German collaborators. The punishment was enforced by the AK liquidation troops. Various political parties were also motivated to continue their activities, electing representatives to the Home Political Representation (in Polish: Krajowa Reprezentacja Polityczna). The Polish secret structure constituted the only system of its kind among the countries which experienced the occupation regime during World War II. It is worth stressing that no Polish collaborative government was ever formed. The Polish Underground State punished all acts of treason and collaboration with death.

Both Germans and Soviets made every effort to place Polish people under their absolute command. To this end, they sought to eliminate the Polish intelligentsia and to deprive young Poles of educational opportunities. Universities and comprehensive schools were closed down, with only vocational schools’ being allowed to function. The enemy troops began arresting academic professors, pre-war social and political activists, artists, teachers, doctors and priests. As early as on 6 November 1939 the Germans placed 184 Kraków scientists under arrest, who were then sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Educators, parents and teachers did not give up despite such dreadful circumstances. Secret teaching activities, also at the academic level, were conducted in private houses and vocational schools, under the guise of legal activities. Mindful that the future of Poland rested with its youth, the Polish underground authorities used their best endeavours to let young people pursue general education.

Terror regime was soon introduced in the areas occupied by both the Soviet and German armies. While struggling with the dire poverty and hunger caused by warfare, the Polish people experienced the endless fear of being detained, deprived of their property, removed to Siberia or in concentration camps, subjected to torture, and eventually put to death. The police regime of repressions, often based on denouncing letters, created an atmosphere of uncertainty and endangerment in the areas controlled by the Red Army, with the aim of breaking any social bonds. The repressions were meant to change the overall character of the eastern regions of Poland, especially by mass detentions and deportations to the east. The first deportation, taking place overnight between 9 and 10 February 1940, involved 140,000 people. Three other major deportations took place by June 1941, as a result of which around 800,000 Poles were taken to the distant regions of Russia. Many of them faced tragic death in transit or during hard labour in the Gulag camps. To date, the exact numbers of people deported and murdered by the Soviet torturers have not been determined. The situation in the areas occupied by the Third Reich was hardly any better. The SS and Gestapo soldiers inflicted terror whenever they appeared. The places where Polish people were detained and tortured, such as the Pawiak prison in Warsaw and the Lublin Castle, soon gained a mournful infamy. Germans quickly began building concentration camps in the occupied Polish lands. First Poles were placed in the German camps, including in Auschwitz, in early 1940. Many Poles were also deported to labour camps in Germany. Polish property, including works of art, jewellery, animals and virtually any valuable objects, were stolen on the orders of the German occupation authorities. Round-ups, which served the purpose of detaining people and placing them in concentration camps, or taking them directly to the places of mass executions, terrified residents of Polish cities, whereas rural populations faced bloody attempts at “pacification”, plunders and slaughter of those villagers who were unable to provide German soldiers with the required quantities of food. The more efficient were the diversion actions of the underground organisations, which comprised blowing up German rail supplies and other armed actions, the more terror was spread by the Germans. Warsaw residents witnessed public street executions which between 1943 and 1944 took a toll of approximately 5,000 people.

The dramatic situation in the areas occupied by the Third Reich was intensified by the tragic fate of Polish citizens of Jewish origin. In accordance with the Nazi racial policy, Germans viewed Poles as “subhumans” who were only meant to perform menial work for the benefit of their German masters. The situation of Jewish people, however, was even worse as they were to be exterminated. At this point it is worth noting that Polish society comprised over 3,000,000 people of Jewish origin. Some of them were orthodox Jews who had preserved their traditional clothes and customs. However, most of the Polish Jews had fully assimilated with native Poles, representing the intelligentsia, performing freelance professions and dealing in trade. Germans, nevertheless, proceeded with the brutal eradication of both orthodox and non-orthodox Jewish people, forcing them to wear bands with the Star of David on their shoulders, forbidding them to use pavements and stealing their property. They soon established closed districts in the cities, referred to as ghettos, forcing all Jews residing in certain regions of Poland to move in. With time they also began relocating Jewish people from Western European countries to the ghettos set up in the occupied Poland. Ghettos were places of unbearable terror and hunger, where people were dying in the streets, in abject poverty and misery. Ghetto flats were crowded, and the execrable sanitary conditions made infectious diseases spread easily. In 1942 the leading German authorities decided to begin the Final Solution to the Jewish Question i.e. the extermination of all European Jews, by which they meant slaughtering around 11,000,000 people. To this end, they began liquidating ghettos, whose residents were massively relocated to places of execution and extermination camps, or shot inside the ghettos in order to intimidate the surviving Jews and force them into obedience. Gas chambers and crematories were established in the concentration camps, where people were put to death. Other methods were used as well, for example people were killed with fumes directed into closed buses shuttling to the crematory or mass graves.

Helping Jews was forbidden all over Europe. However, the punishments for giving shelter or a slice of bread, or for merely acting with kindness towards a Jewish person, were nowhere as severe as in the occupied Poland where any assistance was brutally punished by the Germans. Once hiding Jews were discovered in a Polish house, the whole family was often murdered. Repressive actions did not spare the neighbours of the families providing protection to Jews. In the cities all residents of tenement houses would sometimes be slaughtered or placed in concentration camps, and outside the cities whole villages were “pacified” by the Germans, their residents being taken to extermination or labour camps all over the Third Reich. Despite such dreadful prospects, the Polish people did not abandon the Jews. Risking their own lives, they gave shelter to escapees, adopted children whom they treated as their own offspring or relatives, and supplied food to the Jewish people hiding in the forests. The Catholic Church supplied falsified baptism certificates in order to help disguise the Jewish origin. Monasteries and convents provided shelter to Jewish families, and Jewish children were given protection in Catholic orphanages. Moreover, the “Żegota” Council to Aid Jews (in Polish: Rada Pomocy Żydom “Żegota”), an institution aiming at rescuing Jewish people, functioned as part of the Polish Underground State, having been co-founded by Zofia Kossak-Szczucka, a Polish writer. The “Żegota” child department, which dealt with leading Jewish children out of the Warsaw ghetto and finding them shelter in Polish houses, monasteries, convents and orphanages, was directed by Irena Sendlerowa. Her devotion and involvement helped to save around 2,500 Jewish children. Irena Sendlerowa, who despite being arrested by Gestapo and undergoing brutal investigation, survived the War and lived until 2008, was awarded the medal of the Righteous Among the Nations, granted to people who made attempts at rescuing the Jewish population during World War II. This distinction has been awarded to people of various nations, among which Poles constituted the most numerous group, with around 6,625 Righteous Among the Nations awardees.

One should also not forget about the Poles who lost their lives together with those whom they were hiding. Only few stories of sacrifice and bravery have survived to this day. The shocking story of the Ulm family, who provided assistance to Jews, is one of the stories worth telling. Wiktoria and Józef Ulm lived in Markowa, a small village in the Podkarpackie Region, together with their six minor children. During the German occupation, most likely in 1942, despite the fact that they were experiencing severe poverty themselves, they gave shelter to eight Jews – Saul Goldman with his four sons, Lea Didner with her daughter, and Genia (Gołda) Grünfeld. Early in the morning on 24 March 1944 German military policemen appeared at the doorstep of Ulm’s house. Commanded by Eilert Dieken, the torturers first slaughtered the Jews, and then – in the presence of children – shot Józef and Wiktoria who was in her seventh month of pregnancy. Dieken even ordered killing the children despite the fact the oldest was 8 years old and the youngest 18 months old. This story might not have emerged if it had not been for Włodzimierz Leś, a policeman serving the Nazis, who informed the Germans that the Jews had been hiding in Ulms’ house. Leś then faced the death sentence pronounced by the secret court and was executed in September 1944. This proves the degree of severity applied by the Polish Underground State in prosecuting German collaborators and people blackmailing Jews or Poles who protected them.

Polish citizens spared no effort to make the Western World aware of the tragic fate of the Jews in the European countries occupied by Nazi Germany. In 1942 Jan Karski, an envoy of the Polish Underground State, who had witnessed the ghetto reality, managed to escape to London, and then to Washington, in order to report to Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Great Britain, and to Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States, the cruel events that had become so common in the occupied Europe. However, the western leaders did not trust the Polish envoy. Nor did they give any credit to the subsequent reports by Witold Pilecki, a Polish officer who had got himself captured and imprisoned in the Auschwitz camp, in order to be able to give a true account of the inhuman behaviour of the Germans.

In the face of terror and endless fear, Polish people did not lose hope and continued their struggle. Forests were filled with partisan troops, while residents of Polish cities organised numerous diversion and sabotage actions. The Scouting and Guiding Association (in Polish: Związek Harcerstwa Polskiego), which had formed in the pre-war period, came to play a vital role in the times of the German occupation, evolving into the paramilitary Gray Ranks organisation (in Polish: Szare Szeregi). Young scouts organised frequent sabotage actions against the Germans, bringing comfort to other Poles and compromising the morale of the German soldiers who were forced to act as if they were still on a battlefield. Warsaw demonstrated outstanding resistance to the Nazis. “The Untamed City” never became a safe place for the occupying forces. Such acts as breaking windows in German shops, hanging Polish flags on tram lines, or painting German-mocking slogans and symbols of the fight for independence, including especially the Anchor (in Polish: Kotwica), which was considered the symbol for the Polish struggle to regain independence, were commonplace. Behind these were mainly scouts, while their elder colleagues, who belonged to the Home Army, carried out armed resistance and assassinations. They liberated prisoners, blew up German rail supplies, enforced the sentences imposed by underground courts and prepared intelligence reports which were then sent to the West. In the meantime they were all preparing for an open fight – an uprising against the Germans which would enable them to regain independence. Armour was massively produced and military training was held outside the city. Warsaw, as the seat of the leading secret authorities, was where vital information was gathered and strategic plans were developed.

However, before the official call to arms was pronounced, the last group of Jewish people imprisoned in the Warsaw ghetto had entered the battlefield. On 19 April 1943, while the Germans were about to commence the ultimate liquidation of the facility, i.e. to murder around 70,000 Jews who had survived the previous clearance actions, an uprising began in the Warsaw ghetto. Although members of the Jewish secret combat organisations had to face an enemy which had a crushing numerical superiority and far more armament, while the Polish underground could supply weapons in limited quantities, the Germans did not manage to suppress the uprising until mid-May. Battles were fought in smouldering ruins, with Jewish fighters manifesting unshakable courage, hoping not so much for a victory but for an opportunity to revenge the cruelty and suffering inflicted by the Germans.

The Warsaw population, facing endless acts of terror, round-ups, arrests, hunger and street executions, began their fight on 1 August 1944, encouraged by the frequent underground sabotage actions and hoping for external support from the Allies. That date marks the official beginning of the Warsaw Uprising (in Polish: Powstanie Warszawskie). The residents, both soldiers and civilians, attempted at fighting down the Germans, and the spirit of freedom revived in Warsaw after nearly 5 years of occupation terror. Unfortunately, the shortage of weapons, food and medicines, and the shattering superiority of German troops, made the success of the Uprising strongly dependent on external support. The Soviet Union, which since the summer of 1941 had considered Poland “the ally of an ally”, refused to grant assistance to Warsaw and the Soviet advance stopped at the city’s doorstep. Moreover, Stalin threatened that he would intern the Allied pilots of the aircraft which would drop supplies to the Polish people fighting in the Uprising as soon as they landed in Sovietcontrolled territory. The Home Army envoys who sought to contact the commanders of the Red Army, deployed in the suburbs of Warsaw, were arrested by the NKVD. Meanwhile the Soviet propaganda strived to discredit the Warsaw Uprising in the eyes of the major international players. The heroic Warsaw residents held up their enemy for 63 days, despite the crushing superiority of the German troops, as regards their numbers, supplies and armour. The initial objective of the Uprising, which had been planned to continue for no more than a few days, was to involve the Wehrmacht troops, still present in Warsaw, in fighting, so that the approaching Soviet Red Army would meet with weakened resistance from the German forces. It was also of utmost importance for the underground authorities to underscore Polish sovereignty and to liberate Warsaw before the Soviets’ entry, preventing them from assuming control of the city.

The Uprising commanders were unaware of the fact that the Polish fate had been sealed by Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin long before the insurrection. The Big Three met at a conference in Teheran, at the turn of November and December 1943, and decided that Poland would be controlled by the Soviet Union, whatever happened. The provisions made in Teheran were confirmed and determined in further detail at two subsequent conferences attended by the Big Three in 1945 – in Yalta and Potsdam. In this way Poland was betrayed by its allies, despite Great Britain’s joining the war to defend Poland and its whole territory.

At the turn of September and October the Warsaw capitulation talks were started. The agreement was signed on the night of 2-3 October 1944 envisaged that the Germans would respect the combatant rights of Polish soldiers and grant immunity to civilians. The uprising participants, civilians and the injured soon began to come out of the city’s ruins. The Nazis, however, did not keep their promises, deporting most of the Warsaw residents to labour camps in various parts of the Third Reich or placing them in concentration camps. Having expelled the residents, German troops began to gradually destroy the city. Buildings were methodically burnt down, demolished or blown up one by one. The Soviet troops deployed on the city’s doorstep, which eventually entered the desolated Warsaw in January 1945, did not stop the Germans from carrying out the devious plan of Adolf Hitler to make Warsaw disappear.

Before World War II the Polish capital city had around 1,289,000 residents, 32% of whom were Jews. During the German occupation, between 1939 and 1944, due to the progressing round-ups, arrests, street executions, deportations to concentration camps and labour camps in Germany, and the extermination of Jewish population, Warsaw lost nearly 850,000 of its people, 170,000 of whom were casualties of the Warsaw Uprising. In total, the Polish population in World War II decreased by over 6,000,000, i.e. 20%, which marked the highest death toll of all the countries affected by the War. Nonetheless, the Polish people did not give up fighting and refused to surrender throughout the wartime period. Once the Nazi Germany forces entered Warsaw, the Polish State system maintained its existence outside the country. The internationally-recognised Polish government-in-exile had its seat in Paris, and then in London. Poland also had the largest partisan army in Europe – the Home Army.

Moreover, Polish soldiers did not end with defending Poland in September 1939 and forming a secret army, but they were also active on most major fronts of World War II. In the autumn of 1939, when it became obvious that the unequal fight with two enemies –Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union – was doomed to end in failure, a large number of Polish soldiers managed to get through the southern border to Hungary, Romania and France, and finally to Great Britain. Among them was General Stanisław Maczek, with his soldiers. In September 1939, once the Red Army entered Polish territory, they escaped to Hungary and France, where they continued fighting the Germans and then, following the capitulation of France, eventually got to Scotland and England. This was where Stanisław Maczek was appointed brigade commander. In 1944 he was one of the commanders leading the assault landing in Normandy, and his division took part in the victorious Battle of Falaise. Most of all, Stanisław Maczek made his way to Dutch hearts and memories. It was through his exceptional commanding skills that Dutch cities, including Breda, could be liberated from the Germans without any civilian casualties. After the War the residents of Breda sought to honour the Polish general by granting him the honorary citizenship of their city.

Maczek’s fate was shared by one of the best Polish commanders of the September campaign, Stanisław Sosabowski. Following the capitulation of Warsaw, he was held captive but then managed to escape and joined the underground forces which had formed in the occupied Poland. On the orders of the Polish Underground State he made his way to France through Hungary, to give an account of the dire situation in Poland. Once he came to France, carrying out the order given by the Commander-In-Chief of the Polish Armed Forces, he began establishing the Polish infantry division, along with which he was then evacuated to Great Britain. This was where he set up the first Polish paratroops. Although the 1st Parachute Brigade under the command of General Sosabowski was eager to join the fighting in the Warsaw Uprising, as soon as it began, the British command withheld their consent. Sosabowski’s troops were not sent to the battlefield until the airborne operation Market Garden. The operation ended in failure but it was the Polish paratroopers, with no artillery support, who secured the retreat of the scattered British forces from the region of Driel in the Netherlands, manifesting a heroic attitude and sustaining heavy losses.

Division 303, the Polish Fighter Squadron, forming part of the RAF forces during the Battle of Britain, came to play a significant role in the history of Great Britain. The Squadron comprised soldiers of air divisions of the Polish Army, who had managed to escape to England and join the Allied armed forces, following the defeat of France in 1939. Polish soldiers also formed part of many RAF units, including fighter and bomber divisions. The Battle of Britain, which brought fierce battles in the British skies, continued from July to October 1940. Although Division 303 were not allowed to enter the fight until the end of September 1940, its soldiers are said to have probably shot down the largest number of German planes of all Allied air divisions. Polish aviators displayed exceptional skills and daredevil behaviour from the very first training flights, which later proved useful in the battlefield. They were also characterised by tenacity and extreme devotion. Despite having earned recognition and numerous distinctions, the Polish pilots were not invited to join the London Victory Celebrations of 1946, following the end of World War II. This would have antagonised Stalin, which the British authorities certainly wished to avoid. The sense of humiliation was intensified by the Yalta treason, with Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt sacrificing Britain’s most faithful ally and placing post-war Poland under Stalin’s command.

Nazi Germany’s attacking its previous ally, the Soviet Union, in June 1941, brought new hope to the thousands of Poles who had been deported to Siberia after 17 September 1939, to perform slave-like work in Gulag camps. The Polish government-in-exile made an agreement with the Soviet authorities, who had joined the anti-German coalition, as a result of which the Polish General Władysław Anders, who had been arrested by the Soviet soldiers in September 1939 and held captive in the Lubianka NKVD prison in Moscow, was released and entrusted with the task of establishing the Polish Armed Forces in the East. Polish people, whom the Soviets were reluctant to release from the deportation camps, were to form the Allied army. Men, women and children, who were often in terrible physical condition, having nearly starved to death, sought to join General Anders, hoping to flee from the Soviet Union, which they considered “an inhuman land”. While the Anders Army was being formed, it became obvious that thousands of Polish officers arrested in 1939 had gone missing. As it then turned out, they had been murdered by the NKVD forces in Katyn and other places.

The Polish forces which had formed in the Soviet territory travelled through Iran and Iraq to Palestine, where they evolved into the 2nd Polish Corps and rushed towards the Italian front. Following a number of assault operations conducted by the Allied troops to no avail, General Anders’s soldiers eventually managed to capture Monte Casino.

The Polish Armed Forces, controlled by the government-in-exile, were the fourth largest army in the anti-German coalition during World War II. Nevertheless, once the War was over, the Polish veterans fighting in Italy, the Netherlands and Great Britain, as well as in many other countries, could not safely return to their native country. Upon return to Poland, they would have faced imprisonment, cruel investigation and most likely a death sentence imposed by Communist forces. The post-Yalta Poland had to struggle with a new occupier. The Red Army units were deployed all over the country, and it was not until 1992 that the last Soviet soldiers left Poland.

The actions organised by the NKVD troops proved that they treated the People’s Republic of Poland as their own country. Officers of the Soviet political police trained members of the newlyformed Security Office (in Polish: Urząd Bezpieczeństwa, abbreviated as UB) in applying savage interrogation “techniques” and performing operational work. The Security Office soon became no less cruel and ruthless in coercing confessions than the NKVD. For fear of being arrested, subjected to violent investigation and eventually put to death in the UB dungeon, Polish underground soldiers abandoned the idea of coming from the shadows and returned to their partisan troops in the forests. The occupier launched numerous military operations against the Polish anti-Communist partisans, including the Augustów Round-Up (in Polish: Obława augustowska) which was the largest crime committed by the Soviets on Polish lands after World War II. The operation was undertaken in July 1945 by Soviet Red Army, the NKVD and SMERSH (the Soviet military counter-intelligence unit) forces, with the assistance of the Polish UB and Civic Militia (in Polish: Milicja Obywatelska, abbreviated as MO), in the regions of the Augustów Primeval Forest. Several thousand people were arrested and subjected to brutal interrogations. 600 disappeared and their fate remains uncertain to this day.

However, even despite such campaigns as the Augustów Round-Up, the Soviets did not manage to wipe out the soldiers willing to fight for their independent country from Polish forests. Many young people who had decided to share the partisan fate for fear of imprisonment did not limit themselves to staying in disguise but they proceeded with armed fights against the Soviet occupier. They organised campaigns against the NKVD and UB, liberated prisoners, foiled transportations to prisons and helped the local people. Such attempts rendered the communisation of Poland much more difficult. Having escaped numerous raids, acts of treason and ambushes, most of them eventually lost their lives in the fight against the superior forces. Most of the Doomed Soldiers (in Polish: Żołnierze Wyklęci) were murdered or imprisoned between 1945 and 1956. Although 1956 marked the official ending of fighting, armed operations and round-ups, the partisan exile continued until 1963, which was when the last soldier died. Due to the unshakable attitude of the Doomed Soldiers, the Communists did not find it easy to introduce kolkhozes in Poland, which provided for abolishing private land ownership and socialising the farm sector. In consequence, Communism in Poland could not take root to the extent that it did in other Soviet-controlled countries. Finally, the anti-Communist revolution could be launched by the Solidarity movement (in Polish: Solidarność).

Photo: 303 squadron pilots. From the left side: P/O Ferić, F/Lt Kent, F/O Grzeszczak, P/O Radomski, P/O Zumbach, P/O Łukuciewski, F/O Henneberg, Sgt. Rogowski, Sgt. Szaposznikow (in 1940). Photo was colorized. Here is genuine color photo showing Polish pilots from WW2: http://i.iplsc.com/piloci-303-polskiego-dywizjonu-mysliwskiego-przy-samolocie-s/00028AAYH6FKNL2G-C116-F4.jpg

Source: Główny Zarząd Polityczny WP (1960) Z Dziejów Wojny Wyzwoleńczej Narodu Polskiego 1939-1945, Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Ministerstwa Obrony Narodowej, ss. 255 no ISBN

Eugeniusz Duraczyński (1974) Wojna i Okupacja Wrzesień 1939 – Kwiecień 1943, Warszawa: Wiedza Powszechna no ISBN

Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum London

 

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