First-hand account of when eastern Poland became western Belarus. October 1939

On 1 September 1939 Germany invaded the western half of Poland. Just over two weeks later the Soviet Union invaded the eastern half and immediately began incorporating it in to the Soviet Union.

Below is an extract of my book ‘Two Years in a Gulag’ describing the event using a Pleszak family first-hand, hand-written account provided by the Hoover Institute of the forced elections that took place in my father’s village of Szwaksty, 100km east of Wilno (Vilnius) in what is now Belarus.

‘As early as the 17th of September, the first day of the Soviet Invasion the Red Army had reached Kobylnik. Blue capped Khaki uniformed Russian soldiers began distributing leaflets to the frightened population. They simply read:

“We have come to liberate the population from the Polish yoke”.

In some areas Soviet aircraft dropped leaflets proclaiming that landlords and settlers were to be crushed, and that Polish Soldiers should turn their weapons against their officers. There was going to be no ambiguity in the Russian intentions towards the Poles.

By the Byelorussians and to a certain extent the Jews the Soviet army was met with open arms and regarded as a liberating or rescue force. The residents of Kresy, and particularly those around Kobylnik in the north had often had an uneasy relationship in particular with the pro-Russian Byelorussians.

Even though the new Soviet regime immediately imposed many changes, the Byelorussians and Jews held the hope for better times ahead. The Poles, however, didn’t share this optimism and were immediately wary; there had been too much Polish-Russian history and recent rhetoric to be complacent. There were also widespread concerns of how the Polish Byelorussian/Ukrainian relationship, fraught at times, would be affected.

It wasn’t long before the tentacles of the NKVD reached out and touched my father’s village of Szwakszty. As was happening across the whole of Soviet occupied eastern Poland, the NKVD followed immediately behind the Red army and began the introduction of Soviet administration. Committees were formed with local Byelorussians (and in the south Ukrainians) as members. They were infiltrating, surveying, and documenting every village and its inhabitants. The local NKVD peoples committee was created in the nearby town of Kobylnik and was soon making its presence felt in Szwakszty.

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Red Army soldier in a village near Kobylnik

On the 22nd of October ‘elections’ were held for the People’s Assembly of the Western Belarus. These were organised on the Soviet pattern, candidates were selected by the Soviet government, no other candidates were allowed to stand and so there were no alternatives for ‘the voters’. The representative for Szwaksty will have been appointed by the head of Postavy County, at that time a Captain Brykov. The election is described below for the village of Szwakszty in a hand-written attestation of the NKVD process.

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Copy of the original attestation from the Hoover archives

“…… Julian Kisty was chosen as the village representative, he used to be the village chief. The Russians wanted somebody else in this position but the people did not agree, because our village is totally Polish and we had no police. Julian Kisty was warning everybody, and was helping us, that’s why at the beginning there were no searches or arrests.

 Russian propaganda meetings took place every day with officials from Kobylnik, often the meetings were held by local communists and two brothers Szuszkiewicz from the village of Czuczelice and police chief from Kobylnik called Choruzy who originated from the village Pleciesze. These meetings were voluntary, in principle, but the leader/spokesman had to inform everyone by himself. As well as this, all political speakers threatened us if we did not attend.

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Villages and towns mentioned in the text (Map via MapyWIG)

 About the political matters, spoke soviet political spokesman Trzeciak who said that Russia plays a waiting game and when England “The Prostitute”, “War Monger”, “Cause of all the Evil in the World”, will completely stick with the Germans in the war, then the almighty Red Army will go across Europe, will take over England, crush the capitalistic, rotten ideology of America, and set a new way in the world.

 During these meetings when people asked for the children to be taught in Polish at the local school, and not in Byelorussian, they were told not to think about Poland, there is no Poland, and there will be no Poland and wherever the Red army walked into, there will be nothing else but communism.

 During those meetings they proposed a female candidate, a midwife from Kobylnik into the so called ‘Assembly of Western Byelorussia’ and we were told that she would be our representative and stand for us and our interests in Moscow. Then the officials walked around the village to document all people for the election of the representative (all ages).

 The voting took place in October. Everybody had to vote. When voting, our names were checked, we were given a paper with name of the one candidate and we had to vote behind a screen.

 We either had to cross her name out or leave it as if we agreed. There were armed Policemen around and NKVD representatives. After voting Julian Kisty told me personally that 75% of votes were crossed out. After counting the Russians put away the crossed out. After counting the Russians put away the crossed out votes and replaces them with the votes for the candidate, them sent it away to Kobylnik.

In the end we found that our village very happily chose our midwife as the candidate with a 90% majority!

Those who did not want to vote were brought over forcefully and the sick were brought on carts. I swear that in our village no one knew that these elections were part of some sort of plebiscite. ”

By the end of October, following the election of the delegates there were meetings of the Supreme National Assemblies which addressed the government of the USSR with a request to join the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic (Eastern Belarus). All resolutions were passed, and Western Belarus was duly incorporated into the USSR. Wilno (Vilnius) itself was handed over into the jurisdiction of the Republic of Lithuania, and the southern part of Kresy was incorporated into the Soviet Republic of the Ukraine. Chillingly, at the same time a resolution was also announced to confiscate ‘landowners’ land’ without recompense.

On the 31st of October Vyacheslav Molotov boasted, “One swift blow to Poland, first by the German Army and then by the Red Army, and nothing was left of this ugly offspring of the Versailles Treaty!” The following day, the 1st of November the Supreme Council of the USSR declared that all Polish citizens who found themselves on land taken over by the USSR were now Soviet citizens.

Very rapidly the administration of the annexed land was transformed along the lines of the Soviet model. This was undertaken by the army, the NKVD, and by the newly arrived Soviet party activists appointed to the higher administrative posts. Polish education and language were phased out, libraries closed, and books burned. Churches were destroyed, priests arrested, and the wearing of crosses was forbidden. Owning a typewriter became a crime. Properties were confiscated, bank accounts closed, and the Russian Rouble replaced the Polish Zloty. Poles were fired from their jobs, and seemingly random arrests became more frequent.’

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My dad’s village Szwakszty today – little changed in 80 years

Useful Resources for Polish 2 Corps information:
https://pleszak.blog/2018/09/05/useful-resources-for-polish-2-corps-information/

Hoover Institute’s Polish Archives
https://www.hoover.org/library-archives/collections/poland-during-world-war-ii

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