ACTA SLAVICA IAPONICA

Volume 16 (1998)

Minority Rights Abuse in Communist Poland and Inherited Issues*
Alfred F. Majewicz, Tomasz Wicherkiewicz

1.
2. Exemplary Case Studies
3.
References

2. Exemplary Case Studies

2.1.     UKRAINIANS and LEMKS
(1) At the end of World War II approximately 650,000 of Ukrainian population (including Lemks) found themselves within the territory of the People's Republic of Poland (PRL).
(2) In 1944-1945, on the basis of a treaty between Poland and the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (Ukr. SSR) concerning mutual exchange of population contracted in 1944, about 480,000 Ukrainians (in this number, about 70-80 thousand of Lemks) were "repatriated," mainly to Lemberg (Lvov) and its neighborhood and to the Tarnopol region. Ukrainian-Polish commissions were vigorously persuading departures, frequently forcing people to petition for "the right to leave." Territorial "people's councils" (e.g. in Nowy Sŕţcz) circulated statements warning those resisting "voluntary repatriation" that "special administrative measures would be applied." Pressure was made also by means of various taxes, while those expressing their wish to leave were freed from any taxes. Voluntary leaves predominated till September 1945, later resettlements became compulsory.
(3) In April-July 1947 the so-called Operation "Vistula" (Akcja "Wisa") took place. Its aim was to deprive the detachments of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), still fighting against the communist regime mainly in the Bieszczady Mountains region, of any civil and material support. The operation followed the killing "in ambush" of a communist general named Karol «Swierczewski. Recent opinions among historians openly point to the murder as a communist provocation in order to procure the evident cause and necessity to "solve the Ukrainian problem in the PRL."
Resettled in the Operation W were people not only from the Bieszczady and parts of Lower Beskid regions on which UPA was active, but also from territories on which no clashes with UPA "bandits" had taken place. The Ukrainian population was also removed from the Lublin Province as far to the north as Terespol and the Rzeszów Province, as was the Lemk population from the Cracow Province (as far to the west as Szczawnica). Altogether, about 140,000 persons were resettled in the Operation W, including about 30,000-35,000 Lemks.
(4) As the result of the Operation W vast territories (some 1.5 thousand km2) of Bieszczady and Lower Beskid were almost completely deserted and remained such till 1956; there were about 170 abandoned villages on the said territory.
(5) Certain persons, certain couples of mixed extraction and even certain whole villages remained untouched during the Operation W, on premises still to be explained.
(6) The Ukrainian and Lemk resettlers constituted in 1947 the last wave of settlers to populate the western and northern territories deserted by the Germans, hence they were to inherit the worst, most devastated and plundered ex-German households and farms. The semi-official propaganda depicting the newcomers as "Ukrainian murderers and bandits" (special term banderowcy had been coined) preceded their arrival. Many conflicts emerged almost immediately, when the newcomers were, because of the shortage of households, located in houses already occupied by Poles.
(7) It was not allowed to settle more than just a few Ukrainian or Lemk families in the same village or town. Families coming from the same village had, as a principle, to be separated; all this aimed at the destruction of former communities.
(8) In certain regions emptied by the Ukrainians and Lemks, Polish newcomers —  mainly repatriants from the USSR, Podhale highlanders and refugees from Greece were being settled and sovkhoz-type state-owned farms (PGRs) were being founded.
(9) One more organized forcible resettlement took place in 1951 —  a small ethnic subgroup labeled in Polish Rusini Szlachtowscy (some 15 families altogether) were removed from the Nowy Sŕţcz region.
(10) The Ukrainians and Lemks initially did not want to cultivate the land they had been allotted. They worked only to survive for they believed to be able to return soon to their abandoned farms in South-Eastern Poland.
(11) Many of the more active leaders of Ukrainian and Lemk communities were imprisoned in the Central Forced Labor Camp in Jaworzno (in existence since 1948) in Silesia. Ex-Nazi-soldiers were kept there alongside with those who were against the "repatriation to the USSR" or to the "Recovered Lands." It remains to be established how many Ukrainians and Lemks perished in the camp —  a former notorious Nazi concentration camp.
(12) In April 1957 the ruling communist party allowed the return of those whose houses and farms were still unoccupied and not used. All other Ukrainians and Lemks were ultimately deprived of their property rights. A few hundreds of families, chiefly Lemk (some 350 families) returned to their former land.
(13) In 1956 the Ukrainian Socio-Cultural Society (Ukraińskie Towarzystwo Spoeczno-Kulturalne UTSK) was founded and allowed to organize courses of the Ukrainian language and some other cultural (mainly folkloristic) events among the dispersed Ukrainian population. It was, however, but a tool in the hands of the communist authorities intentionally conceived to become a sort of an Ukrainian ghetto without any possibilities to extend any influence or activity beyond its own frame. One of the goals of the Society was the Ukrainization of those Lemks who dared consider themselves to constitute another nationality, distinct from Ukrainian. This policy was supported by the country's authorities. The Lemks were for 35 years denied any right to organize themselves; there existed only the Section for Development of Regional Lemkish Culture (Sekcja do spraw Rozwoju Regionalnej Kultury emkowskiej) which embraced only the Lemks with pro-Ukrainian orientation. The Ukrainian-language UTSK weekly newspaper Nashe slovo started publishing in the 1960s one page (Lemkivska storinka) in the Lemkish ethnolect.
The Ukrainians associated in the UTSK were ill-disposed towards the returns of the Lemks to their previous regions for it was believed that in the new places of habitation conditions for the Ukrainization were more favorable (by means of education, contact with the half-legal Greek-Catholic church and the UTSK itself). As it turned out, these beliefs were ill founded, for it was exactly on the "Western Lands" (Ziemie Zachodnie) where the Ukrainian-Lemk conflicts proved the strongest (esp. in the Legnica region) and where the first after World War II independent (separatist) Lemkish organization emerged.
(14) After the boundary shifts following World War II, the pre-War Apostolic Administration for the Lemk Region (Administracja Apostolska emkowszczyzny) and part of the Przemyśl Greek-Catholic (Uniate) Diocese, which in 1936 had altogether about 544,000 followers and 400 priests, found themselves within the Polish territory. The communist government initially recognized as existing and legal in Poland three Catholic Church denominations (rites): Roman (Latin), Greek (Ukrainian, Byzantine) and Armenian. Soon, however, following the Soviet-Polish "repatriation" treaty (cf. above) all Greek-Catholic bishops and many priests were resettled forcibly to the USSR (where they were imprisoned and in most cases perished), others from the 115 remaining were arrested in Poland and placed in the Jaworzno labor camp; the abolition of the Greek-Catholic Church in the USSR and Poland's breaking with Vatican brought about decrees in 1947-1949, on the force of which the property of the Church was confiscated, service was prohibited, and any mention about the denomination was suppressed by censorship.
Some 500 Uniate churches remained on territories deserted by the Ukrainians and Lemks and as early as 1946 the Roman-Catholic Diocese Curia in Przemyśl decided to hand them over to Roman-Catholic parishes. State authorities, on their part, captured the majority of buildings and plots belonging to the Church, deliberately allowing or participating in their destruction. While in the turmoil of the years 1939-1949 only six historical churches were destroyed in the Rzeszów province, 95 of them ceased to exist in the period 1949-1956. In most cases, the churches were crushed by tanks or heavy machinery, blown out (even in the 1980s), burnt down, or handed over to other denominations.
Conflicts, having their source in the efforts of the Ukrainians to regain their Greek-Catholic churches and the Lemks striving to recover their Greek-Catholic and Orthodox churches, continue till these days. Most severe or "most famous" among them took place in Krynica, Gładyszów, Bielanka, Polany, Hrubieszów, and recently in Przemyśl.
Religious-national conflicts between Poles and Ukrainians are frequent and encouraged or at least tolerated by both the former and present state administration as well as the Catholic Church hierarchy. Not infrequent are cases of the occupation of Uniate and Orthodox houses of prayer by Roman-Catholics, barring Ukrainian and Lemkish funeral processions from cemeteries or various obstacles in the case of mixed Polish-Uniate or Polish-Orthodox marriages.
(15) In 1971 the UTSK branches of Gorlice and Sanok addressed a complaint to the Communist Party 6th Congress in which suppression of Ukrainian language courses and folkloristic ensambles, and making the organization of a Ukrainian song festival impossible were enumerated as acts of discrimination against the Ukrainian population. As a result the branch headquarters were suspended, UTSK activists fired from the party, the Society (sic!), and from jobs with no possibility to find another job, or even forced to emigrate to the USA.
(16) The attitudes of Poles towards Ukrainians was and is often hostile. Graffiti "Away with the Ukrainians" appeared on the UTSK buildings, children and youth from Ukrainian schools were harassed, the status of the Ukrainian language was considered lower than that of Polish even in places inhabited predominantly by the Ukrainians, prejudice and superstition in relation to the Ukrainians are quite common.
(17) On August 9th, 1977, the Polish Ministry of Administration, Regional Development and Protection of Environment issued a decree on the force of which 122 place names in the Krosno, Tarnobrzeg, Nowy Saţcz, Przemyśl and Rzeszów Provinces, mostly toponyms of Ukrainian origin "with un-Polish phonetic features" were changed. Some of the new toponyms were derived from the names of local communists and army unit commanders. An annecdote has it that it was the then-Minister's (a lady) bow of courtesy towards the Prime Minister who was said to particularly hate the letter h (cf. Paka, 1981).
(18) In 1989, after decades of futile endeavors, a Lemk organization named the Lemk Association (Stowarzyszenie Łemków) was permitted and officially recognized; its stand was that the Lemks constitute an ethnic group distinct and separate from the Ukrainians. In 1990, another organization of Lemks —  those who consider themselves part of the Ukrainian nation (Zjednoczenie Łemków —  the Lemk Union) was also founded and officially recognized.
(19) In 1989, Lemk organizations applied for the return of forests and fields which had been robbed from them as the result of the 1947 Operation W resettlement and for financial compensation of the losses. A group labeled Lemk Citizen Circle (Krŕţg Obywatelski emk—w) demanded also for Lemks as an ethnic minority a special "charter of civil rights for Ukrainians in Poland."
(20) Ukrainian youth organizations: the Ukrainian Students' Union (Związek Studentów Ukraińskich, illegally active since the 1970s) and the Union of Independent Ukrainian Youth (Związek Ukraińskiej Modzieźy Niezależnej) have been officially registered.
(21) In 1990 the Senate of Republic of Poland officially condemned the 1947 Operation "Vistula."
(22) In 1990 the UTSK transformed itself into the Union of Ukrainians in Poland (Związek Ukraińców w Polsce) which is to be political-party- and trade-union-independent and among its goals to have the introduction of Ukrainian-language radio and TV broadcasting nationwide with lessons of the language and the increase of the number of Ukrainian schools.

2.2.     GERMANS
(1) The German ethnic minority population within the pre-War Poland's borders was 741,000 (1931 census). 128,000 Germans were repatriated by Nazi authorities from Poland's territories captured by the USSR (mainly the Volhynia, Wołyń , region). The so-called "Recovered Lands" (Ziemie Odzyskane) were in 1939 inhabited by 8,860,000 people. On the force of the Potsdam Conference acts, Czechoslovakia and Poland were granted the right to remove the German population from their territories.
(2) Some 7,000,000 persons from the "Recovered Lands" moved to Germany, about 2/3 of this number during the wartime. In 1946-1948 Polish authorities removed for Germany about 2,214,000 ethnic Germans.
(3) About 1,000,000 of autochthons (defined as local population having before the War German citizenship who declared their Polish extraction) —  Mazurians (cf. below), Varmians (Warmiacy, Ermlanders), Kashubians, Slovincians, Pomeranians, Silesians —  were left on the Polish territory after the evacuation of Germans. Left were also about 50,000 of German specialists in coal mining in the region of Wabrzych and Nowa Ruda and an unspecified number of Germans in the Szczecin and Koszalin Provinces as a labor force in state farms (these people were resettled to Germany in the 1950s).
(4) For the Germans remaining in Poland a network of German-language primary, professional and secondary schools as well as cultural and social institutions was created and German-language press was published. The German schooling system was administratively abolished in 1956 and in the Opole region the teaching of the German language in any form was totally banned in the 1960s.
(5) In 1952 a German Socio-Cultural Society (Niemieckie Towarzystwo Spoeczno-Kulturalne) was founded with headquarters in Wrocaw and Wabrzych; in its residual form (a few hundred members) it survived till the end of the 1980s.
(6) In the case of the autochthons, only those of them who received an overall "positive opinion" in the process of so-called verification could be granted Polish citizenship.
All those who in Silesia declared German nationality were placed in the resettlement camp in ambinowice (Lambsdorf) where they had to spend long time in harsh conditions before being taken to Germany. All their property has been confiscated without any compensation. Regions deserted by the removed Germans have been populated by newcomers from territories captured by the USSR, re-emigrants from Yugoslavia, Rumania, France and Belgium, political refugees from Greece, resettled Ukrainians and Lemks (cf. above) and Polish Jews arriving from the USSR. Larger groups of German "autochthons" remained only in the Opole region of Silesia, on the right bank of the Oder river (437,000), in Mazury and Warmia (150,000), and smaller groups —  near Babimost and Złotów.
The autochthons' family and given names were Polonized.
(7) In 1955, a campaign of "family reunions" was initiated for people who insisted on their German ancestry; approximately 600,000 persons left for Germany, in this number about 425,000 (179,000 from Upper Silesia and 51,000 from Mazury and Warmia) in 1968-1982 (cf. Maryański, 1984)
(8) According to Polish official statistics of that time, about 3-3.5 thousand Germans remained in Poland in 1961-1962; West German statistics estimated the number of Germans remaining in Poland at the beginning of the 1980s at 1,100,000; West German constitution considered all those who till 1939 lived on the territory of the German Reich as Germans. Since early 1960s the official stand of both the communist and church authorities in Poland was that "a German minority in Poland does not exist" (despite the continued family reunion business). In 1968 the Central Statistic Bureau organized a "tentative" census in the Opole, Katowice, Koszalin and Olsztyn Provinces in which some 150,000 persons declared themselves as Germans.
(9) On territories formerly belonging to Germany all German traces were systematically removed. Cemeteries (both Protestant and Catholic) were devastated, German-language inscriptions were removed from grave stones and crosses, German churches and chapels were transformed into Catholic churches (in few cases, into Greek-Catholic or Orthodox churches for the Ukrainian and Lemk newcomers) and their German interior decorations, often historical, were destroyed; German monuments and commemorative tablets were removed, etc.
(10) Towards the end of the 1980s a rapidly growing number of people, especially in the Opole region of Silesia, insistingly demanded religious services in German and German-language classes in schools. To a limited degree, German-language religious service had, in fact, existed prior to this popular demand.
(11) In 1989, first in Silesia, later also in Pomerania, esp. Gdańsk and in southern Poland, various German minority organizations started emerging. The strongest of them (in number of members) turned out to be the Association of German Minority People in the Opole Region of Silesia (Stowarzyszenie Mniejszości Niemieckiej na Śląsku Opolskim); it was several times denied the right to registrate on the grounds of the official stand that "no German minority existed in Poland" before it was finally officially recognized. In 1990 almost all German minority organizations associated themselves into the Central Council of German Societies in the Republic of Poland (Centralna Rada Towarzystw Niemieckich w Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej, CRTNRP) claiming their membership to number in hundreds of thousands (approximately 250,000 in the Opole region only).
(12) During the Senate supplementary elections in February of 1990 in the Opole Province, one of the two candidates, a well-known German-minority activist and member of the executive committee of CRTNRP, named Heinrich Kroll, won over 100,000 votes; he lost the election to his counter-candidate, a university professor and specialist in history who during the election campaign had estimated the number of those who "have right to consider themselves Germans (basing on language, religion, traditions, etc.)" at 15,000.
The following slogans, among others, appeared during the said campaign: "Germans to Germany," "Kroll to gas chamber," "Silesians —  yes, Volksdeutsche —  no!" (Dziadul, 1990).
The election campaign to the Parliament in October 1991 brought the German minority activists much more significant success: they won 7 seats in the Seym and 1 in the Senate chamber.
(13) German minority organizations in Poland have ambitions and far-reaching plans concerning economy (e.g. the establishment of branches of German banks, foundation of special German Trade Chamber in Katowice and of German Economic Society), education (the foundation of German-language high school is postulated) and culture.

2.3. MAZURIANS
(1) The population of the Warmia and Mazury region taken over by Poland after World War II was about 1,000,000 in 1939; about 50% of these people were Polish-speaking or regarded themselves as Poles. In 1945 only about 31,000 of Mazurians and Varmians found themselves on the territory in question. Towards the end of the 1940s, after the return of people from Germany and the USSR this number rose to about 100,000-125,000. The awareness of national and ethnic identity among them varied and was unstable, with most of them, however, opting for "Mazurian" or "German" self-identification. The number of those declaring themselves Polish was relatively small.
(2) Regions inhabited by Mazurians and Varmians were the first Third Reich territories to be invaded by the Soviet Red Army. Soviet soldiers treated autochthons as if they were Germans. Mazurians were imprisoned in forced labor camps, deported deep into the USSR, Mazurian farms (with very developed agriculture) were robbed and burnt, women were raped.
(3) The economic situation of the Mazurians sharply deteriorated. There were massive epidemics of infections, especially venereal diseases. The poor crop of 1945 and 1946 was stolen by Soviet soldiers and Poles who similarly to the former treated the autochthons as Germans, i.e. extremely badly.
(4) Uncontrolled Polish colonization brought about the loss of farms among very many Mazurians. Polish authorities as a principle approved and legalized such acts of the robbery of Mazurian property and many Mazurians had to work as hired labor force on their own lands stolen from them by the Poles.
(5) Catholic propaganda enforced the prejudice towards Mazurians: "Pole equals Catholic, Protestant is German," was their slogan. The Evangelical-Uniate and Old Lutheran Churches disintegrated after the War. In accordance with a decree of October 19th, 1946, the Evangelical-Augusburgian Church was to inherit all their properties but several scores of churches were taken over by Catholics. There were cases of forcible Catholicization of Mazurians.
(6) The very painful so-called verification of autochthons was based on the assumption that all Mazurians should be treated as Germans and only those who successfully passed the process of "verification" could eventually be granted Polish citizenship. In August of 1947 some 35,000 of Mazurians and Varmians out of the total of about 120,000 remained "unverified" becoming thus the "second-category people." Various discriminatory measures were applied in relation to those people, including the deprivation of the right to hold administrative positions (only 0.15% and only "verified" autochthons constituted the authoritative body of local administration, although one has to bear in mind that but about one hundred Mazurians had secondary or university level education). In 1949-1950 almost all Mazurian activists were removed from their posts, many of them underwent a trial and imprisonment or were forced to leave the Mazury region in 1949. Some of them were held in the camps for Germans near Warsaw and Königsberg.
(7) The UNRRA supplies for Mazurians were usually stolen immediately after coming by both the civil population as well as uniformed and ununiformed (ORMO) militia. Hundreds of families were several times robbed of the property they managed to accumulate. As a result e.g. some 50% of children could not attend schools solely because they had no shoes or clothing.
(8) Many Mazurians insisted on declaring "Mazurian" or "German" as their nationality.
(9) In 1949 an old meritous and prestigious institution named Mazurian People's University had its profile drastically changed and was deprived of its permanent location.
(10) In February of 1949 the "verification" became obligatory and was enforced with terror and physical force. All so-far "unverified" Mazurians were forced to sign a declaration of their "Polishness."
(11) In 1952, following the new passports regulations, the Mazurians were required to fill special forms and acquire new passports. Many people refused accepting new passports or even forms to fill in, or allowing to be photographed. About 25,000 Mazurians were physically forced to be handed new passports, and whole villages were terrorized in order to bend their inhabitants to declare "wish to accept" Polish citizenship and Polish internal passports. Many young Mazurians refusing to serve in the Polish People's Army decided to declare at that time German nationality. The process of Polonization of personal names markedly gained force in 1947; not only German but also French or Flemish names underwent Polonization at that time.
(12) In 1950-1953 special underground armed groups named Masurische Befreiungstruppen (Germ. Mazurian Liberation Detachments) were formed as response to the official policy of terror and force.
(13) Between 10 and 20 thousand Mazurians left Poland in 1950-1951 within the so-called Operation Link organized and coordinated by the German Red Cross and about 11,000 more left for East Germany as the result of an agreement between that country and Poland. Within the "family reunion" process, 100,000 persons left mainly for West Germany in 1955-1980, in this number almost all Mazurians.
(14) In 1956 several Mazurian organizations were founded, but all of them encountered numerous obstacles in their work and were soon dismantled. The longest living was the Varmian-Mazurian Socio-Cultural Society (Warmińsko-Mazurskie Towarzystwo Kulturalno-Społeczne) existing till 1963.
(15) The beautiful and attractive Mazury Lakeland landscape attracted the attention of prominent communists in the 1970s who initiated a campaign of forcible sale of Mazurian farms and households for emigration passports. Mazurians were granted "rights to emigrate" for land on which corrupted communist party bosses built their dachas. A vast territory near Łańsk was fenced to become attractive hunting ground for Poland's rulers and their guests; several Mazurian villages within the fenced territory had, naturally, to be emptied by their inhabitants.
(16) Mazurian Protestant cemeteries were devastated, German-language or Gothic-script inscriptions chiseled out or covered with paint (this, of course, only strengthened pro-German attitudes among the remnants of the folk). Protestant hymn books sent specially for Mazurians from Sweden were not allowed to enter the country.
(17) In 1981, Mazurian Cultural Association (Mazurskie Zrzeszenie Kulturalne) was founded with the aim to save the remnants of the Mazurian culture and to represent the 6,000 strong Mazurian community still living in Poland.
In 1990, the Mazurian Society (Stowarzyszenie Mazurskie) representing the Mazurian population with pro-German orientation was called into existence. They publish their own journal in German entitled Masurische Storchenpost and organize annual Pan-Mazurian meeting-congresses in the Mazury region; first of them took place in July 1991 in Karwia near Mrągowo.
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What follows are a few remarks on the present-day situation and prospects for ethnic minority groups and their protection after the downfall of the communist system in the country.