ACTA SLAVICA IAPONICA
Abuse in Communist Poland
and Inherited Issues*
Alfred F. Majewicz, Tomasz Wicherkiewicz
Copyright © 1998 by the Slavic Research Center.
) All rights reserved.
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
(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
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
(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.
(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.
(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
(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.
(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
(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
(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
(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.
* * *
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.