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Soviet Deportation of Poles during World War II 1939-1945 by Urszula Biegaj: Introduction

Guide created by Urszula Biegaj for LIS 530C

Overview from Encyklopedia Historii Polski

The area from which many Poles were deported during the War is commonly referred to as "kresy" or borderlands. Today this territory comprises Ukraine and Belarus. Before the shifting of Polish territory west after World War II, however, these lands belonged to the Polish state.

The file below describes the mechanism behind the Soviet deportation. It also includes statistics; any numbers, however, are approximate because there is not enough information to cite specific statistics. The total number of deported individuals ranges from 1.5-1.7 million people.

Soviet Deportation of Poles during World War II 1939-1945

Polish children being deported to the USSR

The history of World War II is filled with atrocities that we view as unspeakable and unimaginable. With all of the literature available on the War, it is hard to imagine that any topic is unknown. In terms of common knowledge, the deportation of Polish citizens by the Soviets is one such topic. When the Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact was signed on August 23, 1939 by the representatives of the two countries, the fate of Poland was decided. Included in the pact was a Secret Protocol, essentially dividing Poland into two. Everything west of the Vistula River was for the Nazis; everthing east came under Soviet purview. A few weeks later, the Nazis invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. On September 17, 1939 the Soviets fulfilled their end of the pact, by taking over the eastern half of Poland promised to them.

Stalin's plan was to move Communism as far west as possible, and to use the land acquired in Poland for the Soviet people. There was a problem, however, considering there were Polish citizens living on this land. The Poles were not part of the Soviet plans for the future. To remedy this, Stalin ordered the deportation of hundreds of thousands of people into the depths of the USSR where they would work the land, or in labor camps. The actual deportation was a horrendous experience which many people did not survive. For those who did survive, the deportation was a life-altering experience. Some people trekked the whole world just to try to get back to their homelands. Some succeeded while most did not. A sense of loss, of identity, of a homeland, of family greatly impacted Poland and the Polish people during this time.

The purpose of this LibGuide is to inform scholars of the rich resources available on this topic. Although it is a relatively unknown part of Polish history for the rest of the world, the deportation of Polish citizens affected future Polish national identity and relations with the Soviet government, which has ramifications even today. The LibGuide will focus on print materials, such a bibliographies and books in library catalogs, as well as online/digital resources. Archival resources will also be discussed.

Publishing History

Although it may not seem pertinent when doing research, it is really important to address the issue of publishing history, especially when dealing with the Russian, East European and Eurasian (REEE) area.

Poland has a long and rich publishing history. It was one of the first countries to receive the Gutenberg invention, but even before mass production, Polish books were being created and copied. Printing houses were successfull all over the country. During the Partitions of Poland, the different segments of the former-Polish state continued to work on creating Polish books and materials. Not surprisingly, World War II had a detrimental impact on the Polish publishing industry. The Nazi-occupied part of Poland was mostly affected; the Nazis saw to it that all the Polish bookstores and printing houses were shut down completely. Printing of Polish materials was markedly reduced and printers could only create German texts. Anything in Polish that was ready to print was destroyed. The underground printing practice flourished, not only for politicized materials, but for novels, poetry, and journal articles as well.[1] Printers also made arrangements for orders to be filled after the end of the war, which, of course, was unknown at the time.

The newspaper has played a very important part in Polish history, especially during those times of occupation and for the underground opposition led by the Poles. Funny enough, the first printed weekly in Poland, Merkuriusz Polski (Polish Mercury), appearing in 1661, did not have any success.[2] The first newspaper to be published regularly originated in Warsaw in 1729 and was called Nowiny Polskie (Polish News); it started off a chain of newspaper publishing that really caught on in Poland and catered to many needs and tastes.[3] Journals became very popular, especially Monitor, a cultural journal for the gentry; that one, however, was not the only one to gain much fanfare.

Poland was one of the first countries to set up a depository law. It was started in 1780 by the Zaluski Library in Warsaw, which acted as a national library for Poland.[4] A resolution was drafted and put into effect by the Polish Parliament because of a desire to maintain Polish culture through books; this proved to be something the Poles knew how to hold on to despite historical events. Once the Russians took over Warsaw, however, they took all the holdings of the Zaluski Library back to St. Petersburg, and it was up to other libraries, including the Jagiellonian in Krakow, to keep up with the deposits of books. Once World War II started, the Poles had to rethink keeping the national books in one place only, especially Warsaw, and so established a depository in two cities, just in case one or the other was destroyed in the future.[5] It turns out that during the Communist time of Poland, the depository law was observed fairly strictly, because anyone who wanted to be published needed to get approval and the only way to get approval was to deposit the printed material in the national library. The law changed in 1997, making it a lot more complicated, and expensive, for publishers to provide materials to the proper locations. Some of the bigger houses were required to deposit eighteen copies into dozens of locations, including the National Library in Warsaw, the Jagiellonian in Krakow, and to each of nine major university libraries.[6] As a result there are many gaps to the resources available at the National and Jagiellonian libraries; there are too many obstacles for the publishers to go through in order for the materials to get deposited into the libraries.

Polish bibliography dates all the way back to the 17th century with Szymon Starowolski and his Scriptorum Polonicorum Hekatontas. It was a bio-bibliography which listed all the biographies of all the authors whose works were listed in the actual bibliography.[7] And the Poles have continued to provide such materials throughout history until today.

[1] Barbara Bienkowska and Halina Chamerska, “Books in Poland: Past and Present,” in Publishing, Bibliography, Libraries, and Archives in Russia and Eastern Europe Volume I., ed. and trans. Wojciech Zalewski and Eleanor R. Payne (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1990), 4.
[2] Ibid., 13.
[3] Ibid., 16.
[4] Ewa Baçkowska, “Legal Deposit in Poland” in Slavic & East European Information Resources, 3(2002): 4.
[5] Ibid., 4-6.
[6] Ibid., 7-8.
[7] Bienkowska, 44.

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