Operation Vistula (Polish language: Akcja "Wisła" ) was the codename for the 1947 forced resettlement of post-war Poland's Ukrainian minority (including Boykos and Lemkos) to the Recovered Territories, carried out by the Soviet controlled Polish Communist authorities in order to remove the support base for the Ukrainian Insurgent Army in the aftermath of the 1943–1944 ethnic cleansing in Galicia and Volhynia of Poles by Ukrainians.[unreliable source?] About 200,000 civilians residing around Bieszczady and Low Beskids were forcibly resettled to formerly German territories ceded to Poland at the Yalta Conference at the end of World War II. The operation was named after the Vistula River, Wisła in Polish.
Following the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the operation was condemned by some Polish and Ukrainian politicians and historians. It has been described as ethnic cleansing by Western and Polish sources, as well as by Ukrainians.
The stated goal of the operation was to suppress the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), which had been fighting the communist Armia Ludowa units in newly created People's Republic of Poland[unreliable source?] The direct pretext for Operation Vistula was the March 28, 1947, assassination of the Polish communist General Karol Świerczewski in an ambush which had allegedly been set up by the UPA's Chrin and Stach sotnias. About 12 hours after the incident, the Polish communist authorities took the official decision to deport all the Ukrainians and Lemkos from the southeastern territories of the People's Republic of Poland (1944–1990). It is known, however, that preparations for Operation Vistula had started already in January 1947, if not earlier.
Deportations and repressions
According to the order of the Ministry of Recovered Territories "the main goal of the relocation of 'W' settlers is their assimilation into a new Polish environment, all efforts should be exerted to that end. Do not apply the term 'Ukrainians' to the settlers. In cases when the intelligentsia element reaches the recovered territories, they should be settled separately and away from the communities of the 'W' settlers."
The operation was carried out by Operational Group Vistula consisting of about 20,000 personnel commanded by General Stefan Mossor. This personnel included soldiers of the Polish People's Army and the Internal Security Corps, as well as functionaries of the police Milicja Obywatelska and the Security Service Urząd Bezpieczeństwa. The operation commenced at 4 a.m., April 28, 1947. The expellees comprised about 140,000 to 150,000 Ukrainians and Lemkos still remaining after the 1944-1946 forcible repatriation of Ukrainians from Poland to the Soviet Union (Ukrainian SSR and Siberia), and the inhabitants of
- Pogórze Przemyskie
- Low Beskid
- Beskid Sądecki
- Ruś Szlachtowska
The process of deportation itself was swift as the deportees were often given only a few hours to prepare and get the limited belongings they were allowed to take, and they were transported in crowded boxcars. The food supply was irregular, the sanitary conditions were poor, there were many delays along the way. The entire process was accompanied by considerable violence. Some deportees died in transit.
Members of the Ukrainian intelligentsia, including clergy (both Greek Catholic and Ukrainian Orthodox), were sent from collection points to the concentration camp in Jaworzno called the Central Labour Camp, and was a branch of the formerly German concentration camp Auschwitz. At the latter camp, almost 4,000 persons were held, including 800 Ukrainian and Lemko women and dozens of children. The captives, of whom 200 died in the camp, were subject to harsh interrogations and beatings despite the fact that no active members of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists were sent to the camp. For the latter, show trials by the extraordinary Operation Group Vistula Tribunals or regular military tribunals were held, and over 500 were sentenced to death and executed.
The remaining expellees were resettled over a wide area in the Northern (Warmia and Masuria) and Western Territories acquired by the People's Republic of Poland following the Potsdam Agreement, where they were not to constitute more than 10 percent of the population in any one location. Operation "Vistula" itself was officially ended as early July 31, 1947. Operation Vistula closed officially with a ceremonial bestowing of decorations on what were deemed the most deserving Polish soldiers, held on the Polish-Czechoslovak border. The last resettlements took place as late as 1952, in the western part of the pre-1939 former Polesie Voivodeship.
A consequence of Operation Vistula was the almost total depopulation of Pogórze Przemyskie, Bieszczady and Beskid Niski. The relocation of the population put the UPA forces in Poland in a difficult position: deprived of human and other resources, the outnumbered Ukrainian partisans were unable to uphold their own armed resistance and guerrilla against the communist Polish forces. Nevertheless the UPA continued its fight for a few more years. After the last relocations, the UPA's activities on Polish territory died out, while some Ukrainian insurgents fled to Western Europe, notably to West Germany, and the United States.
The deportations occurred in three stages. The first stage occurred at the end of World War II. Poland and the Soviet Ukraine conducted population exchanges - Poles that resided east of the established Poland-Soviet border were deported to Poland (c.a. 2,100,000 persons) and Ukrainians that resided west of the established Poland-Soviet Union border were deported to Soviet Ukraine. Population transfer to Soviet Ukraine occurred from September 1944 to April 1946 (ca. 450,000 persons). Some Ukrainians and Lemkos (ca. 200,000 persons) left southeast Poland more or less voluntarily between 1944 and 1945. Bilateral agreements were signed between Poland and the Soviet Union on September 9, 1944 and August 16, 1945. As a result of these treaties, some 400,000 Lemkos and Ukrainians were deported to Ukraine, and some 300,000 managed to stay in their native regions, within the borders of Poland.
The second event occurred in 1947 under Operation Vistula . The Rusyn and Ukrainian population that still existed in southeastern Poland were forcibly resettled to western and northern Poland. The deportation to West-Poland occurred from April 28 to July 31, 1947, and involved 130,000 - 140,000 persons who were internally relocated in Poland.
A third deportation of Ukrainians and Poles occurred in 1951. It occurred when Poland and the Soviet Union adjusted the border in the upper San River area and in the Belz area. Poland was given land east of the San River south of Przemyśl and Soviet Ukraine was given land that was west of and including Bełz that was in Poland. Populations were exchanged.
Situation of Lemkos in Poland
Some five thousand Lemko families returned to their home regions in Southeastern Poland in 1957 and 1958. While the 2002/2003 Polish census shows only 5,800 Lemkos (self-identification), there are estimates that up to 100,000 Lemkos total live in Poland today, and up to 10,000 of them in their area, known as Łemkowszczyzna. The larger groups of Lemkos live in villages: Łosie, Krynica, Nowica, Zdynia, Gładyszów, Hańczowa, Zyndranowa, Uście Gorlickie, Bartne, Bielanka, and in eastern part of Łemkowszczyzna – Wysoczany, Mokre, Morochów, Szczawne, Kulaszne, Rzepedź, Turzańsk, Komańcza. Also in towns: Sanok, Nowy Sącz, and Gorlice.
Memories of Operation Vistula remain as another scar in the complex, often troubled 20th-century relations between the Ukrainian and Polish peoples, alongside the massacres of Poles in Volhynia by the UPA during World War II in the wake of the interwar oppression of the Ukrainians in the Polish controlled territories that followed the Polish-Ukrainian War in Galicia in 1918-1919 and the subsequent partition of Ukrainian lands between Poland and USSR in the Peace of Riga.
On August 3, 1990, the Polish Senate adopted a resolution condemning the postwar Polish government's Operation Vistula. In response, the Ukrainian Parliament (Verkhovna Rada) adopted the statement of understanding of the Polish Senate resolution as a serious step towards the correction of the injustices towards the Ukrainians in Poland. In the same resolution the Rada condemned the criminal acts of the Stalinist regime towards the Polish people.
On April 18, 2002 in Krasiczyn, Polish President Aleksander Kwaśniewski expressed regret over Operation Vistula. The President described the operation as the symbol of harm against Ukrainians committed by the communist authorities. "Speaking on behalf of the Republic of Poland I want to express regret to all those wronged by the operation" - Kwaśniewski wrote in a letter to the National Remembrance Institute (IPN) and participants in the conference on the 1947 Operation Vistula and openly rejected the notion that it should in any way be linked to earlier events in Volhynia. "It was believed for years that the Vistula operation was the revenge for slaughter of Poles by the UPA forces in the east in the years 1943-1944. Such attitude is wrong and cannot be accepted. The Vistula operation should be condemned."
In 2007 the presidents of Poland (Lech Kaczyński) and Ukraine (Viktor Yushchenko) condemned the operation as a violation of human rights. President Yushchenko also noted that the operation was executed and was the responsibility of a "totalitarian communist regime".
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