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The 1939 Soviet invasion of Poland was a Soviet military operation that started without a formal declaration of war on 17 September 1939, immediately after the end of the undeclared war between the Soviet Union and the Empire of Japan at the Battles of Khalkhin Gol (Nomonhan) in the Far East. The Molotov–Tojo agreement between the USSR and Japan was signed on 15 September 1939, with a ceasefire taking effect on 16 September 1939.[1] On 17 September, sixteen days after Nazi Germany invaded Poland from the west, the Soviet Union did so from the east. The invasion ended on 6 October 1939 with the division and annexing of the whole of the Second Polish Republic by Germany and the Soviet Union.[2]

In early 1939, the Soviet Union entered into negotiations with the United Kingdom, France, Poland, and Romania to establish an alliance against Nazi Germany. The negotiations failed when the Soviet Union insisted that Poland and Romania give Soviet troops transit rights through their territory as part of a collective security agreement.[3] The failure of those negotiations led the Soviet Union to conclude the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany on 23 August; this was a non-aggression pact containing a secret protocol dividing Northern and Eastern Europe into German and Soviet spheres of influence.[4] One week after the signing of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, German forces invaded Poland from the north, south, and west. Polish forces then withdrew to the southeast where they prepared for a long defence of the Romanian Bridgehead and awaited the French and British support and relief that they were expecting. The Soviet Red Army invaded the Kresy, in accordance with the secret protocol, on 17 September.[5][Note 1] The Soviet government announced it was acting to protect the Ukrainians and Belarusians who lived in the eastern part of Poland, because the Polish state had collapsed in the face of the Nazi German attack and could no longer guarantee the security of its own citizens.[8][9][10][11] Facing a second front, the Polish government concluded that the defence of the Romanian Bridgehead was no longer feasible and ordered an emergency evacuation of all troops to neutral Romania.[12]

The Red Army achieved its targets, vastly outnumbering Polish resistance and capturing some 230,000 Polish prisoners of war.[13][14] The Soviet government annexed the territory under its control and in November 1939 made the 13.5 million formerly Polish citizens now under its control citizens of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union immediately started a campaign of sovietizing the newly acquired areas. This included staged elections, the results of which the Soviet Union used to legitimize its annexation of eastern Poland. The Soviets quelled opposition through summary executions and thousands of arrests.[15][16] The Soviet Union sent hundreds of thousands of people from this region to Siberia and other remote parts of the Soviet Union in four major waves of deportation between 1939 and 1941.[Note 2]

Soviet forces occupied eastern Poland until the summer of 1941, when they were expelled by the invading German army in the course of Operation Barbarossa. The area was under Nazi occupation until the Red Army reconquered it in the summer of 1944. An agreement at the Yalta Conference permitted the Soviet Union to annex almost all of their Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact portion of the Second Polish Republic, compensating the People's Republic of Poland with the southern half of East Prussia and territories east of the Oder–Neisse line.[19] The Soviet Union enclosed most of the annexed territories into the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic.[19]

In August 1945, after the end of World War II in Europe, the USSR and Poland signed a border agreement. This agreement recognized the status quo as the official border with the exception of the region around Bialystok and a minor part of Galicia east of the San river around Przemyśl, which were returned to Poland.


Historical background

The result of the Paris Peace Conference (1919) did little to decrease the territorial ambitions of parties in the region. Józef Piłsudski sought to expand the Polish borders as far east as possible in an attempt to create a Polish-led federation to counter any potential imperialist intentions on the part of Russia or Germany.[20] At the same time, the Bolsheviks began to gain the upper hand in the Russian Civil War and started to advance westward towards the disputed territories with the intent of assisting other Communist movements in Western Europe.[21] The border skirmishes of 1919 progressively escalated into the Polish–Soviet War in 1920.[22] Following the Polish victory at the Battle of Warsaw, the Soviets sued for peace and the war ended with an armistice in October 1920.[23] The parties signed the formal peace treaty, the Peace of Riga, on 18 March 1921, dividing the disputed territories between Poland and Soviet Russia.[24] In an action that largely determined the Soviet-Polish border during the interwar period, the Soviets offered the Polish peace delegation territorial concessions in the contested borderland areas, closely resembling the border between the Russian Empire and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth before the first partition of 1772.[25] In the aftermath of the peace agreement, Soviet leaders largely abandoned the cause of international revolution and did not return to the concept for approximately 20 years.[26]

Treaty negotiations

Map showing the planned and actual divisions of Poland according to the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact.

Planned and actual divisions of Poland, according to the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact

In mid-March 1939, the Soviet Union, Britain and France began trading suggestions and plans regarding a potential political and military agreement to counter potential German aggression.[27][28] Poland did not participate in these talks, acting on the belief that any Polish alignment with Soviet Russia would lead to a serious German reaction.[29] The tripartite discussions focused on potential guarantees to central and eastern European countries should German aggression arise.[30] The Soviets did not trust the British or the French to honor a collective security agreement, since they had failed to move against the Fascists during the Spanish Civil War or protect Czechoslovakia from the expansionist goals of Nazi Germany. The Soviet Union also suspected that Britain and France would seek to remain on the sidelines of any potential Nazi-Soviet conflict.[31] As a result, the Soviets sought nothing short of an ironclad military alliance that would provide guaranteed support against an attack on its territory.[32] The Soviet Union insisted on a sphere of influence stretching from Finland to Romania, to serve as a buffer zone, and military support in the event another country attacked the Soviet Union or a country within its proposed sphere of influence.[33][34] The Soviet Union also insisted on the right to enter those countries in its sphere of influence in the event its security was threatened.[35] When the military talks began in mid-August, negotiations quickly stalled over the topic of Soviet troop passage through Poland if the Germans attacked, and the parties waited as British and French officials pressured Polish officials to agree to such terms.[3][36] However, Polish officials refused to allow Soviet troops on to Polish territory because they believed that once the Red Army entered their territory it might never leave.[37] The Soviets suggested that Poland's wishes be ignored and that the tripartite agreements be concluded despite its objections.[38] The British refused to do so because they believed that such a move would push Poland into establishing stronger bilateral relations with Germany.[39]

Meanwhile, German officials secretly hinted to Soviet diplomats for months that it could offer better terms for a political agreement than Britain and France.[40] The Soviet Union began discussions with Nazi Germany regarding the establishment of an economic agreement while concurrently negotiating with those of the tripartite group.[40] In late July and early August 1939, Soviet and German officials agreed on most of the details for a planned economic agreement, and specifically addressed a potential political agreement.[41] On 19 August 1939, German and Soviet officials concluded the 1939 German–Soviet Commercial Agreement, an economic mutual understanding that exchanged Soviet Union raw materials with Germany in exchange for weapons, military technology and civilian machinery. Two days later, the Soviets suspended the tripartite military talks.[40][42] On 24 August, the Soviet Union and Germany signed the political and military deal that accompanied the trade agreement, the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. This pact was an agreement of mutual non-aggression that contained secret protocols dividing the states of northern and eastern Europe into German and Soviet spheres of influence. The Soviet sphere initially included Latvia, Estonia and Finland.[Note 3] Germany and the Soviet Union would partition Poland, the areas east of the Pisa, Narev, Vistula, and San rivers going to the Soviet Union. The pact provided the Soviets with extra defensive space in the west, presented an opportunity to regain territories ceded in the Peace of Riga and united the eastern and western Ukrainian and Belorussian peoples under a Soviet government.[45][46]

The day after the Germans and Soviets signed the pact, the French and British military negotiation delegation urgently requested a meeting with Soviet military negotiator Kliment Voroshilov.[47] On 25 August, Voroshilov told them "[i]n view of the changed political situation, no useful purpose can be served in continuing the conversation."[47] The same day, Britain and Poland signed the British-Polish Pact of Mutual Assistance.[48] In this accord, Britain committed itself to the defence of Poland, guaranteeing to preserve Polish independence.[48]

German invasion of Poland

On 26 August, Hitler tried to dissuade the British and the French from interfering in the upcoming conflict, even pledging to make Wehrmacht forces available to Britain in the future.[49] At midnight on 29 August, German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop handed British Ambassador Neville Henderson the list of terms that would allegedly ensure peace in regards to Poland.[50] Under the terms, Poland would return Danzig to Germany and there was to be a plebiscite (referendum) in the Polish Corridor, based on residency in 1919, within the year.[50] When Polish Ambassador Lipski went to see Ribbentrop on 30 August, he announced that he did not have the full power to sign, Ribbentrop dismissed him.[51] The Germans announced that Poland had rejected Germany's offer and negotiations with Poland ended.[52] On 31 August, German units posing as Polish troops staged the Gleiwitz incident near the border city of Gleiwitz.[53] The following morning Hitler ordered hostilities against Poland to start at 04:45 on 1 September.[51]

The Allied governments declared war on Germany on 3 September but failed to provide any meaningful support.[54] Despite some Polish successes in minor border battles, German technical, operational and numerical superiority forced the Polish armies to retreat from the borders towards Warsaw and Lwów. On 10 September, the Polish commander-in-chief, Marshal Edward Rydz-Śmigły, ordered a general retreat to the southeast towards the Romanian Bridgehead.[55] Soon after they began their invasion of Poland, the Nazi leaders began urging the Soviets to play their agreed part and attack Poland from the east. Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov and German ambassador to Moscow Friedrich Werner von der Schulenburg exchanged a series of diplomatic messages on the matter but the Soviets nevertheless delayed their invasion of eastern Poland. The Soviets were distracted by crucial events relating to their ongoing border disputes with Japan. They needed time to mobilize the Red Army and they saw a diplomatic advantage in waiting until Poland had disintegrated before making their move.[56][57] On 17 September 1939, Molotov delivered the following declaration of war to Wacław Grzybowski, the Polish Ambassador in Moscow:

The Polish-German War has revealed the internal bankruptcy of the Polish State. During the course of ten days' hostilities Poland has lost all her industrial areas and cultural centres. Warsaw, as the capital of Poland, no longer exists. The Polish Government has disintegrated, and no longer shows any sign of life. This means that the Polish State and its Government have, in point of fact, ceased to exist. In the same way, the Agreements concluded between the U.S.S.R. and Poland have ceased to operate. Left to her own devices and bereft of leadership, Poland has become a suitable field for all manner of hazards and surprises, which may constitute a threat to the U.S.S.R. For these reasons the Soviet Government, who has hitherto been neutral, cannot any longer preserve a neutral attitude towards these facts.

The Soviet Government also cannot view with indifference the fact that the kindred Ukrainian and White Russian people, who live on Polish territory and who are at the mercy of fate, should be left defenceless.

In these circumstances, the Soviet Government have directed the High Command of the Red Army to order troops to cross the frontier and to take under their protection the life and property of the population of Western Ukraine and Western White Russia.

At the same time the Soviet Government propose to take all measures to extricate the Polish people from the unfortunate war into which they were dragged by their unwise leaders, and enable them to live a peaceful life.

People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs of the U.S.S.R. V. Molotov[58]

Molotov declared on the radio that all treaties between the Soviet Union and Poland were now void; the Polish government had abandoned its people and effectively ceased to exist.[11][59] On the same day, the Red Army crossed the border into Poland.[12][56]

Soviet invasion

Situation in Poland on the day of the invasion

In the morning of 17 September 1939, Polish administration was still active on the whole territory of six eastern voivodeships, plus on parts of territories of additional five voivodeships; in eastern Poland, schools were opened in mid-September 1939.[60] Polish Army units concentrated their activities in two areas – southern (Tomaszów Lubelski, Zamość, Lwów), and central (Warsaw, Modlin, and the Bzura river). Due to stubborn Polish defence and lack of fuel, German advance stalled, and the situation stabilized for the areas east of the line Augustów – Grodno – Białystok – Kobryń – Kowel – Żółkiew – Lwów – Żydaczów – Stryj – Turka.[61] Rail connections were operating on approximately one-third territory of the country, and both passenger and cargo traffic was being carried out on borders with five neighboring countries (Lithuania, Latvia, Soviet Union, Romania, Hungary). In Pińsk, assembly of several PZL.37 Łoś planes was going on, in a PZL factory that had been moved from Warsaw.[62] A French Navy ship with a transport of Renault R35 tanks for Poland approached Romanian port of Constanta,[63] another ship, with artillery equipment, had just left Marseilles. Altogether, seventeen French ships with materiel were heading towards Romanian ports Constanta and Galati, carrying fifty tanks, twenty airplanes and large quantities of ammunition and TNT.[61] In Polish hands still were major cities, such as Warsaw, Lwów, Wilno, Grodno, Łuck, Tarnopol, and Lublin (captured by the Germans on 18 September). According to Leszek Moczulski, approximately 750,000 soldiers were still in the ranks of Polish Army (Polish historians Czesław Grzelak and Henryk Stańczyk claim that Polish Army still had 650,000 soldiers[61]), including two motorized brigades (one of them, Warsaw Armoured Motorized Brigade, had not yet taken part in combat, and on 14 September began to move southwards, to join forces of Army Kraków[64]), and twenty six infantry divisions. Polish Army, although decimated by weeks of fighting, still was a formidable force. As Polish historian Leszek Moczulski wrote, on 17 September 1939, Polish Army was still bigger than most European armies and strong enough to fight the Wehrmacht for a long time.[62] On the Baranowicze – Łuniniec – Równe line, rail transports of troops from northeastern corner of the country towards the Romanian Bridgehead were going day and night (among them were the 35th Reserve Infantry Division under Colonel Jarosław Szafran,[65] and the so-called "Grodno Group" ("Grupa grodzieńska") of Colonel Bohdan Hulewicz), and the second largest battle of the September Campaign – Battle of Tomaszów Lubelski, started on the day of the Soviet invasion. According to Leszek Moczulski, around 250,000 Polish soldiers were fighting in central Poland, 350,000 were getting ready to defend the Romanian Bridgehead, 35,000 were north of Polesie, and 10,000 were fighting on the Baltic coast of Poland, in Hel and Gdynia. Due to the ongoing battles in the area of Warsaw, Modlin, the Bzura, Zamość, Lwów and Tomaszów Lubelski, most German divisions were ordered to move back towards these locations. The area remaining in control of the Polish authorities was some 140,000 square kilometers – approximately 200 kilometers wide and 950 kilometers long – from the Daugava to the Carpathian Mountains.[61] Polish Radio Baranowicze and Polish Radio Wilno stopped working on 16 September, after having been bombed by the Luftwaffe, but Polish Radio Lwów and Polish Radio Warsaw II still worked on 17 September.[66]

Opposing forces

The Red Army entered the eastern regions of Poland with seven field armies, containing between 450,000 and 1,000,000 troopers, split between two fronts.[12] Comandarm 2nd rank Mikhail Kovalyov led the Red Army in the invasion on the Belarusian Front, while Comandarm 1st rank Semyon Timoshenko commanded the invasion on the Ukrainian Front.[12]

Under the Polish Plan West defensive plan, Poland assumed the Soviet Union would remain neutral during a conflict with Germany. As a result, Polish commanders deployed most of their troops to the west, to face the German invasion. By this time, no more than 20 under-strength battalions, consisting of about 20,000 troopers of the Border Protection Corps, defended the eastern border.[12][67] When the Red Army invaded Poland on 17 September, the Polish military was in the midst of a fighting retreat towards the Romanian Bridgehead whereupon they would regroup and await British and French relief.

Military campaign

A map showing the disposition of all troops following the Soviet invasion

Disposition of all troops following the Soviet invasion

When the Soviet Union invaded, Rydz-Śmigły was initially inclined to order the eastern border forces to resist, but was dissuaded by Prime Minister Felicjan Sławoj Składkowski and President Ignacy Mościcki.[12][67] At 04:00 on 17 September, Rydz-Śmigły ordered the Polish troops to fall back, stipulating that they only engage Soviet troops in self-defence.[12] However, the German invasion had severely damaged the Polish communication systems, causing command and control problems for the Polish forces.[68] In the resulting confusion, clashes between Polish and Soviet forces occurred along the border.[12][67] General Wilhelm Orlik-Rückemann, who took command of the Border Protection Corps on 30 August, received no official directives after his appointment.[2] As a result, he and his subordinates continued to proactively engage the Soviet forces, before dissolving the group on 1 October.[2]

The Polish government refused to surrender or negotiate a peace and instead ordered all units to evacuate Poland and reorganize in France.[12] The day after the Soviet invasion started, the Polish government crossed into Romania. Polish units proceeded to manoeuvre towards the Romanian bridgehead area, sustaining German attacks on one flank and occasionally clashing with Soviet troops on the other. In the days following the evacuation order, the Germans defeated the Polish Kraków and Lublin Armies at the Battle of Tomaszów Lubelski.[69]

A photo of a German and a Soviet officer shaking hands at the end of the invasion of Poland

German and Soviet officers shaking hands following the invasion

Soviet units often met their German counterparts advancing from the opposite direction. Notable examples of co-operation occurred between the two armies in the field. The Wehrmacht passed the Brest Fortress to the Soviet 29th Tank Brigade, which had been seized after the Battle of Brześć Litewski on 17 September.[70] German General Heinz Guderian and Soviet Brigadier Semyon Krivoshein on 22 September held a joint parade in the town.[70] Lwów (now Lviv) surrendered on 22 September, days after the Germans had handed the siege operations over to the Soviets.[71] Soviet forces had taken Wilno (now Vilnius) on 19 September after a two-day battle, and they took Grodno on 24 September after a four-day battle. By 28 September, the Red Army had reached the line formed by the Narew, Western Bug, Vistula and San rivers—the border agreed in advance with the Germans.

Despite a tactical Polish victory on 28 September at the Battle of Szack, the outcome of the larger conflict was never in doubt.[72] Civilian volunteers, militias and reorganised retreating units held out against German forces in the in the Polish capital, Warsaw, until 28 September, and the Modlin Fortress, north of Warsaw, surrendered the next day after an intense sixteen-day battle. On 1 October, Soviet troops drove Polish units into the forests at the battle of Wytyczno, one of the last direct confrontations of the campaign.[73] Several isolated Polish garrisons managed to hold their positions long after being surrounded, such as those in the Volhynian Sarny Fortified Area which held out until 25 September. The last operational unit of the Polish Army to surrender was General Franciszek Kleeberg's Independent Operational Group Polesie. Kleeberg surrendered on 6 October after the four-day Battle of Kock, effectively ending the September Campaign. On 31 October, Molotov reported to the Supreme Soviet: "A short blow by the German army, and subsequently by the Red Army, was enough for nothing to be left of this ugly creature of the Treaty of Versailles".[74][75]

Domestic reaction

"Liberation of brotherly people of Western Ukraine and Western Belorussia on 17th of September, 1939" Post stamps of USSR, 1940.

The response of non-ethnic Poles to the situation added a further complication. Many Ukrainians, Belarusians and Jews welcomed the invading troops.[76] Local communists gathered people to welcome Red Army troops in the traditional Russian way by presenting bread and salt in the eastern suburb of Brest. For this occasion a sort of triumphal arch was made of two poles, decked with spruce branches and flowers. A banner, a long strip of red cloth with a slogan in Russian, glorifying the USSR and welcoming the Red Army, crowned the arch.[77] The local reaction was mentioned by Lev Mekhlis, who told Stalin that the people of West Ukraine welcomed the Soviets "like true liberators".[78] The Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists rebelled against the Poles, and communist partisans organized local uprisings, such as that in Skidel.[12]

Allied reaction

The reaction of France and Britain to the Soviet invasion and annexation of Eastern Poland was muted, since neither country wanted a confrontation with the Soviet Union at that time.[79][80] Under the terms of the Polish-British Common Defence Pact of 25 August 1939, the British had promised assistance if a European power attacked Poland.[Note 4] A secret protocol of the pact, however, specified that the European power referred to Germany.[82] When Polish Ambassador Edward Raczyński reminded Foreign Secretary Edward Frederick Lindley Wood of the pact, he was bluntly told that it was Britain's business whether to declare war on the Soviet Union.[79] British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain considered making a public commitment to restore the Polish state but in the end issued only general condemnations.[79] This stance represented Britain's attempt at balance: its security interests included trade with the Soviets that would support its war effort and the possibility of a future Anglo-Soviet alliance against Germany.[82] Public opinion in Britain was divided between expressions of outrage at the invasion and a perception that Soviet claims to the region were reasonable.[82]

While the French had made promises to Poland, including the provision of air support, these were not honoured. A Franco-Polish Military Alliance was signed in 1921 and amended thereafter. The agreements were not strongly supported by the French military leadership, though; the relationship deteriorated during the 1920s and 1930s.[83] In the French view, the German-Soviet alliance was fragile and overt denunciation of, or action against, the Soviets would not serve either France's or Poland's best interests.[80] Once the Soviets moved into Poland, the French and the British decided there was nothing they could do for Poland in the short term and began planning for a long-term victory instead. The French had advanced tentatively into the Saar region in early September, but after the Polish defeat they retreated behind the Maginot Line on 4 October.[84] On 1 October 1939, Winston Churchill—via the radio—stated:

... That the Russian armies should stand on this line was clearly necessary for the safety of Russia against the Nazi menace. At any rate, the line is there, and an Eastern front has been created which Nazi Germany does not dare assail. When Herr von Ribbentrop was summoned to Moscow last week it was to learn the fact, and to accept the fact, that the Nazi designs upon the Baltic States and upon the Ukraine must come to a dead stop.[85]


A photo of a crowd of marching Polish prisoners of war captured by the Red Army during the Soviet invasion of Poland

Polish prisoners of war captured by the Red Army during the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939

In October 1939, Molotov reported to the Supreme Soviet that the Soviets had suffered 737 deaths and 1,862 casualties during the campaign, although Polish specialists claim up to 3,000 deaths and 8,000–10,000 wounded.[12] On the Polish side, 3,000–7,000 soldiers died fighting the Red Army, with 230,000–450,000 taken prisoner.[13] The Soviets often failed to honour the terms of surrender. In some cases, they promised Polish soldiers their freedom and then arrested them when they laid down their arms.[12]

The Soviet Union had ceased to recognise the Polish state at the start of the invasion. Neither side issued a formal declaration of war; this decision had significant consequences, and Smigly-Rydz would be criticised for it.[86] The Soviets killed tens of thousands of Polish prisoners of war, some during the campaign itself.[87] On 24 September, the Soviets killed 42 staff and patients of a Polish military hospital in the village of Grabowiec, near Zamość.[88] The Soviets also executed all the Polish officers they captured after the Battle of Szack, on 28 September 1939.[72] Over 20,000 Polish military personnel and civilians perished in the Katyn massacre.[12][70] Torture was used by the NKVD on a wide scale in various prisons, especially those in small towns.[89]

The front page of the Soviet document of decision, with blue writing scrawled across the left-center of the page, authorizing the mass execution of all Polish officers who were as the war prisoners in the Soviet Union

The Soviet document of decision regarding the mass execution of Polish Officers

The Poles and the Soviets re-established diplomatic relations in 1941, following the Sikorski–Mayski Agreement; but the Soviets broke them off again in 1943 after the Polish government demanded an independent examination of the recently discovered Katyn burial pits.[90][91] The Soviets then lobbied the Western Allies to recognise the pro-Soviet Polish puppet government of Wanda Wasilewska in Moscow.[92][93]

On 28 September, the Soviet Union and Germany signed the German–Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Demarcation, changing the secret terms of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. They moved Lithuania into the Soviet sphere of influence and shifted the border in Poland to the east, giving Germany more territory.[94] By this arrangement, often described as a fourth partition of Poland,[12] the Soviet Union secured almost all Polish territory east of the line of the rivers Pisa, Narew, Western Bug and San. This amounted to about 200,000 km² of land, inhabited by 13.5 million Polish citizens.[68] The border created in this agreement roughly corresponded to the Curzon Line drawn by the British in 1919, a point that would successfully be used by Stalin during negotiations with the Allies at the Teheran and Yalta Conferences.[95] The Red Army had originally sown confusion among the locals by claiming that they were arriving to save Poland from the Nazis.[96] Their advance surprised Polish communities and their leaders, who had not been advised how to respond to a Soviet invasion. Polish and Jewish citizens may at first have preferred a Soviet regime to a German one.[97] However, the Soviets were quick to impose their ideology on the local ways of life. For instance, the Soviets quickly began confiscating, nationalising and redistributing all private and state-owned Polish property.[98] During the two years following the annexation, the Soviets also arrested approximately 100,000 Polish citizens.[99] Due to a lack of access to secret Soviet archives, for many years after the war the estimates of the number of Polish citizens deported to Siberia from the areas of Eastern Poland, as well as the number who perished under Soviet rule, were largely guesswork. A wide range of numbers was given in various works, between 350,000 and 1,500,000 for the number deported to Siberia and between 250,000 and 1,000,000 for the number who died, these numbers mostly included civilians.[100] With the opening of the Soviet secret archives after 1989, the lower range of these estimates has emerged as closer to the truth. In August 2009, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion, the authoritative Polish Institute of National Remembrance announced that its researchers reduced the estimate of the number of people deported to Siberia from one million to 320,000, and estimated that 150,000 Polish citizens perished under Soviet rule during the war.[101]

Belorussia and Ukraine

Of the 13.5 million civilians living in the newly annexed territories, Poles were the largest single ethnic group; but Belarusians and Ukrainians together made up over 50% of the population.[Note 5]

On 26 October, elections to Belorussian and Ukrainian assemblies were held to give the annexation an appearance of validity.[Note 6] The Belarusians and Ukrainians in Poland had been increasingly alienated by the Polonization policies of the Polish government and its repression of their separatist movements, so they felt little loyalty towards the Polish state.[104][105] Not all Belarusians and Ukrainians, however, trusted the Soviet regime, which was responsible for the Ukrainian Famine of 1932–33.[96] In practice, the poor generally welcomed the Soviets, and the elites tended to join the opposition, despite supporting the reunification itself.[104][106] The Soviets quickly introduced Sovietization policies in Western Belorussia and Western Ukraine, including compulsory collectivization of the whole region. In the process, they ruthlessly broke up political parties and public associations and imprisoned or executed their leaders as "enemies of the people".[96] The Soviet authorities also suppressed the anti-Polish Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, which had actively resisted the Polish regime since the 1920s; aiming for an independent, undivided Ukrainian state.[106][107] The unifications of 1939 were nevertheless a decisive event in the history of Ukraine and Belarus, because they produced the two republics which eventually achieved independence in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union.[108]


Soviet censors later suppressed many details of the 1939 invasion and its aftermath.[109][110] The Politburo had from the start called the operation a "liberation campaign", and later Soviet statements and publications never wavered from that line.[111] Despite publication of a recovered copy of the secret protocols of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact in western media, for decades, it was the official policy of the Soviet Union to deny the existence of the protocols.[112] The existence of the secret protocol was officially denied until 1989. Censorship was also applied in the People's Republic of Poland, to preserve the image of "Polish-Soviet friendship" promoted by the two communist governments. Official policy allowed only accounts of the 1939 campaign that portrayed it as a reunification of the Belarusian and Ukrainian peoples and a liberation of the Polish people from "oligarchic capitalism." The authorities strongly discouraged any further study or teaching on the subject.[70][73][113] Various underground publications addressed the issue, as did other media, such as the 1982 protest song Ballada wrześniowa by Jacek Kaczmarski.[73][114]

See also



  1. The Soviet Union was reluctant to intervene until the fall of Warsaw to the Germans.[6] The Soviet decision to invade the eastern portions of Poland that had been carved into the Soviet zone of influence according to the Pact was communicated to the German ambassador Friedrich Werner von der Schulenburg on 9 September, but the actual invasion was delayed for more than a week.[7]
  2. The exact number of people deported between 1939–1941 remains unknown. Estimates vary between 350,000 and more than 1.5 million; Rummel estimates the number at 1.2 million and Kushner and Knox 1.5 million.[17][18]
  3. On 28 September, the borders were redefined by adding the area between the Vistula and Bug rivers to the German sphere and moving Lithuania into the Soviet sphere.[43][44]
  4. The "Agreement of Mutual Assistance between the United Kingdom and Poland" (London, 25 August 1939) states in Article 1: "Should one of the Contracting Parties become engaged in hostilities with a European Power in consequence of aggression by the latter against that Contracting Party, the other Contracting Party will at once give the Contracting Party engaged in hostilities all the support and assistance in its power."[81]
  5. Among the population of Eastern territories were circa 38% Poles, 37% Ukrainians, 14.5% Belarusians, 8.4% Jewish, 0.9% Russians and 0.6% Germans.[102]
  6. The voters had a choice of only one candidate for each position of deputy; the communist party commissars then provided the assemblies with resolutions that would push through nationalization of banks and heavy industry and transfers of land to peasant communities.[103]


  1. Goldman p. 163, 164
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Gross pp. 17–18
  3. 3.0 3.1 Watson p. 713
  4. Watson p. 695–722
  5. Kitchen p. 74
  6. Davies (1996) p. 440
  7. Roberts p. 74
  8. "The German Ambassador in the Soviet Union, (Schulenburg) to the German Foreign Office No. 317". Avalon project. Lillian Goldman Law Library. Retrieved 11 June 2009. 
  9. "The German Ambassador in the Soviet Union, (Schulenburg) to the German Foreign Office No. 371". Avalon project. Lillian Goldman Law Library. Retrieved 11 June 2009. 
  10. "The German Ambassador in the Soviet Union, (Schulenburg) to the German Foreign Office No. 372". Avalon project. Lillian Goldman Law Library. Retrieved 11 June 2009. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 Degras pp. 37–45
  12. 12.00 12.01 12.02 12.03 12.04 12.05 12.06 12.07 12.08 12.09 12.10 12.11 12.12 12.13 Sanford pp. 20–24
  13. 13.0 13.1 Topolewski & Polak p. 92
  14. "Obozy jenieckie żołnierzy polskich" (in Polish). Encyklopedia PWN. Retrieved 28 November 2006. 
  15. Rummel p. 130
  16. Rieber p. 30
  17. Rummel p. 132
  18. Kushner p.219
  19. 19.0 19.1 Wettig p. 47
  20. Roshwald p. 37
  21. Davies (1972) p. 29
  22. Davies (2002) p. 22, 504
  23. Kutrzeba pp. 524, 528
  24. Davies (2002) p. 376
  25. Davies (2002) p. 504
  26. Davies (1972) p. xi
  27. Watson p. 698
  28. Gronowicz p. 51
  29. Neilson p. 275
  30. Carley 303–341
  31. Kenéz pp. 129–131
  32. Watson p. 695
  33. Shaw p. 119
  34. Neilson p. 298
  35. Watson p. 708
  36. Shirer p. 536
  37. Shirer p. 537
  38. Neilson p. 315
  39. Neilson p. 311
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