Chapter 19 - Taking on Soviet Imperialism in Poland and Eastern Europe

sia’s Western allies, including Great Britain, France, and the United States, who were fighting German armies on the Western Front in France and Belgium. Lenin subsequently ignored the fact that after the victorious Western allies signed the general armistice with Germany on November 11, 1918 that ended the fighting on all fronts, the Poles proclaimed themselves an independent republic, a proclamation explicitly confirmed by the Allies in the Treaty of Versailles of June 28, 1919.

Lenin’s and Stalin’s Betrayals in the 1920s and 1930s. Lenin rejected both the Treaty of Versailles and the Polish people’s assertions of Polish self-determination and independence. In April 1920, he directed Moscow’s Red Army to enforce the Soviet Union’s claim to Poland as a part (or province) of all the imperial territory claimed by Russia’s former czars. Strong Polish resistance, including the Battle of the “Miracle on the Vistula,” instead defeated the Soviet invaders, secured Polish independence, and established treaties with France and other nations. Under Pilsudski and other leaders over the next years, the new Poland was not a democracy, but it was able to maintain independence from both German and Soviet power until the outbreak of the Second World War. Near the end of the First World War, meanwhile, in October 1918, Poland’s neighbor, Czechoslovakia, declared and was able to maintain democratic independence under presidents Thomas Masaryk and Eduard Benes. The Czechs received an important measure of recognition from the Soviet Union in a mutual assistance treaty signed in 1935.

Stalin’s Betrayals Before and at the Outbreak of the Second World War. Further Soviet betrayals of Poland and Czechoslovakia, and soon all East European states came in rapid order. In 1938, as a price for joining the United Kingdom and France in support of Czechoslovakian resistance against Hitler’s mounting demands on the Czechs, Stalin insisted on stationing Soviet troops in Poland, a price Poland understandably was not willing to pay given its prior experience with Russian invaders. Without a Soviet commitment for support against Hitler’s Germany, the French and British acceded to German occupation of the German-speaking areas of “Sudetenland” in western Czechoslovakia in the fateful Munich Agreement of November 1938, soon to be followed by Hitler’s occupation and annexation of all of Czechoslovakia in March 1939. In this process, the Soviet Union violated its 1935 treaty with Czechoslovakia and also accepted Hitler’s substantial territorial claims on Poland, including the creation of a German “corridor” through Poland linked to the city of Danzig (Gdansk). At this point, Moscow’s most notable and historically fatal betrayal came in the form of the Hitler-Stalin Pact of August 23, 1939 that led a week later, on September 1, to Hitler’s brutal invasion and occupation of Poland by Nazi armies from the west. Hitler thereby provoked Britain and France to end their appeasement policies and to declarations of war on Germany. Stalin, in contrast, continued his collaboration with Hitler by sending Soviet armies into Poland from the east days later, soon linking them with his German allies. The Second World War was underway with the Soviets acting basically as an Axis power (see Chapter 3).

Soviet Betrayals During the Second World War. The German invasion and occupation of Poland in September 1939 grew to encompass Germany’s subsequent occupation of all of the remaining East European nations following Hitler’s long-predicted invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. German brutalities committed under the National Socialist banner include the murder of millions of Poles (including 90% of Poland’s three million Jews) in roundups, executions, and killing factories in Poland, including Auschwitz.

On the Soviet side, its Second World War murders of East European populations include the Red Army’s deliberate slaughter of some 15,000 Polish officers, intellectuals, and priests seen as “class” enemies (the 1941 Katyn Massacre)—as well as Soviet deportation and murder of many thousands of Poles and citizens of the Baltic nations. Soviet betrayals and mass murders also include the Red Army’s decision to stand by while Nazis crushed the Poles’ brave stands in Warsaw, first in 1941, and again during the anti-Nazi uprising by Polish Home Army resistance fighters in 1944. As the war ended, Soviet armies, accompanied by Soviet political commissars and intelligence units, reentered Poland, the Baltic countries, and other East European nations. With new levels of brutality, they arrested, killed outright, or deported to gulag camps in the Soviet Union those intellectual, religious and political figures, including the heroes of the anti-Nazi Polish Resistance, who had survived until then.

Further Soviet Promises and Betrayals. As reviewed in Chapter 3, the Soviet Union at the Yalta Conference in February 1945, near the end of the war, falsely promised to the Western Allies that they would accept “free and unfettered” elections in Poland. Stalin made similar pledges at other post-war conferences and in the Soviet Union’s signing of the December 1948 U.N. Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Instead, in Poland and throughout the East European nations occupied by Soviet forces, the Kremlin staged coups and purges against any non-Communist parties (e.g., in Czechoslovakia in February 1948) and implanted Stalinist

[Book pg. 459]