Akcja "Wisla": Poland's Solution to its "Ukrainian Problem?"
On May 21, 1997, the Presidents of Poland and Ukraine, Aleksander Kwasniewski and Leonid Kuchma, signed a joint declaration on agreement and reconciliation between their countries. The document declared that the two Presidents, ". . . being confident that the future of Polish-Ukrainian relations should be built on truth and justice. . . and in an effort to overcome the complex legacy of the Polish-Ukrainian history and prevent shadows of the past from burdening the current friendly and partnership bonds between both countries and nations. . . ," acknowledge the "examples of genuine friendship and cooperation between the two nations," but do not ignore the "tragic threads" of their history. Among the "tragic threads" or, in other words, the antagonistic periods of the Polish-Ukrainian relationship, the declaration listed "Akcja 'Wisla'." Akcja "Wisla," in brief, was the 1947 operation by the Polish communist authorities which uprooted Ukrainians from the Lemko, San River, Chelm, and Podlasie regions in present day southeastern Poland and forcibly relocated them to the northern and western territories, or "Recovered Territories" (Ziemie Odzyskane), that Poland acquired after Germany's World War II defeat. Akcja "Wisla" has recently become an important topic of discussion among Polish and Ukrainian intellectuals, government officials, and other groups, given its 50th anniversary in 1997 and the post-Soviet attempt to improve Polish-Ukrainian relations.
From late April to early August of 1947, under the directives of Akcja "Wisla," the Ukrainians in southeastern Poland were ordered to leave the territories that their ancestors had occupied for centuries. They were forced to pack up all of their possessions within a few hours and to leave land that many had just worked hard to sow. The Ukrainians were then transported in boxcars with no idea of where they might be resettled and spread throughout the Ziemie Odzyskane. The order to evacuate was mandatory and anyone who refused faced violence or imprisonment in the concentration camp at Jaworzno.
Why did the Polish government decide to undertake such a harsh operation against its Ukrainian minority? Authors have debated this issue and, while it is difficult to completely separate one opinion from another because they contain many overlapping points of agreement, several distinct arguments can be disentangled concerning who and what actually served as the catalyst.
Some authors maintain that Poland's communist leadership after World War II essentially remained subservient to the Soviet Union and that the Soviet authorities in Moscow had significant influence on Poland's treatment of its Ukrainians. They explain that the tie between the Soviet and Polish communists contributed to the deterioration of Polish-Ukrainian relations as Poland accepted the U.S.S.R.'s proposals regarding the evacuation and dissolution of the Ukrainian minority. For example, Ryszard Torzecki writes that Stalin, wishing to destroy the Ukrainian independence movement, summoned Boleslaw Bierut to Moscow in October, 1944 to discuss the battle against all forms of "counter-revolution" in Poland and to offer the assistance of the NKVD. He states that the coordination and the way in which Akcja "Wisla" was carried out contain the signs of Soviet work and that the chief of the ministry of security in the Ukrainian S.S.R. even prepared the plan of operation with the authorization of top Moscow officials. Works such as Torzecki's emphasize the idea that the Polish communists who ruled their country after World War II simply acted as the implementors of Stalin's nationalities policy. Hence, just as the Crimean Tatars were removed from their lands according to Stalin's orders in 1944, the entire Ukrainian population of Poland was resettled by the Polish authorities under the dictator's principle of "collective responsibility." The motive behind Akcja "Wisla" is, thus, placed within the broader period of Stalinist repression and focus is concentrated on the influence of Soviet politics on post-WWII Poland.
Other authors, however, focus more on the necessities of war and, specifically, on the need to liquidate the UPA when discussing the Polish leadership's reason for undertaking Akcja "Wisla." After World War II, the UPA continued its nationalist activities on the Polish-Soviet border and often clashed with the Polish army. When, on March 28, 1947, the Polish general and vice-minister of defense, Karol Swierczewski, was assassinated in an ambush ostensibly led by the UPA, the Polish government immediately acted to carry out the relocation of the Ukrainian population. The official party line during this period was that the Polish leadership adopted Akcja "Wisla" in order to prevent the UPA units from using part of the Ukrainian population as a base of support. Tadeusz Piotrowski writings, for one, agree with this statement, stating that the Ukrainian partisans are to blame for the undertaking of Akcja "Wisla" because, without their presence, the Polish government would have had no need to remove the civilians. He maintains that the UPA's fascist ideology and terrorist tactics, including the assassination of General Swierczewski, created a critical situation whereby the communist authorities felt that the only way of effectively destroying the UPA was through the resettlement of the Ukrainian population. The distribution and separation of the Ukrainians throughout western and northern Poland, furthermore, was to prevent the UPA's resurgence. Hence, sources such as Piotrowski portray Akcja "Wisla" as a step which the Polish authorities chose to take in order to battle the Ukrainian nationalists who caused great disruption within the country.
One final point of view that must be considered when discussing the motives behind the 1947 forced relocation of the Ukrainians involves the belief that the Polish government was not only attempting to isolate the UPA through Akcja "Wisla," but was also deliberately trying to dissolve the Ukrainian population in southeastern Poland through assimilation. Various authors see Akcja "Wisla" as the culminating event in the historical conflict between the Polish and Ukrainian nations and believe that Swierczewski's death was actually used as an excuse to attempt to settle this problem. Eugeniusz Misilo's book, for example, perhaps represents the best example of the viewpoint that the Polish authorities used General Swierczewski's death as the official pretext for a Ukrainian relocation plan that had actually begun to be devised years earlier. He uses archival evidence to show that preparation for Akcja "Wisla" was carried out secretly, not just with a military goal aimed at the destruction of the UPA, but also with a second goal of breaking apart the Ukrainian minority in Poland. Hence, instead of explaining the resettlement process as simply the result of Stalinist policies or a battle against the Ukrainian partisans, authors such as Misilo look at Akcja "Wisla" in the broader context of Poland's problem with the Ukrainian population.
Because the topic of Akcja "Wisla" continues to be debated, eliciting profound emotions from both the Polish and Ukrainian communities, the purpose of this article is to clarify the motivation behind the Polish leadership's decision to forcibly relocate the Ukrainian population of southeastern Poland in 1947. In order to first provide the reader with the historical context, this article will begin with an overview of how various events influenced Poland's attitude towards its minorities in the decades leading up to Akcja "Wisla." The Polish government's agreement to participate in population exchanges with the U.S.S.R. in 1944 will receive particular attention because it sets the stage for the complete resettlement of the Ukrainian minority. Next, the assassination of General Swierczewski and the process by which the Ukrainians were relocated to the Ziemie Odzyskane will be analyzed. These historical events are relevant because, through the examination of the details of what took place in the days preceding and during the relocation campaign, a clearer picture of the Polish government's aims emerges. For this reason, testimonies of Ukrainians who lived through Akcja "Wisla" will also be included, providing first-hand accounts of the 1947 resettlement process. In the final summary of this article, the various arguments regarding the motivation behind Akcja "Wisla" will be analyzed in light of the information that has been presented. The conclusion to which the available evidence seems to point is that, regardless of the influence of the Moscow authorities on the Polish communist leadership, the Polish government undertook Akcja "Wisla" on its own accord in order to incapacitate Ukrainian partisan forces, but also to solve its broader "problem" of the Ukrainian minority in the Polish nation-state. Greater understanding of the reasoning behind Akcja "Wisla"and of the details of the operation itself is important for various reasons. Firstly, the events of 1947 remain insufficiently documented and unfamiliar to the general international public. Although Akcja "Wisla" is beginning to receive more attention, only since the collapse of the communist system in Poland has it begun to be discussed openly and in depth. The availability of first-hand sources must be taken advantage of immediately before those who underwent the resettlement process during their adult years and, thus, can recount their experiences with greater accuracy disappear completely within the near future. Secondly, public discussion and the attempt to come to a consensus regarding the events of 1947 have a large role to play in the future success of Polish-Ukrainian relations. As 200 Polish intellectuals and political leaders, including such prominent personalities as Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Leszek Balcerowicz, and Czeslaw Milosz, declared in an appeal on March 16, 1997 condemning Akcja "Wisla," the past should not stand in the way of "the building of a Polish-Ukrainian community of interests and intentions" and "requires from both sides a just appraisal." Without an impartial assessment of Akcja "Wisla," an improvement in Polish-Ukrainian relations will be difficult because portions of the population will continue to harbor bitterness and hatred. The importance of openly and rationally discussing past conflicts can not be underestimated. Past events can not be retracted, but in order to prevent the growth of deleterious myths and a cycle of blame, as well as to progress as a civilization by learning from the past, events such as Akcja "Wisla" must be assessed. By reaffirming the need to investigate the difficult periods of Polish-Ukrainian history in an atmosphere of openness, and by resolving to consolidate Polish-Ukrainian mutual understanding, Presidents Kwasniewski and Kuchma showed in their joint declaration that they understand the importance of such an assessment.
Poland's View of its Ukrainian Minority in Historical Context
In order to understand the Polish government's treatment of the Ukrainian population in 1947, the ideological trends and historical events leading up to Akcja "Wisla" must be examined. Akcja "Wisla" was not an isolated incident, but rather the reflection of a view of the Ukrainian minority that had developed within the Polish leadership over many years. First, the feeling among the leadership that Polish culture was superior to others and that minorities in Poland should assimilate existed in 19th century Polish intellectual thought and continued into the 20th century, as the Poles attempted to create a homogeneous nation-state. The perception of what constituted the Polish state and who should be included within the Polish borders directly affected the government's policies towards the Ukrainian minority. Second, Poland and Ukraine had a long history of conflict, which led Polish leaders to also see the Ukrainians as troublesome. After the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Poland and Ukraine fought over territory.
Furthermore, when the Ukrainians became the only major nationality in Eastern Europe not to achieve independence after World War I, they reacted to the Polish assimilationist policies with hostility and even violence. Such violence continued on both the Polish and the Ukrainian sides during World War II. Thus, by the early 20th century, the Polish government subscribed to the viewpoint that the Ukrainian minority, which refused to adhere to the process of "Polonization," constituted a major problem.
Tracking the concept of "Polishness" throughout the centuries, Ilya Prizel's work examines the idea among Polish intellectuals and leaders that the indigenous cultures to the east could be Polonized, or assimilated. Even in the late 18th century, the notion that Ukraine and other eastern borderlands (kresy) would be reunited in a Polish Commonwealth constituted an important part of the Polish romanticism that was developed by the privileged szlachta. Yet, this romantic view was not based on one ethnicity, or ethnonationalism, but rather on class and geography. Only in the 19th century, after the 1863 Uprising failed to unite the Commonwealth and positivism replaced romanticism, did the idea emerge that Poland should be defined by the Polish language and customs. The Posivitists advanced the belief that ethnonational differences would dissolve and that modernity would lead to the assimilation of such minorities as the Ukrainians or the Belarussians through contact with the superior Polish culture. The Polish leadership continued to emphasize this ethnonational self-definition of Poland even after the Poles became disillusioned with positivism in the late 19th century, as Jews and Germans remained dominant in the economic sphere after the 1873 depression. Feeling that only political independence and the creation of a nation-state would guarantee Poland's national survival, the post-positivists of the 20th century promoted the creation of a national myth base on "one people" and insisted that "weaker" ethnic groups could be Polonized. Thus, Prizel's chronology of ideology in Poland shows that, as the Polish sense of identity narrowed from the idea of a multiethnic Commonwealth to one of a homogeneous Polish nation-state, the Polish leadership's intentions concerning its national minorities moved from co-optation to assimilation. The idea of relocating and disseminating the Ukrainian minority throughout northern and western Poland in 1947 in order to Polonize it would, hence, have not been a completely foreign or unrealistic notion for the Polish leadership.
During the tumultuous interwar period, the Polish-Ukrainian relationship deteriorated. As the Austro-Hungarian Empire began to disintegrate, both the Poles and the Ukrainians laid claim to the territory of Eastern Galicia. The two groups fought a war over this issue from 1919-1920, ending in a Polish victory and the eventual granting of Eastern Galicia to Poland by the Western powers in 1923. However, after reaching equality with the Poles under Habsburg rule, the Ukrainians were not willing to calmly accept the status of a national minority in Poland and fought harder for the right of self-rule. While constitutional laws provided Ukrainians with the means to protest against discriminatory state policies and not all parties were as militantly anti-Ukrainian as Roman Dmowski's National Democrats, the Ukrainians resented the Polish government's intention to Polonize them. The closing of Ukrainian cultural reading rooms, the 1924 law that banned the use of Ukrainian in government agencies, and the Lex Grabski reform that transformed Ukrainian-language schools into bilingual schools were all seen as steps toward national assimilation. Furthermore, particularly in the years of the Great Depression, when declining incomes reduced the demand for produce, the hostility of the Ukrainian peasants towards the wealthy Polish landowners increased, providing radical Ukrainian nationalists with much support.
The Polish government's response to active Ukrainian resistance in the 1930's was to undertake a pacification campaign, further deepening the hatred between Ukrainians and Poles. Subtelny writes that after a series of over 2,000 attacks on Polish property in Eastern Galicia, the government sent police and cavalry units into the Ukrainian countryside to reinstate order in the summer of 1930. "Employing the principle of collective responsibility, armed units moved into about 800 villages, demolished Ukrainian community centers and libraries, confiscated property and produce, and beat those who protested." Furthermore, about 2000 radical nationalists and other political activists were imprisoned in a concentration camp in Bereza Kartuzka. Subtelny's reference to the principle of collective responsibility deserves particular attention because, as mentioned, the Polish Senate in 1990 called this tactic of punishing the entire population "a characteristic hallmark of totalitarian systems." However, the 1930 pacification campaign shows that this tactic was utilized in Poland even before a communist dictatorship emerged. As both the Ukrainians and the Poles used violent means to combat one another throughout the interwar period, the Polish leadership's view of the Ukrainian minority as troublesome increased.
Armed resistance to Polish rule by Ukrainian paramilitary groups diminished any chance for a political compromise between the Poles and the Ukrainians in Eastern Galicia during the interwar period. In particular, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), which promoted integral nationalism, or the theory that the nation, embodied in an independent state, is an absolute goal, saw its purpose as the overthrow of Polish (as well as Soviet and Romanian) rule on Ukrainian territories. To this end, the OUN used terrorist attacks on Polish officials and government property, and popularized its views among the disillusioned youth in order to create a revolutionary movement. While Ukrainian political parties, such as the Ukrainian National Democratic Alliance (UNDO) attempted to combat Polish rule through legal channels during this period, the OUN rejected any accommodation with Poland. The denunciation of the OUN's terrorist activities by certain segments of the Ukrainian population, including the famous Greek Catholic metropolitan Andrei Sheptyts'kyi, also did nothing to diminish the younger radical nationalists' commitment to revolutionary action. Thus, continuing its destabilizing activities, the OUN targeted proponents of Polish-Ukrainian compromise, such as Tadeusz Holowko, in addition to government officials, like Bronislaw Pieracki, who participated in the pacification of the Ukrainian population.
The OUN's revolutionary activities in such areas as Wolyn, Polesia, and Chelm heightened during World War II, after the Red Army entered Poland in September 1939. Jan Gross writes that the majority of Ukrainians celebrated the entry of the Red Army because, unfurling blue-and-yellow colors, they welcomed the collapse of the Polish state. He also explains that local OUN activists took this opportunity to "strike at Poles and Jews whom they wanted to chase out of the area as soon as possible" and that the ethnic hatred which was entrenched in the area "filled the power vacuum created by the collapse of the Polish administration with blood." Killings and destruction spread as Ukrainian, as well as Belorussian, peasants, who were encouraged by the Soviets to "take away what rightfully belongs them," assaulted Polish settlements. Polish accounts state that landowners were executed brutally and that entire Polish families were murdered as the Soviets ignored pleas to restrain the peasants. The Poles, in turn, wiped out thousands of Ukrainian villagers in Chelm in 1942 and then waged a bloody assault against the Ukrainians west of the San River in 1944-45. Yet, this only led to another massacre, namely the 1943-1944 killing of 60,000-80,000 Polish men, women, and children by OUN units in Wolyn. These numerous attacks, originating from both the Ukrainian and Polish sides, hence, testify to the particularly low point which Polish-Ukrainian relations reached during World War II.
Relations between the Poles and the Ukrainians were already violent in the interwar period and became increasingly more so in the following decades. The two groups fought back and forth, with the Poles forcing assimilation upon its minorities and the Ukrainians rebelling against it. Hence, the violent actions undertaken by the Ukrainian radicals could not but have negatively affected the Polish leadership's view of the Ukrainian minority. It is not unreasonable that the Polish government would have welcomed ways to remove the problematic population by the end of World War II. Because Polonization was not met with success, evacuation of the Ukrainian population served as the next best option for creating a nation of "one people" within Poland.
Population Exchanges Between Poland and the U.S.S.R.: A Prelude to Akcja "Wisla"
When faced with the opportunity to participate in the transfer of minority populations with the Soviet Union in 1944, the Polish government agreed in the hope of solving its nationality conflict. Feeling betrayed and angered by the violent reaction of the Ukrainian population, the leadership adopted a resettlement campaign. Ukrainians were deported voluntarily and then forcibly, as the Polish government set out to retrieve its nationals and to achieve its goal of a homogeneous state. Poland's frustrating loss of land at the end of World War II only further exacerbated the government's negative attitude towards its national minorities. Thus, the population transfers that took place between Poland and the U.S.S.R. from 1944 to 1946 marked only the beginning of the evacuation of Ukrainians from southeastern Poland.
The negative Polish sentiment towards its minorities manifested itself in the signing of an agreement regarding population transfers between Poland and the U.S.S.R. on September 9, 1944. It should, therefore, be noted that the idea to relocate Poland's Ukrainian population originated, not in 1947, but before World War II had even ended. The agreement stipulated that "people of Ukrainian, Belorussian, Russian, and Rusyn nationality" living in Poland should be "evacuated" to Soviet Ukraine and Belorussia, while Poles and Jews in Soviet Ukraine and Soviet Belorussia should be repatriated to Poland. The view that national minorities had been one of the major causes of World War II was a predominant notion among many European countries at the time; thus, Misilo explains that both sides saw this agreement as the solution to their painful nationalities conflict. The relocation of Ukrainians from Poland to the U.S.S.R. began on October 15, 1944. The terms of the agreement stated that "evacuation is voluntary, therefore coercion can not be applied either indirectly, or directly," and, indeed, during the first few months after the signing of the agreement, many people who were landless or whose property had been destroyed during the war left Poland. However, in the following year, contrary to the terms of the agreement, the Polish authorities began to apply pressure and to use violence in order to persuade Ukrainians to leave Poland.
The redrawing of Poland's eastern border after World War II constituted a major blow to the Polish state that further worsened relations with the Ukrainian population. Stalin dominated the decision-making process regarding the Polish-Ukrainian border, or the so-called Curzon Line. Officially, he refused to give up the lands which he had annexed during the war, and which the Polish government considered historically Polish territories, because he stated that Western Ukraine should be united with its brothers in Soviet Ukraine. In reality, Stalin faced no real opposition because, first, Poland remained militarily incapable of challenging him and, second, at the Yalta conference, the Western powers permitted Stalin to include the Eastern European countries within the Soviet Union's sphere of influence. Thus, the Polish government had no real choice but to accept its new eastern border, which expanded the Ukrainian republic westward, but which left Ukrainian ethnolinguistic territories, such as the Lemko, San River, Chelm, and Podlesia regions within Poland. Although it is difficult to evaluate to what degree Poland's loss of its eastern borderlands and particularly the loss of historic Lviv impacted the Polish community's frame of mind, the realization of a new territorial border in the east must have caused unpleasant disillusionment, which in turn promoted a radical attitude towards the Ukrainian question. Misilo explains that the Polish communists took up the banner of the building of a Polish nation-state and used anti-Ukrainian propaganda, just as it used anti-German propaganda, as a way to consolidate support. The leadership used the idea of an "enemy," or the Ukrainian population, in order to unite the Polish community and rebuild the country. With the memory of the wartime period of Polish-Ukrainian conflict fresh in their minds, the Polish authorities were not very sympathetic to the Ukrainian minority. Because Poland experienced a major territorial shift, factors other than concern over national minorities may have also contributed to the government's decision to participate in the population exchanges. For example, Misilo adds that the September 1944 Polish-Soviet agreement was signed for economic reasons as well. While Ukraine had lost over 5 million of its citizens during the war and needed people to work in its collective farms, Poland needed to populate its newly acquired German lands. Furthermore, given that the agreement included the repatriation of Poles in Ukraine, another significant motive may have been the government's concern for ethnic Poles. In his book. Gross explains how 1.25 million Poles found themselves on the Soviet side of the border between 1939 and 1941 because of various waves of deportation. For example, some Poles went to Poland voluntarily to look for work; some were drafted into the Red Army; some were kept in POW camps after 1939; and about half (about 900,000) were transported as prisoners to labor camps. Therefore, the notion that the Polish government remained concerned for its nationals and wanted to secure their return is valid. While about 1 million Poles moved to Poland between 1944 and 1946, close to 520,000 Ukrainians were relocated from Poland to the U.S.S.R One difference regarding these statistics, however, is the argument that many Poles wanted to escape from the harsh conditions under which they suffered in the Soviet Union, whereas many Ukrainians in Poland were forced to leave their ancestral homes. Notwithstanding its concern for its Polish nationals, the brutality to which the Polish government resorted in order to remove Ukrainians testifies to its eagerness to resolve its minority conflict. Before discussing the Polish government's initial steps towards the complete resettlement of its Ukrainian minority, some attention should also be given to the make-up of the Polish leadership and to who held authority in the immediate post-war years. Just as the question of Poland's borders remained confining after World War II, the question of Poland's government caused even more chaos. At Yalta, Stalin argued with the United States and Great Britain over whether the Lublin committee that the U.S.S.R. had formed and recognized as the "Provisional Polish Government" would play a larger role than the London government-in-exile that was established in Paris in 1939. The communists consolidated their hold over Poland as the Western powers acquiesced and permitted the Lublin Poles (later called the Warsaw Poles) to essentially continue to govern, albeit under the stipulation that the government "be reorganized on a broader democratic basis with the inclusion of democratic leaders from Poland itself and Poland abroad. However, because opposition to the Soviet-controlled Lublin government remained widespread after the Yalta conference, the Polish People's Army acquired a key role in the postwar government. The Lublin government relied on the army to pacify anti-communist forces. Furthermore, in the January 1947 Sejm elections, the Polish Workers Party (the Polish communist party) used army officers "to supervise the vote count" and then later unleashed state terror with military tribunals in order to destroy the rival Polish Peasant Party. Hence, by 1947, a pro-Soviet communist government was solidly in place and the army, which later played a large role in the undertaking of Akcja "Wisla," became an important asset to the Polish leadership.
The Polish government found that the Ukrainians in southeastern Poland, who were attached to their land, could not be completely evacuated from their ancestral territories through peaceful means. While announcements were made encouraging the Ukrainians to return to "their Fatherland," meaning greater Ukraine, the majority of these peoples had no desire to leave the lands which their forefathers had inhabited for centuries. The redrawing of the border held little significance for such Ukrainian ethnographic groups as the Lemkos, who had long been isolated in the Lemko region of the Carpathian Mountains. The Polish government encountered even more difficulty in persuading the Ukrainian population to relocate to the Soviet Union after Ukrainians, who had voluntarily left, began to illegally return from the U.S.S.R. and to inform the others of the Stalinist repression in the republic of Ukraine. Therefore, the Polish government resorted to significant pressure. Initiatives that were used to compel the Ukrainians to leave included the deprivation of land rights and the liquidation of Ukrainian schools and Greek-Catholic churches.
The Polish government even attempted to persuade the leaders of the Ukrainian community to help carry out the resettlement process. On August 24, 1945, the Ministry of Public Administration, on behalf of the Presidium of the Council of Ministers, organized a conference in Warsaw, to which it invited representatives of the Ukrainian population from the Rzeszow, Lublin, and Krakow palatinates. Misilo states that the government was surprised when the Ukrainian representatives came prepared with a statement, which demanded the end to discrimination against Ukrainians and the resolution to the issues of land, education, and religion. Although a Councilman, by the name of Byeletski, at first responded positively by saying that the Ukrainian population had the right to enjoy the same privileges as the Poles, he recommended nonetheless that the Ukrainians resettle in the Soviet Union in order to eliminate the historical conflict between the Poles and the Ukrainians. Furthermore, the Ukrainian representatives were informed that if a significant portion of the Ukrainian population remained in Poland, it was possible that the Ukrainians would be relocated to other parts of Poland for economic considerations. This last statement holds importance because it shows that the tactic of relocating the Ukrainian population throughout Poland was discussed years before Akcja "Wisla" began. Thus, during the conference in Warsaw, the Polish leaders expressed their belief that Poland would benefit only by finishing the relocation by any means.
Having failed to evacuate the Ukrainian population through voluntary relocation, the Polish government changed its tactics in August 1945 and adopted a policy of forcible deportation. In early August, the head representative of the Soviet government on the issue of Ukrainian resettlement, Mykola Pidhomyj, approached the Polish authorities with the offer of providing military assistance to speed up the population transfer. The Polish leadership quickly took advantage of the idea to use military force, calling an emergency meeting on August 22nd with the head of the General Staff of the Polish Army, the commanders of the 3rd, 8th. and 9th Infantry Divisions, and the head of the Palatinate (wojewodztwa) Command of Public Safety. With the orders to complete the resettlement plans, three divisions of the Polish Army began the process of forcibly relocating the Ukrainians from the Lesko, Lubaczow, Przemysl, and Sanok districts (powiaty) in September 1945. Misilo notes that the level of brutality used by the army reached extremely high levels. This can be partly explained by the large proportion of soldiers in these divisions that came from the Wolyn region, where OUN units had massacred thousands of Poles in 1943. Hence, after August 1945, the tempo of the relocation campaign continued to speed up. For example, because divisions were under strict instructions to "completely, relocate the Ukrainian population," when General-colonel Stephan Mossor, Assistant to the Chief of the General Staff of the Polish Army, encountered statistics that listed the tens of thousands of Ukrainian families which still remained in the Krakow, Rzeszow, and Lublin palatinates, he ordered the 8th and 9th Infantry Divisions to increase the number of families being removed from 100 to a minimum of 500 a day per division. The increased tempo of campaign, thus, practically doubled the total number of Ukrainians that were relocated, given that 260,000 of the approximately 500,000 Ukrainians who were relocated from Poland to the U.S.S.R. from October 1944 to August 1946 were deported after September 1945, during the period of forced relocation.
Keeping in mind the argument that the Soviet authorities in Moscow influenced Poland's treatment of its minorities, it is interesting to note that it was the Polish leadership, and not the U.S.S.R., which wished to prolong the agreement on population transfers in mid-1946. The Soviet-Polish agreement, which had already been modified to extend its original completion date, was supposed to end in June, 1946. However, because a portion of the Ukrainian minority still remained in Poland, the Polish leadership wanted to continue the relocation campaign. Nonetheless, as Misilo notes, ". . . in spite of the intensive diplomatic measures of the Polish side, the authorities of the U.S.S.R. did not agree," and the agreement regarding the exchange of minorities came to an end. Why did the Soviet Union slam the door on continued Ukrainian resettlement? Although further research needs to be undertaken regarding this question, possible reasons can be suggested. For example, perhaps the Soviet reaction suggests that the U.S.S.R. also realized the need to reduce the number of Ukrainians who could give local support to the UPA that was active in the Soviet Union? Or perhaps Stalin decided that enough of the Ukrainian minority had been removed from southeastern Poland to prevent the UPA from gaining significant strength, but that it would be unwise to resettle the entire population because the Soviet Union would lose claim to the Polish border strip that its "brothers" inhabited? Finally, perhaps Stalin, who was a master at playing one group against the other, felt that a limited amount of Polish-Ukrainian tension would be to the U.S.S.R.'s benefit? Yet, regardless of the importance of these questions, as well as their answers, Poland realized in mid-1946 that, without the support of the U.S.S.R., it would have to find another way to solve its "Ukrainian problem."
An overview of the ideological trends and historical events in Poland through 1947 show that the Polish leadership wished to make its country homogeneous. Thus, temporarily abandoning its assimilation policies, the Polish government agreed to the resettlement of the Ukrainian population in 1944-1946. Support for the notion that Poland should be a country of "one people" only became stronger after World War II, when Poland lost much of its eastern territory and became convinced that the key to Polish strength lay in the formation of a cohesive nation-state. National minorities, such as the Ukrainians, became the "enemy," particularly as Ukrainian partisans continued to roam the underground. Also, memories of events, such as the 1943-1944 massacre by the OUN in Wolyn, may have contributed to a desire on the part of the Poles to exact retribution. Therefore, an atmosphere existed in Poland by 1947 where the Polish leadership was extremely eager to completely remove its Ukrainian minority, whether by voluntary resettlement or by force. However, because the agreement between Poland and the Soviet Union regarding population transfers did not entirely evacuate its Ukrainian "minority, Poland had to look for other paths down which to continue the journey towards homogeneity that it had begun.
The Role of General Swierczewski's Death in the Resettlement of the Ukrainian Population
In 1947, the Polish government's desire to eradicate the remaining Ukrainian population persisted. The general consensus in Poland was that Poland would benefit, or at the very least, would not become worse off by the dissolution of the Ukrainian minority. Tadeusz Olczanski remarks that, during this period, the large majority of Polish people, and not just the ruling elite, considered living with Ukrainians a "necessary evil" and ". . . did not want to have Ukrainians among themselves; they wanted to believe that the Ukrainians are the people of murderers, of the haidamaks, and others like that." Thus, when General Karol Swierczewski was assassinated on March 28, 1947, the Polish leadership took advantage of this opportunity to continue the resettlement of the Ukrainian population that it had begun in 1944 -- only, this time, in the west. Because units of the UPA were seen as responsible for the assassination, the Polish government resolved to launch Operation Vistula, or Akcja "Wisla," which included plans to not only surround and liquidate the Ukrainian partisans with help from Czech and Soviet forces, but also to resettle the Ukrainian population in the Poland's new western Recovered Lands in order to prevent it from aiding the UPA. Although the civilian dimension to this operation was carried out under the official pretext of eliminating the troublesome UPA forces, archival evidence shows that assimilation remained an underlying motive for Akcja "Wisla." General Swierczewski's assassination, thus, became the official grounds on which the Polish government laid its plans to solve its nationalities problem.
As mentioned, the Polish government had considered the deportation of its Ukrainian community to other Polish territories, namely to its Recovered Lands, long before General Swierczewski was killed. As early as October 1946, Infantry Divisions were ordered to compile lists of those Ukrainians who had failed to be deported to the U.S.S.R. Misilo notes that, although it is not known whether these lists were meant to be used to relocate the Ukrainians to the U.S.S.R. again or to other parts of Poland, they were used, nonetheless, during Akcja "Wisla." Another similar order, secretly given on January 31, 1947 by the commander of the 9th Infantry division. Colonel I. Velychka, declared:
"The action of evicting the Ukrainian population from the territory of the Rzeszow palatinate in the spring of 1946 did not provide a 100% result. The Ukrainian population, being afraid of eviction, partially ran off to the woods, where they waited for the period of the action of resettlement to pass, and partially, having false documents, pretended to be Polish citizens, and in the end, already overburdened from transport, fled (even across the border), only to, having returned to their former place of residence, give hiding places and all kinds of help to the bandits of the UPA.
In connection with the above-stated, the commander of the division orders the commanders of the 8th Infantry-Division, the Internal Security Army, division regiments 26, 28, 30 by 5.11.1947 [February 5, 1947] to provide detailed data about a) the amount of the Ukrainian population, which remained after the conclusion of the eviction action; b) the amount of the Ukrainian population which resides in the regions, isolated for the commanders of the regions of defense at this moment."
Velychka's order indicates that the Polish leadership needed further information about the location and number of remaining Ukrainians because, in the first place, it continued to be concerned about Poland's failure to completely remove the Ukrainian minority and, in the second place, it harbored a genuine concern regarding the aid and support which some Ukrainians were providing to the UPA.
Therefore, it is not surprising that support for the relocation of the Ukrainian population to the northern and western Polish lands, which would solve both the specific issue of support for the partisans and the broader issue of minorities in Poland, became increasingly voiced among the Polish leadership. For example, a district head from Nowy Targ, confused over whether Lemkos who had returned from the U.S.S.R could regain their Polish citizenship after having received Soviet citizenship, stated in February of 1947 that, "Apart from the creation of exclusively Polish borderland districts, which, after all, corresponds to the interests of the state and definitely eliminates the Lemko question from the problem of Polish politics, it would be desirable to resettle the Lemkos deep into Poland." On February 20, 1947, in a strictly confidential proposal to the Minister of National Defense regarding Ukrainian resettlement, General Mossor echoed this feeling that, if Poland could not deport its Ukrainian minority, it should mix them among the Poles. He declared that, because the Soviet Union would no longer take in the Ukrainians who remained in Poland and who formed a base for the UPA units, the Ukrainians should be resettled "by individual families, scattered across all the Recovered Lands, where they will quickly assimilate." Hence, Mossor's proposal, along with other archival documents, shows that, not only did a significant amount of discussion regarding the resettlement of Ukrainians to other Polish lands exist during the months and days before General Swierczewski's death, but that the motives behind such a resettlement included the dissolution of the Ukrainian minority.
Having already discussed the revised deportation plan, the Polish government conveniently used the news of General Swierczewski's death to officially continue its resettlement campaign against the Ukrainians. Only, under the 1947 operation, the Ukrainians were to be relocated to Poland's newly-acquired northern and western lands and were to be dispersed in order to hasten assimilation. On March 29, 1947, just two days after General Swierczewski was killed, the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Polish Worker's Party issued this order, calling for: 1) the swift relocation of Ukrainians and mixed families to the recovered lands, while preventing the formation of compact groups or the placement of Ukrainians any closer than 100 kilometers from the border; 2) the coordination of this operation with the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia; and 3) the collection of data about the Ukrainian population in Poland and the entrusting of the preparation of the resettlement plan to comrades Spychalski and Radkiewich. Had the Polish leadership not already been considering the resettlement of Ukrainians to the Recovered Lands, it is doubtful that such a decision would have been made so quickly. Furthermore, had the Polish authorities simply wanted to deny support to the UPA, without any concern for assimilation, special attention would most likely not have been given to disbursement of the Ukrainians in the Recovered Lands. Finally, one should note that, only on April 16, 1947, were the Soviet and Czech governments informed through diplomatic channels of the Polish intention to undertake the resettlement and asked to help block the eastern and southern borders. Because the Politburo resolved to undertake the relocation of the Ukrainian population before discussing the issue with either the Soviet Union or Czechoslovakia, this gives additional support to the viewpoint that Poland's treatment of its Ukrainians did not always initiate from the Moscow authorities. Poland wished to solve its Ukrainian minority problem by spreading the Ukrainians, who continued to live in tribe-like communities on their ancestral lands, among the Poles in the new northern and western territories.
The documents from various meetings which took place in the weeks following the General's death verify the Polish government's plan to definitively eradicate the Ukrainian population through assimilation. In early April, the Polish leadership hammered out the details of the operation. Minutes from an April 11, 1947 meeting of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Polish Worker's Party state, among other things, that a resettlement plan was to be given in one week of the meeting, that the removal of the Ukrainians was to commence in two weeks, and that General Mossor was to head the staff of the "Operative Group" in charge of carrying out the resettlement campaign. A conference in the Ministry of Recovered Lands formulated the directives from the authorities of the general administration, including the principles for transportation and settlement. At the same time, instructions were given that resettled groups of Ukrainians should not exceed 10% of the total district population or be distributed closer than 50 kilometers from state borders and 30 kilometers from maritime borders or district centers. This helped to limit lines of communication for the new Ukrainian settlers. Finally, on April 16, the Politburo adopted the "Plan for the Organization of Special Operation 'East'," which later changed to operation "Wisla," as the order under which the Operative Group was to carry out the resettlement of the Ukrainians. This top secret plan begins with the statement, "To definitively solve the Ukrainian problem in Poland ..." and then outlines the orders to evacuate the Ukrainians from the southern and eastern border zones to the north-west lands, while scattering them as much as possible throughout this territory. Hence, the Polish leadership planned Akcja "Wisla"' as the "final solution" to its "Ukrainian problem."
This is not to say that the Polish authorities did not genuinely want to exact retribution for the assassination of General Swierczewski or to liquidate theUPA units which gave them so much trouble. The "Plan for the Organization of Special Operation 'East'," in addition to other documents, discusses the simultaneous offensive battle with the UPA, which was to be completely destroyed after the end of the general population evacuation. However, as Misilo points out, evidence exists that the activities of the UPA were actually decreasing in Poland in the post-war years and, thus, that concern regarding the UPA was actually secondary to the desire to dissolve the Ukrainian minority. Statistics show that, in the Krakow, Rzeszow, and Lublin palatinates in 1945, 368 civilians were killed by Ukrainian partisan activity. However this number decreased to 98 in 1946 and to 16 in 1947. Early 1947 reports from army officers which state that, while special military protection was needed for vehicle transports in the beginning of 1946, "now it is accomplished normally, without fear of possible raids of bandits" also attest to reduced UPA activity. The number of UPA raids was less of a concern to the Polish leadership than the use of anti-UPA propaganda to rally Polish support for the continued evacuation of the Ukrainian population. Thus, although the Ukrainian partisans constituted an obstacle which the Polish government wished to remove in 1947, the battle against the UPA helped to advance the government's larger plan to relocate and assimilate the Ukrainians.
It should also be noted that despite the Polish attempt to crack down on the UPA after General Swierczewski's assassination, the notion that UPA units organized the ambush in which Swierczewski died remains moot. Misilo states that it is likely that the General was killed by accident in an attack organized by UPA soldiers by the codename of "Hrin" and "Stakh" out of revenge for earlier killings of UPA partisans. However, he qualifies this statement by saying that the published documents do not provide a clear answer as to who truly organized the ambush and that without access to Polish security documents, it is difficult to verify this version of the incident. A special committee that was formed by the Polish leadership to look into the death of Swierczewski provided a statement on April 22, 1947, asserting that, while the committee was unable to apprehend the assassins, it was accepted that the UPA organized the ambush. The committee based this assumption on the evidence that, during the attack, Polish soldiers heard the "battle cries 'hoorah'" that are characteristic of UPA units. Yet, responsibility for the incident remains a mystery because, as Misilo notes, "Hrin" himself does not mention the assassination of Swierczewski in his memoirs. Furthermore, other sources offer the explanation that the General was eliminated because of an infra-party struggle in the Polish Workers Party or because the NKVD was "settling an old score" for Swierczewski's participation in the Spanish Civil War. Thus, given the lack of a clear explanation for General Swierczewski assassination both in 1947 and today, the argument becomes stronger that the General's death provided the Polish government with the opportunity that it was looking for in order to remove its Ukrainian population.
General Swierczewski's assassination served as convenient pretext under which the Polish leadership could eradicate the Ukrainian minority. While eager to destroy the units of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, the Poles also took advantage of the opportunity to dissolve the Ukrainian civilian population. Having discussed the possibility of moving the Ukrainians to the Recovered Lands and enforcing assimilation by prohibiting the creation of large Ukrainian communities, the Polish government immediately set out to implement the operation after General Swierczewski's death. Only then were the U.S.S.R. and Czechoslovakia informed, indicating that Akcja "Wisla" constituted an initiative of the Polish authorities. Hence, on April 28, 1947, the Polish government once again began the relocation of the Ukrainians, uprooting them from their lands and transporting them across Poland to the Recovered Lands.
Recollections of Akcja "Wisla'
The process by which the Ukrainians were relocated provides insight into the underlying motives of the Polish government. Recollections of the resettlement, such as the ones by Melania Lozyniak and Paul Kapitula below, not only paint a vivid picture of how the Ukrainians were forced to leave their homes in southeastern Poland, but also indicate that Ukrainians were relocated and imprisoned regardless of their political affiliation. While the Polish government was attempting to rid the UPA of local support, people who were not involved with or sympathetic to the Ukrainian partisans were also removed. The Polish communists even evicted loyal allies because of their Ukrainian background. According to the August 1, 1947 secret instructions of the State Commission for Security, the Lublin and Krakow palatinates were told to remove each and every Ukrainian from their areas, "without regard for the degree of loyalty and party membership." Thus, the goal of the relocation was to dissolve not just support for the UPA, but to dissolve the entire Ukrainian minority. Although Melania Lozyniak and Paul Kapitula are only two of the victims of Akcja "Wisla," their views and statements represent the attitudes of a portion of the Ukrainian population that was not politically active, pointing out the need for further research on the issue of broad support for the UPA.
During interviews, Melania Lozyniak, who was born in the village of Smerekowiec in the Lemko region of southeastern Poland, expressed a negative opinion of the UPA. Lozyniak began her account of Akcja "Wisla" with the end of World War II. She stated that the protracted battle between the Polish government and the UPA forces after 1945 placed the Ukrainian civilian population in an undesirable position:
The Poles treated us badly and it happened again that UPA stayed in the woods and UPA came at night for food . . . they took food . . . they took everything . . . clothes. They robbed us, because they needed it because they were in the woods. They robbed us at night and during the day the Polish police came and punished us for giving to them. And there was no peace either during the day or at night! At night, came UPA and during the day, the Polish police .... Everyone lived in fear all the time.
Lozyniak resented both the UPA for taking the population's means of subsistence, and the Polish leadership for treating the civilians unjustly. Acknowledging that political support varied from village to village and that she knew of individuals who participated in UPA activities, she emphasized that the Lozyniak family did not agree with the liberation struggle. The Lozyniaks, who referred to themselves as "Rusyn" instead of "Ukrainian," did not identify with the Ukrainian republic and felt that, after living through World War II, the best way to survive was to distance themselves from political battles.
Melania Lozyniak's negative feelings towards the UPA became solidified after an encounter with Ukrainian partisans one night. She explained that she was alone in the house, with only her younger sister and her baby daughter, when she heard a knock on the window and was told, "We're your people, open the door." When she responded that she would not let them in because she was alone, the Ukrainian partisans threatened to set the house on fire. Lozyniak believed the threats because, as she stated, she knew of various instances whereby the UPA had burned down houses in order to prevent Poles from occupying the empty residences of those who had relocated to the U.S.S.R. Therefore, she allowed the UPA soldiers inside, only to watch them take her needed possessions:
They went straight to the closet and looked what was inside of it ... when I turned my back, they took everything from it. I heard a pig squealing — they killed our pig. I started to ask them why they were robbing us and they said, "We're not robbing you." One with a revolver was standing next to me and said, "Don't try to run away or yell because I'll kill you!" He said that to me and how was I to feel! I told them, "If you kill me then kill my child so that she isn't left an orphan."
Given that the UPA threatened her life and stole from her, Lozyniak laughs at the idea that the UPA soldiers were attempting to forge an independent Ukraine for "their people." Politics were subordinate to survival for many villagers, who simply tried to live from day to day through the turbulent post-war years.
The Lozyniak family, however, could do nothing to avoid forced resettlement in 1947. Melania Lozyniak explained that the first sign that she and her family were to undergo resettlement appeared in the spring when one neighbor came back from town. He stated that he had seen loads of people from the neighboring Sanok district in wagons filled with all of their belongings, but that he did not know why they were leaving. Later, a Polish soldier, stopping at the Lozyniak household for a smoke, told Melania Lozyniak's husband, who had excused himself to go back to work in the fields, "Don't work hard because you won't be able to reap anything. We're not allowed to say this, but I did." By May, the Lozyniaks knew that all Ukrainians were being sent to western Poland "because of General Swierczewski's death" and that entire villages in the Lemko region were being moved out, one by one, from east to west. On June 20, 1947, another Polish soldier arrived at the Lozyniak house at around 6:00 a.m. and said politely, "Good morning! The Polish Government is asking you to pack and to make sure that your house is empty by evening." By the time that the officer returned at night, "except for a few chickens that still had to be put in cages," the family was ready to leave.
The Lozyniaks loaded all of their possessions into their wagons and were led to a park by the train station, where they waited for two weeks before boarding boxcars. Melania Lozyniak stated that everything that they owned was piled inside of their wagon, including the mattresses on which they slept:
We had many cows, but Grandpa and I took one cow and my father's family took another. One horse for us and one horse for them. On one wagon, they packed their things and on another, we packed ours. We all road together. . . .1 took my bed. We could take our furniture and I had very nice furniture! And I had a mattress! At that time people did not have mattresses -- only straw mattresses -- and I already had one so I took it.
As Misilo explains, the Polish military organized various meeting points, such as a pasture surrounded by a fence or the park that Lozyniak noted, where those awaiting resettlement were kept under the supervision of the military. Thousands of Ukrainians lived in these areas with their cattle and with no real protection from rain or other bad weather. Misilo adds that, at these meeting points, the Polish authorities reviewed the lists of people that were to be relocated and picked out the "hostile and suspicious elements." Ukrainians suspected of being UPA sympathizers were either arrested and sent to a concentration camp in Jaworzno or, in the best cases, were resettled with strict instructions that no more than one "suspected" family inhabit a district.
Melania Lozyniak stated that, after a few weeks, their village was allowed to board the train, where two families were supposed to share one boxcar. She, her husband, and her two young children shared their car with her parents, her sister, and a boy with no family:
Two families, and we had two cows and two horses and chickens and calves — the whole farm. Everything in one car! Everything! . . .In our car, it was good! We had a lot of room compared to other people because we only had eight people, while there were some families who left their house with eight people. It was tight for them and they fought. I know someone who had sheep. And sheep are sheep — they jump here and there! ... It wasn't just one day, or a couple hours, but weeks. It was trouble!
Sitting among all of their belongings, those being resettled underwent a difficult ride to western Poland. The train would advance a few stations and then come to a standstill while others boarded. In addition to fearing that the cattle might fall over and crush someone, the Ukrainians had difficulty finding enough food for their animals because the Polish army only provided enough soup and black coffee for the people. At times, the Ukrainians were allowed to buy goods along the road, but, otherwise, the Polish army locked the doors of the boxcars and told the people that they would be shot if they attempted to leave. Lozyniak stated that when the train stopped in Auschwitz, which was a "point of readdress" through which most transports passed because of its location next to the largest connecting path to the west and the north, everyone was required to receive shots against disease. To prevent the spread of typhus during the trip, army officers also sprayed the passengers so that they would not get fleas. According to Misilo, under this pretext of sanitary control, a special investigation group once again reviewed the Ukrainians for suspected UPA sympathizers and, from almost every single transport that went through Auschwitz, dozens of people were taken to Jaworzno. Otherwise, at Auschwitz, the boxcars were divided and sent to assigned points in Olsztyn, Szczecin, Poznan, and Wroclaw.
The supervisor at these assigned points received information about the Ukrainians who were being relocated and then dispersed them throughout various areas. Melania Lozyniak explained that no one knew where they would be placed:
The train stopped and there was a special office where they separated the people. Eighteen families here, ten here in this village, twenty here, three here. Wherever there were empty houses and room for ten families, they put ten families!
Relatives were allowed to relocate to the same village. However, as mentioned, in order to hasten assimilation, the number of families that were designated to each village remained small and could not constitute more than 10% of the district. Melania Lozyniak's family was assigned to live in the village of Troska in the Zielona Gora district. While the males slowly traveled from the train station to Troska with their wagons, cattle, and horses, the females were driven in an army car and arrived first:
They dropped you off and left: you there. They took us to Troska and the village was empty. You could hear nothing except a cuckoo bird chirping. Cuckoo, cuckoo! There was no wagon or cow yet. We knew that they were coming but didn't know when. When I looked at it all, I don't know what I looked like, but there was a man who said that he thought I was going to go out of my mind. I turned white and couldn't say anything to anyone. I thought, "How are we going to live here? What are we going to do here?"
Melania Lozyniak's first glimpse of her new home was of an unsown field and houses with broken windows. As Lozyniak explained, the Poles in the village had looted the homes and broken their ovens because they believed that dangerous Ukrainian "banderivtsi-bandits" were coming. Some Ukrainians reacted to these conditions by attempting to return to their villages in southeastern Ukraine. However, like the Lozyniak's friend, Seman Telychka, these people were automatically arrested and sent to Jaworzno, as stipulated by General Mossor's secret order on July 16, 1947. Thus, because of the poor condition in which they found the houses, Melania Lozyniak's family saw no option but to spend their first night in Troska in the barn. In her words, "With our heads all together, we cried and laughed."
Misilo notes that the process of relocating the Ukrainian population to western Poland took longer than the Polish government had anticipated. The first stage of "Akcja 'Wisla'" lasted until the end of May and encompassed such districts as Sanok, Lesko, Przemysl, and Brzezowa. The second stage began in the beginning of June, as the 7th division of the State Police evacuated the districts of Jaroslaw, Lubaczow, and Tomaszow Lubelski in order to liquidate the UPA units "Zalizniak" and "Berkuta," and the 6th division of the State Police evacuated the Gorlice, Nowy Sacz, and Nowy Targ districts of the Lemko region. Based on incorrect information about the number of Ukrainians in the southeastern districts, the Polish leadership, at first, believed that 74,000 Ukrainians were to be relocated. By June, however, the Polish army began to recognize that relocation would take longer than the original goal of two months. The unanticipated large number of Ukrainians caused problems for the unprepared administration in terms of organizing transport and arranging resettlement. Hence, "Akcja 'Wisla'" was extended to a third month, removing a total of over 140,000 Ukrainians from southeastern Poland between late April and early August.
While Melania Lozyniak's story describes the process of relocation to western Poland, Paul Kapitula's recollections reflect the experiences of those who were arrested during this process and imprisoned at the Jaworzno concentration camp. Kapitula explained in an interview that, on the afternoon of June 8, 1947, his family was preparing for resettlement when a Polish army vehicle stopped at his home. Because the entire village had been informed, by means of a plane dropping leaflets, that they would be moving to western Poland, he and his brother-in-law were gutting a pig that they planned to take along. The Polish soldiers surrounded his house and asked if he meant to give the pig to the partisans. After sending Kapitula's brother-in-law home "because he was a Pole," the soldiers searched Kapitula's house and ordered him to get ready to depart with them. When asked whether the soldiers explained why they were taking him, Kapitula stated, "They said, 'When did you come back from the woods? What is your pseudonym?' I didn't know what they meant." The Polish leadership suspected Kapitula of involvement with the UPA and, despite his claims of innocence, Kapitula was sent to Jaworzno along with a number of other villagers who were arrested shortly afterwards on that day.
After spending several nights in various villages and undergoing interrogation and beatings on the way to Jaworzno, Kapitula and the others arrived at the concentration camp. The Polish guards laughed at their expense as the Ukrainians walked from the train station to camp:
We saw a wall with observation towers and one guard in the observation tower yelled, "Bring those partisans here!" Another guard that was guiding us answered, "If you're so smart, then go and catch them in the forest yourself."
The first few weeks at Jaworzno were the roughest for the new prisoners. Kapitula explained that everyone who arrived with him was interrogated daily for two weeks:
They asked what your name was, what you did, what you were involved in, what schooling you had, and they noted it. Also, they asked when you came from the woods. They wrote your name and that sort of stuff once, but, everyday, they asked when you came from the woods, what your pseudonym was, how many Poles you murdered, and how many times you went to the Gestapo to inform on the Jews and the Poles.
Whether the prisoners pleaded innocent or provided further information to the Polish soldiers, they were beaten. Kapitula stated that he received blows to the head even though his answers did not differ from the ones he gave at his time of arrest. In contrast, one good friend received additional blows to the heels after the interrogators had beaten a different testimony out of him and he had informed on another inmate. Like Melania Lozyniak, Kapitula acknowledged that certain villages were associated with the UPA. However, he noted that he had no involvement with the partisans and that the UPA rarely came to his village, Zdynia, because it was located close to Polish army trenches. Kapitula believes that he was imprisoned because a man from his village falsely informed on him during interrogations. Hence, the Polish leadership's suspicion of Kapitula was unwarranted.
Kapitula spent seven months in Jaworzno. Prisoners took care of the grounds and made clothes for the guards, as well as each other:
Some people shoveled dirt and we carried it to even out some areas. When there was a hurricane one time, there was a 60 meter by 3 meter high wall that was destroyed. People were saying that it showed the innocence of the people if such a severe thing could happen there. The prisoners put up the wall again. There were people who carried wool and the old women sewed it, not for the prisoners, but for the guards. I asked be a shoemaker. Vasyl's father was a good shoemaker and make boots for the soldiers — perfect boots! Another was a good tailor, so he made shirts for the prisoners.
Kapitula noted that the inmates were not fed very much. Thus, in addition to losing large amounts of weight, the Ukrainians could be played off against one another by means of the offer of additional food. The Polish army appointed certain Ukrainians as barrack leaders and provided these Ukrainians with more food in order to guarantee that they would maintain order and dole out punishment. As Kapitula explained, "For them, they took [soup] from the bottom instead of the thinner soup and, when necessary, they were given the fat from the top." Kapitula, furthermore, gave examples of how Ukrainian barrack leaders could be called upon if the prisoners did not obey a rule or displeased the Jaworzno authorities in some other way:
Our feet had to be clean and bare. When you had dirty feet, they took you and beat you. There was one man, Stefan Krestyna, who was nice, except his face wasn't too handsome and he was a bit lazy. I always had a piece of rag and when I went to bed, I wet it with something — sometimes I spit, or I also could use urine. I saved myself the way that I could. My feet were clean and his were dirty. They took Stefan Krestyna and the barrack head started to beat him with a board. He didn't scream. They used the side of board and broke his bones. Three days later, he died. A Ukrainian beat him. A Ukrainian broke his bones.
These barrack heads were considered traitors among the Ukrainians at Jaworzno. Hence, Kapitula noted with no surprise that when one particular barrack head was released from Jaworzno at the same time as his fellow villagers, he was thrown off the train and killed.
Just as the Polish army had not explained the reasons for Kapitula's arrest, upon his release from Jaworzno, he was told nothing about the circumstances of his discharge. The Polish authorities simply told him where his family had been relocated and made arrangements for him to go to them:
There were three of us going to Bobruvka. The wagon-driver dropped me off at night and said to go. "But, where?", I said. I didn't know where I was going. They told me that I had to go along the road. I walked and walked along the tree-lined road and saw a light about 150 meters away. There was a barn on the side of the road. I also saw a forest, but I wouldn't go into the forest at night. So, I went towards the light. I went through a park to a house. I looked through the window and saw my wife and brother inside. Do you see how God led me? I cried and knocked on the window and someone said, "Paul came home!"
Kapitula, who is one of the 3,873 Ukrainians that were incarcerated in Jaworzno, left the concentration camp and joined his family in western Poland in January 1948.
In addition to providing the reader with a better understanding of the way in which the Ukrainians were removed from their homes during Akcja "Wisla," the narratives of Melania Lozyniak and Paul Kapitula show that many Ukrainians had no involvement with UPA, but suffered nonetheless. The post-war period remained complex and not all Ukrainians subscribed to Ukrainian nationalist ideology. Many, like the Lozyniaks, simply wanted to live peacefully and to work enough to live comfortably. Others, like Paul Kapitula, were suspected and punished without apparent cause. The Polish leadership claimed that all Ukrainians in southeastern Poland needed to be removed because they supported the UPA and, thus, constituted a threat. However, is it possible that a portion of the Ukrainian population, such as the one that Melania Lozyniak and Paul Kapitula represent, did not need to be relocated? This question becomes more valid when added to Tadeusz Olszanski's argument that, from a military standpoint, the blockade of terrain and the occupying of the villages was possible, and maybe even easier, without resettling the civilian population. Thus, the idea that the Polish government possessed a larger agenda than simply liquidating the UPA reemerges. As Lozyniak's testimony and other documents note, the relocated Ukrainians were prohibited from returning to their original lands long after the battle with the UPA ended. The UPA ended their activities in Poland in September and October 1947, but the Polish government did not allow Ukrainians to begin to return to southeastern Poland until Wladyslaw Gomulka came to power in 1956. Also, the stipulation that the Ukrainians constitute no more than 10% of a district adds weight to the notion that, although the Polish leadership wished to halt Ukrainian partisan activity, it used this as a pretext for attempting to assimilate the Ukrainian population in Poland.
After examining the issue of why the Polish government chose in 1947 to relocate 140,000 Ukrainians from southeastern Poland to its new western Recovered Lands, this paper can answer its own title, which asks whether Akcja "Wisla" was Poland's solution to its "Ukrainian problem." The answer is yes: the Polish government sought to create a homogeneous nation-state and to eliminate troublesome minorities by removing them from their long-standing communities and mixing them among Poles under Akcja "Wisla." (Whether or not the Polish government's solution was actually successful or, in other words, whether the Ukrainians in western Poland have assimilated over the past 50 years is a question for another paper.) The idea, existing even in the 19th century, to form a nation of "one people" manifested itself in the 1944 agreement to remove Poland's Ukrainian and other minorities in exchange for the Soviet Union's Polish population. Then, when circumstances obstructed the Polish government from deporting all of its Ukrainians, the Polish leadership returned to its assimilationist policies. As the review of the events leading up to 1947 showed, the circumstances that produced Akcja "Wisla" are complex and relate to each of the points of view that were presented in the introduction.
First, the argument that the Soviet Union influenced the Polish communist government's treatment of its Ukrainian minority is only partially correct. The Lublin Poles that consolidated their power in the post-war years were pro-Soviet and did adhere to Moscow's policies, but this argument distorts and limits the analysis of Akcja "Wisla" by utilizing conventions of cold-war historiography and beginning the story after World War II. The Polish government did adopt the principle of collective responsibility which was widely used under Stalin. However, the notion that the Soviet Union or communism are to blame for the undertaking of Akcja "Wisla" neglects the possibility that attempts to repress Ukrainian nationalism or to assimilate the Ukrainian population were prevalent in the decades before 1947. As shown, the Poles used the principle of collective responsibility against the Ukrainian population in the violent 1930's. Furthermore, once the Polish government agreed to participate in population exchanges with the Soviet Union, it was the Polish side that wished in 1946 to continue until the Ukrainian had been completely evacuated. Finally, the Polish government outlined Akcja "Wisla" in detail before it even informed the Moscow authorities of its decision to relocate the Ukrainians in western Poland. Hence, while both the Soviet leadership and communist ideology were large influences on Poland in the post-war years, the Polish government's undertaking of Akcja "Wisla" represents a decision which it made on its own to continue earlier assimilationist policies.
Second, the argument that the Polish government implemented Akcja "Wisla" in order to liquidate the Ukrainian partisans after UPA units assassinated General Swierczewski also provides only a partial explanation. The military component to Akcja "Wisla" was significant; however, evidence shows that, by 1947, the UPA did not constitute as big of a threat as it did immediately after World War II. Furthermore, although the assassination of one of its generals may have increased the Polish leadership's desire to eliminate partisan activity, plans for what was later named Akcja "Wisla" were discussed months before Swierczewski's death. Therefore, this death actually occurred at a convenient time for the Polish government, which was able to utilize the history of Polish-Ukrainian conflict in order to gather support for the relocation of the Ukrainians. As the recollections of Melania Lozyniak and Paul Kapitula show, whether or not individual Ukrainians actually sympathized with or participated in UPA activities was not important. What was paramount was that the Ukrainian population be removed from their tight communities in southeastern Poland and spread across the Recovered Lands in order to hasten assimilation. Therefore, this paper shows that, while attempting to reduce the local support which the UPA could obtain, the Polish leadership formulated Akcja "Wisla" for the larger purpose of Polonizing the entire Ukrainian population of southeastern Poland.
Yet, what can be learned from the events surrounding Akcja "Wisla" is even more important than showing that the causes of Akcja "Wisla" were complicated and that the final argument that was presented in the introduction, supporting the "assimilation theory," is the most credible. Following the signing of the May 21st joint declaration, President Kuchma declared, "Today there are no unresolved problems in Ukrainian-Polish relations." However, despite the statements of Ukrainian and Polish leaders, the atrocities that were committed over the years have not been forgotten by either side. A heated argument continues to exist between the two groups, as the Ukrainians demand greater compensation for Akcja "Wisla" and the Poles demand an official denunciation for the killings that occurred in Volhynia in 1943. Thus, after decades of massacre and deportation, the Polish and Ukrainian communities need to open up a dialogue about events, such as Akcja "Wisla," as well as to strive for a sincere reconciliation.
The Polish and Ukrainian leadership can take the lead and continue to promote the positive relations that have recently emerged between the two governments. However, as Presidents Kwasniewski and Kuchma attempt to improve their economic and political, relationship, they must be careful not to bury the events of the past before they are resolved. In other words, in terms of Akcja "Wisla," greater analysis needs to be done and the governments should not simply blame the resettlement on past communist leaders. Adam Michnik's statement that, "Responsibility for the resettlement of the Ukrainian population rests with the Communist authorities," may serve the present leadership well as it divorces the violent incident from the current government's policies; however, it continues to delay a clear understanding of the historic Polish-Ukrainian conflict. Moreover, sweeping the issues under the rug only fuels anger within these two groups. To date, although the Polish Senate has condemned Akcja "Wisla," neither the Polish Sejm nor the Ukrainian government has denounced the atrocities, and each of the communities are waiting for these official statements. Consideration for the communities, thus, leads to the issue of who exactly should be discussing Akcja "Wisla." Given that Ukrainians in southeastern Poland suffered as they were resettled, these are the people on whom the Polish government needs to focus in order to reach a true reconciliation with the Ukrainian population. Ukrainians in Kyiv underwent a completely different experience in the post-war period than did the Ukrainians on the Polish side of the Carpathian mountains and, hence, do not identify strongly with Akcja "Wisla." Reconciliation with top officials in the Ukrainian government constitutes a start towards Polish-Ukrainian mutual understanding; however, those that share the views of the victims must also be included. There has been talk of erecting a monument at Jaworzno and the Ukrainian community in Poland continues to call for either monetary compensation or the return of former properties. By pursuing any of these measures, the Poles would be helping to heal the "bleeding wounds" of its Ukrainian population. Needless to say, the Ukrainians must also take the steps that are necessary to promote the improvement of Polish-Ukrainian relations. The Poles and Ukrainians must learn from their tumultuous past that, unless the culture and the ideas of other nationalities are allowed to be expressed, a cycle of anger and violence will reemerge.