Contrary to world-wide attention given to the problems of Jews, Germans, Tartars and, recently, Armenians, the plight of some 4 million Poles in the USSR has been virtually neglected. The purpose of this Memorandum is to make their fate an intemational issue and to provide an incentive for international action.

Consequences of the Second World War for the Polish citizens

On 1 September 1939 the German armies attacked Poland. By so doing Hitler's Germany broke a bilateral Non-Aggression Pact entered into by Poland and Germany in 1934. The invasion had been made possible by a secret agreement to partition of Poland between Germany and the Soviet Union, signed in Moscow on 23 August 1939 by Molotov and Ribbentrop.

On 17 September 1939 the USSR invaded Eastern Poland, committing an act of military aggression in contravention of all international treaties then in force. The overwhelming Soviet invasion disrupted further mobilisation of the Polish army and invalidated Polish defence plans against Germany. At least 250,000 Polish soldiers became Soviet prisoners-of-war. Soon after, in 1940-41 the NKVD arrested and deported from Soviet occupied Poland about 1.5 million Polish citizens as "anti-Soviet and socially unadaptable elements".

Soviet deportations of Poles in 1940-41

The Soviet authorities carried out four mass deportations in 1940-41. The first deportation, on 2 February 1940, affected 220,000 men, women and,children, who were sent to the Archangel region. The second deportation took place on 13 April 1940. Some 320,000 persons, most of them women and children, were deported to Kazakhstan and dispersed there. The third deportation, conducted between June and July 1940, involved 240,000 persons who were distributed mostly in the Siberian republics. The fourth deportation of some 300,000 persons, who were forcibly "settled" in unknown regions, took place in June 1941 before Hitler's attack. Among all the deportees there were 380,000 children under 14 years of age, of whom one third died from hunger, severe cold and diseases. According to estimates of the Polish Ambassador, Professor Kot, over 450,000 Poles died in the USSR and about 200,000 could not be found in 1942.

Moreover, the Soviet authorities, in contravention of international law, conscripted men between 18 and 50 years of age in the occupied Eastern Poland and as a result 150,000 Polish citizens had to serve in the Red Army.

Adding to the above estimates prisoners of war and about 250,000 of individual arrests and deportations, during the first 20 months of Soviet occupation about 1.7 million Polish citizens were deprived of freedom, many of whom perished as a result of the inhuman conditions they were forced to live in.

The 1941 Soviet "amnesty" for imprisoned Poles

Soon after the outbreak of the German-Soviet war on 22 June 1941, the Polish Govemment in London, urged by the British Government, signed a Polish-Soviet Agreement on 30 July 1941. In its wake, Stalin granted an "amnesty" to all Polish citizens in the Soviet Union, who had been deprived of their freedom by the Soviets. However, Stalin's promise has never been carried out in full. Polish nationals, who were fit for work in hard labour camps and in so-called "resettlements", were prevented by the NKVD from joining the Polish Army organised in the USSR by Gen. Anders. 14,500 Polish officers were "missing" from the prisoner-of-war camps in Kozielsk, Ostashkov and Starobielsk. About 4,500 from the Kozielsk camp were murdered in 1940 by the NKVD in Katyn; those from Ostashkov and Starobielsk have not been found.

In 1942, the Polish Army, totalling 114,462 soldiers and their families, was evacuated to Persia. Later on, it fought the Germans in Italy and Western Europe. However, about 93% of the Polish captives and deportees, including some 100,000 children, had to remain in the Soviet Union, in appalling conditions.

Further deportations of Poles since 1944

Following the German defeat in the USSR, the Soviet Army re-entered Polish territories in the middle of 1944. As a result of this second occupation, several million Poles, including 50,000 soldiers of the Polish Underground Army (Home Army), were deported to distant Soviet republics, even as far as Sakhalin and Kamchatka.

Repatriation of Poles from the USSR to Poland

According to the Polish People's Republic statistics, which are not reliable, 1.6 million Poles returned to Poland in several repatriation waves between 1945 and 1959; among them about 400,000 Poles were reported as returned from the distant Asiatic republics. In fact, however, only 50,000 were repatriated from these republics; mostly workers and small-holdings' farmers.

Poles still living in the USSR

It has been estimated that the Polish minority in the USSR amounted to about 4 million in 1987. [See Appendix 1] However, the Soviet 1979 census reported only 1,151,000 Poles. It is possible that about 2.8 million people withheld their true nationality and for fear of persecution, declared other nationalities such as Ukrainian, Byelorussian, Russian, Lithuanian and others.

Treatment of Poles in the Soviet Union

In the distant eastern republics of Soviet Union, Poles are the most underprivileged minority. They are assiduously discriminated against. They are deprived of the right to learn their own language in state schools, to develop their own national culture, to observe publicly and privately their religious rites, as well as maintain links with their families in Poland or to visit them. Moreover, they are short of Polish books and periodicals. Above all, they are deprived of the right to return to Poland.

The Soviet policy towards Poles in the USSR contravenes the following international agreements: [See Appendix 2]

Polish campaign on behalf of Poles in the USSR

On a number of occasions the Polish Government in Exile, the Polish American Congress and the Polish Canadian Congress, have expressed their deep concern regarding Poles in the USSR and lodged several appeals with prominent politicians of Western countries.

In 1957 the Polish (United Kingdom) Association of Ex-Political Prisoners in the USSR, headed by Professor Z. Stahl, together with other Polish organisations, demanded the release of Polish political prisoners and exiles still held in the Soviet Union. The Polish Service of Radio Free Europe produced detailed information about Poles still held in the Soviet Union and, in the years 1955-60, it helped to lead a campaign for their repatriation to Poland.

In 1972, the Primate of Poland, Cardinal Wyszynski, sent a memorandum to a number of members of the Polish politburo expressing his great concern for the fate of Poles in the USSR. His memorandum has never been acknowledged. He also urged Poles in exile to speak out loudly and to campaign constantly in defence of Poles in the Soviet Union. In 1974 a number of prominent intellectuals in Poland organised a petition which was confiscated by the Polish state police.

In 1988, the present Primate of Poland, Cardinal Glemp, visited Poles in the occupied eastern territories, gave them moral support and reminded them that they are not forgotten. Opposition movements in Poland, including "Solidarity", have demanded cultural, religious and educational freedoms as well as other rights for Poles in the Soviet Union. Recently, even the ruling communist authorities have expressed concern at the plight of these Poles.

At present, the Polish American Congress, the Polish Canadian Congress and all major Polish organisations in Australia, France, Sweden, the United Kingdom and other countries are organising all sorts of help for the deprived USSR Polish minority.

It is believed that the Church authorities in Poland, with the support of the Vatican, will join the above bodies in this mutual action.

International assistance

The last conference concerning the review of the resolutions of the 1975 Helsinki Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, was held in Vienna in 1986 to 1988. To the participants of this Conference, the Polish Government in Exile and the Polish Ex-Combatants Association in Great Britain submitted a Memorandum concerning the serious problems of Poles in the USSR. Thus, this neglected issue received, for the first time, international attention.

The Polish Government in Exile hopes that the tragic problem of Poles in the Soviet Union will be raised at forthcoming international conferences concerning human rights, including implementation of the principles of the Helsinki Final Act.

In particular, we request that Poles in the Soviet Union be given:

Granting these various forms of freedom to Poles in the USSR should be regarded as a test of the sincerity of Gorbachev's policy of "glasnost" and of the practical meaning of numerous international declarations.

President of the Republic of Poland

Kazimierz Sabbat

Prime Minister, Polish Govemment in Exile

Edward Szczepanik

London, June 1989



(a) Estimates by J. Siedlecki [1]

(1) Poles called the "Autochthons" who remained in the USSR after the Treaty of Riga (agreed by Poland and the USSR in 1921) numbered about 1.5 million. Since they were opposing Soviet collectivisation and defending their rights under Paragraph 8 of the Treaty, they were deported to Siberia and the Soviet Asian republics in 1928 and 1934-37, where some 800,000 persons perished. Those who survived to 1987 are estimated at 700,000
(2) Poles living in 1987 in former Polish territories incorporated into the USSR under the Teheran (1943) and Yalta (1945) agreements 2,270,000
(3) Poles still interned in the USSR or living under strict KGB surveillance in distant Soviet republics 300,000
(4) Polish exiles in the USSR, so called "posielency" 530,000
In total, Poles in the USSR in 1987 3,800,000

(b) Other estimates of Poles in the USSR

According to recent independent estimates by the Association of Polish Ex-Prisoners and Ex-Exiles from the USSR, now living in Poland, the total number of Poles who still remain in the USSR is 4,120,000 persons. Amonglthem, in distant Soviet republics (Siberia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Russian Republic, Sakhalin, Kamchatka and others) there are nearly 1.5 million Poles who have no right ever to return to their native country.

(c) Estimate by J. Plater-Gajewski

Jan Plater-Gajewski, a spokesman for the rights of Poles in Kazakhstan, scion of a famous Polish family prominent in the 19th century in resistance movements against the Russian occupation of Poland, estimates that the Polish minority in the Soviet Union numbers about 9.5 million. However, that number includes descendants of those deported to and imprisoned in Russia in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Not all of them retain links with Polish culture.

  1. J. Siedlecki, Losy Polaków w ZSRR w latach 1939-1986 (The Fate of Poles in the USSR in 1939-1986). Grvf Publications. second edition. London 1988.



The United Nations Charter (1945) Chapter I, Article 1 , states that the purpose of the United Nations is: "To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economical, social, cultural, or humanitarian character and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to sex, language or religion ..." (pt.3)

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) Article 2 states: "Everyone is entitled to all rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status". European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1953) Article 9(1) states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance."

The Protocol No.4 to the (European) Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1963) Article 2, pt.2 stipulates: "Everyone shall be free to leave any country, including his own".

The United Nations Intemational Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) Article 27 stipulates: "In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, or to use their own language".

The Proclamation of Teheran (1968) from April 22 to May 13, 1968 to review the progress made in the twenty years since the adaptation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to formulate a programme for the future. Pt.10 states: "Massive denials of human rights, arising out of aggression for any armed conflict with their tragic consequences, and resulting in untold human misery engender reactions which could engulf the world in ever growing hostilities. It is the obligation of the intemational community to co-operate in eradicating such scourges".

Principle VII of the Helsinki Agreement (1975), stipulates that: "The participating States will respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion".

Part 1, subsection (a) (Contacts and Regular Meeting on the Basis of Family Ties) contains the following decision: "In order to promote further development of contacts on the basis of family ties the participating States will favourably consider application to travel with the purpose of allowing persons to enter or leave their territory temporarily, and on regular basis if desired, in order to visit members of their families".

Subsection (b), (Reunification of Families) states: "The participating States will deal in a positive and humanitarian spirit with the applications of persons who wish to be reunited with members of their family, with special attention being given to requests of an urgent character — such as requests submitted by persons who are ill or old".


43 Eaton Place, London SW1 8BX

London 1989