POLISH–SOVIET DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS 1941-44

Aktobe Province

Aktobe Province, Kazakhstan taken from Wikipedia.

Urszula was charged with espionage and sentenced to 10 years hard labour due to her work as an Embassy Delegate. I wanted to understand the political situation that led to her false conviction and this blog is the result of my research. The official timeline is below, but Urszula, with the help of her friends on the ground, started providing relief to the destitute Poles arriving from the far north long before the official channels were up and running. She made demands on local authorities to provide food and shelter based on newspaper reports of Polish-Soviet agreements signed thousands of miles away. Her bluff worked and she was appointed Embassy Delegate for the Aktyubinsk (now Aktobe) Province, an area of over 300,000 sq km, about the size of the UK and Ireland combined.  There were 20 Delegates in total and she was one of only nine selected from representatives of the Polish deportees. She did her best in very difficult conditions and I will select passages from her embassy reports (found in the Sikorski Museum) for a future blog.

The earliest arrests of embassy staff that I have found recorded were in July 1942. However Urszula was arrested two months before this on 10th May 1942. She was released from the gulags 10 years later when she was sent into eternal exile in the small Siberian settlement of Dolgiy-Most.

POLITICAL TIMELINE

  • 22nd June 1941 The Germans attacked the USSR and made a rapid advance towards Moscow. Stalin quickly needed allies and was forced to negotiate with the Poles due to pressure from the UK and US.
  • 30th July 1941. The Polish-Soviet Agreement was signed whereby the Soviets recognised the Polish Government-in-exile based in London and released all the Poles held in the USSR. Ambassador Kot opened the Polish Embassy in Kuybyshev (now Samara) because Moscow was too close to the German front. According to a Soviet press release [1] the embassy opened 20 local offices with 421 delegates “to whom the local authorities rendered every assistance in their work”!!! (my exclamation marks). This 421 total must include the ‘Maz Zaufania’ (Men of Trust/Confidence) appointed by the Delegates to work in smaller communities. Local staff were entrusted to distribute cash, food and clothing to the released Poles wherever they could be found.
  • 19th July 1942. A protest note [2] was sent by the Polish Embassy in Kuybyshev to the Soviet Government over the closure of 8 local offices. The Charge D’affaires limits himself “to protesting against the action of the Soviet authorities in closing down the Embassy’s relief organization; and to insist that the Delegates and their staffs who have been arrested be immediately set free”.
  • October 1942. By this time 109 Delegates and their staff had been arrested. Subsequently 93 were released, leaving 16 either dead or in prison. [3]. There is a surprising story by Norbert Kant [4], a Man of Trust not arrested until Sep 1943. (Should this be 1942?) Following a long interrogation over many days and nights Norbert became so tired that he agreed to write a false confession. The NKGB colonel deemed it very unconvincing, checked the basis for his arrest, and had him released. A very lucky man!
  • 16th Jan 1943. The Supreme Soviet ordered local authorities to take over all Polish welfare institutions. Soviet passports were compulsorily issued to persons of Polish nationality who had been living in the eastern districts of the Second Republic which the Soviets incorporated on November 1-2, 1939. Only persons living in central and western regions of Poland before the war were recognized as Polish citizens.
  • 13th April 1943. What little concord existed between the Poles and Soviets deteriorated soon after the Germans announced the discovery of a mass grave in the Katyn forest.
  • 25th April 1943. Complete breakdown of diplomatic relations. Tadeusz Romer, Ambassador since late 1942, left the USSR.
  • 22nd May 1943. An Australian Legation took over the representation of Polish interests, but were obstructed at every point by the Soviet authorities. They were strictly limited by the new definition of Poles as defined by the Soviet Government in Jan 1943 (descibed above). What little aid they were able to send out was often intercepted and distributed by the communist Union of Polish Patriots in a move to gain favour with the Polish communities. Their biggest success was organizing the evacuation of 310 children and 8 staff out of the USSR. Even with this success, despite their best efforts, 17 staff and children were left behind in prison.
  • August 1944. The Australians were replaced by the Polish National Liberation Committee (PKWN, all communists controlled by the Soviets) and Poland became a prawn of the Soviets.

[1] Press release on 6th May 1943 by Mr. A. Y Vyshinsky, Assistant People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs of the USSR.

[2] Note of July 19, 1942, from Mr Sokolnicki, charge D’affaires of the Polish Embassy in Kuybyshev, to Mr. A. J. Vyshinsky, deputy chairman of the council of people’s commissars, on the unilateral decision to close the offices of various delegates and the arrest of Polish Embassy Delegates in the USSR.

[3] p111 Deportation and Exile by K. Sword.

[4] Extermination by Norbert and Anna Kant, reviewed on DerekCrowe.com

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