65th Anniversary of the Mass Deportations of Polish
On Sunday, February 20, 2005 the Polish Community of
Edmonton gathered at the Holy Rosary Roman Catholic Church to
commemorate the 65th anniversary of the mass deportations of
Polish citizens from eastern Poland. The solemn ceremony
commenced with the celebration of the Holy Mass, and concluded
with the dedication of a memorial plaque to the victims of the
Poland was invaded on September 1, 1939 by Nazi Germany. On
September 17, 1939, while the Polish nation struggled
desperately and alone against the might of Nazi Germany, the
Soviets, having concluded the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
with the Nazis Ally only a short week before, delivered the
treacherous blow from the east. The Western Allies declared
war on Germany but offered only moral support. Purges, terror,
murder and mass deportations followed Poland’s defeat.
On February 10, 1940 during severely cold weather (the
temperature dipped to minus 40C that night), 110 cattle
trains, each carrying 2000 people, transported 220,000 victims
--mostly women and children, to various hostile destinations
in the USSR. Deportations followed in April and June 1940, and
continued until June 22, 1941 when Germany attacked the USSR.
By that time close to two million Polish citizens were
condemned to the remote areas of northern Russia, Siberia,
Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and other remote locations of the vast
The conditions of the “human cargo” jammed in the cattle
cars defies description. Deprived of food, heat and the most
basic sanitary conditions, thousands perished during the
trips. Thousands more died shortly after arrival. The trains
did not stop to allow for proper religious burials. The
victims were simply tossed out as the death trains rolled
onward to their destinations.
The clergy was not among the women and children. They,
along with officers, professionals, and others, were arrested
in the autumn and winter of 1939 and executed in cold blood.
Thousands of remains were found. Each had their hands tied
behind their back and a bullet in the back of their skull.
Some were buried in the mass graves of Kharkov, Tver, the
Katyn forest (4421 bodies), Ostashkov (6311), and Starobielsk
(3820). Thousands of others perished in remote sites, some
still unknown. Most of the victims were officers, professors,
teachers, doctors, diplomats, civil servants and religious
leaders. Of the two million deportees only 554,000 were alive
and accounted for by 1945.
In June 1941 when Germans turned against their Soviet Ally,
Stalin declared an “amnesty” for the Poles. To the innocent
victims the word “amnesty” was a sham, for their only crime
was their Polish citizenship. Thousands of deportees, walking
skeletons, were released from the Gulag and the slave labour
camps. As they trekked toward freedom across thousands of
kilometers of the barren Siberian taigas and steppes,
thousands died of the cold, disease and malnutrition. Buried
in unmarked mass graves, they remain there, forgotten by all
but their loved ones.
In 1943, the advancing German army announced the discovery
of the mass graves in the Katyn forest (West Belarus). The
Stalinist regime blamed the Germans for the atrocity. The
Polish Government in Exile asked for an investigation by the
International Red Cross. The Russians refused. Successive
Soviet regimes perpetuated the lie for 50 years. The British
Government kept silent for decades, and, indeed, strongly
discouraged the Poles making representations or speaking about
it. By 1993, the Russian Government, now democratically
elected, finally admitted the crime and issued a formal
Under the leadership of the Polish Government in exile
based in London, with the support of the friendly British, the
Polish Free Forces were being organized. The leader was
General Wladyslaw Anders, just released from Soviet prison.
The exodus to Iran, Iraq, and Palestine followed. The newly
formed Polish Army joined thousands of their compatriots who
found their way to the UK after Poland’s defeat in 1939.
A formidable fighting machine, the Polish Free Forces
constituted the fourth largest contingent of the Western
Allies. They fought in the air, on sea and land and
distinguished themselves on many fronts: The battle of
Britain, Narvik, Tobruk, Ancona, Bologna, Monte Cassino,
Holland, Belgium and other points on the Western Europe. The
less fortunate Poles, who did not leave with General Anders,
were organized by the Soviets into Polish divisions and fought
on the Eastern front under the Russian Command.
The Polish organized resistance, in occupied Poland, was
the largest in Europe. Poland, an exception in the
German-occupied Europe, did not have a Quisling government.
All the efforts by the occupiers to form a collaborative
government failed. In German-occupied Poland, hiding, aiding
or providing food to a Jew was punished by executing the whole
family. This was not the case in the western European Nazi
occupied countries. Despite that, thousands were saved.
German-occupied Poland was the only country in Europe that had
an organization solely dedicated to saving of
Jews from the infamous ghettos. It was known as
“Zegota” and it was instrumental in savings
thousands of lives. On a per capita basis Poland lost more
citizens than any other country, over six million of its
citizens dead, half of the Jewish faith, at the hands of the
The end of hostilities in May 1945 found hundreds of
thousands of Polish deportees with no place to go. Their homes
in the former eastern Poland were given away at the Yalta,
Teheran and Potsdam conferences--Roosevelt and Churchill ever
so willing to accommodate Stalin’s ambitions at the “First
Poland lay in ruins, totally devastated. Return, to many of
the deportees, meant imprisonment, deportation or death.
Poland, the “first ally”, lost one third of its territory
and was confined to the Soviet sphere of influence from which
it did not emerge until 1989. To add insult to injury, the
British Government, ever so sensitive not to offend good old
“Uncle Joe Stalin”, did not invite the Poles to the Victory
Parade in London. So they watched sadly from the sidelines, as
others, representing dozens of countries, some with only
symbolic contribution to the war effort, marched by.
Thousands of Polish deportees eventually found their way to
Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand, UK, South America and
other friendly countries. There are thousands of former
deportees, their children and grandchildren in Alberta and
Canada. They are grateful and proud Canadians contributing in
every field of human endeavor. For many of the deportees, who
are now in their seventies and eighties, the escape from the
living hell of the Stalinist Soviet Union is still considered
a miracle. On Sunday February 20th, 2005 they sadly
commemorated the deaths of their loved ones, thanked God for
their deliverance, and prayed that no one, ever again, will
suffer such cruel inhumanity.
William Chodkiewicz, Janina
Edmonton's Polish Community wishes to express its profound
gratitude to Mr. Garry Kokolski, owner of
Edmonton Granite Memorials, for the designing and donating of
the Memorial Plaque commemorating the 65th Anniversary of the
mass deportations of Polish citizens.