Dear Mark and Barbara,
First, let me clarify that I was not Brit-bashing or even criticizing the British for the betrayal of Poland. I was deliberately specific and spoke of Churchill and Roosevelt by name because they are personally to blame along with a small cadre of their respective staff and political cronies. Just as we have taken pains not blame the Polish people for the crimes of a few individuals nor the Russian people for the crimes of the Soviet hierarchy, neither would I blame the British or the Americans for the betrayal by Churchill and Roosevelt. There are many examples of dissident British and Americans who denounced their own leadership for the wrongs done their Ally. Indeed, I have an impression that many British and American soldiers who fought side by side with Polish soldiers against the common foe were
disgusted by their politicians. Their honour code of "no man left behind" was broken big-time by those politicians in the abandonment of Poland.
Mark, you say, "I really fail to see how one can argue that the British "gave" Poland to Stalin...or even "agreed to give" it." Of course, I am saying no such thing though I have heard others say Churchill and Roosevelt "gave" Poland to Stalin or even "sold" Poland to Stalin. Poland was not theirs to give or sell to anyone. Sell down the river, yes - but that's different, isn't it?
So it is a misunderstanding to say, "John blames Churchill" for giving away Poland. John does blame Churchill for giving his approval - which again is different.
I wrote about them "giving approval to the 1939 boundary changes that Hitler had set up with his then-pal, Stalin." The point is not that they could not have done anything anyway, the point is that they deliberately and with full consideration gave their seal of
approval to boundary changes that had been conceived and effected by Hitler and Stalin. They used their considerable prestige as leaders of great democratic nations to legitimize the Hitler-Stalin border.
Mark, I think we are on substantial agreement on this point. You said it much more eloquently in your followup post: "... they could have protested ... the British Government did nothing. They could have complained but chose not to. Again, they could do nothing about it in real terms, but at least the protest would have been made for posterity."
The same phrases seem to answer your own question, "Certainly the British and US agreement made it legal on the world state (in not in fact de jure), but how would it have been any different if they had not agreed." Stalin might well have occupied the territory regardless, but the British and US agreement making it "legal" in their eyes does make it different.
They didn't have to do anything, they
didn't even have to threaten or "bluff". All they had to do was say that under their principles, maintaining the border where Stalin had set it with Hitler was wrong. They did the opposite, and proclaimed that the Hitler-Stalin deal was right.
Playing "what if" games is not my forte, and I don't pretend to offer alternatives other than standing up for principle. However, I was surprised when Churchill described in Chapter 5 of his book Triumph and Tragedy how desperately the Soviets reacted when the decision was taken to suspend convoys to the USSR after the winter of 1942-43 until more darkness returned in October 1943.
"It was natural that the Soviet government should look reproachfully at the suspension of the convoys, for which their armies hungered. On the evening of Sept. 21  Molotov sent for our ambassador in Moscow and asked for the sailings to be resumed. ... The Soviet government therefore insisted upon the urgent resumption of the
convoys and expected His Majesty's government to take all necessary measures within the next few days." If the Soviets were so desperate for Allied aid, it seems an opportunity for Churchill and the Allies to do some insisting of their own - that Poland's borders be restored to the time before Hitler and Stalin jointly partitioned the Allied country. Churchill gives no indication of this even being hinted, less say demanded, which reflects his attitude about the need to uphold treaty obligations.
Later in the same chapter, Churchill writes: "But Mr. Eden had serious complaints about the Russian treatment of our men, and I accordingly sent the following telegram to Stalin: 'It is a very great pleasure to me to tell you that we are planning to sail a series of four convoys to north Russia in November, December, January and February, each of which will consist of approximately 35 ships, British and American.' To avoid new charges of breach of faith from
the Soviet, if our efforts to help them proved vain, I inserted a safeguarding paragraph: 'However, I must put it on record that this is no contract or bargain, but rather a declaration of our solemn and earnest resolve. On this basis, I've ordered the necessary measures to be taken for the sending of these four convoys of 35 ships.' I then proceeded with our list of grievances about the treatment of our men in north Russia. 'The present numbers of our naval personnel are below what is necessary even for our present requirements, owing to them having to be sent home without relief. Your civil authorities have refused us all visas for men to go to north Russia, even to relieve those who are seriously overdue for relief. Mr. Molotov has pressed His Majesty's government to agree that the number of British personnel in north Russia should not exceed that of the Soviet personnel and trade delegations in this country. We have been unable to accept this
proposal since their work is quite dissimilar and the number of men needed for war operations cannot be determined in such an unpractical way. I must therefor ask you to agree to the immediate grant of visas for the additional personnel now required, and for your assurance that you will not in future withhold visas when we find it necessary to ask for them in connection with the assistance that we are giving you in north Russia. I emphasize that of about 170 naval personnel at present in the north, over 150 should have been relieved several months ago, but Soviet visas have been withheld. The state of health of these men, who are unaccustomed to the climatic and other conditions, makes it very necessary to relieve them without further delay. I must also ask your help in remedying the conditions under which our service personnel and seamen at present find themselves in north Russia. These men are, of course, engaged in operations against the enemy in our
joint interest and chiefly to bring Allied supplies to your country. They are, I am sure you will admit, in a wholly different position from ordinary individuals proceeding to Russian territory. Yet they are subjected by your authorities to the following restrictions, which seem to me inappropriate for men sent by an Ally to carry out operations of the greatest interest to the Soviet Union. (A) No one may land from one of HM's ships or from a British merchant ship except by a Soviet boat in the presence of a Soviet official and after examination of documents on each occasion. (B) No one from a British warship is allowed to proceed alongside a British merchantman without the Soviet authorities being informed beforehand. This even applies to the British admiral in charge. (C) British officers and men are required to obtain special passes before they can go from ship to shore or between two British shore stations. These passes are often much delayed with
consequent dislocation of the work in hand. (D) No stores, luggage or mail for this operational force may be landed except in the presence of a Soviet official, and numerous formalities are required for the shipment of all stores and mail. (E) Private service mail is subjected to censorship, although for an operational force of this kind, censorship should, in our view, be left in the hands of British service authorities. The imposition of these restrictions makes an impression upon officers and men alike which is bad for Anglo-Soviet relations, and would be deeply injurious if Parliament got to hear of it. The cumulative effect of these formalities has been most hampering to the efficient performance of the men's duties, and on more than one occasion to urgent and important operations. No such restrictions are placed upon Soviet personnel here. I trust, indeed, Mr. Stalin, that you will find it possible to have these difficulties smoothed out in a
friendly spirit so that we may help each other and the common cause to the utmost of our strength.' These were modest requests considering the efforts we were now to make."
This is an astounding admission in Churchill's own words that he put far more effort into improving the comfort of British personnel than in the lives and futures of an entire Allied people, the Poles. If he could hint at repercussions on the crucial convoys for such relatively trivial concerns as censorship inconvenience, what agreements might he have won on the Polish borders if he had made an effort of this magnitude on that account? He even could have used some of the same language: "These men [Polish soldiers] are, of course, engaged in operations against the enemy in our joint interest ... an impression upon officers and men alike which is bad for Anglo-[Polish-]Soviet relations, and would be deeply injurious if [the Poles] got to hear of it. I trust, indeed, Mr. Stalin,
that you will find it possible to have these difficulties smoothed out in a friendly spirit so that we may help each other and the common cause to the utmost of our strength." Stalin and Molotov must have laughed long and hard at the naive foolishness of Churchill, and probably noted that since he put so much effort into comfort questions compared to none on border questions, the latter were not something the Soviets really had to fear might impede the continued flow of Allied goods.
I also concur in Mark's assessment that, "Even at Teheran in 1943 more could have and should have been done." The decision to rubber-stamp the Hitler-Stalin border was effectively made at Teheran and there were only some details to iron out at Yalta, including how to word the shocking announcement of the betrayal of Poland to the world.
Regarding the latter-day confidence about Churchill merely acquiescing or being bullied into endorsing the Hitler-Stalin border, two
things pop to mind. One is his report about the First plenary meeting with Stalin in Teheran on Nov. 28, 1943: "Personally, I thought Poland might move westwards, like soldiers taking two steps left close."
Churchill is saying that he introduced the idea of the Polish borders being shifted westward.
Then on October 8, 1944 Churchill suggested to Stalin that the two should have an agreement on spheres of influence in Europe, calling his proposal a "naughty document". Poland was not specifically discussed, perhaps because Poland's fate had already been sealed at Teheran, but this shows that Churchill was by his own admission an architect of such deals rather than a weak cousin who just went along and did what he was told.
Mark, I also am intrigued by what you wrote in Chapter 4 of your superb thesis at http://www.angelfire.com/ok2/polisharmy/chapter4.html
"Churchill, of course, was aware of the nature of the Soviet Union but also how history
would judge his dealings with it. In a telegram to Smuts he wrote:
"Will it be said of me that I was so obsessed with the destruction of Hitlerism that I neglected to see the enemy rising in the East? Will this somehow be my epitaph on everything that I have done from the Blitz, the Battle of Britain and onwards?"
I don't know what date that telegram was sent, but it seems that Churchill had some pangs about his place in history, if not pangs of conscience, about his betrayal of Poland.
Barbara, this thesis of Mark's is but one example of why it is flattering but unhappily incorrect to group Mark and me in the same sentence when you are talking about learning and opinions. Clearly, I don't let my lack of education hold me back from speaking up and I hope you and everyone else feels no such restriction either. Most of us, certainly me, are here to learn. Airing my simple understanding is a terrific way to learn more thanks to the input of other
I was really happy to see your post and would never have described any of it as an "explosion of righteous indignation." Your message was so reasonable that I had to re-read it to see what you said that anyone would think you needed to apologize for, and I still don't get it.
Sault Ste Marie, Canada