I wonder if terms might be contributing to a lot of confusion, and not just in this forum.
Writing on a related topic here recently, I felt twisted into knots trying to distinguish between Polish (citizenship) and Polish (ethnicity). Now, I am starting to think it might help keep everything straight if we were to discard the "ethnicity" definition and use "Polish" to describe citizenship exclusively.
All the people of the Kresy were Polish until late in 1945, when the puppets installed in Warsaw by Stalin signed over the lands and many of the people to the Soviets. When they came under Soviet occupation in September 1939 and some denounced their neighbours to the Soviets, it was a case of Poles denouncing Poles. These were Polish traitors and collaborators.
If we allow them to be defined as
non-Poles, but rather Ukrainians (no such country at the time), Belorussians (ditto) or Jews (ditto), then they and their heirs and apologists can argue that they were not traitors collaborating with an invading enemy but rather model citizens of an expanded Soviet Union even if that was not yet recognized by anyone but themselves, Stalin, Hitler and their henchmen. They can claim they were not sending their fellow Polish citizens to immediate or slow death and were not stealing from fellow Polish citizens, but rather acting as good new Soviet citizens helping round up people sympathetic to the "former" Polish regime who were enemies of the new overlords, and were simply appropriating just rewards by taking property that had belonged to those enemies.
For some time I have been amazed at how strongly many people in the West, in addition to the Soviets, hang on to the mistaken notion that the Kresy became part of the USSR in 1939 and remained so
until dissolution, except for a brief period of occupation by the Germans in 1941-44. The only reason I could think of was a sort of momentum among even some historians who were simply repeating what they had been taught by an earlier generation. The origin was clear, the Soviets seeking to make the world forget that the land grab was done in partnership with Hitler. The West eagerly fell in step and worked hard to hide the betrayal of an Ally at Teheran/Yalta by doing such things as adopting "Curzon Line" to describe the new border and hide that it was the Molotov-Ribbentrop Line as initialed by Hitler and Stalin and now approved by Churchill and Roosevelt. The distortions seemed to prove Goebbels correct in his assertion that a lie repeated long enough becomes truth.
Now, I wonder if the need to rehabilitate the Polish traitors who collaborated with the invading Soviets is an even stronger motivator. It is simplest to define them as
non-Poles and claim that they were good Soviet citizens helping their own Soviet authorities with the denunciations and appropriations.
If it is ever necessary at all to make distinctions (which seems doubtful), I wonder if that might be more appropriately done by referring to religion rather than "ethnicity" or mother tongue. While still a minefield, this at least would avoid the constant confusion about what is meant by Polish. Using this language we would talk about Roman Catholic Poles, Greek Catholic Poles, Orthodox Christian Poles, Jewish Poles, Moslem Poles and others, including people who did not identify with any religion at all but were simply Poles.
Certainly, the invading Soviets preferred to divide the conquered population by "ethnicity". But Polish authorities continued to regard all residents of the Kresy as Polish, regardless of parentage or religion or language. Thus when the "amnesty" was granted in 1941, many of
the Polish people who sought to exit the USSR were denied by the Soviets based on ethnic/religious background while Polish authorities insisted all those Kresy residents who had been uprooted from their homes were Polish. It is no surprise that the Soviets twisted it around and blamed their own restrictive definitions on the Polish authorities, but we know the Soviet distortions to be untrue - all manner of Poles escaped to Persia with the help of the Polish authorities, not just Roman Catholic Poles.
Adopting correct terminology might help fight the canard still being advanced to this day, that the Kresy was not legitimately part of Poland because "Poles" were a minority in that territory. (Incidentally, even by that logic the Soviet claim to the territory would be overwhelmingly weaker than the Polish claim since there were virtually no Soviets or Russians in the lands while the "Poles" were the single largest minority - but that does not
seem to occur to latter-day supporters of the USSR vs. Poland.)
In fact, all the residents of the Kresy were made Polish in 1921 by the Treaty of Riga. They kept their various different religious affiliations and spoke their own languages at home, but they were all Polish and Poland's claim to the Kresy was totally legitimate.
All that being said, I am not sure how to reconcile this approach with pride in my ancestors who held on to their self-definition as Polish through the 123 years of partition when there was no Poland on the map of Europe. Yes, immigration authorities often labelled them Austrian, Russian or Prussian depending on their place of departure, but they resolutely thought of themselves as Polish. Is there a parallel pride for people who thought of
themselves as Ukrainian or Belorussian or Jewish even though they were Polish citizens?
This concept of citizenship and religion (rather than ethnicity or language) in the Kresy is new to me, and I advance it here only as a notion, a sort of work in progress that needs a lot more thought and analysis. I would be grateful for guidance to any sources that have already tackled it.
One thing that I am very confident about is the central theme of Stefan's message: people are people in every
community or group, no matter how you choose to define it. There are heroic ones and there are monsters in every population, and most of us fit somewhere nearer the middle of that spectrum. Trying to define any group by its heroes or monsters would be a monumental mistake and I'm heartened that no one here has moved in that direction.
Sault Ste Marie, Canada
From: "stefan.wisniowski@..." <stefan.wisniowski@...>
Sent: Saturday, January 26, 2013 5:25:03 AM
Subject: RE: [www.Kresy-Siberia.org] Re: NEIGHBOURS ON THE EVE OF THE HOLOCAUST (1939-1941)
It can not be denied that many of the ethnically non-Polish residents of Kresy sided against the ethnically Polish residents during the war.
There were also national groups who organised and committed terrible atrocities and war crimes. Nazi-ruled Germany and its forces was one. Communist-ruled USSR/Russia and its forces was another. The Ukrainian Insurgent Army ("UPA") and its forces were a third. All three dispossessed and killed innocent civilians mercilessly in pursuing their geo-political aims.
However, this is a good time to remind members that our Kresy-Siberia group values do not tolerate prejudicial biases to be expressed against any religious or ethnic groups. There were good Poles and bad Poles, good Ukrainians and bad Ukrainians, good Russians and bad Russians, good Germans and bad Germans, good Jews and bad Jews.... it is also a fact that the Polish citizens who were most persecuted by the Soviets, Germans and Ukrainian Nationalists were ethnically Polish and ethnically Jewish.
It is a fine line we must walk, and walk it finely we must.