I’ve just finished reading My Century by Aleksander Wat (Jewish-Polish communist poet who converted in the gulag to Catholicism, and forsook communism). The book is a long and deep interview of him by the Nobel Laureate Czeslaw Milosz. I think everyone in the group should read it - an extraordinary memoir of sorts by someone who really did combine a Jewish perspective, a lover of Poland, an insider’s understanding of communism, the deepest realisation of what communism actually was, and someone who experienced I think 13 jails before he was allowed to go back to Poland. He was in Lwow when he was arrested at roughly the same time our families were being deported. He saw and met with the survivors as they gathered in Kazakhstan, etc.
In terms of how some Poles weren’t deported from Lwow and other places, either in Feb 1940 or later during the war, nor again after the war when most of the Kresy was annexed into the Soviet Union, the book is helpful. As is something my father and aunts told me. It is clear that while the deportations and basically all communist activities were well planned and thoroughly executed, exceptions were made on the ground.
An example: my grandfather was amongst other things an advisor and mediator on law and legal disputes, often helping Ukrainians, Jews and Czechs as well as his fellow ethnic Poles. As a result when my father’s village were deported in virtually their entirety, at the next village the local Ukrainians stood shoulder to shoulder with their Polish neighbours and refused to allow the NKVD to take Poles from their homes. There were no reprisals and the Poles not only avoided Siberia but survived the killing of 1943-4 too. My aunt was told the Ukrainians did this because my grandfather had served those Ukrainians villagers over the years and they had therefore no animosity with Poles.
Aleksander Wat confirms this unexpected reality; that local actions or indeed the kindness or conscience of local Red Army or NKVD men meant that some orders were just not carried out. A kind of conscientious objection. So there was kindness and even love shown in the strangest of places, and I think this partly explains why Stalin’s plans for ethnic cleansing both in 1940 and in 1945-6 were not fully carried out.
I am sure there are many other reasons but this is a touching and humane one.
Author “For There is Hope”
“this astonishing poem.. a monument, a meditation a prayer and an epic. Should be on every coffee table where Poland is discussed and the brave dead remembered.” Neal Ascherson
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