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Chapter IV

The Ander's Polish Army

The Soviet Union attacked Poland on September 17,1939, while Germany had been hammering away at Poland since September 1, 1939. The Soviet Union entered the war without even a formal declaration of war. After 20 days of fighting, Poland collapsed. German and Soviet forces proceeded to the previously agreed lines of divided Poland according to the secret Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, signed on 23 August 1939.

The Red Army, which vastly outnumbered the Polish defenders, achieved its objectives

 

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Polish prisoners of war being led into Soviet captivity

 

rapidly and took some 230,000 Polish prisoners of war. In November 1939 the Soviet government annexed the entire Polish territory under its control. Some 13.5 million Polish citizens who fell under the military occupation were converted into new Soviet subjects. The move was approved by popular elections managed by the Communist Party, the secret police and the army. Of course, the vote was overwhelmingly in favor of joining the Soviet Union. Then, the Soviets launched a campaign of ethnic cleansing that began with a wave of arrests and summary executions of officers, policemen and priests. Over the next year and a half, the Soviets sent hundreds of thousands of people from eastern Poland to Siberia and other remote parts of the Soviet Union.

 

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Władysław Eugeniusz Sikorski, Prime Minister of the Polish government in exile and commander in chief of the Polish military forces in the West

 

The Polish government severed all contacts with the Soviet government. The Poles established a Polish government in exile in Poland that received recognition from Britain, France and the United States. This Polish government was bitterly opposed to the Soviet Union for what it did to Poland. Britain pressured the Polish government to begin to talk to the Soviets. The Allies wanted a united front against Germany. The Poles had to bend a bit to Allied pressure. After long internal debates, the Polish government in exile decided to talk to the Soviets. The head of the Polish government in exile, General Władysław Eugeniusz Sikorski, was in favor of these negotiations.

Władysław Eugeniusz Sikorski was born May 20, 1881. He was a Polish military and political leader. Prior to the First World War, Sikorski established and participated in several underground organizations that promoted the cause of the independence of Poland from the Russian Empire. He fought with distinction in the Polish Legions during the First World War, and later in the newly created Polish Army during the Polish–Soviet War of 1919 to 1921. In that war he played a prominent role in the decisive Battle of Warsaw (1920). During the Second World War, Sikorski became Prime Minister of the Polish government in exile, Commander–in–Chief of the Polish Armed Forces, and a vigorous advocate of the Polish cause in the diplomatic sphere. He supported the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Poland and the Soviet Union, which had been severed after the Soviet pact with Germany and the 1939 invasion of Poland. However, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin broke off Soviet–Polish diplomatic relations in April 1943 following Sikorski's request that the International Red Cross investigate the Katyń Forest massacre.

Sikorski wanted to get some benefits for the captive Polish population in the Soviet Union. He did not trust Stalin but knew that he had no choice in the matter. Sikorsk was also the head of the Polish military forces in the West, including ground troops and some air force and naval units that fought alongside the British forces. He knew that the Soviets held large numbers of Polish prisoners of war and he hoped to reactivate them into a fighting Polish force. He knew that negotiations with the Soviets would be hard because both sides approached the matter with suspicions and were forced into it by the Allies. Sikorski favored rapid discussions in the diplomatic sphere between Poland and the Soviet Union and hoped to establish diplomatic relations between Poland and the Soviet Union. He flew to the Soviet Union and signed the Sikorski–Mayski Agreement of July 30, 1941 that resulted in the Soviet Union agreeing to invalidate the territorial aspects of the pacts it had with Nazi Germany and to release tens of thousands of Polish prisoners of war held in Soviet camps. Pursuant to the agreement between the Polish government–in exile and the Soviet Union, the Soviets granted "political amnesty" to all Polish citizens in the Soviet Union. All these former so–called enemies of the Soviet Union could now reside everywhere in the Soviet Union. They could also enlist in the Polish Army, which would fight alongside the Red Army against Germany. A Polish embassy was established in the city of Kuybishev and Professor Stanislaw Kot was appointed Polish ambassador. He immediately set out to organize the necessary machinery to establish Polish centers throughout the Soviet Union whose main function was to locate and register Polish citizens in the Soviet Union.[1] Most of the appointed directors of the Polish branches in the Soviet Union were Poles in spite of the fact that Polish Jews constituted a sizable portion of the Polish population in the Soviet Union. Some “tokenism” or Jewish appointments were made in minor capacities. According to Professor Bauer, about 230,000 Polish Jews resided in the Soviet Union during the war and 175,000 of these Jews returned to Poland following World War II.[2] These figures were ignored by the Polish administration in the Soviet Union when it came to important positions. Of course, there was always a Polish Jew in some position who could be displayed to the press, especially the American press, indicating full Jewish participation in the Polish administration in the Soviet Union.

On August 4, 1941, Stalin released from the Lubianka prison in Moscow Polish General Władysław Anders. The general was dressed in his full military Polish military uniform and was assigned new quarters. On August 14, 1941 a military agreement was signed between Poland and the Soviet Union that attempted to specify the political and operational conditions for the functioning of the Polish Army on Soviet soil. Stalin agreed that this force would be subordinate to the officers of the Polish and Soviet armies during winter exercises of 1941. On August 17, 1941 Sikorski appointed Anders to head the Polish army that was being formed in the Soviet Union. General Anders issued the first command on August 22, 1941.

 

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General Władysław Albert Anders

 

Władysław Albert Anders was a general in the Polish Army and later in life a politician and prominent member of the Polish government in exile. Anders was born on August 11, 1892, to his father Albert Anders and mother Elizabeth (maiden name Tauchert) in the village of Krośniewice–Błonie, 60 miles west of Warsaw, in what was then a part of the Russian Empire. Both his parents were of Baltic–German origin and he was baptized as a member of the Protestant Evangelical–Augsburg Church in Poland Anders had three brothers, Karol, Tadeusz and Jerzy, all of whom also went on to pursue careers in the military. With Polish independence in November 1918, he joined the Polish Army and would serve it until the end of World War Two.

General Władysław Anders appointed, General Michał Tokarzewski to begin the task of forming the Polish Army in the Soviet Union. General Tokarzewski received the military base at Buzuluk where he set up headquarters and staff for the Polish Army. Another divisional camp was opened at at Tatishtyevo and one at Tock.[3] These camps began to receive many Polish recruits who were given physical examinations and if passed were recruited to the army. They came from all over the Soviet Union, especially from the labor camps, the “gulags” and the prisoner of war camps. At first the Polish army accepted all arrivals following a medical test. As the organization of the army proceeded, unwritten orders were issued to limit severely the acceptance of Jews to the Polish army. As a matter of fact, platoons that had a high percentage of Jews were ordered to undergo further medical which eliminated the Jewish soldiers. The rejected soldiers were chased out of the Polish camp and left to fend for themselves. Yeshayahu and Aaron Drucker arrived at the base and were immediately escorted to the medical office. Both failed the medical tests and were escorted out of the camp. They were not the only ones, it seemed that most of the Jews from their camp were rejected while the non–Jewish Polish candidates were accepted. The cleansing of the Polish army was in full swing. Very few Jews were accepted into the army, most of them were needed professionals like doctors, lawyers or Jews with excellent connections like Menachem Begin, leader of the Polish Jewish Betar or revisionist Zionist youth movement. The sizable number of rejects were standing and milling about outside the Polish camp when Soviet troops stationed in the vicinity arrived and began to chase them out of the area to the nearby city, of Syktyvkar, capital city of the Komi Soviet Republic,[4] Yeshayahu was a free man but with no job or place of work. He also did not have papers permitting him to stay in the area. He had a paper indicating that he was going to the Polish Army base, which was no longer the case. Both Drucker brothers eventually found work as tractor technicians. Aaron was really a handy mechanic. The wages that they earned did not permit them to live so they started to remove gasoline from the tractors and sell it on the black market. They also stole tin with which they repaired cooking utensils. These illegal activities enabled them to survive.

The radical change in the drafting procedure of the Polish Army occurred after Anders saw the statistics of enlistments, according to which 60% of the recruits were Polish Jews.[5] Ambassador Kot estimated that only 40% of the original recruits were Jews.[6] Both leaders decided to adopt drastic measures to reduce the number of Jewish Polish soldiers. Some were ordered to appear before new medical boards that failed them. Others were assigned to non–existing units that were later discharged. New Jewish recruits were automatically disbarred from service unless they were badly needed or had stature, such as Menachem Begin, leader of the Polish Revisionist Zionist party. Various excuses were given for this blatant anti–Semitic behavior, such as the Jews are softies, they are not Polish patriots, or the Soviets released the Jews from the camps before the Poles.[7] The Polish command permitted these stories to circulate throughout the Polish Army without taking effective steps to stop the rumors or the discriminatory practices. As time went on, fewer and fewer Polish Jews volunteered for service with the Anders Army. Most of the Jewish soldiers in the Anders Army were treated miserably and some endured living hell.

Below is a description of a Polish Jewish soldier named Meir Lustgarten who managed to hang on in the Anders Army[8] The testimony is not a pleasant page in Polish military history.

“I was accepted into the army without any difficulty. During the first stage of organization, many Jews presented themselves for enlistment. In the beginning, they were accepted without any difficulties and there was, in fact, a Jewish majority in the army. This naturally did not please the Poles who sought ways of getting rid of the Jews, or at the very least, of limiting the percentage of Jews accepted into the army. The Polish Command thus ordered all soldiers to appear before a medical board. During the examination, most of the Jews were marked grade ‘D' for physical fitness and were released from the service. This occurred at the outset of the winter of 1941–42. Men were freezing from the cold and were nevertheless released. The Polish Army remained free of Jews – judenrein as the Germans put it. From then on, Jews were not accepted into the Polish Army – only Poles were accepted”.

The Soviets and the Poles disagreed on many military and administrative issues. The Soviets finally decided to let the Polish Army leave the Soviet Union. The first major transports took place in March–April 1942 that consisted of 44,000 people, 31,500 soldiers and 12,500 civilians.[9] Other major departures took place during August– September 1942, when 70,000 people left the Soviet Union, 45,000 soldiers and 25,000 civilians. The total number of evacuated Polish military men was about 76,500, and the total number of civilians reached 37,500. Most Poles left the Soviet Union by train to the port city of Krsnovodsk on the Caspian Sea where they sailed to the port city of Pahlevi in Iran.[10]

The harassment of Jewish Polish soldiers continued even during the evacuation. Below is a report submitted by the Polish captain Dowiaglo who was responsible for the transport.

This is what he wrote[11]

“Before the first units of the Polish Army left Russia, that is on 22nd March, 1942, 300 Jews of ‘A’ classification who had been examined by a Russian health board since the Polish committee was no longer functioning were sent by the voyenkomat (the Soviet War Office) to the place where the division was stationed. However, (the Poles) ordered them to return to their points of departure. Some of the Jews requested N.K.V.D. intervention and this in turn asked the Polish authorities why these men were not being issued with uniforms and why they were being sent back. The Polish authorities replied that they did not have enough railroad cars to transport them. The N.K.V.D. immediately supplied cars and faced with this fact (the Poles) took them to Persia but did not provide them with uniforms. At the port of Pahlevi, all the Jews that were not in uniform were told that they were free to go. Several Jews then approached the British authorities and asked them to intervene and it was only by command of the British authorities that they were all issued with uniforms and inducted into the army”.

The cruelty exposed by the report is beyond words. How could officers treat their co– citizens in such a manners? The Polish Jews were lucky that the Soviet NKVD officers refused to co–operate with the Polish anti–Jewish games and forced them to accept the Jews. Even the British authorities in Iran refused to accept the Polish anti–human games. Of course, the Poles blamed everybody for the low number of Jews among the evacuees: the British put pressure on them not to bring too many Jews to the Middle East and the Soviets did not want to let the Jews go[12]. Everybody was at fault except the Polish Army that managed to achieve whatever it wanted. The Anders Polish Army had between 3,500 to 4,000 Jewish Polish soldiers. This token figure General Anders managed to get from an estimated Jewish Polish population of about 200,000 that resided in the Soviet Union during the war years.[13] The Jewish military force represented 5% of the total military force of Anders. He also evacuated about 2,500 Jewish civilians. Following the second major evacuation, the Soviet Union stopped all further discussions about sending Poles that remained in the country. Even some Polish generals, including Zygmund Berling, remained in the Soviet Union. The Soviets did permit Polish orphanages to send their children to Iran, among them the famous transport of Jewish orphans nicknamed the Children of Teheran.

 

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Jewish children from Teheran, Iran, arrive in Palestine

 

The historic irony of the entire Anders Polish Army was the fact that they landed in Palestine among the Jews. The latter did not receive them with open arms for the stories of the Polish behavior to the Jewish soldiers was well known and well described. The number of Jewish soldiers in Anders Army in Palestine soon melted down to about a thousand soldiers who chose to serve the Polish Army to the end of the war.[14]


Footnotes

  1. Gutman, Israel, Jews in General Anders Polish Army in the Soviet Union, Reprint from Yad Vashem Studies, Vol XII, Jerusalem, 1977, p. 234 Return
  2. Bauer Yehuda, Flight and Rescue , Random House, USA , 1970,p.124 Return
  3. Gutman, p. 234. Return
  4. Drucker, Testimony, p. 23 Return
  5. Gutman p.236 Return
  6. Gutman p.236 Return
  7. Gutman p.238 Return
  8. Gutman p. 241 Return
  9. Return
  10. Return
  11. Sarner, Anders' p. p.118 Return
  12. Sarner, Anders' p. p.118 Return
  13. Bauer Flight, p.125 Return
  14. Gutman, p. 285 Return

 

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