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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » September 30, 2009
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Soviet Invasion of Sept. 17, 1939, and its Consequences
September 30, 2009   
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On Sept. 17, the Red Army, with up to 650,000 soldiers and over 5,000 tanks, invaded Poland from the east, fulfilling its obligations stemming from the secret protocol to the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact. The official pretext was presented in a diplomatic note delivered to Polish diplomats in Moscow. The note referred to "the disintegration of the Polish state, the escape of the Polish government, the need to protect the property and lives of Ukrainians and Belarusians living in eastern Poland and free Polish people from war." Soviet historical materials still refer to the Soviet invasion of Poland as "assistance to the people of western Ukraine and western Belarus who asked in September 1939 to be incorporated into the Soviet Union due to the disintegration of the Polish bourgeois state."

Poland's Commander-in-Chief Edward Rydz-¦migły issued a directive instructing Polish units not to engage in fighting with Soviet forces.

Polish soldiers fought against the invaders only sporadically, when the commanders of individual units refused to obey the directive issued by Rydz-¦migły. Historians estimate the number of Polish soldiers killed in direct battles at around 2,500 while a total of 230,000 were taken prisoner. A particularly cruel fate was in store for around 23,000 Polish officers detained by the Red Army, most of whom in the spring of 1940 were murdered in the Katyn Forest and at other mass execution sites on the orders of the most senior Soviet authorities.

The Soviets also started a carefully planned operation of displacements, persecution, transportation to Soviet concentration camps and murder of elite Polish social groups including the intelligentsia, state officials and artists.

By June 1942, when the war between Germany and the Soviet Union began, an estimated 1 million Polish citizens had suffered as a direct result of Soviet repression. At least 30,000 people, including the victims of the Katyn massacre, had been shot and another 70,000 died in Gulag camps.

The German attack on the Soviet Union did not put an end to the repression. Retreating units of the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD, or secret police) had been ordered by NKVD chief Lavrentiy Beria to kill all Polish political prisoners. The Soviet Union seized an area of over 190,000 square kilometers of Polish territory inhabited by around 13 million people. At the end of the war, the Allies formally sanctioned the Soviet gains at conferences in Yalta and Potsdam. Poland, which was left in the sphere of Soviet domination, received "historical compensation" in the form of lands that were part of eastern Germany before the war.
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