Yapou: Governments in Exile, 1939-1945
[Return to Table of Contents]
Chapter 2 – POLAND
The Polish Eagle
In Hospitable London, National Unity and Two Policies – The July Crisis – Churchill and Sikorski– The Polish Army Rebuilt – De Gaulle and Sikorski– Polish Aspiration to "Bloc" Leadership – "The Committee of Foreign Ministers" – Eden and Sikorski–Negotiations with Maisky – The Polish-Soviet Treaty Contested – Stalin and Sikorski– The Anders Army Leaves Russia – The "Polish Underground State"– The Soviets Refuse to Cooperate – The British-Soviet Treaty– The Polish Frontier Issue By-Passed – Beneš and Sikorski–Rise and Fall of Polish-Czechoslovak Confederation Plan – Polish Absence from Teheran– "Riga Line" versus "Curzon Line" – The Red Army Enters Poland– Mikolajczyk’s Government Resigns – The Tragedy of the Warsaw Uprising– Lack of Advance Coordination – The Helplessness of the Big Three– The Underground Army Abandoned to Its Fate – "Government of National Protest" versus the Warsaw "Government of National Unity"
A break with the disastrous policies of the past, while ensuring the continuity of the Polish State under occupation, marked the tragic Polish regime in exile. After overcoming political and diplomatic upheavals in Paris, the Polish government in exile established its headquarters at Angers with a conservative, Wladislaw Raczkiewicz, as President and General Wladislaw Sikorski, an opponent of the pre-war regime, as Prime Minister. Throughout the Phony War, while building a new Polish army to fight in France, the Angers government entertained the illusion of the impregnability of the Maginot line. Before the German advance, the French government moved to Bordeaux while Sikorski paid a lightning visit to Churchill. Their historic “handshake” consecrated Anglo-Polish cooperation in the war and the transfer of the Polish army to Britain. “Germany was dangerous to the body of Poland while Russia was dangerous to the Polish soul” remained the government’s dominating philosophy. When Sikorski reached Bordeaux, discussions with the French seemed completely useless. Within hours he was in London with Winston Churchill, from whom he requested on June 18, 1940, the transfer of the Polish armed forces to Britain. As he reported to the Polish leadership on his return to Bordeaux, Churchill said to him: “Tell your army in France that we are their comrades in life and death. We shall conquer together or we shall die together.” The two Prime Ministers shook hands. “That handshake,” Sikorski told his President and Foreign Minister August Zaleski, “meant more to me than any signed treaty of alliance or any pledged word.”
In Hospitable London, National Unity and Two Policies [top]
In the year that passed between its establishment in England and Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, the Polish government in exile completed the organization of its institutions, reassembled its army, took stock of Poland’s position in both internal and external affairs and consolidated its position at the side of Great Britain. Polish squadrons participated in the Battle of Britain, and other units joined in the fighting in the Middle East, the Western Desert, Greece and Norway.
The government had hardly reached London when internal dissension, which had bedeviled Polish political life ever since the country regained its independence in 1919, broke out. The “national unity” regime born in Paris symbolized the continuity of the Polish State – but it was continuity in the legal sense, not in the political one. Politically speaking, there could be no continuation of the disastrous pre-war authoritarian regime of the “Colonels” nor of the policies that led Poland to the abyss. There had to be a break with the past, but in the prevailing circumstances this could only be partially achieved. A bi-political regime was established. On the one hand it included Sikorski, who combined the functions of Prime Minister and Commander-in-Chief, thus putting an end to the Pilsudski tradition that the government had no say in military affairs. Furthermore, the Sikorski government was to consist of a coalition of the four main political parties, three of which had been in opposition inside and outside Poland for years; the extreme Pilsudskists and the Communists were excluded. The other face of the regime was Wladislaw Raczkiewicz, himself a moderate Pilsudski supporter, surrounded by some die-hard politicians and military leaders. A clash between the two sides was inevitable.
This became evident on 21 June, 1940, when General Sikorski failed to appear at Paddington Station, where King George VI met Raczkiewicz and his party who had landed only that morning from the British cruiser which had evacuated them from Bordeaux. This clash somewhat unexpectedly revolved around the “two enemies” policy – ;namely hostility to both Germany and Russia, which in London was considered an issue to be decided only at a later stage in the war. Raczkiewicz and Zaleski suspected Sikorski from the start of being lukewarm on this issue and of trying to leave the door open to eventual bargaining with Moscow. They knew that during an earlier visit to London from Angers, Sikorski had told British friends that if the Riga frontier between the USSR and Poland could not fully be restored, Poland would consider the possibility of a territorial arrangement at the expense of vanquished Germany. As long as this could be considered a theoretical question these views were tolerated by Sikorski’s opponents, but on reaching London they learned of certain steps Sikorski had already taken with a view to establishing contact with the Russians, and a crisis ensued.
Sikorski’s initiative, which was largely an improvisation, arose following conversations between the London representative of the Soviet news agency Tass, Andrew Rothstein, and the correspondent of the Polish News Agency, Stefan Litauer, both long-time observers of the London political scene. They envisaged the creation of a Polish army three hundred thousand strong in eastern Poland, then under Soviet occupation, in cooperation with the Polish government in London. The idea was that once the unavoidable clash between Germany and Russia occurred, Polish forces linked to the Polish government in exile would be ready to join in what would become a common Polish-Soviet struggle against Germany. The moment appeared ripe for such negotiations as Sir Stafford Cripps, Britain’s newly-appointed Ambassador to the Soviet Union, was about to leave for Moscow. It was thought that the Polish government could appoint a Polish officer to the British mission to serve unofficially as an observer for the implementation of the project.
Sikorski broached the subject with Churchill and Lord Halifax on June 18, 1940, the very morrow of his arrival from France and the following day handed a note with an outline of the idea to the Foreign Secretary. The note started by declaring that the Polish government, considering “the defeat of Germany as the principal object of the war,” was “determined to spare no effort to improve the tragic situation of the Polish population in Soviet-occupied territory.” It believed that, provided this condition could be met, it would be possible to use valuable trained men and officers in that area and in the Soviet Union to create, with the agreement of the Soviet authorities, a Polish army some 300,000 strong for service against Germany. The final passage of the note was meant to reconcile the diehards of the Polish regime in exile: “It goes without saying that the suggestions in the present aide-mémoire cannot in any way be interpreted as signifying any waiver of the indefeasible rights of the Polish State which have been violated by the aggression of the Soviet Union.”
The July Crisis [top]
Although the note was withdrawn under pressure from Raczkiewicz and Zaleski, it was the first shot in the battle over the Polish-Soviet problem after Poland’s collapse and initiated the wrangling inside the Polish emigration, which would remain divided on the Soviet issue throughout the war. Raczkiewicz and Zaleski could not forgive Sikorski, first for what they considered an attempt at a rapprochement with the USSR, and secondly for having acted without consulting the government. The “July crisis” reached its climax on July 18, when Raczkiewicz ousted Sikorski from the Premiership and appointed Zaleski in his stead.
The narrow circle around the President, still living in the past, was unaware of the importance of leaving a Soviet option open to future developments. Furthermore, it was unmindful of the attitude of the army, “the tree on which they sat,” whose leadership immediately reacted against Raczkiewicz’s move. They also ignored the attitude of the British government with which they had only begun to build a new relationship on British soil.
For the British this outburst of Polish internal politics was a hitherto unknown experience. Until the fall of France, London had considered the Polish government in exile as primarily a French concern. True, when the government left Poland the British War Cabinet had attached “great importance” to a Polish de jure government’s remaining in existence. When the French had vetoed Wieniawa-Dlugoszowski’s candidacy to the Presidency, the British followed suit without even being consulted in advance. But throughout the Polish government’s stay in Angers the British government, through its Ambassador, Sir Howard Kennard, adopted the attitude of an observer of Polish developments, with particular interest in the unity of the Polish emigration.
The only long-term issue raised with London by the Polish government in Angers was when Zaleski sought to contest a statement by Halifax in the House of Lords drawing a subtle difference between the German invasion of Poland and the Soviet advance roughly to the Curzon Line. The controversy did not go beyond a mise au point which was of highly hypothetical interest in the autumn of 1939.
Raczkiewicz and Zaleski appear to have ignored one basic fact in the situation, namely that while the Poles considered themselves at war with both Germany and the USSR, Britain was not at war with Russia and at that very moment was sending to Moscow a high-ranking political personality, Sir Stafford Cripps, as Special Ambassador with instructions to avoid a break between the two countries. Sikorski grasped the meaning of this situation immediately on his arrival in London, and this prompted him to sponsor the Rothstein-Litauer plan of a Polish army under Soviet control in the Ukraine. The violent reaction of the group around the President to Sikorski’s initiative took the Foreign Office by surprise. Soundings by Ambassador Kennard in circles close to the President revealed that the latter reproached Sikorski with not reporting to him, of short-circuiting both Zaleski and the permanent head of the Foreign Ministry, Jan Ciechanowski, and of using his personal advisers Retinger and Litauer for contacts with other governments. These circles were also taken aback by a report in The Times that Major Victor Cazalet, M.P., had been appointed British liaison officer “with the Polish Prime Minister and Commander-in-Chief.” On Sikorski’s side resentment was expressed at the “unfounded accusations” contained in the President’s letter to him. He also rejected out of hand Raczkiewicz’s demand for the separation of his combined duties of Prime Minister and Commander-in-Chief. His argument was that it would unfavourably affect the Polish armed forces now in the process of being reassembled in Britain, but behind all this emerged the basic issue of the predominance of the military over the government in pre-war Poland.
The Foreign Office was very reluctant to get involved in internal Polish affairs, but felt compelled to tender some wise advice to the President. On July 19, Sir Howard Kennard told Raczkiewicz’s Chef de Cabinet Lepkowski that “while the British government did not wish to express any views as to the nature of the differences between the President and General Sikorski, HMG felt it essential that an early settlement should be reached, as any serious crisis in the Polish government could only react unfavourably on Allied interests generally.” Kennard learnt on that occasion that the President had already withdrawn his demand for the separation of the duties of Prime Minister and Commander-in-Chief. At a later stage Halifax told Raczyński, the Polish Ambassador, that “changing the President of Poland would have for us only a formal significance, but the dismissal of General Sikorski would mean a change in the political direction of the Polish government and would be unwelcome to us.”
This represented a turning-point in Britain’s policy towards the Polish government. Hitherto the British had insisted on a united Polish front; now they came out in support of the more moderate elements in the Polish establishment in exile. The “July crisis” led the Foreign Office to draw certain conclusions about the internal politics of the Polish emigration now concentrated in Britain. These conclusions pointed to the need for the British to dissociate themselves from the Polish diehards and from those personalities who had had close links with the pre-war Warsaw regime. Indeed, at that stage the decision was taken to ignore an appeal by Colonel Jozef Beck, the influential pre-war Foreign Minister then interned in Romania after attempting to reach Paris, to be allowed to come to England with his friends to “coordinate all Polish efforts” in continuing “the struggle against Germany.” In the circumstances this decision seemed inevitable, both on account of Colonel Beck’s past policies and the risk of adding yet another element of ferment to the Polish emigration in Britain.
Churchill and Sikorski – The Polish Army Rebuilt [top]
Sikorski emerged strengthened from the “July crisis,” and until the question of negotiations with the Soviet Union arose after the German invasion of the USSR in the summer of 1941 political harmony prevailed in the Polish camp. Sikorski concentrated on rebuilding the army so badly affected by the fall of France. Of the 83,000 men who had formed the initial Polish army in exile in France, only some 40,000 reached Britain, to which should be added 12,000 who later managed to escape from Axis-held territories, 2,500 air personnel and 1,500 seamen. There were a further 5,000 troops in the Middle East and Sikorski was discussing with the British authorities the creation of an armoured division in Great Britain and a mechanized division in the Middle East. With the addition of the Polish prisoners of war evacuated later from the Soviet Union, Sikorski disposed at the time of his death in July 1943 of an army 110,000 strong. Its strength was nearly doubled when the Allied forces advancing in Italy and France liberated Polish prisoners of war and slave workers and it was joined by a Polish division interned in Switzerland since 1940. These figures do not include the underground Polish Home Army, Armia Krajova, estimated at a quarter of a million.
As Polish troops were still landing in British ports from the various craft they had been able to commandeer in French harbours, Churchill, in a minute to his Chief of Staff, General Ismay, dated June 26, 1940, wrote: “In principle we are to make the most of the Poles. They should be assembled, made comfortable and re-equipped as soon as possible, subject to other priorities.”
The personal attention that Churchill paid to Sikorski was remarkable. He advised him that during the Blitz his hotel in central London was not safe enough. When the Polish Prime Minister was about to proceed to the United States, Churchill sent a minute to the Foreign Office instructing that “all possible consideration should be shown to this very faithful and courageous statesman.” And when Sikorski was in the United States, on April 13, 1941, he sent him the following message: “Do not curtail your important visit.... All is going well here.”
The Churchill-Sikorski contacts on military matters can be illustrated by certain documents. In a minute dated February 16, 1941, the British Prime Minister wrote: “Sikorski expressed the wish that the Polish force in Scotland should be withdrawn from the role of forward defence at an early date and be used in a counter-attack role and not for defence of the beaches.” The Prime Minister promised that this would be examined by the Commander-in-Chief.
Less than a month later, on March 14, 1941, Churchill cabled as follows to Eden who was in Cairo on the eve of Hitler’s invasion of Yugoslavia and Greece: “I saw Sikorski this morning and asked for the Polish Brigade. He agreed in the most manly fashion, but he asked that this Brigade, which was one of the few remaining embodiments of Polish nationality, should not be lightly cast away or left to its fate. I promised full equipment and no greater risk than would be run by our own flesh and blood. He said, ‘You have millions of soldiers, we have only these few units.’ I hope you appreciate what we are asking from these valiant strangers, and that General Wavell [Commander-in-Chief, Middle East] will have this in his mind always.”
Churchill’s personal interest in the Polish army is also to be found in his plea to Stalin in the summer of 1942 to expedite the evacuation of Polish divisions from the Soviet Union to the Middle East. In his message to the Soviet leader on July 17, 1942, he writes: “I am sure it would be in our common interest, Premier Stalin, to have the three divisions of Poles you so kindly offered join their compatriots in Palestine, where we can arm them fully. These would play a most important part in future fighting, as well as keeping the Turks in good heart by the sense of growing numbers to the southward... If we do not get the Poles we should have to fill their places by drawing on the preparations now going forward on a vast scale for the Anglo-American mass invasion of the Continent.”
Sikorski thus established himself as a most reliable allied leader. Early in 1941 the British government had to intervene in one of those delicate situations where the decision normally would have been left to the foreign government alone. Sikorski, in fact, was asked to postpone a visit to the Middle East to deal with one of those outbursts of agitation which the Polish army in exile faced on a number of occasions during the war.
The matter was raised when Eden informed Churchill on January 13, 1941, that Sikorski “has had a little difficulty with some of the Poles in the Middle East who want to fight Germans not Italians.” He added: “General Sikorski may be of more use to the Allied cause in keeping his team together in this country than he would if he made a long tour abroad.” In expressing this view to the Prime Minister, Eden followed the advice tendered to him by his top advisers. Sir Roger Makins in his minute wrote that “from the experience of the Poles here we have feared that General Sikorski and his staff would be of great trouble to General Wavell, who has got many other more important things to think about.” Sir William Strang added his view in a minute initialled by Sir Alexander Cadogan that “if Sikorski proceeds to the Middle East (1) he would be likely to embarrass either his hosts or ourselves or both; (2) the Poles here would soon be at sixes and sevens if he left. They are bad enough together as it is; (3) He will be needed here if the Germans try to invade us.”
This culminated in Churchill’s telling Sikorski, in his own way, on January 24, 1941: “If I am to consult my personal feelings and wishes, I must frankly say that I hope very much that, on reflection, you will decide to postpone your tour. It is of great help to me to know that you, as the leader of the largest Allied force in this country and as Prime Minister of our first ally in this war, are available to give help and guidance at a time when we may at any moment be faced with a heavy attack from the enemy and the Polish army may be called upon to fight on our side.”
De Gaulle and Sikorski – Polish Aspiration to "Bloc" Leadership [top]
The aims and philosophy of the Polish establishment in London were formulated in “The Charter of the Polish Government” proclaimed on February 24, 1942, at the opening session of the reconstructed Polish National Council which elected President Grabski, just out of Russia, as its chairman. The Charter declared that the principal object of the government of National Unity was “to liberate the country and re-establish its due position amidst the independent nations.” It was pursuing this purpose by participating in the war on the side of the democracies “and by securing a broad, direct access to the sea as well as frontiers which would fully guarantee the safety and prosperity of the Republic.” It called for a new order to ensure “a just and lasting peace” and for “blocs of federated nations ... in Europe to safeguard the world from the danger of war.”
The “Charter” further stated: “Poland will ... be a democratic and republican State,” with a government responsible to a “true national assembly,” and would guarantee the rights and liberties of all citizens “loyal to the republic” and of national minorities “fulfilling their civic duties towards the State.”
The speeches made at the solemn opening session of the Polish National Council threw light on that body’s attitude with regard to topical political issues. President Raczkiewicz referred to the possibility of a further enlarging of the representation in the Council to include “other nationalities,” which observers interpreted as a hint to the Soviets about the inclusion of Ukrainians and Lithuanians in the future Poland. Sikorski, in what was a major pronouncement on his policies, referred to the “blunders and errors, some of which were committed by ourselves,” which brought about the war. He declared that Poland henceforth was set upon a path of “political realism.” The Polish government was the first to stretch a hand “proposing friendship” to Soviet Russia. An honest understanding with the Soviets, he declared, “would ensure durable security for Poland. Otherwise ... as the course of history has proved ... we would be doomed to a simultaneous struggle on two fronts ... a struggle whose prospects bode ill.” He added that during his talks in the Soviet Union “Stalin fully appreciated the advantages of a common struggle.”
The concept of “blocs of federated nations,” which was included in the government Charter, and the reference in Sikorski’s speech to the agreement with Czechoslovakia and “further attempts” to form “a future European union” dominated the Polish leaders’ thinking almost throughout their stay in Britain. They pursued these objectives with determination, although they ignored two lessons from the pre-war period: such a bloc was bound to revive or strengthen the cordon sanitaire mentality in Russia and the encirclement syndrome in post-war Germany. Furthermore, the idea that the bloc should be under the leadership of Poland met with hesitation on the part of other potential partners. Finally, there was the suspicion that the Poles conceived the bloc as a defence not only against Germany but also against Russian “expansionism.”
It took Polish diplomacy a long time to realize the weight of these considerations. Meanwhile certain mistakes were made which took considerable effort to overcome. The first was an attempt to influence the British government not to grant Dr. Beneš’s team full recognition as the Czechoslovak government. Hardly had the Polish government arrived from France when it sent Jan Ciechanowski, head of its Foreign Ministry, to explain the Polish position to the Foreign Office. He expressed to Sir William Strang the Polish government’s uneasiness at the intention to recognize a Czechoslovak government. Such recognition, Ciechanowski said, would be “inequitable,” because it would mean granting to the Czechs the same recognition as to the Polish government. There was no longer any Polish administration in Poland, while there was one in Prague – a reference to the Hácha government still at the Hradčin Palace. This Polish intervention in British government deliberations was seen as the last spark of Beck’s policy of joining Hitler’s action after Munich against prostrate Czechoslovakia. A few weeks later Sikorski reversed this policy and embarked on the Czech-Polish-British honeymoon based on plans for a confederation.
The post-war role of France was also questioned. The Poles evacuated after the French collapse brought with them the conviction that France had not fought and would never fight again. Some Poles in London believed at the time that Poland would inherit France’s inter-war position as the main continental power in Europe apart from Germany and the USSR.
An illuminating report on the activities of Polish diplomats in London in 1940 is included in a report by Dayet, one of General de Gaulle’s observers of the London scene. In a note addressed to René Pleven, who was in charge of De Gaulle’s Carlton Gardens headquarters, dated October 26, 1940, the Poles are described as having embarked on a so-called campaign of “propaganda luncheons” to promote a politique de grande envergure in which the argument is advanced that “France was now reduced to the role of a second-rate power.” The Poles’ design was to create under their leadership in post-war Europe an East European federation with some extension westward, including smaller powers which were traditionally pro-French. With this aim in mind the Poles did their utmost to head as many as possible of the various inter-allied committees being formed in London. (Similarly, Eden complained to Roosevelt of Polish “excessive ambitions” when they met in Washington on March 15, 1943.)
The Poles bore immediate grudges against the French at that time for two reasons: De Gaulle’s declaration that Free France considered the Munich agreement null and void and recognized Czechoslovakia’s pre-war sovereignty, ignoring the Polish claim to Teschen, which Beck’s Poland had snatched from the Czechs in September 1938; and Vichy France’s refusal to send to Canada the Polish gold reserves entrusted to France on the eve of the War. The Vichy government maintained that the Germans had ordered them “to block all property in gold and holdings belonging to the governments and national banks of the countries occupied by Germany.”
The estrangement between the Poles and the Free French in London delayed Polish recognition of De Gaulle’s National Committee until October 21, 1941, after the tenuous link with the Vichy government designed to help Poles remaining in France was brought to an end. On that day a confidential protocol was signed between the Polish government and De Gaulle’s Commissioner for Foreign Affairs which laid down in four points that the Polish government and the French National Committee would: (1)collaborate in defence of the Allied cause; (2) undertake mutually to conform their activities to the principle and spirit of the Franco-Polish alliance; (3) help each other to restore the freedom and greatness of Poland and France; and that (4) the French would return the Polish gold entrusted to France in the autumn of 1939 – about 66 million dollars.
But this relaxation in Polish-Free French relations did not last as the problem of the Polish-Soviet frontier increasingly moved to the forefront. General Sikorski, wishing to elucidate the Free French position, raised this question when he and De Gaulle met in London on January 28, 1942. De Gaulle replied that the Free French considered that they did not have to take sides regarding the different problems that might arise between Poland and the USSR. “We ardently desire that Poland should reach an agreement with Russia,” De Gaulle stated, adding that Free France “is ready to support Poland in any territorial claim against Germany.” He further declared that Free France was “favourable” to the Polish-Czechoslovak Confederation plan.
The fact remained that on the burning frontier issue Sikorski failed to obtain De Gaulle’s support. He showed his resentment a fortnight later, when, in presenting to the British government a plan for “maintaining the post-war solidarity” of the governments of the occupied countries, he omitted France from the list of these countries. Subsequently, however, the Poles and the Free French joined in protesting against the Great Powers’ “dictates” at the Teheran and Yalta Conferences.
Polish efforts to get some kind of Allied backing for their opposition to Soviet Russia’s annexation of Eastern Poland achieved a measure of success at the Inter-Allied meeting at St. James’s Palace on June 12, 1941, exactly ten days before Hitler’s invasion of the USSR, at a time when the Soviet Union was still a neutral non-belligerent for the other allies. The second paragraph of the resolution passed on this occasion read as follows: “That there can be no settled peace and prosperity so long as free peoples are coerced by violence into submission to domination by Germany or her associates...” The words “or her associates” represented a compromise reached between Count Raczyński, the Polish Ambassador, and Sir Alexander Cadogan – a disguised reference interpreted by the Poles as aimed at Russia.
"The Committee of Foreign Ministers" [top]
With the Soviet Union now in the war, Polish initiatives in the diplomatic field in London for a time avoided their previous anti-Soviet flavour. Instead the Poles concentrated on gaining influential positions in the Inter-Allied councils. The two main initiatives they sponsored during 1942 were the proposed agreement between the governments of occupied countries to maintain post-war solidarity, and the establishment of a Committee of Foreign Ministers of the “Allied Continental Governments” with headquarters in London during the war.
On February 4, 1942, Sir William Strang was informed by Sikorski’s right-hand man, Retinger, that eight governments of occupied countries were engaged in trying to draft an agreement on “post-war solidarity.” The Polish government hoped that Britain would consent to the appointment of a representative to the Committee which was to study post-war relations.
In a series of minutes by members of the Foreign Office it was generally considered “natural that the exiled governments should get together,” but reservations were expressed by J. K. Roberts as to the possible “formation of a bloc with aims divergent from our own after the war,” or of the governments concerned “agreeing among themselves on a policy which would not be acceptable to us.” He stressed the “danger” that such a bloc “might tend to leave the USSR out of the picture or even tacitly oppose Soviet policy.”
Sir Roger Makins followed Roberts in considering the proposed bloc a “major handicap” in dealing with inter-Allied relations before Britain reached an agreement with the United States on basic economic problems. Sir Roger thought Britain should choose between two alternatives. The first was “to take the leadership of the Allies” and set up an inter-Allied Council which “would help us to cope with the mass of individuals and bodies who are trying to set going inter-Allied discussions on their own.” The second alternative was to allow the formation of an “occupied countries bloc” and for the British, the Americans and the Russians to remain as observers. And Makins concluded: “Apart from the fact that we should rather lose the leadership and leave the field open to others, there is a very real danger that, under Polish inspiration, the occupied countries will establish a policy, particularly towards Germany, with which we might not agree.” Eden added the annotation: “I agree, but even more towards Russia.”
The creation of the “Committee of Foreign Ministers” of which the Foreign Office was notified on November 14, 1942, represented another new initiative of Polish diplomacy. The Foreign Office was informed that this Committee “had now been set up as a permanent body” and “would concern itself with matters of interest to the Governments of the occupied territories as such.” The participating Foreign Ministers agreed that the results of the Committee’s work would be presented to the British, the United States and Soviet governments. It was not contemplated that action would be taken by the smaller Allied governments without reference to the three Great Powers.
Count Raczyński, Polish acting Foreign Minister, was elected chairman of the Committee, and sub-committees of experts were set up to study the plans for a future armistice and post-war reconstruction in Europe, the problems of war criminals and the activities of the German émigrés, as well as reprisals and propaganda problems.
Eden and Sikorski – Negotiations with Maisky [top]
The Soviet Union found itself thrust into the Second World War by the German invasion of June 22, 1941. Hitler’s main attack came through former Polish territory, including those parts the USSR had incorporated into the republics of the Ukraine and Byelorussia following the Ribbentrop-Molotov agreements of 1939. The future of these areas was thus, as it had been in centuries past, both a Polish and Russian concern.
In a BBC broadcast twenty-four hours after the invasion Sikorski extended a hand of friendship to Russia. At the same time he put forward several demands, namely that normalization of Polish-Soviet relations must see a return to the pre-war convention which had secured twenty years of peace between the two countries, as well as the release of Polish war prisoners in the Soviet Union and other Poles who had fled to Russia or been deported there.
These two issues dominated the very intense exchanges which, with British inducement, brought about a modus vivendi in relations between the USSR and Poland. The Polish-Soviet Agreement signed at the Foreign Office on July 30, 1941, laid down four points: (1) the USSR recognized that the Soviet-German treaties of 1939 relative to territorial changes had lost their validity and that Poland was not bound by any agreement with any third State against the USSR; (2) diplomatic relations and the exchange of ambassadors would be resumed immediately; (3) a Polish army would be constituted in Soviet territory under a commander appointed by the Polish government but subordinated in operational matters to the Supreme Command of the USSR; (4) both governments would lend each other assistance in the fight against Nazi Germany. A protocol further promised an amnesty to all Poles in the USSR who had been deprived of their freedom.
The negotiations which led to this agreement covered considerable ground. Eden started his contacts on June 24, the day after the Sikorski broadcast, which he described to Ambassador Maisky as “moderate and reasonable.” Urging an improvement in Russian-Polish relations, he called for a “generous attitude” on the part of the Soviet government regarding the release of Polish prisoners in the USSR. Frank talking followed. Maisky asked Eden not to “press him to do this just now.” The Soviet authorities, he said, regarded the Polish government as “reactionary” and hostile to the USSR, and they made it plain, even when in Britain, that “they are at war with Russia.” He asked: “How could the Soviet government be expected to release the prisoners of a country with whom they were still at war?” Eden considered that the present Polish government was “less reactionary” than the pre-war government; it was not surprising that the Polish Government felt that the Soviet attack on Poland when the Poles were being invaded by Germany “was a cruel deed”; that “Polish soldiers were invaluable fighting material and, if they could be released, they would form a valuable reinforcement in the war against Germany”; finally, the Poles considered Germany their “chief enemy.” Maisky reiterated his appeal to Eden to “allow events to develop for the next few days” before pressing him to make representations to his government.
This apparently discouraging opening to the discussions produced the beginning of a dialogue ten days later, on July 4. The message received from Moscow stated that the Soviet Government had been considering their relations with Poland, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. They had taken the decision to give facilities to all three states to form national committees in the USSR. As to Polish prisoners of war, they would be handed over to the proposed Polish National Committee to fight with the Russian armies against the “German aggressor.” Soviet policy, the statement continued, was “to favour the establishment of an independent national Polish State” whose boundaries would correspond with ethnographical Poland. “From this it might follow that certain districts and towns occupied by Russia in 1939 might be returned to Poland. The form of internal government to be set up in Poland was, in the view of the Soviet government, entirely a matter for the Poles themselves. If General Sikorski and his government found these statements of policy acceptable, the Soviet government were prepared to make a treaty with him in order to form a common front against German aggression.”
Eden considered this statement important. He pressed Maisky for some further definition of what was meant by “ethnographical Poland,” to which the Soviet Ambassador replied that “there would be no great difficulty in defining frontiers on this basis provided that there was goodwill on both sides.”
This was the first Soviet shot in the dark chapter of Soviet-Polish relations. Stalin liked to repeat to his Western visitors that he meant to bring to an end a situation in which during recent centuries the Poles had twice occupied Moscow and on two occasions the Russians had occupied Warsaw. “Goodwill on both sides” seemed to announce a new era.
Sikorski’s three-point comment on the Soviet declaration of policy was passed on to Maisky by Eden: (1) The Polish Prime Minister was prepared to discuss the Soviet communication with the Ambassador; (2) since a legal Polish government existed, there was no need to establish a special Polish Committee in Moscow, the correct procedure being to ask the Polish government to appoint a diplomatic representative; (3) there was no need to discuss Polish-Soviet boundaries since the Polish government hoped for a statement on the part of the Soviets that their treaties with Nazi Germany were null and void.
After hearing the gist of Sikorski’s comments, Maisky asked two questions: were the Poles willing to sign a treaty with the USSR to resist aggression and was the plan of an “ethnographical Poland” acceptable to them? Eden thought that the Poles wanted the question of the National Committee cleared up first. It seemed to him clear “that the Soviet government must be willing to recognize his [Sikorski’s] government, for otherwise there would have been no advantage in speaking of a treaty between the Soviet government and the Polish government.” Maisky agreed. As to “ethnographical Poland,” Eden repeated Sikorski’s view on the advisability of not discussing frontiers “at present.”
The second phase of the negotiations, direct contact between Sikorski and Maisky, began the following day in “neutral territory” – Sir Alexander Cadogan’s room at the Foreign Office. The discussions in which Sikorski and Zaleski participated on the Polish side and Maisky on the Soviet side took place in what Cadogan considered “a satisfactory atmosphere.” Sikorski began the proceedings by asking Maisky to believe “that he himself had always been in favour of good relations with Russia in order that Polish forces might be free to fight aggression from Germany.” He went on to say that the Soviet government should explicitly revert now “to the situation as covered by the Treaty of Riga. This would follow automatically from a Soviet denunciation of the two treaties signed with Germany in August and September 1939.” The Polish Prime Minister then urged that normal relations be re-established between the two governments. Touching on the question of Polish refugees in the USSR, he stressed their importance as loyal workers in Soviet industry, while war prisoners should be formed into an “independent Polish army” in the Soviet Union. He threw into the discussion an idea that later would prove very important: “If the Soviet government did not desire the presence of such an army, it might perhaps be possible to transport it elsewhere to continue the fight against Germany.”
By the time Sikorski and Zaleski met again with Maisky on July 11, reaction to the proposed agreement with the Soviets had reached boiling point in Polish political circles and this determined the harshness the Polish Prime Minister thought right to adopt in the talks. The meeting was opened by the Soviet Ambassador, who summed up the message he had received from Moscow following their earlier meeting. It maintained the Soviets’ previously expressed position which favoured “the independence of the Polish State within the limits of Polish nationality” and accepted the Polish suggestion “to put aside for the present” the question of Poland’s frontiers. The Soviet government considered the 1939 Soviet-German agreements as “non-existent” and did not insist on the constitution of a Polish National Committee, a concession dictated “by their desire to meet Polish national aspirations.” They agreed to resume diplomatic relations with the Polish government in London and to create an “independent Polish army” on Soviet soil under the general direction of the Soviet High Command. As to the prisoners of war, there were only 20,000 of them (the Poles put their number at 180,000 including 10,000 officers); “the remainder were released ... and were now dispersed throughout Russia.”
Sikorski in repeated interventions insisted on the return to the situation which had existed before the Ribbentrop-Molotov agreements, stating that the Polish government could not accept the Soviet point of view “about the limitation of the Polish State to its ethnographical frontiers.” It was not possible, he repeated, for the Soviet government to make a unilateral declaration in this matter. “Any declaration should be bilateral and agreed upon by both parties.” To which Maisky replied: the Soviet government have merely stated their point of view; they do not insist that the Polish government accept it. Sikorski declared that if Stalin claimed (as had been reported) that he had occupied Polish territory “to gain time,” he should now state that he held that territory “temporarily.” To which Maisky retorted that what Stalin had actually said was that “his non-aggression pact with Germany was concluded with the object of allowing time for preparation.” He had not said anything about “territorial arrangements.” Sikorski insisted that the Soviets “should renounce all territorial gain from the pact with Germany.” To which Maisky replied that the important thing was to state as soon as possible their agreement that the treaties of 1939 were dead, that diplomatic relations should be resumed, that a Polish army be recreated and that both governments would fight side by side against Germany.
Sikorski also raised the question of “what would happen if the Polish and Soviet armies marched victoriously into Polish territory? Who would govern this territory? Poles or Russians?” – a question Maisky regarded as “a little academic” at the moment.
The last point on which Sikorski was adamant was that of political prisoners. He demanded that the Soviet government accept the principle of their release. It was impossible, he said bluntly, for his government “to admit the right of the Soviet government to judge and condemn Polish citizens” or to reach an agreement with the Soviet government “at the price of selling the Polish political prisoners.”
Cadogan suggested that some contentious subjects, such as political prisoners or the restoration of public and private property, be dealt with through diplomatic channels when relations were restored. On the question of prisoners Cadogan made a significant remark: “The Soviet government would not want to keep these prisoners for ever. What the Polish government wanted is that they should be freed in the near future. The Soviet Government ought to be able to give a private assurance to this effect.” This “private assurance” idea was later to become the Protocol incorporated in the Soviet-Polish Agreement which promised an amnesty to all Polish citizens deprived of their liberty in the USSR.
Later Eden recorded his own and the Cabinet’s views as follows: “Some of the Cabinet were doubtful of the wisdom of agreeing to Stalin’s demands – while others supported them more enthusiastically than I would. The hesitants among my colleagues felt that there was as yet no certainty of Russian victory over Germany; while we would do all we can to avoid a compromise peace between the two countries, should this happen it would be better not to have frontier obligations towards the Soviet Union.”
Churchill, for his part, while stressing Britain’s “strong obligation” to its “first ally,” added: “In this summer of 1941, less than two weeks after the appearance of Russia on our side in the struggle against Germany, we could not force our new and sorely threatened ally to abandon, even on paper, regions on her frontiers which she had regarded for generations as vital to her security.” And he concluded that the territorial future of Poland “must be postponed until easier times.
Polish-Soviet Treaty Contested [top]
The Polish government considered it of paramount importance in the situation created by Hitler’s invasion of the USSR to secure clear and binding guarantees as to the future frontiers of Poland. Failing this, they considered it preferable to wait until the Soviet Union, whose armies at that time were in full retreat, would from a weaker position be prepared to concede what it had declined to do during the Sikorski-Maisky contacts. Later events would prove that when the Red Army began to push the Germans it would be impossible to get the Soviets to accede to the Polish demands.
In any event, there seemed to be a contradiction between this assumption and the Poles’ determined opposition to British “haste” in the negotiations with the Russians. But the Poles believed, as Raczyński put it, that the proper moment for such demands “may occur fairly suddenly.” “In the event of victory,” he stated, “the determination of our Eastern frontiers will not depend on the USSR, which will shortly either be defeated and broken up into small political units or pushed beyond the Soviet-Polish frontier of 1939, but on the victorious States, and presumably in the first instance on Britain and the USA.”
Raczkiewicz, Zaleski and Sikorski were the main actors in this drama. Raczkiewicz, born and brought up under Russian domination, did not voice his opinion publicly, but on July 30 he refused to give Sikorski the necessary power to sign the agreement with the USSR. Sikorski, however, took the responsibility upon himself and signed against the President’s wish. Raczkiewicz later acquiesced in the agreement. Raczkiewicz’s views had been expressed on March 1, 1941, in a BBC broadcast before the invasion of Russia in which he declared, to the embarrassment of the Foreign Office then engaged in fostering Soviet neutrality, that “Poland, situated geographically between the East and West, has opposed during the thousand years of her history the imperialism of Germany and of the Muscovite world in the East.” This was the clearest possible expression of the “two enemies” mentality that prevailed in certain Polish circles.
Close to the President’s views were those of Foreign Minister Zaleski, himself from the Polish Ukraine. While in principle he favoured a Polish-Soviet Pact, he was against what he considered “an equivocal, tacit gentlemen’s agreement.” He soon earned the reputation at the Foreign Office of an out-and-out anti-Russian. In a minute dated July 1, 1941, Sir Roger Makins writes: “The German-Russian war has created great effervescence among the Poles and, as Mr. Maisky says, it would certainly be difficult to overestimate the anti-Russian sentiments of Mr. Zaleski and many senior members of the Polish Foreign Office.”
Zaleski took the unusual step on July 8 of presenting to Eden a “personal memorandum” in which he set out his own views as distinct from those of the Polish government. Referring to the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, Zaleski stated that Russia had willingly taken advantage of this “opportunity to gain a strategic starting-point for a revolutionary offensive against Germany in the final stage of the war.” After outlining what apparently he considered a kind of Polish sphere of influence – covering, besides Eastern Poland, the Baltic States and other Soviet-occupied territories from Finnish Karelia to Bessarabia – Zaleski concluded by declaring: “It is certain that a weakening or even a downfall of the Soviet régime would be received with a feeling of deep relief by all the direct and indirect neighbours of Russia from Sweden and Hungary to Turkey and Iran.”
Recalling his conversation with Zaleski, Eden merely wrote that the Foreign Minister had handed him a “personal memorandum” and that he had promised “to do all in his power” to reach an arrangement “which could show that Poland and Polish interests were fairly treated by Russia.” Zaleski in his record of that conversation with the British Foreign Secretary sounded a very different note: “Eden, with increased impatience, pressed the Poles to reach an agreement, maintaining that such an agreement was indispensable for England.”
The third actor in the drama was Sikorski. Born and brought up in Galicia, then under Austrian rule, he was considered among Polish politicians as more indulgent towards the Russians. Bruce Lockhart, who knew him well, considered General Sikorski’s political make-up to be “25% charm, 25% flair, 25% vanity and, compared with that of his Polish colleagues, 25% ultra-nationalist.” He was undoubtedly, he wrote, a military leader par excellence who believed in the “brotherhood of arms” as an important element in peaceful co-existence. He also strove for an explicit treaty where all the “i’s” were dotted and all the “t’s” were crossed, but the value of such an agreement depended on one’s share in victory. His conclusion was that it was in the interest of the future Poland to fight on all fronts, hence his suggestion of an “independent Polish Army” on Soviet soil.
Sikorski believed that a final Nazi victory over the USSR was not only impossible in the long run but also that the western allies would never allow it. Therefore, he argued, the Poles should not be an obstacle in British-American assistance to the Soviet Union, but rather embark on a positive path leading to the re-creation of the Polish Army in Russia that would be on the spot when Hitler’s defeat occurred.
This did not prevent Sikorski from insisting that the annulment of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact meant the return to the status quo ante as far as frontiers were concerned. When the Soviets declined to include this expressly in the proposed agreement and the Polish representatives protested, Eden told Sikorski and Zaleski on July 15: “Whether you want it or not, an agreement with the Soviet Union has to be signed.”
Between July 15 and 19, until Eden invited Sikorski to luncheon, a break in the negotiations loomed large and intense excitement reigned in diplomatic circles in London. Sikorski wanted to speak his mind and to refresh himself among his soldiers. Addressing a Polish air force ceremony in Scotland on July 16 he declared that a Polish-Soviet agreement “must be a genuine agreement and not one which would violate the frontiers and sovereignty of the Polish State and which would throw doubt on the sincerity of the Allies’ intentions in their struggle for the most sacred principles of right and Christianity.” He also hinted at difficulties in the talks with Maisky. This occurred at a moment when Foreign Office spokesmen were expressing confidence in the favourable progress of the talks. The same evening press censorship stepped in to prevent the publication of Sikorski’s pronouncements; in particular the newspaper Dziennik Polski was ordered to eliminate them from its copy. Eden personally informed Zaleski of this decision.
The meeting over lunch between Eden and Sikorski, without Zaleski, was decisive. Various versions of it exist. It was said that Sikorski had been “persuaded,” “induced” or “forced” to accept Eden’s proposal of a reassuring note from the British to the Polish government on the signature of the agreement. This note contained the assurance that, in conformity with the Polish-British agreement of mutual assistance, the British government had entered into no understanding towards the USSR affecting the relations between that country and Poland and that the British Government did not recognize any territorial changes effected in Poland since August 1939. Maisky, for his part, insisted on an assurance that the declaration to the Polish government “does not predetermine a position which Great Britain will adopt towards the future boundaries in Eastern Europe.” In an answer to a question in the House of Commons Eden explained that the notes exchanged on this occasion between the British and Polish governments did not involve any guarantee of frontiers by His Majesty’s Government.
When the agreement between Poland and Soviet Russia was finally signed at the Foreign Office on July 30, a painful chapter in Polish-Russian relations came to a close and another unhappy chapter opened. On the Polish side three influential ministers left the government in protest: Zaleski, Marian Seyda, and General Sosnkowski. The British felt that they had left the question of frontiers open and cleared the ground for further progress in the field of Anglo-Soviet relations. The United States, not yet at war, considered an American guarantee to the Polish government as “superfluous ... in view of the successful conclusion of the treaty and its favourable terms to both sides.” The Russians preserved their long-term design intact.
As Sir Llewellyn Woodward writes: “A military and political agreement between two governments with such conflicting claims over ‘metropolitan’ territory was a paradox made possible only because the disputed areas were in enemy occupation.... Without the defeat of Germany there was no chance of an independent Poland; after a German defeat the Russians were unlikely to make territorial concessions to the Poles.”
Some questions remained for history to answer. Did the Poles miss an opportunity to get from the hard-pressed Russians a clear-cut territorial undertaking? And, had such an undertaking been obtained from Maisky, was there any chance of the Russians keeping it in the hour of victory and triumph?
Stalin and Sikorski – The Anders Army Leaves Russia [top]
Between July 1941, when the Polish and Soviet governments resumed relations, and April 1943, when these relations were broken off following on the Katyn tragedy, the Polish government in exile enjoyed recognition by all the Allies in the East and the West, established personal relations with the top leadership in Moscow, raised an army among the Poles in the Soviet Union, evacuated part of it to join western theatres of war, built up a considerable resistance movement – both political and military – inside occupied Poland, and developed an intense diplomatic effort to ensure for post-war Poland a strong position in central Europe. Sikorski’s sudden death when his plane fell into the sea off Gibraltar Bay on July 4, 1943, and his succession by Stanislaw Mikolajczyk almost coincided with the Soviet design for Poland coming into the open.
This eventful period opened with Sikorski’s visit to Stalin at the end of 1941 when the Polish and Soviet leaders on December 4 signed the Polish-Soviet “Declaration of Friendship and Mutual Assistance,” which laid down that “troops of the Republic of Poland located on the territory of the Soviet Union will wage war against the German brigands shoulder to shoulder with the Soviet troops.” The Declaration added: “In peace time their mutual relations will be based on good-neighbourly relations, friendship and reciprocal honest fulfillment of the obligations they have taken upon themselves.”
The visit started with a mea culpa statement by Sikorski on Polish anti-Soviet policies during the inter-war period from which he considered the time had come to dissociate himself. “I never conducted and never agreed with the policy directed against Soviet Russia over the past twenty years,” Sikorski told Stalin at the beginning of their talks. He added: “I am therefore morally entitled to sign this pact since it may bring about the final fulfillment of the principles which I have upheld for so long.”
For Sikorski this was also the opening shot in the long controversy that was to follow on the representativity of the “Union of Polish Patriots;” the “Union” was formed with Soviet backing under Wanda Wassilewska at a meeting in Saratow and ostentatiously announced in Izvestia twenty-four hours before Sikorski and Stalin met. Two years later it was to become the nucleus of the “Lublin Committee” destined to take over Poland after the liberation and establish Communist rule there at the behest of the Soviet Union. At the time this Soviet manoeuvre was regarded by the Poles in London as a means of pressuring the government in exile rather than an ominous warning of developments to come. The burning problems of the hour – the fate of over a million and a half Poles who had escaped to the Soviet Union, the way the Soviet authorities handled the “amnesty” promised to all Poles, and the creation of a Polish army on Soviet soil – took precedence. Considering that during these very hours German tanks were battling their way to the gates of Moscow, where Stalin had remained behind after sending his government to Kuybishev, the Soviet leader went out of his way to devote long hours on two successive evenings to the head of the Polish government in exile. He told Sikorski that “the Germans are strong but the Slavs will crush them.”
An outstanding result of the meeting was the promise by Stalin, unprecedented in Soviet practice, to evacuate the newly created Polish army from Russia to the Middle East. This resulted from the conclusion reached by General Wladyslaw Anders, who had been entrusted with building up the Polish army in the USSR, that under conditions prevailing there his task was practically impossible.
Sikorski introduced the idea during his first meeting with Stalin when referring to the problem of recruiting Poles in Russia for the Polish army. “The present difficulties of feeding, equipping and training make me anxiously concerned lest the units created under such conditions will be completely useless,” he said. Describing the “inadequate” and harsh climatic and food conditions under which the Polish units were being formed, he put forward the suggestion “that the entire army and all people eligible for military service be moved, for instance, to Persia where the climate as well as the promised American and British help would allow them to recover within a short time and form a strong army which would return here (to Russia) to the front and take over the section assigned to them.”
Stalin’s first reaction (the Polish protocol speaks of “an expression of excitement and evident displeasure”) was: “I am a person of experience and age. I know that if you go to Persia you will never return here. I see that England has much to do and needs Polish soldiers.” “Iran is not far from here,” Stalin continued, “but the English may force you to fight against the Germans on Turkish territory and tomorrow Japan may enter the war.” And later, not without irony, Stalin twice remarked: “It seems to me that the English need Polish soldiers.” Stalin was obviously angry, as was clear from his first positive answer: “If the Poles do not want to fight, then let them go. We cannot hold back the Poles, if they want to they may go away.” Sikorski did not agree with such a reply and said: “then please show me another solution.” On Sikorski’s further insistence, Stalin grew even angrier, declaring to his Polish visitor: “That means that we are savages and that we cannot improve anything. It amounts to this, that a Russian can only oppress a Pole, but is unable to do anything good for him. However, we can do without you. We can give back all of them. We will manage ourselves. We will conquer Poland and then will give her back to you.” To which Sikorski retorted: “I categorically confirm once again that we want to fight for Poland at your side.”
It was no easy task to create an army from a multitude of bewildered, homeless and hungry refugees. Yet the progress achieved was remarkable. Friction arose between the Soviet authorities and General Anders when the “Fifth Polish Division” completed its training. According to the Polish army standards prevailing in Scotland, the division was considered not to be fully armed and Anders repeatedly delayed answering the Soviet request that it be moved to the front. In this he contravened the undertaking written into the Polish-Soviet agreement of August 14, 1941, that Polish army units would be moved to the front “upon achievement of full fighting readiness.” This Polish reluctance, which aroused the resentment of the higher Soviet leaders, seems to have been motivated by Anders’s conviction that the six Polish divisions then being formed should all go to the front at the same time and his distrust of Soviet sincerity. One must remember that those were the days before the great Soviet victory at Stalingrad and Anders considered it more useful to concentrate his divisions in northern Persia and Iraq to prevent a German incursion further south. This view was said to be held by Churchill, but the Polish Cabinet thought that “if at all possible the army should remain in Russia” The Soviet reaction to Anders’s attitude was, first, a reduction of food rations (explained by transportation difficulties that had arisen since Japan had entered the war) and, second, no further Polish units being formed in the USSR. The subsequent evacuation of the Polish troops to Persia was thus more of an expulsion than a friendly act.
It was only on July 7, 1942, after another meeting between Stalin and Anders, that the latter received in Kuybishev a telegram from Marshal Zhukov announcing that the USSR had agreed to evacuate the Polish army to the Middle East and that “no obstacle” would be put in the way of the immediate implementation of the project. By the end of the month, 77,000 soldiers and 37,000 civilians of Polish nationality had been transported by ship to Iran across the Caspian Sea.
The Polish army left Russia as German divisions were advancing towards the Volga and the Caucasus. Behind remained General Berling, a member of the Union of Polish Patriots, for whom a free field of action was now open and who embarked on the creation of a Soviet-controlled Polish army whose units would soon participate in the battle of Stalingrad. The Anders Army was to show its prowess in the Mediterranean theatre, but it was fated never to reach Poland.
The "Polish Underground State" – The Soviets Refuse to Cooperate [top]
When a Soviet-Polish treaty was signed in London in July 1941, it had been the Poles who insisted on including a clear reference to their future frontiers and the Soviets who had evaded the issue. Now in Moscow it was Stalin who raised the border question while Sikorski evaded it. We have on this an authoritative account given by Stanislaw Mikolajczyk. “The following night (December 4, 1941), with the Germans only a few miles from Moscow, Stalin entertained Sikorski lavishly at a Kremlin dinner. At the height of the party, however, when Sikorski believed he had found some mellowness in the man, Stalin turned to him and said: “Now we will talk about the frontier between Poland and Russia.”
Sikorski displayed his surprise: “I have no authority to discuss these matters,” he said. “I hardly believe this is the time, anyway.” Stalin, however, insisted, and eventually Sikorski replied: “Poland assumes that the pre-war boundaries will prevail once the war is won.” “I would like to have some alterations in these frontiers,” Stalin said. He smiled a little. “They’ll be very slight alterations.”
A lively controversy continues to this day as to whether Sikorski, on that fateful night, missed not only an opportunity to reach agreement on the frontiers but at least a chance to learn Stalin’s real territorial claims. Another question remains unanswered: if Sikorski had left the Anders army in the USSR, would it have entered Poland with the Red Army and thus exercised a restraining influence on Soviet policies?
The result of Sikorski’s visit to Stalin was generally considered favourable, but it was not followed by a Polish-Soviet honeymoon. The Soviet authorities henceforward concentrated on fostering the pro-Soviet Poles who did not recognize the authority of the London-based government. Indoctrination centres were opened for that purpose, and the provisions of the Soviet decree declaring the former Polish territories of Western Ukraine and Western Byelorussia inseparable parts of the Soviet Union were rigorously applied.
While these developments were taking place in Russia, a vast resistance movement to German occupation was emerging inside Poland. This developed into the “Polish Underground State” which remained in constant touch with the government in London. This clandestine organization was based on the same four political parties which had united to form Sikorski’s London government and comprised civil and military underground authorities. The London government was represented inside Poland by a “Government Plenipotentiary,” the first of whom was Matthew Rataj, leader of the Peasant Party and former speaker of the Sejm (Parliament), who was to die in a German prison. The last was Stefan Karbonski, who during almost the entire occupation headed the Directorate of Civil Resistance and ensured constant liaison with the government of London. Various underground government departments, including courts of justice, functioned throughout the German occupation.
There is no doubt that this “Secret State” based on a coalition of the four democratic parties was supported by the vast majority of the Polish people, as was its link with the London government. There were minority exceptions on both the left and the right: the Communists had their leadership based in Russia and received a new lease of life after the Red Army entered Eastern Poland in 1939 and after Moscow decided to impose a Soviet solution to the Polish problem. On the right there were groups of the National Military Forces (NSZ) consisting of elements that already before the war had admired Hitler’s achievements and indulged in criminal activities.
Two right-wing personalities, a former Prime Minister, Professor Leon Kozlowski, later killed by a bomb in Berlin, and Ladislas Studnicki, who also moved to Berlin, were known to have expressed their readiness to collaborate with the German authorities, but the latter at the time did not respond.
One group of Polish personalities, held in Rzeszow prison towards the end of 1939, were well treated for a time, apparently in the hope of ensuring their collaboration with the German authorities. They included Vincent Witos, leader of the Polish Peasant Party, and members of the Polish nobility such as Prince Leon Sapieha, Count Debinski and Count Potulicki. Witos told a friend that he had declined an offer to form a puppet government.
The Nazi occupation authorities considered they could run the country adequately within the framework of their “General Government” and did not need a Polish establishment. A change of attitude seems to have occurred in 1943, when, according to a Reuters press report from Istanbul later verified by the Underground, Dr. Hans Frank, German Governor-General in occupied Poland, addressed a group of Polish personalities from various walks of life offering them a four-point plan: (1) independence for Poland; (2) re-incorporation of the Galician territories annexed by Germany; (3) re-opening of secondary schools and universities; (4) liberation of prisoners of war and political prisoners. By then it was rather late in the day and the plan was of no consequence.
It seemed logical in the early days of renewed Polish-Soviet relations to coordinate the military activities of the underground organizations loyal to the London-based government with those of Soviet-commanded partisans and parachutists operating in Polish territory. After an approach by Sikorski to General (later Marshal) Zhukov in Moscow had failed, a meeting took place inside Poland between the commander-in-chief of the Polish Underground Army and a representative of the Soviet Partisans. Zhukov had rejected Sikorski’s proposals to coordinate activities. The Polish Underground commander suggested to the Soviet Partisans’ representative that his forces be recognized as self-sufficient units but that they should be subordinated operationally inside Poland to the Polish military high command, just as the Polish army then in the USSR was subordinated to the Red Army. The Soviet reply was: “We are operating under the Red Army on the territories of the USSR and the native people are friendly to us.”
This reply marked a parting of the ways, and its impact on events to come, up to and beyond the Warsaw Uprising, cannot be over-estimated.
The British-Soviet Treaty – The Polish Frontier Issue By-passed [top]
Both the British government’s principle that there should be no territorial dealings before the end of the war, and the Polish government’s assumption that by then the USSR would be so weakened that Poland would have its way on the territorial issue, contributed to the postponement of frank dealings with Stalin on the border question. As the situation on the Russian front turned more and more in favour of the Soviets, they had less and less reason to renounce any of their claims, while the Poles, embittered by what they considered ill will on the part of the Russians, were less and less inclined to make concessions.
Soviet diplomacy chose its targets in a pragmatic fashion, according to developments. Accusations regarding the reactionary character of the Polish government; the so-called provocations of the Polish press abroad; the influence exercised by the Polish government on the British and American governments, allegedly detrimental to the Soviet Union; and, finally, Soviet outbursts over Polish pronouncements during the Katyn crisis ─ all served to present the Polish government in exile as a troublemaker bent on sabotaging Allied unity.
London and Washington were bewildered by and unprepared for the methods and temper of the Stalin-Molotov-Vishinsky trio, whose almost pathological suspiciousness of Western motives could not be understood in the West. Similarly, the Polish government’s tactics were not always understood or espoused by Britain and the United States. When the Polish spokesmen declared that a Soviet move, if not halted forthwith, would lead to impossible demands, London seldom heeded the warning. Eden, in a frank talk with President Roosevelt and his adviser Harry Hopkins in Washington on March 15, 1943, “criticized the excessive ambition of the Poles to emerge from the war as the most powerful country in Eastern Europe when Germany and Russia would be weakened.” He was also critical of Sikorski’s plan to federate the European States, because the Russians were suspicious of any organizations of States “on their flanks.” Referring to the Polish leader’s state of mind at the height of Soviet-Polish tension, Eden told the President of Sikorski’s intransigence concerning re-naming the cruiser Dragon, which the British government were transferring to the Polish navy, Lvov, after the city in Galicia which the Soviets disputed belonging to Poland. Eden’s argument that the Russians would certainly regard this name as provocative was at first rejected. After further exchanges, however, the cruiser was named the Gdansk.
A direct clash between Polish and British foreign policies occurred during the negotiations for a British-Soviet Treaty in the early months of 1942. Britain, after long hesitations, was prepared to sign a treaty which would recognize the Soviet Union’s 1941 frontiers, namely those prevailing after the Stalin-Ribbentrop agreement, leaving the issue of the Polish-Soviet frontier for future negotiations. This followed a statement by Stalin during the very tight discussion he had with Eden in Moscow on the night of December, 17-18, 1941. “The Polish frontier remains an open question and I do not insist upon settling it now,” Stalin said. He added: “What I am most interested in is the position in Finland and the Baltic States and in Romania. With regard to Poland, I hope that we shall be able to come to an agreement between the three of us. Generally our idea is to keep to the Curzon Line with certain modifications. But it is very important for us to know whether we shall have to fight at the Peace Conference in order to get our western frontiers.” To which Eden answered: “I am certainly hoping not. As to Poland, we shall always, of course, be glad to do anything we can to help in reaching an agreement. We want to agree before the Peace Conference, but we have not yet reached that point.”
Eden on that visit was not prepared to accept the draft of a secret protocol containing a new outline of continental Europe’s post-war frontiers, including British and Soviet military bases in their respective spheres. He suggested including the following paragraph, laying down that the two governments “undertake to work together for the reconstruction of Europe after the war with full regard to each other’s interests and in accordance with the two principles of no aggrandizement for themselves and no interference in the internal affairs of other peoples.”
It was around these conceptions that the negotiations with Molotov revolved when he reached London in May 1942. A further element in the discussions was a new request made by the Foreign Commissar that Britain approve the early conclusion of special treaties of mutual defence between the Soviet Union and Romania and Finland. Polish government circles were alarmed by all these developments. Sikorski tried to impress upon the British Foreign Office that, in view of the military weakening of the Soviet Union, no concessions should be made to Moscow at the present time. Eden had in fact written to Sikorski on April 27, 1942, that “His Majesty’s Government do not propose to conclude any agreement affecting or compromising the territorial status of the Polish Republic.” Sikorski further argued that the Soviet annexation of Lithuania, Northern Bukovina and Bessarabia would be harmful to the Polish conception of a defensive bloc along the western borders of the USSR.
In a statement issued on February 25, 1942, the Polish government, following on heated debates in the Polish National Council, denied charges of any hostility to the USSR. On the question of frontiers with the Soviet Union it declared that “the status quo previous to September 1, 1939, is in force,” and that (the Polish government) “considers the undermining of this attitude, which is in conformity with the Atlantic Charter, as detrimental to the unity of the United Nations.” This public statement revived the controversy with the Soviets, who retorted by accusing the Poles of denying the historic rights of the Ukrainians and White Russians to a national identity.
One unexpected result of the Polish government’s stand was the revival of an issue that had been dormant for years: the recognition of the Soviet hold on the Baltic States. While Britain was considering accepting their incorporation into the USSR – Eden had told Stalin that Britain had given de facto recognition to this state of affairs – the Polish government was encouraging exiled statesmen from the Baltic countries to reactivate their independence movements. Raczyński tells us of his talk with the Lithuanian Minister Balutis, on January 11, 1942, during which he advised the Lithuanians “to stand up for themselves in Europe and America and to seek Polish support in a federal union similar to that which we were to bring about with the Czechs.”
Sikorski and Raczyński stressed the Polish government’s position during a visit to Washington in March 1942, when Molotov’s impending visit to the West was being discussed. President Roosevelt told them that “there could be no questions in a matter at variance with the Atlantic Charter.” And he added somewhat naively: “When the war is won and Germany is deprived of its power to harm, on what pretext could Russia demand an increase of territory?” Under-Secretary of State Sumner Welles used much the same language. He added that once Germany was defeated and disarmed in accordance with the Atlantic Charter, “there could be no threat to Russia from the Baltic States themselves, and no other State would seek to use them as a base for attacking the USSR.”
On the British side the feeling that predominated during these crucial months was that since Britain, hard pressed in the Western Desert, was not in a position to help the USSR militarily or by undertaking large-scale operations in Western Europe, some political compensation was due to Moscow. This way of thinking was further motivated by the assumption that, if things went from bad to worse, the possibility of another Hitler-Stalin deal could not be excluded. Such a deal, it was argued, might hinge on a renunciation of German sovereignty over the Baltic States, particularly Lithuania, in favour of the USSR. And who, it was asked, would ever seek to restore the independence of the Baltic States once they were reoccupied by an advancing Red Army?
The “squaring of the circle,” namely giving satisfaction to the Soviet Union on the future of the Baltic States without contravening the Atlantic Charter, had become a thorny problem. Two proposals came up for discussion by the British Cabinet. The first, suggested by Eden, was that Britain should, when the time came, undertake to support a Soviet demand for bases in neighbouring countries on the Baltic and Black Seas. The second, suggested by Lord Halifax, Ambassador in Washington, was that at the peace settlement Britain would support Russia’s request to control the foreign and defence policies of the Baltic States. Roosevelt, in a discussion with Halifax, seemed at first to accept the latter’s formula, but Sumner Welles came out against it, arguing that “we need a new world built on principles, and Russia’s security will be provided by the dismemberment of Germany.”
Roosevelt later came up with the idea of holding plebiscites in the Baltic States on the Russian claims, apparently ignoring the fact that Stalin had told Eden that such plebiscites had already taken place after the Soviet take-over in 1939.
There was a complete deadlock on the proposed British-Soviet treaty when Molotov reached Britain on May 20, 1942. For a time it looked as if he would return empty-handed to Moscow as Eden had to London six months earlier, without signing any agreement. It was Sir Alexander Cadogan who made the suggestion to sign a twenty-year treaty of alliance between Britain and the Soviet Union without any mention of frontiers. Molotov at first was reluctant to discuss this, but, after consulting Stalin and sounding out the United States’ attitude through Ambassador Winant in London, he finally accepted the Churchill-Eden offer of a “Treaty of Alliance in the War against Hitlerite Germany and her Associates in Europe and of Collaboration and Mutual Assistance Thereafter.” The Treaty was signed in London by Eden and Molotov on May 26, 1942. In its preamble both governments declared their intention “to collaborate closely with one another ... at the peace settlement and during the ensuing period of reconstruction” on the basis of the principles of the United Nations.
Both signatories further undertook “not to enter into any negotiations with the Hitlerite Government or any other Government in Germany” and “not to negotiate or conclude except by mutual consent any armistice or peace treaty with Germany” or conclude any alliance or take part in any coalition against the other contracting party.
The Polish leadership considered the elimination of any reference in the Treaty to the territorial aspects of the post-war settlement a great victory for its diplomacy.
Beneš and Sikorski – Rise and Fall of the Polish-Czechoslovak Confederation Plan [top]
The grand design of a post-war Polish-Czechoslovak Confederation, a priority objective pursued with great energy by Polish diplomacy, lay in ruins by 1943 when the Soviet armies were advancing westwards.
The Foreign Office played the role of a friendly go-between in establishing the first contacts between Poles and Czechs, whose relations had been bitter ever since Munich. On August 14, 1940, the Foreign Office endorsed a suggestion by Robert Bruce Lockhart, then diplomatic adviser on relations with the Czechoslovak National Committee, to arrange for an exchange of visits between Polish and Czech military leaders. The initiative for such a move should come from the Poles, wrote the British envoy, in the form of an invitation to General Ingr, commander of the Czechoslovak army, since the Czechoslovak government was only a Provisional Government, its army smaller than the Polish army. On August 20 the Foreign Office communicated to the British Mission to the Poles remarks reportedly made by Sikorski to the effect that the Czechs often misunderstood the Polish point of view. “If Czechoslovakia remains strictly outside the Russian orbit,” he remarked, “we could work harmoniously together for the reconstruction of Europe.”
The issue was broached with Sikorski by Sir Howard Kennard, the British Ambassador, on August 28. He told the Polish Prime Minister that the British government attached importance to the Polish government’s entering into close relations with the Czechoslovak government, and that he should invite General Ingr to visit him. Kennard reported on the same day that the Poles refused henceforward any contacts with the Hodľa group of émigrés, their previous contacts having tended to become an anti-Beneš intrigue.
The way was thus open for direct Polish-Czechoslovak contacts, and within days Beneš and Raczkiewicz exchanged visits, while Sikorski and Beneš met on September 10. At their first meeting “both men agreed that many mistakes had been made and that they must not be repeated. The position of Poland and Czechoslovakia today was not one which would permit the luxury of a permanent discord between the two Slav nations.” Bruce Lockhart, in his report to the Foreign Office, quoted Beneš as saying to Sikorski that “there was not ‘Polonophobia’ in Czechoslovakia; there was, however, a widespread sentiment of Russophilism ... its existence was a political fact which had to be recognized. On the other hand, if a Czechoslovak had to choose between sentiment and reason, he would always put reason first. He was a rationalist.”
During further exchanges Sikorski referred to an offer made by Beneš to Beck early in 1938 suggesting acceptance of “an arrangement with Poland as a preliminary condition to any Russo-Czechoslovak understanding.” Beck had never responded to this suggestion. According to Bruce Lockhart, Beneš said “certainly” when Sikorski asked him whether he still favoured this approach. To which Sikorski replied: “On that basis we can settle everything.” He expressed the view that Poland and Czechoslovakia must harmonize their Russian policy. “There must be no further attempt to play off Germany against Russia and vice versa. Germany was the greater danger. Poland must establish good relations with Russia. A policy of good-neighbourliness was attainable. The Czechoslovaks could help the Poles to achieve this.” Beneš stressed that Poland’s social structure differed from Czechoslovakia’s and was a stumbling block to good relations and an eventual federation. “Our aristocracy and your petit bourgeois,” said Sikorski with a smile.
These and further discussions led to a declaration published on November 11, 1940, in which the two governments “consider it imperative to declare solemnly that Poland and Czechoslovakia, closing once and for all the period of past recriminations and disputes, and taking into consideration the community of their fundamental interests, are determined, on the conclusion of this war, to enter as independent and sovereign States into a closer political and economic association which would become the basis of a new order in central Europe and a guarantee of its stability.” The British government hailed this move as of “happy augury” for a better Europe and as “a far-sighted and imaginative stroke.”
This positive attitude on the part of Britain encouraged within a short time the creation of a similar framework of cooperation between two other allies – Greece and Yugoslavia. The “Balkan Union” was welcomed by the Czechoslovak and Polish governments in a communiqué dated January 19, 1942, in which they expressed the belief that “only the cooperation of these two regional organizations can ensure the security and develop the prosperity of the vast region stretching from the Baltic to the Aegean.”
Formulated in these terms, this communiqué was bound to revive Moscow’s suspicions that the Czechs and Poles were trying to establish an anti-Soviet cordon sanitaire. Within six months all blocs in Europe without Soviet participation had become the targets of violent attack by Moscow. No wonder that the new Polish Prime Minister, Stanislaw Mikolajczyk, deemed it necessary in his first public speech to answer the charges leveled against the proposed Confederation. “It would be unfounded,” he said, “to suppose that we have in mind the creation of a cordon sanitaire. A Central-European organization would have to work together with Russia on friendly terms, both in the economic and political spheres. Difficulties arising out of the past are great, but can be swept aside by goodwill on both sides.”
In actual fact, the two partners in the proposed Confederation, while agreeing on certain principles, remained at variance as to the approach to adopt in solving some of the main problems that lay ahead. Both the Poles and the Czechs held the view that, for a considerable time to come, the future balance of power in Europe could not depend on a serious contribution by a weakened France. The question was asked whether they could consequently count in this respect on Soviet Russia. Raczyński maintained that “though Russia is sufficiently tough and persevering in defence, she is less able to take action outside her own borders. She is also far removed from the centre of Europe.”
This was not quite the view held by Beneš, who believed above all that “we must not have the Russians against us.” He urged an agreement with the USSR establishing “some kind of modus vivendi” in order to define how the Red Army would operate in Polish or Czechoslovak territory in the event of their intervening to help a Communist revolution in Germany.
Sikorski, replying, stated that Poland had no intention of following an unfriendly policy towards Russia since “we are determined to preserve all our forces for the necessary defence against the German threat.” He went on to say that Russian policy was based on “realism” and therefore would take into account only a “solid bloc” which would constitute a “serious partner.” The Russians, he said, have no “ideological scruples” and they must feel that they have an interest in doing business with us. He warned that the future Polish-Czechoslovak Confederation should be prepared to oppose a possible Soviet attempt to impose Communist governments in Warsaw, Prague, Bratislava or even Berlin. He concluded that Poland maintained its rights over the entire territory of the Republic and intended at the opportune moment to recover by agreement with Russia the areas which had been annexed by her.
The one important agreement reached during this stage of the conversations was that Poland and Czechoslovakia would support one another at the peace settlement, whatever the future course of the war. This principle came up for closer scrutiny at a meeting between Beneš and Sikorski on January 26, 1941, at a time when Finnish resistance to the Russians was arousing the sympathy of British public opinion. Sikorski said that British political opinion had changed considerably during the past three months. “All parties, including the Labour Party, are now anti-Russian, and the general public shares this feeling. Now is the time for Poland to benefit from this change of sentiment.” Sikorski proposed to immediately issue a statement declaring that Poland required “the full restoration of its Eastern frontier.”
Beneš told Bruce Lockhart that “he was taken off his guard by this proposal.” He was fully prepared to support Polish protests against territorial changes imposed by brute force, but any specific pledge about frontiers would cause him great embarrassment. He had to reckon with pro-Russian sentiment in his own country. However, he did not want to create a deadlock. He therefore argued against raising the issue at this stage of the war, stating that it might embarrass the British government.
Sikorski expressed surprise when Beneš mentioned Ruthenia, stating that he had been informed that the Czechoslovaks “were not prepared to press their claims for the inclusion of this province in the new Czechoslovakia.” This revealing remark on the part of the Poles showed that they were still pursuing their old objective of a common border with Hungary in Ruthenia.
The Czechs grew increasingly cautious and doubtful of the ultimate success of the Confederation plans. They were worried about the tendency of their Polish partners to try to play the leading role in the Confederation, and their insistence on the early inclusion of both Lithuania and Hungary. In addition, there were Polish hesitations about the future of both Teschen and Ruthenia which previously had been part of the Czechoslovak Republic. Despite Soviet displeasure clearly expressed to Beneš, Moscow now offered the glittering promise of a post-war Soviet-Czechoslovak Treaty.
The Polish-Czech negotiations had been dormant for many months when Ripka, speaking in the Czechoslovak State Council, announced their “temporary suspension” on May 17, 1943. Raczyński expressed regret at this decision. In spite of “more or less ephemeral obstacles to a closer union of the two sister nations,” he said, he firmly “believed in the realization of the decisions which we have mutually adopted and which are dictated by historical necessity.”
A Czechoslovak offer was made later that year to the Polish government to conclude a “Treaty” on condition that Polish-Soviet relations improved and that the territorial problem of Teschen be solved. It was not taken up. When on December 12, 1943, the Czechoslovak-Soviet “Treaty of Friendship, Mutual Assistance and Post-War Cooperation” was signed by Beneš in Moscow, a door was left open for Poland to join once the signatories agreed. This however was not to be, and the severing of the link with Beneš’s Czechoslovakia marked the end of another Polish dream.
The British government was equally unhappy. It had had to temporize on the “Self-Denying Ordinance” which for a time it considered binding on the larger Allies. During Molotov’s visit to London, Eden discussed with him an understanding designed “to avoid undignified competition among the smaller Allies to conclude treaties affecting the post-war settlement.” This was later declined by Moscow. In the diplomatic merry-go-round of wartime pactomania, Polish-Czech, Yugoslav-Greek, Polish-Czech-Lithuanian-Hungarian treaties were being envisaged, as well as at one stage an Anglo-Soviet-Polish-Czechoslovak agreement, and now a Soviet-Czechoslovak treaty, leaving the door open for Poland to join later. The British government could only express the hope to Moscow that Poland would be included later in its treaty with Czechoslovakia and that this would be the only exception to the “Self-Denying Ordinance.”
Polish Absence from Teheran – "Riga Line" versus "Curzon Line" [top]
By the spring of 1943 it had become clear to most observers in London and Washington that the basic Polish assumption that Russia would be weakened in the war and that this would enable the restoration of full Polish rights and claims was false. Since Stalingrad the Russians had mounted powerful offensives westwards, and their success no longer left any doubt as to the outcome. Yet when the Soviet, British and United States foreign ministers met in Moscow in October, the Polish government expressly asked that the issue of the Polish-Soviet frontier be avoided in the discussions. The breaking-off of Soviet-Polish relations following the massacre of Polish officers at Katyn further complicated matters and introduced a new priority in the situation – an effort on the part of Britain and America to bring about a restoration of relations between the two governments. A memorandum on the attitude of the Polish government was presented to Eden by Prime Minister Mikolajczyk on the eve of his departure for Teheran. It stated that “the Polish government could not ... see its way to enter into a discussion on the subject of territorial concessions for the reason that such a discussion, in the absence of effective guarantees of Poland’s independence and security on the part of Great Britain and the United States, would be sure to lead to continual and ever new demands.”
When this memorandum was handed to Eden on November 22, 1943, Mikolajczyk introduced a certain nuance into the discussion. He was told by Eden that while the questions discussed at the conference would be military, he hoped that it might provide an opportunity to discuss Polish problems. “All I asked,” Eden said later, “was that the Polish government should not prevent me from raising the question if I got a chance. I would do my best, though the Polish government should not expect too much from the Conference. To which Mikolajczyk replied that he certainly did not wish to dissuade me from discussing Poland.” Eden also remarked: “There might be some difficulty with the Americans, who seem disposed to put off discussing territorial questions till the end of the war. I thought this unwise.”
This constituted a half-hearted agreement for the British Foreign Secretary to discuss the Polish question at Teheran. Curiously enough, the absence of Polish representatives seemed odd to Stalin himself. When after dinner on the first evening of the conference Churchill and Eden suggested that they discuss Poland, Stalin enquired “whether it would be without Polish participation.” Churchill replied affirmatively, adding “that when all this is informally agreed between ourselves we can go to the Poles later.” These words were an exact echo of what Roosevelt had told Eden at the White House six months earlier, namely, that “the Big Powers would have to decide what Poland should have and that he, the President, did not intend to go to the Peace Conference and bargain with Poland or the other small states.”
While Roosevelt, with seven million Americans of Polish origin to contend with, could not state this publicly for electoral reasons, thinking along the above lines gained credence during the summer of 1943 both in London and Washington. It was more and more apparent that the real motive behind Soviet policy was a determination to secure for the USSR a western border approximately on the post-World-War-I Curzon Line. Doubts appeared as to whether it would be possible to maintain the principle of no territorial agreements before the end of the hostilities. The breaking off of relations between the Soviet Union and the Polish government seemed to exclude any chance of direct Soviet-Polish negotiations, and British and American involvement was therefore considered imperative.
The views of the Polish government’s two main diplomatic advisers, though differing in perspective, were largely parallel. Ambassador Ciechanowski rang the alarm from Washington in the summer of 1943, cabling to Mikolajczyk: “We cannot harbour any illusions that the postponement of a decision will help our cause” and “the lack of definite results now will result in the loss of our independence.” He added that after the election “America will not antagonize its powerful ally [the USSR] just to help us.” At the same time Count Raczyński, in London, hinted to a colleague at the Foreign Office that “if Poland’s friends told the government that they must accept such and such a settlement in order to safeguard the future, this would be different.” He implied that any settlement must be underwritten by Britain and the USA.
However, the Polish government persisted in its attitude that the Treaty of Riga, as approved by the Conference of Ambassadors and by the United States in 1923, had never been called into question by the USSR and therefore remained in force, the Russo-German Agreements of 1939 having been cancelled by the Soviet-Polish Agreement of July 30, 1941. This affirmation was included in a public statement on March 4, 1943, in reply to a Soviet statement on March 1 which for the first time mentioned the Curzon Line “as a just frontier between the two countries.”
The rigid legal stand taken by the Polish government was prompted mainly by conviction, but also partly by the argument that the Russians would certainly not give up their position, and therefore the best one could do was to stick to one’s principles.
Churchill, however, did not see the question in this light. Before ventilating the issue publicly he personally undertook to try to persuade the Poles of the need for painful sacrifices. On January 20, 1943, he told Mikolajczyk and his Foreign Minister Adam Romer “privately” that the British government considered the Curzon Line a just frontier for Poland and that the loss of territories to the east of that line would be compensated by pushing Poland westward towards the Oder.
“I want the Polish government to accept the Curzon Line without Lvov as a basis for negotiations with the Russians,” the Prime Minister said. “You have to accept this not only as a necessity, but enthusiastically as well, for it is a solution of the Polish problem on a grand scale.” Mikolajczyk in reply insisted that the Riga Line should be the starting point for negotiations. Poland, he stressed, should not come out smaller than she was before the war, a solution should be found in an exchange of populations, not territories, and an Anglo-Saxon guarantee should be included in the settlement. At a similar session on February 16, 1943, Churchill spoke emphatically of Polish faults and declared that the Soviet advance was the Poles’ “only hope of liberation from the Germans.” Mikolajczyk and Romer, while declaring that the Polish Cabinet saw no practical guarantees for any concessions and had no authority to accept the Curzon Line, offered to negotiate a demarcation line east of Vilna and Lvov. This contact ended with Churchill announcing his intention to make a public statement on the issue and Mikolajczyk asking him not to say anything that would weaken the Polish position.
Speaking in the Commons on February 22, 1944, Churchill said: “The liberation of Poland may presently be achieved by the Russian armies after these armies have suffered millions of casualties in breaking the German military machine. I cannot feel that the Russian demand for a reassurance about her western frontiers goes beyond the limits of what is reasonable or just. Marshal Stalin and I also spoke and agreed upon the need for Poland to obtain compensation at the expense of Germany both in the north and in the west.”
When Mikolajczyk called on President Roosevelt at the White House on June 11, Washington seemed to be the Polish government’s last remaining hope. However, with the Presidential election ahead, Roosevelt, Secretary of State Hull and his deputy Stettinius appeared evasive, laying the blame for the Teheran result on Churchill and expressing the hope that a more satisfactory solution might be obtained after the end of hostilities and that the Poles would prove their readiness to cooperate in a friendly way with their eastern neighbours.
Meanwhile, the Polish government was under pressure from its own followers inside Poland. A message from Warsaw dated February 15 and signed by both the Underground Council of National Unity and the Government Plenipotentiary declared their determination “to fight against the new Soviet aggression in defence of Poland’s independence and for the freedom of Europe.” While agreeing to the proposed Western boundaries and welcoming the pledge to remove all Germans from these territories, they opposed “linking our eastern frontier with the question of our western boundaries.” They supported the Polish government’s demand that its representatives be entrusted with the civil administration in the territories of pre-war Poland liberated by the Red Army, and concluded that “fully aware of the aims and methods of our eastern neighbour, we do not attach any importance to possible agreements because we do not believe that these agreements will be kept.”
The Red Army Enters Poland – Mikolajczyk’s Government Resigns [top]
On January 5, 1944, the Red Army crossed the border into pre-war Poland in pursuit of the Wehrmacht. In three notes to the Foreign Office the Polish government outlined their basic position on all the issues at hand. They stressed the “exceptional urgency” of supplying the Polish Underground Army with indispensable arms; protested against faits accomplis affecting “the status of the Polish Republic based on valid international treaties,” and urged “the speedy re-establishment of a Polish administration” on Polish soil in accordance with the Atlantic Charter. Finally it requested the immediate appointment of British and American representatives to Soviet Headquarters in Poland to ensure that Polish, British and American troops enter the country simultaneously “on an equal footing” with the Red Army. In addition, the Polish government asked for a “formal guarantee” by Britain and, “if obtainable,” by the United States, of “the territorial integrity of Poland within her new frontiers.” While laying down that conversations regarding frontiers “can be held only after the end of the war,” the Polish government conceded that “during war hostilities” an area “east of Wilno and Lwow” should be administered by the Soviet military authorities with the full participation of representatives of all Allied Powers.
Curiously, in a further flight from reality the Poles considered it the right moment to state their opposition to the claim of Stalin to the Baltic coast: “The Polish government considers it a duty to state that the incorporation into the Soviet Union of a part of East Prussia with Königsberg is against the interests of the Polish State and painfully restrains its access to the sea.” This issue was apparently included among the “outstanding questions” the Poles declared themselves ready to discuss with the Soviet government.
Throughout 1943, Churchill in London and Roosevelt in Washington concentrated their efforts on preventing the discovery of the Katyn massacre and, later, the Warsaw Uprising, from wrecking the fragile inter-allied boat, and persisted in a policy of investing in goodwill for Stalin in the hope of securing his cooperation in the post-war era.
In a letter to Romer, dated November 2, 1944, Sir Alexander Cadogan answered three questions formulated earlier by the Polish government. To the question “whether, even in the event of the United States government finding themselves unable to agree to the changes in Poland’s western frontier ... Britain would still advocate these changes at the Peace settlement,” he answered affirmatively; to a second question Cadogan stated that Poland should have the right to extend its territory to “the Oder, to include the port of Stettin”; finally, to the third question, whether Britain “would guarantee the independence and integrity of the new Poland,” the answer was that “His Majesty’s Government is prepared to give such a guarantee jointly with the Soviet government.” On a possible American participation in such a guarantee, “His Majesty’s Government would not make this a condition of their own guarantee in conjunction with that of the Soviet Union,” such a guarantee remaining “valid until effectively merged in the general guarantee which it is hoped may be afforded by the projected world organization.”
The long and impatiently awaited pronouncement by Roosevelt, who was now freed from electoral considerations, reached Mikolajczyk in London on November 22, 1944, through the President’s personal representative Averell Harriman. In a letter written ten days after his re-election, President Roosevelt declared that “the United States government stands unequivocally for a strong, free and independent Polish State with the untrammeled right of the Polish people to order their internal existence as they see fit.” With regard to the future frontiers of Poland, the President added: “If a mutual agreement on this subject, including the proposed compensation for Poland from Germany, is reached between the Polish, Soviet and British governments, this government would offer no objection.” He added that in accordance with its “traditional policy” the United States “cannot give a guarantee for any specific frontiers.” Roosevelt promised finally to facilitate the transfer of national minorities to and from Polish territory and assist in the post-war economic reconstruction of the Polish State.
Harriman, who was on his way to Moscow, offered to intercede with Stalin so that Lvov and the eastern oil fields should remain within Polish territory. The Polish government, however, declined, because this would mean agreeing to the other implications of the Curzon Line.
Forty-eight hours later, on November 24, 1944, Mikolajczyk reached the conclusion that his usefulness as a Prime Minister had come to an end, and he tendered his resignation. He was succeeded a few days later by the veteran Socialist Tomas Arciszewski. Neither the Polish Peasant Party nor its leader Mikolajczyk participated in the new government. They had accepted the Curzon Line as a basis for negotiations and this position was not accepted by the majority of the new government. The Peasant Party, however, remained one of the four political parties in the leadership of the “Secret State” inside Poland.
The Tragedy of the Warsaw Uprising – Lack of Advance Coordination [top]
An uninterrupted series of calamities had befallen the Polish government since the Katyn affair had broken on the bewildered Allies in April 1943. There followed the breaking-off of relations, never to be restored, between the Soviet government and the Polish government in exile and the sudden disappearance of Sikorski; the absence of Polish representatives at the Teheran and Yalta conferences when Poland was discussed; the absence of any agreement with Moscow when the Soviet Army crossed into former Polish territory and Moscow’s refusal to cooperate with the London-led “Secret State” and its underground army; and, finally, the emergence of the “Lublin Committee” transformed by Moscow into the “Provisional Government of the Republic of Poland.”
As the Polish government was slipping down the diplomatic slope, two tragedies in Poland overshadowed political events by their human dimensions and sombre drama. The rebellion of the Warsaw Ghetto – the desperate stand of the last surviving Jews – and the Warsaw Uprising – the Polish Underground’s long-planned participation in the final liberation of the capital. The latter failed through a colossal miscalculation and was abandoned to its bitter fate by the Allies.
The underground resistance movement had emerged soon after the defeat of the Polish army in September 1939 and the partition of the country between Germany and Russia. It bore from the outset the double characteristic of being both anti-German and anti-Soviet. When Hitler invaded the USSR and the Soviet Union was welcomed into the Grand Alliance, anti-Russian manifestations were restrained at the insistence of the London-based government. During the short-lived honeymoon that followed the Polish-Soviet agreement and the Sikorski-Stalin encounter, hopes of confident cooperation were entertained, but with considerable reserve. Preparations went ahead for the last phase of the war when the role of the Underground, as was generally assumed, would be to take over the country and prepare for the return of the London government. The idea of constituting a barrier along the Vistula against a Soviet advance into Europe dominated the Underground leaders’ thinking even after Stalingrad. But as the Soviet steamroller moved westward such ideas had to be abandoned and the concept of a stabilized German front east of Poland inside Russia receded as did the prospects of a political agreement between the Polish government and Moscow.
When in the summer of 1944 the Red Army began to advance into central Poland and call for a rising of the Warsaw population, decisions had to be taken by the Underground leadership. What they feared most, as General Anders was to write later, was that the Communists would take “advantage of the hatred felt by all Poles towards the Germans” and would create the impression in the outside world that the population of the capital welcomed the Russians as liberators and accepted the rule of the Lublin Committee.
The Warsaw Uprising, launched at 5 p.m. on August 1, 1944, was planned as a single major stroke which would enable the Underground to take over the city and remove the German hold within twelve hours. Its weak point was that it depended on help from outside arriving after the uprising started. Indeed, from the very start the leaders of the uprising were clamouring for help in arms and ammunition. By the fourth day of the uprising the military commanders had to abandon offensive for defensive operations because the expected help had not arrived. The lack of coordination with the Russians and the British and Americans was unbelievable and created one of the most bitter arguments of the war.
On the Polish side efforts had been made throughout the war to induce the British government to provide arms for the Underground army. To the extent that such aid was available the task was entrusted to the British Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.). Assistance was in fact confined to sabotage material. As the Soviet-Polish conflict deepened, there appeared, besides difficulties of delivery, the consideration of not exceeding minimal quantities in order not to arouse Russian suspicions as to the ultimate purpose of the aid. It was no wonder, therefore, that the arms in the insurgents’ hands, when the uprising broke out, hardly exceeded those in the hands of a medium-sized guerrilla group today.
The attitude of the British Chief of Staff was that while Britain continued to support sabotage activities, her bases “were too far away from the field of operations to take responsibility for calling on the Poles to start a general rising throughout Poland, and that such a rising could be effective only if it took place in agreement and cooperation with the Russians.”
A final attempt made by the Polish government to intervene with the British government is described by Raczyński. Premier Mikolajczyk on the eve of his long-awaited visit to Moscow informed Churchill and Eden that the Home Army Commander had ordered a “state of final readiness” as from July 25 in preparation for action against the German forces. He was given authority by the government in London to decide on the most suitable time for the uprising to start. On July 27 Raczyński transmitted to Eden three requests made by the Home Army to coincide with the start of the uprising: 1) the dispatch of the Polish parachute brigade to Warsaw; 2) the bombing by the RAF of airfields around the capital; 3) the dispatch of Mustang or Spitfire squadrons to airfields under Polish Home Army control.
In his reply the following day, Sir Alexander Cadogan informed the Polish Ambassador that “it would not be possible to fly the parachute brigade over German territory as far as Warsaw without risking excessive losses”; that the dispatch of fighter squadrons to airfields in Poland would also be “a lengthy and complicated process which could, in any case, only be carried out in agreement with the Soviet government. It could certainly not be accomplished in time to influence the present battle”; and, finally, the Warsaw airfield “is beyond the normal operational range of the RAF,” and the bombing of airfields would in any case be carried out much more appropriately from Soviet-controlled bases
While warned of the Allies’ inability or unwillingness to help the impending uprising, the Polish government in London seems to have been unable to halt the preparations for what all Polish patriots considered the supreme test of their struggle for independence. The decision was henceforth in the hands of the Underground Army command isolated inside Warsaw. The distant roaring of Russian guns across the Vistula and the retreating German columns westward convinced the Warsaw leadership that the hour to strike was at hand.
On July 29, 1944, at 8.15 p.m. the Soviet-controlled Kosciuszko radio station broadcast an appeal to the people of Warsaw on behalf of the Union of Polish Patriots which began as follows: “Fight the Germans. No doubt Warsaw already hears the guns of the battle which is soon to bring her liberation. Those who have never bowed their heads to Hitlerite power will again, as in 1939, join in battle against the Germans, this time for decisive action,” and it added: “For Warsaw which did not yield but fought on, the hour of action has now arrived.”
The question as to whether the broadcast represented an official call from the Russians for the Poles to rebel has dominated the minds of historians ever since. Despite telephone communications across the Vistula and the mysterious presence of a Soviet colonel named Kalugin, direct contact was not established between the Home Army in Warsaw and the advancing Red Army. Kosciuszko radio station was controlled by the Lublin Committee and the authors of the broadcast were obviously Polish Communists who intended not only to liberate Warsaw but also to establish their rule there. This, of course, increased the Home Army’s determination to go ahead so that when the Red Army arrived in Warsaw, it would find a Polish government administration running the city.
The key witness in this controversy, General Bor-Komorowski, stated later that the Poles wanted to show the world that, contrary to Soviet allegations, they were engaged in a heroic struggle against the Germans and that they had liberated their own capital. He appeared to dismiss the role of the Kosciuszko broadcast in their decision. “In principle,” he wrote, “these calls were nothing new. Soviet propaganda had continually appealed to the Polish nation for a general uprising against the Germans. Appeals had been addressed to the Poles even when the Red Army was not on the banks of the Vistula, but on the Dnieper... “
Mikolajczyk assumed full responsibility for the rising of Warsaw when he broadcast to Poland declaring: “As Prime Minister I take full co-responsibility for the decisions passed by your political and military leaders, the ministers of the Polish government acting in the homeland, General Bor and the Council of National Unity.” He urged the insurgents to “hold out until help and liberation come” but, at this stage, did not try to explain the lack of advance coordination with the Allies.
On August 18, Mikolajczyk was more explicit when he appealed again directly to Stalin for help and thought it politic to exonerate the Soviet command from responsibility for the timing of the Warsaw uprising. “I understand,” he wrote to Stalin, “that the Soviet High Command is not responsible for Warsaw’s uprising which we now know was premature and therefore could not have been pre-arranged with your forces.” Nevertheless, he continued, “the Warsaw uprising was ordered by the Commander-in-Chief of the Home Army who had the power to do so at a time when the Soviet armies were approaching the capital and appeals broadcast by Radio Moscow were calling the people to armed action.”
The Helplessness of the Big Three – The Underground Army Abandoned to Its Fate [top]
The urgent problem of help to Warsaw was at the forefront of inter-allied relations, and during the sixty-one days of the uprising it caused tremendous upheavals in Britain and the United States and an unprecedentedly intransigent attitude on the part of Moscow. Molotov was very outspoken when the British and American Ambassadors intervened together to secure Soviet help for besieged Warsaw. He contended that statements on the Warsaw Uprising issued through the Polish government in London proved that it was inspired by elements antagonistic to the Soviet Union and that Russia declined “directly or indirectly to associate itself with the Warsaw adventure.” While Roosevelt and Churchill were united in feeling and purpose, coordinating their efforts to induce Stalin to help Warsaw was not easy. On August 22, 1944, Churchill even suggested that the Americans should use refueling facilities in the Soviet Union “landing without inquiry as to their activities on the way.” Roosevelt replied: “I do not consider it would prove advantageous to the long-range general war prospect for me to join with you in the proposed message to Stalin....” This was after an earlier common appeal to the ruler of the Kremlin on August 18 had been answered on August 22 by a refusal which stated: “Sooner or later the truth about the group of criminals who have embarked on the Warsaw adventure in order to seize power will become known to everybody.”
Anger at the Soviet attitude shook the British War Cabinet and at one time Churchill even envisaged threatening Stalin with stopping the convoys to Russia or “gate-crashing” planes onto Soviet aerodromes after dropping supplies in Warsaw. Without further consultation with Roosevelt, the War Cabinet took the unprecedented step of sending a message to the Soviet government requesting them “to provide facilities to United States aircraft to land on Soviet airfields.” The message sent to Moscow on September 4 stated that the War Cabinet “wish the Soviet government to know that public opinion in this country is deeply moved.... Whatever the rights and wrongs about the beginning of the Warsaw rising, the people of Warsaw themselves cannot be held responsible. The War Cabinet themselves find it hard to understand your government’s refusal to take account of the obligations of the British and American governments to help the Poles in Warsaw. Your government’s action in preventing help being sent seems to us at variance with the spirit of Allied cooperation.... Out of regard for Marshal Stalin and for the Soviet peoples, with whom it is our earnest desire to work in future years, the War Cabinet ... makes this further appeal to the Soviet government ... to provide facilities for U.S. aircraft to land on your airfields.”
The Soviet reply received on September 9, while reiterating Moscow’s displeasure at the Polish failure to consult the Allies in advance about the uprising, nevertheless promised that the Soviet command would organize aid to Warsaw jointly with the British and American authorities. This Soviet undertaking was more in the nature of relief in tension between Moscow and the Anglo-American Allies than of relief to the insurgents in besieged Warsaw. It came too late in the day. On balance the assistance by air provided by East and West was small in relation to Warsaw’s 60,000 Armia Krajova combatants and hundreds of thousands of civilians.
The fact that the powerful Soviet offensive in the late summer of 1944 stopped a few miles east of Warsaw while the insurgents in the Polish capital were desperately clamouring for help aroused one of the most bitter controversies in post-war reassessment of events. Some specialists such as Philip Selznick claim that the Soviet Army intentionally bypassed Warsaw with “a cynical willingness” to annihilate hostile rivals. Others maintain that strategic considerations made the Red Army pause on the Vistula pending the pursuit of its operations in the south towards Hungary and the Balkans. Some even believe that Stalin saw this drive primarily as a precaution against a possible Anglo-American advance in central Europe and this consideration gained priority over the occupation of Warsaw.
The fact remains, however, that the Soviet offensive came to a halt along practically the whole front. Only three months later, in January 1945, did the Red Army enter Warsaw, which by then was in ruins.
Stalin’s explanation of the Soviet pause before Warsaw is of course a basic document in the Warsaw Uprising file. His first reference to it was made on August 3, 1944, the third day of the uprising, when he received Mikolajczyk, accompanied by the chairman of the Polish National Council in London, Professor Grabski, in the Kremlin. In reply to their plea for help to the Warsaw fighters, Stalin said: “We hope to take Warsaw on the 5th or 6th of August, but the Germans are defending it more savagely than we had expected.” There would be “a small delay” he said, in capturing the city. On taking leave from Stalin before returning to London, Mikolajczyk handed him a message from Soviet Colonel Kalugin inside besieged Warsaw who was communicating via the London Polish government transmission services. Kalugin stated that he was in touch with the insurgents’ command and urged “armed support” for them. Stalin, who promised he would do his best to help, added: “The Germans there are more difficult than we expected. But we’ll liberate Warsaw soon.”
Eight days after the collapse of the uprising, on October 11, 1944, the Warsaw tragedy was evoked by Stalin during a conversation with Churchill, Eden and Harriman in Moscow. In a telegram to Sir Orme Sargent Eden wrote that “Stalin took great pains to assure the Prime Minister that the failure to relieve Warsaw had not been due to any lack of efforts by the Soviet Army. The failure was due entirely to the strength of the enemy and to difficulties of terrain. Stalin could not make a public admission of this failure, but the same situation had arisen at Kiev where the city was finally liberated by an outflanking movement. The Prime Minister said that he accepted Stalin’s explanation ‘absolutely’ and that no serious persons in Great Britain had believed the reports of a deliberate refusal to relieve Warsaw. Criticism had referred only to the apparent unwillingness of the Russians to send aeroplanes. Mr. Harriman who was present ... spoke in similar terms of the view taken in the United States.”
Stalin also referred to the Warsaw uprising when he received General de Gaulle in Moscow on December 2, 1944. After his usual condemnation of the “ émigré government” in London, Stalin talked of “the fiasco of the so-called Warsaw insurrection.” “The Polish people,” Stalin continued, “know by now that the uprising was launched without the knowledge and without the agreement of the Red Army. Had the Soviet Command been asked if it could provide military aid to the insurrection, it would have made known in advance that this was not feasible. In fact the Red Army had fought its way over six hundred kilometres from Minsk to Warsaw. When it arrived before Warsaw its artillery and munitions were four hundred kilometres behind its lines and it was not in a position to launch an attack on the capital.”
On the Polish side certain statements seem to corroborate Stalin’s contentions. General Okulicki, Bor-Komorowski’s successor at the head of the Home Army, estimated that an all-out Soviet offensive against Berlin was unlikely before the elimination of German resistance in East Prussia and Hungary. Similarly, General Marian Kukiel, Polish Minister of Defence, revealed in 1948 that “in the afternoon of August 2 Soviet artillery died down. It was learnt only later that on that day the Third Soviet Army Corps sustained a reverse in the battle of Radzymin north-east of Warsaw.”
Similarly, Eden, replying on August 15, 1944, to a query from Churchill who was then in Italy, stated that the Soviet army had suffered a definite setback and that was why they had failed to advance on Warsaw as the Polish Underground expected.
This tends to corroborate the view that, quite apart from Stalin’s political designs in Poland, the Red Army’s halt at the gates of Warsaw was dictated by military considerations.
"Government of National Protest" versus the Warsaw "Government of National Unity" [top]
In London Arciszewski succeeded Mikolajczyk as Poland’s Prime Minister, but in the few months in which his government was still recognized by Britain it was ignored by the Foreign Office. Although the new Premier started his term of office by a broadcast on December 7, 1944, in which he extended a “hand of friendship” to the Soviet Union, it soon became clear that his political stance was diametrically opposed to that of the British government on the eve of Yalta and beyond. The only contact maintained between Arciszewski and the Foreign Office was on a purely personal level, through Ambassador Raczyński. The clearest indication of the British attitude was given by Churchill himself to Mikolajczyk when the latter took leave of him on departing for Moscow: “The Labour Party is pressing me to liquidate that rotten government of Arciszewski. We have come to the conclusion that there is no point in having anything to do with it.”
In the fateful months that followed, the Arciszewski government was treated as an outsider, notably when the Yalta Conference issued its declaration on Poland, when the Lublin Committee was recognized by the Soviet Union as the Provisional Polish government, and later, when intricate negotiations led to the creation of the so-called provisional government of National Unity in Poland with the inclusion of Mikolajczyk and the latter’s return to Warsaw.
“De-recognition” followed on July 5, 1945. Churchill gave the Arciszewski government twenty-four hours’ notice, whereupon Wladislaw Raczkiewicz, President of the Republic, issued an official Declaration to the Polish nation: “I remain at my post in accordance both with the provisions of the Constitution now in force and, I think, in accordance with the will of the immense majority of the Polish people.”
The following day Raczyński presented a note to the Foreign Office in which he declared: “I most solemnly protest against the recognition by the British government of a government imposed on Poland by force by an alien power, which amounts to the recognition of the suppression of Poland’s independence.” He refused to delegate his functions “without the approval of the constitutional government of Poland” and said he would regard as an “impostor” anyone pretending to claim his office. For their part, the two top Polish generals, Sosnkowski and Anders, issued a defiant Order of the Day from their headquarters at the front in Italy.
The Polish government in essence had ceased to exist. Yet, for nearly half a century, the “Polish Government of National Protest,” as it called itself, continued, believing that it carried a message of freedom to Poles. Only in 1991, when Poland freely elected Lech Walesa as President did the London government dissolve itself. The seals of the Republic, which had been held in exile for so long, returned to Warsaw.
Yapou: Governments in Exile, 1939-1945
Return to Table of Contents