The Polish population transfers in 1944–46 from the eastern half of
prewar Poland (also known as the expulsions of
Poles from the Kresy
macroregion), refer to the forced migrations of
Poles towards the
end – and in the aftermath – of World War II. Similar policy,
enforced by the
Soviet Union between 1939 and 1941, targeted ethnic
Poles residing in the Soviet zone of occupation in the aftermath of
the Nazi-Soviet invasion of Poland. The second wave of expulsions
resulted from the retaking of Poland by the
Red Army during the Soviet
counter-offensive and subsequent territorial shift ratified by the
Allies. The postwar population transfers targeting Polish nationals
were part of an official Soviet policy which affected over a million
Polish citizens removed in stages from the Polish areas annexed by the
Soviet Union. After the war, following Soviet demands laid out during
Tehran Conference of 1943, the
Kresy macroregion was formally
incorporated into the Ukrainian, Belarusian and Lithuanian Republics
Soviet Union as agreed at the
Potsdam Conference of 1945 to
which the acting Government of the Republic of Poland in exile was not
The ethnic displacement of
Poles was agreed to by the Allied leaders
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt of the U.S.,
Winston Churchill of the United
Joseph Stalin of the
USSR – during the conferences at
both Tehran and Yalta. In effect, it became one of the largest of
several post-war expulsions in Central and
Eastern Europe which
displaced a total of about twenty million people. According to
official data, during the state-controlled expulsion between 1945 and
1946, roughly 1,167,000
Poles left the westernmost republics of the
Soviet Union, less than 50% of those who registered for population
transfer. The next transfer took place after Stalin's death in
The process is variously known as expulsion, deportation,
depatriation, or repatriation, depending on the context
and the source. The term repatriation, used officially in both
communist-controlled Poland and the USSR, was a deliberate
manipulation, as deported people were leaving their homeland
rather than returning to it. It is also sometimes referred to as
the 'first repatriation' action, in contrast with the 'second
repatriation' of 1955–59. In a wider context, it is sometimes
described as a culmination of a process of "de-Polonization" of the
areas during and after the world war. The process was planned and
carried out by the communist regimes of the
USSR and that of post-war
Poland. Many of the repatriated
Poles were settled in formerly German
eastern provinces, after 1945, the so-called "Recovered Territories"
of the People's Republic of Poland.
2 Second Polish Republic
3 Invasion of Poland
3.2 Postwar transfers from Ukraine
3.3 Transfers from Belarus
3.4 From Lithuania
4 See also
6 Further reading
The history of Polish settlement in what is now Ukraine and Belarus
dates back to 1030–31. It intensified after the
Union of Lublin
Union of Lublin in
1569, when most of the territory became part of the newly established
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. From 1657 to 1793 some 80 Roman
Catholic Churches and monasteries were built in
Volhynia alone. The
expansion of Catholicism in Lemkivshchyna, Chełm Land, Podlaskie,
Brześć land, Galicia,
Right bank Ukraine
Right bank Ukraine was
accompanied by the process of gradual
Polonization of the eastern
lands. Social and ethnic conflicts arose regarding the differences of
religious practices between the
Roman Catholic and the Eastern
Orthodox adherents already during the
Union of Brest in 1595-96 when
the Metropolitan of Kiev-Halych broke relations with the Eastern
Orthodox Church and placed himself under the authority of the Pope of
The partitions of Poland towards the end of the 18th century resulted
in the expulsions of ethnic
Poles from their homes in the east for the
first time in the history of the nation. Some 80,000
Siberia by the imperial army in 1864 in the single largest
deportation action commenced within the Russian Partition. "Books
were burned; churches destroyed; priests murdered;" wrote Norman
Davies. Meanwhile, Ukrainians were officially considered "part of
the Russian people".
Russian Revolution of 1917
Russian Revolution of 1917 and the
Russian Civil War
Russian Civil War of 1917-1922
brought an end to the Russian Empire. According to Ukrainian
sources from the
Cold War period, during the
Bolshevik revolution of
1917 the Polish population of
Kiev was 42,800. In July 1917, when
relations between the
Ukrainian People's Republic
Ukrainian People's Republic (UNR) and Russia
became strained, the Polish Democratic Council of
Kiev supported the
Ukrainian side in its conflict with Petrograd. Throughout the
existence of UNR (1917–21) a separate ministry for Polish affairs
M. Mickiewycz was set up by the Ukrainian side in November
1917. In that entire period, some 1,300 Polish schools functioned with
1,800 teachers and 84,000 students in Galicia. In the region of
Podolia in 1917 there were 290 Polish schools. Beginning in 1920, the
Bolshevik and nationalist terror campaigns of the new war triggered
the flight of
Poles and Jews from the Soviet
Russia to new sovereign
Russia and Ukraine united in 1922 under the Soviet banner. In
that year, 120,000
Poles stranded in the east were repatriated west to
the Second Polish Republic. Statistical manipulations in their
regard appeared in the Soviet census of 1926 where ethnic
marked down as being of Russian or Ukrainian ethnicity.
The new wave of mass deportations of
Poles from the western republics
Soviet Union began in the autumn of 1935 under Stalin. Poles
were expelled from the border regions in order to resettle the area
with ethnic Russians and Ukrainians. In 1935 alone 1,500 families were
Siberia from the Soviet Ukraine. In 1936, a further 5,000
Polish families were deported to Kazakhstan. The deportations were
accompanied by the gradual elimination of Polish cultural
institutions. Polish language newspapers were closed as were Polish
language courses in Pedagogical Institutes in Ukraine. Soon after the
wave of deportations, the Soviet
NKVD orchestrated the Genocide of
Poles in the Soviet Union. The Polish population in the
officially dropped by 165,000 in that period according to official
Soviet census of 1937–38; Polish losses in the
Ukrainian SSR were
about 30 percent.
Second Polish Republic
Amidst several border conflicts, Poland re-emerged as a sovereign
state following a century of foreign partitions. The Polish-Ukrainian
alliance was unsuccessful and the
Polish-Soviet war continued until
Treaty of Riga
Treaty of Riga was signed in 1921. The
Soviet Union did not
officially exist before 31 December 1922. The disputed territories
were split in Riga between the
Second Polish Republic
Second Polish Republic and the Soviet
Ukrainian SSR (part of the
Soviet Union after
1923). In the following few years in the lands assigned to sovereign
Poland some 8,265 Polish farmers settled with the help received from
the government. The overall number of settlers in the east was
negligible as compared to region's long-term residents. For instance
in the Volhynian Voivodeship (1,437,569 inhabitants in 1921) the
number of settlers did not exceed 15,000 people (3,128 refugees from
Bolshevist Russia, roughly 7,000 members of local administration and
2,600 military settlers). Approximately 4 percent of the newly
arrived settlers lived on their land, while the majority either rented
their land to local farmers or moved to the cities.
Tensions between the
Ukrainian minority in Poland
Ukrainian minority in Poland and the Polish
government escalated. On 12 July 1930, activists of the Organization
of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) helped by UVO began the so-called
sabotage action, during which Polish estates were burned, roads, rail
lines and telephone connections were destroyed. The OUN used terrorism
and sabotage in order to force the Polish government into actions that
would cause the more moderate Ukrainian politicians ready to negotiate
with the Polish state to lose support. OUN directed its violence
not only against the Poles, but also against Jews and other Ukrainians
who wished for a peaceful resolution to the Polish–Ukrainian
Invasion of Poland
Soviet invasion of Poland
Soviet invasion of Poland resulted in forcible deportation of
hundreds of thousands of Polish citizens to distant parts of the
Soviet Union. Five years later for the first time the Supreme Soviet
formally acknowledged that the Polish nationals expelled in the follow
up of the Soviet invasion were not the Soviet citizens, but foreign
subjects. Two decrees were signed on 22 June and 16 August 1944 to
facilitate the release of Polish nationals from captivity.
After the signing of the secret
Molotov-Ribbentrop pact in 1939
between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, Germany invaded Western
Poland. Two weeks later, the
Soviet Union also invaded eastern Poland.
As a result, Poland was divided between the Germans and the Soviets
(see Polish areas annexed by the Soviet Union). With the annexation of
Kresy in 1939, modern day Western Ukraine was annexed to Soviet
Ukraine, and Western Belarus to
Soviet Belorussia respectively.
Spreading terror throughout the region, the Soviet secret police
(NKVD) accompanying the
Red Army murdered Polish prisoners of
war, and in less than two years, deported up to 1.5 million
Polish citizens to
Siberia (about 52% ethnic Poles). By 1944, the
population of ethnic
Poles in Western Ukraine was 1,182,100. The
Polish government in exile
Polish government in exile in London affirmed its position of
retaining the 1939 borders. Nikita Khrushchev, however, approached
Stalin personally to keep the territories gained through the illegal
Molotov-Ribbentrop pact under continued Soviet occupation.
The residents of the Western Ukraine and Byelorussia, as well as those
of the Wilno district which had been annexed to the
Soviet Union under
the Ribentrop-Molotov pact of 23 August and 28 September 1939, had all
been under German occupation for between two and half to three years,
and were finally annexed to the
Soviet Union in 1944. The speedy
Poles from these regions was meant to erase their Polish
past and to confirm the fact that the regions were indeed part of the
The document regarding the resettlement of
Poles from Ukrainian and
Belorussian SSR to Poland was signed 9 September 1944 in
Khrushchev and the head of the Polish Committee of National Liberation
Edward Osóbka-Morawski (the corresponding document with Lithuanian
SSR was signed on 22 September). The document further specified who
was eligible for the resettlement, (it was primarily applicable to all
Poles and Jews who were citizens of the
Second Polish Republic
Second Polish Republic before
17 September 1939 and their families) what property they could take
with them and what aid they would receive from the corresponding
governments. The resettlement was divided into two phases: first, the
eligible citizens were registered as wishing to be resettled; second
their request was to be reviewed and approved by the corresponding
governments. About 750,000
Poles and Jews from the western regions of
Ukraine were deported, as well as about 200,000 from western Belarus
and from Lithuanian SSR each. The deportations continued until August
Postwar transfers from Ukraine
Toward the end of World War II, tensions between the Polish AK and
Ukrainians escalated into the Massacres of
Volhynia led by
the nationalist Ukrainian groups including the Organization of
Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army.
Although the Soviet government was actively trying to eradicate these
organizations, it did little to support the Polish minority; and
instead encouraged population transfer. The haste at which
repatriation was done was such that the Polish leader Bolesław Bierut
was forced to intercede and approach Stalin to retard this
repatriation, as the post-war Polish government was overwhelmed by the
sudden great number of refugees.
The Soviet "population exchanges" of 1944-1946 ostensibly concerned
[in the legal sense, nominal] citizens of prewar Poland, but in fact
Poles and Jews were sent west, whereas Ukrainians had to stay in
Soviet Ukraine. The real criterion was one of ethnicity, not
citizenship. The [exclusively] ethnic criterion was applied to
everyone in Volhynia, Ukrainians forced to stay despite their prewar
Poles and Jews force to leave despite their
ancient traditions in the region. Jewish survivors of the Holocaust
and Polish survivors of the ethnic cleansing were generally willing to
depart. The history of Volhynia, as an ancient multi-confessional
society, had come to and end. –
Timothy Snyder 
Poles in southern
Kresy (now Western Ukraine) were given the
option of resettlement in
Siberia or Poland and most chose Poland.
The Polish exile government in London sent out directives to their
organizations (see Polish Secret State) in
Lwów and other major
centers in Eastern Poland to sit fast and not evacuate, promising that
during peaceful discussions they would be able to keep
Poland. Khrushchev as a result of this directive introduced a
different approach to dealing with this Polish problem. Until this
time, Polish children could receive education in Polish according to
the curriculum of pre-war Poland. Overnight this was discontinued and
all Polish schools switched to the Soviet Ukrainian curriculum with
classes only in Ukrainian and Russian. All males were also told to
prepare for mobilization into labor brigades within the Red Army.
These actions were introduced specifically to encourage Polish
emigration to Poland.
The director of the Middle school in Rokotyniv, Stefania Kubrynowycz
"The Russians hate the Poles. (Soviet) Soldiers get changed in to the
uniforms of bandits (Banderites) and wander into Polish villages where
they suggest that they move to Poland. Those that do not want to move
are threatened with death. If it were not for England and America the
Soviets would eat the Poles".
In January 1945, the
NKVD arrested 772
Poles in Lviv (where, according
to Soviet sources, on October 1, 1944,
Poles represented 66.7% of
population), among them 14 professors, 6 doctors, 2 engineers, 3
artists, 5 Catholic priests. The reaction to these arrests in the
Polish community was extremely negative. The Polish underground press
in Lviv characterized these acts as attempts to hasten the deportation
Poles from their city. Those arrested were released after they
signed papers agreeing to emigrate to Poland. It is difficult to
establish the exact number of
Poles expelled from Lviv, between
100,000 and 140,000.
Transfers from Belarus
In stark contrast to what took place in the Ukrainian SSR, the
communist officials in the Belorussian SSR did not actively support
deportation of Poles. Belorussian officials made it difficult for
Polish activists to communicate with tuteishians – people who were
undecided as to whether they considered themselves Polish or
Belarusian. Much of the rural population, which usually had no
official documents of identity, were denied the right of repatriation
on the basis that they did not have documents stating they were Polish
citizens. In what was described as the "fight for the people",
Polish officials attempted to get as many people repatriated as
possible, while the Belorussian officials tried to retain them,
particularly the peasants, while deporting most of the Polish
intelligentsia. It is estimated that about 150,000 to 250,000 people
were deported from Belarus. Similar numbers were registered as Poles
but forced by the Belorussian officials to remain. A similar number
were denied registration as
Poles in the Belorussian SSR. A symmetric
process has taken place in regards to the Belarusian population of the
territory of the Białystok Voivodeship, that was partially retained
by Poland after World War II.
Part of the different treatment arose from religious identity; unlike
in Ukraine, where most Ukrainian Catholics were members of the
powerful Ukrainian Uniate church which was often in conflict with the
Polish Roman Catholics, most Belarusian Catholics were members of the
Latin rite. It was not unheard of for more educated Belarusian
Catholics who could speak Polish to identify as "Poles" to be deported
out of Stalin's regime to Poland, where religious freedom was somewhat
more open; the Belarusian authorities did not want a mass exodus of
their population to Poland. Consequently, Latin Rite Catholicism
retains a significant presence in Belarus even today, at about
The Lithuanian repatriation suffered from numerous delays. Local
Polish clergy were active agitating against leaving, and the
underground press called those who had registered for repatriation
traitors, hoping that the post War Peace Conference would assign
Vilnius region to Poland. After these hopes vanished, the number of
people wanting to leave gradually increased and signed papers for the
People's Republic of Poland
People's Republic of Poland State
Repatriation Office representatives.
Attitudes in the Lithuanian SSR were similar to those of the
Belarusian officials. The Lithuanian communist party was dominated by
a nationalist faction which supported the removal of
the Polish intelligentsia, particularly from the highly disputed
Vilnius region. The city of
Vilnius itself was considered a
historical capital of Lithuania, however in the early 20th century its
population was around 60% Polish, 30% Jewish, with only about 2–3%
self-declared Lithuanians. The rural Polish population was however
seen as important for the economy, and an easy target for assimilation
policies (Lithuanization). The repatriation of
Vilnius, on the other hand, was encouraged and facilitated; the result
was a rapid depolonization and
Lithuanization of the city (80% of
the Polish population was removed). Furthermore, Lithuanian
ideology declared that many of the individuals who declared themselves
as Polish were in fact "polonized Lithuanians". Again, the rural
population was denied the right to leave Lithuania due to their lack
of official pre-war documentation of Polish citizenship.
Contrary to an agreement with Poland, many individuals were threatened
with the repayment of debts or with arrests if they chose
repatriation. Individuals connected to the Polish resistance (Armia
Krajowa and Polish Underground State) were persecuted by the Soviet
authorities. In the end, only about 50% of the registered 400,000
people were allowed to leave. Political scientist Dovilė Budrytė
estimated that about 150,000 people left for Poland.
Expulsion of Germans after World War II
Polish minority in Belarus
Polish minority in Lithuania
Polish minority in Ukraine
Population transfer in the Soviet Union
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Provisional Government of the Republic of Poland
Polish Committee of National Liberation
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Polish people's referendum, 1946
Polish legislative election, 1947
Small Constitution of 1947
Amnesty of 1947
Battle for trade
under Bierut's rule
Polish United Workers' Party
Socialist realism in Poland
1951 Mokotów Prison execution
Stalinist show trial of the Kraków Curia
Poznań 1956 protests
Polish October (1956)
Polish legislative election, 1957
Bishops' Letter of Reconciliation
1968 Polish political crisis
1970 Polish protests
1971 Łódź strikes
Letter of 59
June 1976 protests
Workers' Defence Committee
Lublin 1980 strikes
Jastrzębie-Zdrój 1980 strikes
Solidarity (Polish trade union)
Independent Students' Union
1981 warning strike in Poland
Summer 1981 hunger demonstrations in Poland
autocratic rule and demise
Martial law in Poland
Military Council of National Salvation
Pacification of Wujek
Federation of Fighting Youth
Polish political and economic reforms referendum, 1987
1988 Polish strikes