VISTULA OPERATION- “AKCJA WISLA” 1947
WAITING FOR JUSTIFICATION
Two years after the dismantling of the death camps at Auschwitz (Oswiencim) and Birkenau (Brzezinka) by the Red army, their allies- the Polish army perpetrated an ugly crime on the Ukrainian inhabitants of the territories annexed by Poland (Lemkivschyna, Nadsiania, Kholmschyna and Pidliascha). Immediately following the end of World War II this ethnic group was rounded-up and deported from their historic lands because of their ethnicity. The whole operation happened in 1947 under the name “AKCJA WISLA” or “Vistula Operation”. Innocent people were forcibly ousted from their homes, herded into transport wagons and forced to relocate among a hostile Polish population. The policies on whose basis ethnic cleansing was successfully carried out are valid to this day.
“Democratic” Poland has shown no intention of rectifying the wrongs inflicted on its own citizens of Ukrainian descent. It is highly ironic and sad that the same people who honour victims of Auschwitz ignore and thereby insult the memory of Ukrainian victims of Jaworzno. Jaworzno was itself a former Nazi camp called Dachsgrube, not far from Auschwitz. This is hypocrisy of the highest order: the victims of Auschwitz are mourned by executioners of Jaworzno.
Why is the world ignorant of this?
During Vistula Operation- “Akcja Wisla” more than 150,000 Ukrainians were forcibly exiled from their native territories and sent to live in the so-called “Reclaimed territories”, formerly
German lands. For centuries, Poland held an imperialist political stance toward Ukraine. This was particularly true in the twenties and thirties, when the Polish government made efforts to increase their territories. Plans were made to change the national make-up of “Easter Kresow” in order that there be a Polish majority on these ethnographically Ukrainian territories. There were many ways to implement this change, mainly: selling lands after populating Ukrainian territories with Mazur colonists, encouraging Ukrainians to emigrate abroad, forcing Ukrainian Greek Catholics to re-register their birth certificates in Polish Roman Catholic parish registries under threat of losing their jobs, transferring government workers of Ukrainian descent to posts in Central Poland, establishing many various government organizations to Polonize Ukrainians with a weakly developed national identity.
The documents of the Polish government of the day outlining these policies toward Ukrainians are easily accessible today. Documents of the Ministry of the Internal Affairs, among others, reveal plans to Polonize 5 regions of Nadsiania: Lubachiv, Yaroslav, Peremyshl, Dobromyl and Sianyk, as well as 9 regions of the area called Lviv Pomost. The outbreak of the Second World War impeded this colonization effort somewhat.
However, despite the waging of World War II, the Polish did not abandon their anti-Ukrainian policies. Various Polish parties and organizations on Ukrainian territories (especially in Western
Ukraine) continued their imperialist actions despite these extraordinary circumstances. Already in 1942-43 they planned to increase their territories. Discussions were held about the need after the war to relocate all Ukrainians (within Polish borders) to Zbruch as well to Central and Western Poland. After 1944 the policies intending to destroy the Ukrainian population were carried out by the government of communist Poland. This was done with the wide support of Polish population and of Roman Catholic clergy. Tadeusz-Andrzej Olszanski, in an essay submitted to the Symposium of Nations, writes: “We didn’t want to have Ukrainians among us, worse, we want to believe they were a nation of criminals etc…”
This action was planned well in advance of it being carried out. Its objective was to stamp out the Ukrainian minority in what was now annexed Polish territory, and disperse them throughout territories of western Poland and thereby assimilate them. The Polish government feared that Stalin would decide to annex the ethnographically Ukrainian territories to USSR. The exile of the entire Ukrainian population precluded any future demands of Ukrainians to give back these lands to Ukraine. By exiling the Ukrainians, the Polish communist government gained strong support from the Polish population, and raised its popularity by a substantial margin.
Evhen Misilo, a Warsaw historian, posits that already in 1947 the Polish army started an intensive preparation effort to transport Ukrainians. Army regiments obtained orders to prepare lists of names of Ukrainians and mixed-marriage families. A month later general Mossor prepared a special report for the Minister of Defence, where the intent of en-masse exile by individual families, to be dispersed throughout the reclaimed territories, where they would soon be assimilated, was clearly laid out. The repressive action included the following resolutions:
- To relocate Ukrainian and mixed marriages to “reclaimed lands” in a short time, disperse them but place them no nearer than 100 km from the border.
- To co-ordinate this operation with governments of Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia.
- To collect data about the Ukrainian population living in Poland.
The project of en-masse transport was handed over to comrades Spychalski and Radkiewicz.
The designated duration of the project was one week.
Already from the middle of April, 1947, the territories of Sianik and Lisko were being occupied by army echelons. They set up posts in train stations, while soldiers were ordered to cut down and burn forests and villages. These were elite battalions from all over Poland, which were assigned to “Vistula Operation”. Interestingly, the train wagons emptied by the battalions did not get sent back, but were left at the stations on the side rails. The reason why this was the case became clear when on April 28, 1947 at 4 o’clock in the morning, army battalions began to besiege villages. Once they were surrounded by the forces, the village elder was informed that all inhabitants should get ready to be deported. They were given in general 2 hours and were lead out by a convoy, taking with them very few of their belongings. If forces were met with resistance they set whole villages on fire. Also, they brought destruction to hundreds of churches. The churches that were left standing were being used by Roman Catholic Parishes.
The deportees were accompanied by the numerous army forces to the train stations, where they were herded behind barbed wire. Functionaries of the Ministry of Defence, along with army personnel, sought out and arrested many people under suspicion of being collaborators of OUN or UPA organizations. Alleged collaborators were arrested, subjected to brutal interrogations and beaten. Some were released while the rest ended up in the Jaworzno concentration camp.
The first transport left on April 29, 1947 from Komancha and Kuliashne Sianik region train stations.
The operating group responsible for the implementation of “Vistula Operation” included the 3-rd, 6-th, 8-th and 9-th divisions of infantry. In all there were 15 regiments. Also assigned were: the division of the interior defence corps, consisting of 3 brigades; a regiment of combat engineers composed of 310 transport trucks; the 12-th regiment of the infantry and a division of militia composed of 700 men as reserves of the commander of the operation group; the aviation squadron Dovhlias and 9 PO-2, 4 armoured trains and other specialized subdivisions. All together in excess of 20,000 well-trained militia, railway patrol, national defence patrol, and border patrol forces took part.
The first phase of “Vistula Operation” lasted from April 27, 1947 to the end of May, 1947. At this time approximately 50,000 Ukrainian civilians were exiled to western Polish territories.
The second phase, during June, 1947 had as its focus the evacuation of Peremyshl and Lubachiv regions, as well as Yaroslav and Tomashiv. The 6-th, 7-th and 9-th divisions were assigned to carry out the operation, aided by independent army individuals from the “Vistula Operation” group.
In the third phase, during July, 1947 deportations were carried out in Novy Sanch and Novy Targ of Krakow region, and also in Kholm, Volodava, Hrubeshiv and Tomashiv of Lublin region.
During “Vistula Operation” a military curfew of 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. was in effect in all affected regions. As well, outposts were established at passage ways into cities and villages, and the rail way stations were well-guarded.
According to data collected by A. Szczesniak, the “Vistula Operation” group deported some 95,846 people from Rzeszow county, and 44,728 people from Lublin county: collectively 140,574 Ukrainians. Not included in this total are data regarding deported Ukrainians from Novy Sanch and Novy Targ of Krakow county. All together, more than 150,000 people were deported.
Almost all transports of deportees, even those from Kholm or Hrubeshiv, passed through Oswiecim. This main junction which, was established during the war, was the point of departure for many transports. Many deportees were arrested here and led under army escort to the Jaworzno concentration camp.
In Jaworzno, on the site of a Nazi concentration camp which was closed in 1945, a special camp was organized in 1947 for the Ukrainians of the “Vistula Operation”. In the first days of its renewed operation, the camp received its prisoners from Sianik. They consisted of 22 catholic priests, 5 orthodox priests, doctors, teachers, and the rest of the Ukrainian intelligentsia who survived all previous attempts to stamp them out.
Jaworzno held 3,936 prisoners, of whom 823 were women, and between 10-20 were children. The court-martial of the “Vistula Operation” handed down 133 death sentences, which were carried out from May 1 to July 31, 1947. After the completion of “Vistula Operation”, Jaworzno was used to imprison all deportees who tried to return home from deportation. Due to tortures, malnutrition, unsanitary conditions, the death count in Jaworzno was at least 150 people.
In Jaworzno concentration camp were registered few new born babies. One of them was Stefan Dejneka, now resident of Toronto.
The camp was styled on Nazi-Bolshevik models, with watchtowers, rifles, double barbed wire fences which were charged with a strong electrical current. Although the Polish have erected monuments in Oswiecim, where Auschwitz used to be, even trying to find any information in Polish publications about camp Jaworzno during 1947-57 has proven futile.
On the “Reclaimed Territories”
The first transports of deported Ukrainians began reaching their destinations in the “Reclaimed Territories” (formerly German lands) on May 4, 1947. Some transports took a circuitous route which took 2-3 weeks.
The ministry of “Reclaimed Territories” issued several directives which regard to the newly-arrived Ukrainians:
- Ukrainians were not to be located in a zone 50 km from the border and 30 km from a city central to the district.
- The number of Ukrainians was not to exceed 10% of the regional Polish population.
- Of the deported families there was to be only one per community whose opinion was openly negative and critical of the “Vistula Operation”.
From the aforementioned, it is evident that the objective was quick assimilation of Ukrainians into Polish nationality. This was in keeping with original plans to denationalise all Ukrainians
Upon arriving, army commanders of the transport obtained full documentation regarding each family. Included was an evaluation and characterization of the families, who were divided into several categories. These deemed most dangerous were located in the most remote places, where there was no means of communication. The deported fell under the responsibility of regional government of Defence and militia, and some were at this time arrested.
The Polish populace was openly hostile towards Ukrainians and persecuted them in many ways. A deportee was not allowed to change his place of residence without permission. All who tried to return to their native lands were imprisoned. In certain villages (Bytiv, for one) it was forbidden to go to the neighbouring village and to work in the forest without a special pass.
Usually, Ukrainians were designated to live in formerly German-owned, half-destroyed houses. Some got farms while others were assigned to state-owned agricultural operations. The first deportees had time to sow grain and plant potatoes. Those who arrived at the end of May were too late for this. These people came face to face with famine. The following was written about the situation of Ukrainians in Szczecin and Gdansk regions and his deputy of the II Army Battalion in Bydgoszcz:“The relocated population finds itself in very difficult material circumstances. All houses require renovations…In Gdansk region, where first transports arrived after June 15, nothing is sown or planed…Generally, the situation is very bad and worse are the prospects…there is a lack of funds to rebuild hoses, voucher provisions are insufficient ,the regional budget, despite the influx of this new population, was not increased…”.
In these dismal circumstances, Ukrainians had no choice but be hired by their Polish neighbours and work for a pittance. As in the time of serfdom, they were paid with a piece of bread or some potatoes for their labour.
Even worse was the state of cultural life. All former familial and community relations were severed. Inhabitants of a single village were now peppered over great territories spanning several regions. There was no Ukrainian education. Ukrainian books were forbidden and destroyed. People had nowhere to worship because they had no church. They had no spiritual guidance as almost all clergy were arrested.
On June 3, 1990 the Polish senate condemned the criminal “Vistula Operation” but despite efforts of many deputies, the Polish Parliament has made no inquires into this matter to this day.
Ukrainians in Poland and elsewhere expect the Polish government to take steps to heal the wounds on the collective body of the Ukrainian population with compensation for the atrocities and injustices endured during and as a result of “Vistula Operation”.
Similar crimes to that of the “Vistula Operation” were perpetrated, during World War II by the Stalin regime, on Crimean Tartars and Kavkazians. In each case, the injustice was recognized by those responsible and each group was compensated, first in 1956 by the Khrushchev regime and then later by an independent Ukraine.
To date, all similar crimes have been condemned, the injustices admitted to, and those that suffered compensated by the nations whose regimes committed them. The only exception being the Polish government, which still refuses to acknowledge the full extent of it’s involvement and injustices perpetrated vis-а-vis the “Vistula Operation”. The Polish government has made no inclination to condemn its past acts of injustice nor has it made any attempt to compensate those individuals that it has wronged. Poland is a member of the United Nations and the European Union, both organizations have condemned Nazi-Hitler and Communist-Stalin atrocities perpetrated on several nations.
The question asked is, how long will the Polish government wait to admit its past injustices and how long will the United Nations and European Union tolerate the hypocrisy of the Polish government?
Member of Commission on Human and Civil Rights of Ukrainian World Congress
Victim of “Vistula Operation”
- Droga do nikad, 1973, A.B. Szczesniak, W.Z. Szota, Ministry of Defence of Poland
- Akcja “WISLA”,1993, E. Misilo, Ukrainian Archives
- Problemy Ukraincow w Polsce po wysiedlenczej akcji “Wisla”, 1997, W. Mokry
Maximilian Masley, Toronto, Canada
Lviv, 9/2009. Standing (from left) by the Lemko wooden tserkva are: Mykhailo Smerekanich, Andryj Bajsa, Walter Maksimovich and the author, Maximilian Maslej.