Churchill … Polish – German border to be redrawn

Polish farmers killed by German forces in German-occupied Poland, 1943.

Poland had suffered terribly during the war, apart from the Holocaust in which around three million Polish Jews were murdered, nearly the same number of non Jewish Poles are believed to have been killed during the German occupation. Polish farmers killed by German forces in German-occupied Poland, 1943.

Warsaw Ghetto Uprising - Photo from Jürgen Stroop Report to Heinrich Himmler from May 1943. The original German caption reads: "These bandits resisted by force of arms". Picture taken at Nowolipie street looking East, near intersection with Smocza street. In the back one can see ghetto wall with a gate.

Warsaw Ghetto Uprising – Photo from Jürgen Stroop Report to Heinrich Himmler from May 1943. The original German caption reads: “These bandits resisted by force of arms”.

In 1939 Britain had gone to war over the independence of Poland. She had then been unable to materially assist the Poles as first the Germans and then the Russians dismembered the country. Now the Soviet army occupied Poland and it began to look like Stalin was intent upon imposing his own, communist, regime.

On 27th February Churchill reported to Parliament about the results of the recent Yalta conference, when the division of Germany had been discussed amongst the ‘Big Three’. The division of Europe was a more contentious issue. In Parliament Churchill was putting a brave face on it.

In private he was having serious doubts about Stalins’s intentions. He conceded to his Private Secretary that Roumania and Bulgaria would be under communist domination, although he thought he had secured Greece’s independence in exchange. He told John Colville ” I have not the slightest intention of being cheated over Poland, not even if we go to the verge of war with Russia.”

The Crimea Conference finds the Allies more closely united than ever before, both in the military and in the political sphere.

Let Germany recognise that it is futile to hope for division among the Allies and that nothing can avert her utter defeat. Further resistance will only be the cause of needless suffering. The Allies are resolved that Germany shall be totally disarmed, that Nazism and militarism in Germany shall be destroyed, that war criminals shall be justly and swiftly punished, that all German industry capable of military production shall be eliminated or controlled, and that Germany shall make compensation in kind to the utmost of her ability for damage done to Allied Nations.

On the other hand, it is not the purpose of the Allies to destroy the people of Germany, or leave them without the necessary means of subsistence. Our policy is not revenge; it is to take such measures as may be necessary to secure the future peace and safety of the world. There will be a place one day for Germans in the comity of nations, but only when all traces of Nazism and militarism have been effectively and finally extirpated.

One must regard these 30 years or more of strife, turmoil and suffering in Europe as part of one story. I have lived through the whole story since 1911 when I was sent to the Admiralty to prepare the Fleet for an impending German war. In its main essentials it seems to me to be one story of a 30 years’ war, or more than a 30 years’ war, in which British, Russians, Americans and French have struggled to their utmost to resist German aggression at a cost most grievous to all of them, but to none more frightful than to the Russian people, whose country has twice been ravaged over vast areas and whose blood has been poured out in tens of millions of lives in a common cause now reaching final accomplishment.

There is a second reason which appeals to me apart from this sense of continuity which I personally feel. But for the prodigious exertions and sacrifices of Russia, Poland was doomed to utter destruction at the hands of the Germans. Not only Poland as a State and as a nation, but the Poles as a race were doomed by Hitler to be destroyed or reduced to a servile station.

Three and a half million Polish Jews are said to have been actually slaughtered. It is certain that enormous numbers have perished in one of the most horrifying acts of cruelty, probably the most horrifying act of cruelty, which has ever darkened the passage of man on the earth.

When the Germans had clearly avowed their intention of making the Poles a subject and lower grade race under the Herrenvolk, suddenly, by a superb effort of military force and skill, the Russian Armies, in little more than three weeks, since in fact we spoke on these matters here, have advanced from the Vistula to the Oder, driving the Germans in ruin before them and freeing the whole of Poland from the awful cruelty and oppression under which the Poles were writhing.

[He then described how the border lines for Poland would be drawn, with Soviet Russia moving to the ‘Curzon line’ in the east and Poland acquiring German territory in the west in compensation]

But even more important than the frontiers of Poland, within the limits now disclosed, is the freedom of Poland. The home of the Poles is settled. Are they to be masters in their own house? Are they to be free, as we in Britain and the United States or France are free? Are their sovereignty and their independence to be untrammelled, or are they to become a mere projection of the Soviet State, forced against their will by an armed minority, to adopt a Communist or totalitarian system?

Well, I am putting the case in all its bluntness. It is a touchstone far more sensitive and vital than the drawing of frontier lines. Where does Poland stand? Where do we all stand on this?

Most solemn declarations have been made by Marshal Stalin and the Soviet Union that the sovereign independence of Poland is to be maintained, and this decision is now joined in both by Great Britain and the United States.

Here also, the world organisation will in due course assume a measure of responsibility. The Poles will have their future in their own hands, with the single limitation that they must honestly follow, in harmony with their Allies, a policy friendly to Russia. That is surely reasonable …

Statement by Winston Churchill to the House of Commons, 27 February 1945

See also John Colville: The Fringes of Power: 10 Downing Street Diaries, 1939-1955.

Exhausted soldier of the Polish Home Army emerging from a sewer after escaping from German encirclement. One of his fellow soldiers pulls out his submachine gun of the sewer hatch.

A year after the Jewish ghetto uprising the rest of Warsaw had launched their own insurrection. An exhausted soldier of the Polish Home Army emerging from a sewer after escaping from German encirclement. One of his fellow soldiers pulls out his submachine gun from the sewer hatch. Stalin had ordered the nearby Red Army not to go to the aid of the Poles.

The destroyed city of Warsaw, January 1945.

The destroyed city of Warsaw, January 1945.

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