The Polish Combatants'
Association in Canada
The Polish Combatants' Association (PCA) is an organization composed primarily of the Polish veterans of the Polish 2nd Corps who fought alongside British and Canadian troops during the Italian Campaign, 1943-45, under the operational command of the British Eighth Army. Most of these men had been prisoners of the Soviet Union during 1939-1941, languishing in Soviet prisons or toiling in the slave labour camps. Many of these men lost friends and family members due to executions or the brutal conditions in the camps and prisons.
Because Poland was occupied by the Soviet Union towards the end of the war, most Poles could not safely return home. As a result, the PCA was established after the war to help the demobilized Polish soldiers adjust to their new lives as civilians and exiles, to continue military traditions, and also to keep everyone at the ready, as many were expecting World War Three to soon erupt. (This almost happened a number of times - with the outbreak of the war in Korea, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, etc. - )
However, until the fall of communism in Poland in 1989 and in the Soviet Union shortly thereafter, the most difficult task of the PCA was to counter the unceasing and voluminous Soviet propaganda aimed at discrediting the Polish soldiers who fought with the western allies. There was an equal amount of propaganda which aimed to whitewash the Soviet atrocities against Poland and its people and promote communism. (For example, the Soviets constantly and loudly blamed the massacre of Polish officers in Katyn forest on the Nazis. They did not admit their guilt until 1990.). The task of countering the propaganda was entrusted to the Head Executive Board.
The Head Executive Board
The Head Executive Board (HEB) represents the Polish Combatants' Association (PCA) branches at the national level. Almost two dozen branches are located in towns and cities across Canada from Montreal to Victoria. The individual branches were organized by the immigrant Polish soldiers in the cities and towns where they were settled by the Canadian government after World War Two. Currently, the HEB office resides in Toronto.
In the late 1940s, the HEB lobbied the Canadian government on behalf of its members, all of whom had been forced to sign two year labour contracts (mostly in forestry and agriculture) as a condition of their immigration to Canada.
Also, right from the beginning, the HEB had to counter Soviet and Polish Communist propaganda. It was not a simple matter to convince the Canadian public and government that the Soviet version of the truth was false. Canadians simply had no first-hand understanding of the reality of Soviet-style communism.
The Head Executive Board also represents the Canadian branches internationally as a member of the World Federation of Polish Combatants' Associations which is headquartered in London, England. During and after World War Two the Polish diaspora spread around the world and the distribution of national organizations reflects this. The PCA has been active in many countries in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, Africa and the Americas.
Polish Combatants' Association Head Executive Board Position
on the Soviet Version of World War Two History
On November 26, 2010, the Soviet parliament admitted that Stalin was directly to blame for the Katyn massacre. We can only hope that all aspects of the Soviet Union's aggression of 1939-41 and 1944-89 and culpability in the atrocities committed during those years, will be as plainly admitted in the coming years.
It is said that "The victor writes the history books." This has certainly been true of the Soviet Union (and the Soviet-dominated Polish communist government). The Soviet version of World War Two history glorifies the Soviet triumph over Nazism but completely ignores Soviet culpability and atrocities. The current Russian government has inherited the old Soviet attitude toward its history and continues to deny, deflect and minimize blame. In turn, western politicians and historians have rarely scratched below the surface of the Soviet version of events. Insensitive officials in the United States have allowed the erection of a monument to the memory of the soldiers of the Red Army (West Hollywood, California) and a bust of Stalin in a D-Day memorial (Bedford, Virginia).
The members of the Polish Combatants' Association would like to make it perfectly clear that we bear no animosity toward the Russian people who have suffered greatly since 1917 and continue to suffer today. Our argument is only with the political machine that was the former Soviet Union, its leaders, and the elements of the current Russian government.
More than seventy years have passed since the Soviet invasion of Poland on September 17, 1939. The Polish veterans and survivors of the Soviet occupation of Poland (1939-1989) wish to put this history behind them, but they cannot. Until the current Russian government admits, and comes to terms with, the profound crimes against humanity committed by the Soviet government, the secret police (NKVD/KGB), the Red Army, and Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, during the course of the second World War, it would be an insult to the victims to let the matter rest.
Was the Soviet Union an ally of Canada during World War Two? Was the Soviet Union an ally of the West? Yes, in the sense that its armies fought the Germans on the eastern front from June, 1941 to May, 1945 (and saved a lot of Canadian lives in the process), but no on all other counts. Listen to the victims. They know the simple truth.
The Soviet Union:
- Invaded Poland in September, 1939: for revenge for the loss to the Poles in the Polish-Soviet War of 1919-20; to spread communism; and to gain territory, labour for the gulags, and resources;
Was not a signatory to the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war;
Was a willing and supportive ally of Germany until June 1941;
Also invaded Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland, Bessarabia and northern Bukovina;
Proceeded to murder and deport for slave labour, Polish citizens, immediately following the September 1939 invasion of Poland;
Instantly and easily switched sides and became an ally of the West after Germany attacked it in June, 1941;
Invaded Poland for a second time in 1944 on the way to Berlin;
Bullied the Western Powers into allowing it to keep Poland;
Plunged Poland into decades of Soviet domination; a period marked by police terror, poverty and despair, and always a relentless attack of lies and propaganda.
Was the Red Army the saviour of Europe? It kicked the Nazis out of eastern Europe. That is all.
At the start of World War Two, the Red Army was a brutal aggressor. Towards the end of World War Two, the Red Army liberated eastern Europe from the Nazis but by doing so, occupied eastern Europe on behalf of the Soviet Union. One oppressor was replaced by another. While we fully understand that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of common soldiers were conscripted into the Red Army against their will, the Red Army unleashed a terror against the Polish population equal to that of the Wehrmacht. It was also the primary organ of subjugation by the Soviet Union for much of Europe and was always seen as an enemy occupying force.
The current Russian government, sadly, has continued the habitual lying, deflection of blame and intense, negative propaganda of the former communist regime.
While it acknowledges the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, which secretly divided Poland (and eastern Europe) between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, today's Russian government considers that pact to be just another treaty, of the type that came and went on a regular basis during the interwar years, despite the fact that it was signed, with specific short-term goals, on the eve of war.
Today's Russian government still does not accept blame for its role in starting World War Two, choosing instead to blame it on everyone else, including, amazingly, the Poles themselves. It does not accept that it annexed the Baltic countries against their will. It does not accept that it initiated war with Finland. And, it certainly does not accept the fact that its post-war Soviet dominated Polish government and Poland's post-war Soviet dominated educational and military institutions, plunged the country into decades of ignorance, terror, poverty and despair.
It must be remembered that the Soviet Union was never a true ally of the west. In fact, when the Red Army invaded Poland in September 1939, it was a full and willing ally of Nazi Germany, and was to remain so for almost two full years, until it itself was invaded by Germany in June, 1941. Furthermore, the Soviet Union was not a signatory to the Geneva Convention (on the treatment of prisoners of war) and so, during the invasion of Poland, the Red Army, without any constraints, humiliated, tortured and murdered many Polish POWs. During the subsequent twenty-two month period of occupation, the secret police (NKVD or KGB) took over and hundreds of thousands of civilians were murdered, mostly by the slow death of deportation to slave labour camps. The genocide was directed against the cream of Polish society in an attempt to crush all leadership potential.
Today's Russian government acknowledges the mass murders it committed at Katyn. However, it blames the secret police, not Stalin, and rather than admit that these men (and women) were slaughtered in one of the most unique genocidal massacres ever committed, it chooses to find the 21,000 or more Polish officers guilty of being spies and, therefore, justifiably executed.
Today's Russian government continues to contend that it saved Europe, that it liberated Poland. This is nonsense. The Soviet Union merely replaced a fascist terror with a communist one.
The Polish Combatants' Association will continue to defend the truth on behalf of all of the Polish victims of Soviet communism. There has been some thawing of Russian attitude in the wake of the April 10, 2010 Smolensk air crash tragedy, but it remains to be seen whether the Russian government will significantly and sincerely change its outlook in the long term.
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Update on Russia's Katyn Apology - Novemer 27, 2010
Russian parliament admits guilt over Polish massacre
Symbolic acknowledgment of culpability over Katyn murders in 1940 signals Russia's willingness to face up to its past.
- guardian.co.uk, Friday 26 November 2010
In a symbolic admission of guilt, Russia's parliament has declared that Joseph Stalin ordered his secret police to execute 22,000 Polish army officers and civilians in 1940, in one of the greatest mass murders of the 20th century.
Today's acknowledgment of Stalin's personal culpability over the Katyn massacre comes amid a cautious thaw between Moscow and Warsaw, whose recent relations have been thorny at best. It was also seen as a sign that Russia may finally be ready for muted self-scrutiny over its totalitarian past.
Mikhail Gorbachev admitted in 1990 that the NKVD was to blame for the massacre, after a half-century of the Soviets blaming it on Nazi troops. However, there has never been a formal statement which implicates the Soviet leadership in such explicit terms.
Officials in Warsaw greeted the declaration positively. "It is a good step, an important sign," Poland's speaker of parliament, Grzegorz Schetyna, told reporters. It would ensure a "better atmosphere" for Russian president Dmitry Medvedev's visit to Warsaw next week, he added.
The 21,768 officers, doctors, policemen and other public servants – captured by the Red Army when it swept into Poland after the outbreak of the second world war in 1939 – were mainly shot in Katyn forest near Smolensk in western Russia and in several other places.
The current improvement in ties accelerated after Poland's then president, Lech Kaczynski, and 95 other people including scores of high-ranking government and military figures, died in April when their plane crashed on landing at Smolensk. The passengers were on their way from Warsaw to attend an event commemorating the 70th anniversary of the massacre.
In the wake of the crash, Russia's prime minister, Vladimir Putin, made unequivocal statements about Soviet responsibility for the Katyn massacre and urged reconciliation. Historian Natalya Lebedeva, a Russian member of the two countries' intergovernmental commission on "especially complex questions", told the Guardian that Putin's words had helped the healing process. "Both Russia and Poland realise it is time to stop the confrontations," she added.
Moscow and Warsaw have clashed in the past decade over Poland's admission to the EU and Nato, and over US plans for missile defence sites in eastern Europe.
However, Eugeniusz Smolar, a senior fellow at the Polish Institute of International Affairs, said that the Kremlin now felt it had to engage with Warsaw as a major economic power in the region.
A change to pro-Russian leadership in Ukraine and the prospect of Russia joining the US missile defence shield also helped. "On a human level, Poles were also very touched by so many Russians coming to our embassy in Moscow to show sympathy after the Smolensk disaster," he added.
Update on Russia's Katyn Apology - April 8, 2010
Thursday, April 08, 2010
Europe.view nr 178
By Edward Lucas, author of THE NEW COLD WAR
Apr 8th 2010
Russia attempts to resolve disputes with its neighbours over Soviet-era crimes
AS THIS column noted recently, the era of “therapeutic historiography” is drawing to a close in central and eastern Europe (with the odd exception). The Russian authorities are also trying to clean up, at least in part, their country’s most toxic historical debris.
One remarkable sign is that state-run Russian television has just screened Andrzej Wajda’s extraordinary film “Katyn”, which epitomises both Soviet atrocity and the lies that followed. Accompanying Donald Tusk, the Polish prime minister, at a commemoration ceremony to mark the 1940 killings (see below), Vladimir Putin even publicly expressed qualified regret, if not quite an apology, for the massacre—a huge shift given the disgusting falsehoods pushed in official and semi-official media in recent years.
That is part of a pattern. In Budapest in 2006, at the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian uprising, Mr Putin said: “Certainly modern Russia is not the Soviet Union, but I must tell you frankly that in our hearts we feel a certain moral responsibility for these events.” On the same trip he went to the Czech Republic and said, of the 1968 Soviet invasion, “While of course there is no legal responsibility here…a moral responsibility exists. It could not be any other way.” In 2009 he told Poles that the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was “inadmissible from the moral point of view and from the practical, political point of view…senseless, detrimental and dangerous.”
This is still a long way short of German-style Vergangenheitsbewältigung (coming to terms with the past). Russia has paid no compensation to the foreign victims of Stalinism (and little to its own citizens). Rows over looted property remain unresolved. (Estonia’s presidential seal is one of many such “souvenirs” illegally in Russian hands). Shamefully, many historical archives remain sealed.
But mild regret and an appeal to pragmatism are a step forward. Czechs, Hungarians and Poles have accepted compromises over history in order to have normal relations with Russia. Ukraine, under its new president, Viktor Yanukovich, may strike a similar deal; Mr Yanukovich will find it much easier to find a common language with Mr Putin than did his predecessor, the divisive and discredited Viktor Yushchenko. On the other hand, Mr Yanukovych, often seen as “pro-Russian”, needs to be careful not to appear a soft touch.
That leaves the Baltic states, where the demand for justice about the past is still burning. Their forcible annexation into the Soviet Union in 1940 was one of the clearest and most outrageous consequences of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.
But the ground is shifting. Russia is flirting with Lithuania, where President Dalia Grybauskaitė is convinced that her personal touch can bring a breakthrough in relations. A deal looks possible: Russia could express “regret” (not “apology”) for the “incorporation” (not “occupation”) in 1940, and offer a favourable trade deal. In return Lithuania could drop demands for compensation. If Latvia followed suit, Estonia would be impossibly isolated. If Ukraine goes for “normalisation” too, that would be game, set and match to the Kremlin.
Smugness and evasion over history are widespread in Europe. Britain, to take one example, habitually wallows in a nostalgic and misleading version of its own past. But it is hard not to feel that an opportunity is being missed. The horrors of Soviet rule, and the memory of its victims, deserve more than a convenient political fix. The greatest victims of Stalinism were arguably Russians—in more ways than one. Brave Russians who still demand that their rulers face up to the awful past may feel let down if others settle for half-truths.