When the red army crossed the polish soviet border close to Rokitna on the 4th January 1944, no one could have suspected that they would stay there for a further 49 years.
After the initial welcome period it quickly became clear that the liberators were in fact there to replace the previous occupiers, the German army. Those who opposed this incursion have come to be known as the cursed soldiers.
Reading through journals of soldiers from various organs of the independence movement a clear picture of these events can be established. Many saw the Russians as yet another invader, merely replacing the German Wermacht as occupiers.
Alongside the red army, the ruthless agents of the KGB also arrived in Poland, who carried out similar work to the recently departed secret police, the Gestapo. The quick succession of one occupier to another was a particularly devastating blow for the soldiers who had already struggled for six long years to free Poland.
Just as during the German occupation, there were numerous organisations and groups who opposed the new occupiers and found their main headquarters and hideouts in the wilderness of the forest. These hideouts were one of very few places for people to hide to avoid punishment for continuing to campaign for Polish freedom. Punishment for failing to cooperate was the most severe, with many being condemned to death in the gulags of the Russian hinterland.
The anti-communist underground movement ran a fairly successful militant campaign against citizens militia groups, headquarters of the the called ‘public security’ organisation and the NKVD, the predecessor to the KGB, and it’s agents.
The forest soldiers, who were refered to as bandits by the communist government at the time, carried out over 12000 attacks from the beginning of September 1944 to the end of 1945. Throughout this campaign 529 officers of the ‘public security’ force and the citizens militia were killed along with 429 red army soldiers and 303 soldiers of the Polish People’s Army.
The success of the soviets in catching and detaining the Cursed Soldiers seems to have been exagerrated as all actions taken by the Minestry of Public Security had to be supported by the NVKD and the Red Army. It turned out that many parts of Poland remained under the control of the partizan group.
Even the spectacle of immediate execution without trial did not deter them. Does this then mean that the soviets were too weak or ill prepared to combat the underground movement? In fact no, the reason for the apparent lack of success in dealing with the partizans can be attributed in part to effectivenss of the underground freedom movement. As of June 1945 of 35 NVKD regiments, as many as 15 were based in Poland. This is 5 more than the number based in Germany at the same time. Army reports at the time however did show a very large number of fatalities amongst the Polish underground independence movement during their campaign against the communists.
There are some indications of why this number may be larger than would have been expected. Among members of the NKVD it was common practice to kill partizans without hesitation and as we can see from a few sources including the notes from members of Colonel Kalenkiewicz’s unit during the battle of Surknoty. After the battle Russian soldiers inspected the battle field for survivors and killed any remaining injured Poles often using bayonets. This act of cold murder was used to strike fear into the hearts of the partizans.
Interestingly, the underground movement enjoyed a lot of popular support amongst the general population actively supporting them by providing food, supplies and offer shelter. However there were cases where soldiers with brute force extorted these supplies from the population in desperation. Other times criminals would dress in the partizan uniform and taking advantage of the chaos at the time would justify their actions as those of desperate soldiers. Many of these bands however were backed by the communists who wanted to seperate the ‘Forest Soldiers’ from the general public and in general turn the publlic against them.
Any form of help offered to the underground movement was severely punished. The merest trace of help offered would be vigorously investigated often with the use of brutal interogation methods. Between 10th and 25th July 1945 members of the People’s Army, the NKVD and the Red Army rounded up and executed 600 people who were suspected of having contact with the partizans. This crime is today known as ‘Little Katyn’.
Striking fear into the hearts of the people was one of the methods used by the communists but unfortunately not the only one. In August 1945 the communist government declared an amnesty for those accused of cooperating with the enemy the Polish Government in Exile, in a move which was designed to encourage soldiers in hiding to cease fighting.
They even managed to gain support for the amnetsy from the leaders of the Home Army who were till then frequently under attack by the Ministry of Public Secruity. This declared amnesty resulted in an estimated 30 to 50 thousand soldiers coming forward only to be convicted and often executed.
In 1946, a year after the amnesty, as many as 9000 militant acts were carried out by the underground movement. Despite this though, the communist government in capturing large numbers of soldiers were able to interogate them and find out a lot about the underground movement as well as being able to then infiltrate their ranks with informants and colaborators. In addition to this the falsified elections of 1947 which the communist party gained an apparent massive political mandate was accepted by western powers, allowing the communist party to seize total control without any repercussions.
The elections of 1947 brought with it yet another amnesty. This was an apparent act of mercy from the victors. The soldiers who did reveal themselves, after years of leading a difficult life frequently in squalor and always on the run from the authorities, were subjected to the same treatment as the previous soldiers who came out during the original amnesty.
After that there were as few as 2000 remaining soldiers in the underground movement. The fight was effectively over. For many of the soldiers we know from journal entries at the time that many had only wanted to die an honourable soldiers death and not in the custody of Ministry of Public Security.
The life of captured soldiers often ended in an unmarked grave. There trial often lasted less than a minute ending in execution after suffering inhumane treatment at the hands of the government security forces. To further humiliate the soldiers, the so called trial frequently took place with the soldier sitting on the toilet. The Cursed Soldiers refered to these as a ‘toilet trial’
Dzisiaj trudno oszacować liczbę zabitych Żołnierzy Wyklętych. Z pewnością było ich zbyt wielu.
Na szczęście powoli wraca pamięć o ludziach, którzy nie złożyli broni po wejściu Armii Czerwonej, i do końca walczyli o prawdziwa niepodległość swojej ojczyzny.
Today it is hard to estimate the number of killed Cursed Soldiers. There memory is being honoured by the declaration of 1st March as remeberence day for the Cursed Soldiers, which is celebrated as a national holiday. These soldiers have been given the name ‘Cursed’ as they were cursed by the post war government though we now know and appreciate the difficulty and oppression they lived through with unyielding determination.