Uzbekistan: The Forgotten Polish Divisions of Central Asia
June 2, 2016 – 12:35pm Poland Uzbekistan
Activists from the Polish Cultural Center in Tashkent lay flowers at the grave of a soldier, who died in Uzbekistan during World War II, at the Polish military cemetery in Almazar, Uzbekistan in 2014. (Photo: Oleg Skuridin/Polish Cultural Center, Tashkent)
The Polish Second Corps, led by General Władysław Anders, assembled and trained in many military camps during World War II in the southern parts of the Soviet Union, including what is now the country of Uzbekistan. (Photos: Polish Cultural Center, Tashkent; Kresy-Siberia Foundation)
In a village outside Tashkent lie the graves of 47 Polish men and women, who amid the tumult of the Second World War, experienced grueling deaths in this corner of Central Asia.
At the behest of the Polish Embassy, residents of Almazar these days tend to the neat burial plots — reminders of the thousands of Poles who perished in Uzbekistan during the wartime years.
Most Uzbeks know little to nothing about what brought the Polish officers, soldiers and civilians to their land. Their story begins in 1939 with the Soviet-Nazi nonaggression pact and the accompanying partition of Poland. In the two years that followed, untold numbers of Poles were deported from the Soviet zone. There is no consensus on how many Poles were uprooted and sent eastward, but estimates vary from around 320,000 to as high as 1 million.
Germany’s declaration of war on the Soviet Union in 1941 earned the exiled Poles a grim kind of reprieve. A treaty hammered out between the Polish government-in-exile in London and the Soviet government secured the liberation of Polish prisoners of war and deportees, and set the terms for the formation of an army drawn from that amnestied population. This force would eventually evolve into the Polish Second Corps, led by General Władysław Anders, a legendary military commander whom a British War Office functionary once described as “the uncrowned King of Poland in exile.”
Free but helpless in 1941, the Polish citizens began making their ways to Polish Army camps around the Soviet Union. Transportation was in short supply because of the war effort, and many, weakened by their plight, died before reaching their destinations … (cont.)
Read more here: eurasianet
71st Anniversary of Sürgün, the Mass Deportation of the Crimean Tatars
Deported Crimean Tatars being unloaded from trains in Uzbekistan. Source: Wikipedia.
On May 18, 1944, the entire Crimean Tatar population in Crimea was rudely awakened by Soviet soldiers, loaded on trucks, taken to the nearest train stations and brutally deported to Central Asia, the Urals and Siberia.
On May 19, 1944, the Internal Affairs Minister, People’s Commissar of USSR L.P. Beria in his message to I.V. Stalin stated: “Reporting on the current situation of the Special Operation of Crimean Tatars’ Deportation. By the end of May 19, 165,515 persons were brought to different train stations. 136,412 persons were loaded on trains and sent to their destination of exile. The operation continues.” On May 20, 1944, L.P. Beria’s deputy in Crimea, Boghdan Khabulov, wired the following note: “We are notifying you that the operation of the Deportation of Crimean Tatars, which started on May 18 as you demanded is concluding today on May 20… 173,287 persons were deported by loading them on sixty-seven trains. Sixty three trains loaded with people are on their way, the remaining four trains will depart today…”
Today, it is estimated that over 180,000 Crimean Tatar were deported to various regions of the former USSR. An estimated 46 percent of the deportees died due to starvation and disease.
In June of 1944, “Crimea without Crimean Tatars,” a Russian strategic goal pursued since Crimea was annexed by Tsarina Catharine II in 1783, was accomplished. Crimean Tatars ceased to exist in their ancestral homeland until 1967, when they were exonerated and began to slowly resettle in Crimea.
On May 18, 2015, the Crimean Tatar-American community as well as all Americans of Turkic descent across the United States commemorate the 71st anniversary of this tragedy. Throughout the world, and in Turkey in particular, there is a growing awareness and commemoration of these deportations and their legacy.
D E P O R T A T I O N
The war crimes of the deportations of Polish citizens from the Eastern Borderlands of Poland and of the Katyń massacre of Polish officers [i] were never mentioned at the Nuremberg Trials.
Both these war crimes were carried out by Soviet Russia during that period when Germany and Soviet Russia were allies from September 1939 to June 1941.
On 17 September 1939 the Soviets invaded Poland with an army of 600,000 that included 24 infantry divisions, 15 cavalry divisions, and nine tank brigades [ii]. They immediately set about carrying out their policy of ethnic cleansing [iii].
They came with previously-prepared lists and ordered that all Kresy Polish military residents, police, civil servants, civilian farmer settlers and well-to-do land-owning peasants (Kulaks) have their property appropriated and their bank accounts frozen. Homes, businesses and farms were ransacked, personal property destroyed and owners imprisoned.
The deportees were forced to endure long train journeys, sometimes up to several weeks, under brutal conditions in appallingly overcrowded and unhygienic cattle trucks. They were kept locked in, with only a tiny grated window at the top so it was dark and stuffy. There was a stove for heating food, and for occasionally boiling snow to wash themselves, and a hole in the floor as a toilet.
They were very rarely let out into the fresh air. Once in a while they were given watery soup, maybe some bread or cereals. Many died, especially small children and the elderly. Their bodies were just thrown out and left in the snow.
The overwhelming majority of those arrested were never tried. Many of them were to disappear for ever, probably murdered.
The families of those arrested and other civilians were deported to Posiolki (family work camps), collectives, construction projects and lumber camps in isolated areas of Siberia, Kazakhstan and East Asia. The civilian deportees were never tried or convicted of crimes.
Prisoners of War and convicted criminals, including many political prisoners (on trumped up charges) were sent to Gulags in places like Vorkuta, Pechora, Uktha and Magadan. These were already established as part of the Russian prison system for convicted criminals.
Summary chart of the Deportations
|09-10 February 1940||110 trains each carrying 2,000||220,000|
|Camps: Archangelsk, Sverdlovsk, Omsk, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk|
|12-13 April 1940||160 trains each carrying 2,000||330,000|
|Areas: Kazakhstan, Sverdlovsk, Altai Kraj, Akciubinsk, Kustanaj, Petropawlosk,
28-29 June 1940
|13-22 June 1941||From around Wilno||200,000|
|Scattered widely throughout USSR|
The deportations continued in lesser numbers throughout the period of the German-Soviet alliance, from September 1939 up to June 1941. A relatively small percentage of Ukrainians, Jews and Belarusians were included in the deportations.
The Soviets are always reluctant to reveal their wartime statistics; therefore, the estimated figures of those deported can range from under one million to over three million depending on how the deportees are categorised.
The majority of the February deportations were mostly the families of settlers (osadnicy), policemen and foresters, civil servants and government officials.
Most of the April deportees were the families of officers and ex-officers, many of whom were murdered in the Katyń massacres, but also included in this category were some families of Polish military settlers, small farmers, policemen, foresters, civil servants, government officials imprisoned in the Soviet Union and Poland and also families of those in hiding or abroad and families of landowners, soldiers, tradesmen, farmers and the families of the previously-arrested intellectuals.
The deportations of June 1940 were principally refugees from German-occupied Poland who had not accepted Soviet passports, intellectuals, professionals and “those likely to prove difficult to convert to communism”.
The June 1941 deportees were Polish citizens from the Baltic States and those previously missed.
Estimate “A” gives a total of 1,045,000 whereas estimate “B” gives a figure of 1,989,000 [v].
|09-10 February 1940||220,000||429,000|
|12-13 April 1940||320,000||624,000|
|28-29 June 1940||240,000||468,000|
|13-22 June 1941||265,000||468,000|
However, when the “B” figures are coupled with the known 647,000 POWs, Red Army recruits and Concentration Camp victims in the Soviet Union in June 1941, the number of those in exile would total 2.636 million [vi].
According to Michael Hope [vii], 1.680 million is the figure generally agreed on for civilian deportees. This does not include the Polish Prisoners of War.
‘Stalin’s terror [was] on a far greater scale than Hitler’s; it was also incomparably more lethal’ [viii].
[i] 250,000 Polish servicemen were taken as POWs. The officers were arrested and sent to three special prisoner-of-war camps administered by the NKVD in Kozielsk and Ostashkov in western Russia and Starobielsk in eastern Ukraine.
[ii] L.Rees: Behind Closed Doors [Page 36] A secret protocol limited British obligation to German aggression only.
[iii] A plan was composed and signed by Colonel Serov, Deputy Commissioner for Security to deport over a million Polish citizens.
[iv] Halik Kochanski: The Eagle Unbowed [Page 139]
[v] W.G. Helon quoted in Kresowa Czystka Etniczna; Scientific Curiosities; ISSN 1176-7545; No. 930; 15.02.2005
[vi] T. Piotrowski: Occasional Papers in Polish and Polish American Studies; No. 12; 2002; [Page12]
[vii] Michael Hope: Polish Deportees in the Soviet Union [Pages 23-28]
[viii] Bloodlands, Timothy Snyder. [Pages 85-86]
Extract from Lost and Found in Uzbekistan
Lost and Found in Uzbekistan
by Victoria Kim
My then young grandfather Kim Da Gir
I also have a story woven into the secrets of this tragic past. Long time ago, my grandfather told it to me only once and never wanted to speak about it again.
This is the story of a little boy who traveled one cold winter with many other people, all stuck together inside a dark and stinking cattle train…
He traveled on that train together with his parents and siblings for many weeks, until one day they arrived to a strange place in the middle of nowhere…
A map showing the forced relocations of “unwanted” ethnic minorities in the Soviet Union throughout the late 1930s – early 1940s. Koreans were the first entire nationality to get deported in 1937 from the Soviet Far East to Central Asia (the longest arrow on the map).
That place was somewhere in Soviet Uzbekistan. It was 1937, and my grandfather was only seven years old.
What brought him to the empty and deserted Central Asia together with all other people was the first Soviet deportation of entire nationality.
What united all of them as the victims of this massive deportation was their ethnic belonging. They all happened to be Koreans.
The cattle train story was the only thing my grandfather ever told me about those painful and complicated times. Yet, all his untold stories would keep haunting me later on, as would also do so his very apparent Korean physic and our Korean last name.
However, little is known about the heavy toll Uzbek Koreans had to pay in order to gain such a high reputation in our society. They were forced to come to this land, they had to develop it and turn into their own, they bore children upon it and – very slowly – it became their one and only home.
Nikolay and I are desperate to preserve our history – in the name of all Korean people. This is the story of three generations of his family. It is also my grandfather’s story. Nikolay and I are determined to keep it alive, so the history may never repeat itself.
Soviet Koreans while being deported from the Far East to Central Asia in 1937
The deportation of Koreans from the Soviet Far East to Central Asia in 1937 (as imagined by a Korean painter)
It was a dark and cold autumn night of 1937. Nikolay’s grandfather Vasiliy, his wife and three daughters, including 18 years old Nikolay’s mother Galina and her 24 and 20 years old sisters, were all at home when someone suddenly knocked the door.
They were from the Soviet secret police. The order was simple and quick: “Gather all your belongings, personal documents and all food you can find at home in less than half an hour and follow us immediately. You all are being deported.”
This is how the population of entire Posyet Korean national district – or 171,781 ethnic Koreans from there and the rest of Soviet Far East – were mounted on cattle trains in the matter of hours and at the beginning of harsh Siberian winter, without any prior notice and with practically no food, water, warm clothes or personal belongings.
All of them were being sent off to the Soviet Union’s first massive labor camps deep in Central Asia.
Valentin Shin talks about the train journey during the 1937 deportation of Koreans from the Soviet Far East. Six years old – one year younger than my grandfather – he might have traveled on the same train and was brought to Uzbekistan exactly at the same time. (My grandfather passed away in September 2007, but I could interview his best friend and colleague Valentin for this project) [Video link]
The train journey was very long and exhausting. It lasted several weeks in dire cold, and the soldiers who guarded the cattle trains shared no food or water with the Korean deportees. In such conditions, people were quickly dying from malnutrition, and their bodies were being left in the snow outside each train station.
During these very brief stops at unfamiliar stations, the deportees were trying to sell to local residents – or simply exchange for food – any objects of value they managed to bring along in this extremely hard journey. They also collected snow and melted it into water.
This is how Nikolay’s mother Galina and her two elder sisters survived, thanks to their parents’ ceaseless care and initial food supply from home. Nikolay’s grandparents were giving away their own food and water to their three daughters. Like that, they didn’t last long and died eventually on that train from the starvation and weakness…
Nikolay Ten remembers the deportation of 1937 from his parents’ stories [Video link]
Their bodies were abandoned outside a small and unknown train station – one of many on this horrendous journey. Until now, nobody knows the exact place of their final rest. Together with his wife, a hero of the Soviet civil war in the Far East has forever disappeared in the snow…
Galina and Konstantin
Konstantin Ten and Galina Lee, Nikolay’s parents, with his elder sister
Nikolay’s father Konstantin has also survived the journey, together with his parents and two brothers. He did not meet his future wife on the train. Instead, they met later upon their arrival to Uzbekistan.
When the Koreans arrived, they were lodged in special barracks under 24/7 armed guard. During the day, they had to dry wet swampland and root out the cane surrounding Uzbek capital Tashkent back then.
Nikolay Ten tells his parents’ story [Video link]
‘It was a hell of a job’, Nikolay remembered from his parents’ stories. ‘There were a lot of wolves, jackals and lynxes in the swampland. During the night, they would come very close to temporary shacks in the fields where the Koreans lived and scare everyone to death’.
Death was indeed crawling and waiting nearby, but in the form of much tinier creatures. Wet swampland was infested with malaria mosquitoes, and many Koreans – unprotected and with no medicines at hand – would quickly get sick and eventually die from malaria.
The swampland around Tashkent was first dried and then turned into rice fields.
Nevertheless, in less than five years from the deportees’ original arrival to Soviet Uzbekistan, all cane was rooted out and the swampland surrounding Tashkent was made arable.
After they had completed this gigantic task, the Koreans were ordered to start growing rice on the new arable land in order to produce agricultural supply for the Soviet state …
The forced deportations from Latvia are outlined in a book called Baigais Gads.
ON THE NIGHT OF JUNE 14, 1941
The Latvian people finally understood the fate to which it was to be subjected. On this night it saw the true face of Bolshevism. Showing no mercy to children, women or old men, during this night the Soviet Authority throughout Latvia arrested the best Latvian families, delivered them to the stations and in barred cattle carriages banished them to the Soviet Union. By such orders, in just a single night 14,693 of its honest sons and daughters were pulled out from the among the Latvian people.
The Latvian people walked into the hardest period of its trial and suffering.
The plan prepared by the Yid, Goldfains, for banishing Latvians to the Soviet Union.
At the bottom: a plan of collecting and loading (!) points of convoys anticipated for Latvians to be banished, found in archives left by the Bolsheviks.
Designations: collection points: loading points. Word-for-word written about loading, for transportation of people to be banished it is anticipated to use the cattle carriages.
THE ONLY [discovered] PHOTOGRAPHS WHICH PROVE UNDER WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES THE LATVIANS WERE DRIVEN AWAY: TRAINS FOR THE BANISHED IN OGRE STATION
Relatives of the unfortunates at one of the carriages. A KGB man prohibited the handing of food, drinking water and warm clothing to those being banished.
In barred carriages the unfortunates were forced to spend days and nights without food and water on their way of thousands of kilometers.
Unfortunates having one last look at their native land through the bars of a window. Armed KGB guards providing security … How could babies and women and old people resist? How could the Bolsheviks be frightened by Latvian men whose only weapon was their spirit and the determination to endure?
Found along the railway, thrown out the windows evidence from those banished on their journey of torture: a book with handwritten information on the destiny of the arrested, an aluminum cup with one final wish:
A LIFETIME OF SUNSHINE FOR LATVIA!
TO THE SIBERIAN TUNDRA
The lines of convoy carriages in Rēzekne Station on their way to the Soviet Union.
Materials found in documents left by the Bolsheviks provide indications about those places to which arrested Latvians were banished. A map near by indicates areas where it was planned to locate the banished. The number of persons to placed refers to the number of carriages not people.
Those few who at the last moment learned about the terrible plan of the Bolsheviks were trying to look for escape by changing their place of hiding.
A National Guard officer with his wife (top ). After three weeks of changing their place of residence and hiding in the forests it is hard to recognize them (right).
LATVIANS, DO NOT FORGET!
Anyone who went behind the doors of the KGB passed through the most terrible horror, experienced the deepest torture and suffering. Behind those any persecuted Latvian who did not have the time to escape or did not know how to hide from the bloody grasp of the Bolsheviks ended his lifetime.
«The most democratic Constitution in the world» – the Constitution of the «father of nations and leader of working people» Stalin made sure that the Latvian people «experienced a happy, sunny future». Thousands of Latvians experienced the night of blood and torture from which the only salvation was death.