In July 1945, World War II had ended in Europe, with the defeat of nazism. But it was not a complete victory.
The Nazi occupation was replaced by the Soviet occupation
The war had started with the German-Soviet invasion of a democratic country, Poland, in September 1939. But instead of the restoration of a free and democratic Poland, the Poles went from being under an occupying dictatorship (that of the Germany) to be under another (Soviet Russia). Stalin imposed a communist dictatorship in Poland, against the will of the Poles, and democracy would not return to that country until after the fall of communism in 1989.
Of all the countries occupied by Nazi Germany, Poland had the most active resistance, created before the Germans and Soviets managed to complete the occupation of the country. The vast majority of this resistance was loyal to the Polish government in exile, which had its headquarters in London. Only a minority part of the Polish resistance was communist and loyal to Moscow. When the Soviets seized Poland at the end of the war, Stalin wanted to eliminate what was left of the Polish resistance in order to liquidate all opposition to his plans to make Poland a satellite state of the USSR.
The situation of the Polish resistance at the end of the war
The Armia Krajowa (Home Army), loyal to the Polish government-in-exile and the largest resistance organization of World War II, had dissolved in January 1945, in part to avoid a confrontation with the Soviets that would plunge an already-ruined country into civil war. Nevertheless, some of its units remained active to face the repression that the Soviets and their Polish communist puppets unleashed on Poland. Many AK members joined the Wolność i Niezawisłość (WiN, Freedom and Independence) movement, in order to continue the fight against communism. Another of the great organizations of the Polish resistance, the Narodowe Siły Zbrojne (NSZ, National Armed Forces), which had fought simultaneously against the Nazis and the Soviets, continued their fight until 1947.
The July 1945 Augustów Raid against the Polish resistance
Stalin's political police, the NKVD (the Soviet version of the Gestapo), went to great lengths to liquidate the Polish resistance. It must be remembered that in 1940, the NKVD had been the executor of the Katyn massacre, in which 22,000 Polish officers who had been taken prisoner by the Soviets were murdered. Also, on July 12, 1945, the Red Army deployed 45,000 soldiers in the Augustów Forest. In that area, and with the help of Polish communists, the Soviets managed to liquidate an AK unit that numbered 170 soldiers.
Some 7,000 people were detained: 562 never returned
During this operation, known to Polish historians as the Augustów Raid, "Little Katyn" or "Second Katyn", approximately 7,000 people were arrested. Some of them did not return to their homes until 11 years later, after a harsh captivity. However, 562 arrested never returned: it is believed that the Soviets murdered them and buried them in a secret place, as was the custom of that communist dictatorship with many of the political prisoners it murdered. It is a secret that the USSR and the Polish communist dictatorship guarded jealously.
The null collaboration of Russia and Belarus in the investigation of the massacre
Unlike other massacres, that secret is maintained today, largely due to the null collaboration of the Russian and Belarusian authorities, who responded with silence to the requests of the Institute of National Remembrance of Poland (IPN) during its investigation into what happened in that massacre. The lack of data on the massacre led the IPN even to investigate the archives of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), in case that nationalist organization had any relationship with the events, but without any success.
Finally, in May 2011 a Russian historian, Nikita Petrov, vice-president of the NGO Memorial (which investigates the crimes of communism and whose activity in Russia was outlawed by Putin), found a document in the KGB archives that proves that the massacre took place and that it was planned and carried out by the NKVD, in accordance with Stalin's wishes. This is a source that had been inaccessible to Polish IPN investigators for years . In April 2012, new documents obtained by the IPN confirmed the massacre.
The symbolic grave of Giby that remembers the missing of Augustów
Today, the relatives of those killed in Augustów do not have a grave in which to visit their loved ones. The perpetrators of that massacre have not been identified either. In the village of Giby, in the Podlaskie voivodeship (north-eastern Poland), there is a symbolic tomb that commemorates those murdered, with a large cross installed in 1991 on which the names of those killed are inscribed. disappeared, and a multitude of smaller crosses in memory of each one of them.
In 2015 the Sejm (Polish Parliament) declared July 12 as the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of the Augustów Raid. Two Polish associations continue today to investigate the fate of those 562 missing people , among which there were some women (including pregnant women) and some adolescents. I dedicate this article to the memory of those disappeared.
Cześć ich pamięci!
Honor to their memory!
Main photo: Joanna Szubzda / Polskie Radio Bialystok.
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