NKVD Polish operation (1937-1938)

NKVD Polish Operation

The first page of a copy of order No. 00485 issued to the NKVD unit in Kharkov





Number of dead

111,091 (at least)

Type of attack




no coordinates

Multimedia in Wikimedia Commons

Quotes in Wikicitats

NKVD Polish Operation – primarily targeting Poles[a], the so-called NKVD nationality operation, perpetrated by order of the People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs of the USSR No. 00485[2] of August 11, 1937, issued by then People’s Commissar of the NKVD Nikolai Yezhov, carried out on the territory of the USSR in 1937-1938 during the period of great terror.

According to NKVD documents, 139,835 people were convicted, of whom no less than 111,091 Poles – citizens of the USSR – were murdered with a shot in the back of the head, and 28,744 were sentenced to stay in gulags. The sentences were carried out immediately. Poles living in the Ukrainian SSR and Belarusian SSR were deported en masse, including to Kazakhstan and Siberia. The total number of deported Poles was more than 100,000. The NKVD’s Polish operation was one of the NKVD’s so-called nationality operations, which targeted representatives of other nations and ethnic groups living in the Bolshevik state – Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Jews, Finns, Latvians, Greeks, Bulgarians, Chinese, Koreans, Germans and others. Compared to other NKVD national operations, the “Polish operation” stood out for its exceptional scale of repression, brutality and severity. Murdered Poles accounted for 44.9 percent of the victims of all NKVD nationality operations[3].

Table of contents

1 Causes 2 Course

3 Crime scenes within the borders of contemporary countries

3.1 Belarus 3.2 Ukraine 3.3 Central Asia and Siberia

4 Executors 5 Classification of the “Polish operation” as a crime of genocide in scientific research 6 Commemoration 7 See also 8 Notes 9 Footnotes 10 Bibliography 11 External links

Causes[edit | edit code].

Outline of the Second Republic on the partition map. Most of the territories of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth annexed by the Russian Empire until 1793 (shades of green) remained within the USSR after the Bolshevik Revolution (see Treaty of Riga)

The system of power in the USSR was based on intimidation and enforced submission by force and terror. An earlier experiment with the creation of Polish autonomous regions in Soviet Ukraine and Belarus (see Julian Marchlewski Polish National District and Feliks Dzerzhinsky Polish National District) failed – Poles offered the greatest resistance to collectivization and atheization. In the USSR, they were treated as an “uncertain element,” i.e. a potential “fifth column” before the anticipated war between the USSR and the Second Republic and Western countries[3].

Background[edit | edit code].

Separate article: Poles in Russia#History.

The anti-Polish operation of the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was one of the planned genocidal operations of this People’s Commissariat carried out, during the “Great Terror”, to which at least 8 million citizens of the USSR fell victim between 1936 and 1938[4]. At the same time, this was an NKVD operation, affecting collectively (in official form) the largest number of members of a particular nationality, in this case Polish. The action covered all Poles, regardless of class and social affiliation, nationality was the deciding factor. Among the murdered and deported were:

Poles, residents of the former territory of the Republic east of the state border of the Second Republic, established in 1921 by the Treaty of Riga (since December 1922 the border between Poland and the USSR); The only representative of the Polish national elite who to the end demanded the annexation of the territories inhabited by a large Polish minority (including Minsk, Luninets, Proskyria and Kamieniec Podolski) was the Chief of the General Staff of the Polish Army, General Tadeusz Rozwadowski[5]. He eventually succumbed in the face of threats of dismissal from his post by representatives of the PPS – Ignacy Daszynski, and of the National Democracy – Wladyslaw Grabski. Eventually, members of the Polish Military Organization, arrested according to a special list. Many of them were attributed to belonging to the organization, although they had never been members of the POW; all Polish prisoners of war after the Polish-Bolshevik war, still in the USSR; all immigrants from Poland; political refugees from Poland (mainly members of the KPP); members and founders of the PPS and other non-communist parties; national activists of the Polish minority in the USSR (in practice, every Pole); Polish speakers of various origins; and their families[6].

The extermination also decimated the Polish Catholic clergy, which was targeted for total liquidation[7]. Of the 470 clergy providing ministry in Soviet Russia after the ethnic cleansing, only 10 priests and two active Catholic churches remained – in Moscow and Leningrad.

Separate article: NKVD order No. 00485.

Crime scenes within the borders of modern countries[edit | edit code].

Belarus[edit | edit code].

Many of the murdered persons of Polish nationality rested in mass graves in Kuropaty on the outskirts of Minsk, the capital of Belarus, and on Kobylacka Gora in the suburbs of Orsha.

Ukraine[edit | edit code].

The victims of this operation probably represent a significant portion of those buried before 1939 in Bykovnia near Kiev. After the aggression against Poland, Polish officers also joined them.

The scope of the operation was so widespread that in Berdyczow, for example, up to 60% of the Poles living in the city were arrested by June 1938. An important part of it was also the murder in Vinnitsa, where Poles were murdered in addition to Ukrainians. We know of the murder in the Polish district of Proskuriv, Greczany, thanks to the testimony of Zofia Pavlovskaya[8].

Central Asia and Siberia[edit | edit code].

Mass deportations very often had the character of conscious genocide. Victims were left to fend for themselves in places devoid of any possibility of food. Those who managed to survive established a large number of villages, such as Tajinsha and Zhanashar; the descendants of these people are a significant number of Poles in Kazakhstan.

As Harvard University historian Professor Terry Martin calculated, during the “Great Terror” a Pole living in the USSR had a 31 times greater chance of being executed than the average for other nationality groups during this period. Poles were killed during this period simply because they were Polish. It is estimated that no less than 200,000 Poles were killed in all operations during the Great Purge. This is ten times more than in the Katyn massacre.

Contractors[edit | edit code].

The main executors of the “NKVD Polish operation” were:

Mikhail Frinovsky – 1st Deputy People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs of the USSR, head of the GUGB of the NKVD of the USSR;

Leonid Zakovsky – head of the NKVD Board of the Leningrad region, then head of the NKVD Board of the Moscow region and Deputy People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs (NKVD);

Boris Berman – People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs of the Belarusian SSR;

Alexei Nasedkin – People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs of the Belarusian SSR;

Ivan Zabrev – Deputy People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs of the Belarusian SSR;

Vasily Karutsky – head of the NKVD Board of the Moscow region;

Vladimir Cesarski – head of the NKVD Board of the Moscow region;

Izrail Leplevsky – People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs of the Ukrainian SSR;

Aleksandr Uspienski – People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs of the Ukrainian SSR;

Mikhail Stepanov – Deputy People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs of the Ukrainian SSR;

Nikolai Sharov – head of the NKVD Board of the Kiev region;

Grigory Viatkin – head of the NKVD Board of the Zhytomyr region;

Izrail Pliner – head of the NKVD’s Gulag Communist Concentration Camps Board from August 16, 1937;

All were murdered in 1938-1940, mostly after Lavrenty Beria took over the leadership of the NKVD.

Classification of the “Polish operation” as a crime of genocide in scientific research[edit | edit code].

In light of the research of leading experts and authors of the first scientific monographs of the “Polish operation”: historian from the University of Opole Prof. Nikolai Ivanov[9] and sociologist Dr. Tomasz Sommer[10], the crimes against Poles in the Soviet Union in 1937-1938 are classified as genocide.

Commemoration[edit | edit code].

Monument to the victims of the Polish operation in Tomsk

The Sejm of the Republic of Poland twice adopted resolutions commemorating the victims of the NKVD’s Polish operation, which also expressed gratitude to the historians and activists of the Russian association Memorial who keep the memory of the genocide alive:

Resolution of the Sejm of the Republic of Poland of July 14, 2009 commemorating the victims of crimes committed in 1937-1939 against Poles residing in the USSR (M.P. 2009, item 675)[11], Resolution of the Sejm of the Republic of Poland of August 31, 2012 on paying tribute to all those murdered and repressed in the territories of the Soviet Union as part of the so-called Polish Operation in 1937-1938 (M.P. 2012, item 676)[12].

From the content of the above-mentioned Polish parliamentary resolutions, it follows that the extermination of Poles in the Soviet Union in 1937-1938 was officially called a crime of genocide.

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