Autumn in Lwów

Entry of the Red Army to Lwów on 22 September 1939

A year ago around September 22 we wrote about the military parade held seventy years earlier, in 1939 by the Nazi and the Soviet army together in the recently occupied Polish city of Brześć. On the present anniversary we publish some documents about how the population of Lwów experienced the Soviet occupation of Galicia in the same days.

The “trophies” collected by the Red Army in the Western Ukraine

Lwów, the seat of the easternmost Polish voivodeship by the 1930s already recovered from the Great Depression, and the successes of the city were echoed all over the country by the press and radio. Local construction industry, employing more than 15 thousand people, experienced a special boom. In the years immediately preceding the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact 974 apartment blocks, 965 family houses, four churches, eight schools, five hospitals, a large swimming pool and several prominent public institutions were built. 35.5% of the streets of Lwów were reconstructed in this period. The city was spreading at a quick pace. The Workers’ Housing Association established a large number of housing estates where flats were sold on a 20-year loan, by yearly instalments equalling to three months’ average salary. The loan would have expired in 1959… Between 1934 and 1938 the number of trees in the city was doubled, and by this Lwów rose to the first place in Europe concerning the proportion of green cover. They renewed the city power station, the slaughterhouse, the gas works, the sewer system, and a new tram depot was built.

“It was at this time – writes the anniversary article of the Ukrainian portal of Lviv – that the unexpected geopolitical earthquake happened which restarted from zero the history of the city and while leaving untouched the houses of Lwów, it changed their inhabitants, wiping out its multicultural atmosphere and the memory of several hundreds of thousands of its formal inhabitants.”

The Western Ukrainian National Assembly, October 1939

The war started on 1 September 1939, and the German airplanes threw the first bombs on the railway station of Lwów. The city, however, kept living its life unchanged. The music was playing in the restaurants and cafés, and in the twenty-five cinemas American films were on show. The opera house had a festive evening even on the 10th, on the eve of the siege of the city. Teaching started in the high schools and at the university. In the meantime a large number of refugees flooded the city from the western part of Poland, primarily Jews. This made prices, especially house-rents grow high, and the commander-in-chief of the city temporarily had to freeze all prices.

The presidency of the National Assembly

The Polish army which had been preparing for an attack from the West, first had no plan for the defence of Lwów, laying in the eastern hinterland. The quick German advance, however, constrained them to build out on September 7 a new front line along the San river, where also the city of Lesko lays. The Germans, breaking through it, arrived on the 12th to Lwów which was defended against them for ten days by a much smaller Polish unit. On September 17 the Soviet army also broke into Poland. On the 19th they joined up the German army and continued together the siege of the city. On the 20th Hitler gave command to his army to retire to the Vistula-San line and to yield the eastern territories to the Soviets in terms of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. After this, the commander-in-chief of the Polish troops defending the city, General Franciszek Sikorski considered the resistance hopeless, and on the 22th in the early morning he gave up the city to the Soviets. In terms of the protocol of surrender, the members of the Polish army could freely leave to home or go to any country of their choice. However, the NKVD already that afternoon started to arrest the Polish officers and to deport them to the Soviet Union where in April of the next year they were executed in Katyń together with twenty-two thousand other officers of the Polish army.

Nikita Khruschev, political commissar of the Ukrainian Front at Przemyśl, 29 September 1939

“The Soviet army occupied Lwów on 22 September 1939 – remembers Karolina Lanckorońska, historian and professor of the university of Lwów, later a member of the Polish Resistance who was condemned to death by the Gestapo. – On the morning we saw the first red soldiers entering the city in small groups. They absolutely did not look like happy or proud winners. They were ragged and confused, almost frightened. They walked about in the city with great caution and with obvious surprise. They stood for long in front of the shop-windows full of goods, but it took a couple of days until they dared to enter the shops. I was there when an officer bought a tarahkhavka, a toy rattlesnake made out of wood. He shook the snake at the ear of his fellow officer, and both of them were jumping with great shouting. Then he purchased it and they happily left. The surprised salesman recovered only after a minute of long silence, and turned to me: «What will happen here, Madame, if the very officers are like this?»”

Delegates of the Western Ukrainian National Assembly in front of the city theatre

The Poles of Lwów, writes, were uniformly hostile towards the “invaders of Moscow”. The Galician Jews, however, greeted them with flowers and with sincere enthusiasm. This was shocking to the Poles who had hitherto considered the Jews as Polish patriots and now took their behavior for treason. The Jews, however, exactly knew what Hitler did to the Jews of Germany, and were unspeakably relieved that the city was occupied in the last moments by the Soviets instead of the Germans. The majority of the Ukrainians of Lwów also regarded the Soviet army as invaders.

The delegates of the Western Ukrainian National Assembly vote for the union with the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, October 1939

The inhabitants of Lwów tried to communicate with the soldiers, but these did not dare to say a word without the permission of the political commissars. These latter decided who can contact local people and who not. The soldiers that received the permission happily spoke to the inhabitants. Evgen Nakonechny, the brilliant memorialist of Lwów recalls it: “The Eastern Ukrainian soldiers, as they saw the portraits of the national poet Sevchenko in the villages of Galicia, were enraptured at the sight of patriotism and religiosity about which they only dared to dream in secret.”

Nikita Khruschev speaks in the Western Ukrainian National Assembly, October 1939

At the end of September the armed lumpenproletariat wearing red arm-bands sacked the famous Baczewski alcohol factory and they also started to loot city shops and to revenge themselves for personal affairs. The inhabitants of Lwów organized armed vigilance, the Ukrainians voluntary factory militias, and the Polish police also kept working for a while. However, the Soviet authorities soon replaced all of them with the newly organized worker’s and peasant’s militias.

At the end of the Western Ukrainian National Assembly the Soviet technology parades on the streets of Lwów, September 1939

After the establishment of the new power, the leading positions of military and civil administrations, education, culture and other fields in Lwów and in Galicia became unavailable to Poles who could only get a job as unskilled workers or street cleaners. Their places, announced Molotov, had to be occupied “by our blood-brothers”. The forced Ukrainization of the city began.

“Our army is the army of the liberation of workers” (Stalin)

Песня об освобождении Западной Украины и Белоруссии – Song about the liberation of Western Ukraine and Belorussia

Мы идём за великую Родину
Нашим классовым братьям помочь
Каждый шаг, нашей армией пройденный,
Прогоняет зловещую ночь!

Белоруссия родная,
Украина золотая,
Наше счастье молодое
Мы стальными штыками оградим!

Над полями, лесами, озёрами
Боевые летят корабли
И свобода встаёт над просторами
Возвращённой народу земли.

Вражья сила качнётся и сломится
На штыках наших доблестных рот.
Артиллерией, танками, конницей
Мы проложим дорогу вперёд.

Наших братьев в беде не оставим мы,
Неразрывен великий народ.
Под знамёнами Ленина - Сталина,
Под знамёнами дружбы - в поход!
We march for the great Homeland
to help to our brothers of class.
Every step done by our army
chases far the wicked night!

Our sister Belorussia,
Golden Ukraine,
our young happiness:
we came with steel bayonets!

Above the plains, forests and lakes
battle aeroplanes fly
and freedom is established
on the large land of the liberated people

The force of the enemy is broken
on the bayonets of our courageous troops.
With artillery, tanks and cavalry
we prepare our road ahead.

We do not leave our brothers in trouble:
this great people is united!
Under the flags of Lenin and Stalin,
under the flag of friendship – ahead!

Inhabitants of Lwów greeting the soldiers of the Red Army on the parade closing the Western Ukrainian National Assembly

Schools all over Galicia were changed into Ukrainian. Within a couple of months the number of Ukrainian schools grew from 371 to 5536, and that of Jewish schools from 23 to 103. The inscriptions in the city changed from Polish into Ukrainian, and then gradually into Russian. However, the everyday language of the city remained Polish, spoken by everybody independently of his or her ethnicity, on the streets, at the market, in the post office.

The inhabitants of Lwów rally at the statue of Adam Mickiewicz, 1939

On the pressure of the Soviet authorities the Opera House announced the presentation of the historical drama “Bohdan Khmelnitsky” by Korniychuk, and when the hetman who in 1640 launched the anti-Polish Cossack uprising proclaimed: “We will chase the Poles as far as the Vistula, and if necessary, even further!”, an unimaginable jubilation broke out among the public.

The inhabitants of Lwów rally at the statue of Adam Mickiewicz, 1939

However, in the meantime the news spread that people are gradually being arrested and deported to Siberia, and not only Poles, but also Ukrainians. A job in the Polish public administration was considered by the Soviets as a mortal sin independently of ethnicity, and also the whole family of those arrested were deported. The further targets of the Soviet authorities included the “Ukrainian bourgeois nationalists”, the members of the Ukrainian Party of Independence (many of them were directly taken to Siberia from the Polish prisons), the Socialists, and the members of Polish police and jurisdiction.

Worker’s procession on the 22nd anniversary of the Great Socialist Revolution of October, on 7 November 1939. It is shocking to see – although completely understandable – how much more civilized these faces are than those at the Soviet parades of the same period.

During the Soviet occupation, from 22 September 1939 to 22 June 1941 about 20% of the city’s population was deported, primarily the Polish and Ukrainian middle classes. The German army entering on 22 June also collected the Jewish population in a ghetto and in the course of 1942 they gradually transported them into the annihilation camp of Belżec. Their memory is preserved by the film Lwów made in 1938-39 by Saul and Yitzhak Goskind on the local Jewish community. Between 1941 and 1944 the Ukrainian national army, led by Stepan Bandera started to systematically kill the Polish population all over the former Polish territory: the number of their victims is well above two hundred thousand. And after the war the returning Soviet army relocated the rest of the city’s Polish population into the new Poland, on the place of the German community of about two million souls which was forcibly resettled into Germany. By 1947 Lwów lost about 80% of its pre-war population.

Representatives of the working people! Vote for the union of Western Ukraine with Soviet Ukraine, the unite, free and independent Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic!

On the period of the occupation between 1939 and 1941 an exhibition was installed in this July in Lviv, in the common organization of the Polish and the Ukrainian Institutes of National Memory. Here was also presented the – otherwise quite professional – propaganda film made by Aleksandr Dovzhenko back in 1939 with the title Liberation of the peoples of Ukraine and Belorussia from the yoke of Polish landlords and the union of the friendly people. This film can be seen here below in eight parts.

3 comentarios:

languagehat dijo...

What a sad story, and what a miserable century the last one was. Let's hope this one is at least a little better.

A minor point, but in "What will happen here, Madame, when the very officers are like this?" shouldn't "when" read "if"?

Studiolum dijo...

Thank you, that’s right. I will correct it. I know this is a frequent error of mine, as in Hungarian the two words are one, and sometimes I cannot distinguish well the two English equivalents.

Stefan Wiśniowski dijo...

Will you put English captions in the part 2-8? :)