THE UKRAINIAN WEEKLY
Zakerzonnia and Akcja Wisia
Sixty-five years ago the Communist government of Poland perpetrated the forced resettlement of some 150,000 Ukrainians from ethnically Ukrainian lands in the southeastern part of the country, close to the border with the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, to territories in northwestern Poland known as the „recovered territories” (ziemie odzyskane], which were part of pre-war Germany but became part of Poland after World War 11.
The swift military operation – a clear example of ethnic cleansing – began in the early morning hours of April 28,1947. Its purpose, according to a secret document dated April 16, 1947, was „To finally solve the Ukrainian problem in Poland, …to evacuate from the southern and eastern border region all individuals of Ukrainian nationality and resettle them on the northwestern lands…” It was underscored that „The evacuation must include all elements of the Ukrainian nationality, including Lemkos and those of mixed Ukrainian-Polish marriages….”
By means of Akcja Wisla, or Operation Vistula, the Ukrainian character of the Lemko, Sian, Kholm and Pidliashia regions was to be destroyed, and the Ukrainians of Poland were to be totally assimilated into the Polish milieu. That is, the Ukrainians, as an organized community in Poland, were to vanish.
As noted by the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America in its statement issued on the 65th anniversary of Akcja Wisla, „The official purpose of the military opera¬tion …was to incapacitate the active units of Ukraine’s liberation force, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), in the Lemko region, and deny it a source of local support. In fact, the action was a premeditated plan conducted by Soviet and Polish authorities during and after World War II 'to resolve the Ukrainian question…'” Indeed, accord¬ing to ample documentation, the planning for Akcja Wisla had taken place well in advance.
It must be noted that Akcja Wisla was in fact the continuation of Polish and Soviet policy adopted in 1944 and their proposed demarcation of the border between them based largely on the Curzon Line (established in 1919 as the border between the opposing powers of the Second Polish Republic and Bolshevik Russia). Poles and Jews on Soviet territory were to be resettled west of the line to Poland, while Ukrainians, Belarusians and Lithuanians were to be transferred eastward to Soviet territory. For Poland, this „exchange” of populations was key to achieving the goal of a more Polish Poland; for the USSR it was the solution to a multitude of regional issues and had international ramifications as approval was sought for a shift in the border.
This forced „repatriation” and the subsequent forced resettlement, according to Dr. Taras Hunczak, editor and compiler of the new book „Zakerzonnia: Ethnic Cleansing of the Ukrainian Minority in Poland 1944-1947,” had „devastating conse¬quences for Poland’s Ukrainian minority,” leaving the community scarred for decades. (The title of the book, „Zakerzonnia,” refers to the territory west of the Curzon Line.)
The new book, a collection of articles by scholars from the United States and Poland, including Yale’s Prof. Timothy Snyder, known for his book „Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin,” aims to acquaint English-language readers with the history of the Ukrainian people who lived in Zakerzonnia, perhaps the ultimate borderland, which suffered so much upheaval and bloodshed. It is a book well worth reading to learn about this often overlooked aspect of the history of the Ukrainian people.
The publishers of „Zakerzonnia,” the Organization for the Defense of Lemko Western Ukraine and The Lemko Research Foundation, have found a most fitting and valuable way to commemorate the 65th anniversary of Akcja Wisla.
Sixty-five years ago
by Askold S. Lozynskyj
The operation began at 4 a.m. on April 28, 1947. The result was that over a period of roughly three months some 20,000 soldiers of the Polish People’s Army, the Internal Security Corps and special personnel of the police Milicija Obywatelska and the Security Service Urzad Bezpieszenstwa forcibly changed the ethnic composition of the southeastern regions of Poland, relocating some 150.0 Ukrainians to the Northwest.
Many died during the roughshod process of ethnic cleansing. The authorities were discriminate enough to single out intellectuals and clergy, who were then incarcerated in the Jawozno concentration camp. Many were tortured and later died in the camp. The resettlement directive for the general Ukrainian populace was very spe-cific: no more than a 10 percent concentra-tion of Ukrainians could constitute the pop-ulation of any urban or rural location.
Some Poles even recently have tried to justify „Akcja Wisla” (the operation’s Polish name] as retribution for the Ukrainian- Polish massacres in Volyn in 1943. Others have pointed to the ethnographic Ukrainian lands such as Lemkivschyna ånd others, which were made a part of Communist Poland and continue as part of the Polish Republic today, serving as the main base of operations for the Ukrainian Insurgent Army in the post World War II period.
Nevertheless, the current Republic of Poland has recognized the crimes of its pre-decessor state. The Polish Senate in 1990 apologized to the Ukrainian community. In 2002 Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski apologized as did President Lech Kaczyński in 2007. However, the Polish Parliament (Sejm) and its governments headed by its many prime ministers since independence have remained silent. The more significant problem is that little or no tangible effort has been made by Poland to liquidate the effects of Akcjaa Wisla or provide restitution, except for minor gestures such as permitting a return to once-occupied lands after more than half a century and the return of the Ukrainian home to the Ukrainian community in Przemyśl (Peremyshl).
The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 9, 1948, and entered into force on January 12, 1951. Article 2 of the convention defined genocide as an act committed with intent to destroy, in whole of in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such, by „deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” Both effect and motive of „Akcja Wisla are clear. In 1947, just prior to the operation, there were
500.0 Ukrainians in Poland. According to the last census there are currently 37,000 Ukrainians. The intent is transparent from the directives of resettlement and its manner: tjie directive for no more than a 10 percent concentration of Ukrainians and special directives depleting the nation of intel-lectuals and clergy, whose torture and con-finement in a concentration camp that was a part of the notorious Nazi camp at Auschwitz and ultimate death, ensured the dearth of that stratum of Ukrainian society.The organized Ukrainian community in- Poland has sought rehabilitation through liquidation of the lasting negative effects of Akcja Wisla. It has pursued many options, administrative and judicial inside Poland, all to no avail. Finally on March 19, 2010, it filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights seeking redress from the current Republic of Poland for declining substantive action meant to rehabilitate the Ukrainian minority in Poland.
On February 16 of this year the European Court notified the Union of Ukrainians in Poland that this matter did not fall within its jurisdiction. There are no avenues of appeal. Legally the European Court is correct since Akcja Wisla took place several years before the European Court had come into existence. The current Republic of Poland, irre-spective of governments or party affiliation, has been one of the staunchest supporters of an independent and democratic Ukraine, perhaps most importantly advocating bringing Ukraine into the European Union and NATO. Together the two countries will be hosting the European Cup this June. These manifestations of a good neighbor policy has been laudable. True, some cynics, and I am one of them, insist that Poland’s affability towards Ukraine has been less altruistic and more strategic, seeing a strong and democratic Ukraine as a buffer between itself and Russia.
On historical issues, frankly, Poland has been unyielding. This in spite of the fact that historically the Poles invaded Ukrainian territory three times. Ukrainians never once occupied Polish territory. There is no legal mandate that Poland admit its transgressions against Ukrainians and work towards genuine reconciliation, but there certainly may be a moral element that good willed Poles should consider.
Ukrainians should forgive Poles not only for Akcja Wisla but for all the historical inequities. What the Poles do is besides the point. Forgiveness simply is the moral and Christian way.
While it should not involve geo-political strategy, the two sometimes are in tandem assuming good faith. However, forgiving does not mean forgetting. Not only Lemkos and Boykos, but all Ukrainians dare not for-get the victims of Akcja Wisla or any other tragedy that has befallen Ukrainians over centuries of foreign occupation and rule. We must remember for the sake of the victims because they deserve our consideration. Our ancestors suffered so much. But we must remember also for our children.
Today’s problems pale by comparison with our past. We must live and work to ensure a future less tragic and more peace-ful. Ensuring that future often means remembering the past, no matter how diffi-cult that may be