Thursday, July 16, 2015

Polish nationalists

Soldiers from Kolegium "A" of Kedyw on Stawki Street in Wola district - Warsaw Uprising 1944

Most Poles acknowledged the legitimacy of their government-in-exile. Except for its extreme right component, the Polish resistance never collaborated with the Germans. It regarded the Nazis as the mortal enemy of the Polish nation. Its position toward the Soviets evolved depending on the situation at the fronts, the policies of the major members of the Grand Alliance, and particular incidents such as the tensions over Wladyslaw Anders’ Army, the revelation of the Katyn massacre, the creation of the Polish Committee of National Liberation, and contacts between the pro-Communist forces and the nationalist guerrillas. Poland and Russia restored relations after Germany attacked the USSR, and they concluded a military alliance on 30 July 1941 that presumed an amnesty of all Polish citizens kept in Soviet jails, labor camps, and exile. However, the two governments broke relations again after the discoveries in the Katyn Forest in April 1943. The major cause of tensions between the Soviet Union and the government-in-exile was not even the fate of the Poles murdered by the NKVD but the status of the disputed territories. The two sides never abrogated the alliance, whose conditions stated: “The government of the USSR regards as invalid [the provisions of] the Soviet-German treaties of 1939 on the territorial changes in Poland.” Accordingly, the government-in-exile demanded the return of the disputed territories, being unaware of the agreement reached by the Allies at the Tehran Conference that ceded them to the Soviet Union. Most members of the government-in-exile were ready to cooperate with the Soviets on certain conditions. The Poles in London believed that a mass anti-Nazi uprising in Poland would secure such international prestige that the Western Allies would force the Soviets to drop their demands.

The largest component of the Polish resistance, AK, viewed itself as a supraparty armed force loyal to the government-in-exile and aimed to unite and control the Polish resistance. It started as a network of urban anti-Nazi cells consisting mainly of former army officers, but it gradually turned into a cross-class underground organization with support from all social groups. Before its mobilization in June 1944, AK had only 6,000 armed guerrillas. The rest of its 370,000 members conducted sabotage actions in cities and collected weapons and intelligence. After the mobilization, the number of AK guerrillas rose to 60,000. AK’s ally, Bataliony Chlopskie (Peasant Battalions), a military wing of the moderate Peasant Party, had 30,000 guerrillas by 1944, most of which eventually merged with AK. The Communists and the extreme right wing of the National Party opposed the government-in-exile but conditionally cooperated with it. They organized their own resistance groups, which were less popular than AK.

AK developed its military strategy by 1944. At its heart was Operation Tempest: Polish guerrillas were to rise in disputed areas against German rearguards demoralized by the approach of the Red Army and seize power in major cities just before of the arrival of the Soviets. The timing of the insurrection was crucial. Tadeusz Bor-Komorowski, the AK commander-in-chief, maintained that the uprisings should occur ideally about 12 hours before the Red Army entered major cities so that the insurgents would have time to take power during the chaotic retreat of the Germans. If AK rises too early, he argued, the Germans would crush the insurrection – poorly armed guerrillas could not resist Germans for more than several days. A wave of urban insurrections would roll in front of the Soviet advance from east to west across Poland, producing Polish administrations loyal to the government-in-exile and setting the Soviets in front of fait accompli. These uprisings were directed militarily against the Germans but politically against the Soviets. AK was to maintain neutrality with the Soviets but oppose their attempts to incorporate Poles into the Red Army or into the 1st Polish Army raised by the Soviets from Poles. This was an extremely risky strategy. The success crucially depended on two factors: AK’s ability to overwhelm the retreating Germans and the prompt arrival of the Red Army after the beginning of the uprisings.

Bor-Komorowski observed bitterly in November 1943 that merely six months after the Katyn scandal “among the masses a tendency to regard the Soviets as [their] rescuers from the German terror has begun to emerge.” 197 He had to prohibit any actions against Red partisans and the Red Army. 198 The Soviet General Staff, in turn, instructed the Red partisans to maintain benevolent neutrality toward AK and, as in case of other nationalist resistance groups, urge the Polish underground to postpone the discussion of political problems until the victory over Germany. The Soviets planned to use Polish guerrilla manpower against Germans without promising AK any political concessions. This attempt was futile. The political goals of the Soviets and the AK, and their means to attain them, were incompatible. The Soviets sought to defeat Germany, regardless of the price, as quickly as possible by all means. AK planned to achieve its goals with a minimum of civilian casualties and rejected the permanent guerrilla warfare practiced by the Soviets, preferring dramatic but short actions aimed primarily at securing international prestige and gaining leverage against the Soviet Union. AK called on Poles to abstain from armed struggle against Germany until a spectacular uprising would bring the most political benefits. Relations between AK and the pro- Communist guerrillas turned on local circumstances and the personalities of field commanders. They more often collaborated than clashed. Their cooperation was particularly fruitful in actions against UPA.

Balts and Ukrainians in the Soviet Army

The widespread collaboration with the Nazis in the Baltic did not necessarily mean that the Balts contributed more to the German war effort than to the Soviet one. In 1941–1942, the Soviets raised an Estonian and a Latvian rifle corps and a Lithuanian division from loyalists who had evacuated with the Red Army, those Balts who permanently lived in the Soviet Union and workers of the Baltic labor battalions. While Baltic police battalions raised by Germans with the help of self-administrations engaged mainly in counterinsurgency, the Soviet Baltic divisions were frontline formations from the start. Defections of Baltic soldiers from the Red Army were common in 1941–1942 but stopped later. Most senior officers in these formations were from the disbanded national territorial rifle corps. The 201st Latvian Rifle Division, with volunteers making up 70 percent of its strength, went first in battle in December 1941 and earned a “Guards” title for its outstanding performance in the summer of 1942; the 308th Latvian Rifle Division was awarded a Red Banner Order for the fights in Riga in the fall of 1944. The 16th Soviet Lithuanian Rifle Division was praised for its actions in the battle of Kursk. By March 1945, 99,974 Lithuanians were drafted into the Red Army – almost three times as many as those who served in the German-sponsored police battalions. The 8th Estonian Rifle Corps , with 88.5 percent of Estonians among its personnel, engaged Germans first in December 1942 at Velikie Luki, where it lost half its soldiers owing to battle attrition and defections, but then it fought well against the Germans and Baltic Waffen-SS divisions in 1944 and took Tallinn in September of that year, for which its 249th Rifle Division received a Red Banner Order. About 25,000 Estonians, 5,000 Latvians, and 20,000 Lithuanians died in the ranks of the Red Army and labor battalions.

Many more Ukrainians fought for the Soviets than against them. In 1941– 1945, 3,184,726 Ukrainians enlisted in the Red Army, including 750,000 from the western regions. Twice as many West Ukrainians served in the Red Army as contributed to anti-Soviet resistance in 1944–1950. In addition, tens of thousands of Ukrainians fought as partisans. The number of Belorussians who collaborated with the Germans was negligible compared with those who fought for the Soviets.

Fighting and Supporting the Nazis in the East.

All major nationalist groups, except Armija Krajowa (AK), hoped the Germans would allow them to organize their national armies, which would fight the Soviet Union as Axis members. Thousands volunteered to join the police battalions – the first collaborator military units organized by the Germans. However, the German administration did not allow collaborators to pursue any other agenda but its own and often sent these units to fight outside their native regions, where their soldiers could not even entertain the thought that they defended the interests of their nations. The Germans disbanded Nachtigall and Roland battalions in August 1941 and afterward moved their personnel, containing many OUN members, to Belorussia, where they fought partisans. These soldiers faithfully served Germany for 17 months after the arrest of the top OUN-B leaders until Germans disbanded them. In 1943, the Germans raised the Ukrainian Waffen-SS Galizien Division with the help of OUN-M. It was crushed three weeks after its arrival at the front in June 1944, and then its remnants suppressed insurgencies in Slovakia and Slovenia. 66 Himmler officially forbade reference to Galizien as Ukrainian, and only on 19 April 1945 did that word become a part of its title.

Most Balts preferred the Germans to the Soviets as an occupying force, and many wholeheartedly collaborated. The Baltic police battalions consisted mainly of nationalist volunteers. Latvia and Estonia gave Germany many more collaborators per capita than other borderland regions. Latvian units fought around Lake Il’men’ in Russia, in Ukraine, and in Crimea; Estonians did the same in Belorussia, Ukraine, and Stalingrad; and Lithuanians did so in Belorussia and Ukraine. 68 The Latvian administration raised 48 police battalions, some of which were later reorganized into two Waffen-SS divisions. By 1 July 1944, 85,550 Latvians were enlisted in the SS, with another 61,060 as auxiliaries in the German forces, which constituted 8 percent of Latvian population, a top proportion among the countries that supplied German collaborators. 69 Three times as many Latvian citizens fought for the Germans as for the Soviets; only 57,470 Latvians joined the Red Army.  In Estonia, the self-administration organized a Waffen-SS legion in October 1942, transformed into a Waffen-SS division in May 1944. Along with police battalions that operated since the beginning of the German occupation, the Estonian collaborators numbered between 50,000 to 60,000 men at that time, five times larger than the regular army of independent Estonia. After the influx of volunteers dried up, the Germans resorted to conscription, and the self-administrations obediently drafted Balts, threatening those who failed to report with “punishment according to martial law.” Yet many Latvian and Estonian soldiers fought for the Axis with enthusiasm. Indeed, the Latvian 19th Waffen-SS Division stubbornly defended Courland until Germany surrendered; whereas a unit from the Latvian 15th Waffen-SS Division guarded Hitler’s bunker in Berlin during his last days. About 50,000 Latvians died while fighting on German side, 10 times as many as the number of those who died fighting for the Soviets.  Lithuanian nationalists, by contrast, called on recruits to evade German conscriptions. No unit larger than a police battalion was ever organized. By January 1945, 36,800 Lithuanians organized in 21 police battalions fought for the Germans.  The largest Baltic state thus gave the Germans the smallest number of collaborators.

Apart from the Holocaust, Baltic police battalions performed mainly counterinsurgency missions. They conducted these operations in the style set by the Nazis. Of 48 Latvian police battalions, 26 engaged in counterinsurgency in Belorussia and “have remained in the historic memory of the Belorussian people … as members of punitive expeditions … conspicuous by their ruthlessness.” In an operation called “Winter Magic,” they burned down between 15 and 26 Belorussian villages and executed scores of civilians, some of them burned alive in locked buildings. 88 Latvian police units also killed all 235 inhabitants of the Latvian village of Audrini and 47 persons in the village of Morduki in retaliation for sheltering partisans.  Friedrich Schwung , Gebietskommissar in Latgale , commented: “Latvian policemen almost all have a bit of sadism in their blood.”  The Estonian self-administration raised over 20 police battalions. Of them, 7 were guarding Estonian concentration camps; 12 engaged in antipartisan operations in Russia, Belorussia, and Poland; and 3 conducted deportations to Germany and Estonia and food requisitions. During a counterinsurgency campaign in the Russian Pskov Province, the 37th and 40th Estonian Police Battalions were parts of the 207th German Security Division. Its reports state that it executed 93 percent of the arrested partisan suspects and suspected partisan sympathizers among civilians in 1942 and 81 percent in 1943 – in total, 541 persons. The 288th Estonian Police Battalion burned down 30 Belorussian villages.  

Unlike many Balts and West Ukrainians, West Belorussians mostly abstained from collaboration. Rosenberg observed that “no positive elements with whom we could cooperate exist in Belorussia.” Ordnungsdienst, the German auxiliary police, resorted to a compulsory draft of Belorussians, enforced by taking hostages from the families of eligible men. The police units so organized were fused into the least enthusiastic of all Waffen-SS divisions.