1The numbers may be questionable. Belarussians did not have a developed national consciousness as the Ukrainians, so this number appears to be considerably low. Ruthenian may be attributed to the Rusyns of the Carpathian mountains, but the distinction between Ukrainian and Ruthenian is not clear from the statistics.
Population Statistics of 1931 for the Eastern Territories which were
occupied by the USSR in 19392
Breakdown of population by native language of the three Eastern Galician provinces from 1931 Census
The times between the two world wars saw great ethnic strife between the various ethnic groups. Poland endured political conflict, sometimes leading to open war, within its own borders with ethnic groups such as Czechs, Ukrainians, Belorusians, Lithuanians and Germans. Clearly beyond the scope of this article, I recommend others to read histories, available in English, on this critical subject.
On September 1, 1939, World War II began with the German invasion of Poland from the west. After only a few weeks, on September 17, the Soviets invaded Poland from the east. Poland capitulated within a few weeks. The nation suffered a partition between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union and ceased to exist as an independent nation. Yet even during the ensuing war, ethnic strife continued in the occupied territories between the Poles and their neighbors, especially in Volyn (Wołyń) and Eastern Galicia (Wschodnia Galicja or Wschodnia Małopolska).
At the treaty of Yalta in February 1945, while the Nazi Germans were retreating on all fronts, the Allied Powers consisting of the Soviet Union (which at the start of the war was allied with Germany, but later became an enemy after the German invasion), England and the US, discussed a new world order after victory. One of their ideas was to redraw the map of Europe, especially in terms of Poland. They stated that "the Polish frontier should run along the Curzon line" and that "Poland ought to acquire considerable territorial gains in the north and west". (Klafkowski, 71) Notably absent from the agreement was a representative of Poland. Later after the war was over, the same three powers concluded the Pottsdam Agreement in August 1945. In this treaty, the decision was to move Poland roughly 200 kilometers to the west.
In addition to moving the borders, the decision called for a massive relocation of populations. Ethnic Germans (not already fleeing with the German army) would be forced out of the land that became western Poland. Ethnic Poles from the pre-war Eastern Territories would be moved to the western lands vacated by the Germans, often called in Polish histories as the Recovered Territories, or in Polish, Ziemie Odzyskane. Backed by the Soviet government, the Polish government reasoned that the acquiring of this German territory was an historical move to take back for Poland what rightfully belonged to Poland before the 14th Century. (This assertion is really quite absurd for it completely ignores the last 600 years of history and development.) The legal aspect of this border change, the result of which is accepted officially without reservation by the countries today, is still questionable to some historians.
The intent of this policy was to remove the ethnic tension seen before (and even during) World War II. The effect though, was a complete upheaval of Polish society and horrible tragedy to the individuals involved. Furthermore, society in the western provinces for decades was overshadowed by the contrast between the indigenous inhabitants and those people who were relocated. Kersten writes "Local traditions and symbols, places of worship, and traditional cultural signs that had defined identities and provided feelings of stability and safety became things of the past. Attempts were made to preserve certain vestiges to transfer old cultural reference points to new homes. Most of these efforts were in vain. The chaotic nature of the resettlement made it impossible to recreate familiar environments in the newly settled areas. People did, in time, take root in their new communities, but these roots were much weaker than the old ones had been." (Kersten 83)
An agreement to a border change and exchange of populations between Poland and the USSR was made even before the allied treaties of Yalta and Pottsdam. In late 1944, it was decided that ethnic Poles had the voluntary choice of moving into the new boundaries of Poland while ethnic Lithuanians, Belorusians and Ukrainians had the similar choice of moving to the USSR. (Kochanowski, 137). Although some Poles did willingly leave their homes to move within the new Polish borders, others were forced out of fear of anti-Polish terrorists or the threat of imprisonment or deportation to Siberia. Imagine the fear and uncertainty of the population. Of course, they hated to leave their ancestral homes, churches and farms. They were not allowed to take much with them. They had no idea where they were going. Yet there existed a very real threat of anti-Polish local terrorism and their memory of arrests, deportations and killings made by the Soviets during their occupation from September 1939 to June 1941. In the course of four years, by 1948, some 4.5 million Repatriates and Resettlers arrived in the western provinces. (Ziółkowski, 137)
The actual relocation process was handled extremely poorly by the Polish government. People were often hurdled into overcrowded train compartments for weeks during the relocation. Sometimes they were forced in compartments with livestock. Such trips were worse during the harsh cold months of winter. Eventually these people found themselves in new cities, towns and villages badly damaged from the war. Ziółkowski states that “54% of town buildings and 27.5% of village buildings were destroyed” in the Recovered Territories. (Ziółkowski, 136) Often, people had to wait at the train stations until the ethnic Germans were vacated from their homes, allowing the Poles to move in. From the reports found in the archives, I’ve seen that families sometimes had to move into barns or burned out homes, as the countryside was devastated by fierce fighting between the Soviets and the Germans putting up a strong resistance.
Sources of inflow and the location of particular groups in the Recovered
Territories on January 1, 19473
Breakdown of New Arrivals to the Recovered Territories up to 19504
This short history is not meant to be inclusive. I avoid the many aspects concerning ethnic relations from before, during and after the war. I further avoided giving details and reasons to the ethnic tensions and the impact of the foreign invading German and Soviet forces. I intend this over-simplification solely as a background to the genealogical documents. I strongly recommend everyone interested to read more on the subject.