Forced migration
and Resettlement of Poles

During wartime Poles were forced by both totalitarian regimes, Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, "to migrate this way or that way by which was often justified by pseudoscientific reasons" ( Hans Lemberg )

As early as Fall 1939 experts in Berlin discussed how to removed several million Poles and Jews from the Polish territories which had been incorporated into the Reich. By the Spring of 1941, at least 840,000 people were brutally uprooted from their homes and stripped of all their possessions. Of these 365,000 were deported to the General Government. The first to be removed were members of the elite, being bearers of Polish culture and identity in the region and which could thus form the basis of a resistance movement.

A similar policy was pursued in Poland’s occupied eastern territory by the Soviet authorities. The first to be deported were officers, policemen, civil servants, landowners, members of the middle class or landowning farmers. The first mass deportation was carried out on the night of February 9-10, 1940. The fourth and last mass deportation ended but a few hours before the German invasion of the USSR in June 1941. In total, close to 330,000 Polish citizens: Poles, Jews, Byelorussians, and Ukrainians were deported to Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Siberia. Many of the deportees, due to the harsh conditions and inhumane treatment by the Soviet authorities, did not survive the journey or their exile in Siberia or Kazakhstan. A portion of those who survived bolstered the ranks of the Anders Army and the Polish “People’s” Army.

A group army settlers from Wolyn deported February 10, 1940 together with their families to the USSR. Arrested in April 1940 by the NKVD and placed in prison in Vologda. Released in September 1941 due to the Sikorski-Maisky pact. Photograph taken immediately after their release from prison. Fot. N.N. archives KARTA Center
A group army settlers from Wolyn deported February 10, 1940 together with their families to the USSR. Arrested in April 1940 by the NKVD and placed in prison in Vologda. Released in September 1941 due to the Sikorski-Maisky pact. Photograph taken immediately after their release from prison. Fot. N.N. archives KARTA Center

The German defeat of the Soviet Union was supposed to enable the execution of Heinrich Himmler’s General Plan East, which planned for the deportation and resettlement of 45-50 million people, including Poles, east of the Ural mountains. The Zamosc Region was to serve as a laboratory to test this operation. From November 1942 to August 1943 300 Polish villages where 110,000 Poles lived underwent resettlement. This action, carried out with extreme brutality, became one of the most iconic acts of oppression by the occupier in Poland, and the region is a symbolic place of remembrance.

In as much as the actions in the Zamosc region were a calculated act, another and one of the largest migration in the Second World War was a quasi-spontaneous decision: the mass exodus of several hundred thousand Varsovians after the collapse of the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. The forceful removal of the residents of Warsaw and the systematic destruction of whatever parts of Warsaw remained standing was meant to punish and terrorize Polish society and serve as an example for the rest of still occupied Europe.

Also in the Fall of 1944 began the wide scale resettlement (falsity labeled as “repatriation”) of Poland’s eastern lands. Poles who found themselves to the East of the Bug River and thus no longer on Polish territory after the Allies modified Poland’s eastern border were transplanted Westward, and Polish Ukrainians and Belarusians were sent Eastward. Both migrations, although governed by international agreements, often differed little from wartime deportations.

Warsaw’s civilian population was removed from the city since the start of the Warsaw Uprising in August 1944. They were sent mostly to a transit camp in Pruszkow, and from there transported to forced labor in the Reich or to concentration camps including Auschwitz, Mauthausen and Gusen. Pictured: columns of Warsaw residents reach the camp in Pruszkow, September 1944. Photo: Museum of Warsaw
Warsaw’s civilian population was removed from the city since the start of the Warsaw Uprising in August 1944. They were sent mostly to a transit camp in Pruszkow, and from there transported to forced labor in the Reich or to concentration camps including Auschwitz, Mauthausen and Gusen. Pictured: columns of Warsaw residents reach the camp in Pruszkow, September 1944. Photo: Museum of Warsaw