Polish operation of the NKVD
The Genocide of Poles in the Soviet Union often referred to as, the Polish operation of the NKVD, was a coordinated action of the Soviet NKVD
The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs was the public and secret police organization of the Soviet Union that directly executed the rule of power of the Soviets, including political repression, during the era of Joseph Stalin....

 and the Communist Party
Communist Party of the Soviet Union
The Communist Party of the Soviet Union was the only legal, ruling political party in the Soviet Union and one of the largest communist organizations in the world...

 in 1937–1938 against the entire Polish minority
Polish minority in the Soviet Union
The Polish minority in the Soviet Union refers to people of Polish descent who resided in the Soviet Union before its dissolution, and might remain in post-Soviet, sovereign countries as their significant minorities.-1917–1920:...

 living in the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

, representing only 0.4 percent of Soviet citizens. It was the largest ethnic shooting and deportation action during the Great Terror
Great Terror
Great Terror may refer to:* Reign of Terror , a period of extreme violence during the French Revolution, last weeks of which are sometimes referred to as the Red Terror or Great Terror...

, done according to the NKVD Order № 00485 entitled "On the liquidation of the Polish diversionist and espionage groups and POW
Polish Military Organisation
Polish Military Organisation, PMO was a secret military organization created by Józef Piłsudski in August 1914, and officially named in November 1914, during World War I. Its tasks were to gather intelligence and sabotage the enemies of the Polish people...


The agents of the Soviet state-police gathered Polish-sounding names from local telephone books in order to speed up the process. In Leningrad
Leningrad is the former name of Saint Petersburg, Russia.Leningrad may also refer to:- Places :* Leningrad Oblast, a federal subject of Russia, around Saint Petersburg* Leningrad, Tajikistan, capital of Muminobod district in Khatlon Province...

 alone, almost 7,000 citizens were rounded up. A vast majority of them were executed within 10 days of arrest. In the next fourteen months 143,810 people of Polish background were captured, of whom 139,885 were sentenced by extrajudical organs, and 111,091 murdered (nearly 80% of all victims).

The extermination order

The Order № 00485 was approved on August 9, 1937 by the Party's
Communist Party of the Soviet Union
The Communist Party of the Soviet Union was the only legal, ruling political party in the Soviet Union and one of the largest communist organizations in the world...

 Central Committee
Central Committee
Central Committee was the common designation of a standing administrative body of communist parties, analogous to a board of directors, whether ruling or non-ruling in the twentieth century and of the surviving, mostly Trotskyist, states in the early twenty first. In such party organizations the...

  Politburo, and was signed by Nikolai Yezhov
Nikolai Yezhov
Nikolai Ivanovich Yezhov or Ezhov was a senior figure in the NKVD under Joseph Stalin during the period of the Great Purge. His reign is sometimes known as the "Yezhovshchina" , "the Yezhov era", a term that began to be used during the de-Stalinization campaign of the 1950s...

 on August 11, 1937. It was distributed to the local subdivisions of the NKVD simultaneously with Yezhov's thirty-page "secret letter" explaining what the "Polish operation" was all about, because its target was so uncommon. The directive was entitled "On fascist-resurrectionist, spying, diversional, defeationist, and terrorist activity of Polish intelligence in the USSR". Stalin himself demanded to "keep on digging out and cleaning out this Polish filth." The operation was the second in a series of national operations of the NKVD
Mass operations of the NKVD
Mass operations of the NKVD were carried out during the Great Purge and targeted specific categories of people. As a rule, they were carried out according to the corresponding order of the People's Commissar of Internal Affairs Nikolai Yezhov....

, carried out by the Soviet Union against ethnic diasporas including Latvian, Finnish, German and Romanian, based on propaganda myth of a fifth column
Fifth column
A fifth column is a group of people who clandestinely undermine a larger group such as a nation from within.-Origin:The term originated with a 1936 radio address by Emilio Mola, a Nationalist General during the 1936–39 Spanish Civil War...

 residing along its western borders, and the Party's pronouncement of a "hostile capitalist surrounding." The argument was intended only to provide justification for the state-sanctioned campaign of mass-murder meant to erradicate Poles as a national (and linguistic) minority group, wrote Timothy Snyder.

Scale of the "Polish operation" and its victims

The largest group of people with Polish background, around 40 percent of all victims, came from the Soviet Ukraine, especially from the districts near the border with Poland. Among them, tens of thousands of peasants, railway workers, industrial labourers, engineers and others. An additional 17 percent of victims came from the Soviet Byelorussia. The rest came from around Western Siberia and Kazakhstan where exiled Poles lived since the Partitions
Partitions of Poland
The Partitions of Poland or Partitions of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth took place in the second half of the 18th century and ended the existence of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, resulting in the elimination of sovereign Poland for 123 years...

, as well as from southern Urals, northern Caucasus and the rest of Siberia including the Far East.

The following categories of people were arrested during the Polish operation of the NKVD, as described in Soviet documents:
  • "Active" members of the Polish minority in Soviet Union (practically all Poles).
  • All immigrants from Poland
    Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

  • Political refugees from Poland (mostly members of the Communist Party of Poland
    Communist Party of Poland
    The Communist Party of Poland is a historical communist party in Poland. It was a result of the fusion of Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania and the Polish Socialist Party-Left in the Communist Workers Party of Poland .-1918-1921:The KPRP was founded on 16 December 1918 as...

  • Former and present members of the Polish Socialist Party
    Polish Socialist Party
    The Polish Socialist Party was one of the most important Polish left-wing political parties from its inception in 1892 until 1948...

     and other non-communist Polish political parties.
  • All prisoners of war
    Prisoner of war
    A prisoner of war or enemy prisoner of war is a person, whether civilian or combatant, who is held in custody by an enemy power during or immediately after an armed conflict...

     from the Polish-Soviet war
    Polish-Soviet War
    The Polish–Soviet War was an armed conflict between Soviet Russia and Soviet Ukraine and the Second Polish Republic and the Ukrainian People's Republic—four states in post–World War I Europe...

     that remained in the Soviet Union.
  • Members of Polska Organizacja Wojskowa
    Polish Military Organisation
    Polish Military Organisation, PMO was a secret military organization created by Józef Piłsudski in August 1914, and officially named in November 1914, during World War I. Its tasks were to gather intelligence and sabotage the enemies of the Polish people...

     listed in the special list (most of them were not in fact members of that organisation).

The operation took place approximately from August 25, 1937 to November 15, 1938. According to archives of the NKVD: 111,091 Poles
thumb|right|180px|The state flag of [[Poland]] as used by Polish government and diplomatic authoritiesThe Polish people, or Poles , are a nation indigenous to Poland. They are united by the Polish language, which belongs to the historical Lechitic subgroup of West Slavic languages of Central Europe...

 and people accused of ties with Poland, were sentenced to death, and 28,744 were sentenced to labor camp
Labor camp
A labor camp is a simplified detention facility where inmates are forced to engage in penal labor. Labor camps have many common aspects with slavery and with prisons...

s ('dry guillotine' of slow death by exposure, malnutrition, and overwork); 139,835 victims in total. This number constitutes 10% of the total number of people officially convicted during the Yezhovshchina period with confirming NKVD documents. The Operation was only a peak in a murderous wave of terror against the Poles, spanning over a decade. As the Soviet statistics indicate, the number of ethnic Poles in the USSR dropped by 165,000 in that period. "It is estimated that Polish losses in the Ukrainian SSR were about 30%, while in the Belorussian SSR... the Polish minority was almost completely annihilated." Historian Michael Ellman
Michael Ellman
Michael Ellman has been a professor of economics at the University of Amsterdam since 1978. He has written extensively on the economics of the Soviet Union, transition economics, Russia and comparative economic systems.- Prizes and honours :* Foreign member of the Russian Academy of Economic...

 asserts that the 'national operations', particularly the 'Polish operation', may constitute genocide
Genocide is defined as "the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group", though what constitutes enough of a "part" to qualify as genocide has been subject to much debate by legal scholars...

 as defined by the UN convention. His opinion is shared by Simon Sebag Montefiore
Simon Sebag Montefiore
Simon Jonathan Sebag Montefiore is a British historian and writer.-Family history:Simon's father, a doctor, is descended from a famous line of wealthy Sephardic Jews who became diplomats and bankers all over Europe...

, who calls the Polish operation of the NKVD 'a mini-genocide.' Polish writer and journalist, Dr Tomasz Sommer
Tomasz Sommer
Tomasz Krzysztof Sommer is a Polish writer, journalist and publisher, Editor-in-chief of weekly magazine Najwyższy CZAS. Sommer graduated from the University of Warsaw Department of Journalism and Political Science, and received his Ph.D...

, also referres to the operation as a genocide, along with Prof. Marek Jan Chodakiewicz
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz is a Polish-American historian specializing in East Central European history of the 19th and 20th century. His historical works include: After the Holocaust: Polish-Jewish Relations in the Wake of World War II, and Between Nazis and Soviets: Occupation Politics in Poland...

 among others.

Almost all victims of the NKVD shootings were men, wrote Michał Jasiński, most with families. Their wives and children were dealt with, by the NKVD order № 00486. The women were being sentenced to deportations to Kazakhstan for an average of 5 to 10 years. Their children, put in orphanages to be brought up as Soviet, with no knowledge of their own origins. All possessions of the accused were confiscated. The parents of the executed men – as well as their in-laws – were purposely left with nothing to live on, which usually sealed their fate as well. Statistical extrapolation, wrote Jasiński, increases the number of Polish victims in 1937–1938 to around 200–250,000 depending on size of their families.

Further reading

  • McLoughlin, Barry, and McDermott, Kevin (eds). Stalin's Terror: High Politics and Mass Repression in the Soviet Union. Palgrave Macmillan
    Palgrave Macmillan
    Palgrave Macmillan is an international academic and trade publishing company, headquartered in Basingstoke, Hampshire, England, United Kingdom and with offices in New York, Melbourne, Sydney, Hong Kong, Delhi, Johannesburg. It was created in 2000 when St...

    , December 2002. ISBN 1403901198.
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