On WWII, memory management and control

I posted the following comment following the article Forgive us for starting the Second World War, Germany begs Poland in The Times:

The war was started by a joint German-Soviet invasion of Poland. Each of the invaders occupied roughly half of the country.

Joint Communist-Nazi victory parade was held in Brześć on the Bug river (Brest-Litovsk) on 22 September 1939. An interesting and highly symbolic photo can be viewed at https://lsborkowski.com/pol/joint-communist-nazi-victory-parade/. The Nazis and the Communists marched amicably in one triumphant column. Hammer and sickle in a brotherly embrace with the swastika.

Ideological differences notwithstanding, both Nazi and Soviet occupations implemented similar terror.

One remarkable early victim was Janusz Kusociński, winner of the 10k race in the Los Angeles Olympics in 1932. He got involved in efforts to organize resistance immediately after the German occupation began. He was arrested in March 1940 and shot in the forest near Warsaw on 21 June 1940.

After the war, Communists organised yearly athletic competition in Warsaw under Kusociński’s name: Memoriał Kusocińskiego. The first one was held in 1954. This was an exercise in the control and management of memory. Kusociński was killed by the Germans, not the Russians, which made his name eligible for such manipulation.

Around 2011 the Kusociński competition was expelled from Warsaw to Szczecin (Stettin). I am not sure if the competition was not inactive for a few years before that. A ridiculous move. Kusociński had no connection to Szczecin/Stettin, which was a German city before WWII. His name was, in a way, disposed of, to make space for a more recent name of someone else, thus confirming the post-1990 continuity of the Communist policy of memory management and control.

My wife’s grandfather, Aleksander Głuchowski, fought in the September 1939 campaign and facing defeat crossed the border to Lithuania to be interned there, rather than fall into the German or Russian hands. After Lithuania’s invasion by the Soviet Union, he was imprisoned in an Orthodox monastery near Kozelsk, the same place, from which thousands of Polish officers were transported to the execution site in the Katyn forest near Smolensk in the Spring of 1940. He was later transferred to Gryazovets in northern Russia.

Following the Nazis move eastward in June 1941, the Soviets were much more organised and disciplined in killing thousands of Polish citizens they earlier imprisoned [, than fighting the German army]. Some prisoners were forced to go on exhaustive marches East. Thousands either died of exhaustion or were killed in those marches.

The memory management and control policy eliminated those victims from memory and history.

The Wannsee conference of the senior Nazis was held in January 1942. The policy of the mass slaughter of Jews was decided upon and implemented.

Aleksander was eventually released by the Soviets and joined the Polish forces formed under the western Allies command.

He was not able to participate in the Allied victory parade in London in 1946. The British government preferred to appease the Communists and issued the invitation for the parade to the Communists in Warsaw. The Poles fighting on the western front were excluded.

When Aleksander returned to Poland in 1947, he was immediately arrested by the Communist secret police. When he was later released, he was exhausted and sick. He died in 1952 at the young age of 45. His wife died in 1945, shortly after the end of the war, probably of similar reasons: sickness and exhaustion. They last saw each other when Aleksander left to fight in September 1939.

In a database focused on victims of Communist terror (oficial word: “repression”, “terror” is inconvenient –> management and control of memory) his imprisonment in 1947 is omitted.

My own parents, Bolesław Borkowski and Irena Borkowska (Ostrowska), were also purged from the list of victims. When a “database of victims”, in which I was expected to find their names, was released few years ago, their names were not there. Memory management and control. My father deserted with the arms from the Communist army one day before the military oath was taken. This was on 13 January 1945. The entire company deserted. His group crossed the line which was imposed as the new eastern Polish border and was later surrounded and captured by NKVD after a battle, in which he was wounded. They were held in a citadel in the same Brześć, in which September 1939, the Nazi and Communist forces held joint victory parade. Conditions were horrible. The inmates were tortured.

My father avoided torture by putting his life on the line. When the NKVD man tried to get up from his desk, he knew what would come. He warned him to not even try because he himself was ready to die rather than yield to torture. He shouted at the Soviet: “You are worse than the Nazis!”. There was also an element of luck, of course. He was sentenced by the NKVD War Tribunal in June 1945 to ten years of hard labour camp. He was held in a camp in the Arkhangelsk area.

My mother was imprisoned by the Soviets in 1949 for her family helping Polish anti-Communist resistance. Her father and younger brother were arrested at the time as well. She was held in a hard labour camp from 1949 to 1956. When they found her brother’s whereabouts at the time when many camp prisoners were being released, he was completely damaged. He barely knew his name and he could not tell where he was held. This was the result of torture. You can see his picture online https://lsborkowski.com/pol/letter-malgorzata-gluchowska-lech-borkowski-prime-minister-poland-10-december-2017/

For my mother, the war which began in 1939, never ended.

Desertions from the Communist army were and still are taboo subjects. Memory management and control.

Keep in mind, that the Soviets killed thousands of Polish resistance members when they advanced westwards into the Polish territory in 1944-45. Being a member of the Communist army you would not fight for independent Poland. You would fight one enemy for the benefit of another one.

In the last months of the war, the British PM Winston Churchill signed an illegal agreement with the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in Yalta, in which they decided to determine jointly the post-war borders of Poland. The border was to coincide roughly with the border of the Soviet occupation zone following the 1939 invasion.

The Yalta agreement was disastrous for dozens of millions of people. It was signed against the wishes of the people inhabiting the territories involved. Polish legal government, then in exile in London, was bypassed.

Churchill famously said at the end of WWI “When the war of the giants is over the wars of the pygmies will begin”. Clearly an imperial view of other nations.

Of course, the American and British leaders had no right to determine Polish post-WWII borders and the Yalta deal was illegal. Yalta is a symbol of western very deep cognitive disaster vis-a-vis Communism which continues today.

Both of my parents came from eastern Poland, which fell under the Soviet occupation during WWII and afterwards.

The official narrative about WWII in Poland is a firm proof of the continuation of the Communist policy. The Museum of WWII was located in Gdansk/Danzig instead of Warsaw to demonstrate that WWII was the war against Germany and to anchor the war firmly in the German context.

Lech Borkowski