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James M. Fenwick

Off Limits

A Polish Problem – in England

(21 October 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 42, 21 October 1946, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the ETOL.

Never in modern times has a numbed world witnessed such mass migrations of human beings as took place during World War II. They continue today. Faithfully reflecting the magnitude of imperialist ambitions and operations, millions upon millions of persons have been herded about Europe like cattle, at the whim of military and political fortune.

Torn away from their homes, their work, their friends, their memories, jammed in ships’ holds, loading down freight trains inside and out, these exiles with sacks on their backs symbolize the fate of huge masses of people of the old world.

Small states have particularly suffered in the warfare of the big powers. None have suffered more than Poland. Victim of numerous partitions in the past, object of almost constant foreign oppression, traditional battleground of East and West, Poland was an early casualty in World War II.

The face of our times can seldom be more clearly seen than in the odyssey of the Polish troops who fought in the English army during the war and are now stationed in England. To trace their journey will not only refresh our minds on recent history but will illuminate some dark corners of current European events as well.


The story begins in 1939, when, as the London Economist accurately summarizes:

“... Russia in agreement with Germany overran and annexed to the existing Ukrainian and Byelorussian Soviet Republics slightly over half of the territory of pre-war Poland with a population of 13 millions, of whom about a third were ‘racial’ Poles (momentarily increased by great numbers of refugees fleeing before the Germans) from western Poland ... The ‘racial’ Poles, except for a small number of Communists, regarded both Russian and German invaders alike as national enemies repeating the former partitions of their country.”

There was, naturally, widespread opposition to Russian rule. The bureaucracy responded brutally and typically by deporting an estimated one to two million persons to arctic Russia, central Asia and Siberia. Here they were employed under the most excruciating conditions as slave laborers in projects such as the one at Moldiak, where 10,000 persons grubbed in the gold mines. The death rate was twenty per cent.

The Polish soldiers now in England, the Economist points out, “have either themselves suffered in the mass deportations from Soviet-occupied Poland in 1939–41 (and emerged from the Soviet Union after being ‘amnestied’ under the terms of the short-lived Stalin-Sikorski Pact, when Hitler attacked Russia) or have had their families deported (for in 1939–41 the families of Poles who escaped abroad to fight against Germany with the French and British forces were automatically listed as ‘anti-Soviet elements’) ...”


Under these conditions it is not surprising that the Polish troops in England have strongly resisted efforts to repatriate them. Their resistance, in a land where opinions can largely be freely voiced, also goes a long way toward explaining the difficulties which the Stalinists are meeting in Poland in consolidating their regime. These troops symbolize the active movement for national liberation which exists in Poland and whose substantial presence even the recent rigged referendum could not hide.

Miserably paid, lacking civil rights, victimized by the Stalinist pressure for the dissolution of the Polish Resettlement Corps, which was allegedly designed to facilitate his integration into civil life, the Polish soldier is caught in the cross-current negotiations for his settlement in the dominions and South America, domestic opposition to his remaining in England, demands for his incorporation into a depleted manpower pool, and covert desires to retain him in a fighting unit for future operations on the continent. He remains the plaything of imperialist politics.

He should be granted full citizenship rights in England and the right to emigrate to wherever he pleases. In his interest all labor organizations should demand the withdrawal of Russian troops from Poland. The Polish people should be permitted to decide their own destiny.

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