Statement by Mateusz Morawiecki
Prime Minister of Poland
The 20th century brought the world inconceivable suffering and the deaths of hundreds of millions in the name of twisted, totalitarian ideologies. The death toll of Nazism, fascism, and communism is obvious for people of our generation. It is also obvious who is responsible for those crimes and whose pact started World War II—the most murderous conflict in the history of humankind.
Unfortunately, the more time passes since these tragic events, the less our children and grandchildren know about them. That is why it is so important that we continue to speak the truth about World War II, its perpetrators, and its victims, and to object to any attempts at distorting history.
For Poland—the war's first victim—the memory of this evil is particularly salient. Our country was the first to experience the armed aggression of both Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia and the first that fought in the defense of a free Europe.
However, resistance against these evil powers is a testament not only to Polish heroism—it is something vastly more important. This resistance is the legacy of the now free and democratic Europe that fought against two totalitarian regimes. Today, when certain individuals wish to trample the memory of these events in the name of their own political goals, Poland must stand up for the truth—not for its own interests, but for the sake of what defines Europe.
Signed on Aug. 23, 1939, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was not a “non-aggression pact”—it was a political and military alliance, dividing Europe into two spheres of influence along the boundary formed by three Polish rivers: the Narew, Vistula, and San. A month later, the dividing line was moved to the Bug river as a result of the “German-Soviet Boundary and Friendship Treaty” of September 28, 1939. It served as a prologue to the unspeakable crimes that were committed on both sides of the line over the course of the following years.
The pact between Hitler and Stalin was immediately put into effect—on September 1, 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland from the west, south and north, and on September 17, 1939, the USSR joined the assault, attacking Poland from the east.
On Sept. 22, 1939, a large military parade was held in Brest-Litovsk—a celebration of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia’s joint defeat of independent Poland. Such parades are not organized by parties bound to a non-aggression pact—they are organized by allies and friends.
And this is exactly what Hitler and Stalin were—for a long time, they were not only allies, but, in fact, friends. Their friendship flourished so much that when a group of 150 German communists fled the Third Reich to the USSR before World War II broke out, Stalin handed them over to Hitler as “a gift” in November of 1939, thus condemning them to a certain death.
The USSR and the Third Reich cooperated closely with each other throughout the entire war. During a conference held in Brest on Nov. 27, 1939, representatives of both countries’ security services discussed the methods and principles of cooperation used to fight Polish independence organizations on occupied territories. Other conferences organized by NKVD and SS officers on the matter of cooperation were held inter alia in Zakopane and Krakow in March of 1940. These were not talks on non-aggression, but on liquidating (that is, murdering) people, Polish citizens, and on joint, allied action to bring about a total destruction of Poland.
Without Stalin’s complicity in the partitioning of Poland, and without the natural resources that Stalin supplied to Hitler, the Nazi German crime machine would not have taken control of Europe. The last trains loaded with supplies left the USSR and headed for Germany on June 21, 1941—just one day before Nazi Germany attacked its ally. Thanks to Stalin, Hitler could conquer new countries with impunity, imprison Jews from all over the continent in ghettos, and prepare the Holocaust—one of the worst crimes in the history of humankind.
Stalin engaged in criminal activities in the east, subduing one country after another and developing a network of camps that Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a Russian, called, “the Gulag Archipelago.” These were camps in which millions of opponents of the communist authorities were mercilessly exterminated through murderous torture.
The crimes of the communist regime started even before the outbreak of World War II—the starvation of millions of Russians at the beginning of the 1920s; the Great Famine, which led to the deaths of millions of inhabitants of Ukraine and Kazakhstan; the Great Purge, during which nearly 700,000 political opponents and ordinary citizens of the USSR, mostly Russians, were murdered; and the NKVD's so-called “Polish Operation," in which, primarily, USSR citizens of Polish descent were shot to death. Children, women and men were all destined to die. According to NKVD data, over 111,000 people were deliberately shot to death by Soviet communists during the “Polish Operation” alone. Being a Pole in the USSR at that time meant a death sentence or many years of exile.
This policy continued through crimes committed after the Soviet Union invaded Poland on Sept. 17, 1939—the crime of murdering over 22,000 Polish officers and representatives of the elite in places such as Katyn, Kharkiv, Tver, Kyiv, and Minsk; the crimes committed in NKVD torture cells and in forced labor camps in the most remote parts of the Soviet empire.
The greatest victims of communism were Russian citizens. Historians estimate that between 20 and 30 million people were killed in the USSR alone. Death and forced labor camps awaited even those for whom every civilized country provides necessary care—prisoners of war who returned to their homeland. The USSR did not treat them as war heroes, but as traitors. Soviet Russia’s “gratitude” for prisoners of war, the soldiers of the Red Army, was death and imprisonment in forced labor camps and concentration camps.
Communist leaders, especially Joseph Stalin, are responsible for all of these crimes. Eighty years after World War II started, attempts are made by today's President of Russia to redeem Stalin for political goals. These attempts must be met with strong opposition from every person who has basic knowledge on the history of the 20th century.
President Putin has lied about Poland on numerous occasions, and he has always done so deliberately. Such slander usually occurs when Russian authorities are pressured by the international community for their actions, and that pressure is exerted not with regards to the historical geopolitical scene, but with regards to the contemporary one, instead. In recent weeks, Russia has suffered several significant defeats—it failed in its attempt to take complete control over Belarus, and the EU has once again prolonged sanctions imposed on it for the illegal annexation of Crimea. The so-called “Normandy Format” talks did not result in the lifting of these sanctions, and further restrictions were simultaneously introduced, this time by the U.S., significantly hindering the implementation of the Nord Stream 2 project. At the same time, Russian athletes have just been suspended for four years for doping-related incidents.
I consider President Putin’s words as an attempt to cover up these problems. The Russian leader is well aware that his accusations have nothing to do with reality, and that there are no monuments of Hitler or Stalin in Poland. Such monuments stood on our soil only when they were erected by the aggressors and perpetrators—the Third Reich and Soviet Russia.
The Russian people—the greatest victim of Stalin, who was one of the cruelest criminals in the history of the world—deserve the truth. I believe that Russians are a nation of free people and that they reject Stalinism, even when President Putin’s government is trying to rehabilitate it.
We cannot accept turning perpetrators and those responsible for committing cruel crimes against both innocent people and invaded countries into victims. Together—in the name of those who perished and for the good of our common future—we must preserve the truth.