wiser today

A man should never be ashamed to own that he is wrong, which is but saying in other words that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.

William Rubinstein


About 15,000 Polish officers and prisoners of war were murdered on Stalin's orders in the notorious massacre at Katyn in April 1940. Many other Poles were certainly killed by the Soviet forces when they reoccupied the country in 1944-5, with more than 50,000 Poles arrested in the Lublin area alone in 1944-5. If these figures are reasonably accurate, it would appear that at least 700,000-800,000 Poles were killed by Stalin during the Second World War.

The Nazi reign of terror, unleashed on western Poland in September 1939 and on eastern Poland in June 1941, was even more brutal and murderous, as befitted their belief in Polish subhumanity. Apart from the total and automatic extermination of all Polish Jews and many Gypsies, the Nazis at least threatened the lives of all gentile Poles and destroyed much of its infrastructure. Most significantly, the Nazis engaged in Poland on ethnic cleansing on a grand scale and, it seems, fully intended to expel tens of millions of ethnic Poles from Poland to Siberia to make way for German colonists. Soon after conquering Poland, the Nazis actually expelled 630,000 Poles from the areas of western Poland they annexed, another 265,000 from Germany itself (a total of 923,000 persons) to the General Government. About 200,000 'Aryan'-looking Polish children were kidnapped and brought to Germany by Himmler's orders. As well, during the war about 2.3 million Poles were deported to Germany to do forced labour. The Nazis systematically murdered the Polish elite, killing 45 per cent of physicians, 57 per cent of lawyers, 40 per cent of professors and 18 per cent of the clergy. Probably over 200,000 gentile Poles (and perhaps far more) were killed in extermination and concentration camps, including 74,000 at Auschwitz, where they constituted the second largest group of murder victims. About 100,000 Poles died in the Warsaw uprising of 1944. The overall number of gentile Polish dead at the hands of the Nazis has generally been estimated at about 2 million,

This figure (like so many others) seems high, although anything in the way of a better estimate app€ears extr€emely difficult to achieve with the sources available to us. There is, for instance, no evidence that more than, at most, several hundred thousand gentile Poles died in the extermination camps, and nor is there any evidence of the general mass murder of gentile Poles equivalent to the killing of the Jews by the Einsatzgruppen, although very large numbers of ethnic Poles were certainly murdered by the Germans, often for no reason. It seems reasonable to assume that perhaps 500,000-700,000 gentile Polish civilians were deliberately killed by the Nazis during the war, with, say, 300,000 dying while doing slave labour in Germany; thus, upwards of 1 million gentile Poles perished at the hands of the Nazis, to which must be added up to several hundred thousand more at the hands of the Soviets. These figures do not begin to cover the scale of damage done to Poland during the Second World War. About 84 per cent of the buildings in Warsaw were destroyed, and the city was, at the end of the war, almost literally uninhabited. By any standards, and even if the number of victims is scaled down from considerably higher figures, this was an appalling slaughter. With the possible exception of the western Soviet Union, Poland plainly suffered more than any other nation during the Second World War.

But perhaps another group, yet to be considered, suffered even more, Soviet prisoners of war, who fell into the hands of the Germans. It seems likely that more Soviet prisoners of war died in Nazi captivity than any other group except for the Jews. It appears that no less than 5,160,000 Soviet soldiers were captured by the Germans, of whom 3,222,000 died while prisoners of war. If accurate, or even approximately accurate, this figure is higher than the total number of Jews who died in extermination camps such as Auschwitz. There is some evidence, however, that the death toll is an underestimate, since other authoritative German files reveal the number of captured Soviet troops to have been 5,754,000, suggesting that 3,816,000 Soviet troops died while prisoners of war. While there may be some exaggeration in these figures, especially from inflation in the number of Soviet soldiers allegedly captured in reportage to their superiors, in general (and unlike other groups in this chapter) these figures are probably accurate enough. The German army captured vastly more Soviet soldiers soon after invading the Soviet Union than it had expected—probably 3.4 million in 1941 and 1.4 million in 1942—and had no facilities for dealing with them, Hitler specifically ruled out any humane treatment of Soviet prisoners, except for Volksdeutsch (Germans living elsewhere, in this case in the Soviet Union) and other 'Aryans.'