The 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade
(1 Samodzielna Brygada Spadochronowa)
Why Didn't Polish Soldiers
Return To Poland?
After World War 2 had finished, displaced Polish soldiers were located in many places such as: The Middle East, Africa, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Mexico, United Kingdom, and more.
In the UK, on the 20th March, 1946, British Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, issued a note to the Polish forces recommending in the strongest possible terms, that the Poles should return to Poland to help in the country's reconstruction. Around 105,000 took up this call and returned, but 123,000 did not.
Why didn't they go back to Poland, to their wives, children, parents and friends?
The Soviet Border Factor
It is generally accepted that World War 2 ended on the 14th August 1945. This didn't mean that all hostilities ended on that date, for instance, it took till the 2nd September 1945 for Japan to surrender.
Likewise, it took till the 1st January 1946 for the USA to withdraw from Iran and March 1st for Britain to withdraw from Iran. Russia too did not withdraw from Iran. In other words, "the war was not really over".
It took until 16 August 1945 for the Soviet Union to reach an agreement with Poland over revised borders. Notably an area around Bialystok and Galicia was initially taken by the Soviet Union as part of this agreement, however, at a later date, this was returned to Poland.
It took a further 6 years (until 1951) for all border issues to be fully resolved between Poland and Russia.
Thus, any Polish soldier would naturally be un-easy about returning to Poland, particularly the Eastern side as they would have a natural distrust of their former enemy.
May I quote a Polish soldier himself over the matter of Yalta and how it affected him? The following quote is from Franek Rymaszewski on his amazing website here :
"But after the war we could not return to Poland which we loved and for which we have fought. At a conference with Stalin in Yalta on the Crimea in February 1945, when the war was nearing its end, my homeland was handed over to the brutal and barbarous Soviet occupant by the President of the United States, Roosevelt and the Prime Minister of Britain, Churchill — the very Anglo-American Allies we fought for."
So, the USA and Britain had a great part to play in ensuring that native Poles could not return to their homeland by leaving Stalin in control of it.
After all, why would you return to your (destroyed) homeland expecially when it's control lay in the hands of your oppressor? Poles had learnt to distrust the Russians during the 1939 invasion, quite rightly this distrust extended to not returning to Poland when World War 2 ended.
Remember too that those in the Kresy region had suffered loss of land and homes during the Russian invasion. These were not necessarily being handed back to them, so having nothing to go back to, they decided to stay in the countries they were in at the end of the war.
After World War 2 had finished, Poland was under Communist rule and therefore subject to Russian rule. This in itself would be enough to cause uncertainty for any soldier thinking of returning.
When you think what these soldiers had fought for, all they had been through, the deportations, malnutrition, disease, deaths, the 1500 mile journey to join Anders Army, the horrific experiences of crossing The Caspian Sea, the resulting deaths in Pahlevi and then displacement to foreign lands, it is no wonder they were not too quick to return to Poland where the horrors had began!
Poland remained under Communist rule until 1989. However, it took until 1992 for the full effect of Communism in Poland to disappear, by which point most of the original Polish soldiers were dead or in very advanced years. Some did go back to Poland in the 1960s under the protection of "British Naturalisation" which was offered to Polish ex-soldiers in the UK. Most though never got to go back.
The Poland they knew was gone forever.
Poles Against Poles
After World War 2, former members of the Polish Government In Exile (nicknamed "The London Camp") launched a propoganda campaign against Polish soldiers returning to Poland, branding them traitors.
They announced through megaphones that those who went back would be sent to the 'land of the Polar bear' (Siberia). The facts strongly suggest that initially the British wanted as many Poles as possible to stay as their guests in the UK. Later on the British would claim their jobs were being taken by the Poles and various newspaper articles at the time explored this issue.
Even General Anders, had seen his world turn upside-down so he commenced a hysterical propaganda against returning home.
Sick people who had volunteered for repatriation were brutally thrown out of hospital, the healthy were isolated in special camps, the infected had to be separated. This violent propaganda had its results as a sizeable number of soldiers decided against returning.
General Anders further said that anyone returning must be either sick or mentally unwell because "no one else would willingly return to Poland under a foreign government".
One soldier summed up the thoughts of many Poles "I will accept anything that happens to me, but I don't want to fall for a second time into the hands of Communist liberators."
Lets not forget that travel back in 1942 was substantially different to what it is today. There was no Ryanair or Easyjet. Money was tight. The concept of getting back to Poland outwith the military was almost non existent.
Even if a Polish soldier had wanted to return to Poland, covering the cost and travel complexities alone would have been epic (even for those that had negotiated their way out of the USSR to Persia!)
Polish Resettlement Camps In The UK
In the UK, Poles were placed in Polish resettlement camps and in due course more permanent housing. The resettlement camps typically comprised of many Nissen huts set in sites all over the UK.
These camps offered Polish displaced persons an immediate Polish community, they had schools and more on site. For many, this was "safety for now" and the decision on whether to return to Poland or not was put off.
Much more info on Polish Resettlement Camps in the UK can be found here: http://www.polishresettlementcampsintheuk.co.uk/
Post 1945 NKVD Aspects
Post 1945, the Soviets still suppressed Polish nationalism. A soldier (but particularly an officer), being part of the Polish army meant being anti-soviet.
The Soviets were still keen to extinguish these anti-soviet people and many executions post world war 2 occurred. So any Polish soldier returning to Poland could be quite literally committing suicide by returning.
Out of 260,000 Polish who fought on the western front about 100,000 went back to communist Poland. In my own family, my grandfather decided not to return (leaving a wife and 2 children there all of whom survived the horrors of Kazakhstan hard labour camps).
You can imagine when my uncle returned to Poland how weak my grandfathers argument not to return would have seemed. Such were the difficult decisions made at the time.
Although Britain was all too happy to have the assistance of the Polish soldiers in defending Britain, post WW2 this quickly changed. Anti-Polish graffiti soon appeared with slogans such as "Be a man, go home". Racial tensions rose and all too quickly the input from Polish soldiers in the British war effort was forgotten.
All too quickly the subject became known as "The Polish Question" and debates were held on the matter. Notably, in Leven (Home of The 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade) a debate was held on October 16, 1945, in the Jubilee Theatre, Leven. (Not even 2 years after the Brigade had left Leven).
Feelings at this meeting ran high with as many for as against the idea of repatriating the Polish soldiers back home. The meeting by all accounts was a raucous affair with many negative slurs against the Polish soldiers being vocalised.
These remaining Poles in Scotland (around 70,000) were seen as a threat to jobs, particularly as Scottish soldiers returned from war abroad.
The end result of the meeting was that a petition was put into the community to gather signatures in support of sending Poles back home. However, there was not sufficient support for this and so forced repatriation never occurred.
The Irony of War
For the Poles, the Irony was that Britain declared war on Germany shortly after Germany invaded Poland.
Britain was seeking to protect the Polish people. When all the war and fighting had ended followed by the cold war, the irony was that Poland was "behind the iron curtain", inaccessible to the Poles who had been ousted from it and sought to return.
The "Big Three"; Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin had divided Europe up for themselves using the Polish soldiers as pawns. Polish people had fought for their homeland, only to have the dirty done on them and lose out completely. The next change would be 55 years later in 1989 when Communism fell.
A lot of my insight on this matter came from a blog that someone else has written. If you would like to read more about "To Return To Poland Or Not To Return" - The Dilemma Facing The Polish Armed Forces At The End Of The Second World War" By Dr Mark Ostrowski then please visit his site here: http://www.angelfire.com/ok2/polisharmy/