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February 10: Soviet Deportations Begin in Poland

Lawrence Bush
February 10, 2017
The Soviet Union began deporting Polish citizens to Siberia on this date in 1940 following the Soviet takeover of eastern Poland. The Nazis had already moved on western Poland; six out of ten of Poland’s 3.3 million Jews were now living and dying under the German occupation, while four out of ten were in the Polish regions annexed by the USSR. The deportations to Siberia took place in four waves, with up to 1.5 million Poles deported, according to Tadeusz Piotrowski’s Poland’s Holocaust; other sources estimate the total at 1 million, and recently disclosed Soviet secret police documents estimate only 380,000. Between 100,000 and 400,000 Jews, by various estimates, were among those exiled to Siberia, including many Jews who fled to the Soviet interior, away from the Nazis, and ended up in the gulag. Jews who remained in eastern Poland, like all in the region, saw all private property and businesses nationalized, political activity made illegal (Zionism was deemed counterrevolutionary), mass arrests, summary executions, and a general degradation of living standards -- but compared to Jewish fate under the Nazis, Soviet rule was life-saving, as would be discovered when the Nazi military machine moved east in June, 1941. “Conditions for the deportees were severe; perhaps one-third died of cold, malnutrition, or disease. Nevertheless, although it could not be foreseen at the time, deportation to the Soviet interior offered Polish Jews their best chances for survival. . . . Those who escaped deportation were subjected to intense pressures under the Soviet ideological system. In accordance with the Communist ethos, the Jewish middle class found its industrial and commercial enterprises and larger private homes nationalized and confiscated. Jews were also affected by new taxation and monetary policies. . . . Large numbers of Jewish independent artisans were now forced into cooperatives, as were many Jews who had worked in the service industries. At the same time, the Soviet economy offered numerous opportunities for women to find jobs, causing significant changes to the gender distribution of the Jewish workforce. Moreover, Jews who had received secular educations found new opportunities for employment in public administra-tion.” --YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.