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In the meantime Churchill took Mikołajczyk to Moscow on 13 October 1944 to ask that the London Poles be included in the administration of the ‘liberated lands’, alongside the Polish Workers’ Party. Mikołajczyk had been persuaded to promise ‘a durable Polish-Soviet friendship based on an alliance aiming at close political and economic collaboration between the two countries’ and even that ‘the Polish armed forces in the Eastern Zone would come under Soviet Supreme Operational Command’. On the day that he arrived in Moscow with Churchill, the Soviet Union recognised the Soviet-sponsored Polish Committee of National Liberation (known as the Lublin Committee). Stalin told the leader of the London Poles that he would have to talk the Committee of National Liberation, and that in any event, agreement could only be made on the basis of Mikołajczyk’s acceptance of the Curzon line. To the Pole’s dismay Churchill agreed saying that ‘the sacrifices made by the Soviet Union’ entitle it ‘to a western frontier along the Curzon line’. Then Molotov told Mikołajczyk that Roosevelt had agreed as much at Teheran – which was the first that the Polish leader knew of the ‘secret agreement’. Grasping at straws, Mikołajczyk asked Stalin for a guarantee of our independence.
Moscow trial of the Polish Home Army leaders
Under Soviet occupation, the resistant Poles organised an underground organisation. In March 1945 leaders Jan Stanislaw Jankowski, who had survived underground as the representative of the London Poles under the Nazis, and Home Army General Leopold Okulicki were invited to talks with the local Soviet Commander. The promise of ‘safe conduct’ turned out to be a lie, and they were taken to Moscow. In June they were tried along with fourteen other underground leaders, accused of anti-Soviet activity. The leaders were jailed for long terms, and many died in jail. The Soviet security forces rounded up Home Army fighters and other suspect nationalists who were kept in camps.74
Britain continued to nurse ambitions in Yugoslavia, and tried to get Tito’s National Committee to enter into a coalition with the Royalists. The British said, Milovan Djilas, did not even hide their attempts to ‘water down Tito’s wine’. Worse still, British bombing raids on Split and Belgrade were hurting the Yugoslavs more than the Germans. On Easter Sunday 1944 the Allied airforce indiscriminately bombed Belgrade – ‘blanket bombing’ – such that ‘not one military target was hit’, but ‘the devastation was no less and the despair even deeper, that that caused by the German attack on April 1941’. Djilas recalls that we ‘believed that the Allies were carrying out such bombings in order to make postwar rehabilitation and administration harder for us Communists’.75 Tito’s partisans were cautious, too about their Soviet allies. ‘Our fears were especially aroused by the Warsaw uprising, as were our conflicted feelings about the sufferings of the Polish people under the noses of the indifferent Russian troops’, said Djilas. The Soviet Union forced Red Army troops and also Bulgarians on Tito’s partisans. It was important to Moscow that the Bulgarians, having only just switched sides, get an opportunity to prove their socialist credentials. More important, it was an attempt to water down the Yugoslav partisans’ prestige. Djilas complained that the Soviets had no reason to ‘boast of their decisive role in liberating this or that part of Yugoslavia’, since the partisans had done almost all of the work.76 The Red Army troops could be brutal in its treatment of the Yugoslavs, which created resentments. At Čukarica the rape and murder of a pharmacist was followed by a funeral march of five thousand: a demonstration against the troops’ actions. Later, the Soviet intelligence service recruited agents in the Yugoslav Communist Party. Of all the East European states in the Soviet Zone, the Yugoslavs had most independence, and were for a time subject to a propaganda campaign where they were labelled ‘Trotskyists’ and even ‘Tito Fascists’.77 For all that, the development of Yugoslav society under the leadership of Tito’s Communist Party was not that different from the course taken by the other Slav countries in the Soviet Zone. The society was administered by a military-bureaucratic elite, who took the place of the old ruling classes.
Stalinist Rule in Eastern Europe
In the spring of 1945 ‘Pan-Slavic Conference’ was organised in Sofia on the initiative of the USSR. It was particularly important for the Bulgarian hosts who were seeking to minimise their participation in the Axis. The Bulgarian Exarch blessed the meeting (as he had once blessed the Bulgarian Axis army), though the ‘only thing Slavic was the hackneyed phraseology of Russian imperialism’, thought Milovan Djilas: ‘In a fit of nationalist and Slavic intoxication, they all kissed the cross – members of the Bulgarian Central Committee, Soviet generals, the proud and the embarrassed Poles, and the meek and mild Czechs’. The appeal to pan-Slavic sentiment was Stalin’s attempt to create a foundation for the Soviet Zone of East European states, and was a regional substitute for the Comintern which had been wound up in 1943.79 ‘In all of these countries governments were set up which nominally represented coalitions between several parties’ explained Isaac Deutscher.
But in each of these governments the Communists were in charge of at least two decisive departments: police and army. They used these departments to establish control first over their country as a whole, and then over their partners in the government, until they were able either to oust their partners or to compel them to cooperate.79 This was a way of working that anyone who had come up against the Stalinists’ ‘Popular Fronts’ knew very well. Allies were sought to make the coalition look broad, but the important jobs like treasurer and press officer would be in the hands of loyal communists, and the committee would be manipulated behind closed doors.
In Government, though, Stalin’s allies had much more to play for. One thing helped them to rebuild Eastern Europe on Soviet lines, and that was the collapse of almost all rival authority, civil and political. So much of the political class had been compromised by collaboration with Germany that there were few plausible challengers to the Moscow-allied Communist parties. The entrepreneurial class, too, had been tested to destruction first by the collapse of the German Empire, and then by the Soviet invasion. Two ethnic groups that had made a great contribution to trade, industry, and professional life, the Jews and the Germans, had been driven out of Eastern Europe, the first into the death camps, the second back to Germany after the war.
Czechoslovakia’s President Eduard Benes, no Communist, described how The Germans simply took control of all main industries, main banks. If they did not nationalise them directly, they put them in the hands of big German concerns... In this way they automatically prepared the economic and financial capital of our country for nationalisation. To return the property and the banks to the hands of Czech individuals, or to consolidate them without considerable state assistance and new financial guarantees, was simply impossible.80 So it was that the Czechoslovak state came to control three quarters of industry.
‘De-Nazification,’ Deutscher explains, made it easier for the Stalinists to take control.
the Communists were assisted by the fact that each of those governments was under the obligation, stipulated in armistice terms to purge its civil service and its political institutions form those who had worked against Russia, from Nazis, Fascists, Militarists and so on.
Those clauses, endorsed by the western allies, were enough to enable Stalin to initiate and direct, without flagrantly offending against inter-allied convention, a process by which the old ruling classes of eastern Europe were thrown into complete disarray, deprived of organisation and rendered completely impotent.81 ‘Anti-Fascism’ became the ideological justification of the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe. To give that ideology a practical expression, those regimes launched a vicious campaign against German civilians. Germans had settled all across Eastern Europe since long before the war, and, with the loss of German territories under the Versailles peace, many more German communities were put under foreign rule. As the East European states were re-created, ethnic Germans were foreigners again, and now scapegoats for the Nazi occupation. A Czech politician explained the On May 17 the Germans were given smaller food rations (‘the same basic food ration as the Jews received during the occupation’ according to a government order of May 17). They had to wear special white armbands and were not allowed to use public means of communication... In June all German schools were closed. Compulsory labour conscription was introduced... Practically all movable and immovable property was taken away from the Germans... The confiscation would make good wrongs committed on the Czech nation since the end of its independence in 1620. The Communist Party in particular emphasized the national movement and became the most nationalist party.82 Ilya Ehrenburg travelling through Eastern Europe thought that Fascism had poisoned the
minds of the survivors. ‘The weeds of racism and of nationalism had spread widely’ he said:
‘I saw Sudetan Germans wearing white armbands – a symbol of humiliation – and I felt how terrible it was to be repaying fascism in its own coin’.83 There were around 500,000 Germans in Yugoslavia, of whom around half left with the German Army. The remainder were ‘encamped in two or three villages’. Their furniture was plundered and their young women made to work as maids by Communist Party officials, until the practice was outlawed. Moved into camps ‘where hunger and disease raged, and prostitution with the guards flourished’ the Germans were then moved across the border into Austria. Edvard Kardelj pointed out ‘that we had thereby lost our most productive inhabitants’. In 1948 Djilas was travelling with Tito through Belje and noticed ‘a long row of barracks with laundry hanging outside and poorly clad women and children milling around’.
In the barracks the families lived separated by hanging blankets. A gamekeeper explained that they were ‘Schwaben’, the old-fashioned word for the German minority in Vojvodina.
Their husbands worked, without pay: ‘Slaves’, said Djilas. There were around 30,000 of them, kept to meet labour shortages.84 Policies of persecution led inevitably to Germans leaving Eastern Europe. Seven million Germans were driven from Poland and the Soviet Union, three million from Czechoslovakia and thirteen million in all from the east. Some of this migration had already happened as Germans fled the oncoming Red Army. Others left under the persecution. At Potsdam in August 1945 the Allies agreed the ‘orderly and humane’ expulsions of Germans from Yugoslavia, Poland and Hungary.
In the planning of the invasion of France, the Allies saw no role for the Resistance.
France was to come under the Allied Military Government of the Occupied Territories. For the Resistance, though, Overlord was universally welcomed as a blow against the occupiers, and they rallied to support it.
On the evening of D-Day, de Gaulle broadcast to France warning against any ‘premature insurrection’, fearful that the Resistance would take the initiative but they ignored him. When Overlord began, the entire French railway network was closed down by more than 1000 acts of sabotage – at a time when nine tenths of the German Army were transported by rail or horse. At the same time the miners of Toulouse struck, and declared the Republic from the Town Hall of the town of Annonay.85 Emboldened, Resistance fighters of the Francs Tireurs et Partisans under JeanJacques Chapou attacked German and Milice forces in the town of Tulle in Limoges. Fifty Germans were killed in the liberation. Shocked at the blow to German prestige the SS Panzer Division ‘Das Reich’ of 15,000 men took the town back. Twenty six maquisards and seventy Germans were killed in the fighting, but overwhelming force won out. The following day 3000 were brought out into the town square, and 99 were executed, hung from balconies and telegraph poles. Three hundred were taken away, and 149 of them deported to Dachau. Shortly afterwards the ‘Das Reich’ division attacked Oradour-sur-Glane where 649 were killed.86
Oradour-sur-Glane, photograph by Stuart Davies
The savagery of the German reaction gave some weight to the demands of the Allies to stop the uprising. On 10 June General Koenig of the Free French set the message ‘put maximum brake on all guerrilla action’. The aim though was not to save lives, but to stop the Resistance from liberating France before the Allies arrived.