Polish-Russian Findings on the Situation of Red Army Soldiers
In response to the re-emerging question of the situation of Russian prisoners of the 1920 war, the Head Office of State Archives together with the Federal Agency for Russian Archives have published a collection of archival materials in Russian, entitled „Krasnoarmiejcy w polskom plenu w 1919–1922 g. Sbornik dokumentow i materiałow” [“Red Army Soldiers in Polish Captivity in 1919–1922. A Collection of Documents And Materials”] (Moscow 2004). It comprises a selection of 338 source documents from Polish and Russian archives referring to the stories of Russian prisoners of war from the moment of their capture, through the imprisonment in Polish POW camps, until their return to the Soviet Russia.
This one-thousand-page publication has been meticulously prepared academically. The authors’ intention was to present to, first of all, Russian historians and public opinion the most important archival documents touching upon the question which, to date, has caused a lot of controversies and has been the subject of various propagandist campaigns. The data contained in the publication concerns the total number of Red Army prisoners during the war of 1919–1920, including the number of those who died, as well as the cause of their death.
The authors – Polish historians, outstanding specialists on the history of the Polish–Bolshevik war, namely Professor Waldemar Rezmer and Professor Zbigniew Karpus of the Mikołaj Kopernik University in Torun, Professor Gennadij Matvejev of the Lomonosov University in Moscow, as well as Polish and Russian archivists who conducted the archival investigation and processed the documents — have guaranteed the credibility and high scientific standard of the publication.
The diligent approach to the problem allowed to establish a common standing of the Polish and Russian historians. They stated that the presented archival materials are credible and reliable, and that they reflect the truth of the difficult situation of Soviet POWs imprisoned in camps on the territory of Poland. According to the estimates of Polish historians, the number of Russian prisoners in Polish camps in 1920 oscillated between 80 and 85 thousand, while the number of deaths during the overall period the camps were active amounted to 16–17 thousand. Professor Matvejev estimates that there were 18–20 thousand fatalities.
Thus, the publication repudiates a widespread opinion of the Russians, who quote a many times higher number of the victims in this group of war fatalities (40, 60 or over 100 thousand). The publication also refutes the hypothesis of alleged mass executions of Soviet POWs in Polish camps, which, according to some Russian historians, “justified”, in Stalin’s eyes, the Katyn atrocity. Source documents prove that the cause of prisoners’ deaths were diseases or epidemics (typhus, cholera, dysentery, flu) which took a heavy toll in this war-damaged country, not only in POW camps, but also among fighting soldiers and civilians.
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