The two men in the photograph shook hands on the night of 23 to 24 August, 1939, just after signing the ‘Treaty of Non-aggression between Germany and USSR’. However, the photo is a partial photomontage. There was no map of Poland behind their backs when in Moscow the general secretary of All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) of Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin, extended his hand to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Third Reich, Joachim von Ribbentrop.

The content of the ‘Non-aggression Pact’ wasn’t supposed to be a secret. It cannot be said, however, that it did not surprise millions of citizens of Nazi Germany or the communist USSR, because earlier, for years they had been accustomed to critical remarks about the current signatories of the 10-year-old treaty.

An even greater surprise would certainly be the ‘Supplementary Protocol to the Non-aggression Pact between the German Reich and the USSR concluded in Moscow on 23 August, 1939’. However, this document was not intended to be disclosed from the moment when it was first mentioned during the August German-Soviet negotiations..

The negotiations, which must be added, preceded by Stalin’s statement on 10 March, 1939, during the 18th Congress of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks), when he stressed that he would not allow the USSR ‘to be drawn into conflicts by warmongers who are accustomed to have others pull chestnuts out of the fire for them..’

Knowing about the plans of German aggression, and not knowing only the date of the strike, Stalin decided to take part in the division of the ‘Polish chestnut’. On his behalf, the People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Government, Vyacheslav Molotov, proposed the development of a ‘secret protocol’, which was to define precisely the ‘interests of both sides’. The content of the document was prepared for 23 August, the ’confidentiality of the talks’ was emphasized already in the first sentence.

  1. In the event of territorial-political reorganization of the districts making up the Baltic states (Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), the northern border of Lithuania is simultaneously the border of the spheres of interest of Germany and the USSR. The interests of Lithuania with respect to the Vilnius district are recognized by both sides.
  2. In the event of territorial-political reorganization of the districts making up the Polish Republic, the border of the spheres of interest of Germany and the USSR will run approximately along the Narew, Vistula, and San rivers. The question of whether it is in the mutual interest to preserve the independent Polish State and what the borders of that state will be can be ascertained conclusively only in the course of future political development. In any event, both governments will resolve this matter through friendly mutual agreement
  3. Concerning southeastern Europe, the Soviet side emphasizes the interest of the USSR in Bessarabia. The German side declares its complete political disinterest in these areas.
  4. This protocol will be held in strict secrecy by both sides.

Moskow, August 23, 1939

Leaflet published in 1981, in the so-called second circulation

After signing the „non-aggression pact” with the „secret protocol”, Ribbentrop and Molotov shake hands, a moment later Stalin reached out to the German minister. Photographs were taken; most of them will be immediately classified, and with time they will all become strictly confidential. How to show the cordiality of two mortal enemies after the Wehrmacht invaded the USSR? It will also be forbidden to disseminate information about the toast raised in the Kremlin by Marshal Stalin.

“I know how much the German people love their Fuhrer,” he said, “so I would like to drink to his health…

Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin in a caricature made by a Japanese cartoonist Eturo Endo.


Anders Władysław, Bez ostatniego rozdziału, Wspomnienia z lat 1939 – 1946 (Without the last chapter, Memoirs from 1939 – 1946),Lublin 1992.

Bregman Aleksander, Najlepszy sojusznik Hitlera. Studium o współpracy niemiecko-sowieckiej 1939 – 1941 (Hitler’s best ally. Study of German-Soviet cooperation 1939-1941), London 1979.

Grzelak Czesław K. Kresy w czerwieni (Borderlines in red) 1939, Warsaw 1991.

Liszewski Karol, Wojna polsko sowiecka (The Polish-Soviet War) 1939, London 1986.

Łojek Jerzy, Agresja 17 września 1939 (The agression on 17 September 1939), Warsaw 1990.

On 17 September before noon, in the first hours of the invasion, Soviet airplanes with leaflets calling for capitulation began to appear over the heads of the Polish Army units organizing the defence or marching troops. It will be like this until the last day of the fight. The leaflets, written in terrible Polish, with numerous errors and misrepresentations, were supposed to intimidate the defenders and encourage them to renounce their obedience to their superiors. Soviet propagandists hoped that the most interested in the proclamations would be the Ukrainian and Belarusian soldiers serving in the Polish Army. Their mass insubordination was expected; they were expected to throw down their weapons and even move to the side of the attackers. In one of the leaflets one could read, among other things:

„Soldiers !

In the last few days the Polish army was finally defeated. Soldiers stationed in cities Tarnopol, Galicz, Równo, Dubno, numbering over 60,000 joined our side.

Soldiers! What is left for you? What are you fighting for and who are you fighting? What is it you are risking your lives for? Your resistance is pointless. Officers lead you to a slaughter for no reason. They hate you and your families. They were the ones who shot your delegates you sent with the proposal of surrender. Do not believe your officers. Officers and generals are your enemies, they want your death.

Soldiers! –they called on. – Fight officers and generals. Do not obey the orders of your officers. Drive them out of your land. Join us with no fear, your brothers, the Red Army. Here you will find attention and care […]

Commander of the Ukrainian Front S. TIMOSHENKO…

Semyon Konstantinovich Timoshenko, first rank komandarm (Commanding of the Army) of the Ukrainian front, and second rank komandarm of the Belarusian front, Mikhail Prokofievich Kovalyov – on whose territory provocative leaflets were also scattered – did not expect that their content would be taken to heart by the red-armed marchers marching to the west, more than by the Polish military….


Theodolites* 27 units

steam locomotives 3 units

telephones 3520 units

underpants 102575 units

sheets 46681 units

aspirin 510 kg

enameled pots 1813 units

wagons 750 units

typewriters 259 units

gramophones 23 units

galvanized tubs 1369 units

77 pigs

strong tobacco cigarettes 15800 units

gold watches 146 units

bicycles 1372 units

pianos 36 units

* theodolite – a geodetic tool for measuring vertical and horizontal angles

Theodolites next to underpants, bicycles and watches close to pianos? Is this a joke? Not at all, it is just a small fragment of a document signed by Mayor Gavrilov, the head of the 5th Staff Division of the Ukrainian Front, one of the two fronts of the Red Army, against Poland in September 1939. The quoted document is ‘A listing of obtained weapons and property seized during the Polish campaign and written down as of 1 November 1939’*, currently stored in the Russian State Military Archive (RGWA). Other documents contained in this archive also tell us that during the ‘Polish campaign’ obtained food and clothing were not always recorded, ‘officers without any control disassembled (?) bicycles, personal weapons and hunting weapons, and ‘the lieutenant Ratkov from the 97th howitzer artillery regiment took watches and two tin cans from two prisoners of war in front of the soldiers’. For this act ‘he was excluded from the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks)”


* The full text of the most confidential, for more than 50 years, ‘Listing’ was revealed in a historical-military study ‘Kresy w czerwieni 1939’ (Borderlines in red 1939’) by Czesław K. Grzelak. ( Wydawnictwo NERITON, Warsaw 2001 )

Soviet propaganda poster

Brotherly help?

In no book or newspaper published between 1944 and 1989 could one write about the theft of watches by Lieutenant Ratkov, nor could one place articles or photographs confirming the cooperation between the German and Soviet armies in September. Of course, such photographs existed, because in 1939 they were archived, both in Berlin and Moscow. But they were not only kept secret in the Reich, because in the USSR they quickly found their way to the most secret part of state or military archives. Photographs stored in the Reich had the right not to survive. This did not happen and that’s why today we can see what the meetings between the Red Army and Wehrmacht tankmen looked like, with what friendliness the officers of both aggressors exchanged their comments, and who paraded

together in Brest on 23 September, 1939…

When the censorship barrier was once placed on the photographs, a similar blockade was not forgotten to be placed on any information about the Soviet invasion, which was given the applicable name of ‘liberation operation’. The armies of both Soviet fronts were already fighting on the border when Vyacheslav Molotov informed the radio listeners about the Red Army, which defended the lives and property of the people of Western Ukraine and Western Belarus’, about ‘the liberation of the Polish nation from the unfortunate war into which it was thrown by the reasonless leaders’, and finally about ‘the sacred duty to reach out a hand to your brothers – Ukrainians and brothers – Belarusians living in Poland’

American Secretary of State Cordell Hull, who considered the ‘protection of the Russian minority in eastern Poland’ to be important, was eager to take the bait about the ‘sacred duty to help’, as was 1 Lord of the British Admiralty, Winston Churchill, who assessed the entry of the Soviet army in his speech as ‘necessary to protect Russia in connection with the German threat…’ They both knew the content of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Treaty at that time. Although they did not read the secret supplementary protocol, the uncritical acceptance of information about aid to the people living in the territory of a sovereign state cannot attest to good qualities of these diplomats…

Better at judging the situation than them are… journalists. The London Times literally called the crossing of the Polish border by Soviet troops ‘a knife in the back’, and did not fall for the assurance of ‘brotherly help’ and explained to the readers that ‘according to the Soviet thesis the disintegration of the Polish state allows for an invasion, which Moscow does not consider a war, and the intention of the USSR is apparently to incorporate Belarus and Ukraine’.

The slogan about ‘brotherly help’ became for half a century a binding directive not only for Soviet propaganda and historiography, which additionally explained the September aggression of 1939 by the escape of the Polish civil and military authorities. Books, brochures, articles and speeches contained falsified facts, in this way carefully hiding the preparations of the Red Army for the invasion as early as in the first half of September 1939. In the ‘History of USSR foreign policy’, which was renewed several times, even in 1980, there is  information that ‘the Red Army entered Poland only when the government with high commands escaped from the bourgeoisie-territorial Poland, having abandoned the nation and the army to the mercy of fate’

The Polish People’s Republic’s historians were not inferior to their Soviet colleagues. The scientific team of the Wanda Wasilewska Military Historical Institute several times resumed the work ‘The liberation war of the Polish nation in the years 1939-1945’. The Soviet invasion in 1939 was explained by the need to ‘improve the strategic position of the USSR’. Then it was estimated that ‘this move of the Soviet Union aimed at connecting the western Ukrainian and Belarusian lands with Ukraine and Soviet Belarus was also aimed at the realization of national unification and social liberation of Ukraine and Belarus. It protected the inhabitants of these lands from the Nazi occupation…’

These nonsensical and lying sentences were inserted into the book in 1966, when most of its authors – officers with professorial titles – were familiar with documents published in the West from the times of German-Soviet cooperation in the years 1939-1941…

In 1939 the front pages of the newspapers were full of information about German-Soviet cooperation.

‘Mała encyklopedia powszechna’ (‘Small universal encyclopedia’) presents an almost identical assessment of aggression as the historians from the Military Historical Institute. From the slogan ‘Polish Defense War’ one can learn that ‘the Soviet army entered the territory of western Ukraine and Belarus in the face of the approach of German troops and the escape of the Polish government and the high command to Romania’. The authors of the fourth volume of the ‘Encyklopedia Powszechna PWN’ (Universal Encyclopedia PWN) go further, calling aggression ‘the decision of the USSR government’, which aims to ‘take over the Belarusian and Ukrainian people under its protection’ in the face of Poland’s military defeat…

The authors of school textbooks follow Military Historical Institute’s scientists and authors of encyclopedic entries. In 1959, young people from the last grade of primary school were taught e.g. about Belarusians and Ukrainians from eastern provinces, who were protected from Nazi slavery by the entering Soviet Army. In the ‘Outline of Polish History’, published in 1966, there is no mention about ‘protecting’, but there is information about entering ‘in order to improve own strategic situation’. From the textbooks, which for many years have been prepared for subsequent graduation classes, high school students learn about ‘the protection of the population against the Nazi occupation and the refusal to allow the Nazi army to be too close to important strategic areas of the USSR’, about ‘the refusal to allow the German army to seize the territory of Western Ukraine and Belarus’.

The filmmakers will be more active in propagating the ‘September’ lie. ‘Czerwony sztandar’ (‘the Red Banner’), published in Lviv, will write about the beginnings of their initiative, informing in November 1939 about the preparation of the film

devoted to ‘the life of the working men of Western Ukraine under the yoke of Polish masters’ based on the script by Aleksy Dąbrowski and Kasyl Kuczera, directed by Mikhail Romm, based on ‘facts and materials provided by the artistic advisor – Wanda Wasilewska’. It was not possible to determine in what month of 1940 it was released in the cinemas in the USSR and how popular was Romm’s film ‘Wind from the East’.

There is also no information as to whether they took a risk of revealing ‘The Wind…’ after the Soviet troops entered Lviv, Lublin in 1944, or Warsaw, Krakow or Lodz in 1945. One of the copies went to the archives of the Warsaw Documentary Film Studio and remained there for many years, with the strictest ban on screening. Romm’s film was shown in… November 1986, in a small room, during a historical and film seminar in Katowice. After watching the film, the seminar participants, who knew the truth about the aggression in September 1939, were not surprised that the film was not intended for distribution. One can only guess what would happen in the cinema room, even in the People’s Republic of Poland, e.g. when watching a scene in which a Ukrainian village is set on fire by Polish uhlans, and the ‘arsonists’ are marched on by the cavalry of the Red Army, i.e. the ‘Wind from the East’, which reaches out with brotherly help to the Ukrainians and the Belarusians’?

Stamp issued in 1985 in the so-called second circulation by „Poczta Solidarność” (Solidarity Post Office)

remininding of the directions of attack of the German and Soviet armies in September 1939.

The film ‘Wind from the East’ is very rarely mentioned – and rather only in the circles of cinema historians – even after 1990. Other ‘liberation’ is at that time more widely discussed, as the withdrawal of the units of the so-called Northern Group of Forces of the Soviet Army from Poland (PUGWAR) began.

The last units of PUGWAR are still stationed in Poland (not Polish People’s Republic anymore), when in a publication signed for printing on 29 December 1991, ‘Wojenno – Istoriczewski Żurnał’ (Military Historical Journal) informs readers that between July 1944 and March 1945 26 billion 720 million 959 thousand rubles were spent.

The article signed by Colonel Pokrowski states that 3 million 246 thousand Soviet officers and sailors took part in the liberation operation, 477 295 thousand of whom died and 1 million 636 thousand were wounded.

In the fighting 2966 tanks and self-propelled guns, worth 688 million 557 thousand rubles and 2692 planes worth 963 million 620 thousand rubles were lost. The Soviet Army, according to Colonel Pokrowski, used 69 161 ammunition wagons (10 billion 319 million rubles), 27 412 tons of air bombs (137 million 60 thousand rubles), 24 792 aerial missiles (137 million 196 thousand rubles), 992 906 tons of propellants and lubricants (697 million 666 thousand rubles), medicine and medical equipment amounting to 150 million rubles (…)”

The editorial staff of the ‘Biuletyn Katyński’ (‘Katyn Bulletin’), the journal of the Katyn Institute in Poland, according to the statute ‘appointed to investigate the Katyn Massacre in 1940 and other Soviet crimes’, among others, decides to argue about the calculations made by Colonel Pokrowski.

“According to the information available to our Institute,” writes Andrzej Kostrzewski, “the losses in planes did not amount to 2692 but 2712, in tanks not 2966 but 3114 machines”. He adds that during the fights on the territory of Poland “the Red Army actually used 69161 wagons of ammunition worth 10 billion 319 million rubles, but most likely in the fights with the German army”

“With this understanding of Soviet claims,” as we can read later on in Kostrzewski’s article, “are connected the following remarks of the Katyn Institute in Poland:

– firstly, we are not sure whether General Colonel Pokrowski meant Poland or Prywislanskiy Kraj (Vistula Land) ,

– secondly, we firmly believe that General Pokrowski is also a proponent of strict observance of the principles of international law, so he is aware that the Republic of Poland has the right to make mutual war claims (and not only that) against the former Soviet Union, represented by kindred organs of the Red Army and the NKVD on the grounds of:

1) the aggression carried out jointly with the German Reich by the Red Army on 17 September 1939 and the occupation of almost half of the territory of the Republic of Poland by the USSR

2) forced deportation of 1.5 million Polish citizens to the USSR and depriving them of their property and forcing them to slave labor,

3) deprivation of property of a further 3 million Polish citizens in the occupied territories,

4) destruction of 80% of the state and national property of the Republic of Poland in the occupied territories, including industrial plants (partially exported), the oilfield in Eastern Małopolska, craft workshops, property of state and social organizations, agricultural property as a result of the establishment of sovkhozes and kolkhozes,

5) perpetrating the Katyn Massacre against about 15 thousand officers of the Polish Army in violation of the principles of international law,

6) committing the crime of deprivation of life on further – at least – 500 thousand Polish citizens,

– thirdly, mutual claims should be taken into account from 30 June 1944, i.e. from the entry of the Red Army into the territory of the Republic of Poland;

7) plundering the public and private property left from the Nazi occupation, in particular the land granted to Poland according to the Potsdam Agreement from the territories of the former German Reich,

8) murdering and transporting to the USSR soldiers of the Polish Army and other independence organizations from the territory of Poland, i.e. soldiers of the Polish Armed Forces,

9) plundering of the assets of the Polish State for the period 1944-1989 as a result of unfavorable 'commercial contracts’ imposed on the Polish Government, which is the Kremlin’s exposure, and treating Poland as a 'satellite State’ in relation to the USSR, i.e. a colonial-type State

10) costs of maintaining the Northern Red Army Group, then the Soviet Army, on the territory of Poland and related costs of destroying the ecological environment after deducting the value of the left-over properties.

– fourthly – the term ‘liberation’ of Poland in 1944/45 is not clear for the Katyn Institute in Poland, since the aim of the Red Army’s actions was exclusively to defeat the German army and the German Reich, and the territory of Poland was only a part of the area of those actions

– Poland was not interested in warfare between the German Reich and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as two states which in September 1939 carried out a joint aggression against Poland, and the Soviet Union in defeating the German Reich continued to benefit from territorial and other benefits resulting from the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which was signed on 23 August 1939 and was actually the Fourth Partition of Poland.

September 1939. Photograph taken in Maišiagala, next to the monument dedicated to the heroes-volunteers who died in the fight for Poland’s freedom in the years 1918-1920.

To sum up, between 1939 and 1945 the Polish state and its citizens suffered enormous damage to people and property from both the German and Soviet occupiers. The damage suffered by the Soviet invader was prolonged at least until 1989 (and continues partly in the form of the stationing of military units on the territory of Poland)

These damages, caused only by the Soviet side, should be estimated at at least several dozen times higher value than the costs of ‘liberating’ Poland from the German occupation, as stated in the monthly magazine ‘WIŻ’ (Military Historical Journal).

The Katyn Institute in Poland also mentions that the compensation for the Katyn Massacre of the year 1940 was estimated by a detailed calculation of due compensation to the equivalent of 453 million dollars.

The Katyn Institute in Poland therefore approaches the calculations of General Colonel Pokrowski with understanding, because such a course of reasoning on the part of Russian authorities – tsarist and Soviet – meets and is familiar with history since the times of Peter the Great. This is the reasoning of a murderer who, instead of being punished, demands compensation for the used murder weapon. This reasoning was assimilated by the rulers of the tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union to the rank of one of the elements of the Russian reason of state and is no longer surprising.

Text ‘Oficerowie rosyjscy ‘ policzyli…’ (‘Russian officers counted…’) by Andrzej Kostrzewski, printed in the „Katyn Bulletin”. No. 1(36), Krakow 1992.