Winter, stabbing frost, dark night and Soviet militants striking rifle butts on the door of houses – this is how many people imagine arresting the victims of mass deportations to the East. Even drawings and paintings, poems or films that arise on this subject usually contain the theme of winter, snow, frost. And what if this drama was not played out in the cold winter, but in the summer, in the hellish heat? Was it less shocking?
If exile, it's Siberia; if Siberia, it's frost and snow - maybe that's why deportations are associated mainly with winter. Or perhaps the trauma of the first mass deportation of February 1940, which actually took place in the bitter cold, which even NKVD officers could not cope with (some of them were withdrawn from action due to frostbites). The fact is that many people have such an association and it is impossible to fight it.
However, the heat, which is such a desirable companion for holiday rest, can also be deadly. Especially if it tires in a closed wagon, equipped with only small windows. "The tiny barred windows at the top were glazed and the door tightly bolted. We had no air, and the train still rode and rode" recalled Henryka Bogusławska, taken in June 1941 from the Augustów region. She added: "Hot and stuffy air prevented sleep. It would be very hard for us if it wasn't for the help of some resourceful men. They broke all the glasses in the windows. " An additional problem was very limited access to water, as she described: "There was still a lack of water. From time to time, the train was stopped at small stops to provide tired travelers with water. Buckets of water were brought to the wagon by men escorted by armed guards. They walked slowly, foot by foot, so that precious water would not spill out of the buckets."
Two of the four great deportations carried out by the Soviets on Polish soil during World War II took place in June. The first of them was very unusual. Soviet authorities usually took away those who could threaten them. This time, however, they decided to deport people they were not afraid of. They just didn't know what to do with them. Since the beginning of the war, in fear of German repression, tens or even hundreds of thousands of residents of the western and central voivodships of the Second Polish Republic have fled to Polish territories seized by the Soviets. They were mainly Polish Jews, but also Poles and representatives of other nations living in pre-war Poland. As a result of the Soviet-German agreement, some of them - probably even tens of thousands - returned to the German-occupied territories. Others were offered Soviet citizenship, but most refused.
Their fate was sealed in March 1940, when the decision about the deportation was made. As the refugee movement between Germany and the Soviet Union was still ongoing, the decision was postponed. The third great deportation finally began on June 29, 1940. Refugees and visitors who did not have a permanent residence there were to be deported. For this reason, their detention and gathering did not go very smoothly. The action was extended by several days. Finally, over 90,000 refugees called "bieżeńcy" were packed into wagons that set off for Siberia and the northern regions of the European part of the Soviet Union. Over 80% of those deported were Jews.
After a year, on the eve of Germany's attack on the Soviet Union, again in the June sun, another tens of thousands of Polish citizens set off on a long, dramatic journey to the east. The Soviet authorities finally decided to deal with "socially foreign elements". In the detailed guidelines, these "elements" were mentioned, i.e. members of the underground organizations together with their families, former Polish officials and people even suspected of any "hostile" activity against the Soviet Union. It was also decided to deport wealthy hosts, traders and manufacturers - even an annual turnover limit was set above which the family was considered rich. Criminals were also attached to the deportees.
The operation was carried out not only in the former Polish lands, but also in the occupied Baltic States and Bessarabia (now Moldova), which was taken away from Romania. What is particularly dramatic, the action was not stopped even after the outbreak of the Soviet-German war. The Germans, who attacked the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, began massive air raids, which included railway tracks and their transports. Of course, German airmen did not distinguish between military transports and those with deportees. Part of the echelons with 40,000 deported Poles were bombed, as a result of which, according to the NKVD, "10-13% of those transported in those transports were killed, 12-15% were injured".
We have to remember about the June deportations. The drama of their victims was not smaller than those who were deported in winter.