Poland pays tribute to WWII victims of USSR invasion

September 17 is an extremely painful date for us Poles, said Elzbieta Witek Sebastian Borowski/PAP

The speaker of the lower house of the Polish parliament and the defence minister have paid tribute to the victims of the Soviet invasion of Poland on September 17, 1939.

Elzbieta Witek and Mariusz Blaszczak attended ceremonies in the south-western town of Legnica marking the 84 anniversary of the day the Red Army stormed into eastern Poland, as part of a joint Soviet-German invasion plan hatched by Stalin and Hitler.

The Soviet invasion came not long after Germany had triggered WWII by invading Poland from the west on September 1.

"September 17 is an extremely painful date for us Poles," said Witek. "On September 17, 1939, completely unexpectedly - we often say stabbing Poles in the back - the Soviet army invaded the eastern territories of Poland. This carried out the arrangements concluded in the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of August 23, 1939."

Witek said the Red Army had not invaded on September 1 like Germany because it had wanted to see how quickly the Wehrmacht would move east as well as how Poland's allies would react. When the Soviets saw there was no allied reaction, she said, they moved in on the pretext of protecting the Ukrainian and Belarusian populations from the Germans.

She said more than one and a half million Poles in the eastern borderlands had suffered "real hell" at the hands of the Red Army, which murdered civilians and deported women and children to Siberia. 

Witek said the Soviets had made a point of destroying Poland's intelligentsia, army officers, and priests, in order to weaken the Polish nation.

"But we Poles are a nation that has shown many times before in our history that even in a hopeless situation... we have never given up," she said.

Blaszczak pointed out it was also the 30th anniversary of the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Legnica, which was once the home of a key Soviet military base. 

"Today we can be glad that Poland is free and we are doing everything for Poland to stay free," Blaszczak said. "In connection with that, what happened 30 years ago, the expulsion of the Soviet Russian army from here in Legnica, from Poland, is an important point in our history."

Blaszczak said that in 1939, both the Nazis and the Soviets "intended to murder the Polish elite, they intended to create a situation in which Poland would not be reborn."

"But Poland was reborn," he said. "Today Poland is an independent country, proud of its history, and all those experiences... build our national identity."

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