The Miracle of the Vistula in the shadow of anti-Katyn

Slawomir Błaut

The Russians have never accepted their defeat of 1920. At first, there was a revenge on the Poles in Katyn and then the anti-Katyn propaganda – calumnies against Poles concerning their alleged murders of the prisoners of war of the Red Army in 1920.
The war on remembrance has continued. We cannot neglect it. It is the matter of telling the truth about the Polish-Bolshevik war 1919-21, which is far from the falsified version of our Eastern neighbours, from the myth of anti-Katyn, Poles murdering the prisoners of war from the Red Army, created under the diktat of expediency when in 1990 on the wave of democratic transformations the Russian Union had to reveal the truth about the Katyn massacre. To counterbalance that the Kremlin propagandists revealed the ‘truth’ about the Russian prisoners of war of 1920 who were to be killed by Poles. The matter was called ‘anti-Katyn.’ This ‘discovery’ made at the command of the Kremlin yielded the fruit of another terrifying term ‘justified revenge’ for the deaths of the Russian prisoners of war of 1920, which Moscow has used to describe the Katyn massacre since then.
Using this manoeuvre the Kremlin inversed the intention in some way. At Katyn the Soviets were not avengers for the defeat in 1920 but for the murder of the prisoners of war from the Red Army (the motif of revenge for the lost war of 1919-1920 is mentioned by historians as one of the three main motives of the Katyn massacre). Revenge can steer political decisions, the example being the Nazi Germany that entered the war path on the basis of revenge for the lost world war and the Versailles Treaty, which was humiliating for them. For Lenin and Stalin the defeat in the war against Poland was great humiliation and it cancelled their plans to conquer Europe already in 1920. Attacking the Second Polish Republic on 17 September 1939 the Soviets had lists of people to be arrested, including those Poles who had fought against the Bolsheviks in the years 1919-20. After the war, ended with the Treaty of Riga on 18 March 1921, Poland was not so much ‘a bad neighbour’ but actually a mortal enemy for the Soviets. They could not have simply forgotten their defeat. And they did not.

War for everything

The hostility of Soviet Russia against Poland had many causes. They are commonly known. Suffice to say that desiring to have a sovereign state Poland had no choice but to fight against the Soviets to the death. The Polish-Soviet conflict of the years 1919-21 began without any official declaration of war. When the occupying German armies, defeated in World War I, withdrew from the territories east of the Bug River, the armies of Bolshevik Russia and the Polish army began flowing to these territories. The first clash took place on the Niemen River in the middle of February 1919. At the same time in the Eastern territories Poles fought against the Ukrainians. In April our forces seized Vilnius and in autumn Pilsudzki made armistice with Lenin. He gave him a free hand to crash the soldiers of the White Army. The headquarters of the White Army refused to recognise Poland’s independence. For us the restoration of Tsarist Russia, supported by Great Britain and France, would have been a defeat. Only in January 1920 our forces began advancing. They seized Dyneburg, which let us have direct connections with friendly Latvia. During that time Pilsudzki made unsuccessful attempts to create a joint front with the countries waging war with Soviet Russia. He also failed to create a federation of Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine and Belarus. In that situation Pilsudzki took the risk to begin a preventive war to forestall the Soviet attack against Poland. The Republic of Poland managed to strengthen their forces. On 25 April 1920, Pilsudzki began an offensive on Kiev. His military aim was to crash the Red Army forces directed against Poland and his political aim was to create a free Ukrainian state that would secure Poland against her aggressive Russian neighbour. Ataman Semen Petlura, who signed an alliance pact with Poland, was to be the head of the Ukrainian state. Neither the military nor the political aims were realised. There was no confrontation with the main Russian forces as their location was discerned wrongly and Petlura did not gain wide support of the Ukrainians. When Pilsudzki reached the Dnieper and Berezyna there was euphoria but soon our forces had to withdraw. On 4 July 1920, the big Russian offensive in the whole several kilometre wide Western Front began. It was called the march to the Vistula. Mikhail Tukhachevsky was the commander-in-chief of the forces that were to attack Warsaw. Just before the Soviets began their offensive they had developed the anti-Polish propaganda in the West, which fulfilled its aim. The Republic of Poland could count only on her own forces and her allies did not help her.

Alone, yet strong

In August 1920 the Soviets reached the foreground of Warsaw. On those critical days Pilsudzki went to Anin where he reflected on the situation by himself. After he had returned to the Belwedere Palace he commanded a daring plan invested by him and General Tadeusz Rozwadowski. The plan, which was kept secret (actually the Russians managed to obtain it but regarded as false) and realised in almost 100%, was to surprise the Bolsheviks – almost sure of their success – by a flanking manoeuvre and attack at the back of the Soviet forces. The manoeuvre was to be made by the high quality Polish units. They took their attacking positions on the Wieprz River and began the counterattack. At the same time the remaining Polish forces attacked the main Bolshevik units in the forebridge of the capital and on the Wkra River to mislead the enemy. Thus the Battle of Warsaw, known as the Miracle on the Vistula or the Miracle of the Vistula like Adam Grzymala-Siedlecki wrote, started. Our forces had about one million soldiers. Many were volunteers. Our advantage was the codes of the Red Army, which our crypto analysts deciphered and thanks to that the commanders of the Polish Army gained current precious information about the movements of the enemy forces and the power of their particular formations. The Polish Code Office jammed the commands, which Tukhachevsky gave on the radio. It caused that the whole elite Fourth Bolshevik Army did not join the battle of Warsaw. Between 12 and 16 August the Polish Army fought heavy battles with the Red Army near Radzymin and Ossow (Fr Ignacy Skorupka, holding the cross in his hand encouraged young volunteers to fight, was killed there), as well as at Nasielk, Kock and Cycow. The Soviets were forced to withdraw. The next battles of 1920 – at Bialystok and Komarow and then the great battle on the Niemen River – sealed our military success. Some historians, going unnecessarily beyond the methodology of this field, claim that there was no miracle. The fact that we were prepared better than the Soviets does not explain and decide the issue completely; the victory was not preordained. We managed to reverse the course of the war at Warsaw. Poles as a nation of believers begged God for help on their knees. As we believe the victory was thanks to the Divine Providence and is celebrated on 15 August, on the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Our Lady’s Herb Day).

The matter of anti-Katyn

During the war of 1920-21 Poles captured ca. 110,000 Russians who were brought to camps. Out of these 110,000 prisoners of war 16,000-18,000 died. The causes of their deaths were bad living conditions, epidemics, shortages of food and medicaments. However, no one persecuted these prisoners of war. Almost 66,000 of them returned to Russia. Ca. 25,000 refused to go back and stayed in Poland. These are the facts, established and published by the honest and reliable Polish and Russian historians. Moscow prefers lies, coined at the order of Mikhail Gorbachev. The Russian leader, realising that the truth about the Katyn massacre could not be kept secret any longer, commissioned an action to blacken Poles. Since 1993 the specific festival of regime ‘historians’ who want to outdo one another presenting over-interpretations of the facts concerning the Russian prisoners of war in Poland, has taken place. The anti-Polish propaganda in Russia intensifies on every occasion of the Katyn massacre. One of its expressions was to place the tablet in Strzalkowo, speaking about the alleged cruelty of Poles that happened 90 years ago. The Kremlin has its interests in such actions. Until the myth of anti-Katyn is kept it can speak about ‘common regret and mutual forgiveness’; it will never tell the truth; it will never speak about the genocide at Katyn because this word describes the infamy of proud, imperial Russia and… the procedure of reparations.

"Niedziela" 33/2011

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: