Soviet-Polish Frontier


By WINSTON CHURCHILL, Prime Minister of Great Britain

Delivered in House of Commons, London, December 15, 1944

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 162, 164-167.

IN opening this debate I find myself in a position to read to the House again some extracts from the carefully considered statement that I made to them in February after I returned from Teheran and also in October of the present year.

When I read them over again last night in preparation for this debate, I found it very difficult to improve upon them or to alter them in any way. This may accuse me of infertility of mind, but it also gives me some confidence that I have not misled the House or felt myself stultified, in all respects at any rate, by the harsh, unforeseeable movement of events.

It is not often that one wishes to repeat what one has said two months ago, still less ten months ago. But I propose to do so because in no other way and in no other words can I remind the House and bring home to them the grim, bare bones of the Polish problem.

On Feb. 22 I said that at Teheran I took occasion to raise personally with Marshal Stalin the question of the future of Poland. I pointed out that it was in fulfillment of our guarantee to Poland that Great Britain declared war on Nazi Germany and that we had never weakened in our resolve, even in the period when we were all alone, and the fate of the Polish nation held prime place in the thoughts and policies of the British Government and the British Parliament,

Stalin's Promises Cited

It was with great pleasure that I heard from Marshal Stalin that he, too, was resolved upon the creation and maintenance of a strong, integral, independent Poland as one of the leading Powers in Europe. He several times repeated this declaration in public. I am convinced that that represents the settled policy of the Soviet Union.

Here I may remind the House that we ourselves have never in the past guaranteed on behalf of the British Government any particular frontier line to Poland. We did not approve the Polish occupation of Vilna in 1920, and the British view in 1919 stands expressed in the so-called Curzon Line, which attempted to deal, at any rate partially, with the problem.

I have always held the view that all questions of territorial settlement and adjustment should stand until the end of the war and that the victorious Powers should then arrive at a formal and final agreement governing the articulation of Europe as a whole.

However, the advance of Russian armies in the Polish regions in which the Polish underground army is active makes it indispensable that some kind of friendly working agreement should be arrived at to govern wartime conditions and to enable all anti-Hitlerite forces to work together against the common foe.

During the last few weeks the Foreign Secretary and I have consulted with the Polish Government in London, with the object of establishing a working agreement upon which the fighting forces can act and upon which I trust a loyal comradeship may be built between Russians and Poles.

Intense Sympathy With Poles

I have intense sympathy with the policies of that heroic race, whose national spirit centuries of misfortune cannot quench, and I also have sympathy with the Russians. Twice in our lifetime Russia has been violently assaulted by Germany, many millions of Russians have been slain, and vast tracts of Russian soil have been devastated as a result of repeated German aggression. Russia has the right of reassurance against future attacks from the west and we are going all the way with her to see that she gets it not only by the might of her arms, but with the approval and assent of the United Nations.

The liberation of Poland may presently be achieved by Russian armies after those armies have suffered millions of casualties in breaking the German military machine. I cannot feel that Russian demands for reassurance about her western frontiers go beyond the limit of what is reasonable or just. Marshal Stalin and I also spoke of, and agreed upon, the need for Poland to obtain compensation at the expense of Germany, both in the north and west. I said that nearly a year ago. I have nothing to alter in it from the point of view of His Majesty's Government.

On Oct. 27, more recently, I reported upon my last visit to Moscow and said the most urgent and burning question was, of course, that of Poland. Here again I speak words of hope, of hope reinforced by confidence—but I am afraid this does not hold in the same degree at the present time. To abandon hope in this matter would indeed be to surrender to despair.

Two Crucial Issues Involved

In this sphere there are two crucial issues. The first is the question of the western frontier of Poland and new territory to be added to Poland in the north and west. The second is the relation of the Polish Government with the Lublin National Liberation Committee. On these two points, apart from many subsidiary and ancillary points, we held a series of conferences with both parties.

I wish I could tell the House we reached a solution of these problems. It is certainly not for want of trying. I am quite certain we have got a great deal nearer—this is subject to some review in the light of events. I hope Mikolajczyk will soon return to Moscow and it will be a great disappointment to the sincere friends of Poland if an agreed arrangement cannot be made which will enable him to form a Polish Government on Polish soil, a Government recognized by the Great Powers and indeed by all these Governments of the United Nations which now recognize the Polish Government in London.

Though I do not underrate the difficulties which remain, it is a comfort to feel that Britain and Russia and I do not doubt, the United States are all firmly agreed on the recreation of a free, independent, sovereign Poland loyal to the Allies and friendly to her great neighbor and liberator Russia.

Speaking more particularly for His Majesty's Government, it is our persevering and constant aim that the Polish people, after their suffering and vicissitudes, should find in Europe an abiding home and resting place which, though it may not entirely coincide or correspond with the pre-war frontier of Poland, will nevertheless be adequate for the needs of the Polish nation and not inferior in character and quality, taking the picture as a whole, with that they previously possessed.

Warns Against Waste of Time

These are critical days and it would be a great pity if the time were wasted in indecision or protracted negotiations. If the Polish Government had taken the advice we tendered at the beginning of this year, the additional complications produced by the formation of the Polish National Committee of Liberation at Lublin would not have arisen; and anything like prolonged delay in settlement can only have the effect of hampering common action which the Poles and Russians and the rest of the Allies are taking against Germany. I hope no time will be lost in pressing these discussions to a successful conclusion.

The hopes I thought it necessary to express in October have failed. When Mikolajczyk left Moscow, my hope was that he would return within a week or so with the authority of the Polish Government in London to agree about the Polish frontier on the basis of the Curzon Line and its prolongation to the southward called the Curzon Line "A," which passed on the Russian side of Lwow.

I have several times drawn Mikolajczyk's attention to the dangers of delay. Had he been able to return after the very friendly conversations which passed between him and Mr. Stalin and also the conversations which he had with the members of the Lublin National Committee—had he been able to return with the assent of his colleagues, I believe that the difficulties inherent in the formation of a Polish Government in harmony with the Lublin Committee might well have been overcome.

In that case he would be at this moment at the head of a Polish Government on Polish soil recognized by all the United Nations and awaiting the advance of Russian armies moving farther into Poland as the country is delivered from the Germans. He was also assured in this task the friendship and friendly help of Marshal Stalin.

Respect for Polish Leaders

Thus he could, at every stage, have established good relations between the Polish underground movement and the advancing Russians, and a Polish administration would have been set up by him in newly delivered regions as they expanded. I have the greatest respect for Mr. Mikolajczyk and his able colleagues whom we met, Mr. Romer and Mr. Grabski. I am sure that they are more qualified to fill the place of the late General Sikorski than any other of the Polish leaders.

After endless discussions, into some of which we were drawn on Mr. Mikolajczyk's return from Moscow, the Poles utterly failed to obtain agreement. In consequence, on Nov. 21 Mr. Mikolajczyk and Mr. Romer and other Ministers resigned from the Polish Government, which has been almost entirely reconstituted in a form which, in some respects, I am certainly not able to applaud.

Mr. Mikolajczyk and his friends remain, in the view of His Majesty's Government, the only light that burns for Poland in the immediate future. Just as I said that if the Polish Government had agreed in the early part of this year upon a frontier, there never would have been any Lublin Committee to which Soviet Russia has committed herself, so now I say that if Mr. Mikolajczyk could swiftly have returned to Moscow early in November, as he hoped and expected to do, with the power to conclude an agreement of frontier line, Poland might now take her full place in the ranks of the nations contending against Germany and would have the full support and friendship of Marshal Stalin and the Soviet Government.

That opportunity too is for the time being suspended. This prospect vanished like the last and it remained one of the stories of the Sibylline Books in which, on every occasion, the price remained the same and the number of volumes decreased until at the last they had to be bought on the most unfavorable of terms.

Severe Ordeal for Mikolajczyk

Mr. Mikolajczyk's ordeal has been a most severe and painful one. Torn between love of his country and intense desire to reach a settlement with her mighty neighbor, which was most abhorrent to many of his fellow countrymen, and confronted with the obstinate, inflexible resistance of his London colleagues and their veto, like the veto which played so great a part in the former ruin of Poland, in these circumstances Mr. Mikolajczyk decided to resign.

Almost a month has passed since then and, I imagine, the

prospects of reconciliation between the Polish Government and the Lublin Committee with the Soviet Government behind them have definitely receded, though they might perhaps advance again were Mr. Mikolajczyk able to speak with authority for the Polish nation. The consequences of this recession of hopes of this working agreement between Russia and the Poles has been masked to British eyes by the fact that the Russian armies on the long Vistula front have been motionless and if and when they move forward, as move forward they surely will, and the Germans are expelled from large new tracts of Poland, the authority of the Lublin Committee and the area it administers will grow in its contacts with the Soviets more intimate and strong.

I do not know what misfortunes will attend such developments. The absence of agreement may well be grievous for Poland and the relationship and misunderstanding between the advancing Russian armies and the Polish Underground movement may take forms which will be most painful to all who have the permanent well-being of Poland and the relationship between Poland and Russia at heart.

The fact that a Prime Minister resigns from a Government and that a new Government is born does not, of course, affect the form of diplomatic relationships between States. We still recognize the Polish Government as the Government of Poland, as we have done since they reached our shores in the early part of this war. This, of course, has been continued up to the present by all the rest of the United Nations, except Russia only, which is most concerned and is the power whose armies will be the first to enter the heart of Poland.

200 Miles on Baltic for Poland

It is a source of grief to me that these forces have not been joined together more closely against the common foe. I cannot accept the view that the arrangements proposed about the frontier are not solid and satisfactory or that they would not give to Poland that abiding home I spoke about in February.

If Poland gives Lwow and the surrounding area on the south known as the Curzon Line A, if Poland makes this concession and these lands are joined to the Ukraine, Poland will gain in the north all of East Prussia south and west of Koenigsberg, including Danzig, one of the most magnificent cities in the world, famous for centuries and the great gathering place for the trade of the Baltic and indeed of the world. Instead of the threatened and artificial corridor built up so laboriously after the last war, Poland would stretch broadly along the Baltic on a front of 200 miles. The Poles are free, so far as Russia and Great Britain are concerned, to extend their territories at the expense of Germany to the west.

I do not propose to go into the exact details, but an extension in which they will be supported by Britain and Russia, bound together as they are by a twenty-year alliance—this extension will mean in the west and north territories more important and more highly developed than those they lose in the east.

We hear of one-third of Poland to be ceded, but that includes vast tracts of the Pripet Marshes, a most desolate region which, though it swells acreage, does not add to the wealth of those who own it.

Thus I have set before the House what, in outline, is the offer which the Russians, on whom the main burden of liberation still falls, make to the Polish people. I cannot believe that such an offer should be rejected by Poland. It has, of course, to be accompanied by the disentanglement of peoples in the west and north and transference of several millions of people would have to be effected from east to west, or to north, and because that is what is proposed, the total expulsion of Germans from the areas to be acquired by Poland in the west and north, for expulsion is the method which, so far as we have been able to see, will be most satisfactory and lasting.

No Mixture of Population

There will be no mixture of population to cause endless struggle, as in Alsace-Lorraine. A clean sweep will be made. I am not alarmed at the prospect of the disentanglement of population nor even am I alarmed by these large transferences which are more possible than they ever were before, through modern conditions.

The disentanglement of populations which took place between Greece and Turkey after the last war was in many ways successful and has produced friendly relations between Greece and Turkey ever since. That disentanglement which at first seemed impossible to achieve and about which it was said that it would strip Turkish life in Anatolia of so many extra services, and about which it was said that the extra population could never be assimilated and sustained by Greece, that disentanglement solved problems which before had been the cause of immense friction, of wars and of rumors of wars.

Nor do I see that there should not be room in Germany for the German population of East Prussia and of other territories I have mentioned. After all, six million or seven million Germans have been killed already in this dreadful war into which they did not hesitate for a second time in this generation to plunge all Europe and the world.

At present we are told that there are ten million or twelve million prisoners, or foreigners, used as slaves in Germany, who will, we hope, be restored to their own homes and lands when victory is gained. Moreover, we may expect that many more Germans will be killed in fighting which will occupy spring and summer and which will involve the fiercest and largest battles fought in this war.

When these matters which arose were first foreshadowed by me to the House, British and American armies had not landed on the Continent. France had not been liberated. She was powerless, not like now when she is rising with great rapidity to a strong and fine position among the nations of the world. The armies of General Eisenhower were still gathering on this island and not along the Rhine where they are now growing in strength as great waves of American manhood cross the Atlantic and take their place in the crusade and in the line of battle.

Nor had the Russians advanced to the Vistula. Vast distances separated them even from the frontiers of Poland. Nor was one large German Army cut off in the peninsula which has Memel and Libau as its bases. There was not that great position which Russian armies hold in the extreme north, nor was their left hand reaching out beyond Budapest in the south, threatening advance into the very heart of Austria. Nor had Rome been occupied, nor the Apennines pierced.

Situation Has Changed Vastly

In those days the Poles might well have had some show of reason in asking whether the Great Allies would have power, even if they were so minded, to deliver new territory to Poland which was to compensate her for what she was giving up in the east.

But the situation has changed vastly in favor of the Alliesand it seems also extremely unlikely that after the spring and summer campaigns have been fought, if it be necessary to go so far in the business, and we shall go whatever distance is necessary to complete our object, it seems extremely unlikely that the evil, hateful forces in Germany who conceived and planned and began this war will have power to restrict the decision of the peace conference or armistice-peace conference at which the principal victorious powers will he assembled.

The prospects of final victory have in the time that has passed since these matters were first discussed at Teheran become for the Allies solid and spacious. Therefore I say what has always been said by the Poles when I have been discussing with them: "Here we know what we have to give up; what certainty have we of recovering compensation in other quarters?"

They have much more certainty of it now than they had at this time last year. I cannot see any doubt whatever that the Great Powers, if they agree, can effect this transference of population.

I find great difficulty in discussing these matters because the attitude of the United States has not been defined with the precision which the British Government have thought it wise to use. The friendship of the United States Government for Poland, no less than our own, the large mass of Poles who have made their homes in the United States and who are, or are becoming, American citizens, constitutional difficulties of the United States in making treaties—all these have not enabled the Government of that great nation to speak in terms which I have thought it my duty, with the assent of my colleagues, to use in this House.

President Aware of Everything

We know, however, that the Government and the people of the United States have set their hearts upon world organization to prevent outbreak of future wars and this world organization will be fatally ruptured by a quarrel between any of the three most powerful empires which compose the Grand Alliance of the United Nations.

The President is aware of everything that has passed and of what is in the minds of the Russians and British. He had at Moscow in Mr. Averill Harriman a most accomplished representative in the capacity of observer and he was present at all, or nearly all our Polish talks on the occasion of our last visit. The President, therefore, has been kept fully informed, not only by the British Government but also by his own highly competent and distinguished representative and by all the many sources and channels that are open to the unceasing vigilance of the State Department.

I am particularly careful not ever to pretend to speak in the name of any other Power unless so directed beforehand and I hope the House will make allowance for the care with which I pick my words upon this point. All I can say is that I have received no formal disagreement during all these long months upon the way in which the future of Poland seems to be shaping itself, or is being shaped.

There is no doubt that when the time comes the United States will make their own pronouncement upon these matters, bearing in mind, as they will, the practical aspects which these matters assume and also how much failure on the part of the three greatest Powers to work together would damage all our hopes for the future structure of a world government which, whatever else it might fail to do, will at any rate be equipped with all powers necessary to prevent outbreak of further war.

It is asked why cannot all questions of territorial changes be left over to the end of the war. I think that a most pertinent question and it is one, in fact, which I and the Foreign Secretary gave in almost every case that has been presented to us. They must wait until the end of war. Armies, it is said, move here or there as they advance or recede. They may be in occupation of this ground or the other, but it is at the peace table alone that the permanent destiny of any land or people will be decided. Why cannot that be said in this case? It may be said in every case, or almost every case except in that of Poland. So why should Poland be excepted from this general rule?

Sees Trouble for Russian Armies

It is only for the Polish advantage and to avoid the great evils which might occur. Russian armies—I know nothing of their intentions, but speaking only of what is obvious to anyone who studies war maps—Russian armies will probably during the early part of next year traverse large areas of Poland, driving Germans before them. If during those marches fierce quarrels and fighting break out between large sections of the Polish population and Russian troops, very great suffering, which can still be avoided, will infallibly occur and new poisoned wounds will be inflicted upon those who must dwell side by side in peace and in confidence and in good neighborliness.

They must dwell side by side in peace and friendship if the tranquillity of Europe is to be assured or a smooth working world organization for the maintenance of peace is to be created and maintained. All these matters are among the most serious which can possibly be imagined so far as our present lights allow.

Our British principle has been enunciated in what I have said, that all territorial changes must await the conference at the peace table after victory has been won, but there w exception in principle and that exception is "changes mutually agreed." It must not be forgotten that words are inserted in the Atlantic Charter, "No changes before the peace table except changes mutually agreed."

I am absolutely convinced that it is in the profound future interest of the Polish nation that they should reach an agreement with the Soviet Government about their disputed frontier in the east before the march of Russian armies through the main part of Poland takes place. That is the great gift that they have to give Russia, a settlement now at this time which gives firm title of mutual agreement to what might otherwise be disputed at the peace conference.

I must, however, say, because I am most anxious that the House should understand the whole position, speaking on behalf of His Majesty's Government, and in a way which I believe will probably be held binding by our successors, that at that conference we shall adhere to the line which I am now unfolding to the House and shall not hesitate to proclaim that the Russians are justly and rightly treated in being granted the claim they make to the eastern frontiers along the Curzon Line as described.

The Foreign Secretary and I have labored many months. We have spared no labor or travel, no risk of political rebuffs and consequent censure in our efforts to bring about that good understanding between the Poles, whom we still recognize, and the mighty ally which has so heavily smitten German military power.

"Poland Shall Be Restored"

We have never weakened any way in our resolve that Poland shall be restored and stand erect as a sovereign independent nation, free to model her social institutions, or any institution, in any way her people choose. Provided, I must say, that these are not on Fascist lines and provided that Poland stands loyally as a barrier and friend of Russia against German aggression from the west.

In this task Poland will be aided to the full by Russian and British guarantee and assistance and will also, I cannot doubt though I cannot declare, be aided by the United States, acting at least through world organizations which we are determined to erect, which she and the whole of the United Nations are determined to erect for the salvation of mankind toiling here below from the horrors of repeated wars.

Another great war, especially an ideological war, fought as it would be not only on frontiers but in the heart of every land with weapons far more destructive than men have yet wielded, will spell doom perhaps for many centuries of such civilization as we have been able to erect since history began to be written. It is that peril which, according to the best judgment of this National Government of all parties, has so lately renewed its troth to stand together for the duration of the war against Germany, that we have labored and are striving sincerely and faithfully to ward off.

Other powerful States are with us on every side, some more powerful, perhaps, than the British Empire and Commonwealth of Nations. We can only trust and can only try our best, and if we cannot solve the problems, we can at least make sure that this problem is faced in all its somber magnitude while time remains. I have spoken of fading hopes and of disappointment at failure to reach a Russo-Polish agreement.

But there has been another disappointment. It has been found impossible to arrange any meeting of the Three Great Powers. We had good grounds for believing we might have met before Christmas. Indeed, I confidently expected that we should. So far, however, although the prospect is earnestly desired and looked forward to, nothing definite has been settled. Therefore, strong authoritative, if provisional decisions which are now required, not only on the Russo-Polish question, but on a host of vital matters, political, international, military, economic—apart from such progress as can be made by correspondence and individual visits, so far these decisions stand at bar and wait. There ought to be a meeting at least of the Three Great Powers at the earliest possible moment.

So far as I and the Foreign Secretary are concerned, we can only repeat what we have so often said, that we will proceed to any place at any time, under any conditions where we can meet the heads of our two chief allies and that we should welcome above all a meeting in this island, in Great Britain, which has waged war from the very outset and risked, without flinching, annihilation in the cause of freedom.