From the start of WWII (and even earlier in the case of the Soviets) both the Nazis and Communists had a joint objective: to murder the Polish intelligentsia. Due to Poland’s troubled history only educated people felt Poles. It means that a peasant living near Białystok didn’t necessarily have any national identity. Such people were seen as fair game by both the Soviets and the Nazis to either enslave or brainwash (and both regimes wanted to steal the peasants’ land and use them as cheap source of work). However, a Polish intelligent posed the threat of “infecting” the peasant and his family with “Polish ideas” which could cause all kinds of troubles, like building up a strong resistance movement. Therefore, the intelligentsia had to die, and it was the first priority of both regimes.
Naturally, I know that Jews were the greatest victims of the Nazis, but it’s what we know because we know the history. From 1939 to 1941 the Nazis weren’t yet decided about the fate of Jews. They knew though, that they didn’t want the Polish intelligentsia around. In a short time thousands of teachers and university professors were either killed or thrown to concentration camps. Measures were taken to prevent people from learning. One could die for carrying Polish textbooks. In the Soviet Union, the “Polish action” began yet in 1937 on the territories with a significant Polish minority. The Soviets killed about 200 thousand of Poles yet before WWII had began.
In the meantime, the remnants of the Polish intelligentsia who evaded deportation did exactly what the regimes feared: educated another generation of Poles. All the kids who fought in the Warsaw Rising 1944 were students of the Flying University.
The idea of the Flying University goes back to the 19th century when Poland was partitioned. Back then the university provided the only forum for scholarly exchange of ideas that were banned under the official regime of the tsarist Russia. It was also the only place where women could study (thousands of them graduated from the Flying University). When WWII broke out the Flying University returned, clandestinely educating tens of thousands of young people.
Come back on Thursday for a post about the Government in Exile.