Border on the Olza River
New Order (1945-1947)
On 8th May 1945 Germany signed the instrument of unconditional surrender, which marked the end of World War II. While the German occupation in Cieszyn and Cieszyn Silesia was over, it was the beginning of the communist regime brought by the Soviet Army. In the case of Cieszyn, the situation became even more complicated due to the conflicts and mutual grudges which had remained unresolved since the previous war. The Poles were convinced that they were about to restore the situation of 1938 when Zaolzie was annexed to Poland. For the Czechs, on the other hand, going back to the situation from before the annexation, i.e. the arrangements of 1920, was a natural thing to do.
Polish emigration authorities did not plan for resigning from Zaolzie, and this or a similar position was shared by all national representatives. The solutions presented fitted somewhere between the proposals of the agreement of 5th November 1918 signed between the then State National Council of Silesia (Zemský národní výbor pro Slezsko ) and National Council of the Duchy of Cieszyn (Rada Narodowa Księstwa Cieszyńskiego), and a direct return to the border of 1st September 1939. The difference, in fact, concerned 6 towns. The Czech side, however, relentlessly insisted on reinstating the border from 1921, with new claims arising for the entire Cieszyn Silesia.
In the face of the inevitable German defeat and the progress of the Soviet army on 30th January 1945, the Czech authorities established contact with the Polish Committee of National Liberation in Lublin which was founded under Moscow’s supervision. However, the problem of which country Zaolzie should belong to was not solved amicably.
On 1st May 1945 the Soviet 237th Rifle Division seized Skoczów and crossed the Vistula River. On 2nd May, Il-2 aircraft of the Czechoslovak 3rd Assault Aviation Regiment, which quartered near Pszczyna, performed their last mission of World War II. The target of the 7 attack aircraft was the railway station in West Cieszyn, where an ammunition depot, a roundhouse and 35 railcars were destroyed.
It was not until 3rd May 1945, a day after Berlin surrendered, that the 81st Division of the 67th Rifle Corps reached Cieszyn from the north-west. At the same time, troops of the 237th Rifle Division approached the town from the east through Skoczów and Ogrodzona, and from the south-east through Trzyniec. According to Soviet documents, the first Soviet soldier that entered the town was Sergeant Ivan Lunev from the already mentioned 237th Rifle Division.
Together with the Soviets, the Scouts Operational Group which consisted of Cieszyn refugees from the former General Government (Generalna Gubernia), reached the town. It was led by Stanisław Klus, a resident of Cieszyn. The Group, together with the local Poles, established divisions of the Polish Citizen Militia with Prof. Jan Stonawski as the chief and Karol Prax, a lawyer, as the deputy chief. The whole city was divided into regions in which police stations operated. They were managed by: Stanisław Waszkowski (Centre-Market Square), Jan Michalik (Stawowa Street), Wilhelm Hilarowicz (Scout’s House), Stanisław Głazowski (Power Plant), Kazimierz Marek (Ubezpieczalnia), Antoni Sikora (Bobrek), Franciszek Hess-Halski (Mała Łąka) and Rudolf Urbaś (Hażlaska Street). The number of employees in the police stations differed, depending on the scope of their activities. It was the Centre-Market Square Police Station that had the biggest number of staff members and the best armament. On 5th May, the so-called Economic Committee Operational Group of the Council of Ministers and the Ministry of Industry, representing the Warsaw-based “Interim Government”, arrived in Cieszyn. Along with the Group came Starost Commissioner, Jan Łysogórski, and Mayor Commissioner, Jan Smotrycki.
Attempts to seize West Cieszyn failed, even though Polish flags and signs were put up for a short time on the buildings of the post office, the railway station and Polonia hotel.
The reaction of Captain Hajik Balajan, the Soviet Commissioner of West Cieszyn as well as prompt actions of the Czechs led to the establishment and first meeting of the Revolutionary National Council of Český Těšín on 5th May. The person elected as the President of the Council was František Jeřábek.
A special argument of the Czechs in the Polish-Czech strife was the 1st Czechoslovak Armoured Brigade from the 1st Czechoslovak Army Corps which operated in the territory of Cieszyn Silesia and had T-34 tanks at its disposal. It seems that such a late liberation of Cieszyn and Zaolzie was politically calculated by Stalin and it was aimed at giving Zaolzie back to Czechoslovakia in exchange for the loss of Carpathian Ruthenia for the benefit of the Soviet Union and recognition of Poland’s right to the disputed territories near Racibórz, Głubczyce and Kłodzk.
Mutual hostility and distrust re-ignited in the Czech-Polish relationships in Cieszyn and hatred was manifested among people. It was only in June 1945 when on the Market Square in Cieszyn representatives of the authorities (Michał Rola-Żymierski, Marian Spychalski, Aleksander Zawadzki) assured everyone about the re-annexation of Zaolzie to Poland. The half-secret Polish Zaolzie Committee and the conspirational Zaolzie Staff were established. The Czech side did not waste time, either, as it engaged in an active propaganda campaign. The Poles in Zaolzie were not allowed to re-activate any pre-war parties, societies or other organizations, treating them as “fascist”. Any property of such organizations was confiscated, as it was considered former German. On the east side of the Olza River a meters-high barbed-wire fence was built and every person attempting to illegally cross the border could end up at Błogocka street where the Border Guard Troops headquartered. The situation of uncertainty lasted for a few months.
It was not until 10th March 1947 that Polish-Czechoslovak pact was signed and although it did not apply to border regulations, it definitely put an end to the period in which local initiatives could affect political decision-making. Its integral part was a report in which the Polish national minority was given the right to establish the Polish Cultural and Educational Society, which for many years remained the only representative of the Polish population that cultivated Polish traditions.
A new administration in Cieszyn was established based on the Act of the State National Council of 11th September 1944 on the organization and the scope of activity of national councils and the Decree of 23rd November 1944 on the organization and the scope of activities of local authorities. The pre-war City Council was replaced by the Municipal National Council. The City Board, headed by the Mayor, became the executive body. The first session of the National Municipal Council was convened on 31st July 1945. The first President of the Council was Jan Lewiński and the first Mayor – the already mentioned Jan Smotrycki. Cieszyn became the district capital, and the first starosts appointed by the Governor were: Jan Łysogórski (until 23rd June 1945) and Paweł Targosz (24th June 1945 – 28th February 1947).
Together with the new authorities, representatives of the communist power apparatus came to Cieszyn. On 12th May 1945, a 48-person group of Secret Political Police officers under the command of Captain Stanisław Siniawski showed up. The Polish Citizen Militia, which had been created on the local initiative, was dissolved, reclaiming weapons and documents from its members. The newly established Citizen Militia had its offices in the National House, while the building of today’s A. Osuchowski High School became home to the Secret Political Police. The majority of the members of the communist government were people from outside Cieszyn, mainly from Zagłębie Dąbrowskie. One of the most important tasks of that period was the national rehabilitation and displacement of the Germans. As early as the 4th November 1944, the decree of the Polish Committee of National Liberation came into force, ordering compulsory internment of everyone who called themselves Volksdeutsche: “every Polish citizen who declared his or her German origins or who used the rights and privileges due to their German origins will be, regardless of criminal liability, apprehended, put in detention for unspecified time (camp) and subjected to forced labour.” Such a policy – establishing forced labour of the Germans and Volksdeutsche – was generally accepted in the society, which vividly remembered the tragic experience of German occupation.
Day of Peace – a parade in 1946 on Cieszyn Market Square (Cieszyn Silesia Museum collection)
By the decree of 28th February 1945 hostile elements were excluded from the Polish society and by the Act of 6th May 1945 rehabilitation before the municipal court of persons included in Deutsche Volksliste (the German People’s List) of II, III and IV category was allowed. People listed under 1st category were not eligible for rehabilitation. Already on 9th February 1945 in the territory of Upper Silesia, the then Silesian Province Governor Jerzy Ziętek ordered registration of the German population to which he classified persons belonging to the I or II Volksliste group. By the order of Governor Aleksander Zawadzki dated 2nd July 1945 persons of German nationality were forbidden to stay in the territory of the then Province of Silesia-Dąbrowa and the rule of signing the so-called declaration of loyalty was introduced. In Srebrna Street in Cieszyn, there was a Temporary Employment Agency, open from 7.00 a.m. to 3 p.m. All the Germans who decided to stay in Cieszyn reported there on a daily basis and were used as free labour, working for the residents of Cieszyn. The majority of active Nazis had run away from Cieszyn together with the retreating German troops. Others, along with those whose names were on the German People’s List of II category, faced rehabilitation trials before the District Civil Verification Committee. Persons who did not agree to the trials or were not rehabilitated, were offered a few dates by which they were obliged to leave the country, however, due to the chaos and misunderstandings in implementation of the regulations from July 1945 to January 1947, 386 people in organized groups were resettled. The last 13 persons resettled in August 1948 were the residents of the Sisters of Mercy of St. Borromeo’s retirement home.
The new authorities, wanting to manifest their power and determination, performed demonstration hearings of the Polish Underground State soldiers in Cieszyn Town Hall. The trials were conducted on away sessions before the District Military Court. The first hearing was held on 14th – 15th June 1946 and ended with six death sentences. On 2nd August 1946 the following persons were executed by firing squad in Cieszyn prison: Karol Bączek alias Karlik (born in 1920), Edward Bąk alias Strzemię (born in 1918), Jan Dziedzic alias Mściciel (born in 1907), Władysław Greń alias Sówka (born 1921), Emil Michnik (born 1919) and Stefan Wójcik (born in 1922). On 4th July 1946 Antoni Zontek (born in 1919) was sentenced to death. On 17th August 1946 a trial of the members of the Home Army unit – Secret Polish Army “Wędrowiec” – was held in Cieszyn. Persons sentenced to death included: Bernard Brandys (born in 1900), Paweł Heczko alias Edek (born in 1906), Robert Kołodziej alias Ojciec (born in 1902) and his son Zygfryd Kołodziej alias Jastrząb (born in 1928), Emil Ruśniok alias Gustlik (born in 1911), Bolesław Sobocik (born in 1910) and Eryk Szmajduch alias Tarzan (born in 1914). Among the people sentenced to death in Cieszyn on 24th October 1946 were Józef Gabzdyl alias Czarny (born in 1924) and Teofil Młotek alias Sowa (born in 1914) and Anna Krużołek (born in 1901). The then President, Bolesław Bierut, did not exercise the right of pardon with respect to any of the convicts.
The opening of Katowice – Cieszyn railway in 1946 (Cieszyn Silesia Museum Collection)
In the years 1945-48 in Czechoslovakia, apart from pro-Moscow communists, the government was formed by pre-war social democratic and peasant party politicians. The Ministry of Internal Affairs, the police and the so-called state power ministries were dominated by the communist party. As a result of its efforts, the majority of right-winged parties faced elimination from political life in addition to gradual limitation of democracy. Between 20th – 25th February 1948 a coup was staged (the so-called Vítězný únor – “victorious February”) and the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia seized power entirely, keeping up the appearances of multi-party political structure and parliamentary democracy system at the same time. President Edvard Beneš approved the new government headed by the Chairman of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, Klement Gottwald. Two months later, the President refused to sign a new, communist constitution and after the parliamentary elections on 30th May, he resigned on 7th June 1948. On 14th June 1948, Klement Gottwald became the President of Czechoslovakia.
In the meantime in Poland in December 1948, the Polish United Workers’ Party was formed by combining the Polish Workers’ Party and the Polish Socialist Party after earlier expulsion of opposition activists from their ranks. The position of the Secretary General was taken by Bolesław Bierut. Władysław Gomułka, who was sceptical about the Soviet Union, was side-lined.
Both in Poland and in Czechoslovakia the year 1948 was marked by complete dominance of communist parties, controlled by Moscow, which for many years set the political order, part of which became the history of Cieszyn and Český Těšín.
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