The concept of Western betrayal refers to the view that the United States, United Kingdom and France failed to meet their legal, diplomatic, military and moral obligations with respect to the Czech and Polish nations, during the prelude to and aftermath of the Second World War. It also sometimes refers to the treatment of other Central and Eastern Europe nations at the time.
In particular, it refers to Czechoslovakia's treatment during the Munich Agreement and subsequent occupation and partition by Nazi Germany, Hungary (The First Vienna Award), and Poland (Invasion of Zaolzie), as well as the failure of the Western allies to aid Poland upon its invasion by Germany and the USSR in 1939. The same concept also refers to the concessions made by the United States and the United Kingdom to the USSR during the Tehran, Yalta, and Potsdam conferences, to their stance during the Warsaw Uprising, and some other events, which allocated the region to the Soviet sphere of influence and created the Eastern Bloc.
Historically, such views were intertwined with some of the most significant geopolitical events of the 20th century, including the rise and empowerment of the Third Reich (Nazi Germany), the rise of the Soviet Union (USSR) as a dominant superpower with control of large parts of Europe, and various treaties, alliances, and positions taken during and after World War II, and so on into the Cold War.
The perception of betrayal
"Notions of western betrayal" is a reference to "a sense of historical and moral responsibility" for the West's "abandonment of (Central and) Eastern Europe at the end of the Second World War," according to professors Charlotte Bretherton and John Vogler. In Central and Eastern Europe the interpretation of the outcome of the Munich Crisis of 1938, and the Yalta Conference of 1945, as a betrayal of Central and Eastern Europe by Western powers has been used by Central and Eastern European leaders to put pressure on Western countries to acquiesce to more recent political requests such as membership in NATO.
In a few cases deliberate duplicity is alleged, whereby secret agreements or intentions are claimed to have existed in conflict with understandings given publicly. An example is Churchill's covert concordance with the USSR that the Atlantic Charter did not apply to the Baltic states. Given the strategic requirements of winning the war, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had no option but to accept the demands of their erstwhile ally, Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin, at Tehran, Yalta, and Potsdam, argues retired diplomat Charles G. Stefan.
Max Hastings states that Churchill urged Roosevelt to continue armed conflict in Europe in 1945 - but carried out against the Soviet Union, to prevent the USSR from extending its control west of its own borders. Roosevelt apparently trusted Stalin's assurances, and he was unwilling to support Churchill in ensuring the liberation of all of Central and Eastern Europe west of the USSR. Without American backing, the United Kingdom, with its strength exhausted by six years of war, was unable to take any military actions in that part of Europe.
Specific instances sometimes considered to exemplify the concept by historical and contemporary writers include the annexation of most of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany under the Munich Agreement of 1938, the abandonment of the British alliance with Poland during the invasion of Poland of September 1939 and during the Warsaw Uprising against Nazi Germany in 1944, and the acceptance of the Soviet abrogation of the Yalta agreement of 1945. In the latter, the Major Allies against Nazi Germany had agreed to secure democratic processes for the countries that would be liberated from Nazi rule, such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Albania.
There was also a seeming lack of military or political support for the anticommunist rebels during the uprising in German Democratic Republic in 1953, during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, and during the democracy-oriented reforms in Czechoslovakia in 1968 (the so-called "Prague Spring").
According to Ilya Prizel, the "preoccupation with their historical sense of 'damaged self' fueled resentment" towards the west generally and reinforced the western betrayal concept in particular. Grigory Yavlinsky argues that damage to central European national psyches left by the Western "betrayal" at Yalta and Munich remained a "psychological event" or "psychiatric issue" during debates over NATO expansion.
Colin Powell has stated that he doesn't think "betrayal is the appropriate word" regarding the Allies' role in the Warsaw Uprising. While complaints of "betrayal" are common in politics generally, the idea of a western betrayal can also be seen as a political scapegoat in both Central and Eastern Europe and a partisan electioneering phrase among the former Western Allies. Historian Athan Theoharis maintains betrayal myths were used in part by those opposing US membership in the United Nations. The word "Yalta" came to stand for the appeasement of world communism and abandonment of freedom.
The term Western betrayal (Czech: zrada Západu) was coined after the 1938 Munich Conference when Czechoslovakia was forced to cede the mostly German-populated Sudetenland to Germany. The region contained the Czechoslovak border fortifications and means of viable defence against German invasion. Germany invaded and occupied Czechoslovakia a year later.
Along with Italy and Nazi Germany, the Munich treaty was signed by Britain and France - Czechoslovakia's allies. Czechoslovakia was allied by treaty with France, and Great Britain was in turn allied with France, so both countries would be obliged to help Czechoslovakia if it was attacked. The Munich treaty and the subsequent occupation exposed Czechoslovak citizens to the Nazi regime and its atrocities.
Czech politicians joined the newspapers in regularly using the term Western betrayal and it, along with the associated feelings, became a stereotype among Czechs. The Czech terms Mnichov (Munich), Mnichovská zrada (Munich betrayal), Mnichovský diktát (Munich Dictate) and zrada spojenců (betrayal of the allies) were coined at the same time and have the same meaning. Poet František Halas published a poem with verse about "ringing bell of betrayal".
First World War aftermath
In the late 1920s and early 1930s, a complex set of alliances was established among the nations of Europe, in the hope of preventing future wars (either with Germany or the Soviet Union). With the rise of Nazism in Germany, this system of alliances was strengthened by the signing of a series of "mutual assistance" alliances between France, Britain, and Poland (Franco-Polish Alliance and Anglo-Polish Alliance). This agreement stated that in the event of war the other allies were to fully mobilize and carry out a "ground intervention within two weeks" in support of the ally being attacked. Additionally representatives of the Western powers made several military promises to Poland, including such fantastic designs as those made by British General William Edmund Ironside in his July talks with Marshall Rydz-Śmigły who promised an attack from the direction of Black Sea, or placing a British aircraft carrier in the Baltic.
In the commentary on the Anglo-Polish Alliance, Polish publicist Stanisław Mackiewicz wrote in his 1964 book "Polityka Becka" :
England does not need the existence of Poland, it has never needed it. Sometimes the British push us to fight against Russia, sometimes against Germany, as happened in 1939, when they managed to keep Hitler away from them for some time. After their so-called guarantees of March 1939, England was not interested in our army, it did not help us financially in our war preparations, and did not have the slightest intention to aid us during Hitler's invasion of Poland (...) The guarantee of Poland's independence, provided by England, was not a guarantee at all. On the contrary, it was a speculation, whose purpose was the fastest possible liquidation of the Polish state. England wanted Poland to fight Germany first, and to lose that war as quickly as possible, so that Germany would finally face Russia.
Upon the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany in September 1939, Britain and France declared war on Germany. On 3 September a naval blockade of Germany was initiated, and an attempt was made to bomb German warships in harbour on 4 September. Most British bomber activity over Germany was the dropping of propaganda leaflets and reconnaissance. On 4 September, during a Franco-British meeting in France, it was decided that no major land or air operations against Germany would take place, and afterwards French military leader Gamelin issued orders prohibiting Polish military envoys lieutenant Wojciech Fyda and general Stanisław Burhardt-Bukacki from contacting him. In his post-war diaries general Edmund Ironside, the chief of Imperial General Staff commented on French promises "The French had lied to the Poles in saying they are going to attack. There is no idea of it".
The French initiated full mobilization and began the limited Saar Offensive on 7 September but halted short of the German defensive lines and then withdrew to their own defences around 13 September. Poland was not notified of this decision. Instead, Gamelin informed by dispatch marshal Edward Rydz-Śmigły that half of his divisions were in contact with the enemy, and that French advances had forced the Wehrmacht to withdraw at least six divisions from Poland. The Polish military envoy to France, general Stanisław Burhardt-Bukacki, upon receiving the text of the message sent by Gamelin, alerted marshal Śmigły: "I received the message by general Gamelin. Please don't believe a single word in the dispatch". The following day, the commander of the French Military Mission to Poland, General Louis Faury, informed the Polish Chief of Staff, General Wacław Stachiewicz, that the planned major offensive on the western front had to be postponed from September 17 to September 20. At the same time, French divisions were ordered to retreat to their barracks along the Maginot Line.
France and Britain did not launch a full land attack on Germany. Poland was overcome on 6 October.
In November 1943, the Big Three (USSR, US, and the UK) met at the Tehran Conference. President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill officially agreed that the eastern borders of Poland would roughly follow the Curzon Line. The Polish government-in-exile was not a party to this decision made in secret. The resulting loss of the Kresy, or "eastern territories", approximately 48% of Poland's pre-war territory, to the Soviet Union was seen by the London Poles in exile as another "betrayal" by their Western "Allies".
However it was no secret to the Allies that before his death in July 1943 General Władysław Sikorski, Prime Minister of Poland's London-based government in exile had been the originator, and not Stalin, of the concept of a westward shift of Poland's boundaries along an Oder–Neisse line as compensation for relinquishing Poland's eastern territories as part of a Polish rapprochement with the USSR. Dr. Józef Retinger who was Sikorski's special political advisor at the time was also in agreement with Sikorski's concept of Poland's realigned post-war borders, later in his memoirs Retinger wrote: "At the Tehran Conference, in November 1943, the Big Three agreed that Poland should receive territorial compensation in the West, at Germany's expense, for the land it was to lose to Russia in Central and Eastern Europe. This seemed like a fair bargain."
Churchill told Stalin he could settle the issue with the Poles once a decision was made in Tehran, however he never consulted the Polish leadership. When the Prime Minister of the Polish government-in-exile Stanisław Mikołajczyk attended the Moscow Conference (1944), he was convinced he was coming to discuss borders that were still disputed, while Stalin believed everything had already been settled. This was the principal reason for the failure of the Polish Prime Minister's mission to Moscow. The Polish premier allegedly begged for inclusion of Lwów and Wilno in the new Polish borders, but got the following reply from Vyacheslav Molotov: "There is no use discussing that; it was all settled in Teheran."
Since the establishment of the Polish government-in-exile in Paris and then in London, the military commanders of the Polish army were focusing most of their efforts on preparation of a future all-national uprising against Germany. Finally, the plans for Operation Tempest were prepared and on August 1, 1944 the Warsaw Uprising started. The Uprising was an armed struggle by the Polish Home Army to liberate Warsaw from German occupation and Nazi rule.
Despite the fact that Polish and later Royal Air Force (RAF) planes flew missions over Warsaw dropping supplies from 4 August on, the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) planes did not join the operation. The Allies specifically requested the use of Red Army airfields near Warsaw on 20 August but were refused by Stalin on 22 August (he referred to the insurrectionists as "a handful of criminals"). After Stalin's objections to support for the uprising, Churchill telegraphed Roosevelt on 25 August and proposed sending planes in defiance of Stalin and to "see what happens". Roosevelt replied on 26 August that "I do not consider it advantageous to the long-range general war prospect for me to join you in the proposed message to Uncle Joe." The commander of the British air drop, Air Marshal Sir John Slessor, later stated, "How, after the fall of Warsaw, any responsible statesman could trust the Russian Communist further than he could kick him, passes the comprehension of ordinary men."
Various scholars argue that during the Warsaw Uprising both the governments of United Kingdom and the United States did little to help Polish resistance and that the Allies put little pressure on Stalin to help the Polish struggle.
The Yalta conference (February 4 to 11, 1945), initiated the era of Soviet domination of Central and Eastern Europe, which lasted until the end of the Cold War in early 1990s and left bitter memories of Western betrayal and Soviet dominance in the collective memory of the region. To many Polish Americans the Yalta conference "constituted a betrayal" of Poland and the Atlantic Charter. "After World War II," remarked Strobe Talbott, "many countries in the (center and) east suffered half a century under the shadow of Yalta." Territories which the Soviet Union had occupied during World War II in 1939 (with the exception of the Białystok area) were permanently annexed, and most of their Polish inhabitants expelled: today these territories are part of Belarus, Ukraine and Lithuania. The factual basis of this decision was the result of a forged referendum from November 1939 in which the "huge majority" of voters accepted the incorporation of these lands into Western Belarus and Western Ukraine. In compensation, Poland was given former German territory (the so-called Regained Territories): the southern half of East Prussia and all of Pomerania and Silesia, up to the Oder–Neisse line. The German population of these territories was expelled and these territories were subsequently repopulated with Poles expelled from the Kresy regions. This, along with other similar migrations in Central and Eastern Europe, combined to form one of the largest human migrations in modern times. Stalin ordered Polish resistance fighters to be either incarcerated or deported to gulags in Siberia.
At the time of Yalta over 200,000 troops of the Polish Armed Forces in the West were serving under the high command of the British Army. Many of these men and women were originally from the Kresy region of eastern Poland including cities such as Lwów and Wilno. They had been deported from Kresy to the Soviet gulags when Hitler and Stalin occupied Poland in 1939 in accordance with the Nazi–Soviet Pact. When two years later Churchill and Stalin formed an alliance against Hitler, the Kresy Poles were released from the Gulags in Siberia, formed the Anders Army and marched to Persia to create the II Corps (Poland) under British high command.
These Polish troops were instrumental to the Allied defeat of the Germans in North Africa and Italy, and hoped to return to Kresy in an independent and democratic Poland at the end of the War. But at Yalta, Churchill agreed that Stalin should keep the Soviet gains Hitler agreed to in the Nazi–Soviet Pact, including Kresy, and carry out Polish population transfers. Consequently, Churchill had agreed that tens of thousands of veteran Polish troops under British command should lose their Kresy homes to the Soviet Union. In reaction, thirty officers and men from the II Corps committed suicide.
Churchill defended his actions in a three-day Parliamentary debate starting 27 February 1945, which ended in a vote of confidence. During the debate, many MPs openly criticised Churchill and passionately voiced loyalty to Britain's Polish allies and expressed deep reservations about Yalta. Moreover, 25 of these MPs risked their careers to draft an amendment protesting against Britain's tacit acceptance of Poland's domination by the Soviet Union. These members included: Arthur Greenwood; Sir Alec Douglas-Home; Commander Archibald Southby; the Earl of Ancaster and Victor Raikes. After the failure of the amendment, Henry Strauss, the Member of Parliament for Norwich, resigned his seat in protest at the British treatment of Poland.
When the Second World War ended, the Soviets feared an independent and potentially hostile Polish government, and so a pro-Soviet regime was installed. Although president Roosevelt "insisted on free and unfettered" elections in Poland, Vyacheslav Molotov instead managed to deliver an election fair by "Soviet standards." As many as half a million Polish soldiers refused to return to Poland, because of the Soviet repressions of Polish citizens, the Trial of the Sixteen and other executions of pro-democracy Poles, particularly the so-called cursed soldiers, former members of the Armia Krajowa. The result was the Polish Resettlement Act 1947, Britain's first mass immigration law.
Yalta was used by ruling communists to underline anti-Western sentiments. It was easy to argue that Poland was not very important to the West, since Allied leaders sacrificed Polish borders, legal government, and free elections.
With this background, even Stalin looked like a better friend of Poland, since he did have strong interests in Poland. The Federal Republic of Germany, formed in 1949, was portrayed by Communist propaganda as the breeder of Hitler's posthumous offspring who desired retaliation and wanted to take back from Poland the "Recovered Territories". Giving this picture a grain of credibility was that the Federal Republic of Germany until 1970 refused to recognize the Oder-Neisse Line and that some West German officials had a tainted Nazi past. For a segment of Polish public opinion, Communist rule was seen as the lesser of the two evils.
Defenders of the actions taken by the Western allies maintain that Realpolitik made it impossible to do anything else, and that they were in no shape to start an utterly un-winnable war with the Soviet Union over the subjugation of Poland and other Central and Eastern European countries immediately after the end of World War II. It could be contended that the presence of a double standard with respect to Nazi and Soviet aggression existed in 1939 and 1940, when the Soviets attacked eastern part of Poland, and then the Baltic States, and then Finland, and yet the Western Allies failed to become active in the war.
The chief American negotiator at Yalta was Alger Hiss, later accused of being a Soviet spy and convicted of perjuring himself in his testimony to the House Committee on Unamerican Activities. His espionage was later confirmed by the Venona tapes.
At the war's end many of these feelings of resentment were capitalized on by the occupying Soviets, who used them to reinforce anti-Western sentiments within Poland. Propaganda was produced by Communists to show the Soviet Union as the Great Liberator, and the West as the Great Traitor. Moscow's Pravda reported in February 1944 that all Poles who valued Poland's honour and independence were marching with the "Union of Polish Patriots" in the USSR.
Aborted Yalta agreement enforcement plans
At some point of Spring 1944, Churchill had commissioned a contingency military enforcement operation plan (war on the Soviet Union) to obtain "square deal for Poland" (Operation Unthinkable), which resulted in a May 22 report stating unfavorable success odds. The report's arguments included geostrategic issues (possible Soviet-Japanese alliance resulting in moving of Japanese troops from continent to Home Islands, threat to Iran and Iraq) and uncertainties concerning land battles in Europe.
Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Yugoslavia
During the Fourth Moscow Conference in 1944, Soviet premier Joseph Stalin and British prime minister Winston Churchill discussed how to divide various European countries into spheres of influence. Churchill's account of the incident is that Churchill suggested that the Soviet Union should have 90 percent influence in Romania and 75 percent in Bulgaria; the United Kingdom should have 90 percent in Greece; with a 50-50 share in Hungary and Yugoslavia. The two foreign ministers, Anthony Eden and Vyacheslav Molotov, negotiated about the percentage shares on October 10 and 11. The result of these discussions was that the percentages of Soviet influence in Bulgaria and, more significantly, Hungary were amended to 80 percent.
- Bleiburg repatriations
- Eastern European anti-Communist insurgencies
- Lack of outside support during the Warsaw Uprising
- Auschwitz bombing debate
- Soviet repressions against former prisoners of war
- Operation Keelhaul
- Operation Unthinkable
- Perfidious Albion
- Polish Resettlement Corps
- Polish resistance movement in World War II
- Repatriation of Cossacks after WWII
- Vin americanii! The slogan "The Americans are coming" expressed the Romanian expectation for an American intervention against the Soviet occupation.
- Swedish extradition of Baltic soldiers
- Why Die for Danzig?
- World War II Behind Closed Doors: Stalin, the Nazis and the West
Notes and references
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- Diana Kuprel, "How the Allies Betrayed Warsaw". Globe and Mail, Toronto, February 7, 2004
- Ari Shaltiel, "The Great Betrayal". Haaretz, Tel Aviv, February 23, 2004
- Piotr Zychowicz, Pakt Ribbentrop - Beck. Dom Wydawniczy Rebis, Poznań 2012. ISBN 978-83-7510-921-4
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