Book Reviews Recommended

Destination Siberia

by Marek Jan Chodakiewicz (reviewer)

The Mass Deportation of Poles to Siberia, 1863-1880

by Andrew A. Gentes (author)

A leading expert on imperial Russia’s penal issues, including St. Petersburg’s use and abuse of Siberia as its favorite dumping ground for undesirables, Andrew A. Gentes, has given us a rare treat: a well-researched and trenchantly argued monograph on The Mass Deportation of Poles to Siberia, 1863-1880 (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017). This is a study of Russian deportation policies and the Tsar’s treatment of an imperial minority group (p. viii-ix). Namely, Gentes has focused on an unfashionable minority of the Russian Empire: the Poles. “The mass deportation of Poles between 1863 and 1880 was perhaps the largest forced migration of Europeans prior to World War I. It resulted in thousands upon thousands of personal tragedies, a small minority of which were ever documented” (p. 79). Yet, their harrowing ordeal under Mother Russia’s and Little Father’s (batiushka) Tsar has been grossly neglected lately by English-speaking academia.

The Australian scholar proposes to remedy that and acquits himself very well. He purposefully eschews delving into much detail of the lot of the Poles at home. Instead, he focuses on their exile experience.

Nonetheless, Gentes does provide a short background of the January Uprising of 1863. There were many reasons why the insurgents lost. The Poles were outgunned and outmatched yet they fought against overwhelming odds. A bunch of rag tag guerrillas, most without fire weapons, engaged Europe’s largest army and kept it bloodily occupied for two years. Next, the Russians conducted themselves with ruthless terror, burning, raping, pillaging, and summarily hanging anyone suspected of aiding the rebellion.

Further, despite proclaiming a generous land reform, the insurgents failed to sway the peasants sufficiently. Instead, the Tsar stole their thunder. “Alexander II took steps to definitely resolve the agricultural question. On March 2 (February 18 o. s.) 1864, he issued an ukase. Peasants residing in the Kingdom of Poland received as freeholds all the private and state lands they currently occupied, with no redemptive payments whatsoever. This arrangement not only left Polish peasants in a far better position than their Russian brethren – it deprived many of a cause worth dying for. Largely immune to Romantic calls for patriotism, they had all along been mainly struggling to secure their rights to the land. Most now laid down their pitchforks and scythes and withdrew their support for the insurrection” (p. 70). Still, the fighting raged on until the last unit was destroyed and last insurgents killed, captured, or exiled.

Gentes explains succinctly why the Poles rebelled and, therefore, later found themselves in Siberia. “The Polish intelligentsia’s conception of a messianic national role combined with the szlachta’s belief in the righteousness of their legal and governmental traditions to create what may be called a martyrological politics. This politics led thousands of insurrectionists to sacrifice themselves (both literally and to the wastes of Siberia) in the belief that they were bringing a new world into being. Theirs was a politics of abstraction that crashed onto the rocks of Russian Realpolitik” (p. 44). More specifically, as far as the most dedicated and radical Polish insurgents (“Reds”): “The idea of attacking Russian forces in the depth of winter with only a handful of outdated weapons was little short of madness. Whereas such a confrontation might assure glorious death and martyrdom on behalf of Polish liberty, it offered little hope of securing concrete rewards… Perhaps some convicted themselves that, with God on their side, they would actually defeat the Russians and win independence. But most embraced the martyrology that girded Polish Romanticism, concluding that if they had to die theirs should be deaths that, like those of earlier Polish revolutionaries, would inspire future generations, generations that would eventually, given the unknowable future, win for their countrymen the independence and self-determination now little more than a dream. The sacrifices they were prepared to make would eventuate in a better world for their children” (p. 60). This is pretty much correct as far as insurgent mentality.

Generally, however, Gentes avoids intellectual, psychological, and military inquiries. His is first and foremost a social history of the Polish political prisoners. Most of them were Catholics commoners and conscious Poles, as opposed to nationally oblivious ethnographic peasant material from the lands of partitioned Poland. Most of the protagonists fought in the January Uprising of 1863. They came from various backgrounds and ethnic groups. “However, ethnic Poles accounted for the overwhelming majority of individuals. Whereas I acknowledge in the pages that follow that Lithuanians, Belarusians, Ukrainians, Russians, Jews, and others played roles in the accounts described, I often use ‘Poles’ as a metonymy to collectively refer to the insurrectionists and deportees” (p. xiv).

First, Gentes sets up a broad, Russian imperial framework as it confronted its Polish victims. “The mass deportation of Poles between 1863 and 1880 was one of the most traumatic events in Polish history and perpetuated a tradition of animosity between Poles and Russians. Poles were among the first persons exiled to Siberia as a result of the sixteenth-century wars between Muscovy and Poland-Lithuania” (p. 105). The tradition continued with all the rulers of Russia.

Then, Gentes depicts the Polish experience within the Empire, in particular in Siberia from 1863. According to the Australian scholar, “The book considers the Russian government’s mass deportation of Poles within the context of its expansion of both the exile population and the exile system. It demonstrates that Alexander II not only perpetuated his father Nicholas I’s police state, but significantly expanded it” (p. 8). And again: “Alexander II not only did not disavow Nicholas I’s police practices, [but] he built upon and greatly expanded them. Owning to his erection of labor camps and the wholesale deportation of tens of thousands of Poles, he stands not as the rebuker of the ‘Gendarme of Europe’ but as his political heir” (p. 13).

So much for the Tsar Liberator. In Western academia, this is quite pioneering and iconoclastic. Perhaps notably only Richard Pipes has drawn similar conclusions about the expansion of the police state in Russia in the second half of the 19th century. This does not detract from the Australian scholar’s well-grounded boldness in adding a pinch of salt to the saccharine image of Alexander II. His reign was not a break from Muscovite barbarity, but very much a continuity of it, while, however, endeavoring to reform the system by ushering in efficiency and modernity in its ruthlessness. In fact, Alexander II continued what by the middle of the 17th century became “a unique and distinct path” for Russia. It was then that Muscovy formally “increasingly subordinated society’s interests to those of the state. And because the state could terrorize all of society through Siberian exile’s very existence, it became a fulcrum upon which tyranny hinged” (p. 22).

The system achieved its pre-Communist perfection in the second half of the 19th century. The rule was always to cleanse the heart of the empire from undesirables and troublemakers by dumping them in Siberian fringes. “The mass deportation of Poles between 1863 and 1880 similarly denoted a reactive use of exile” (p. 31). Deportation statistics speak for themselves. Whereas between 1807 and 1861, the Russian government dispatched 336,737 persons to Siberian exile (or 8,213 per year on the average), in the last 16 years of Alexander II’s reign (1865-1881) as many as 267,462 unfortunates were sent to the far eastern wastes of the Empire. If we include earlier deportations under his reign, then the average for the period between 1861 to 1881 would be 15,733 prisoners per annum. In 1886, only in the Irkutsk administrative region, there were 28,406 exiles. Partial data from that area shows a preponderance of males over females, but not overwhelming. Among the so-called forced settlers (ssyl’no-poselentsy), there were 5,530 women and 12,540 men (p. 6-7).

Between 1861 and 1881, the largest single category of political prisoners in Siberia were the Poles. “Virtually all of the deportees were male. But some women were caught up in the maelstrom”     (p. 105). Most of the exiles tended to be insurgents or suspected insurgents, as well as persons accused of aiding and harboring the buntovschiki. This last category included priests, who either preached patriotic sermons, or helped the needy, including tending the wounded and feeding and sheltering the freedom fighters. “Alexander II also approved of the exile, imprisonment, and execution of hundreds of priests. Those Western Provinces with the highest number of Catholic clergy tended to have disproportionately high deportation rates between 1863 and the end of 1866” (p. 210). Our own relative, Father Jan Chodakiewicz of Korycin outside of Wilno was transported east for such reasons and remained in Galich, Kostromskaya Gubernya, as late as 1880, for example.

Gentes unequivocally sees all this as “ethnic cleansing” of the Poles by the Russian government (p. 63), and “reflected government efforts to de-polonize the Western Provinces” (p. 213). This was particularly harsh in the so-called Seized Lands (Pol.: Ziemie Zabrane) in the Eastern Borderlands. “Half of all the insurrectionists deported to Siberia originated in the Western Provinces, where the ethnically Polish population was smaller than that of even the Jews, let alone Lithuanians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians” (p. 85).

The middle noble Chodakiewiczes, who had lost their lands in the Grodno Gubernya and the estate of Janapol in Raduń Parish, the County of Lida, Nowogródek Land, in the wake of the Uprising of November 1830, disappeared from the area altogether in the wake of 1863. And so did the Chodakiewiczes of the petty nobility hamlet of Wilkańce Wielkie in Ejszyszyki Parish, the County of Lida, who also had their noble status stripped from them by the Tsar. However, similarly ruthless measures applied elsewhere in occupied Poland. Our relatives of northern Mazovia, the Dobrzyńskis, were transported en bloc for having fought in the uprising and for aiding the insurgents in 1863.

Entire nobility hamlets and neighborhoods were razed to the ground and their inhabitants dispatched to Siberia. For example, in 1865 alone 12,035 were deported from the Seized Lands, including 7,557 commoners (prostoliudiny) and 4,478 nobility (p. 94-95). At the end of 1867, 7,109 insurgents arrived in Siberia, and most of them were noblemen – 4,252 (p. 132). In 1868-1869 over 9,000 were exiled from the whole of the Russian partition. The last convoy containing 46 “criminals” sentenced to Siberia for their part in the January Uprising, departed from the Polish lands to the far north of the Empire on July 16, 1880. There was no forgiveness (p. 106).

But there is an important qualification as far as social composition of the exiles. These are obviously official Russian statistics. They exclude, therefore, all disenfranchised nobility. Since the rulers of Russia, starting with Catherine the Great, removed large numbers of petty nobles (zasciankowcy) from nobility rolls, we must assume that at least some of the prisoners listed as “commoners” were, in fact, disenfranchised petty nobility, in particular from Seized Lands.

Sometimes the members of insurgent families, women in particular (wives, sisters, or fiancées), who were not implicated in political cases, petitioned the authorities to join the convicted men voluntarily in exile.  Once in a blue moon, the government was forced to reconsider the deportation because of the overwhelming scale of the enterprise. For example, in May 1864, “the ‘greater part’ of relatives of insurrectionists scheduled to be exiled from the northwestern provinces of Minsk, Vitebsk, Mogilev, Vil’na, Grodno, and Kovno had announced their intention to follow their loved ones. Because of the huge numbers involved in this potential diaspora, [Minister of the Interior Pyotr A.] Valuvev ruled that insurrectionists already sentenced to exile from these provinces would instead be allowed to serve their sentences at home, apparently under arrangements similar to house arrest” (p. 102). This was exceptional, though. But it also demonstrated that the Minister could override even the almighty General Mikhail Muraviev – “The Hangman” (Veshatyel).

Most Poles were not sentenced to Siberia by civil courts. Many fell under the jurisdiction of military courts which were much more ruthless. But it seems that as far as an overwhelming majority of the exiles, Russia dispensed with any court system at all. Instead, the Poles suffered the arbitrariness of administrative exile. Not judges but bureaucrats decided their fate. This system was soon extended from the occupied Polish lands to the rest of the Empire (p. 8).

The ordeal of the prisoners started at the outset of the trek east and north. Sometimes the prisoners had to walk in chains all the way to their destination occasionally taking as much as two years on the road; at other times, the prisoners rode in carts or sailed in boats at least part of the way.  Although there were many decent convoy officers, and even more corrupt ones who were willing to set the severe rules aside for a bribe, in some cases the brutality of the guards was palpable. In earlier days “Siberia’s governors shanghaied Cossacks and Bashkirs to serve as convoy guards who then beat, dragged, or kicked their charges from one ramshackle way-station to the next… The march into exile was worse than the labor itself.” (p. 108). Probably the death rate was highest en route. On the other hand, it was surprisingly low in Siberia. “The best explanation for the apparently low mortality rates is that the insurrectionists tended to be young and, compared to the average Russian exile, much healthier” (p. 117).

There were a number of categories of the deportees. The most-unlucky ones were sentenced to hard labor (katorga). That could entail slaving away in a gold mine chained to a wheelbarrow for 25 years. When the sentence was up, the victim had to continue indefinitely in Siberia as a permanent forced settler. A number of exiles served their punishment out as forced settlers only (na poselene). Others, having been stripped of their noble titles, were dispatched “to live” in Siberia (zhyt’), which was a less restrictive form of forced settlement limited to some of the szlachta (p. 94).

Some of the exiles were lucky to be able to parley their education and skills into marketable jobs that eased their predicament, at times even significantly as the exiles worked as tutors to prominent officials or merchants as well as engineers in mining and industries. A few reinvented themselves as geographers, geologists, and naturalists in situ. Most, however, eked out a miserable existence.  That was one of the main reasons why the Poles fought strenuously to get from the Siberian countryside to urban areas. The city presented more opportunities to improve one’s lot.

Often, in the countryside in particular, the deportees were pretty much left to their own devices. This usually had to do with the chaotic nature of Russia’s administrative system. Confusion reigned supreme. “No single government entity was in charge of either katorga or the political criminals”   (p. 157). Further, there was the customary ruthlessness. “In many cases Russian officials – from the top to the bottom – acted cruelly toward the Poles” (p. 79).  Most of the time cruelty competed with incompetence within the Russian Siberian bureaucracy. “In addition to mixing them up and not being able to count them, Siberian officials routinely lost track of exiled insurrectionists” (p. 121).

However, sometimes low ranking officials actually showed generosity to the insurgents, supporting them with government funds without any authorization (p. 145). “Conditions within katorga varied from place to place and depending upon the commander in charge” (p. 164). For example, the insurgents referred to the Irkutsk Saltworks on the island of Usol’e as “Arcadia,” and they were not kidding (p. 164). “The Poles created their own self- regulating body” and “a mutual aid society,” which taught languages and supported other intellectual pursuits (p. 165). On the other hand, “conditions at Troitskii [saltworks] were particularly harsh” (p. 164).

Overall, the Russian bureaucrats were overwhelmed. “By 1864, faced with the tsunami of Polish insurrectionists, as well as additional thousands of [Russian] criminal and administrative exiles,…[the local] handful of underpaid, semiliterate clerks found themselves in a worse position than ever. Besides their own incompetence, these civil servants’ bribe-taking, embezzling, and ignorance of simple accounting and filing procedures hampered… [the operations] from top to bottom” (p. 119). As a result of this, the arrival of the insurgents and others “led to the Siberian exile system’s collapse… The government had no realistic plans as to what to do with these people once they arrived” (p. 101).

According to Gentes, “relations between the Poles and Siberians were both confrontational and amicable” (p. 136). They reflected the individual personalities of the insurgents as well as the general predicament the unfortunates found themselves in.  “The vast majority of exiles remained unaccompanied young men, and the paucity of female Poles would play a significant role in their inability to establish themselves as agricultural peasants” (p. 105). There was no infrastructure, and hardly any provisions for them. There were no resources to support them. The ex-insurgents had no means to make a viable living as farmers. Further, St. Petersburg and its local officials mandated that the Siberian locals (both indigenous and Russian colonist) maintain the exiles.

This created a lot of tensions. “Many a displaced aristocrat drowned himself in vodka or committed suicide rather than face another mind-numbing winter cooped up with such earthly folks [Siberians]. Polish exiles’ superciliousness and aloofness… find no mention in Soviet-era histories; yet, theirs were all too human responses by the victims of an imperial, foreign government. That some Poles disdained anyone associated with this government, including such other oppressed minorities as the Iakuts, is understandable. But this made the sojourns of many that much more difficult to endure”(p. 134).

On the other hand, the way the Siberian peasants looked at the Poles was that “onto this hard-working, self-sufficient rural populace the government cast thousands of predominantly young, urban bachelors who possessed neither the knowledge, stamina, nor desire to embrace a farming life, much less one conducted under sub-arctic conditions” (p. 131). The locals resented the Polish exiles as penniless interlopers and freeloaders. Even if they did not, what could have been done for the insurgents? “There were so many needy Polish exiles that peasants could not help them all” (p. 139). Some of the Poles, in turn, regarded their new neighbors not as fellow unfortunates, but as snitches and stooges of the regime. Indeed, many of the locals informed on the former insurgents. They even helped re-capture fugitives.

Under the circumstances, although a number of brave souls did try to escape, only very few succeeded. The Poles also rebelled with very slim results, including the staging of a major uprising of the Balkai-Circle Road on 25 June 1866. “Their refusal to suffer through another dreadful winter with insufficient supplies, eking out an existence in ‘knee-deep snows’ and overcrowded barracks, is the most persuasive explanation for why the Circle-Road Revolt occurred” (p. 187). The aim was to route the guards, which worked out. Some wanted to escape abroad; others fantasized about taking over Siberia and freeing all political prisoners. And further, “It is undoubtedly true that many Polish exiles, particularly educated noblemen, had a sense of human rights and believed theirs were being trampled on by the Russians” (p. 191).

A corrective: virtually all Poles, educated and uneducated, had a notion of human dignity which stems from Christianity. How much Catholicism propelled them should be clear to Gentes who recognizes that, in the wake of the Circle-Road Revolt, one of the demands of the Akatui strikers in 1866 was to keep Sunday free of work as a holyday (p. 192). The same postulate rang through the strike of solidarity in the Kadaia mine: “No human power can compel us to go to work [on Sundays and Christian holidays], and that is our last and final word” (p. 193). Christianity explicated honor, dignity, and freedom for the prisoners.

The notion of “human rights” sounds anachronistic and rings outright false as a secular invention rather alien to the Polish insurgents, who derived their idea of freedom from ancient practice in the old Commonwealth and not from abstract constructs of the revolution in France. Honor was involved as well. “These and other acts of resistance originated out of a sense of honor offended…. Moreover, many of these and other lesser acts of defiance involved almost exclusively noblemen and not commoners”         (p. 193). Does it mean that the szlachta was more prickly than their non-noble comrades in arms? Perhaps they were more acutely aware of their rights and could explicate their beliefs better. As for the feelings about such matters, they were common to all conscious Poles, including insurgents of common stock. That is called, for better or worse, the szlachetczyzna, a general attitude manifesting itself in a trickling down effect where those who identify with the Polish culture internalize both the vices and attributes of the nobility. That is one of the most important national traits of the Poles.

Gentes, however, does not quite get it: “But in the case of the Circle-Road Revolt the rebels were acting out of desperation, out of a real need to protect not their rights or honor but their lives” (p. 191).  Is life worth that much if it is devoid of honor and rights? Perhaps for some this particular issue can be treated as a chicken and egg situation. What triggers our desperation? Only a fight for survival? That would be too logical. Gentes himself has noted that Romanticism propelled the Polish insurgents into a hopeless battle in January 1863. Suddenly, in June 1865, did they turn hard-headed realists? Generally, however, “viewed in toto, Polish exiles’ escapes, strikes, and insubordination did not reflect conspiracies so much as they did widespread contempt for the oppressors” (p. 184). That is precisely called honor. No Pole gets down on his knees and begs the Muscovites cravenly for anything. Resist, even when resistance is futile: that is the Polish way. “But whether they were noblemen or not, many Poles found their treatment by uncouth guards and foremen intolerable. More than anything they were rebelling against humiliation” (p. 193-194). Now Gentes seems to get it. But he fails to dot the “i.” Humiliation is an assault on human dignity. Ergo, it is anti-Christian and, thus, anti-freedom.

At any rate, another way to get out of Siberia was to either passively await an amnesty or pursue actively an act of clemency. Tsar Alexander II issued a number of partial and haphazard amnesties for the sake of “economic and administrative expediency” (p. 204). General amnesties usually happened upon the death of a Tsar; but even then a succeeding Russian monarch was rather averse to forgive the Polish rebels. Yes, upon his ascension to the throne in 1881, Alexander III “freed all remaining insurrectionists associated with the January Uprising” (p. 221). But there were strings attached. Even after obtaining their freedom, before they could depart, “such exiles first had to pay back any tax arrears and loans they owed, as well as reimburse the state for any financial assistance they had received. These strictures prevented many from repatriating” (p. 214).

Almost all had had to receive state assistance in one form or another or they would have died of starvation when dumped unceremoniously in Siberia at first. Now many were in no position to pay, for they did not enrich themselves in exile. That also meant that many, who were ostensibly amnestied, were stuck in Siberia forever. Most got married to Russian or indigenous women and settled down. But they could not be considered full-fledged Russian subjects unless they converted to Orthodoxy.

Arguably the most famous of the remain behind characters was Count Michał Jankowski, who made a fortune trading with the Chinese; he surrounded himself with Korean bodyguards and bought a hunting estate outside of Vladivostok, where he entertained, among others, a Swiss friend, Jules Briner, who would bring along his little grandchild, future Hollywood star Yul Brynner (p. 223). The last Polish insurgent of 1863, Ludwik Piekarski, was killed in Siberia by the Bolsheviks in 1923 (p. 224).

The lucky ones, who either paid off their debt themselves or had their relatives in Poland bail them out, were moving away but painfully slowly. “The repatriation of Polish exiles therefore proceeded at a snail’s pace due to the red tape that hampered nearly everything in Russia” (p. 214). An exception was made for foreign citizens who participated in the Uprising. Hardly any served a full sentence. Most were shortly expedited home. As for the rest, after a while, “once the floodgates were open the repatriation of thousands of Polish exiles quickly assumed the same chaotic proportions as their removal” (p. 220).

Acts of clemency could be sometimes obtained by some of the well-heeled exiles, the aristocrats and upper middle ziemianie in particular, with good family connections at the court in St. Petersburg. To an extent, higher “noblemen received preferential treatment over commoners” (p. 110). The privileged approach usually started with sentencing, regarded transporting of the prisoner, concerned the categorizing of the type of exile, and pertained to choosing the location of the final destination. “The nobles who accounted for just over 60% of all exiled insurrectionists were more likely to be sentenced to compulsory settlement rather than the katorga, in which category they were underrepresented by 20%” (p. 152). Further, 82.1% of those who landed in much desired provincial capitals and 92.3% who ended up in district centers happened to be noble (p. 133). As far as that is concerned, however, it was usually a combination of good luck and official corruption. “Rather than have them waste their skills as failing farmers, local officials understood they could kill two birds with one stone by allowing Poles to move where they could put their skills to use, and by alleviating themselves of responsibility for maintaining them” (p. 142).

From the point of view of efficiency, the exile was an absolute waste of time and resources. “The Romanovs failed to learn that neither coercion nor largesse could transform deportees into productive peasants.” The official Russian policy vis-à-vis “the Polish insurrections would reflect the conflict between the sovereign’s need to demonstrate retributive power and the state’s need to rehabilitate and derive service from prisoners. The traditions of statecraft and penology that were embodied within Siberian exile dictated the Polish exiles treatment” (p. 33). And both were an abject failure. “The immediate consequence of the imperial government’s insertion of thousands of insurrectionists into a penal system that could not accommodate them were as follows: the system collapsed, exiles suffered and died, escapes by the desperate and despairing proliferated” (p. 203).  Nonetheless, Siberia under the Tsar was not the same as the Gulag under the Commissar: “at first blush it would therefore seem that if a Pole survived the march-route into Siberia and either his term in katorga or the countryside, he had a good chance of being able to return home. However, he would have had to return the way he came, along the same march-route with prisons, way-stations, embezzling guards, and common criminals. How many more Poles died attempting to repatriate will never be known” (p. 226).

Andrew Gentes’ general conclusion is pretty sad: “Like many tyrannical systems, such as that in British India, Russia’s survived thanks in large part to society’s cooperation in its own subjugation”       (p. 7). By and large, the Russian peasants and other downtrodden chose not to rebel against the Tsarist authority in Siberia. So the system endured. At least the Poles did not put up with it. And they paid the price.

It is only at the end of this superb monograph that we encounter trouble. It is true that the January Uprising and the repressions that followed meant “the perpetuation of enmity between Poles and Russians” (p. 232). But then a hitherto solid historian turns silly: “had Poland’s leaders sufficiently trusted the Russians to establish an alliance with them after World War I, they would have been able to unite against a common enemy. The Soviet Union might have safeguarded Poland’s territorial integrity rather than joined Nazi Germany to violate it in 1939. Following Communism’s eventual collapse, Poland joined NATO and the European Union. This has allowed Russia to lump it together with its other perceived foes in the West. To this day, enmity between Poles and Russians contributes to a lack of stability in Eastern Europe” (p. 232).

This is an astonishingly ignorant take on geopolitics and ideology, which requires little debunking. First, Communist dogma dictated the crushing of Christian Poland on the way to world revolution in 1920. Second, Soviet rapacity led Stalin to gobble up Poland jointly with Hitler in 1939 and then on his own again in 1945. The Kremlin dictator would have not “safeguarded Poland’s territorial integrity” without Sovietizing it. That would make that territory a prison, as it did for nearly 50 years. This awkward piece of silliness should have been excised by a thoughtful editor, and it’s a great pity it was not, for it casts an unwarranted shadow of doubt on the author’s overall scholarship.

Further, aside from the aforementioned silly hiccup of naivete, the Australian scholar raises an interesting, if unrealistic point along the lines of idealism: “The West’s failure to act more decisively and strongly on behalf of humanitarian principles during the 1860s helped pave the way for the depredations against Poland during the twentieth century. Both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany learned that they could have their way with Poland and that Western Europe would likely accede to this” (p. 234).  Short of a European war against the three partitioning powers nothing would have freed Poland in 1863. And who was going to fight it? France alone? Then, as always, no one was ready to die for Warsaw but the Poles.

Overall, the weakest point of Gentes’ monograph is that it lacks a Polish language editor. Otherwise, The Mass Deportation of Poles to Siberia, 1863-1880 is a rare treat in post-modern academia, whose offerings tend to be thick on theory and thin on facts. Even in 19th century scholarship its main industry, as far as Poland, tends to single out the victims as either bystanders or alleged perpetrators against other inhabitants of those lands. Gentes’ contribution has made a major dent in such arguments.


Marek Jan Chodakiewicz

Washington, DC, 23 May 2020

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