In the minds of most Poles the geographic term “Siberia” – i.e. the vast expanses of non-European “Russia” – most likely evokes sad images of deportations and death. For many, it symbolizes rudely crushed hopes for a free and independent Poland, along with damage inflicted on Poland by the “Russian Bear.”
During the partition era, Polish patriots who launched unsuccessful uprisings against the Russians were deported to Siberia by the Tsarist authorities. The Soviet Union, in turn, dispatched to its far-flung provinces not only those Poles who actively resisted communist power, but hundreds of thousands of ordinary Poles of all class backgrounds. The frozen soil of “Siberia,” the steppes of Kazakhstan, or the deserts of Central Asia became graves for many Polish deportees.
In his essay, Prof. Chodakiewicz traces the history of Siberian exile in Polish history to the rise of the Muscovite state itself during the fifteenth century, when slave raids into the Polish-Lithuanian state began. Yet, it was the Soviets during the twentieth century who turned “Siberia” into an efficient machine of slavery and extermination which also served as a model for the Nazi apparatus of mass murder.
This essay appears in Polish Poetry from the Soviet Gulags: Recovering a Lost Literature, edited by Halina Abłamowicz.
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, “Siberian Exile in Polish History,” in Halina Abłamowicz, ed., Polish Poetry from the Soviet Gulags: Recovering a Lost Literature (Lewiston, Queenston, and Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2008), 9-82.