The Polish veterans after World War II

The Polish veterans after World War II

The Polish-Dutch diplomatic relationship goes back to the sixteenth and seventeenth century and was primarily based on trade. At the outbreak of the war, the Netherlands wanted to keep their neutrality, but abandoned it after the German invasion in May 1940. From that moment on, the Dutch government embraced cooperation with the Western Allies. Minister of Foreign affairs, Eelco van Kleffens, emphasized that recognition and maintaining friendly relations with the Soviet Union should be made policy. The Dutch government was mainly focused on their relationship with the United States and Great Britain, but hoped that Stalin could become a European friend in Asia.

After the war, the Dutch wanted his help to restore order in the Dutch East Indies. Therefore, on 5 June 1942, the Soviet Union was recognized as a state and the policy of the ‘Big Three’ was followed during the war period. As a consequence, the Polish government of national unity was recognized on 5 July 1944, the same day as Great-Britain did. When the war was over, the Dutch interests in Poland were limited to repatriation of Dutch citizens, the nationalization of Dutch enterprises and correspondence about Prince Bernhard’s nationalized castle Reckenwalde.

maczkow
The Polish zone of occupation in the British sector (1945-1948). The area encompasses mainly the German Emsland, bordering the Netherlands. The town of Maczkow (nowadays Haren am Ems) was the Polish cultural and educational centre, albeit temporarily.

In May 1945, about 2,250,000 Displaced Persons (DPs) were wandering around in Germany. The Polish government-in-exile, offered that these persons could fulfill police and guard duties, on behalf of the Allies. Moreover, the 1st Polish Armored Division and elements of the 1st Independent Parachute Brigade (20,000 in total) were also in West Germany, during the German surrender. These military units were tasked by the British to install a zone of occupation in Emsland.

The Polish forces had to perform policing tasks in Emsland and border controls between the Netherlands and Germany. Furthermore, the presence of Polish forces in Emsland had a ‘pull factor’ on the Polish IDPs roaming around in Germany. The number of DPs varied from 231,513 in December 1945 to 76,378 in June 1947. The Poles built a Polish enclave in West Germany and made Mazckow (Haren am Ems) their cultural and educational capital. The occupation of Emsland ended on 26 February 1948 after pressure from the Soviet Union, which categorized these Poles as anti-communist elements.

In July 1945, Clement Attlee, the new Labour statesman was confronted with a war heritage from Churchill, including responsibility for approximately 200,000 Poles who fought with British forces in World War II. An estimated forty to sixty percent of this group was willing to return to Poland, if material demands -like a small allowance and transport- were to be met. The others were placed in a Polish Resettlement Corps (PRC) that would prepare war veterans for return into the British society. However, the population -and the unions- in peace time Britain were less positive on harboring foreign laborers who were doing jobs that British men could also do. Therefore, the demobilized Poles found work in the mining and agricultural areas of the country, or other least wanted jobs. The British government formalized the PRC by passing a law, the Polish Resettlement Act (1947), which was in effect the first post-war mass migration act in the United Kingdom.

In post-war Netherlands the situation was different. A relatively small amount of Poles chose to stay in the low countries. It is estimated that 500-1,000 Poles, mostly veterans of the 1st Polish Armored Brigade, settled in communities they liberated (Breda and predominantly in the areas: South-East Drenthe, Twente and East-Groningen). In contrast to the British, the total amount of new Polish migrants shrunk in the Netherlands. Before the war, a community of 5,900 Polish migrants existed, whereas in 1947 it was reduced to 5,100 persons. The reason for the decrease had to do with the general public trend in post-war Netherlands. The Dutch themselves were also migrating to Australia, New-Zealand, Canada and the United States; the Dutch Poles probably followed the same trend.

Although living in the United Kingdom, General Stanisław Maczek had a strong connection to the Netherlands. Besides being a regional hero to the areas he liberated in World War II, he was awarded honorary citizenship from the city of Breda. Recently acquired archive documents show that the Polish general -secretly- received a yearly allowance from the Dutch government, for the rest of his life. He got his allowance, because Mayor Claudius Prinsen of Breda was worried in 1950, after receiving information that Maczek was in a ‘difficult financial situation’. The Polish general was doing unskilled labor to make ends meet. He also had to take care of a chronically ill daughter who needed costly treatment.

ziek2
The Maczek family: Margaret (left), Sophie (middle) and Stanislaw (right) in 1965,

The mayor of Breda informed the Dutch national government that a war hero was in financial need. He made an appeal to the government to help the man that liberated the Netherlands. The government decided quickly and awarded Maczek an indexed general’s pension, which was paid for by the Ministry of Foreign affairs from a secret budget. The Dutch government did not want this to be made public, due to its sensitive nature. In the Cold War period, announcing that the Dutch were paying a non-communist Polish ex-general, would certainly strain diplomatic relations with the communist Polish government and the Soviet Union. Not to mention, it would confront the British government with a not so proud moment in their history. Uninformed about his improved financial situation, the Dutch public responded at once in 1965 when news came that his chronically ill daughter needed costly medical treatment in Spain. Committedly, the Dutch population raised a substantial amount of money in a national radio broadcast for the Maczek family, helping out the general that liberated them.

In 1972 an appeal was made by the Poolse Katholieke Vereniging in Nederland to the Dutch Parliament. This organization became the voice for the remaining Polish veterans in the Netherlands and asked for compensation of pension lost due to the aftermath of the war. The Dutch Ministry of Defence did not meet this request, based upon the Algemene Militaire Pensioenwet (1966), which stipulates that non-Dutch persons needed to have been associated with the Dutch Armed Forces during the war period, in order to be entitled to a wartime pension.



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De Nederlandse vertegenwoordiging in Londen schatte Maczek’s spaargeld in 1950 op ‘enige honderden ponden’.

NL-HaNA, Buitenlandse Zaken / Code-Archief 65-74, 2.05.313, inv.nr. 25330,verzoekschrift burgemeester van Breda aan Minister van Binnenlandse Zaken inzake verlenen jaargeld aan Maczek, 9 november 1951.

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NL-HaNA, Buitenlandse Zaken / Code-Archief 65-74, 2.05.313, inv.nr. 25330, verzoek van Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken aan afdeling Algemeen Maatschappelijke Zorg t.a.v. Mr. H.M. de Vries, 10 juni 1955.

NL-HaNA, Buitenlandse Zaken / Code-Archief 65-74, 2.05.313, inv.nr. 25330, verzoekschrift van Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken aan de Minister van Cultuur, Recreatie en Maatschappelijk werk, 15 maart 1983.

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NL-HaNA, Buitenlandse Zaken / Code-Archief 65-74, 2.05.313, inv.nr. 25330, onbekend krantenartikel genaamd: ‘Bijna een ton voor dochter van Poolse bevrijder’, 26 oktober 1965.

NL-HaNA, Buitenlandse Zaken / Code-Archief 65-74, 2.05.313, inv.nr. 25330, Verzoek van ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken (Mr. Simons) aan Binnenlandse Zaken omtrent de goedkeuring en geheimhouding van het verlenen van jaargeld aan generaal Maczek, 21 november 1951.

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