HL Deb 15 December 1942 vol 125 cc555-64

THE EARL OF ELGIN AND KINCARDINE moved to resolve, That this House, having learnt with indignation and horror that during their occupation of Poland the authorities of Hitlerite Germany have, for no crime other than that of being Poles, officially executed over 140,000 men and women, tortured many more in prisons and concentration camps, deported 1,500,000 to slave labour in Germany, and robbed over 2,000,000 in the Western provinces of all they possessed and before expelling them to Central Poland, thus in every way outraging both International Law and the laws of humanity itself, expresses to the Polish people its heartfelt admiration for their inspiring example of continuous and unflinching fortitude, protests in the name of civilization against the policy of deliberate extermination of the Polish people and pledges its word to heroic Poland that her sacrifice will not be in vain and that due retribution for all these crimes will unfailingly be exacted.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, the Motion which stands in my name is one of considerable length. It has been on the Order Paper of your Lordships' House for a considerable time, and I think it will need only a very few words of mine to receive general accord from your Lordships. I have endeavoured in the terms of the Motion, which have been vouched for by the Ministry of Information of Poland, to show to your Lordships the vastness of the problem, and I do not intend now to recapitulate the figures which are given in the Motion, or to go through the charges of horrors seriatim. I feel quite certain that your Lordships have seen in the public Press, and have heard from the lips of those who spoke at the various services during the last few days, enough to enable you to realize the atrocities which have been committed throughout Poland. Only last week the most reverend Prelate, the Archbishop of York, referred to this subject in these words: In Poland there is taking place one of the most appalling outrages that the whole history of the world has ever seen. We are watching the deliberate and cold-blooded massacre of a nation. He was referring specially to the Jews, but the massacres and the atrocities are by no means confined to the Jews. The mere fact of being a Pole is quite sufficient for the Nazis to determine to exterminate a person.

In any appeal to force, whether it be an individual quarrel or a quarrel among nations, there must be suffering, but in the centuries that have gone by there has grown up an international code of honour, International Law, which has endeavoured to prevent outrages of bestiality, outrages against civilized people. In the war in which we are at present engaged, that International Law has been ignored. The facts which I have narrated in the Motion prove it. In order in some way to compromise the situation, a large part of Poland was declared by the German Reich at the beginning of the war to be annexed and not to form part of Poland. It was that part of Western Poland which includes Pomerania, Posnia and Upper Silesia, in which there lived at that time about 10,000,000 Poles and 600,000 Germans. Hitler's Germany decreed that in a short space of time there would not even be one single Pole found in that country. In addition to the massacres which have taken place there have been, as your Lordships are aware, wholesale deportations. I would only make one remark on the figures which I have quoted in the Motion, and that is that there is no finality in them. In the last few weeks we have witnessed a speeding up that has been terrific.

That is the situation which I ask your Lordships to consider at this moment. I could enumerate quite a number of other atrocities, but I wish to emphasize two points in he Motion and to ask that it may receive your general acceptance. The first is that we have three times given a solemn pledge to Poland. We gave a solemn pledge to Poland when we entered the war, a pledge given by Our late Prime Minister, Mr. Chamberlain. That was repeated by our present Prime Minister, and again on his behalf by the Foreign Secretary. I have in my hand a letter written by the Foreign Secretary, dated 20th July last, in which this sentence occurs: These crimes will not be forgotten by the United Nations when the clay of reckoning comes, and, as you know, the Prime Minister has already announced that retribution for such crimes must take its place among the major purposes of the war. Since that letter was written we have had a declaration given to us in this House by the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack. That is the first point—the solemn sanctity of the pledge which we have given.

Secondly, I wish your Lordships to appreciate the courage and determination of Poland itself. This can be illustrated over and over again. We heard with pride of that wonderful feat of seamanship which brought the submarine "Orzel" out of the Baltic and allowed her to take an active place in the fleet fighting for liberty. Only a few clays ago I had the privilege of standing on the deck of a new destroyer built in one of our own yards and handed over to Polish sailors. The Polish flag was hoisted on the ship and one could not help being impressed by the feeling of dauntless courage in face of danger which inspired every member of the crew. Repeatedly we have heard of the magnificent exploits of the Polish Fighter Squadron which knows no danger, which has a record equal to that of any of our squadrons of the Royal Air Force in achievement. But my own personal association has been more with the men of the Polish Army. Among them I have found a spirit of courtesy, courage, culture and chivalry second to none, and in all cases it has been backed by a deep sense of religious faith, intense belief that the spirit of Poland cannot die.

That spirit is a spirit which lives because it has faith and because it believes in something higher than worldly possessions or even than life itself. It is a spirit which repeats that declaration which all Scotsmen look back to with pride, that declaration of the Scottish Parliament assembled in Arbroath in 1320: "We fight not for riches, wealth or honour, but for that liberty without which no virtuous man can survive." That spirit lives and it lives in spite of the terrible background which these atrocities make in the lives, in the minds, and in the hearts of the individual Polish sailors, soldiers and airmen who are with us here. In spite of the fate of their own families and loved ones, the fate possibly of their own homes, in spite of what is happening and what is going to happen, in spite of all that there is no tendency to despair. Their motto rather is "Be strong and of good courage."

I wish your Lordships had been with me on one or two of those occasions when I have had the opportunity of listening to the Polish choir. I wish I could have invited that Polish choir to be present at the Bar of your Lordships' House and have given to you their rendering of "A hundred pipers an' a' an' a'". You would have got from that an inspiration of freedom, of liberty, of courage, and of the spirit that never dies. It is an honour to stand beside and co-operate with such an Ally, to proclaim emphatically that our pledge must be redeemed. It is in that sense that I ask your Lordships to-day to accept this Motion. I have been advised by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Maugham, whose judgment on matters of law stands very high, that I ought to omit one sentence in this Motion. It is the sentence at the end which pledges Poland that her sacrifice will not be in vain. That perhaps, my Lords, is not in our hands. But I believe I can sum up this Motion even better in four words—" We salute you, Poland". I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That this House, having learnt with indignation and horror that during their occupation of Poland the authorities of Hitlerite Germany have, for no crime other than that of being Poles, officially executed over 140,000 men and women, tortured many more in prisons and concentration camps, deported 1,500,000 to slave labour in Germany, and robbed over 2,000,000 in the Western provinces of all they possessed and before expelling them to Central Poland, thus in every way outraging both International Law and the laws of humanity itself, expresses to the Polish people its heartfelt admiration for their inspiring example of continuous and unflinching fortitude, protests in the name of civilization against the policy of deliberate extermination of the Polish people, and pledges its word to heroic Poland that her sacrifice will not be in vain and that due retribution for all these crimes will unfailingly be exacted—(The Earl of Elgin and Kincardine.)


My Lords, I have little doubt that the Government spokes-man will recommend to your Lordships ready acceptance of this Resolution, but I could riot let pass the opportunity to associate myself with the very eloquent words in which my noble friend has moved this Motion. I do so because since 1922 it has so chanced that I have had occasion to be in very close contact with Poland. I have gone there a great deal each year, I have travelled through every part of Poland and so, during a period which now amounts to twenty years, I have been in very close contact with Poland since she became a Republic. Apart from that, visits to that part of Congress Poland which was formerly in Russian occupation before the last war, gave the opportunity of realizing how the Polish spirit was still alive all that time. It is for that reason that I admire the manner in which, with a brevity that was admirable, my noble friend made the best possible use of his time to represent to your Lordships the heroism of Poland.

There can be no lack of knowledge on the part of your Lordships of what has been published to support the story of the horrors perpetrated in that country. A Resolution of protest coming from this high platform and published throughout the world must have great effect. One could wish that it could do more and that something practical would follow immediately from the Resolution. But the next best thing is to let it be known throughout the world that from this high source comes a Resolution of this kind. My noble friend used words that could not be sufficiently emphatic in the indictment of the things of which he complains. He spoke with an emotion which could not be more fully justified. For these reasons, I wish to associate myself with this Motion and to express the hope that the eloquence with which it has been put will carry the House with it.


My Lords, I will not detain your Lordships for more than a few moments at this late hour, but I should like to associate myself also with the Motion which has been so movingly submitted by my noble friend the Earl of Elgin. We are, as has been said—by the Archbishop of Canterbury, I think, certainly by somebody of that kind—in the presence of national crime which has no parallel in history. Certainly it has no parallel in many centuries of history. These are not just casual massacres and outrages committed by victorious troops. Such things have no doubt occurred on other occasions, and they are, of course, terrible in themselves. But here we have a quite deliberate attempt to extirpate the Polish people from a considerable part of what is now Poland. Obviously it has been planned most carefully, and it is being carried out by the wholesale massacre of men, women and children, by wholesale deportations carried out in such a way that miserable inhabitants of Poland have been removed to other countries practically without any form of support. Often these poor people have been deported, I read in the papers, without being allowed to take with them anything except the clothes which they stand up in. And not only have such things as these, horrible and deplorable as they are, taken place, but there has been a deliberate attempt to destroy everything that speaks of Polish history or Polish culture or Polish learning. Never has anything so cold-blooded, so brutal, so utterly damnable been done as the things that have been done by the German Forces and the German Government in this matter. They have destroyed many of Poland's universities, many of the Polish national monuments, many of the Polish libraries. All that has been done quite deliberately with the desire to destroy Polish life and Polish history.

I must not detain your Lordships now, but there is much more that might be said on this topic. I will content myself by saying that I, too, desire to associate myself heartily in the admiration so properly expressed by my noble friend for the immense courage displayed by the Poles in face of these terrific disasters. I cannot help feeling that the courage of the people who, sitting alone in their cottages or other dwellings, suddenly find themselves whirled off to torture and death, is perhaps greater than even the courage displayed on the field of battle. I venture, very heartily indeed, to express my admiration for all that the Poles, and indeed other nations and other peoples, have done. Do not let us forget, when speaking of the Poles, that their sufferings afford only one example of the horrors which have been perpetrated. When the most reverend Prelate the Archbishop of York spoke the other day he referred to the sufferings which have been imposed upon the Jews with equally great brutality, with equally great cruelty and with as much destruction as has been displayed in dealing with the Poles. No doubt we are in the presence of an outbreak of evil which has never been equalled, so far as I know, in the history of the world.

I hope and trust that the Government will find some means of making some kind of protest—I do not know what form it should take for the position is extremely difficult—to express the horror of our people at any rate for all these things that have been done. And, when the war is over, retribution must be made. But retribution, though it is necessary and proper, and will, I trust, be exacted with great solemnity and great determination, will, after all, not restore what the Poles have lost, nor will it wipe the tears from the eyes of those who are now mourning what they have lost.


My Lords, I, too, shall detain the House for a very few moments only at this late hour. I have no doubt that this Resolution will meet with the greatest sympathy from everyone, but the passing of such a Resolution, admirable as it may be in itself, does not alter the evil to which reference is made. I have been wondering whether the spokesman for His Majesty's Government would be able to say something by way of suggesting anything that can be done. I happen to be Chairman of the Refugee Children's Movement, and I would say that, however much we may sympathize with the sufferings of the adults, even more must we sympathize with the sufferings of the children. I am quite sure that that movement, if it were practicable, would assist, by its organization, in any way that was consonant with the plans or practicabilities of the situation. I hope His Majesty's Government may be able, in addition to rendering sympathy, to give some hope that in spite of the immense difficulties of transport and of the situation generally, something practical may be the outcome of that sympathy.


My Lords, on behalf of His Majesty's Government I gladly accept and support the Motion so eloquently moved by the noble Earl to-day. Poland has the eternal glory of having been the first country to bar the way of Hitler's aggression and to choose honour instead of servitude. Poland's record in this respect is indeed particularly honourable. Your Lordships will remember that she went to every length to try to live peaceably with her great German neighbour. You will remember that she even went to the length of entering into a Non-aggression Pact. We know that, in joining in that Pact, Hitler was merely pursuing his now well-known technique of first deceiving and disarming his victim while he was meditating an attack upon her. Then Germany turned against Poland on a series of trumped-up charges, and threw the whole of the carefully-prepared might of the German Reich against the neighbour to whom only a few months previously she had sworn solemn oaths of eternal friendship. We remember the magnificent gallantry with which the Poles, armed with inadequate weapons, fought against the onslaught of the German aircraft and tanks. Since that day, the whole fury of Nazidom has been poured and concentrated on Poland. The attack on Poland did not end in September, 1939; it has been going on ever since, as your Lordships have pointed out. The German Government have employed every method that ingenuity, assiduity and devilry could suggest to break the spirit of the Polish people. But they have not succeeded, and they never will succeed.

Poland has not only the glory of which I have spoken, but has also the glory of never having produced a single Quisling in all these long months of persecution, horror, torture and oppression. Not a single Quisling has come forward to do the dirty work of the German for him. Throughout the whole of this period of unexampled savagery and bestiality, the spirit of the Polish people has remained undaunted. They have carried on the warfare with good heart and with countless deeds of heroism and valour. Every day acts of valour are performed by the Polish people in defence of their rights and their liberties. They have never bowed the knee to the conqueror, and they never will.

In this terrible story, the Jewish citizens of Poland have suffered particularly severely, and I would call the attention of your Lordships to the noble Note addressed by the Polish Government on December 11 to the Allied Governments, denouncing the horrors of the Jewish persecution. His Majesty's Government are actively considering that Note in concert with our Allies, and I can assure your Lordships that there is no measure which it will be open for the Allies to take which we will not be willing to take in defence of the Polish people and of the Jews and other oppressed peoples under the Nazi heel. Any suggestions which the Polish Government can make, or indeed that your Lordships individually can make, to His Majesty's Government will be most carefully and sympathetically considered.

I repeat, these brutal measures have not broken the spirit of the Polish people. Even to-day the German immigrants, who have been imported into Poland in an attempt to supplant the Polish inhabitants, number only some 12 per cent. of the population. Just as Bismarck—who tried the same thing to drive out the Poles and populate the country with Germans—failed, so will Hitler fail. In the face of these horrors, we owe it to Polish heroism and to our Polish comrades to see that justice is done in the end. In the fight that the Poles are waging they are fighting not for their own rights and for their own liberties alone, but for the liberties of mankind as well. Furthermore, as my noble relative, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, said to your Lordships the other day, it is of supreme importance that the rule of law should be re-established in Europe. The rule of law, which used to govern the conduct of wars, has been destroyed by the Nazis. It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of ensuring as far as possible that, after the war, that spirit shall be stamped out, and it is therefore essential that the perpetrators of these outrages shall not be allowed to escape.

Let us make no mistake about it: these outrages have been deliberately organized from the beginning. On October 6, 1939, Arthur Greiser, the Gauleiter of the so-called Wartheland, referring to the German colonists who were being brought to Poland from all the provinces of the Reich, from the Baltic states, from Rumania and from Tyrol, declared: They come down here one and all to wage a merciless struggle against the Polish peasantry. On November 27 of the same year, Albert Forster, the Gauleiter of DanzigWestpreussen, said in a public speech: I have been appointed by the Führer his trusted lieutenant for this area, and it is my duty to assure the final triumph of the German cause in these lands. I have received a clear order to Germanize this part of the country as quickly as possible. As I have said, that effort, so mercilessly pursued, is going to be doomed to failure. The noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack has explained to your Lordships the steps which His Majesty's Government, in concert with our Allies, are taking in order that justice may be brought home to those who are responsible for these atrocities.

I can assure our Polish Allies that the stand that they have made, the fight which they have fought, and the sacrifices which they have borne will not be in vain. I was sorry to hear the noble Earl suggest that he might leave those words out of his Motion. I very much hope that he will not leave them out of his Motion. I would like to put it on record that what Poland has suffered will not be in vain. For a brighter day is dawning. The Polish Army, Navy and Air Force are waging war shoulder to shoulder with their Allies and our Allies, and even now the hour is drawing closer when retribution will fall on the criminals of Europe. The Polish nation led by its great Prime Minister General Sikorski will march to final victory. All our pledges to Poland to which the noble Earl referred will be honoured. Great Britain drew the sword to fulfil the first pledge that we gave to Poland; we shall not sheathe our sword until the last pledge has been fulfilled.

On Question, Motion agreed to.