Yalta & the Fate of Poland

The following remarks are extracted from the proceedings of a seminar held at All Souls College, Oxford, on October 22, 1985. The seminar, one of a series on “The Partition of Europe 1945–1985,” was entitled “Yalta and the Origins of Partition.” The principal speaker was Sir Frank Roberts, G.C.M.G., G.C.V.O., who attended the Yalta conference as a member of the British delegation, being then on the way to take up his post as minister in Moscow, after having been head of the Central Department of the Foreign Office, responsible for Polish and German affairs. The other speakers were Leszek Kolakowski, who was professor of the history of philosophy at Warsaw University from 1959 until his expulsion (for political reasons) in 1968, and is now a fellow of All Souls College; and Dr. Antony Polonsky, who is reader in international history at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

—Edward Mortimer

SIR FRANK ROBERTS: Roosevelt came to Yalta with his priorities definitely the war against Japan and the United Nations. The future of Eastern Europe obviously suffered from these priorities and Yalta has always been regarded since mainly in the light of the decisions that were there taken on Eastern Europe. Now, rather oddly in my view because there were after all many Americans of Polish origin even of the first generation in America, Roosevelt had never throughout the war shown a very keen or sympathetic interest in the Polish problem…and he really did leave it to Churchill to fight the Polish battle. And in a way I suppose he was justified because after all the war had begun with an Anglo-Polish alliance and the Polish government was in London. But at the same time, as Roosevelt was the stronger of the two westerners, it would have helped I think if the Russians had felt that he was as keen on achieving an honorable settlement there as Churchill was.

Now for Churchill it was a debt of honor very much. Particularly in regard to the fighting qualities of the Polish armed forces. And of course we had been trying to get the Poles and the Russians together from the very moment that Russia came into the war—extremely difficult to do, given history and the fact that the Russians had made use of the Molotov–Ribbentrop pact and the starting of the war in the West to seize half of Poland and to take away a vast number of Poles into imprisonment and exile in Russia. From 1941 onward we tried, and there were some ups: we did get Sikorski to sign a treaty with the Russians as a result of which the Polish prisoners of war were allowed to come out of Russia through the Middle East and form the Polish armed forces in the West. Then there came unfortunately the discovery of the graves of ten thousand Polish officers at Katyn and as a result Polish–Soviet relations were broken off again. Then a little later Sikorski died and…

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