Nearly six million Poles died in WWII: historian

The ruins of Warsaw after WWII. Photo: Keystone/Getty Images

An associate professor Waldemar Grabowski from the Office of Historical Research of the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) said that the most probable number of Polish casualties of WWII is 5.9 million.

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Mr Grabowski stressed that this number is an estimation. “The number still oscillates around the well-known number of six million casualties,” he added.

The number of approximately six million Poles killed, including 3 million Polish Jews, was announced for the first time in 1947 by the Polish War Reparation Bureau (BOW), established by the then Presidium of the Council of Ministers.

The probable number of Polish casualties of WWII was set by one of the communist dignitaries, Jakub Berman. He estimated this number to be 6 million 28 thousand. “It is worth remembering that Mr Berman calculated this number on his own, regardless of the statistics from BOW,” Mr Grabowski added.

Many problems from the beginning

Determining the number of Poles who died during WWII is a very difficult task. “Problems start at the beginning, because the exact number of Poles in 1939 is unknown,” Mr Grabowski said. The problem is the fact that the last census, before the war, was conducted in 1931. “It is assumed that just before the war started, as many as 35 million people lived in Poland”, he added.

The division of Polish territory by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union (apart from small pieces seized by Slovakia and Lithuania) is also a problem. Moreover, the division of the area occupied by Germans also complicates the estimation.

“It means that there was not a single administration of occupied lands, which would cover all the citizens of pre-war Poland,” Mr Grabowski said.

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First, inaccurate data

The first statistics about the number of Poles staying in Poland after the war were published by the Central Statistical Office (GUS) in 1946, but they were inaccurate, due to the fact that many people were returning to Poland from other countries. These included soldiers of the Polish Army in the West, but also Poles forced to leave the Soviet Union.

For political reasons the number of Poles who died under Soviet occupation was not published in the time of the communist regime. After 1989 it was estimated that as many as 500,000 Polish people died under the Soviet regime during WWII.

The task of determining the number of Polish casualties of WWII was worked on during the war itself. In 1944 the Polish government-in-exile said that Poland lost at least 4.1 million people, including 2.5 million Polish Jews.