Stanisław Swianiewicz

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Stanisław Swianiewicz
Swaniewicz Stanislaw.jpg

Stanisław Swianiewicz (November 7, 1899 – May 22, 1997) was a Polish economist and historian. A veteran of the Polish-Bolshevik War, during World War II he was the only survivor of the Katyn Massacre[1] and an eyewitness of the transport of Polish prisoners of war to the forests outside Smolensk by the NKVD.


Stanisław Swianiewicz was born on November 7, 1899 in Dvinsk in Imperial Russia (modern Daugavpils, Latvia), to a Polish szlachta family. Brought up in the multi-cultural society of Livonia, he spoke Polish, Russian and German as his native tongues. After graduating from a trade school in Orel, he attended Moscow University's Law Faculty, which then included all social sciences. After the Russian Revolution of 1917 he left Moscow and returned to his homeland, where in 1919 he became a commander of the Polska Organizacja Wojskowa in the area of Livonia. During the Polish-Bolshevik War he crossed the front lines and reached Vilna (modern Vilnius), where he took part in the defense of the city against the Reds. He also took part in the seizure of Vilnius by the forces of Gen. Lucjan Żeligowski.

Demobilized, he attended the Stefan Batory University of Wilno, where he continued his studies. He graduated in 1924 and then spent several years on various scholarships in Paris, Breslau (modern Wrocław) and Kiel. A specialist in Soviet economy and a liberal, Swianiewicz attended lectures of Władysław Zawadzki, who also became his tutor. In April 1939 the President of Poland Ignacy Mościcki awarded him a professorship. Apart from his work at his alma mater, Swianiewicz was also active in several NGOs promoting links between various Central and Eastern European nations and studying the peculiarities of that part of the continent. In 1938 he published his Polityka gospodarcza Niemiec hitlerowskich (Economical Policies of Nazi Germany), in which he was the first economist to compare the Nazi and Soviet socialist economies. He was also a journalist on various newspapers, including the Kurier Wileński.

On August 2, 1939 he was mobilized in the Polish Army as a reserve officer. He took part in the Polish Defensive War at the onset of World War II. After the Soviet invasion of Poland, his unit attempted to reach the Hungarian or Romanian borders in order to evade being captured and to find its way to France, where the Polish Army was being re-created. However, after the battle of Krasnobród on September 23, he was taken prisoner of war by the Soviets. Through the transfer camp in Putyvl he was interned in the NKVD camp in Kozelsk, together with several thousand other Polish officers, professors, border guards and policemen.[1] Interrogated by kombrig Vasili Mikhaylovich Zarubin, Swianiewicz spoke fluent Russian and was apparently found useful. After the start of the Katyn Massacre in the spring of 1940, he was attached to a group of c. 100 Polish officers being moved by train to a small station in Gniezdovo near Katyn.[1] There all of his comrades were massed in buses with blindfolded windows and transported to the mass murder site, while Swianiewicz himself was withdrawn from the transport.[1]

He was then transferred to the prison in Smolensk, the NKVD Lubyanka Prison and then to Butyrki Prison in Moscow. After roughly a year of interrogation, his pre-war books on Soviet economy were interpreted as espionage, for which he was sentenced to 8 years in the Gulag.[1] Transported to Ust-Vym Camp in Komi Republic, he was released from the prison camp following the Sikorski-Mayski Agreement in August 1941. However, soon after his release he was again arrested and sent back to the camp. Following the intervention of numerous Polish politicians, he was finally released soon afterwards, and joined the Polish Army being formed by Gen. Władysław Anders in southern Soviet Union. He was one of the first witnesses to inform the Polish authorities of the number of Polish POWs held in Soviet camps until the spring of 1940. He remained in the Polish embassy in Moscow as one of the officials entrusted with searching for roughly 22,000 missing Polish officers. He left Russia in July 1942 and reached Great Britain, where he remained active in the Polish government in exile. He was also co-author of The crime of Katyn; facts & documents, one of the first monographs on the mass murder of Polish officers by the Soviets, published in 1948.

After the war he had to remain in exile in London and started giving lectures at numerous universities around the world, including the USA, Indonesia and Canada. He was a notable economist, and also testified at various occasions on the Katyn Massacre. Since his family had to stay in stalinist Poland, during the hearing before Madden Committee of the Congress, he testified in a mask and under a false name. He was also a professor at Saint Mary's University, Halifax, Nova Scotia. In 1956, 18 years after their last meeting, his wife Olimpia was allowed to leave Poland and join him in London. In the 1970s, he also became an active member of various organizations documenting and fighting against human rights abuses in Soviet bloc countries. He never returned to Poland and spent his last years in an Antokol hotel, located in Chislehurst (Kent) near London, run by General Tadeusz Pełczyński and his wife. He died there on May 22, 1997 and was buried in Halifax, next to his wife.

Grave of Stanisław Swianiewicz

They had four children. Witold Swianiewicz was the editor of the first edition of his father's W cieniu katynia, while Maria Nagięć née Swianiewicz is a professor at the University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn. Witold also translated W cieniu katynia into English and published it under the title In the Shadow of Katyn: Stalin's Terror in 2002.


  • Stanisław Swianiewicz (1983) [1930]. Lenin jako ekonomista. Poznań, Głosy. p. 15.
  • Stanisław Swianiewicz (1938). Polityka gospodarcza Niemiec hitlerowskich. Warsaw, Polityka. p. 278.
  • various authors (1948). The crime of Katyn; facts & documents. Zdzisław Stahl, Władysław Anders, Stanisław Swianiewicz, Józef Cat Mackiewicz. London, Gryf. p. 303.
  • Stanisław Swianiewicz (1965). Forced Labour and Economic Development; An Enquiry into the Experience of Soviet Industrialization. Oxford, Oxford University Press. p. 332. ISBN 0-313-24983-0.
  • Stanisław Swianiewicz (1976). W cieniu Katynia. Paris, Instytut Literacki. p. 359. ISBN 2-7168-0027-8.
  • Stanisław Swianiewicz (1996). Dzieciństwo i młodość. Warsaw, Jan Jacek Swianiewicz. p. 107. ISBN 83-86367-26-1.
  • Benon Gaziński, ed., Stanisław Swianiewicz (1899-1997): ekonomista, sowietolog, historyk. Olsztyn: Instytut Nauk Uniwersytet Warmińsko-Mazurski w Olsztynie, 2010. 179 pp. Includes chapters written by his four children and family photographs; available Saint Mary's University Library, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
  • File-folder Stanislaw Swianiewicz. University Archive, Saint Mary's University Patrick Power Library, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.


  1. ^ a b c d e Fischer, Benjamin B. (1999–2000). "The Katyn Controversy: Stalin's Killing Field". Studies in Intelligence. CIA (Winter). Retrieved 28 January 2013.

Further reading[edit]

  • Vladimir Abarinov, The Murderers of Katyn: a Russian Journalist Investigates the 1940 Massacre of 15,000 Polish Officers in Soviet Captivity. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1993, 396 pp.