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The concept of Western Betrayal refers to the view that United Kingdom and France failed to meet their legal, diplomatic, or moral obligations with respect to Czechoslovakia during the Munich Agreement and subsequent Occupation of Czechoslovakia by Nazi Germany, as well as to Poland on the eve of the World War II. The same concept also refers to the concessions made by the United States and the United Kingdom to the USSR during the Teheran, Yalta and Potsdam conferences, to their stance during the Warsaw Uprising, and some other events. Historically, such views were intertwined with some of the most significant geopolitical events of the 20th century, including the rise and empowerment of the Third Reich (Nazi Germany), the rise of the Soviet Union (USSR) as a dominant superpower with control of large parts of Europe, and various treaties, alliances, and positions taken during and after World War II, and so on into the Cold War. The concept is by no means universally accepted.


[hide] *1 The perception of betrayal

The perception of betrayalEdit

"Notions of western betrayal" are a reference to "a sense of historical and moral responsibility" for the West's "abandonment of (Central and) Eastern Europe at the end of the Second World War," according to professors Charlotte Bretherton and John Vogler.[1][2] In Central and Eastern Europe the interpretation of the outcome of the Munich Crisis of 1938, and the Yalta Conference of 1944, as a betrayal of Central and Eastern Europe by Western powers has been used by Central and Eastern European leaders to put pressure on Western countries to acquiesce to more recent political requests such as membership in NATO.[3]

In a few cases deliberate duplicity is alleged, whereby secret agreements or intentions are claimed to have existed in conflict with understandings given publicly. An example is Churchill's covert concordance with the USSR that the Atlantic Charter did not apply to the Baltic States. Given the strategic requirements of winning the war, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had no option but to accept the demands of their erstwhile ally, Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin, at Tehran, Yalta and Potsdam, argues retired diplomat Charles G. Stefan.[4]

Max Hastings states that Churchill urged Roosevelt to continue armed conflict in Europe in 1945 - but carried out against the Soviet Union, to prevent the USSR from extending its control west of its own borders.[5] Roosevelt apparently trusted Stalin's assurances, and he was unwilling to support Churchill in ensuring the liberation of all of Central and Eastern Europe west of the USSR. Without American backing, the United Kingdom, with its strength exhausted by six years of war, was unable to take any military actions in that part of Europe.

Specific instances sometimes considered to exemplify the concept by historical and contemporary writers include the annexation of most of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany under the Munich Agreement of 1938, the abandonment of the British alliance with Poland during the Invasion of Poland of September 1939 and during the Warsaw Uprising against Nazi Germany in 1944[improper synthesis?],[6] and the acceptance of the Soviet abrogation of the Yalta agreement of 1944. In the latter, the Major Allies against Nazi Germany had agreed to secure democratic processes for the countries that would be liberated from Nazi rule, such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Albania.

Also, there was the seeming lack of military or political support for the anticommunist rebels during the uprising in German Democratic Republic in 1953, during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956,[7] and during the democracy-oriented reforms in Czechoslovakia in 1968 (the so-called "Prague Spring").


See also: German occupation of CzechoslovakiaThe term Western betrayal (Czech: zrada Západu) was coined after the Munich Conference (1938) when Czechoslovakia was forced to cede part of its area (the mostly German-populated Sudetenland) to Germany, losing the system of border fortifications and means of viable defence against the German invasion [8][9][10] (see Fall Grün - the country was eventually invaded and occupied in March 1939). This exposed Czechoslovak citizens to the Nazi regime and its atrocities. Czech politicians joined the newspapers in regularly using the term and it, along with the associated feelings, became a stereotype among Czechs. The Czech terms Mnichov (Munich), Mnichovská zrada (Munich betrayal), Mnichovský diktát (Munich Dictate) and zrada spojenců (betrayal of the allies) were coined at the same time and have the same meaning. Poet František Halas published a poem with verse about "ringing bell of betrayal".[11] Winston Churchill himself said: "Britain and France had to choose between war and dishonour. They chose dishonour. They will have war".[12]

After the Communist Party assumed all power in Czechoslovakia in 1948, the betrayal was frequently referenced in propaganda. This interpretation of history was official and the only one allowed.


First World War aftermathEdit

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, a complicated set of alliances was established amongst the nations of Europe, in the hope of preventing future wars (either with Germany or the Soviet Union). With the rise of Nazism in Germany, this system of alliances was strengthened by the signing of a series of "mutual assistance" alliances between France, Britain, and Poland (Franco-Polish Alliance and Anglo-Polish Alliance). This agreement stated that in the event of war the other allies were to fully mobilize and carry out a "ground intervention within two weeks" in support of the ally being attacked[13][14][15] Additionally representatives of the Western powers made several military promises to Poland, including such fantastic designs as those made by British General William Edmund Ironside in his July talks with Marshall Rydz-Śmigły who promised an attack from the direction of Black Sea, or placing a British aircraft carrier in the Baltic[16]


Upon the Invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany in September 1939, Britain and France declared war on Germany. On 3 September a naval blockade of Germany was initiated, and an attempt was made to bomb German warships in harbour on 4 September. Most British bomber activity over Germany was the dropping of propanda leaflets and reconnaisance. The French intiated full mobilization and began the limited Saar Offensive on 7 September but halted short of the German defensive lines and then withdrew to their own defences around 13 September.

France and Britain did not launch a full land attack on Germany, and did not declare war on the Soviet Union when it invaded Poland on 17 September 1939; contrary to the terms of the alliances with France and Britain.[17][18] Poland was finally overcome on 6 October.



In November 1943, the Big Three (USSR, USA, and the UK) met at the Tehran Conference. President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill officially agreed that the eastern borders of Poland would roughly follow the Curzon Line.[19] The Polish government was not a party to this decision made in secret[20][21] and under cover of a press release claiming that We await the day, when all nations of the world will live peacefully, free of tyranny, according to their national needs and conscience. The resulting loss of the Kresy, or "eastern territories", approximately 48% of Poland's pre-war territory, to the Soviet Union is seen by the London Poles in exile as another "betrayal" by their Western "Allies".[22]

However it was no secret to the Allies that before his death in July 1943 General Wladyslaw Sikorski, Prime Minister of Poland's London-based government in exile had been the originator, and not Stalin, of the concept of a westward shift of Poland's boundaries along an Oder-Neisse Line as compensation for relinquishing Poland's eastern territories as part of a Polish rapprochement with the USSR.[23] Dr. Józef Retinger who was Sikorski's special political advisor at the time was also in agreement with Sikorski's concept of Poland's realigned post-war borders, later in his memoirs Retinger wrote; " At the Tehran Conference, in November 1943, the Big Three agreed that Poland should receive territorial compensation in the West, at Germany's expense, for the land it was to lose to Russia in Central and Eastern Europe. This seemed like a fair bargain." [24]

Churchill told Stalin he could settle the issue with the Poles once a decision was made in Tehran,[25] however he never consulted the Polish leadership.[26] When the Prime Minister of the Polish government-in-exile Stanisław Mikołajczyk attended the Moscow Conference (1944), he was convinced he was coming to discuss borders that were still disputed, while Stalin believed everything had already been settled. This was the principal reason for the failure of the Polish Prime Minister's mission to Moscow. The Polish premier allegedly begged for inclusion of Lwów and Wilno in the new Polish borders, but got the following reply from Vyacheslav Molotov: "There is no use discussing that; it was all settled in Teheran."[27]

Warsaw UprisingEdit

See: Lack of outside support in the Warsaw Uprising for more info on the Allied policy towards Poland during the Uprising.

[1][2]During World War II 85% of buildings in Warsaw were destroyed by German troops.Since the establishment of the Polish government-in-exile in Paris and then in London, the military commanders of the Polish army were focusing most of their efforts on preparation of a future all-national uprising against Germany. Finally, the plans for Operation Tempest were prepared and on August 1, 1944 the Warsaw Uprising started. The Uprising was an armed struggle by the Polish Home Army to liberate Warsaw from German occupation and Nazi rule.

Despite the fact that Polish and later Royal Air Force (RAF) planes flew missions over Warsaw dropping supplies from 4 August on, the United States Air Force (USAF) planes did not join the operation. The Allies specifically requested the use of Red Army airfields near Warsaw on 20 August but were refused by Stalin on 22 August (he referred to the insurgents as 'a handful of criminals'). After Stalin's objections to support for the uprising, Churchill telegrammed Roosevelt on 25 August and proposed sending planes in defiance of Stalin and to "see what happens". Roosevelt replied on 26 August that "I do not consider it advantageous to the long-range general war prospect for me to join you in the proposed message to Uncle Joe."[28] The commander of the British air drop, Air Marshal Sir John Slessor, later stated, "How, after the fall of Warsaw, any responsible statesman could trust the Russian Communist further than he could kick him, passes the comprehension of ordinary men."

Various scholars (including Norman Davies in his 2004 book Rising '44: The Battle for Warsaw) argue that during the Warsaw Uprising both the governments of United Kingdom and the United States did little to help Polish insurgents and that the Allies put little pressure on Stalin to help the Polish struggle.


See also: Yalta conference.

The Yalta conference initiated the era of Soviet domination of Central and Eastern Europe, which lasted until the end of the Cold War in early 1990s and left bitter memories of Western betrayal and Soviet dominance in the collective memory of the region.[29] To many Americans the Yalta conference "constituted a betrayal" of Poland and the Atlantic Charter.[30] "After World War II," remarked Strobe Talbott, "many countries in the (center and) east suffered half a century under the shadow of Yalta."[29] Territories which the Soviet Union had occupied during World War II in 1939 (with the exception of the Białystok area) were permanently annexed, and most of their Polish inhabitants expelled: today these territories are part of Belarus, Ukraine and Lithuania. The factual basis of this decision was the result of a forged referendum from November 1939 in which the "huge majority" of voters accepted the incorporation of these lands into Western Belarus and Western Ukraine. In compensation, Poland was given former German territory (the so-called Regained Territories): the southern half of East Prussia and all of Pomerania and Silesia, up to the Oder-Neisse Line. The German population of these territories was expelled and these territories were subsequently repopulated with Poles expelled from the Kresy regions. This combined with other similar migrations in Central and Eastern Europe to form one of the largest human migrations in modern times. Stalin ordered Polish resistance fighters to be either incarcerated or deported to gulags in Siberia.

At the time of Yalta over 200,000 troops of the Polish Armed Forces in the West were serving under the high command of the British Army. Many of these men and women were originally from the Kresy region of eastern Poland including cities such as Lwow and Wilno. They had been deported from Kresy to the Soviet gulags when Hitler and Stalin occupied Poland in 1939 in accordance with the Nazi-Soviet Pact. When two years later Churchill and Stalin formed an alliance against Hitler, the Kresy Poles were released from the Gulags in Siberia, formed the Anders Army and marched to Persia to create the II Corps (Poland) under British high command.

These Polish troops were instrumental to the Allied defeat of the Germans in North Africa and Italy, and hoped to return to Kresy in an independent and democratic Poland at the end of the War. But at Yalta, Churchill agreed that Stalin should keep the Soviet gains Hitler agreed to in the Nazi-Soviet Pact, including Kresy, and carry out Polish population transfers. Consequently, Churchill had agreed that tens of thousands of veteran Polish troops under British command should lose their Kresy homes to the Soviet Union.[31] In reaction, thirty officers and men from the II Corps committed suicide.[32]

Churchill defended his actions in a three-day Parliamentary debate starting 27 February 1945, which ended in a vote of confidence. During the debate, many MPs openly criticised Churchill and passionately voiced loyalty to Britain's Polish allies and expressed deep reservations about Yalta.[32] Moreover, 25 of these MPs risked their careers to draft an amendment protesting against Britain's tacit acceptance of Poland's domination by the Soviet Union. These members included: Arthur Greenwood; Sir Alec Douglas-Home; Commander Archibald Southby; the Earl of Ancaster and Victor Raikes.[32] After the failure of the amendment, Henry Strauss, the Member of Parliament for Norwich, resigned his seat in protest at the British treatment of Poland.[32]

When the Second World War ended, the Soviets feared an independent and potentially hostile Polish government,[33] so a pro-Soviet regime was installed. Although president Roosevelt "inisited on free and unfettered" elections in Poland, Vyacheslav Molotov instead managed to deliver an election fair by "Soviet standards." [34] As many as half a million Polish soldiers refused to return to Poland,[35] because of the Soviet repressions of Polish citizens, the Trial of the Sixteen and other executions of pro-democracy Poles, particularly the so-called, cursed soldiers, former members of the Armia Krajowa). The result was the Polish Resettlement Act 1947,[36] Britain's first mass immigration law.

Yalta was used by ruling communists to underline anti-Western sentiments.[37][38] It was easy to argue that Poland was not very important to the West, since Allied leaders sacrificed Polish borders, legal government and free elections.[39][40][41]

With this background, even Stalin looked like a better friend of Poland, since he did have strong interests in Poland.[42] The Federal Republic of Germany, formed in 1949, was portrayed by Communist propaganda as the breeder of Hitler's posthumous offspring who desired retaliation and wanted to take back from Poland the "Recovered Territories".[43] Giving this picture a grain of credibility was that the Federal Republic of Germany until 1970 refused to recognize the Oder-Neisse Line and that some West German officials had a tainted Nazi past. For a segment of Polish public opinion, Communist rule was seen as the lesser of the two evils.

Defenders of the actions taken by the Western allies maintain that Realpolitik made it impossible to do anything else, and that they were in no shape to start an utterly un-winnable war with the Soviet Union over the subjugation of Poland and other Central and Central and Eastern European countries immediately after the end of World War II. It could be contended that the presence of a double standard with respect to Nazi and Soviet aggression existed in 1939 and 1940, when the Soviets attacked eastern part of Poland, and then the Baltic States, and then Finland, and yet the Western Allies failed to become active in the war.

The chief American negotiator at Yalta was Alger Hiss, later accused of being a Soviet spy and convicted of perjuring himself in his testimony to the House Committee on Unamerican Activities. His espionage was later confirmed by the Venona tapes.

At the war's end many of these feelings of resentment were capitalized on by the occupying Soviets, who used them to reinforce anti-Western sentiments within Poland. Propaganda was produced by Communists to show the Soviet Union as the Great Liberator, and the West as the Great Traitor. Moscow's Pravda reported in February 1944 that all Poles who valued Poland's honour and independence were marching with the "Union of Polish Patriots" in the USSR.[44]

"Western Betrayal" as a mythEdit

This "preoccupation with their historical sense of 'damaged self' has fueled resentment" towards the west generally and reinforced the western betrayal concept in particular, according to Ilya Prizel.[45] Grigory Yavlinsky argues that damage to central European national psyches left by the Western "betrayal" at Yalta and Munich remained a "psychological event" or "psychiatric issue" during debates over NATO expansion.[46]

At one point Colin Powell has stated that he doesn't think "betrayal is the appropriate word" regarding the Allies' role in the Warsaw Uprising.[47] While complaints of "betrayal" are common in politics generally,[48] the idea of a western betrayal can also be seen as a political scapegoat in both Central and Eastern Europe[49][verification needed] and a partisan electioneering phrase among the former Western Allies.[50] Historian Athan Theoharis maintains betrayal myths were used in part by those opposing US membership in the United Nations.[51][verification needed] The word "Yalta" came to stand for the appeasement of world communism and abandonment of freedom.[52]

See alsoEdit

Notes and referencesEdit


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ Hastings, Max. "Operation unthinkable: How Churchill wanted to recruit defeated Nazi troops and drive Russia out of Eastern Europe". Daily Mail (London).
  6. ^
  7. ^ "ALLIANCES: How to Help Hungary". Time. December 24, 1956.,9171,808812,00.html.
  8. ^
  9. ^ Nowa Encyklopedia Powszechna PWN 1997, vol. VI, 981.
  10. ^ Spencer Tucker, Priscilla Mary Roberts (2005). World War II: A Political, Social, and Military History. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 1-57607-999-6.
  11. ^ František Halas, Torzo naděje (1938), poem Zpěv úzkosti, "Zvoní zvoní zrady zvon zrady zvon, Čí ruce ho rozhoupaly, Francie sladká hrdý Albion, a my jsme je milovali"
  12. ^ Hyde, Harlow A. (1988). Scraps of paper: the disarmament treaties between the world wars. Media Publishing & Marketing. p. 307. ISBN 978-0-939644-46-9.
  13. ^ (Polish) Andrzej Ajnenkiel (2000). Polsko-francuski sojusz wojskowy. Warsaw: Akademia Obrony Narodowej.
  14. ^ (Polish) Jan Ciałowicz (1971). Polsko-francuski sojusz wojskowy, 1921–1939. Warsaw: Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe.
  15. ^ (English) Count Edward Raczyński (1948). The British-Polish Alliance; Its Origin and Meaning. London: The Mellville Press.
  16. ^ Polityka - nr 37 (2469) z dnia 2004-09-11; s. 66-67 Historia / Wrzesień ’39 Krzysztof Źwikliński Tajemnica zamku Vincennes
  17. ^ Kitchen, Martin (1990), A World in Flames: A Short History of the Second World War
  18. ^ Prazmowska, Anita J. (1995). Britain and Poland 1939–1943: The Betrayed Ally. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-48385-9.
  19. ^ Tony Sharp (1977). "The origins of the 'Teheran formula' on Polish frontiers". Journal of Contemporary History 12 (2): 381–393. JSTOR 260222.
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^ Meiklejohn Terry, Sarah (1992). Poland's Place in Europe: General Sikorski and the Origin of the Oder-Neisse Line, 1939-1943. Princeton University Press. pp. 416. ISBN 978-0-691-07643-0.
  24. ^ Retinger, Joseph Hieronim (1972). Joseph Retinger: Memoirs of an Eminence Grise. page 192: Ghatto and Windus. pp. 288. ISBN 978-0-85621-002-0.
  25. ^'t%20force&f=false
  26. ^
  27. ^ The Fruits of Teheran, Time Magazine, December 25, 1944
  28. ^ "". [dead link]
  29. ^ a b
  30. ^ Athan Theoharis (1971). "The Republican Party and Yalta: partisan exploitation of the Polish American concern over the conference, 1945–1960". Polish American Studies 28 (1): 5–19. JSTOR 20147828.
  31. ^
  32. ^ a b c d pp.374-383 Olson and Cloud 2003
  33. ^
  34. ^,%20THE%20YALTA%20BETRAYAL%20(1953).pdf
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^ (English) Samuel Leonard Sharp (1953). Poland, white eagle on a red field. Harvard: Harvard University Press. pp. 163.
  38. ^ Norman Davies (2005 [1982]). God's Playground. 2. Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-12819-3.
  39. ^ Howard Jones (2001). Crucible of Power: a history of U.S. foreign relations since 1897. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 205–207. ISBN 0-8420-2918-4.
  40. ^ various authors (1948). "A compilation of selected resolutions, declarations, memorials, memorandums,..". Selected Documents (Chicago, IL: Polish American Congress) (1244-1248): 112.
  41. ^ Sharp, op.cit., p.12
  42. ^
  43. ^ "Poland under Stalinism", _Poznan in June 1956: A Rebellious City_, The Wielkopolska Museum of the Fight for Independence in Poznan, 2006, p. 5
  44. ^ Dr Mark Ostrowski Chapter 6
  45. ^
  46. ^
  47. ^ "Poles mark 1944 Warsaw uprising". BBC News. 1 August 2004.
  48. ^
  49. ^ Mark Percival (1998). "Churchill and Romania: the myth of the October 1944 ‘betrayal’". Contemporary British History 12 (3): 41–61. doi:10.1080/13619469808581488.
  50. ^
  51. ^
  52. ^


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