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Escape of Jews from Poland to the Soviet Union

...There is no present and no future for young Jews. They escape for their lives. They get away by different methods: on foot, by auto, train, carts and every other kind of transport. The border is open. The Soviets do nothing to prevent it.* The occupying forces have no fixed system. You can never know what is forbidden and what is allowed. In a word – one day they are lenient and one day severe. It is understandable: Where the heart is harsh and cruel there is no set and fixed system. And, in addition, what one authority permits, the other forbids. At the beginning of the Occupation the border was open. Anybody could cross without written permission, and those who wanted to stand in a queue for three days were not prevented from getting written permission; this stated clearly that the bearer of the letter was permitted to cross the border to Russia with his goods and chattels and that he was authorized to make use of any form of transport. That is what it said in writing. In reality the roads were beset with dangers. According to the "Regulations" persons crossing the border could take only 20 zloty with them. This was a sadistic law that could not be observed. Devices were therefore thought up in order to smuggle larger sums across, and here many failed. People were robbed and beaten on the way and left naked, with everything gone. The Border Guards knew that the blood and the money of the Jews were outside the law. And they dealt with people crossing the border as the spirit moved them. From this time the border-crossers preferred to cross without permission. They had no confidence in the legalisms of the Occupying Power. When they crossed quietly they were more secure. There simply was no refugee who did not take with him a sum of money larger than that which the "Regulations" permitted. And so the "green border" [clandestine border crossing] became known among the refugees, together with the expert guides who earned huge sums from this "trade."

It is reliably estimated that more than a million** refugees escaped to Russia. However many came they were still well received. But – where was this great mass of people to go? A small part, particularly those with a trade, have already been moved to the interior of Russia. As to the majority – either they had money with them and could eat, or they had nothing and hungered and thirsted....


C.A. Kaplan, Megilat YissurinYoman Getto Varsha, September 1, 1939 – August 4, 1942, Tel Aviv-Jerusalem, 1966, p. 83 (English version: Scroll of Agony – the Warsaw Diary of Chaim A. Kaplan, New York, 1965).


* The Soviets left the border freely open to traffic until the end of October 1939. From then until the end of 1939 a small number of persons still crossed the border, and after that it was completely sealed.

** It is estimated that the number of refugees who crossed from the part of Poland occupied by the Germans to the areas annexed by the Soviet Union totaled about 300,000.

Source: Yad Vashem