Wasilewska, Wanda (1905–1964)

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Wasilewska, Wanda (1905–1964)

Polish-born Russian politician and writer . Name variations: Vanda L'vovna Vasilievskaia; Wanda Wassilewska. Born on January 21, 1905, in Cracow (Kraków), Poland; died on July 29, 1964, in Kiev, Ukraine; daughter of Leon Wasilewski (a politician); graduated from the University at Kraków, 1927; married a university student and revolutionary (died);

married Marion Bogatko (a mason); married Ukrainian-born Alexander Korneichuk (a playwright and politician); children: one daughter, Eva.

Aligned herself with the Soviet Union during a border dispute with Poland in the early 1940s; was head of the Soviet-backed Union of Polish Patriots and deputy chair of the Polish Committee of National Liberation which later became the provisional government of Poland after its liberation from the Nazis.

Selected writings:

The Image of the Day (1934); Motherland (1935); Earth in Bondage (1938); Flames in the Marshes (1939); The Rainbow (1942).

Wanda Wasilewska was born in 1905 to revolutionary parents in Kraków, Poland. Her father Leon Wasilewski, a member of the Polish Socialist Party, helped create the Polish-Soviet border through his drafting of the Treaty of Riga of 1921. Her parents' political activities often usurped their time with their daughter, whose earliest playmates were children of the workers of Kraków. Wasilewska's early exposure to the poor laborers nourished in her a deep abhorrence for those who exploited the poor. Because of her parents' increasing involvement with the Polish nationalist movement, with the onset of World War I Wasilewska was sent to live with her grandmother in the country, where her affiliation with the downtrodden intensified.

As a student at the university in Kraków, Wasilewska specialized in philology and associated with the working classes. Her strong political convictions led to her participation in an unsuccessful revolutionary uprising in 1923, and cemented her relationship with her first husband, a fellow student and revolutionary who later died. Wasilewska graduated from the university in 1927 and became a high school teacher. However, her leftist political leanings as a member of the Polish Socialist Party and her association with the illegal Polish Communist Party forced her to change jobs frequently. She combined her profession with her ideology by joining a Polish teachers' union and organizing a teachers' strike in the 1930s.

Wasilewska's childhood interest in poetry gradually evolved into prose writing as an expression of her sympathy for the working class. The 1930s saw her publication of major novels with proletarian themes: The Image of the Day (1934), Motherland (1935), Earth in Bondage (1938), and the trilogy Flames in the Marshes (1939). The first was banned in Poland immediately after publication, but the other three found an audience in the Soviet Union through several different language translations. All of the novels depict the suffering of the working classes in contrast to the luxuries enjoyed by others at their expense. Wasilewska's 1942 novel The Rainbow was the only one to reach an American audience through an English translation. The first edition of The Rainbow sold 400,000 copies in two days. Considered propagandistic by many, the novel won the Soviet Union's Stalin Prize of 100,000 rubles as the most outstanding work of 1943 in the field of belles-lettres.

After losing her job as editor of the Warsaw children's magazine Płomyk in 1937, because of her Communist associations, Wasilewska began work with Nowe Widnokregi (New Horizons), a radical Polish publication. Two years later, when Nazi Germany annexed Poland to start the aggression of World War II, she left her native country for Soviet Russia. Although she became a Soviet citizen, she maintained strong ties to her Polish origins, developing the Russian-sponsored Union of Polish Patriots, an organization composed of Polish leftists living in Russia, around 1943. That year, Wasilewska also took on the role of editor to the Polish-language newspaper Volna Polska (Free Poland) and correspondent to the Red Army. She helped establish a Polish division of the Red Army and was made an honorary colonel for her efforts. In addition, she became a deputy to the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union during this time.

Despite her dual identity as a Pole and a Soviet citizen, Wasilewska made her allegiance very clear during the Russo-Polish border dispute in 1943. The conflict between Russia and the Polish government, which had been set up in exile in London during Germany's occupation of Poland, came about over Poland's refusal to give up the territory it had acquired after World War I. As the dispute became more heated, both sides leveled accusations of the other's misdeeds, which culminated in the Polish government's investigation into allegations that Russians had murdered 10,000 Polish officers near Smolensk in 1940. The Polish government's lending of credence to this Nazi-generated charge caused the Soviet government to break off relations with the Polish government-in-exile. Wasilewska applauded the decision, believing that Poland could survive only through democratic activity by citizens within its borders, not by émigrés.

By the beginning of 1944, Russia clearly indicated that the removal of anti-Soviet elements from the Polish Cabinet was a necessary move before Russo-Polish relations could be reestablished. Wasilewska's Union of Polish Patriots seemed poised to become the Polish governing body officially recognized by the Soviet Union when the announcement went out that the Union of Polish Patriots had formed a National Council within Poland. Comprising representatives from Poland's leftist political groups, this council claimed to have majority support within occupied Poland. The international community worried that the Soviet-backed council could succeed in erecting a Communist government in Poland, and their fears appeared to be confirmed by reports that Wasilewska had met with Soviet ruler Joseph Stalin in May 1944 to apprize him of the situation in Poland.

As the Red Army began liberating Poland from the retreating Nazis, many Poles considered it an exchange of one oppressor for another. The Soviets continued to ignore the Polish government-in-exile, and the newly formed Polish Committee of National Liberation—with Wasilewska acting as one of two deputy chairs—took control of the liberated territory by the authority of the Soviet Union. In addition to performing civil functions, the committee took command of both the underground Polish army and the Polish division of the Red Army. Renamed the Lublin Committee after the area in which it was headquartered, it announced its status as the provisional government of Poland at the end of 1944. Wasilewska's name had disappeared from the list of members by this time, possibly because she may have offended Stalin by protesting his presentation of the Order of Suvorov to a Polish general. (The great Russian general Alexander Suvorov had taken Warsaw in 1794, killing over 32,000 Poles the process.)

By this time, Wasilewska was married to her third husband, Alexander Korneichuk, a Ukrainian-born playwright, novelist and politician. Korneichuk, also a recipient of the Stalin Prize, was formerly vice-commissar of Foreign Affairs in Russia and became foreign minister of the new Ukrainian Republic in 1944. Wasilewska had one daughter, Eva, from a previous marriage.


Current Biography, 1944. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1944.

Current Biography, 1964. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1964.

Judith C. Reveal , freelance writer, Greensboro, Maryland