Europe in the Family
The Polish landed gentry in the 20th century
Above: 1. The marriage ceremony of Zofia Mycielska and Stanisław Rostworowski in Gębice, 1918. 2. The ceremony on the occasion of forming a production cooperative in Gębice, 1951.

The Decree on Land Reform of September 6, 1944 and its consequences

Polish landed gentry reached the end after 1944. As other countries in Central Europe, Poland, which was “liberated” from the Nazi German occupation by the Red Army fell within the Soviet sphere of influence. By order of Joseph Stalin, the Polish Committee of National Liberation (PKWN) was proclaimed. It was the centre of power in opposition to the legitimate Polish government-in-exile. On September 6, 1944, the Committee introduced the Decree on Land Reform, according to which landed properties of more than 50 ha (100 ha in western provinces) were confiscated without any compensation. Similar communist “land reforms” were executed in other countries dependent on the Soviet Union.

As a matter of fact, many landowners were displaced from their manor houses and were deprived of their property and possessions collected for generations. Most of manor houses and palaces were destroyed, including furnishings and personal belongings. The world of landed gentry, which had existed for centuries and had survived the period of partitions, the revolution and two world wars, was definitively liquidated. An aggressive propaganda campaign against landowners was launched. After the political changes of 1989, reprivatisation laws were issued in former Soviet Bloc countries. They compensated losses suffered by rightful landowners as a result of dispossession process which had been introduced after World War II.  To this day, the landowning community in Poland expects a similar legislation to be implemented.

The proclamation made by the Central Committee of the Polish Workers’ Party (PPR) in 1944: “The class of people, who have spelt Poland’s misery since time immemorial, will disappear from Polish life. Princes, counts and magnates, who are responsible for the destruction of Nobles’ Republic, will disappear […] One of the main centers of fascism and Polish reactionism will disappear too.”

Article 2 of the Decree on State Protection of October 30, 1944 issued by the Polish Committee of National Liberation: “Whoever frustrates or impedes the implementation of land reform, or exhorts to act against it or approves of such behavior in public, is to be subject to imprison or death.”

The first political aim of the Decree on Land Reform was to destroy the basis of the Polish landed gentry. The second aim was to win the favor of the peasants concerning a new Communist government.

In relation to the Decree on Land Reform of September 6, 1944, 3,485,600 ha of land and 9,707 landed properties were confiscated, out of which 1,210,900 ha (34.7%) were parceled. The statistics do not include the Eastern Borderlands and the Recovered Territories. More than 2,200,000 ha of land were confiscated by the State Treasury. The majority of lands taken away from landowners was not handed over to the peasants, as it was not included in the parcelation.