The Curzon Line
At the close of World War I in 1919, the Allies drafted the Treaty of
Versailles. It established the framework for the resurgence of the Polish
State after 123 years of partition. Its territory comprised of areas formerly
belonging to the Russian Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and
The question of Poland's eastern border was not addressed, and left
to be decided upon subsequently.
In 1920, Lord Curzon of Kedleston, the British Foreign Secretary made a proposal to resolve the problem, by
establishing not a boundary but rather an armistice line by which Poland would occupy the territory west of the line,
and the Russians to the east of it. This was rejected by both Poland and Russia.
The Bolsheviks had invaded Poland in May 1920 intending to spread their socialist revolution throughout Europe.
Despite British attempts to call for a ceasefire, the Soviets continued to fight believing that they were going to win.
But to their surprise, they were defeated, and with that humiliation also lost a significant part of their territory which
was ceded to Poland in the peace Treaty of Riga in 1921.
Poland was granted a substantial area 200 kilometers east of the Curzon line which amounted to roughly 135,000
square kilometers (52,000 square miles).This parcel included the cities of Lwow and Wilno which were centers of
Polish culture for centuries. In a referendum in 1922, the Lithuanians citizens of Wilno agreed to become part of the
new Polish republic. It was further recognized by the League of Nations, and numerous Polish-Soviet agreements.
In August 1939, the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, between Germany and Russia, called for the partition of Poland
along the Curzon line. After the Nazi and Soviet invasions of Poland in September 1939, the Soviets occupied all
the territory east of the Curzon line as well as Bialystok and eastern Galicia; As a result, hundreds upon thousands
of Poles were deported to Siberia. In 1941, Germany crossed over the Curzon line, invading the Soviet-occupied
zone, and then attacked Russia itself. In 1944, the Soviets reclaimed the eastern region of Poland this time
declaring the Curzon line as the new border between Russia and Poland.
The Curzon line was a subject of enormous significance and had been the central topic during the Conferences at
Yalta and Teheran.Stalin belabored the issue at every opportunity, and demanded that the Curzon Line be
established as Poland’s eastern border - although it was already a fait accompli since Russian supremacy had
already been established in the region. He claimed that the Poles did not represent the majority in the region but
that Ukrainians and Lithuanians did. All that was left for Stalin to do was to obtain official recognition by Churchill
and Roosevelt to make it all appear legitimate. According to Stalin's logic, it was the British Foreign Minister Lord
Curzon who came up with the idea, and therefore, the Soviets could not be expected to settle for anything less.
The Polish government-in-exile was strongly opposed to this, but was not informed that the decision to cede
eastern Poland to Stalin had already been made. The Polish Prime Minister continued to pressure the Allies to
persuade Stalin to reconsider. It is doubtful that the British made any effort to do so, preferring instead to appease
Stalin, not wanting to upset him.
The Curzon line has been the eastern border of Poland since July 1945. Even after the dissolution of Union, the
line remains. This time, however, Poland shares its eastern border with Lithuania, Belarus, and the Ukraine