This section is about history of Poland available in English.
- Posty: 4712
- Rejestracja: 24 maja 2010, 04:01
The 19th Century--
Polish Wars and Uprisings
Since the time of the partitions until World War I (during 123 years of captivity) successive generations of Poles launched attempts to regain independence, but it was hard to rely upon rebuilding Poland without a favorable international situation. Russia, Prussia and Austria pursued a common policy aimed at retaining the spoils of war and tried to avoid conflicts among themselves.
Third Partition of PolandIt was impossible to defeat the three powers at the same time. The three partitioning monarchies were absolute states and their political systems stood in complete contradiction to the Polish tradition of democracy, self-government and civil freedoms of the gentry. Those traditions were cultivated not only by Polish landowners, clergy and the enlightened part of the bourgeoisie, but also by intelligentsia tracing their descent to the gentry. The Polish struggle for freedom amounted to the struggle against violence and absolutism. That is why the Polish cause was related to the European freedom and democratic movements. That was reflected in the participation of Poles in European uprisings and revolutions in the 19th century, as well as the participation of foreigners in Polish uprisings.
The slogan "For your freedom and ours" ["Z nasza i wasza wolnosc"] became the symbol of the Polish contribution to the democratization of the European political systems.
Polish Legion in ItalyAt the turn the 19th century, Napoleon's France was Poland's ally. The Polish legions were set up in Italy in 1797 to support Napoleon in his war on Austria. In the years 1806-1807 Napoleon defeated Austria, Prussia and Russia. Under the Treaty of Tilsit the Duchy of Warsaw was established on part of the lands of Prussian-annexed Poland. The Duchy was granted a Constitution by Napoleon, a Polish government was formed, the Napoleonic Code was introduced and peasants were given personal freedoms.
Poland's future was sealed by Napoleon's abortive expedition against Russia in 1812 and the battle of nations lost by France at Leipzig (1813), during which Prince Jozef Poniatowski, the Commander-in-Chief of the Duchy's Army, died a heroic death.
Duchy of WarsawThe Congress of Vienna in 1815 relinquished part of the Duchy, together with Poznan, over to Prussia. The remaining lands were turned into the Kingdom of Poland, tied with Russia. Tsar Alexander I became King. Its own Constitution, government, Sejm and the army were those factors which made up the Kingdom's identity. However, it proved impossible to reconcile the constitutional regime of the Kingdom with the despotic regime in Russia. The incessant violations of the Constitution and setbacks suffered by opposition led Polish youth to join conspiratorial organizations preparing for an uprising. This coincided with the persecution of everything that represented Polishness in the eastern territories of the former Republic, the destruction of the flourishing University of Wilno [now called Vilnius] and the rebellion of the Decembrists in Russia (1825). The signal for revolt was given by the July Revolution in France, the uprising in Belgium and the Russian plans to intervene militarily, providing for the use of the Kingdom's army to put down the freedom movements.
Uprising in Wielkopolska [Great Poland]The uprising broke out in Warsaw on November 29, 1830. An independent government was called into being, with the Sejm dethroning the Tsar. The Polish-Russian war followed. The well-trained and armed Polish army held out till September, 1831, but was not able to win that war in view of the enormous human and economic resources of Russia.
The fall of the uprising brought on the annulment of the Constitution, the liquidation of the Kingdom's army, the closing of Warsaw University and the construction of the citadel in Warsaw. Everything Polish was doggedly hunted down in Lithuania, Byelorussia [now Bielarus] and Ukraine. Deportations and confiscations of property came in the wake of the crushed revolt. The University of Wilno was closed. Poles were also persecuted by the Prussian authorities in the Poznan province and by the Austrians in Galicia.
Adam MickiewiczThe defeat sent some 10,000 uprising leaders and participants into exile. They went, primarily, to France. Poets Adam Mickiewicz and Juliusz Slowacki settled in Paris, where they continued their writing. Composer Frederyk Chopin and historian Joachim Lelewel also went to Paris. Frederyk Chopin
Discussions on the causes of the uprising's defeat were held by the Polish Democratic Society, which also conducted preparations for further armed struggle. Diplomatic efforts to keep the Polish issue alive were carried on by Prince Adam Czartoryski. The essential part of those discussions on the defeat focused on the situation of the Polish peasantry, which was the main social problem until 1863. Peasants did not own farmland and had to pay rents to the gentry for its use. Enfranchisement and the granting of land to peasants were regarded as indispensable conditions for modernizing the economic structure and attracting the peasant masses to the Polish independence movement.
The first to enfranchise peasants were the Prussian authorities, which action later became the foundation for the propitious economic development of that part of Poland annexed by Prussia. The Austrians enfranchised peasants during the Spring of Nations, which also swept through Prussian-annexed Poland.
Peasant Uprising in GaliciaThe peasant problem remained unresolved, however, in the Polish Kingdom. Much hope was pinned on the person of Tsar Alexander II in the belief that he would stop reprisals. Nonetheless the scope of concessions made by him was insignificant. The Tsar expressed that by his well-known saying: "Point de reveries Messieurs" ("no daydreaming, gentlemen.") A wave of religious and national demonstrations swept the Kingdom; conspirators were preparing an uprising. It broke out in January, 1863, and was waged in the Kingdom, Lithuania, Byelorussia, and Volhynia for a year and a half. It was a guerrilla war.
The clandestine National Government and the decrees issued under its seal were respected voluntarily. The foundation of an underground state in Europe was something entirely unique in the 19th century. The government collected taxes, organized the supplies of weapons and published newspapers. One of its first decisions was to enfranchise the peasants, but calculations based on a massive enrollment in the fighting failed. Only the gentry, priests, rural clerks, burghers and intelligentsia fought. It is estimated that some 200,000 men went through the ranks of the guerrilla units during eighteen months of struggle, with some 30,000 guerrillas fighting at one time.
Peasants Demand RightsThe Russian Army, thwarting the uprising, numbered 340,000 soldiers at its peak. The last "dictator" of the uprising, Romuald Traugutt, was arrested and hanged, together with four of his aides, on August 5, 1864, amid the prayers of the despairing people of Warsaw. A similar fate befell other leaders and guerrillas. The uprising collapsed, reprisals followed and the state of war lingered on until the outbreak of World War I. The Tsar scrapped the remnants of the administrative autonomy of the Kingdom. Administration, judicature and education were Russified. The rights of the Church were trimmed. The suffering and moral crisis of the people were further deepened by the loss of hope for winning independence.
On March 2, 1864, the Tsar issued a decree to enfranchise peasants, patterned after the decree of the National Government. Its aim was to attract the peasantry to the Tsardom, but in the long term its outcome turned out to be quite the contrary from what had been intended. Having been freed of the feudal burdens, peasants gradually became conscious members of the national community.
The demand of the enormous Russian market and the influx of capital into the Kingdom from foreign investors, who were interested in that market and in cheap labor, led to a quick development of industry. At the beginning of the 20th century, Warsaw numbered about one million residents; Lodz, the center of the textile industry, had a population of about 500,000. The economy of Prussian-annexed Poland was also developing favorably, whereas the economy of the Austrian-occupied Poland remained backward. All the three sectors, though, recorded a high rate of natural increase.
In 1910, the Polish Kingdom, Galicia and the Grand Duchy of Poland were inhabited by about 22.5 million people, with Poles making up some 75% of the population.
In the face of the loss of the statehood and the defeat of successive uprisings, an enormous role in maintaining Polish identity was played by culture. That culture created two patterns in the 19th century that keep on influencing Poland and Poles even today: Romanticism and Positivism.
Juliusz SlowackiRomantic literature promoted the image of a heroic fighter for freedom who alone opposed violence with the power of his spirit: "Reach where your vision does not reach, break up what mind cannot break," was the call by romantic poet Adam Mickiewicz. The other literary giant of the time, Juliusz Slowacki, wrote about heroes as "like stones thrown by God on a rampart." In music Frederic Chopin used Polish folk and national motifs.
After the November Uprising, Paris became the center of Polish romantic art and literature. Some of the exiles went farther. Ignacy Domeyko, one of the founders of modern science in Chile, was a graduate of the University of Wilno. Poles also made great contributions to the ethnographic, geographic and biological studies in Siberia, to which they had been deported.
Henryk SienkiewiczPositivism promoted well-organized work, education and economic development. In raising national issues, it invoked the historical costume in novels by Henryk Sienkiewicz, who won the Nobel Prize in 1905 for his novel "Quo Vadis," in paintings by Jan Matejko, and in operas by Stanislaw Moniuszko. The greatest Polish novel of the 19th century, "Lalka" [The Doll] by Boleslaw Prus, depicted the tragic conflict between the two attitudes--the main character, a former insurgent, then a rich businessman, is killed by his love of a mediocre aristocratic lady.
The turn of the 20th century saw a revival of romantic feeling and trends in poetry, drama (Stanislaw Wyspianski) and painting.
The emigration of artists and scientists continued throughout the entire period of bondage. In France, Maria Sklodowska-Curie found opportunities for her pioneering work in physics, taking the Nobel Prize together with her husband in 1905 and individually in 1910. In the United States the talents of Helena Modrzejewska and Ignacy Paderewski came to full bloom.
The post-uprising period saw an intensification of Russification pressure in the Russian partition, and of Germanization and a cultural struggle [Kulturkampf] against the Church in the Prussian partition. Those pressures resulted in a growth of national awareness and religious moods, but preparations for new uprisings were given up. The Austrian partition, Galicia, particularly after it was granted homerule, became the center of Polish culture. There were two universities there, in Krakow and Lwow, as well as the Polish Academy of Letters and numerous associations. In the Prussian partition, Poles could use the institutions of the law-abiding state for their defense. They could claim their rights at courts of law, set up scientific societies and economic-financial organizations.
Modern political parties--peasant, worker, national--developed at the turn of the 20th century. The problems of workers grew in conjunction with the development of industries and towns. This found expression in the revolution of 1905, which "embraced" Russia and the Kingdom.
The uprisings of the 19th century, although lost, were not in vain. Owing to them, one generation passed the desire for independence and the willingness to make sacrifices to the generation that followed. In the first half of the century that desire was common only among the socially elite, but by the turn of the next century it became universal among Poles.
Jozef PilsudskiThe upcoming war in Europe meant that Polish politicians had to choose which side to take. The chance for Poland resulted from the fact that the partitioning nations found themselves in opposing camps. Only one of the sides could come out victorious from the war--either Russia in alliance with France and England or Germany allied with Austria-Hungary. The National Democrats, led by Roman Dmowski, wanted to align themselves with Russia. The Polish Socialist Party, especially the faction led by Jozef Pilsudski, declared itself on the side of Austria-Hungary. The Polish legions were formed in Galicia to support Austria against Russia.
German military successes pushed Russians from the territory of the Kingdom of Poland. By 1915 Germany and Austria-Hungary occupied the entire territory of the Kingdom. The occupiers permitted the organization of local self-governments and city councils, as well as the Polonization of education and the setting up of a university and a polytechnic. Polish society, whose aspirations and opportunities had been stifled for decades, commanded the human potential capable of using those chances immediately.
Nevertheless in economic terms, the Kingdom's situation was dangerous. Many factories and much of the machinery, as well as positions filled by technical personnel, were evacuated by the retreating Russians. What remained of industry and farming was ruthlessly plundered by the occupiers. Malnutrition and epidemics reigned in towns.
Lancer of the Polish LegionThe situation of the Central Powers, i.e., Germany and Austria-Hungary, deteriorated in 1917. Being aware of that, Jozef Pilsudski took advantage of the clandestine Polish Military Organization (POW) set up in 1914 and refused to take an oath of allegiance to the Germans and Austrians, a fact that led to his arrest. The Regency Council instituted in the Kingdom had little prestige. The Polish National Committee acting in Paris under the leadership of Roman Dmowski was recognized as the representation of Polish interests.
The outbreak of the October Revolution in Russia in 1917 and the conclusion of the separatist peace treaty between Soviet Russia and the Central Powers in Brest (March 3, 1918) enabled the Western Powers to support the Polish cause. Earlier, Article 13 of a message by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson (January 8, 1918) called for the restoration of an independent Polish state. France was striving to weaken Germany and rebuild a strong Poland.
Ignacy PaderewskiWorld War I brought an unexpected defeat to all of the three partitioning powers. Austria-Hungary capitulated on January 3, 1918, and Germany surrendered on November 11. Russia was excluded from the group of victors by the revolution. This opened the road to independence for Poland. The Austrians and Germans retreating from the East were disarmed by units of the Polish Military Organization.
On the night of November 6, 1918, representatives of the Polish Socialist Party and of the Peasant Party formed a Polish government in Lublin with Ignacy Daszynski at the head. On November 10 Pilsudski returned to Warsaw, having been released from prison. The Regency Council and Daszynski's government handed power over to him. Pilsudski assumed the functions of the Head of State. Preparations began for parliamentary elections to be held according to a democratic electoral law. Women were granted full civil rights. The eight-hour workday and social insurance for workers were introduced. The elections to the Legislative Sejm were held in January, 1919, and won by the National Democrats.
The Struggle for IndependenceThe delineation of borders posed one of the most difficult problems for the revived Polish state. The restoration of Poland to her pre-partition borders was impossible in view of the formation of a national consciousness on the part of Ukrainians in the 19th century, as well as by the Lithuanians and to some extent also the Belarusians [then known as Byelorussians]. The adoption of the ethnographic principle in marking the borders was also difficult to accept, because of multi-ethnic settlement in the majority of borderland areas. Yet, even some of the lands indisputably inhabited by Poles in 1918 were beyond the government's control. One such example was Wielkopolska [Great Poland]. An uprising broke out there in December, 1918. Following heavy fighting against the Germans the land was incorporated into the Polish state in 1919.
The provisions of the Treaty of Versailles stipulated that Poland would receive Pomerania, but Gdansk would be a free city, and that a plebiscite would be held to resolve the future of Eastern Prussia and Upper Silesia. The result was unfavorable to Poland. Nevertheless, three successive uprisings by the Polish population in Upper Silesia caused that part of the region to be given to Poland. The Polish-Czech treaty dividing Tsesin Silesia was violated by Czechoslovakia, which took the entire disputed territory by force.
The greatest problems were posed, however, by the question of the eastern border. Soviet Russia already had renounced the Treaty of Brest in late 1918 and launched an offensive in the Ukraine and Bielarus [then called Byelorussia]. The local national movements and the budding state structures were jeopardized. The advancing Bolsheviks murdered Poles living in those areas.
Early in 1919, the Polish army launched a counter-offensive. Simultaneously, attempts were under way in Ukraine to form an independent Ukrainian state. Britain proposed the Curzon Line (on the Bug River) as the eastern border for Poland, which if accepted, would have left millions of Poles outside their homeland and under Russian rule. In May, 1920, Polish troops entered Kiev in alliance with the Ukrainian troops under Petlura's command. That was a partial realization of the federative plans of Jozef Pilsudski, who wanted to unite Poland, Ukraine, Bielarus and Lithuania.
Interwar PolandPoland was too weak, however, to guarantee the existence of the federation. The counter-offensive by the Red Army broke the front line, with the Bolsheviks pushing westward. In August, 1920, the Soviet Army under the command of Tukhachevsky reached the outskirts of Warsaw, which put the city and Poland's independence, and even the independence of Germany and Europe, in grave danger. A plan to defend the city was drawn up under the direction of the Commander-in-Chief, Pilsudski. The battle, ultimately victorious, continued from August 12 to August 15 on the outskirts of Warsaw, with a Polish counter-offensive being launched from the area of the Wieprz River on August 16. The Bolshevik troops were smashed and defeated once again on the Niemen River.
The Peace of Riga concluded on March 18, 1921, establishing Poland's eastern border on the Zbrucz River, providing for payment of reparations to Poland and stipulating the return of the cultural treasures looted by Russia during the time of the partitions.
Between World Wars
The rebuilt Polish state had a territory of 389,000 sq. km. Its population, according to the census of 1921, amounted to 27 million, with Poles amounting to 69% (18.7 million), Ukrainians 14%, Jews 8%, Byelorussians [Belarusians] 3.9%, Germans 3.8% of the entire population. There were also many Lithuanians, Russians and Czechs. Catholics made up 65% of the population, the Uniats 10%, members of the Orthodox Church 12%, Jews 10% and Protestants 2.5%. The overwhelming majority of the population lived in the countryside (75%). Peasants made up 55%, workers 27%. small businessmen 11%, intelligentsia 5%, bourgeoisie 1%. and landowners 0.3% of the total population.
The hostilities, pillage by the occupiers, and demographic losses left Poland's economy in ruin. The greatest destruction was suffered by the Kingdom's industry, which also lost its markets in Russia after the war. The consolidation and economic unification of the three formerly partitioned areas was the largest problem to be
overcome. The concentration of land with a relatively small number of owners, on the one hand, and the comminution of peasant farms on the other, as well as the shortage of arable land available to peasants produced tensions and conflicts. Destroyed towns could not accommodate the surplus of rural manpower.
The first years of existence of the state were filled with strenuous work on the reconstruction of the economy and creation of the state apparatus, as well as on lawmaking. Those years were crowned with the adoption of the Constitution of March 17, 1921, which was patterned after the democratic Constitution of the Third
Poland in 1923Nineteen party tickets were entered in the 1922 parliamentary elections. The parties formed blocs: the right wing getting 29% of votes, the center 21%, the left wing 25%, and the national minorities 22%. The National Assembly made up of two houses (Sejm and Senate) elected the President. He was Gabriel Narutowicz, the candidate of the center and left wing, supported by the national minorities.
The disappointed right wing unleashed a violent campaign against the President. On December 16. 1922, Narutowicz was assassinated by a mentally disturbed supporter of the right wing. The murder and the shock it caused cooled the fanaticized masses of the right-wing's followers. Stanislaw Wojciechowski was elected President.
The conflict over the election of Narutowicz highlighted the weak points of the political structures--the party factionalism, the tensions between the right and the left, as well as between the Polish majority and the national and religious minorities.
Social tensions were further deepened by the difficult economic situation. Spiraling inflation turned into hyperinflation in 1923. Industrial production in 1924 amounted to 56% of that recorded in 1913. A government composed of experts named in 1923 carried out a successful monetary reform under the chairmanship of Wladyslaw Grabski. Sound currency restored the economic balance providing grounds for better business conditions in the years 1925-1929.
The national existence and the borders of the Polish Republic were guaranteed by the Treaties of Versailles and Riga. Germany and Russia could not tolerate the loss of territory and the emergence of the Polish state, forgetting that those were the lands once seized during the partitions. As a result, they did their best order to weaken the Polish state or even destroy it, if the situation permitted. The counter-balance rested in the Polish-French alliance and in Poland's alliance with Romania, which was threatened by Russia. On the other hand, England supported German demands, acting on the assumption that peace can be maintained by satisfying the aspirations of the big powers and not of medium-size or small countries. That, in the long run, proved to be an erroneous assumption with regard to Germany and Soviet Russia.
The fall of Grabski's government at the end of 1925 and the ensuing difficulties in forming a new government, the parties' incessant maneuvering for power, as well as tensions arising from the economic war declared on Poland by Germany in that year, sent the Polish political system reeling. In May 1926, after a few years spent on the political sidelines, Jozef Pilsudski staged an armed coup d'etat. The political system consequently created in 1926 was called Sanacja (from a slogan referring to cleansing political life of party factionalism and corruption, with which the previous governments and parties were charged.)
Legal modifications introduced to the political system after May 1926 were small indeed, as all the political parties and the trade unions continued their activities with little change. Freedom of the press was maintained. In practice, however, an authoritarian regime was created, curbing the powers of the Sejm and harassing the opposition parties, and finally arresting the opposition leaders and putting them on trial in 1931.
The Sanacja came to power when the economic situation was generally favorable, but soon the world crisis of 1929-1933 hit out at the weak Polish economy with particular force. Industrial output fell dramatically and in the worst year of 1932 it represented 53% of that of 1913. Prevailing prices led the rural population to poverty and destitution. Unemployment in towns rose dramatically. Recovery came only after 1935.
Jozef PilsudskiIn foreign policy Poland was threatened by the build-up of the military potentials of Germany and the Soviet Union. The preparations of those states for war were time consuming, which is why they concluded non-aggression pacts with Poland: the Soviet Union in 1932 and Germany in 1934. That gave Poland, according to Jozef Pilsudski, several years for internal reform and development of a defensive capability. The Polish political reforms were crowned with the Constitution of April 23, 1935, which strengthened the president's position and power.
The years between 1936 and 1939 were a period of economic growth, development of industry, especially in the Central Industrial Region situated between the Vistula and San Rivers. State intervention and the correct choice of investment targets were largely the result of policies pursued by Deputy Prime Minister Eugeniusz Kwiatkowski. The average standard of living was improving, unemployment was falling and part of the surplus of rural manpower was absorbed by new projects. All that was important in view of the demographic increase. In 1939, Poland numbered some 35 million people.
Kwiatkowski views constructionMinister of Foreign Affairs, Jozef Beck, continued the policy of balanced relations with Moscow and Berlin. However, the readiness of the Western Powers to meet Germany's demands upset the pan-European equilibrium. That policy had its climax in Munich where Czechoslovakia's interests were sacrificed for the sake of illusive peace (1938).
At the beginning of 1939 German diplomacy put forth demands toward Poland: to incorporate Gdansk into the Reich and to build an extra-territorial motorway through Polish Pomerania. Moreover, Germany proposed that Poland accede to the Anti-Soviet Pact. It was assumed in Poland that submissiveness would lead to the loss of
independence. Thus, for the first time, Nazi Germany encountered opposition to its expansion. In the meantime Great Britain changed its policy. In April, Britain gave guarantees for Poland's independence, which were later confirmed by France. That being the situation, the Soviet Union helped Germany to pull itself from isolation.
The Soviet Union was simultaneously negotiating with Germany, England and France, promising assistance against Germany on the condition of Poland's consent for the entry of the Red Army onto Polish territory. The fate of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia in 1940 later demonstrated what the result of the entry of that army onto Polish soil would have meant.
Under the existing circumstances, greater profits could be derived by Stalin from an alliance with Germany. On August 23, 1939, the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact was signed. Its secret clauses defined the zones of influence (i.e., areas for territorial expansion) of both nations, including a new partition of Poland. On September 1, 1939,
without declaring war, Germany attacked Poland.
The independent existence of Poland lasted for only 20 years. The statehood regained as a result of the struggle of several generations was of great value to Poles. The two decades of independence brought both successes and failures. The greatest achievement was the consolidation of the areas and economies of the three former partitions into a uniform state organism. The new legislation enacted at that time was another important accomplishment. The construction of the port of Gdynia and development of the Central Industrial Region were also among the successes.
Polish dreams of a free and just homeland were best expressed by Stefan Zeromski when he wrote about "houses made of glass," bright, spacious and available to all. However, economic reality was more difficult. Poland was a destroyed, underdeveloped country, and social conflicts and the poverty of a part of society were a source of widespread pain. The slow implementation of agricultural reform and poverty in the rural areas were significant failures. It also proved impossible to avoid social, national and religious conflicts.
Wladyslaw Reymont, Nobel LaureateThe development of culture, however, was a great success of reborn Poland. In literature, the Nobel Prize was won in 1924 by Wladyslaw Reymont. Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz (Witkacy), Bruno Schulz and Witold Gombrowicz all produced works that charted new trends in world literature. There were also remarkable developments in theater, painting, architecture and film, including the excellent works by Jozef Lejtes. In science, the greatest achievements were scored by the Lwow and Warsaw schools of mathematics under the direction of Stefan Banach, Waclaw Sierpinski, Kazimierz Kuratowski and Hugo Steinhaus. In the liberal arts, history, archaeology, and sociology flourished. Such scholars as Jozef Kostrzewski, Marceli Handelsman, Stefan Czarnowski and Florian Znaniecki created their own scientific schools.
Despite all the economic difficulties Polish educational institutions brought forth one of the most valuable generations in Polish history: an enlightened, courageous and patriotic generation. In 1939, that generation stood up in the defense of the homeland.
The Germans attack on September 1, 1939Poland was under occupation by two cruel and totalitarian states. The Soviet Union snatched 50% of Poland's territory, inhabited by 14.3 million people, including 6.5 million Poles. During eighteen months of occupation the most active individuals from all walks and domains of life were murdered. Hundreds of thousands of people were arrested and sent to Soviet concentration camps. Together with members of their families, upwards of 1.5 million Poles were imprisoned in the Gulag system. Most of them died of exhaustion and famine. In the spring of 1940, 15.000 Polish officers, who had been taken prisoners of war, were murdered at Katyn, Kharkov and Miednoie. Among them were commissioned officers and doctors, scientists, lawyers, engineers, chaplains and teachers called up for service at the outbreak of war.
[To purchase an English language DVD documentary about the Katyn Massacre click here]
The fate of Polish citizens under the German occupation was no less horrible. The aim of the Germans was to turn Poles into unskilled laborers. High schools and universities were closed. The treasures of Polish culture were plundered and taken away to Germany. Mass arrests and executions went on unabated throughout the occupation period. Roundups were organized in towns and hostages from among the innocent population were taken. A network of concentration camps in which slave labor force was inhumanely exploited was established. Hundreds of thousands of people were murdered there or died of hunger, disease or exhaustion. Some three million Polish Jews perished in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Majdanek and Treblinka death camps. Poles and citizens of other countries occupied by the Nazis also died there.
Germans attacking Gdansk by shipThe defeat suffered in September 1939 did not stop the Polish resistance. A Polish Government-in-Exile was formed. It was recognized by the states of the anti-Nazi coalition. Wladyslaw Sikorski became the Prime Minister. The exile government first operated in Paris, France, but after the inevitable fall of that nation to the Germans, the Government-in-Exile moved to the United Kingdom, where it continued to exist throughout the war and until the fall of communism in Poland.
Thousands of Polish soldiers escaped to the United Kingdom, where they joined the Allied Forces in the ongoing struggle against the Axis Powers.
The Home Army [Armia Krajowa] was formed in Poland. Operating underground, it used the weapons of subversion, intelligence and propaganda, preparing for an uprising. At its peak the Home Army numbered some 250,000 soldiers. General Stefan Rowecki-Grot was the commander-in-chief of the Home Army until the time of his arrest on June 30, 1943. He was replaced by General Tadeusz Komorowski-Bor.
In December 1940, the Government Delegation in the Homeland, led by the Deputy Prime Minister of the Government-in-Exile, was set up to operate clandestinely. Despite terror and arrests, the Polish underground state functioned throughout the whole period of the occupation. It was preparing for assuming power after the liberation.
As high schools and universities were closed, it was necessary to develop clandestine forms of schooling. There were also hundreds. of underground newspapers and printing houses. As early as 1940 the Government-in-Exile established the Polish Armed Forces in the West. Polish fighter pilots made a great contribution to the victory in the Battle of Britain.
After the German attack on the Soviet Union (June 1941) and following a Polish-Soviet agreement, General Wladyslaw Anders formed a Polish Army in the USSR. In the spring and summer of 1942, with Stalin's grudging permission, that army was evacuated to Iran. During the liberation of Italy, Anders' army won fame for storming the Monte Casino Monastery (May 1944).
Upon the counter-offensive by the Red Army, the Soviet attitude toward Poland was altered. However, when in April 1943 the Germans found the graves of Polish officers at Katyn and the Polish Government-in-Exile asked the International Red Cross to look into the case, the USSR severed diplomatic relations with the Polish government. Polish communists in the Soviet Union set up the Union of Polish Patriots. The formation of a Polish division under the command of General Zygmunt Berling began.
Gemans bomb WarsawThe year 1943 was particularly tragic for the Polish cause. Gen. Sikorski was killed in an air crash and the Commander-in-Chief of the Home Army, Gen. Grot-Rowecki, was arrested in Poland. An uprising broke out in the Warsaw Ghetto, but was crushed by the Nazis despite courageous efforts on the part of the Jews and attempts at assistance by Christian Poles.
In January, 1944, the advancing Soviet troops entered Poland's prewar territory, treating those lands as Soviet property. Military cooperation with local Home Army units lasted until the Germans were defeated. Upon victory, Polish units were taken prisoners, very often by deceit, and transported to the Gulag camps and Siberia. After Soviet troops crossed the Bug River, the USSR set up the Polish National Liberation Committee, entirely dependent on the Soviets.
Polish society remained consistent in supporting the institutions of its underground state, the Warsaw Uprising being the final attempt to win full independence for Poland. The Warsaw Uprising, which must be differentiated from the Ghetto Uprising, broke out on August l, 1944, and lasted until October 2. The losses of the insurgents amounted to some 17,000 killed and 6,000 wounded, with about 180,000 civilians dead. After the uprising, the entire population, nearly one million people, was expelled from the city. The Germans started destroying what was left of Warsaw.
The following video is in Polish with English subtitles:
Part 1 Part 2
During the uprising and later, during the destruction of Warsaw, the Red Army took no action. Stanislaw Mikolajczyk, leading the government in exile, had made attempts at reaching an agreement with the Soviet government. In the way, however, stood Moscow's demands to recognize the Curzon Line as a frontier and the Polish National Liberation Committee was transformed into a Provisional Government of the Polish Republic, recognized by the Soviet Union.
Warsaw's Castle Square in 1945In January 1945, Soviet troops crossed the Vistula and took shattered Warsaw. In March 1945, the Soviet authorities proposed talks with the leadership of the Polish underground. When the talks became reality, sixteen Polish leaders, including the Commander-in-Chief of the Home Army, General Leopold Okulicki, and the Delegate for the Homeland, Jan Jankowski, were treacherously imprisoned.
Poland's destiny was resolved by the three major powers without the participation of the Poles at the Yalta Conference, held February 4-11, 1945. It was decided there to establish a Provisional Government of National Unity, made up of members of the pro-Soviet government and émigré politicians. That government was to hold free elections. Stanislaw Mikolajczyk made a compromise and entered the Government of National Unity as a Deputy Prime Minister. The Government-in- Exile, led by Prime Minister Tomasz Arciszewski, opposed the dictate. In response, Britain and the United States withdrew their support and diplomatic recognition. Yet that government continued, persisting as the symbol of the struggle for sovereignty.
When the German Reich fell on May 8 or 9, 1945, and the most bloody of wars was thus ending, Poland was theoretically in the group of the victorious allies. Polish soldiers had been fighting the Germans from the first to the last day of the war. Among all nations, however, Poland lost the highest percentage of her citizens, who fell in the struggle or were murdered as a result of the occupiers' policy of terror--a total of 6.5 million people, including almost all the Jewish Poles. The capital city was annihilated, material and cultural losses were tremendous. In addition, Poland emerged from the war with a government imposed from the outside and composed of people whom the nation did not trust. They were planning to introduce changes by force--changes the Polish people did not want.
The Post-War Years, 1945-1990
After the outbreak of the German-Soviet war, the Soviet Union sent home a group of Polish communists, who established the Polish Workers' Party. It was a small party, not recognizing the legal authorities of the Polish state and enjoying no social support in Poland. It was that party, however, which seized power in post-war Poland, helped by the pressure of the Soviet Union.
Posting of National Liberation Committee ManifestoAs early as 1944, the Polish National Liberation Committee concluded an agreement with the USSR establishing the eastern border of Poland along the Curzon Line, confirmed by a treaty of August 16, 1945. The Potsdam Conference (July 17-August 2, 1945) defined Poland's western border on the Odra and Nysa Rivers. Poland's territory amounted to 312,000 sq. km., with a population of 24 million according to the census of 1946. The shifting of the state westward was accompanied by the expulsion of the German population (which had been determined at Potsdam,) as well as with the resettlement of millions of Poles from the lost Eastern territories into new territories acquired by Poland.
The change of borders, the mass-scale migration in the war-damaged country, the imposition on Poland of the Soviet political system, the continued stationing of Soviet troops, the loss of independence--those were the factors defining the dramatic situation of the Polish nation. Especially tragic were the destinies of the heroic leaders and soldiers of the Home Army, who were arrested, killed or deported to Siberia, not to mention the insults heaped on them by official propaganda.
The Provisional Government of National Unity was composed of representatives of the Polish Workers Party (PWP), the Polish Socialist Party and the Polish Peasant Party, led by Deputy Prime Minister Stanislaw Mikolajczyk, but actual power rested with the PWP, which had full control over the army and secret police, and enjoyed Soviet support. After the liquidation by terror of the remnants of the underground organizations, the political attack was directed at the Polish Peasant Party.
Mikolajczyk counted on social support, but his party proved to be powerless in the face of violence and election-rigging by the communists in the referendum of 1946 and the parliamentary elections of 1947. The party was broken up and Mikolajczyk escaped from Poland.
Unification Congress of 1948The next step was liquidation of the Polish Socialist Party. That aim was achieved by uniting the Polish Workers' Party and the Polish Socialist Party into the Polish United Workers Party (PUWP) in December, 1948. Since that date the communist party had a monopoly on power.
Efforts to win social support were made as early as the times of the Polish National Liberation Committee, which issued a decree on agrarian reform. That reform was indispensable in Poland, but political considerations took priority over economic common sense, resulting in the creation of thousands of small farms under five hectares in area, too small to be economically self-dependent. A war on illiteracy was declared, free education and social insurance was made available to everyone. Low-priced books were published in mass numbers. Those reforms, however, were accompanied by the suppression of Polish national aspirations.
Warsaw in RuinsNeither the war-time losses nor the political situation managed to break the will of Poles to live. The post-war years were marked by a demographic boom and an enormous effort to rebuild the country. The Poles resettled from the USSR populated Polish western territories, developing towns and villages. The people of Warsaw returned to the sea of ruins that were left from what once had been the nation's greatest city.
In just a few years, Warsaw was rebuilt. The three-year plan of reconstruction (1947-1949) was implemented very efficiently, as the authorities were still tolerating the existence of cooperative and private enterprises after the nationalization of industry in 1946.
The year 1948 saw a major shift in communist policy. Having destroyed the private sector, and thus market rules and balances, the communists introduced in their place a centrally controlled economy. Costly investment projects, such as gigantic steel mills, metal refineries and armament factories, were started. Poland's economic structure was being adjusted to the needs of the USSR. In addition, the party began a forced collectivization of farming.
In politics those were the worst years of the Stalinist terror. The peak moment of that struggle against society came with an attack on the Church. Poland's Primate Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski was imprisoned.
The disastrous economic situation, the failure of the six-year plan (1950-1955), popular discontent and the political thaw in the USSR made the PUWP change its policies. The party's small concessions, however, evoked great hopes and strong social pressure upon the authorities. In June, 1956, it developed into worker's demonstrations in Poznan, which were bloodily dispersed.
The breakthrough in politics came about in October, 1956. Wladyslaw Gomulka became the First Secretary of the PUWP. His promise to embark upon the "Polish road to socialism" won social support. Cardinal Wyszynski was released and the authorities desisted from further persecution of the Church. The collectivization of farming was discontinued. The innocent and illegally imprisoned soldiers of the Home Army were set free.
Gomulka, however, dissipated the support that he had enjoyed in October. He entered into conflict with the Church and the important letter by Poland's Episcopate to German bishops ("we do forgive and ask forgiveness,") opening up the difficult Polish-German dialogue, evoked the party's vehement protest in 1965 and 1966.
Great harm was done to Poland by the conflict within the ruling party and the anti-Semitic slogans employed by a part of the party apparatus. That faction, fighting for power, tried to forge a bond with the populace on that basis. That attempt failed, however, and the anti-Semitic faction did not come to power. A by-product of their struggle, though, was the emigration of the remaining Polish Jews in 1968. This put the good name of Poland in disrepute.
His prestige falling, Gomulka scored his last success. On December 7, 1970, Poland and the Federal Republic of Germany [West Germany] concluded a treaty recognizing the border on the Odra and Nysa Rivers. A week later, however, strikes broke out in Gdansk, Gdynia and Szczecin. The party reacted using force, with troops shooting at the defenseless crowds of workers. Gomulka lost power and Edward Gierek became the First Secretary of the PUWP.
PUWP Congress of 1975The new team undertook another attempt at reforming the system, the second one after 1956, but quickly withdrew from the effort. The party's bureaucratic structures, created within the framework of the planned economy, defended their powers, while industrial lobbies defended investment projects that had nothing to do with market demand. A symbol of that economic waste was the gigantic, technologically out-of-date Katowice steel mill. An enormous Polish investment in the Soviet fuel complex ensured deliveries of raw materials, but made the country dependent on a single supplier. The agricultural policy, which neglected private farms, caused difficulties and shortages in the food market. Large credits extended by the highly industrialized nations postponed the disaster, but could not prevent it. The degeneration of the system was further accelerated by the low professional and moral level of the ruling team.
When strikes broke out again in 1976, they were crushed by force, although the authorities did not resort to shooting at the crowds. A group of intellectuals established a Workers Defense Committee to stand for oppressed workers [known as KOR in Polish]. The authorities harassed KOR members, but stopped short of using terror.
KOR was a small group, as were the other opposition groups. The majority of Poles feared open action against the authorities, but the incompetence of the ruling group, corruption, lack of prestige and dependence on the USSR deprived the governing powers of any legitimacy.
First Sec. Gierek and Pres. Ford sign agreementAn important role in shaping social attitudes was played by culture. Despite censorship and administrative interference, the patronage of the state and some leeway left to artistic creativity permitted the development of the Polish film school, theater, arts, music and literature after 1956. Of great importance to the loosened fetters of censorship was the literary and scientific activity pursued in exile. Radio Free Europe played a significant role in molding public opinion. Similar roles were played by the Paris-based periodical "Kultura" and a number of similar publications. As a result, Poles were not isolated from European culture, which was, indeed, so close to them. The importance of the emigre cultural community was highlighted by the awarding of the Nobel Prize for literature to Czeslaw Milosz in 1980.
The essential influence upon Polish attitudes continued to be the Catholic Church, which preserved not only the faith, but lasting moral principles and national traditions. The elevation of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla to the papacy in October, 1978, and his homecoming as Pope John Paul II in June, 1979, were breakthrough events. In hailing the Pope, Polish society, divided by a ban on the establishment of independent social organizations, recovered its unity and its sense of dignity.
Shipyard in GdanskIn the summer of 1980, Poland was swept by a wave of strikes. Lech Walesa assumed leadership of the strike committee at the Gdansk Shipyard. The most outstanding Polish intellectuals became the workers' advisers. The authorities had to institute negotiations on the a list of 21 demands, which, together with pay raises and many
other things, called for an end to censorship and the establishment of free trade unions. Devoid of any program, the ruling group agreed to make concessions. Within two months, the enormous, ten-million-strong Solidarity trade union [Solidarnosc] came into being. It was a union and, at the same time, a reform and independence-oriented social movement, resorting to peaceful methods only.
Nevertheless, the party's concessions were only of a transitional nature. The PUWP's successive first secretaries, Stanislaw Kania and Wojciech Jaruzelski were under double pressure: from the conservative party apparatus and the Soviet Union, which itself was in the declining phase of Leonid Brezhnev's rule. After eighteen months of the conflict-ridden co-existence between the Solidarity and the PUWP, of blocking reforms by the party, of provocations and the deteriorating economic situation and strikes, martial law was imposed at midnight on December 12, 1981. Solidarity leaders were interned; strikes, which erupted in protest, were crushed with force (seven miners were killed at the Wujek colliery); and military units were sent to control factories and offices.
The public responded with massive civil resistance to martial law. Before a month had passed, tens of underground newspapers and publications appeared. That fact alone rendered censorship and party propaganda helpless and fruitless. The tragic alienation of the authorities from the people, lasting since 1945, became even more evident.
The people turned to the Church for protection, with the latter providing the venues for meetings and patriotic demonstrations. When in 1984 officers of the "security service" murdered the popular priest, Jerzy Popieluszko, the public mood reached its boiling point. Direct perpetrators were put on trial, revealing the disintegration of the state apparatus. Martial law solved no problems; power was slipping from the hands of the ruling group; the economy was a shambles. On the other hand, society's resistance was growing, as was the prestige of the opposition. In 1983 Lech Walesa received the Nobel Peace Prize.
Riot in WarsawIn 1988 Poland was again swept by a wave of strikes. In 1989 roundtable talks between the authorities and the opposition were arranged and held with the mediation of the Church. The talks were helped by a favorable international situation -- perestroika in the USSR and the support of the Western states for reforms in Poland.
June saw elections that had been agreed upon in the roundtable contract. The party did not even win the votes of its own members. It retained with difficulty only those offices which had been allocated to it beforehand by the contract with the opposition. The satellite political parties (the UPP and the DP) moved to the opposition side. Owing to the efforts of Lech Walesa and other leaders, the first non-communist government in the Soviet bloc came into being with Tadeusz Mazowiecki as Prime Minister.
Poland in 1589The country reached the height of its grandeur in the 16th century, when it was one of the most important powers in Europe, with territories stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea.
When the Jagiellonian dynasty came to an end, the Poles took the unique step of introducing an elected monarchy of kings chosen from the royal families of Europe. They also introduced a parliamentary voting system called the liberum veto, by which any member of parliament could veto a law with a single vote.
In the 17th century Poland came under attack from all sides; it was invaded by the Swedes, fought with the Turks, and there was a Cossack rebellion in the southeastern territories. The country's power was whittled away until at the end of the 18th century Russia, Austria and Prussia together divided Poland up in a series of three partitions.
Throughout the 19th century Poland continued to be occupied, despite two uprisings in 1830 and 1863. Independence finally came with the end of World War I.
A 20-year period of social and political troubles were abruptly interrupted by the German invasion and the outbreak of World War II. Poland suffered terribly under the occupation, though Poles offered heroic resistance.
The communists seized power immediately after the war. There followed a harsh Stalinist period of repressions; from the late 50s on things were a little easier, though Poland continued to suffer from the dual burden of political oppression and economic hardship.
In 1980-81, the latest in a series of popular protests led to concessions that included the establishment of Solidarnosc (Solidarity), the Communist bloc's first independent trade union. These freedoms were taken away when martial law was declared, but the precedent had been set. The opposition continued, legally and illegally, to chip away at the monolith of communism, and in the late 1980s and early 1990s the seemingly impossible came to pass: the Communist party was disbanded and democratic elections were held.
The country is completing its conversion to a free market economy.
Important Dates in Polish History
Prince Mieszko baptized into Christianity; Poland becomes a Christian nation.
Boleslaw the Brave becomes the first King of a unified Poland.
King Kazimierz the Great founds the Jagiellonian University in Krakow.
Marienburg, Teutonic Knights stronghold1410
Poles defeat the Teutonic Knights at the Battle of Grunwald.
First book published in Polish.
Union of Lublin: Poland and Lithuania join under a single crown.
King Zygmunt August, the last Jagiellonian king, dies without an heir; Poland adopts an elected monarchy
St. Stanislaus Kostka faints at a banquet1596
King Zygmunt III Waza moves the capital from Krakow to Warsaw.
Poles defeat the Turks at the Battle of Chocim.
The Liberum Veto is instituted.
Czestochowa besieged by the Swedes.
Queen Marie-Casimira Sobieska1683
Relief of Vienna: Polish King Jan Sobieski defeats the Turkish army besieging the city.
The first partition of Poland.
The Third of May Constitution.
Voting for the Constitution of May 3, 17911793
The second partition of Poland.
Kosciuszko leads an insurrection against the Russians.
The third partition of Poland, after which Poland ceases to exist as a state.
The November Uprising against the Russians breaks out in Warsaw.
Russians bivouac at Warsaw's Royal Castle1863
January Uprising against the Russians.
Austrian parliament allows greater autonomy for Galicia (the part of Poland under the Austrian partition.)
As part of the settlement after World War I, an independent Poland is reborn.
Poland fights a successful war with the Bolsheviks.
Pilsudski takes power in a coup d'etat.
Sept. 1, 1939
Nazi Germany attacks Poland; World War II begins.
World War II: 6 million Poles, including 3 million Polish Christians, lose their lives.
The Communists take control in Poland, backed by the Soviet Union; the country is renamed "Polska Rzeczpospolita Ludowa," or "People's Republic of Poland."
Death of Stalin.
Workers' protests in Poznan; Stalinist leader Bierut replaced by Wladyslaw Gomulka.
Student protests, which the Communists blame on "Zionism."
Workers' protests in Gdansk; Gomulka forced to step down, succeeded by Edward Gierek.
Relative prosperity in Poland, mostly paid for by foreign credit.
Pope John Paul II1978
Karol Wojtyla elected Pope; assumes the name John Paul II.
Workers' protests lead to the formation of Solidarnosc, a nationwide independent trade union, with Lech Walesa as president. Gierek is brought down; later, General Jaruzelski becomes First Secretary of the Communist Party.
December 13, 1981
The Jaruzelski regime declares martial law; Solidarnosc is outlawed.
Martial law is lifted; Lech Walesa is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Father Jerzy Popieluszko, a priest associated with Solidarnosc, is kidnapped and murdered by the Polish secret police.
Industrial unrest and economic problems lead to Round Table Talks between the government and the opposition.
In partly democratic elections, Solidarity wins a landslide victory; Tadeusz Mazowiecki becomes the first non-Communist Prime Minister.
The name of the country is changed back to "Rzeczpospolita Polska" or "The Republic of Poland"
Lech Walesa in 2007January, 1990
Polish Communist Party ceases to exist.
First democratic presidential elections; Lech Walesa elected President.
First fully democratic parliamentary elections since before World War II.
A coalition of leftist parties gains control of the Sejm, the Polish parliament.
Aleksander Kwasniewski, a leader of the leftist coalition and former Communist, is elected President. He promises to continue reforms and integration with free Europe.
Lech Kaczynski, a co-founder of the conservative Law and Justice Party, is elected President. His brother Jaroslaw Kaczynski becomes Prime Minister, followed in 2007 by Donald Tusk, whom Kaczynski had defeated in the presidential elections.
President Lech Kaczynski and his wife, together with 94 other prominent Poles, die in a plane crash near Smolensk, Russsia, as they travel to a commemoration of the Katyn Massacre, in which over 20,000 Polish elite were murdered at the hands of Stalin's NKVD during World War II.
President Bronislaw KomorowskiAugust, 2010
Bronislaw Komorowski of the Civic Platform (PO) party was elected President in a struggle with Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who was aided in his campaign by sympathy for his twin brother, President Lech Kaczynski, who died in a plane crash near Smolensk, Russia. Donald Tusk, a member of the ruling PO party, remains Prime Minister.