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The History of Poland is rooted in the arrival of the Slavs, who gave rise to permanent settlement and historic development on Polish lands. During the Piast dynasty Christianity was adopted in 966 AD and a medieval monarchy established. The Jagiellonian dynasty period brought close ties with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, cultural development and territorial expansion, culminating in the establishment of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1569.
The Commonwealth in its early phase constituted a continuation of the Jagiellonian prosperity, with its remarkable development of a sophisticated noble democracy. From the mid-17th century, the huge state entered a period of decline caused by devastating wars and deterioration of the country's system of government. Significant internal reforms were introduced during the later part of the 18th century, but the reform process was not allowed to run its course, as the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Prussia, and the Austrian Habsburg Monarchy through a series of invasions and subsequent partitions terminated the Commonwealth's independent existence in 1795.
From then until 1918 there was no independent Polish state. The Poles engaged intermittently in armed resistance until 1864. After the failure of the last uprising, the nation preserved its identity through educational initiatives and the program of "organic work", intended to modernize the economy and society. The opportunity to regain freedom appeared only after World War I, when the partitioning imperial powers were defeated by war and revolution.
The Second Polish Republic was established and existed from 1918 to 1939. It was destroyed by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union by their Invasion of Poland at the beginning of World War II. Millions of Polish citizens perished in the course of the Nazi occupation as Nazi Germany classified both Poles and Jews as subhuman, targeting the latter for extermination. The Polish government in exile kept functioning and through the many Polish military formations on the western and eastern fronts the Poles contributed to the Allied victory. Nazi Germany's forces were compelled to retreat from Poland as the Soviet Red Army advanced, which led to the creation of the communist People's Republic of Poland, a Soviet satellite state.
The country's geographic location was shifted to the west and it largely lost its traditional multi-ethnic character. By the late 1980s Solidarity, a Polish reform movement, became crucial in bringing about a peaceful transition from a communist state to the capitalist economic system and liberal parliamentary democracy. This process resulted in the creation of the modern Polish state.
Members of the Homo genus have lived in the glaciation disrupted environment of north Central Europe for a long time. In prehistoric and protohistoric times, over the period of at least 500,000 years, the area of present-day Poland went through the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age stages of development, along with the nearby regions.
The Neolithic period ushered in the first settled agricultural communities, whose founders migrated in from the Danube River area, beginning about 5,500 BC. Later the native post-Mesolithic populations would also adopt and further develop the agricultural way of life (between 4,400 and about 2,000 BC).
Poland's Early Bronze Age cultures began around 2,300–2,400 BC. The Iron Age commenced ca. 700–750 BC. One of the many cultures present, the Lusatian culture, spanning the Bronze and Iron Ages, left prominent settlement sites.
Around 400 BC Poland was being settled by the La Tène culture Celtic arrivals. They were soon followed by emerging cultures with a strong Germanic component, influenced first by the Celts and then by the Roman Empire. The Germanic people migrated out of the area by about 500 AD. Wooded regions to the north and east were settled by the Balts.
The Slavic people have been in this territory for over 1500 years. They organized into tribal units, of which the larger ones were later known as the Polish tribes; the names of many tribes are found on the list compiled by the anonymous Bavarian Geographer in the 9th century. In the 9th and 10th centuries the tribes gave rise to developed regions along the upper Vistula (the Vistulans within the Great Moravian Empire sphere), the Baltic Sea coast and in Greater Poland. The last tribal undertaking resulted in the 10th century in a lasting political structure and state, Poland, one of the West Slavic nations.
During the Piast dynasty rule (10th–14th century), Poland was formed and established as a state and a nation. The historically recorded Polish state begins with Mieszko I in the second half of the 10th century. Mieszko, who ruled from before 963 to his death in 992, chose to be baptized in the Western Latin Rite in 966, following his marriage to Princess Dobrawa of Bohemia. Mieszko completed the unification of the West Slavic tribal lands fundamental to the new country's existence. Dagome iudex, a 991 document, placed Mieszko's country under the protection of the Pope. Following its emergence, the Polish nation was led by a series of rulers who converted the population to Christianity, created a strong kingdom and integrated Poland into the European culture.
Mieszko's son Bolesław I Chrobry (ruled 992–1025) established a Polish Church province, pursued territorial conquests and was officially crowned at the end of his life in 1025, becoming the first King of Poland. In 997 his missionary Adalbert of Prague was killed in Prussia. As a result, during the Congress of Gniezno in the year 1000, Otto III, Holy Roman Emperor authorized the founding of the Archbishopric of Gniezno, an institution crucial for the continuing existence of the sovereign Polish state. During the reign of Otto's successor, Henry II, Bolesław fought prolonged wars with Germany (1002–18).
Bolesław's expansive rule overstretched early Poland's abilities and was followed by a collapse of the monarchy. Restoration took place under Casimir I (1039–58). Casimir's son Bolesław II the Bold (1058–79) became fatally involved in a conflict with Bishop Stanislaus of Szczepanów, had him executed in 1079 and was expelled from the country. Around 1116 the so-called Gallus Anonymous wrote his chronicle, intended as a glorification of his patron Bolesław III Wrymouth (1107–38), a successful duke, but important as a principal source for the early history of Poland.
After Bolesław III divided Poland among his sons in 1138, internal fragmentation eroded the initial Piast monarchy structure in the 12th and 13th centuries. In 1180 Casimir II the Just, seeking papal confirmation of his senior duke status, granted at the Congress of Łęczyca immunities and additional privileges to the Church. By about 1220, Wincenty Kadłubek wrote his chronicle. One of the regional Piast dukes, Konrad I of Masovia, invited in 1226 the Teutonic Knights to help him fight the Baltic Prussian pagans, which caused centuries of Poland's warfare with the Knights and later with the German Prussian state. The Mongol invasion culminated in the Christian defeat and the death of a Silesian Piast, Duke Henry II the Pious at the Battle of Legnica in 1241. In 1242, Wrocław became the first Polish municipality to be incorporated, as the period of fragmentation brought economic development and growth of towns. In 1264 Bolesław the Pious granted Jewish liberties in the Statute of Kalisz.
Attempts to reunite the Polish lands gained momentum in the 13th century and in 1295 Przemysł II of Greater Poland managed to become the first, since Bolesław II, crowned king of Poland; he ruled over a limited territory and was soon killed. In 1300–05 the Czech ruler Václav II was also the king of Poland. The Piast Kingdom was effectively restored under Władysław I the Elbow-high (1306–33), crowned in 1320. In 1308 the Teutonic Knights seized Gdańsk and its region. King Casimir III the Great (1333–70), Władysław's son and the last of the Piast rulers, significantly strengthened and expanded the country. The western provinces of Silesia (formally ceded by Casimir in 1339) and Pomerania were lost after the fragmentation. Progress was made in the recovery of the central province of Mazovia and in 1340 the conquest of Red Ruthenia began, marking Poland's expansion to the east. The Congress of Kraków took place in 1364, the same year that the future Jagiellonian University was founded.
The Kingdom continued under Louis I of Hungary (ruled Poland 1370–82) of the Angevin dynasty. In 1374 Louis granted the Polish nobility the Privilege of Koszyce, to assure the succession of one of his daughters in Poland. His youngest daughter Jadwiga (1384–99) assumed the Polish throne in 1384.
Beginning with the Lithuanian Grand Duke Jogaila (King Władysław II Jagiełło 1386–1434), the Jagiellonian dynasty (1386–1572) formed the Polish–Lithuanian union. The turning point was the Union of Krewo of 1385, whereby arrangements were made for the marriage of Jogaila and Jadwiga. The Polish-Lithuanian partnership brought vast Lithuania-controlled Rus' areas into Poland's sphere of influence and proved beneficial for the Poles and Lithuanians, who coexisted and cooperated in one of the largest political entities in Europe for the next four centuries. Jadwiga died in 1399, leaving the Kingdom to her husband's long reign; her gifts helped to renew the activities of the University in 1400.
In the Baltic Sea region, Poland's struggle with the Teutonic Knights continued and culminated in the Battle of Grunwald (1410), a great victory that the Poles and Lithuanians were unable to follow up with a decisive strike against the main seat of the Order at Malbork Castle. The Union of Horodło of 1413 defined further the evolving relationship between the Crown of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and their elites.
Central to the Jagiellonian period was the long reign of Casimir IV Jagiellon (1447–92). In 1454 Royal Prussia was incorporated by Poland and the Thirteen Years' War with the Teutonic state ensued. In 1466 the milestone Peace of Thorn took place; the treaty divided the Prussia region and East Prussia, the future Duchy of Prussia, became a separate entity (a Teutonic Order fief of Poland). Poland, a powerful state led by an influential dynasty, confronted the Ottoman Empire and the Crimean Tatars in the south, and in the east helped Lithuania fight the Grand Duchy of Moscow. The country was developing as a feudal state, with a predominantly agricultural economy and an increasingly dominant landed nobility. Kraków, the royal capital, was turning into a major academic and cultural center, and in 1473 the first printing press began operating there. With the growing importance of the szlachta, the king's council evolved to become by 1493 a bicameral general sejm (parliament), no longer representing only the top dignitaries of the realm.
The Nihil novi act, adopted in 1505 by the Sejm, transferred most of the legislative power from the monarch to the Sejm. This event marked the beginning of the period known as "Golden Liberty", when the state was ruled in principle by the "free and equal" Polish nobility. The massive development of szlachta's folwark agribusinesses in the 16th century led to the increasingly abusive conditions of peasant serfdom. The political monopoly of the nobles also slowly stifled the development of cities, some of which were thriving during the late Jagiellonian era, and limited the rights of townspeople, effectively holding back the emergence of a middle class.
Protestant Reformation movements made deep inroads into Polish Christianity, which resulted in policies of religious tolerance unique in Europe at that time. Many who fled the regions of Europe torn by religious strife found refuge in Poland. The European Renaissance currents evoked in late Jagiellonian Poland (kings Sigismund I the Old and Sigismund II Augustus) led to an immense cultural and scientific flowering (the Golden Age), of which the astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (died 1543) is the best known representative. During Sigismud I's reign (1506–48) the Teutonic Order was secularized in 1525 and Duke Albrecht von Hohenzollern performed the act of homage before the Polish King for his fief, the Duchy of Prussia. Mazovia was finally fully incorporated into the Polish Crown in 1529.
The reign of Sigismund II (1548–72) ended the Jagiellonian period, but gave rise to the ultimate fulfillment of the Union with Lithuania. Livonia in the far north east was incorporated by Poland in 1561 and Poland entered the Livonian War. The szlachta reform Executionist movement (attempts to prevent domination by magnate families) peaked at the sejm in Piotrków in 1562–63. On the religious front, the Polish Brethren split from the Calvinists and the Protestant Brest Bible was published in 1563. The Jesuits, who arrived in 1564, were destined to make a major impact on Poland's history. The Union of Lublin of 1569 transferred Ukraine from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to Poland and transformed the Polish-Lithuanian polity into a real union, preserving it beyond the death of the childless Sigismund II, whose active involvement made the completion of this process possible.
The Union of Lublin of 1569 established the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, a more closely unified federal state. The Union was largely run by the nobility through the system of central parliament and local assemblies, but was led by elected kings. The formal rule of the nobility, who were proportionally more numerous than in other European countries, constituted an early democratic system ("a sophisticated noble democracy"), in contrast to the absolute monarchies prevalent at that time in the rest of Europe. The beginning of the Commonwealth coincided with the period of Poland's great power, advancements in civilization and prosperity. The Polish–Lithuanian Union had become an influential player in Europe and a vital cultural entity, spreading Western culture eastward. In the second half of the 16th and the first half of the 17th century, the Commonwealth was a large state in central and eastern Europe, with an area approaching one million square kilometres. Nationwide religious toleration was guaranteed at the Warsaw Confederation in 1573.
After the rule of the Jagiellonian dynasty had ended, Henry Valois of France was the winner of the first "free election" by the Polish nobility in 1573. He had to agree to the restrictive pacta conventa obligations, but soon fled Poland, having received the news of the vacancy of the French throne. The royal elections increased foreign influence in the Commonwealth, as foreign powers progressively manipulated the Polish szlachta to place candidates amicable to their interests.
The reign of Stephen Báthory (1576–86) followed; the Hungarian was militarily and domestically assertive. The establishment of the legal Crown Tribunal in 1578 meant a transfer of many appellate cases from the royal to szlachta jurisdiction. Jan Kochanowski, a poet and the premier artistic personality of the Polish Renaissance, died in 1584.
The Commonwealth suffered from dynastic distractions during the reigns of the Swedish House of Vasa kings Sigismund III (1587–1632) and Władysław IV (1632–48). The Catholic Church embarked on an ideological counter-offensive and the Counter-Reformation claimed many converts from Protestant circles. The Union of Brest split the Eastern Christians of the Commonwealth, creating the Uniate Church in 1596, of the Eastern Rite but under the pope. The Zebrzydowski Rebellion against Sigismund III unfolded in 1606-8.
The Commonwealth fought wars with Russia for supremacy in Eastern Europe (attempts were made to subjugate Poland's eastern neighbor around 1605, during the Russian Time of Troubles), with Sweden seeking supremacy in the Baltic (1617–29), and with the Ottoman Empire pressing from the south (battles at Cecora in 1620 and Khotyn in 1621). The agricultural expansion and serfdom policies in Polish Ukraine resulted in a series of Cossack uprisings. Allied with the Habsburg Monarchy, the Commonwealth did not directly participate in the Thirty Years' War.[s] During Władysław's reign, the Treaty of Polyanovka with Russia was accomplished in 1634 and the Treaty of Stuhmsdorf with Sweden in 1635. The Orthodox Church hierarchy, banned in Poland after the Union of Brest, was reestablished in 1635.
Beginning in the middle of the 17th century, the nobles' democracy, subjected to devastating wars, falling into internal disorder and then anarchy, gradually declined, marking the end of the Polish Golden Age and making the once powerful Commonwealth increasingly vulnerable to foreign intervention. The rapid deterioration caused by the onset of domestic wars and foreign invasions took place during the reign of John II Casimir Vasa (1648–68).
The Cossack Khmelnytsky Uprising (1648–57), a nationwide attempt to liberate Ukraine, engulfed the south-eastern Polish Crown regions; its long-term effects were disastrous for the Commonwealth. The first liberum veto was executed by a parliamentary deputy in 1652; a practice that would eventually critically weaken Poland's central government. In the Treaty of Pereyaslav (1654) the Ukrainian rebels declared themselves subjects of the Tsar of Russia. The Second Northern War raged through core Polish lands in 1655–60. The main invasion of Poland is known as the Swedish Deluge; it ended in 1660 with the Treaty of Oliva, but some of Poland's northern possessions were lost. In 1657 the Treaty of Wehlau-Bromberg established the independence of the Duchy of Prussia. The Commonwealth forces did well in the Russo-Polish War (1654–67), but the end result was the permanent division of Ukraine between Poland and Russia, agreed in the Truce of Andrusovo (1667). Towards the end of the war the Rokosz of Lubomirski, a major magnate rebellion against the King, destabilized and weakened the country. The large-scale slave raids of the Crimean Tatars also had highly deleterious effects on the Polish economy. Merkuriusz Polski, the first Polish newspaper, was published in 1661.
The Second Polish–Ottoman War (1672–76) broke out during the reign of Michał Korybut Wiśniowiecki (1669–73) and continued under his successor, John III Sobieski (1674–96). Sobieski intended to pursue active Baltic area policies and to this end he signed the secret Treaty of Jaworów with France in 1675. Having instead to fight protracted wars with the Ottoman Empire, the Hetman and then King briefly revived the Commonwealth's military might. He defeated the expanding Muslims at the Battle of Khotyn in 1673 and decisively helped in 1683 to deliver Vienna from a Turkish onslaught. His reign marked the last high point in the history of the Commonwealth: in the first half of the 18th century Poland ceased being an active player in international politics. The Eternal Peace Treaty with Russia (1686) was the final border settlement between the two countries; its provisions remained in effect until the First Partition.
The Commonwealth, subjected to almost constant warfare until 1720, suffered enormous population losses and massive damage to its economy and social structure. The government became ineffective because of large-scale internal conflicts (e.g. Lubomirski's Rokosz and rebellious confederations), corrupted legislative processes and manipulation by foreign interests. The nobility fell under the control of a handful of feuding powerful families with established territorial domains. The urban population and infrastructure fell into ruin, together with most peasant farms, whose inhabitants were subjected to increasingly extreme forms of serfdom. The development of science, culture and education came to a halt or regressed.
The reigns of two kings of the Saxon Wettin dynasty (1697–1763), Augustus II the Strong (until 1733) and Augustus III (until 1763), caused further disintegration of the Commonwealth. The Great Northern War (1700–21), a period seen by the contemporaries as a temporary eclipse, may have been the fatal blow that brought down the Nobles' Republic. Stanisław Leszczyński was installed as king in 1704 under Swedish protection, but lasted only a few years. The Silent Sejm of 1717 marked the beginning of the Commonwealth's existence as a Russian protectorate: the Tsardom would guarantee the Golden Liberty of the szlachta from that time on. Protestants were executed during the Tumult of Thorn in 1724. In 1732 Russia, Austria and Prussia, Poland's three increasingly powerful and scheming neighbors, entered into the secret Treaty of the Three Black Eagles with the intention of controlling the future royal succession in the Commonwealth. The so-called War of the Polish Succession was fought in 1733–35 and Leszczyński made his second unsuccessful attempt to rule Poland. The Kingdom of Prussia became a strong regional power and took Silesia from the Habsburg Monarchy. The Commonwealth-Saxony personal union gave rise to the emergence of the reform movement in the Commonwealth and the beginnings of the Polish Enlightenment culture. The Załuski Library in Warsaw was opened to the public in 1747.
During the later part of the 18th century, fundamental internal reforms were attempted. The reform activity, initially actively pursued by the Czartoryski family faction, provoked a hostile reaction and eventually a military response on the part of the neighboring powers. That time witnessed economic improvement and significant population growth. The most populous capital city of Warsaw replaced Danzig (Gdańsk) as the leading trade center, and the role of the more prosperous urban strata increased. The last decades of the independent Commonwealth's existence were characterized by intense reform movements and far-reaching progress in the areas of education, intellectual life, art, and, especially toward the end of the period, in the evolution of the social and political system.
The royal election of 1764 resulted in the elevation of Stanisław August Poniatowski (ruled until 1795, for the remaining period of the existence of statehood), a refined and worldly aristocrat connected to the major magnate family of Czartoryski, but hand-picked and imposed by Empress Catherine II of Russia, who expected Poniatowski to be her obedient follower. The King accordingly spent his reign torn between his desire to implement reforms necessary to save the failing state, and his perceived necessity of remaining in a subordinate relationship to his Russian sponsors.
The Bar Confederation (1768–72) was a szlachta rebellion directed against Russia and the Polish king, fought to preserve Poland's independence and in support of the szlachta's traditional causes. It was brought under control by the forces of the Russian Empire.
At the initiative of Frederick the Great of Prussia, Poland was partitioned four ways in 1772 between Prussia, Austria and Russia, with a rump state remaining. The remainder was in turn partitioned in 1793 and 1795, and Poles came under foreign rule until 1918. In 1772 in the First Partition of the Commonwealth, the outer provinces were seized by agreement among the three neighbors. The "Partition Sejm" under duress "ratified" the partition as a fait accompli. In 1773 it also established the Commission of National Education, a pioneering education authority in Europe. In 1780 Adam Naruszewicz began publishing the volumes of his History of the Polish Nation.
The long-lasting sejm convened by Stanisław August in 1788 is known as the Great, or Four-Year Sejm. The Sejm's landmark achievement was the passing of the May 3 Constitution (1791), the first singular pronouncement of a supreme law of the state in modern Europe. The reformist but moderate document, accused by detractors of French revolutionary sympathies, soon generated strong opposition from the conservative circles of the Commonwealth's upper nobility and the Russian Empress Catherine the Great, determined to prevent a rebirth of a strong Commonwealth. The nobility's Targowica Confederation appealed to Catherine for help and in May 1792 the Russian army entered the Commonwealth's territory. The defensive war fought by the forces of the Commonwealth ended when the Polish king, convinced of the futility of resistance, capitulated by joining the Targowica Confederation. The Confederation took over the government, but Russia and Prussia in 1793 arranged for and executed the Second Partition of the Commonwealth, which left the country with a critically reduced territory practically incapable of an independent existence. The Commonwealth's last sejm at Grodno (1793) was compelled to deliberate and in the end announced a confirmation of the new partition.
Radicalized by recent events, the reformers in the still nominally Commonwealth area and in exile were soon working on preparations for a national insurrection. Tadeusz Kościuszko was chosen as its leader. The popular general returned from abroad and on March 24, 1794 in Kraków declared a national uprising under his supreme command. Kościuszko emancipated and enrolled in his army many peasants, but the hard-fought insurrection, strongly supported also by the poorer urban masses, proved incapable of generating the foreign collaboration and aid necessary for its success. It ended suppressed by the forces of Russia and Prussia, with Warsaw captured in November. The third and final partition of the Commonwealth was undertaken again by all three partitioning powers, and in 1795 the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth effectively ceased to exist. The King was moved to Grodno, abdicated and left for Saint Petersburg.
The response of the Polish leadership to the last partition is a matter of historical debate. Literary scholars found that the dominant emotion of the first decade was despair, producing a moral desert, ruled by violence and treason. On the other hand, historians have looked for signs of resistance to foreign rule. Apart from those who went into exile the nobility took oaths of loyalty to their new rulers and served as officers in their armies.
While there was no separate Polish state at all, the idea of Polish independence was kept alive throughout the 19th century and led to more Polish uprisings and conflict with the partitioning powers. Military efforts after the Partitions were first based on the alliances of Polish émigrés with post-revolutionary France. Henryk Dąbrowski's Polish Legions fought in French campaigns outside of Poland (1797–1802), hoping that their involvement and contribution would be rewarded by the liberation of their Polish homeland. The Polish national anthem—Dąbrowski's Mazurka—was written in praise of his actions by Józef Wybicki in 1797.
The Duchy of Warsaw, a small, semi-independent Polish state, was created in 1807 by Napoleon Bonaparte, following his defeat of Prussia and the Peace of Tilsit signed with Emperor Alexander I of Russia. The Duchy's military forces, led by Józef Poniatowski, participated in numerous campaigns, including the successful Polish–Austrian War of 1809, which, combined with the outcomes of other theaters of the War of the Fifth Coalition, resulted in an enlargement of the Duchy's territory. The French invasion of Russia in 1812 and the German campaign of 1813 were the Duchy's last military engagements. The Constitution of the Duchy of Warsaw abolished serfdom but promoted no land reform.
After Napoleon's defeat, a new European order was established at the Congress of Vienna. Adam Czartoryski, a former close associate of Alexander I, became the leading advocate for the Polish national cause. The Congress implemented a new partition scheme, which took into account some of the gains realized by the Poles during the Napoleonic period. The Duchy of Warsaw was replaced in 1815 with the Kingdom of Poland, a residual Polish state united with the Russian Empire in a personal union under the Russian tsar. Early capitalist industry began to develop. East of the Kingdom, large areas of the former Commonwealth remained directly incorporated into the Empire; together with the Kingdom they were part of the Russian Partition. There was a Prussian Partition, with a portion of it separated as the Grand Duchy of Posen. Peasants under the Prussian administration were gradually enfranchised under the reforms of 1811 and 1823. The Austrian Partition's limited legal reforms were overshadowed by its rural poverty. The newly created Republic of Kraków was a tiny state under the joint supervision of the three partitioning powers. "Partitions" were the lands of the former Commonwealth, not actual administrative units.
The increasingly repressive policies of the partitioning powers led to Polish conspiracies, and in 1830 to the November Uprising. This developed into a full-scale war with Russia, but the leadership was taken over by Polish conservative circles reluctant to challenge the Empire and hostile to broadening the independence movement's social base through measures such as land reform. Despite the significant resources mobilized and self-sacrifice of the participants, a series of mistakes by several successive unwilling or incompetent chief commanders appointed by the Polish government ultimately led to the defeat of the insurgents by the Russian army in 1831. The Kingdom of Poland lost its constitution and military, but formally remained as a separate administrative unit.
After the defeat of the November Uprising, thousands of former Polish combatants and other activists emigrated to Western Europe, where they were initially enthusiastically received. This element, known as the Great Emigration, soon dominated Polish political and intellectual life. Together with the leaders of the independence movement, the Polish community abroad included the greatest Polish literary and artistic minds, including the Romantic poets Adam Mickiewicz (traditionally considered Poland's greatest poet, who died as an émigré in 1855), Juliusz Słowacki, Cyprian Norwid, and composer Frédéric Chopin. In occupied and repressed Poland, some sought progress through self-improvement activities known as organic work; others, in cooperation with emigrant circles, organized conspiracies and prepared for the next armed insurrection.
After the authorities in the partitions had found out about secret preparations, the planned national uprising ended in a fiasco in early 1846. In its most significant manifestation, the Kraków Uprising of February 1846, patriotic action was combined with revolutionary demands, but the result was the incorporation of the Republic of Kraków into the Austrian partition. The Austrian officials took advantage of peasant discontent and incited villagers against the noble-dominated insurgent units. This resulted in the Galician slaughter (1846), a large scale rebellion of serfs seeking relief from their post-feudal folwark condition of slavery. The uprising freed many from bondage and hastened decisions that led to peasant enfranchisement in the Austrian Empire (1848). A new wave of Polish military and other involvement, in the partitions and in other parts of Europe (e.g. Józef Bem in Austria and Hungary), soon took place in the context of the 1848 Spring of Nations revolutions. In particular, the events in Berlin precipitated the Greater Poland Uprising, where peasants in the Prussian partition, who were by then largely enfranchised, played a prominent role.
Despite the limited liberalization measures allowed in the Congress Kingdom under the rule of Alexander II, a renewal of popular liberation activities took place in 1860–61. During the large-scale demonstrations in Warsaw Russian forces inflicted numerous casualties on the civilian participants. The "Red", or left-wing faction, which promoted peasant enfranchisement and cooperated with the Russian revolutionaries, became involved in immediate preparations for a national uprising. The "White", or right-wing faction, inclined to cooperate with the Russian authorities, countered with partial reform proposals. Aleksander Wielopolski, the conservative leader of the Kingdom's government, in order to cripple the manpower potential of the Reds, arranged for a partial selective conscription of young Poles for the Russian army (1862–63), which hastened the outbreak of hostilities. The January Uprising, joined and led after the initial period by the Whites, was fought by partisan units against an overwhelmingly advantaged enemy. The war lasted from January 1863 to the spring of 1864, when Romuald Traugutt, the last supreme commander of the insurgency, was captured by the tsarist police.
On March 2, 1864, the Russian authority—compelled by the uprising to compete for the loyalty of Polish peasants—officially published an enfranchisement decree in the Kingdom, along the lines of an earlier land reform proclamation of the insurgents. The act created the conditions necessary for the development of the capitalist system on central Polish lands. At the time when the futility of armed resistance without external support was realized by most Poles, the various sections of Polish society were undergoing deep and far-reaching social, economic and cultural changes.
The failure of the January Uprising caused a major psychological trauma and became a historic watershed; it sparked the development of modern Polish nationalism. The Poles, subjected within the territories under the Russian and Prussian administrations to still stricter controls and increased persecution, preserved their identity in non-violent ways. After the Uprising Congress Poland, downgraded in official usage from the "Kingdom of Poland" to the "Vistula Land", was more fully integrated into Russia proper, but not entirely obliterated. The Russian and German languages were imposed in all public communication and the Catholic Church was not spared from severe repression; public education was increasingly subjected to Russification and Germanization measures. Illiteracy was reduced, most effectively in the Prussian partition, but education in Polish was preserved mostly through Polish self-organization. The Prussian government pursued German colonization including the purchasing of Polish-owned land. On the other hand, the Galicia region in western Ukraine and southern Poland, economically and socially backward, but under the milder rule of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy increasingly allowed limited autonomy (from 1867), experienced a gradual relaxation of authoritarian policies and even a Polish cultural revival. Stańczycy, a conservative Polish pro-Austrian faction led by great land owners, dominated the Galician government. The Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences was founded in Kraków in 1872. Positivism replaced Romanticism as the leading intellectual, social and literary trend.
Social activities termed "organic work" consisted of self-help organizations that promoted economic advancement and worked on improving the competitiveness of Polish-owned businesses: industrial, agricultural or other. New commercial methods and ways of generating higher productivity were discussed and implemented through trade associations and special interest groups, while Polish banking and cooperative financial institutions made the necessary business loans available. The other major area of effort in organic work was the educational and intellectual development of the common people. Many libraries and reading rooms were established in small towns and villages, and numerous printed periodicals reflected the growing interest in popular education. Scientific and educational societies were active in a number of cities. Such activities were most pronounced in the Prussian Partition.
Under the partitioning powers large-scale industrialization, economic diversification and progress were introduced in the traditionally agrarian Polish lands. The development turned out to be very uneven. In the Prussian Partition advanced agriculture was practised, except for Upper Silesia, where the coalmining industry created a large labor force. The densest network of railroads was built in German-ruled western Poland. In Russian Congress Poland, a striking growth of industry, railways and towns was taking place, all against the background of an extensive, but less productive agriculture. Warsaw (a metallurgical center) and Łódź (textiles center) grew rapidly, as did the total proportion of urban population, making the region the most advanced in the Russian Empire (industrial production exceeded agricultural production by 1909). The coming of the railways spurred some industrial growth even in the vast Russian Partition territories outside the so-called Kingdom. The Austrian Partition was rural and poor, except for the industrialized Teschen Silesia area. Galician economic expansion after 1890 included oil extraction and resulted in the growth of Lemberg (Lwów, Lviv) and Kraków.
Economic and social changes, involving factors such as land reform and industrialization, combined with the effects of foreign domination, altered the centuries-old social structure of Polish society. Among the newly emergent strata were wealthy industrialists and financiers, distinct from the traditional, but still critically important landed aristocracy. The intelligentsia, an educated, professional or business middle class, often originated from lower gentry, landless or alienated from their rural possessions (many smaller serfdom-based agricultural enterprises had not survived the land reforms) and from urban people. The industrial proletariat, the new underprivileged class, usually comprised poor peasants or townspeople forced by deteriorating conditions to migrate and search for work in urban centers in their countries of origin or abroad. Millions of residents of the former Commonwealth of various ethnic backgrounds worked or settled in Europe and in North and South America.
The changes were partial and gradual, and the degree of fast-paced industrialization in some areas and capitalist development on Polish lands lagged behind the advanced regions of western Europe. The three partitions developed different economies, and were more economically integrated with their mother states than with each other (for example the Prussian Partition's agricultural production depended heavily on the German, the Kingdom's industrial sector on the Russian market).
In the 1870s-1890s, large scale socialist, nationalist and agrarian movements of great ideological fervor and corresponding political parties became established in partitioned Poland and Lithuania. Of the major parties, the socialist First Proletariat was founded in 1882, the Polish League (precursor of National Democracy) in 1887, the Polish Socialist Party in 1892, the Marxist SDKPiL in 1893, the agrarian People's Party (Galicia) in 1895 and the Jewish socialist Bund in 1897. Catholic Church-allied Christian democracy regional associations were also active; they united into the Polish Christian Democratic Party in 1919. The main minority ethnic groups of the former Commonwealth, including Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Belarusians and Jews, were getting involved in their own national movements and plans, which met with disapproval on the part of those Polish independence activists who counted on an eventual rebirth of the Commonwealth or the rise of a Commonwealth-inspired federal structure.
Around the start of the 20th century, the Young Poland cultural movement, centered on Galicia and taking advantage of the milieu conducive to liberal expression there, was the source of Poland's finest artistic and literary productions. Marie Skłodowska-Curie was a pioneer radiation scientist who did her groundbreaking research in Paris.
The Revolution of 1905–07 arose in Russian Poland new waves of Polish unrest, political manoeuvering, strikes and rebellion, with Roman Dmowski and Józef Piłsudski active as leaders of the nationalist and socialist factions respectively. As the authorities reestablished control within the Empire, the revolt in the Kingdom, placed under martial law, had withered as well, leaving tsarist concessions in the areas of national and workers' rights, including Polish representation in the newly created Russian Duma (participation of National Democrats and the new conservative Party of Real Politics). Some of the acquired gains were however rolled back, which, coupled with intensified Germanization in the Prussian partition, left the Austrian Galicia as the territory most amenable to patriotic action.
In the Austrian Partition the Polish culture was openly cultivated, in the Prussian Partition higher standards of developed civilization were achieved, but the Russian Partition remained of primary importance for the Polish nation and its aspirations. About 15.5 million Polish-speakers lived in core central and western Poland, over a relatively small and compact territory. Much fewer were spread in the east: 1.3 million in Austrian Eastern Galicia and about 2 million along Russia's western districts, with the heaviest concentration in the region of Vilnius (Wilno).
Polish paramilitary independence-oriented organizations were being formed, mainly in Galicia, in 1908–14. The Poles were divided and their political parties fragmented on the eve of World War I, with Dmowski's National Democracy (pro-Entente) and Piłsudski's faction assuming opposing positions.
World War I and the political turbulence that was sweeping Europe in 1914 offered the Polish nation hopes for regaining independence. On the outbreak of war the Poles found themselves conscripted into the armies of Germany, Austria and Russia, and forced to fight each other in a war that was not theirs. Piłsudski's paramilitary units stationed in Galicia were turned into the Polish Legions in 1914, and as a part of the Austro-Hungarian Army fought on the Russian front until 1917, when the formation was disbanded. Piłsudski, who refused the demands that his men fight under German command was arrested and imprisoned by the Germans and became a heroic symbol of Polish nationalism.
During the course of the war, because of the German victory on the Eastern Front, the area of Congress Poland became occupied by the Central Powers, with Warsaw captured by the Germans on 5 August 1915. In the Act of 5th November 1916, the Kingdom of Poland (Królestwo Regencyjne) was recreated by Germany and Austria on the formerly Russian-controlled territory. This puppet, but increasingly autonomous state existed until November 1918, when it was replaced by the newly established Republic of Poland. The existence of the "Kingdom", conceived within the German Mitteleuropa scheme, and its planned Polish army had a positive effect on the Polish national efforts on the Allied side. But the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (March 1918) between Germany and defeated Russia ignored Polish interests.
The independence of Poland had been campaigned for in Russia and in the West by Dmowski and by Ignacy Paderewski in the West. The Russian Tsar and then the leaders of the February Revolution and the October Revolution installed governments declared in turn their support for Polish independence. In 1917 France formed the Blue Army (placed under Józef Haller) comprising by the end of the war about 70,000 Poles, including men captured from German and Austrian units as well as 20,000 volunteers from the U.S. There was also a 30,000 men strong Polish anti-German army in Russia. Dmowski, operating from Paris as head of the Polish National Committee (KNP), became the spokesman for Polish nationalism in the Allied camp. On the initiative of Woodrow Wilson, Polish independence was officially endorsed by the Allies in June 1918.
In all, about two million Poles served in the war, counting both sides, and about 400–450 thousand died. Much of the fighting on the Eastern Front took place in Poland, and civilian casualties and devastation were high. Total deaths from 1914 to 1918, military and civilian, within the 1919–39 borders, were estimated at 1,128,000.
On the ground in Poland in October–November 1918 the final upsurge of the push for independence took place and, with the end of the war, Austro-Hungarian and German units were being disarmed. The Austrian army's collapse freed Cieszyn and Kraków at the end of October, which was followed by the Poles and Ukrainians contesting Lviv. Ignacy Daszyński headed the first short-lived independent Polish government in Lublin (the leftist Provisional People's Government of the Republic of Poland, proclaimed as a democracy) from November 7. Germany, now defeated, was forced by the Allies to stand down its large military forces in Poland. Overtaken by a revolution at home, it released Piłsudski from prison. He arrived in Warsaw on November 10 and was granted by the Kingdom's Regency Council extensive authority, also recognized by the Lublin government. On November 22 Piłsudski became the Temporary Head of State. He was held by many in high regard, but was resented by the National Democrats. The emerging Polish state was internally divided, heavily war-damaged and economically dysfunctional.
After more than a century of foreign rule Poland regained its independence at the end of World War I. The rebirth of Poland was one of the outcomes of the negotiations that took place at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. In 1919 the Treaty of Versailles set up an independent nation with an outlet to the sea, but left some of its boundaries to be decided by plebiscites. The largely German Free City of Danzig was granted a separate status that guaranteed its use as a port by Poland. In actuality, settling the German-Polish border turned out to be a prolonged and convoluted process. It involved the Greater Poland Uprising, the Treaty of Versailles itself, the three Silesian Uprisings, the East Prussia plebiscite, the Upper Silesia plebiscite and the 1922 Silesian Convention in Geneva.
The Polish–Soviet War of 1919–21 was the most important conflict of the time. Piłsudski had entertained far-reaching anti-Russian cooperative designs for Eastern Europe, and in 1919 the Polish forces pushed eastward into Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine, taking advantage of the Russian preoccupation with the civil war, but soon meeting the Russian forces pushing westwards. Western Ukraine or Galicia was already a theater of the Polish–Ukrainian War, which eliminated the proclaimed West Ukrainian People's Republic in July 1919. By June 1920, the Polish armies were past Vilnius, Minsk and, allied with the Directorate of Ukraine of the Ukrainian People's Republic, reached Kiev. In the autumn, Piłsudski rejected urgent pleas from the Entente powers to support Anton Denikin's Whites in their advance on Moscow. From March 1920, a massive Soviet counter-offensive pushed the Poles out of most of Ukraine and on the northern front arrived in early August at the outskirts of Warsaw. A Soviet triumph and the quick end of Poland seemed inevitable. However, the Poles scored a stunning victory at the Battle of Warsaw. Afterwards more Polish military successes followed, the Soviets had to pull back and left to Polish rule swathes of territory occupied largely by Belarusians or Ukrainians. The new eastern boundary was finalized by the Treaty of Riga in 1921.
The defeat of the Russian armies forced Vladimir Lenin and the Soviet leadership to abandon for the time being their strategic objective of linking up with the German and other European revolutionary-minded comrades and spread revolution (Lenin's hope of generating support for the Red Army in Poland had already failed to materialize). Piłsudski's seizure of Vilnius (Wilno) in October 1920 was a nail in the coffin of the already poor Polish–Lithuanian relations, strained by the Polish–Lithuanian War; both states would remain hostile to one another for the remainder of the interwar period. Piłsudski's planned East European federation of states (inspired by the tradition of the multiethnic Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and including a hypothetical multinational successor state to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania) was incompatible, at a time of rising national movements, with his assumption of Polish domination and encroachment on neighboring peoples' lands and aspirations. It soon ceased to be a feature of Poland's politics.[a] A larger federated structure was also opposed by Dmowski's National Democrats. Their representative at the Peace of Riga talks, Stanisław Grabski, opted for leaving Minsk, Berdychiv, Kamianets-Podilskyi and the surrounding areas on the Soviet side of the border, not wanting to allow population shifts which National Democrats considered politically undesirable, including what would be a reduced proportion of citizens who were ethnically Polish.
The Peace of Riga settled the eastern border, preserving for Poland, at the cost of partitioning the lands of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania (Lithuania and Belarus) and Ukraine, a good portion of the old Commonwealth's eastern lands. Ukrainians ended up with no state of their own and felt betrayed by the Riga arrangements; their resentment gave rise to extreme nationalism and anti-Polish hostility. The territories in the east won by 1921 would form the basis for a swap arranged and carried out by the Soviets in 1943–45, who at that time compensated the re-emerging Polish state for its eastern lands lost to the Soviet Union with conquered areas of eastern Germany.
The successful outcome of the Polish–Soviet War gave Poland a false sense of being a major and self-sufficient military power, and the government a justification for trying to resolve international problems through imposed unilateral solutions. The interwar period's Polish territorial and ethnic policies contributed to bad relations with most of Poland's neighbors and to uneasy cooperation with the more distant centers of power, including France, Britain and the League of Nations.
The lack of an integrated infrastructure among the formerly separate partitions, involving industry, transportation, trade and other areas, was among the chief difficulties faced by the new Polish government.
The rapidly growing population of Poland within the new boundaries was ¾ agricultural and ¼ urban, with Polish being the primary language of ⅔ of the inhabitants. The minorities had very little voice in the government. The permanent "March Constitution" was adopted in March 1921. Due to the insistence of the National Democrats, worried about the potential power of Piłsudski if elected, it introduced limited prerogatives for the presidency.
What followed was the Second Republic's short (1921–26) and turbulent period of constitutional order and parliamentary democracy. The legislature remained fragmented and lacking stable majorities, governments changed frequently. Corruption was commonplace. The open-minded Gabriel Narutowicz was constitutionally elected president by the National Assembly in 1922, but was deemed by the nationalist right wing a traitor pushed through by the votes of alien minorities. Narutowicz and his supporters were subjected to an intense harassment campaign and the President was quickly assassinated.
Land reform was passed in 1919 and 1925 under pressure from an impoverished peasantry and partially implemented, but resulted in the parcellation of only 20% of the great agricultural estates. Poland had suffered under a plethora of economic calamities and experienced waves of strikes and a workers' revolt in 1923, but there were also signs of progress and stabilization. Władysław Grabski's economically competent government accomplished a critical reform of finances and lasted for almost two years. The German–Polish customs war, initiated by Germany in 1925, was one of the external factors straining Poland's economy. The achievements of the democratic period, such as the establishment, strengthening and expansion of the various governmental and civil society structures and integrative processes necessary for normal functioning of the reunited state and nation, were too easily overlooked. Lurking on the sidelines was the disgusted army upper corps, not willing to subject itself to civilian control, but ready to follow its equally dissatisfied, at that time retired but highly popular Józef Piłsudski.
On May 12, 1926, Piłsudski staged a military overthrow of the Polish government, confronting President Stanisław Wojciechowski and overpowering the troops loyal to the legitimate government. Hundreds died in fratricidal fighting. Piłsudski was supported by several leftist factions, who ensured the success of his coup by blocking the railway transportation of government forces. He also had the support of the conservative great landowners, which left the right-wing National Democrats as the only major social force opposed to the takeover.[l]
Following the coup, the new regime initially conformed to many parliamentary formalities, but gradually tightened its control and abandoned pretenses. Centrolew, a coalition of center-left parties was formed and in 1930 called for the "abolition of dictatorship". In 1930 the Sejm was dissolved and a number of opposition deputies were imprisoned at the Brest Fortress. Rigged elections followed and gave a majority of seats to the pro-regime BBWR formation.
The authoritarian "Sanation" regime that Piłsudski was to lead for the rest of his life and that stayed in power until 1939 reflected the dictator's evolution from his center-left past to conservative alliances. Political institutions and parties were allowed to function, which was combined with electoral manipulation and strong-arming of those not willing to cooperate submissively. From 1930, persistent opponents of the regime, many of the leftist persuasion, were imprisoned and subjected to long Brest trials and other staged legal processes with harsh sentences, or detained in Bereza Kartuska and similar camps for political prisoners. About three thousand were abused without trial at different times at the Bereza concentration camp in 1934–39; in 1936 for example, 369 activists were taken there, including 342 communists. Rebellious peasants, striking industrial workers, nationalist Ukrainians[p] and the activists of the incipient Belarusian movement became targets of ruthless military pacification.
Piłsudski signed non-aggression pacts with the Soviet Union in 1932 and with Nazi Germany in 1934, but in 1933 insisted that there was no threat from the East or West and said that Poland's politics were focused on finally becoming fully independent and not serving foreign interests. He initiated the policy of equal distance and an adjustable middle course regarding the two great neighbors, later continued by Józef Beck. Piłsudski kept personal control of the army, but it was poorly equipped, poorly trained and had poor planning. His only war plan was a defensive war against a Soviet invasion.[r] The slow modernization after Piłsudski's death fell far behind the progress made by Poland's neighbors and measures to protect the western border, discontinued by Piłsudski from 1926, were not undertaken until March 1939.
Sanation deputies in the Sejm used a parliamentary maneouver to abolish the democratic March Constitution and push through a more authoritarian April Constitution in 1935; it reduced the powers of the Sejm (national parliament) which Piłsudski despised. The process and the resulting document were seen as illegitimate by the anti-Sanation opposition, but during World War II the Polish government in exile, in order to uphold the legal continuity of the Polish state, recognized the April Constitution.
Marshall Piłsudski died in 1935, retaining support of the main sections of Polish society and never subjecting his popularity to trial by honest election, but at that time in Poland's neighborhood only Czechoslovakia remained democratic. Historians have taken widely divergent views of the meaning and consequences of the coup he perpetrated and his personal rule that followed.
Independence stimulated the development of a thriving culture and intellectual achievement was high. Warsaw, whose population had almost doubled during the interbellum, was a restless, burgeoning metropolis. It outpaced Kraków, Lwów and Wilno, the other major centers.
Mainstream Polish society was not affected by the repressions of the Sanation authorities; many enjoyed relative stability and the economy improved between 1926 and 1929, after which it became caught up in the global Great Depression. After 1929, the country's industrial production and gross national income slumped by about 50%.
The Great Depression brought low prices for farmers and unemployment for workers. Social tensions increased, such as rising antisemitism. The reconstituted Polish state had had only 20 years of relative stability and uneasy peace between the two wars. A major economic transformation and multi-year state plan to achieve national industrial development, including the Central Industrial Region initiative launched in 1936, was led by Minister Eugeniusz Kwiatkowski. Motivated primarily by the need for a native arms industry, it was in progress at the time of the outbreak of the war. Kwiatkowski was also the main architect of the earlier Gdynia seaport project.
The prevalent nationalism in political circles was fueled by the large size of Poland's minority populations and their separate agendas. According to the language criterium of the 1931 census, the Poles constituted 69% of the population, Ukrainians 15%, Jews (defined as speakers of Yiddish) 8.5%, Belarusians 4.7%, Germans 2.2%, Lithuanians 0.25%, Russians 0.25% and Czechs 0.09%, with some geographical areas dominated by a particular minority. In time the ethnic conflicts intensified and the Polish state grew less tolerant in respect of its treatment of the interests of national minorities. In interwar Poland compulsory free general education substantially reduced illiteracy rates, but discrimination was practised, which resulted in a dramatic decrease in the number of Ukrainian language schools and official restrictions on Jewish attendance at selected schools in the late 1930s.
The population grew steadily, reaching 35 million in 1939. However, the overall economic situation in the interwar period was one of stagnation. There was little money for investment inside Poland, and few foreigners were interested in investing there. Total industrial production had barely increased between 1913 and 1939 (within the area delimited by the 1939 borders), but because of population growth (from 26.3 millions in 1919 to 34.8 millions in 1939), the per capita output actually decreased by 18%.
Conditions in the predominant agricultural sector kept deteriorating during 1929–39, which resulted in rural unrest and a progressive radicalization of the Polish peasant movement, which was increasingly inclined toward militant anti-state activities and was repressed by the authorities . According to Norman Davies, the failures of the Sanation regime (combined with the objective economic realities) caused a well advanced radicalization of the Polish masses by the end of the 1930s, but he warns against drawing parallels with the incomparably more destructive histories of Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union under Stalin.
The regime of Piłsudski's "colonels", left in power after the Marshal's death in 1935, had neither the vision nor the resources to cope with the deteriorating situation in Europe. The colonels had gradually assumed more power during Piłsudski's life, manipulating the ailing marshal behind the scenes of his personal cult, eventually allowing an overt politicization of the army.
Foreign policy was the responsibility of Józef Beck, under whom Polish diplomacy attempted balanced approaches toward Germany and the Soviet Union but made many wrong judgements. Beck had numerous schemes and harbored great power illusions; he alienated most of Poland's neighbors but is not blamed for the ultimate failure of relations with Germany. In 1938, the Polish government opportunistically undertook hostile actions against Lithuania and post-Munich Czechoslovakia. In the case of Poland's ultimatum to Lithuania, the Polish action nearly resulted in a German takeover of southwest Lithuania. In the case of Czechoslovakia, Polish annexation policies and Beck's understanding of their consequences turned out to be completely mistaken, because the political elimination of Poland's southern neighbor markedly weakened Poland's own position. Beck thought that Nazi-Soviet ideological contradictions would preclude their cooperation.
At home the increasingly alienated minorities threatened unrest and violence and were suppressed. Extreme nationalist circles grew more outspoken. One of the groups, the Camp of National Unity, combined many Dmowski-inspired nationalists with Sanation supporters and was connected to the new strongman, Marshal Edward Rydz-Śmigły.
In the late 1930s Front Morges exile bloc united several major Polish anti-Sanation figures, including Ignacy Paderewski, Władysław Sikorski, Wincenty Witos, Wojciech Korfanty and Józef Haller. It gained little influence inside Poland, but its spirit soon reappeared during World War II, within the Polish government-in-exile.
In October 1938, Joachim von Ribbentrop first proposed German-Polish territorial adjustments and Poland's participation in the Anti-Comintern Pact. The status of the Free City of Danzig was one of the key bones of contention. Approached by Ribbentrop again in March 1939, the Polish government expressed willingness to address issues causing German concern but effectively rejected Germany's stated demands and thus refused to allow Poland to be turned by Adolf Hitler into a German puppet state. Hitler, incensed also by the British and French declarations of support for Poland, abrogated the German–Polish Pact in late April 1939.
To protect itself from an increasingly aggressive Nazi Germany, already responsible for the annexations of Austria, Czechoslovakia and a part of Lithuania, Poland entered into a military alliance with Britain and France (the 1939 Anglo-Polish military alliance and the earlier Franco-Polish military alliance, updated in 1939). However, the two western powers were defense oriented and not in a strong position (geographically and in terms of resources) to assist Poland. Attempts were therefore made to engage the Soviet Union, as a power in the east, and induce Soviet-Polish cooperation, seen as the only militarily viable possibility. Diplomatic manoeuvers continued in spring and summer, but their final act, the Franco-British talks with the Soviets in Moscow on forming an anti-Nazi defensive military alliance, failed. Warsaw's refusal to allow the Red Army to operate on Polish territory doomed the Western efforts. The final contentious exchanges took place on August 21 and 23.[b] Stalin's regime was the target of an intense German counter-initiative and was concurrently involved in increasingly effective negotiations with Hitler's agents. Later, also on August 23, an outcome contrary to the exertions of the allies, became a reality: in Moscow Germany and the Soviet Union hurriedly signed the Molotov–Ribbentrop non-aggression pact, which secretly provided for the dismemberment of Poland into Nazi and Soviet-controlled zones.
On September 1, 1939 Hitler ordered the invasion of Poland and World War II began. Poland had signed a pact with Britain (as recently as August 25) and France, and the two western powers soon declared war on Germany, but remained largely inactive and extended no aid to the attacked country. The numerically and technically superior Wehrmacht formations rapidly advanced eastwards and engaged massively in the murder of Polish civilians over the entire occupied territory. Poland's top government officials and military high command fled the war zone and arrived at the Romanian border in mid-September. On September 17, Soviet troops invaded under the terms of the German-Soviet agreement and occupied most of the areas of eastern Poland with heavy Ukrainian and Belarusian populations.[h] The Sanation leaders crossed into Romania soon after the start of the Soviet invasion.
Among the military operations where Poles held out the longest (until late September or early October) were the Defense of Warsaw, the Defense of Hel and the resistance of the Polesie Group. Warsaw fell on 27 September after a heavy German bombardment which killed about 40,000 civilians. Poland was partitioned between Germany and the Soviet Union according to the treaty of alliance and friendship signed by the two powers in Moscow on September 29.
Gerhard Weinberg has argued that the most significant Polish contribution to the Allied war effort was sharing its code-breaking results. This allowed the British to break "Enigma", the main German military code, giving it a major advantage in the conflict. In regard to actual military campaigns, some Polish historians have argued that fighting the initial "September Campaign" was the greatest Polish contribution in the war, despite the country's defeat. The Polish Army of nearly one million mobilized men significantly delayed Hitler's attack on Western Europe, planned for 1939. When the Nazi offensive in the West did happen, the delay caused it to be less effective, a possibly crucial factor in the case of the defense of Britain.
German-occupied Poland was divided from 1939 into the General Government area and the territories annexed by the German Reich. The Poles formed an underground resistance movement and a Polish government in exile, first in Paris and from July 1940 in London, which was recognized by the Soviet Union. Polish-Soviet diplomatic relations, broken since September 1939, were resumed in July 1941, which facilitated the formation of a Polish army in the Soviet Union. In November 1941, Prime Minister Sikorski flew to the Soviet Union to negotiate with Stalin on its role on the Soviet-German front, but the British wanted the Polish soldiers in the Middle East. Stalin agreed and the army was evacuated there.[w]
The members of the Polish Underground State which functioned in Poland throughout the war were loyal to and formally under the Polish government in exile, acting through its Delegation. During World War II, about 400,000 Poles joined the underground Polish Home Army,[t] a part of the Polish Armed Forces of the government in exile. About 200,000 fought in campaigns in the west in units loyal to the government in exile, and about 300,000 fought under the Soviet command in the last stages of the war. The pro-Soviet resistance movement, led by the Polish Workers' Party, was active from 1941. It was opposed by the gradually forming extreme nationalistic National Armed Forces.
Beginning in late 1939, hundreds of thousands of Poles from the Soviet-occupied areas were deported and taken east. Of the upper-rank military and others, deemed uncooperative or potentially harmful by the Soviets, about 22,000 were secretly executed. In April 1943, the Soviet Union broke off deteriorating relations with the Polish government in exile after the German military announced the discovery of mass graves containing murdered Polish army officers in woods at Katyn in the Soviet Union. The Soviets claimed that the Poles committed a hostile act by requesting that the Red Cross investigate these reports.
The implementation of the Final Solution began and the Holocaust proceeded in Poland from 1941. As the Jewish ghetto in occupied Warsaw was being liquidated by the Nazi SS units, in April–May 1943 the city was the scene of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The elimination of Jewish ghettos took place in Polish cities and uprisings took place against impossible odds by desperate Jewish insurgents, whose people were being removed and exterminated.
At a time of increasing cooperation between the western Allies and the Soviet Union, the standing and influence of the Polish government in exile were seriously diminished by the death of its most prominent leader—Prime Minister Władysław Sikorski—on July 4, 1943.
In July 1944, the Soviet Red Army and Soviet-controlled People's Army of Poland entered Poland and through protracted fighting in 1944 and 1945 destroyed the German army, losing 600,000 soldiers in the campaign.
The greatest single instance of armed struggle in occupied Poland and a major political event of World War II was the Warsaw Uprising which began on August 1, 1944. The uprising, in which most of the city's population participated, was instigated by the underground Armia Krajowa (Home Army) and approved by the Polish government in exile in an attempt to establish a non-communist Polish administration ahead of the arrival of the Red Army. The uprising was planned as a short-lived armed demonstration, in the expectation that the Soviet forces approaching Warsaw and present on the right bank of the Vistula, would help in any battle to take the city. However, the Soviets had never agreed to this and halted their advance at the Vistula. The Germans used the opportunity to carry out the brutal suppression of the forces of the pro-Western Polish underground.[m]
The bitterly fought uprising lasted for two months and resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilians killed and expelled from the city. After the Poles, realising the hopelessness of the situation, surrendered on 2 October, the Germans carried out Hitler's order to destroy the remaining infrastructure of the city. The Polish First Army, fighting alongside the Soviet Red Army, entered Warsaw on 17 January 1945.[n]
As a consequence of the war and the decision of the Soviet leadership, agreed to by the United States and Britain from the Tehran Conference (late 1943) onwards, Poland's geographic location was fundamentally altered.[c] Stalin's proposal that Poland should be moved far to the west was readily accepted by the Polish communists, who were at that time in the early stages of forming the post-war government. In July 1944, a communist-controlled "Polish Committee of National Liberation" was established in Lublin to govern nominally the areas liberated from German control, which caused protests by Prime Minister Stanisław Mikołajczyk and the Polish government in exile.
By the time of the Yalta Conference (February 1945), seen by many Poles as the pivotal point when the nation's fate was sealed by the Great Powers, the communists had established a provisional government in Poland. The Soviet position at the Conference was strong, corresponding to their territorial gains in Central Europe. The three Great Powers gave assurances for the conversion of the communist provisional government, by including in it democratic forces from within the country and currently active abroad (the Provisional Government of National Unity and subsequent democratic elections were the agreed stated goals), but the London-based government in exile was not mentioned.
The paucity of available data makes it difficult to provide a scientific and numerically correct estimation of the human losses suffered by Polish citizens during World War II. It can, however, be conjectured that assertions made in the past have been incorrect and motivated by political considerations. To begin with, the total population of 1939 Poland and of the several nationalities/ethnicities present there are not accurately known, since the last population census took place in 1931.
Modern research indicates that during the war about 5 million Polish citizens were killed, including 3 million Polish Jews. According to the Holocaust Memorial Museum, at least 1.9 to 2 million ethnic Poles and 3 million Polish Jews were killed. Millions were deported to Germany for forced labor or to German death camps such as Treblinka, Auschwitz and Sobibor. According to another estimate, between 2.35 and 2.9 million Polish Jews and about 2 million ethnic Poles were killed. Nazi Germany intended to exterminate the Jews completely, in actions that have come to be described collectively as the Holocaust. The Poles were to be expelled from areas annexed by the Reich by a process of resettlement, starting in 1939 and expected to be completed within 15 years.
In an attempt to decapitate Polish society, the Nazis and the Soviets executed tens of thousands of members of the Polish intelligentsia and community leaders during the AB-Aktion, Operation Tannenberg and the Katyn massacre.[j] Over 95% of the Polish Jewish losses (less directly also many of the rest)[d] and 90% of the ethnic Polish losses were caused by Nazi Germany; 5% of the ethnic Polish losses were caused by the Soviets and 5% by Ukrainian nationalists. This Jewish loss of life, together with the numerically much less significant waves of displacement during the war and emigration after the war, after the Polish October 1956 thaw and following the 1968 Polish political crisis, put an end to several centuries of a large scale and well-established Jewish settlement and presence in Poland. The magnitude of the losses of Polish citizens of German, Ukrainian, Belarusian and other nationalities, which were also great, are not known.
In 1940–41, some 325,000 Polish citizens were deported by the Soviet regime. The number of Polish citizens who died at the hands of the Soviets is estimated at less than 100,000. In 1943–44, Ukrainian nationalists (OUN and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army) massacred tens of thousands of Poles in Volhynia and Galicia.
Approximately 90% of Poland's war losses were the victims of prisons, death camps, raids, executions, the annihilation of ghettos, epidemics, starvation, excessive work and ill treatment. There were one million war orphans and 590,000 war disabled. The country lost 38% of its national assets (Britain lost 0.8%, France 1.5%). Nearly half of prewar Poland was expropriated by the Soviet Union, including the two great cultural centers of Lwów and Wilno.
After (for all practical purposes) the final settlement at Potsdam, the Soviet Union retained most of the territories captured as a result of the 1939 German-Soviet pact and gained others (western Ukraine, western Belarus, Lithuania and the Königsberg area of East Prussia were officially incorporated). Poland was compensated with major parts of Silesia including Breslau (Wrocław) and Grünberg (Zielona Góra), of Pomerania including Stettin (Szczecin), and of East Prussia, along with Danzig (Gdańsk). Collectively referred to as the "Recovered Territories", they were included in the reconstituted Polish state. Most of the German population there fled or was expelled to Germany. 1.5–2 million Poles moved or were expelled from Polish areas annexed by the Soviet Union. The vast majority were resettled in the former German territories. The Poles lost 70% of their prewar oil capacity to the Soviets, but gained from the Germans the highly developed industrial and infrastructural base that made a rounded industrial economy possible for the first time in Polish history.
Many Poles could not return to the country for which they had fought because they belonged to the "wrong" political group, or came from prewar eastern Poland now incorporated into the Soviet Union (see Polish population transfers (1944–46)), or, having fought in the West were warned not to return because of the high risk of persecution. Others were pursued, arrested, tortured and imprisoned by the Soviet authorities for belonging to the Home Army or other formations (see Anti-communist resistance in Poland (1944–46)), or were persecuted because they had fought on the western front.
With Germany's defeat, the reestablished Polish state was shifted west to the area between the Oder–Neisse and Curzon lines and Germans who had not fled were expelled. Of those who remained, many chose to emigrate to post-war Germany. According to an estimate by Polish researchers, of the 200–250 thousand Jews who escaped the Nazis, 40–60 thousand had survived in Poland. More had been repatriated from the Soviet Union and elsewhere, and the February 1946 population census showed about 300,000 Jews within the new borders.[e] Of the surviving Jews, many chose or felt compelled to emigrate.
Territories on both sides of the new Polish-Ukrainian border were "ethnically cleansed". Of the Ukrainians and Lemkos living in Poland within the new borders (about 700,000), close to 95% were forcibly moved to the Soviet Ukraine, and in 1947 to the new territories in northern and western Poland under Operation Vistula. In Volhynia, 98% of the Polish pre-war population was either killed or expelled, in Eastern Galicia the Polish population was reduced by 92%. In all the mutual violence in the 1940s (during and after the war), about 70,000 Poles and about 20,000 Ukrainians were killed.
Because of the changing borders and the mass movements of people of various nationalities, both sponsored by governments and spontaneous, the emerging communist Poland ended up with a mainly homogeneous, ethnically Polish population (97.6% according to the December 1950 census). The remaining members of minorities were not encouraged by the authorities or their neighbors to emphasize their ethnic identities.[i]
In June 1945, as an implementation of the Soviet interpretation of the February Yalta Conference directives a Polish Provisional Government of National Unity was formed; and soon recognized by the United States and many other countries. Communist rule and Soviet domination were apparent from the beginning: sixteen prominent leaders of the Polish anti-Nazi underground were brought to trial in Moscow in June 1945. In the immediate post-war years, the emerging communist rule was challenged by unreconciled people and groups, and many thousands perished in the fight or were pursued by the security forces and executed. Such insurgents often pinned their hopes and expectations on an imminent outbreak of a World War III and the defeat of the Soviet Union. The right-wing insurgency faded after the amnesty of February 1947.
A June 1946 national referendum arranged by the communist Polish Workers' Party was used to legitimize its dominance in Polish politics and claim widespread support for the party's policies. Although the Yalta agreement called for free elections, those held in January 1947 were controlled by the communists. Some democratic and pro-Western elements, led by Stanisław Mikołajczyk, the former Prime Minister in Exile, participated in the Provisional Government and the 1947 elections, but were ultimately eliminated through electoral fraud, intimidation and violence. In times of radical political and economic change, members of Mikołajczyk's agrarian movement attempted to preserve some degree of market economy (protect limited property ownership). Afterwards the communist-dominated ruling bloc was officially the only source of governmental authority. The Polish government in exile remained in continuous existence until 1990, although its influence was degraded.
After the brief period of a coalition "National Unity" government a Polish People's Republic (Polska Rzeczpospolita Ludowa) was created (so named only in the communist constitution of 1952), effectively under the communist Polish United Workers' Party rule.
The ruling party itself was a result of the forced amalgamation in December 1948 of the communist Polish Workers' Party and the historically non-communist, more popular Polish Socialist Party (the party, re-established in 1944 by its left wing, had been from that time allied with the communists). The ruling communists, who in post-war Poland preferred to use the term "socialism",[f] needed to include the socialist junior partner to broaden their appeal, claim greater legitimacy and eliminate competition on the political Left. The socialists, who were losing their organization, had to be subjected to political pressure, ideological cleansing and purges in order to become suitable for unification on the "Workers' Party"'s terms. The socialist pro-communist leaders were the prime ministers Edward Osóbka-Morawski and Józef Cyrankiewicz.
During the most oppressive Stalinist period (1948–53), terror, justified as necessary to eliminate reactionary subversion, was widespread. Many thousands of perceived opponents of the regime were arbitrarily tried and large numbers executed.[u] The People's Republic was led by discredited Moscow operatives such as Bolesław Bierut, Jakub Berman and Konstantin Rokossovsky. The independent Catholic Church in Poland was subjected to property confiscations and other curtailments from 1949, and in 1950 was pressured into signing an accord with the government. In 1953 and later, despite a partial thaw after Stalin's death, the persecution of the Church intensified and its head, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, was detained.
Larger rural estates and agricultural holdings as well as former German property were redistributed through land reform and industry was nationalized beginning in 1944. Communist restructuring and the imposition of work-space rules encountered active worker opposition already in the years 1945–47. The Three-Year Plan (1947–49) continued with the rebuilding, socialization and restructuring of the economy. It was followed by the Six-Year Plan (1950–55) for heavy industry. The rejection of the Marshall Plan (1947), however, made aspirations of catching-up with the West European standard of living unrealistic.
The government's highest economic priority was the development of militarily useful heavy industry. State-run institutions, collectivization and cooperatives were imposed (the last category dismantled in the late 1940s as not socialist enough, though later reestablished), while even small-scale private enterprises were eradicated. Stalinism introduced heavy political and ideological propaganda and indoctrination in social life, culture and education.
Great strides were made, however, in the areas of eliminating unemployment, universal public education (including eliminating adult illiteracy), health care and recreational amenities for working people. Many historic sites, including the central districts of war-destroyed Warsaw and Gdańsk (Danzig), were rebuilt at a great cost.
The communist industrialization program led to increased urbanization and educational and career opportunities and advancement for the intended beneficiaries of the social transformation, along the lines of the peasants-workers-working intelligentsia paradigm. The most significant improvement was accomplished in the lives of the traditional Polish underclass, the peasants, who moved en masse to the cities, leaving behind their impoverished and overcrowded village communities. Those who stayed behind took advantage of the implementation of the 1944 PKWN land reform decree, which terminated the antiquated, but widespread parafeudal socioeconomic relations in Poland (under Stalinism it was followed by the generally failed attempts at establishing collective farms), but the national percentage of the rural population decreased in communist Poland by about 50%. A majority of Poland's residents of cities and towns still live in apartment blocks built during the communist era.
In March 1956, after the 20th Soviet Party Congress in Moscow ushered in de-Stalinization, Edward Ochab was chosen to replace the deceased Bierut as First Secretary of the Polish Communist Party. Poland was rapidly overtaken by social restlessness and reformist undertakings; thousands of political prisoners were released and many people previously persecuted were officially rehabilitated. Riots by economically distressed workers in Poznań ensued in June and were violently suppressed, but gave rise to the formation of a reformist current within the communist party.
Amidst continuing social and national upheaval, in October a further shakeup took place in the party leadership.[k] While retaining most traditional communist economic and social aims, the regime led by the new Polish Party's First Secretary Władysław Gomułka liberalized internal life in Poland. The dependence on the Soviet Union was somewhat mollified and the state's relationships with the Church and Catholic lay activists were put on a new footing. A repatriation agreement allowed the transfer to Poland of hundreds of thousands of Poles who were still in the Soviet Union, including many former political prisoners. Collectivization efforts were abandoned - agricultural land, unlike in other Comecon countries, had mostly remained in the private ownership of farming families. State-mandated provisions of agricultural products at fixed, artificially low prices were reduced and, from 1972, eliminated.
Sophisticated cultural life, to varying degrees linked to the intelligentsia's opposition to the totalitarian system, developed under Gomułka and his successors. The creative process had often been compromised by state censorship. Nevertheless, significant productions were achieved in fields such as literature, theater, cinema and music, among others. Journalism of veiled understanding and native varieties of popular trends and styles of western mass culture were well represented. Uncensored information and works generated by émigré circles (the Paris-based Kultura magazine developed a conceptual framework for dealing with the issues of borders and the neighbors of a future free Poland) were conveyed through a variety of channels, Radio Free Europe being of foremost importance.
The legislative election of 1957 was followed by several years of relative stabilization, accompanied by economic stagnation and curtailment of reforms and reformists. A nuclear weapons–free zone in Central Europe was proposed in 1957 by Adam Rapacki, Poland's foreign minister. Several prominent "revisionists" were expelled from the party in the 1960s.
In 1965, the Conference of Polish Bishops issued the Letter of Reconciliation of the Polish Bishops to the German Bishops. In 1966, the celebrations of the 1,000th anniversary of the Baptism of Poland led by Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński and other bishops turned into a huge demonstration of the power and popularity of the Catholic Church in Poland.
The post-1956 liberalizing trend, in decline for a number of years, was reversed in March 1968, when student demonstrations were suppressed. Motivated in part by the Prague Spring, by then in progress, the Polish opposition leaders, intellectuals, academics and students used a historical-patriotic classic theater spectacle series in Warsaw, and its forced termination, as a springboard for protests, which soon spread to centers of higher education and turned nationwide. The authorities responded with a major crackdown on opposition activity, which included especially reorganization, the firing of faculty members and the dismissal of students at universities and other institutions of learning. At the center of the controversy were also the few Znak Catholic deputies in the Sejm, who attempted to defend the students.
In an official speech, Gomułka raised an artificial issue of the role of Jewish activists in the events taking place, giving ammunition to a nationalistic party faction opposed to his rule. Using the context of the military victory of Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967, some in the Polish communist leadership waged an antisemitic campaign against the remnants of the Polish Jewish community. The assimilated and secular, often well-placed targets of this campaign, were accused of actively sympathizing with Israeli aggression (most Poles welcomed a defeat for their Soviet ally) and being disloyal. Branded "Zionists", they were scapegoated and blamed for the unrest in March, which eventually led to the emigration of much of Poland's remaining Jewish population (about 15,000 Polish citizens left the country).
With the active support of the Gomułka regime, after the informal announcement of the Brezhnev Doctrine, the Polish People's Army took part in the infamous Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968.
In December 1970, the governments of Poland and West Germany signed a treaty which normalized their relations and made possible meaningful cooperation in a number of areas of bilateral interest. The Federal Republic recognized the post-war de facto border between Poland and East Germany.
In December 1970, disturbances and strikes in the port cities of Gdańsk (Danzig), Gdynia, and Szczecin (Stettin), triggered by a government-announced price increase for essential consumer goods, reflected deep dissatisfaction with living and working conditions in the country. The activity was centered on the industrial shipyard areas of the three coastal cities. Dozens of protesting workers and bystanders were killed in police and military actions, generally directed by Gomułka and under the command of Minister of Defense Wojciech Jaruzelski. In the aftermath, Edward Gierek replaced Gomułka as First Secretary of the Communist Party. The new regime was seen as more modern, friendly and pragmatic and enjoyed initially a degree of popular (and foreign) support.[g][o]
Gierek's years (1970–80) brought, on the one hand, wide-ranging, if ultimately unsuccessful government attempts to revitalize the economy, and, on the other, the increased presence of opposition circles, emboldened by the Helsinki Conference processes. Another attempt to raise food prices resulted in the June 1976 protests. Jacek Kuroń was among the activists defending the accused rioters from Radom and other towns. The Workers' Defense Committee (KOR), established in response to the crackdown, consisted of dissident intellectuals willing to support openly industrial workers, farmers and students who were organizing, struggling with and persecuted by the authorities throughout the late 1970s.
In October 1978, the Archbishop of Kraków, Cardinal Karol Józef Wojtyła, became Pope John Paul II, head of the Roman Catholic Church. Catholics and others rejoiced at the elevation of a Pole to the papacy and greeted his June 1979 visit to Poland with an outpouring of emotion.
Fueled by large infusions of Western credit, Poland's economic growth rate was one of the world's highest during the first half of the 1970s; but much of the borrowed capital was misspent, and the centrally planned economy was unable to use the new resources effectively. The growing debt burden became insupportable in the late 1970s, and negative economic growth had set in by 1979.
Around July 1, 1980, with the Polish foreign debt standing at more than $20 billion, the government made another attempt to increase meat prices. Workers responded with escalating work stoppages; culminating initially in a general strike in Lublin. In mid-August labor protests at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk gave rise to a chain reaction of strikes which virtually paralyzed the Baltic coast by the end of the month and, for the first time, closed most coal mines in Silesia. The Inter-Enterprise Strike Committee coordinated the strike action across hundreds of workplaces and formulated the 21 demands as the basis for negotiations with the authorities. The Strike Committee was sovereign in its decision-making, but was aided by a team of "expert" advisers that included Bronisław Geremek and Tadeusz Mazowiecki, well-known intellectuals and oppositionists.
On August 31, 1980 representatives of workers at the Gdańsk Shipyard, led by an electrician and activist Lech Wałęsa, signed the Gdańsk Agreement with the government that ended their strike. Similar agreements were signed at Szczecin and in Silesia. The key provision of these agreements was the guarantee of the workers' right to form independent trade unions and the right to strike. Following the successful resolution of the largest labor confrontation in communist Poland's history, nationwide union organizing movements swept the country.
Edward Gierek was blamed by the Soviets for not following their "fraternal" advice, not shoring up the party and the official trade unions and allowing "anti-socialist" forces to emerge. On September 5 Gierek was replaced by Stanisław Kania as First Secretary.
Delegates of the emergent worker committees from all over Poland gathered in Gdańsk on September 17 and decided to form a single national union organization named "Solidarity", following a suggestion by Karol Modzelewski.
While party–controlled courts took up the contentious issues of Solidarity's legal registration as a trade union (finalized by November 10), planning had already begun for the imposition of martial law. A parallel farmers' union was organized and strongly opposed by the regime, but Rural Solidarity was finally registered on May 12, 1981. In the meantime, a rapid deterioration of the party's authority, the disintegration of state power and an escalation of demands and threats by the various Solidarity–affiliated groups were occurring, as, according to Kuroń, a "tremendous social democratization movement in all spheres" was taking place and could not be contained. Wałęsa had meetings with Kania, which brought no resolution to the impasse. Following the Warsaw Pact summit in Moscow, the Soviet Union proceeded with a massive military build-up along Poland's border in December; but during the summit Kania forcefully argued with Leonid Brezhnev and other allied communists leaders against the feasibility of an external military intervention, and no action was taken. The United States, under presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, repeatedly warned the Soviets about the consequences of a direct intervention, while discouraging an open insurrection in Poland and signaling to the Polish opposition that there would be no rescue by the NATO forces.
In February 1981, Defense Minister General Wojciech Jaruzelski assumed the position of Prime Minister. A World War II veteran with a generally positive image, Jaruzelski engaged in preparations for calming the Polish unrest by the use of force, utilizing ZOMO troops and other security forces backed up by the Polish and Soviet bloc military. The 1980–81 Solidarity social revolt had thus far been free of any major use of force, but in March 1981 in Bydgoszcz three activists were beaten up by the secret police. A nationwide "warning strike" took place, in which the 9.5 million strong Solidarity union was supported by the population at large. A general strike was called off by Wałęsa after the March 30 settlement with the government. Both Solidarity and the party were badly split and the Soviets were losing patience. Kania was re-elected at the Party Congress in July, but the collapse of the economy continued and so did the general disorder.
At the first Solidarity national congress in September–October 1981 in Gdańsk, Lech Wałęsa was elected national chairman of the union with 55% of the vote. An appeal was issued to the workers of the other East European countries, urging them to follow in the footsteps of Solidarity. To the Soviets the gathering was an "anti-socialist and anti-Soviet orgy" and the Polish communist leaders, increasingly led by Jaruzelski and General Czesław Kiszczak, were ready to apply force.
In October Jaruzelski was named the party's First Secretary, an unusual advancement for a military man in the communist world. The Plenum's vote was 180 to 4 and he kept his government posts too. Jaruzelski asked parliament to ban strikes and grant him extraordinary powers, but when neither was accomplished he decided to proceed with his plans anyway.
On December 12–13, the regime declared martial law, under which the army and ZOMO riot police were used to crush the Solidarity. The Soviet leaders insisted that Jaruzelski pacify the opposition with the forces at his disposal, without direct Soviet involvement or backup. Virtually all Solidarity leaders and many affiliated intellectuals were arrested or detained. Nine workers were killed at the Wujek Mine. The United States and other Western countries responded by imposing economic sanctions against Poland and the Soviet Union. Unrest in the country was subdued but continued.
During martial law Poland was ruled by the "Crow" (Military Council of National Salvation). The recently open or semi-open opposition communications were replaced by underground publishing, as Solidarity was reduced to a few thousand underground activists.
Having achieved some semblance of stability, the Polish regime relaxed and then rescinded martial law over several stages. By December 1982, martial law was suspended, and a small number of political prisoners, including Wałęsa, were released. Although martial law formally ended in July 1983 and a partial amnesty was enacted, several hundred political prisoners remained in jail. Jerzy Popiełuszko, a popular pro-Solidarity priest, was abducted and murdered by security functionaries in October 1984.
Further developments in Poland occurred concurrently with and were influenced by the reformist leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev in the Soviet Union. In September 1986, a general amnesty was declared and the government released nearly all political prisoners, but the authorities continued to harass dissidents and Solidarity activists. The regime's efforts to organize society from the top down had failed, while the opposition's attempts at creating an "alternate society" were also unsuccessful. With the economic crisis unresolved and societal institutions dysfunctional, both the ruling establishment and the Solidarity-led opposition began looking for ways out of the stalemate. Facilitated by the indispensable mediation of the Catholic Church, exploratory contacts were established.
Student protests resumed from February 1988. The government's inability to forestall Poland's economic decline led to waves of strikes across the country in April, May and August 1988. The Soviet Union was becoming increasingly destabilized and unwilling to apply military and other pressure to prop up allied regimes in trouble. The Polish government felt compelled to negotiate with the opposition and in September 1988 preliminary talks with Solidarity ensued in Magdalenka. Numerous meetings took place involving Wałęsa and Kiszczak among others and the regime made a major public relations mistake by allowing a televised debate in November between Wałęsa and Alfred Miodowicz, chief of the official trade unions. The fitful bargaining and intra-party squabbling led to the official Round Table Negotiations in the following year, followed by the Polish legislative election of 1989, a watershed event marking the fall of communism in Poland.
The round-table talks began in February 1989. They produced the Round Table Agreement in April. The agreement called for local self-government, policies of full employment, legalization of independent trade unions and specified many wide-ranging reforms. The current Sejm promptly implemented the political, association and other aspects of the deal and the agreed partly open National Assembly elections were set for June 4 and June 18. Only 35% of the seats in the Sejm (national legislature's lower house) and all the Senate seats were freely contested; the remaining Sejm seats (65%) were guaranteed for the communists and their allies.
The failure of the communists at the polls (almost all of the contested seats were won by the opposition) resulted in a political crisis. The new constitutional agreement called for the re-establishment of the Polish presidency and on July 19 the National Assembly elected the communist leader General Wojciech Jaruzelski to that office. His election, seen at the time as politically necessary, was barely accomplished with tacit support from some Solidarity deputies and the new president's position was not strong. Moreover, the unexpected definitiveness of the parliamentary election results created new dynamics and attempts by the communists to form a government failed.
On August 19, President Jaruzelski asked journalist and Solidarity activist Tadeusz Mazowiecki to form a government; on September 12, the Sejm voted approval of Prime Minister Mazowiecki and his cabinet. Mazowiecki decided to leave the economic reform entirely in the hands of economic liberals, led by the new Deputy Prime Minister Leszek Balcerowicz, who proceeded with the design and implementation of his "shock therapy" policy. For the first time in post-war history, Poland had a government led by non-communists, setting a precedent to be soon followed by many other communist-ruled nations. Mazowiecki's acceptance of the "gruba kreska" formula meant no "witch-hunt", an absence of revenge seeking or exclusion from politics in regard to former communist officials.
In part because of the attempted indexation of wages, inflation reached 900% by the end of 1989 but was soon dealt with by the shock therapy. In December 1989, the Sejm approved the government's reform program to transform the Polish economy rapidly from a centrally planned one to a free market.[v] The constitution was amended to eliminate references to the "leading role" of the communist party and the country was renamed the "Republic of Poland." The communist Polish United Workers' Party dissolved itself in January 1990, creating in its place a new party, Social Democracy of the Republic of Poland. "Territorial self-government", abolished in 1950, was legislated back in March 1990, to be led by locally elected officials; its fundamental unit was the administratively independent gmina.
In November 1990, Lech Wałęsa was elected president for a five-year term; in December he became the first popularly elected President of Poland. Poland's first free parliamentary election was held in October 1991. 18 parties entered the new Sejm, but the largest representation received only 12% of the total vote.
Several post-Solidarity governments were in existence between the 1989 election and the 1993 election, after which the "post-communist" parties took over. In 1993 the formerly Soviet Northern Group of Forces, a vestige of past domination, left Poland.
Poland joined NATO in 1999. Elements of the Polish Armed Forces have since participated in the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War. Poland joined the European Union in May 2004. The two memberships were indicative of the Third Polish Republic's integration with the West.
European labor markets were gradually opened to Polish workers, which helped to reduce Poland's sometimes 20% unemployment by up to 50% (over two million emigrated). The influx of European Union funds allowed long-term structural economic improvements. Poland was able to withstand the damage of the 2008 economic crisis better than many other European countries.
a.^ Piłsudski's family roots in the Polonized gentry of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the resulting perspective of seeing himself and people like him as legitimate Lithuanians put him in conflict with modern Lithuanian nationalists (who in Piłsudski's lifetime redefined the scope of the meaning of "Lithuanian"), and by extension with other nationalists and also with the Polish modern nationalist movement.
b.^ In 1938 Poland and Romania refused to agree to a Franco-British proposal that in the event of war with Germany Soviet forces would be allowed to cross their territories to aid Czechoslovakia. The Polish ruling elites considered the Soviets in some ways more threatening than the Nazis.
The Soviet Union repeatedly declared its intention to fulfill its obligations under the 1935 treaty with Czechoslovakia and defend Czechoslovakia militarily. A transfer of land and air forces through Poland and/or Romania was required and the Soviets approached the French about it, who also had a treaty with Czechoslovakia (and with Poland). Edward Rydz-Śmigły rebuked the French suggestion on that matter in 1936, and in 1938 Józef Beck pressured Romania not to allow even Soviet warplanes to fly over its territory. Like Hungary, Poland was looking into using the German-Czechoslovak conflict to settle its own territorial grievances, namely disputes over parts of Zaolzie, Spiš and Orava.
c.^ An establishment of Poland restricted to "minimal size", according to ethnographic boundaries (such as those shown on this 1920 map, or the lands common to both prewar Poland and postwar Poland), was planned by the Soviet People's Commissariat for Foreign Affairs in 1943–44, and recommended by Ivan Maisky to Vyacheslav Molotov in early 1944 because of what Maisky saw as Poland's historically unfriendly disposition toward Russia and the Soviet Union. Joseph Stalin opted for a larger version, allowing a "swap" (territorial compensation for Poland), which involved the eastern lands gained by Poland at the Peace of Riga of 1921 and now lost, and eastern Germany conquered from the Nazis in 1944–45. In regard to the several disputed areas, including Stettin, "Zakerzonia" and Białystok (Białystok was claimed by the communists of the Byelorussian SSR), the Soviet leader made decisions that favored Poland.
Other territorial and ethnic scenarios were also possible, generally with outcomes less advantageous to Poland than its present form.
d.^ Timothy Snyder spoke of about 100,000 Jews killed by Poles during the Nazi occupation, the majority probably by members of the collaborationist Blue Police. This number would have likely been many times higher had Poland entered into an alliance with Germany in 1939, as advocated by some Polish historians and others.
e.^ Some may have falsely claimed Jewish identity hoping for permission to emigrate. The communist authorities, pursuing the concept of a Poland of single ethnicity (in accordance with the recent border changes and expulsions), were allowing the Jews to leave the country. For a discussion of early communist Poland's ethnic politics, see Timothy Snyder, The Reconstruction of Nations, chapters on modern "Ukrainian Borderland".
g.^ The Soviet leadership, which had previously ordered the crushing of the Uprising in East Germany, the Hungarian Revolution and the Prague Spring, now became worried about the demoralization of the Polish army, a crucial Warsaw Pact component, because of its deployment against Polish workers. The Soviets withdrew their support for Gomułka, who insisted on the use of force; he and his close associates were subsequently ousted from the Polish Politburo by the Polish Central Committee.
h.^ East of the Molotov-Ribbentrop line, the population was 43% Polish, 33% Ukrainian, 8% Belarusian and 8% Jewish. The Soviet Union did not want to appear as an aggressor, and moved its troops to Eastern Poland under the pretext of offering protection to "the kindred Ukrainian and Belorussian people".
i.^ Joseph Stalin at the 1943 Tehran Conference discussed with Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt new post-war borders in central-eastern Europe, including the shape of a future Poland. He endorsed the Piast Concept, which justified a massive shift of Poland's frontiers to the west. Stalin resolved to secure and stabilize the western reaches of the Soviet Union and disable the future military potential of Germany by constructing a compact and ethnically-defined Poland (along with the Soviet ethnic Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania) and by radically altering the region's system of national borders. After 1945 the Polish communist regime wholeheartedly adopted and promoted the Piast Concept, making it the centerpiece of their claim to be the true inheritors of Polish nationalism. After all the killings and population transfers during and after the war the country was 99% "Polish."
j.^ "All the currently available documents of Nazi administration show that, together with the Jews, the stratum of the Polish intelligentsia was marked for total extermination. In fact, Nazi Germany achieved this goal almost by half, since Poland lost 50 percent of her citizens with university diplomas and 35 percent of those with a gimnazium diploma."
k.^ Decisive political events took place in Poland shortly before the Soviet intervention in Hungary. Władysław Gomułka, a reformist leader at that time, was reinstated to the Polish Politburo and the Eighth Plenum of the party's Central Committee was announced to convene on October 19, 1956, all without seeking Soviet approval. The Soviet Union responded with military moves and intimidation and its "military-political delegation", led by Nikita Khrushchev, quickly arrived in Warsaw. Gomułka tried to convince them of his loyalty but insisted on the reforms which he considered essential, including a replacement of Poland's Soviet-trusted minister of defense, Konstantin Rokossovsky. The disconcerted Soviets returned to Moscow, the Polish Plenum elected Gomułka First Secretary and removed Rokossovsky from the Politburo. On October 21, the Soviet Presidium followed Khrushchev's lead and decided unanimously to "refrain from military intervention" in Poland, a decision likely influenced also by the ongoing preparations for the invasion of Hungary. The Soviet gamble paid off because Gomułka in the coming years turned out to be a very dependable Soviet ally and an orthodox communist.
l.^ The delayed reinforcements were coming and the government military commanders General Tadeusz Rozwadowski and Władysław Anders wanted to keep on fighting the coup perpetrators, but President Stanisław Wojciechowski and the government decided to surrender to prevent the imminent spread of civil war. The coup brought to power the "Sanation" regime under Józef Piłsudski and Edward Rydz-Śmigły after Piłsudski's death. The Sanation regime persecuted the opposition within the military and in general. Rozwadowski died after abusive imprisonment, according to some accounts murdered. According to Aleksandra Piłsudska, the Marshal's wife, following the coup and for the rest of his life Piłsudski lost his composure and appeared over-burdened.
At the time of Rydz-Śmigły's command, the Sanation camp embraced the ideology of Roman Dmowski, Piłsudski's nemesis. Rydz-Śmigły did not allow General Władysław Sikorski, an anti-Sanation enemy, to participate as a soldier in the defense of the country in September 1939. During World War II in France and Britain the Polish government in exile became dominated by anti-Sanation politicians. The perceived Sanation followers were in turn persecuted (in exile) under prime ministers Sikorski and Stanisław Mikołajczyk.
m.^ General Zygmunt Berling of the Soviet-allied First Polish Army attempted in mid-September a crossing of the Vistula and landing at Czerniaków to aid the insurgents, but the operation was defeated by the Germans and the Poles suffered heavy losses.
n.^ The decision to launch the Warsaw Uprising resulted in the destruction of the city, its population and its elites and has been a source of lasting controversy. According to the historians Czesław Brzoza and Andrzej Leon Sowa, orders of further military offensives, issued at the end of August 1944 as a part of Operation Tempest, show the loss of the sense of responsibility for the country's fate on the part of the Polish leadership.
o.^ One of the party leaders Mieczysław Rakowski, who abandoned his mentor Gomułka following the 1970 crisis, saw the demands of the demonstrating workers as "exclusively socialist" in character, because of the way they were phrased. Most people in communist Poland, including opposition activists, did not question the supremacy of "socialism" or the socialist idea; misconduct by party officials, such as not following the provisions of the constitution, was blamed. This assumed standard of political correctness was increasingly challenged in the years that followed, when pluralism became a frequently used concept.
p.^ The Polish Sanation authorities were provoked by the independence-seeking Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). OUN engaged in political assassinations, terror and sabotage, to which the Polish state responded with a repressive campaign in the 1930s, as Józef Piłsudski and his successors imposed collective responsibility on the villagers in the affected areas. After the disturbances of 1933 and 1934, a prison camp in Bereza Kartuska was established, which became notorious for its brutal regime. The government brought Polish settlers and administrators to Volhynian areas with a centuries-old tradition of Ukrainian peasant rising against Polish land owners (and to Eastern Galicia). In the late 1930s, after Piłsudski's death, military persecution intensified and a policy of "national assimilation" was aggressively pursued. Military raids, public beatings, property confiscations and the closing and destruction of Orthodox churches aroused lasting enmity in Galicia and antagonized Ukrainian society in Volhynia at, according to Timothy Snyder, the worst possible moment. However, he also notes that "Ukrainian terrorism and Polish reprisals touched only part of the population, leaving vast regions unaffected" and "the OUN's nationalist prescription, a Ukrainian state for ethnic Ukrainians alone was far from popular." Halik Kochanski wrote of the legacy of bitterness between the Ukrainians and Poles that soon exploded in the context of the World War II. See also: History of the Ukrainian minority in Poland.
r.^ Foreign policy was one of the few governmental areas in which Piłsudski took an active interest. He saw Poland's role and opportunity as lying in Eastern Europe and advocated passive relations with the West. He felt that a German attack should not be feared because, even if this unlikely event were to take place, the Western powers would be bound to restrain Germany and come to Poland's rescue.
s.^ According to the researcher Jan Sowa, the Commonwealth failed as a state because it was not able to conform to the emerging new European order established at the Peace of Westphalia of 1648. Poland's elective kings, restricted by the self-serving but short-sighted nobility, could not impose a strong and efficient central government, with its characteristic post-Westphalian internal and external sovereignty. The inability of Polish kings to levy and collect taxes (and therefore sustain a standing army) and conduct independent foreign policy were among the chief obstacles to Poland competing effectively on the changed European scene, where absolutist power was a prerequisite for survival and became the foundation for the abolition of serfdom and gradual formation of parliamentarism.
t.^ Besides the Home Army (Armia Krajowa) there were other major underground fighting formations: Bataliony Chłopskie, Narodowe Siły Zbrojne and Gwardia Ludowa (later Armia Ludowa). In 1943 the leaders of the nationalistic Narodowe Siły Zbrojne collaborated with Nazi Germany in a case unique in occupied Poland. The NSZ conducted an anti-communist civil war. According to the historians Czesław Brzoza and Andrzej Leon Sowa, participation figures given for this are often inflated. In the spring of 1944, at the time of the most extensive involvement of the underground organizations, there were most likely considerably fewer than a total 500,000 military and civilian personnel participating, over the entire spectrum, from the right wing to the communists.
u.^ About 1.1 million people may have been imprisoned or detained in 1944–56 and about 50,000 may have died because of the struggle and persecution, including about 7,000 soldiers of the right-wing underground killed in the 1940s.
v.^ According to Andrzej Stelmachowski, one of the key participants of the Polish systemic transformation, Minister Leszek Balcerowicz pursued extremely liberal economic policies, often unusually painful for society. The December 1989 Sejm statute of credit relations reform introduced an "incredible" system of privileges for banks. Banks were allowed unilaterally to alter interest rates on already existing contracts. The extremely high rates they instantly introduced ruined many previously profitable enterprises and caused a complete breakdown of the apartment block construction industry, which had long-term deleterious effects on the state budget as well. Balcerowicz's policies also caused permanent damage to Polish agriculture, which Balcerowicz "did not understand", and to the often successful and useful Polish cooperative movement.
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