Polish History

Figure 1.--The Poles after two centuries of foriegn domination as a result of the 18th century Polish Partitions were not going to give up their freedom in 1939 despite being surronded by the vast NAZI and Soviet armies. Primary children at the Copernicus School (now zkoła Podstawowa nr 1) near Minsk saved their pennies to buy a machine gun for the Polish Army. A Polish army officer presents the gun for the children to see (March 23, 1939). The Polish people paid a terrible price for their definance of the two great totalitarian powers, but today poland exist and free and NAZI Germany abd the Soviet Union have been conemned to ash can of history asMarx would say.

Geography has played a major role in shapeing Poland. The country's location on the northern European plain has left it open to invasion fro both east and west. And that plain has left the country without easily defenseable frontiers which also left its borders clearly defined. Poland was in the early Medieval period a land without central control, racked by warring tribes. Prince Mieszko I was baptised in 966. Mieszko and Roman Catholic Christianity provided stability and cohesion for the first time. Poland had by the 17th century had become the largest state in Europe. It played a major role in stopping the expansion of the Ottoman Empire into Europe, helping to save Vienna. An elected kingship and the power of the nobility significantly impaired the development of a strong national state. Despite important reforms in the late 18th century, Poland was partioned between Austria, Prussia, and Russia and the Polish monarchy ended. Napoleon was aided by Polish nationalists in his campaigns against Austria and Prussia, but his devestating defeat in Russia, ended any hope of a restored Polish monarchy as the peace was dictated by the very powers that had partioned Poland. Poland did not reappear until after World War I destroyed the three great European empires (Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Russia). Poland played a crucial role in the destruction of the two great European totalitarian powers that sought to fundamentaly shift the trajectory of Western civilization. It was Poland that first stood up to Hitler and the NAZIs and payed a terrible price. Poland after World War II had to endure a Stalinist dictatorship. While absorbed into the Soviet Eastern European empire, Poland proved to be a very troublesome acquisition. And with the advent of Solidarity, it was in Poland that the Soviet empire began to unravel.


Geography is a major factor in history and Poland is a case in point. Norther Europe from the Urals to the Pyranees is a flat plain with no major geographic obstructions. The northerly flowing rivers, except for the Rhine, do not constiture major obstructions and even the Rhine as Ceasar showed would not stop a determined invader. As a result invading armies have moved back and forth across the flat expanse of northern Europe. Poland's great misfortune in modern times was to be located between the two European titans, Germany and Russia.

Ancient History

Many different peoples have populated the plains of northern Europe including the area of modern Poland. These groups have included the Celts, Balts, Scythians, Huns, Goths, and Germanic peoples. As these were pre-literate peopes, the early histotory of Poland is not well understood.

Medieval Era

The Slavs

The Slavs are a major Eastern European language and ethnic group speaking one of the Indo-European family languages. The Slavs are normally divided into the West Slavs (Poles, Czechs, and Slovaks), East Slavs (Great Russians, Ukranians, and Bylorusians/White Russians), and South Slavs (Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Macedonians, Montenegrans, and Bulgarians). The origins of the Slavs are not well understood. Like the Germans, Slavs have developed politically based national theories which have complicated actual scholarship and confused existing literature. We know that Slavic tribes began to settle in the area of modern Poland sometime after the collapse of the Roman Empire at the beginning of the medieval period (6th or 7th century).

The Polonia

It was the Polonia tribe that emerged as the dominant group (mid-10th century). There are no real histories of Poland's early development. A chif of the Polonia, Piast, is said to have united the Slavic tribes and name the union Polska (Poland). It is not entirely clear, however, to what extent Piast is a legendary or historical figure. This region ruled by Piast and his sucessors who expanded their domains became known as Wielkopolska, or Greater Poland.

Foundation and Christianization (966)

The Christianization of Poland began with the personal baptism of Duke Mieszko I, the first ruler of a recogniziable Polish state along with much of his court. Courtiers of course wanted to maintain their relationship with the poweful Duke. This was a standard practice in the spread of Christianity. Convert the ruler and the people would follow. Duke Mieszko I was a Piast and the first Polish leader for which historical documents exist. He married Dabrowka of Bohemia and converted to Christianity (966). Polish historians widely see this as the birth of the Polish nation. The Duke's conversion took place (April 14, 966), but the location is not well establlished. Historians believe that the cities of Poznań and Gniezno are the most likely sites. Mieszko's new wife, Dobrawa, is believed to be the principal influence on Mieszko's decision to convert. There were also powerful political considerations. Christianity brought Poland into the orbit of Western Christian civilization asnd converted powerful enimkies into allies. Poznań became an Episcopal see. Duke Mieszko then allied himself with the most powerful man in Europe, German Emperor Otto I. And he placed his lands under the protection of the pope. Thus Poland located in Eastern Eyrope thus became aligned with Western Catholic rather than Eastern Orthodox Christinity. The spread of Christianity among the Polish people took about a century to accomplish and even longer for paganism to disappar. Conversion was well adavanced within only a few decades, especially among the elite. Poland was soon recognized by he pope as one of the and the the Holy Roman emperor as a Christian kingdom. It took some time, however, to finally convert the common people. The final event in the Christianization was the Pagan Reaction (1030s).

Piast Dynasty (966-1370)

The Piasts were Poland's first royal dynasty. There is no historical record of their origins, but there are legends that developed during their rule. There is often some historical basis for legends and others are total fiction. Of course no one really knows. The most popular legend is that when Prince Popiel of Gnesen (modern Gniezno) died (second half of the 9th century), he was succeeded by Siemowit, the son of the Prince’s plowman, Piast. It was he who founding a dynasty that ruled the Polish lands through must of the medievel period as Poland emerge as a nation. (The name Piast is a fairly modern term. It dis not appear until the 17th century when the country's history began to be set down.). A century later Duke Mieszko emerged as a powerful ruler ove the Polish lands which is predecesors had expanded (963). He is believed to be the fourth prince of the Piast dynasty. Poland at the time was a highly developed, but iolated polity. Mieszko I decided to bring his state which would become known as Greater Poland into closer association with Western Europe where the powerful Holy Roman Empire was areal threat. He converted it to Christianity (966). He expanded his domins into Pomerania (Pomorze) on the Baltic Sea (967–990) as well as Silesia and Little Poland (989–992). Silesea would become one of the most fought over provinces in Europe, being traded back and forth with enumerable wars. His domains included an area roughly equivalent to modern Poland. His capital was at Gniezno. Towns were also established at Gdansk, Szczecin, Poznan, Wroclaw, and Krakow. Mieszko's son Bolesław I the Brave suceeded his father (992) and along had a long rein. He continued Poland's expansion. He was noted for improving internal administration and church organization. He was crowned king shortly before his death, the first Polish monarch achieving tht status.

Division (1100s)

Boleslaw Krzywousty (Boleslaus the Wry-Mouthed) divided Poland among his sons (1138). He was attempting to maintain the unity of Poland, but it lead to divisions and it made Poland vulnerable to foreign invaders.


Poland had a long history of openess to Jews in a still Catholic Europe seething with anti-semitism. It is unclear when the first Jews arrived in Poland. It appears that some Jews had reached Poland (10th century). The earliest Jews appear to have been merchants rather thn settlers. The first known account comes from Spanish scholars. Spain at the time was the most culturlly advanced, not unrelated to the relatively tolerant atmosphere. Ibrahim ibn Jakub was a Jewish merchant and diplomat from Tortosa,Spain. He writes about a journey east which includes a description of Krakow. It is at this time that a Polish state was beginning to form. Ibrahim's account mentions the first Duke of Poland--Mieszko I (965). Ibrahim was surely not the first Jew to visit Poland, but he was the first to write about it. He does not describe any ill-feeling toward Jews. Presumably other Jews at this time were traveling and tradeing in Piast Poland. Surely some had begun to settle in Poland at this time. They would have primarily been involved with commerce and crafts. With the onset of the Crusades in Europe, the Christian West became increasingly hostile toward the Jews in their midst. Country after country banished Jews. Many of these Jews sought refuge in the east, especially Poland. Poland from the 11th century onwards accepted Jews fleeing persecultion in from Austria, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, and Turkey. In many countries the Jews were persecuted, restricted to ghettos, and often robbed, brutalized, and killed. Several countries including England, Spain, and Portugal expelled them entirely. The Holy Office of the Inquisition was tasked with ensuring that converted Jews ("conversos") were not secretly practing their faith. The Jews in Poland were permitted freedom of religious worship, the right to live in their own communities by King Casimir the Great in the 14th century a dispensation that was reaffirmed by later kings of Poland

Reunification (1320)

Poland was reunifed (1320). Kazimierz III Wielki (Casimir the Great) (1333-70) emerges as one of Poland's greatest rulers. He laid the foundation for the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Krakow flourishes as Kazimierz's capital, becoming an important cultural center. The University of Krakow is founded, becoming one of Europe's earliest universities (1364).

Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1384–1795)

The Polish state emerges as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. It would be which for four centuries the dominant power in east central Europe. It would be the primary Latin Catholic outpost in the East. It birdered on the frontiers of Islam in the south and Russian Orthodioxy in the east. With the cReformation (16th century) the Scandinavian Protestant powers in the north and the Germans in the West. While culturally Catholic, institutions like the Inquisition which perverted Western Catholocism never took root in Poland. The Commonwealth was a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic state with tolerated many religious groups, both Christian ans non-Christian. There was a substantial Orthodox and Greek Catholic population as well as a large Armenian population and significant numbers of German, Czech, Flemish, Dutch settlers who founded farming communities. And in Polish cities one also found Italian, German, and English merchants. Poland also had the largest Scottish population in Continental Europe. And there were not just various Christian faiths. Muslim Tatars lived in the south. Some even took mup service with the Polish monarchy as well as regional princes. And Poland becamne a rare haven for Europe’s Jews expelled by Western monarchies or fleeing the Inquisition and attacks resulting from the plague and Crusades.

Jagiellonian Dynasty (1382-1572)

The Polish crown was inherited by Louis I of Hungary (1370). His daughter Jadwiga who was only 10-years old inherited the Polish throne (1382). She married Duke Jagiello of Lithuania (1386). This created an alliance with pagan Lithuania. Jagiello converted to Christianity and becomes Wladyslaw II Jagiello, ruling from (1386-1434). The union created an alliance with Lithuania that endured for 400 years. It also increased the territory of Poland making it an important European state. Duke Jagiello as Ladislaus II of Poland dounds the Jagiellonian Dynasty. Poland-Lithuania faced many foreign powers and fights wars with a diverse list of foes (Teutonic Knights, Tatars, Russia, the Ottoman Empire). The Poles defeat the Teutoinic Knights at the battle of Tannenberg (1410). The Knights accept Polish overlordship (1466). The Poles manage to expand their kingdom into one of the most powerful states in Europe. The country prospered economically and culturally.

Renaissance (1500s)

The Renaissance began in Italy and gradually spread north. The Renaissance reached Poland (16th century). Here a factor was the Catholic Church which was affected by the Renaissance. The Renaissance did not penetrate further east to Orthodox Russia. A range of developments came with the Renaissance afecting the ikntelectual life of Poland. Polish becomes the language used by scholrs, replacing Ltin. Polish literature, learning, culture, and architecture flourish. Nicolaus Copernicus (Mikolaj Kopernik) published On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres (1543). He theorizes that that the earth revolved around the sun. His theory is rejected by the Church.

The Reformation (16th century)

The Reformation began in Germany when Martin Luther nailed the 95 Thesis to the Castle Church in Wittenberg,. He had no intenrion iof dividing the Church, but rather to innitiate a scholsrly debate to reform the Church. The Reformation as it developed of course did split the Church. It soon spread in northern and central Europe including Poland. The Refornation made notable progress in Poland (mid- and late-16th century). Students from Wittenberg were the first to bring Luther's reforming message to Poland, initially to German communities in Danzig and Cracow. The Poles themselves, however, were more attracted to French Calvanist teachings than the German Lutherans. A variety of factors were involved, including Polish political traditions, historical ties with France, and increasing animosity toward Germans. The Hussites in western Poland had suffered at the hands of Catholic clerical intolerance. And the Poles as with the Germans were disastisfied weith the clergy and the drain on national trasury to finance the opulnce of the papacy. And in Poland there was a tradition of religious tolerance which would seem to offer fertile ground fior the spread of Protestrantism. Reform churches began to become established in Poland. Protestantism flourished in various regions of Poland, as in Germany, protected by sympathetic local nobels. The Emperor in Germany couild not contain the Refornmation. The same proved true in Poland, although the Polish monarchy did not attempt to contain the Reformation as the Emperir did in Germany. The Polish kings were either indifferent or believed it was not the role of a king to interfere in religious disputation--a very different attitudec than iotherf 16th century European rulers. And the monarchy did not have the power to interfere. Here obkly the Polish Diet (Sjem) could authorize such actuion. And the Diet included nobels of various religious persuasions. In fact the reformist nobels had considerable influence, The Diet even passed laws excluding the Catholic Church from important public responsibilities (1550s). Poland did not, however, become Protestant. Thec reasons seem to be that the Polish Protestants never unified in one principal denomination, but were divivided into many devisisive churches. And within Poland the Catholic Church found renewed vigor. In particular, Protestantism never captured the alergiance of the Polish peasantry, the backbone of the country. Many saw the Protestants as agely foreign sect and while willing to tolerate the Protestants along wsith other faiths, it was the Catholic faith that continued to be associated with Polish nationalism.

The First Polkish Republic: The Royal Republic (1572-1795)

A secession of monarchs conceded powers to the Polish Parliament, or Sejm (lower chamber), became increasingly influential. This was essentially the nobility's resistance to the power of the monarchy. The Sejm unified Poland and Lithuania into one state rather than a personal union of the monarchy--the Union of Lublin (1569). The Sejm also changed the monarchy from family sucession to an election in the Sejm. Thus Poland became known as the Royal Republic. There is no limitation as to the nationality of the monarch meaning that foreigners can compete for the crown. This change proved to be a disasterb for the Polish state. During the period of the Royal Republic, only four out of eleven kings were native Poles. Poland was also affected by the Reformation. The Sejm made one for felicitous decesion, guarantees religious equality (1573). Thus Poland in the 17th century was not torn apart by the religious conflicts like the Thirty Years War that devestated Germany. Roman Catholics, Jews, Protestants, Orthodox Christians, and Muslims were able to live together in peace. Under the Royal Republic, Poland's capital is moved from Krakow to Warsaw (1596-1609).

Wars with Sweden and Russia

The Royal Republic and the Sjems recklessness resulted in the loss of much of the territitory won by the Jagiellonian kings. Poland under Stephen Bathory and the Vasa Kings (1587-1668) are involved in wars with Sweden and Russia. Poland survived as a result of the Miricle of Czestochowa, but loses larges swaths of territory. The losses were confirmed by the treaties of Oliva and Andrusov. Sweden which had become a major European power invaded Poland from the north. The Tartars and Cossacks in the East strike at the large areas of the Ukraine that Poland-Lithuania had acquired. Poland is ravaged. Historians refer to this as the Deluge (1655-60). Major cities were destoyed, burned and plundered. A weakened monarchy is unable to organize effective armies. Poland's opulation of 10 million falls to about 6 million. The wars reduce agricultural production which beings famine. The bubonic plauge also descimates the country.

Jan (John) III Sobieski (1674-96)

One bright spot in Poland's decline is King Jan III Sobieski. He proves to be a gifted military commander and managed to arrest the country's decline. Sobieski gained important military victories in the south against the Turks.

Great Northern War (1700-21)

The Great Northern War was the first war of the 18th century. It extended over two decades and was fought in different phases as battlefields and beligerants shifted. The phases of the War cnsisted of 1700-06, 1707-09, 1709-14, 1714-18, and 1718-21. The origins of the War began in the 1890s. At the time Sweden was the dominant power in northeastern Europe. A coaltion (Russia, Denmark, and Saxony-Poland) gradually formed to resist Sweden (1697-99). When Charles XII assumed the throne at only age 15, it seemed an opportunity to deal with Sweden which controlled a broad area of northeastern Europe. Charles V of Denmark had designs on Scania and other territories on northern coast of the Baltic that was once Danish territory. Denmark also wanted to seize the Duchy of Holstein-Gottorp which Sweden now controlled. Agustus II of Saxony-Poland wanted Livonia on the Baltic. Augustus was known as Augustus the Strong. He was the Elector Frederick Augustus of Saxony within the Holy Roman Empire. He was elected king of Poland (1697). Possession of Livonia would enable Augustus to significant reduce Swedish commercial influence in the Baltic. Augustus saw the potential of combining Saxony's productive know how with Polish raw materials, but Swedish commercial power impaired Augustus' plans. Russia's dynamic young Tsar had more limited goals. He primarily wanted an outlet on the Baltic. And Sweden possession of Karelia, Ingria and Estonia blocked Peter's westward advancement.

Further Decline

Jan III's reign proved to be only arespite in Poland's decline. The tipping point in Poland's national existence came when the German Elector of Saxony was elected king by the Sjem. This was the beginning of the end of independence. The Sjem elected Stanislaus II (1764). He could remain in power only through Russian support and in the end was forced to concede large areas of weastern Poland to Russia and smaller areas to Prussia and Austria--the First Partition (1772).

Polish Partitions (1772-95)

The Great Northern War destoyed Sweden as a major power in northern Europe, but it left Poland, a decling state, surrounded by three major European powers--Austria, Prussia, and Russia. Andcthose states wereable to interfere in domestic Polish politics through the Sjem. Poland at one time was a major Euorpean power. The sucess of the nobility in emasculting the monarchy caused a disatrous decline in Polish fortunes. And ultimately the neigboring powers (Russia, Prussia, and Austria) partitioned and annexed all of the former Polish kingdom (1772-95). This Poland disappeared grom the maps of Europe until being revived after World War I. Russia acquired the largest share of Poland, including all of eastern and central Poland as well as Warsw. Prussia acquired western Poland, much of which was renamed West Prussia (formerly Royal Prussia) and Posen. This was Wielkopolska or Greater Poland. Austria acquired southern Poland, including Kraków and Lwów and renamed "Galicia". During and after the Napoleonic Wars, Poland briefly reemerged as the small Duchy of Warsaw under Napoleon and the Kingdom of Poland within the Tsarist Empire.

Dimembered Poland (1772-1918)

Poland which had been one of the great European powers, as a result of the 18th century Polish Partions, disappeared from the map of Europe. The great bulk of the country becme part iof the Russian Empire, but Prussia and Austria annexed small areas of western Poland. As a result, most of Ploand was rulled by Tsarist Russia for the next 123 years. Russian rule varied considerably during that period which included the Fremch Revolution and Napoleonic War. There was some hope that the Napoleon would reserect a Polish nation, but after the disaster of the Grand Amee in Russia (1812), this never occurred. The Congress of Vienna that reconstructed Europe after the Napoleonic Wars made some provision for Poland, but left it it under Tsarist control. The Russians maintained their control, but Poland from the onset was the most rebelious province ofthe Tsarist Empire as it would be for the Soviet Empire in the 20th century. Most of Poland continued under Russian rule as the Kingdom of Poland in personal union with the Tsar. The Kingdom had its own constitution as Congress Poland. Krakow became a separate republic. Austria regained Galacia. Prussia refained West Prussia and Poznan. Polish revolutionaries in Congress Poland rise against the Tsar (1830). After some initial success they are supressed by the Tsarist Army (1831). The Tsar suspends the constitution. Another insurection in Congress Poland is again supressed by the Tsarist Army (1863). The assaination of Tsar Alexander II brings to the throne his conservative son Aleander III. He launches pogroms against the Jews and initiates a Russification program again the non-Russian nationalities within the Empire (1870s). The attempt to destroy Polish culture in the area of Poland under their control which was most of Poland. Russian is made the official language. Chancellpor Bismarckl persues similar policies in the areas of western Poland under German control. Austrian-Hungary persues different polices alloeing Poles in their area of Poland (Galicia) a degree of autonomy. As a result of Russian policies, large numbers of Poles (both Jews and Christians) emmigrated to the United States in the late-19th and early-20th century.

World War I (1914-18)

The Polish nation once the most powerful in Europe disappeared as a result of three partitions in the 18th century carried out by Austria, Prussia, and Russia with the major share and Warsaw going to Russia. The Poles resisted these empires and in reaction the Russians in particular set out to destroy Polish national identity and Russify the Poles. Polish nationalism was largely preserved by the nobility and the Church. The Polish peasantry was largely a political. Although there was no Polish state, Poles participated in the War as part of the armies of the three empires that had partioned the country. About 2.0 millions participated in the War. Nearly 0.5 million were killed. Polish nationalists were divided in the conflict. Many right-wing Poles led by Roman Dmowski's National Democrats promoted the Allied cause which on the Eastern Front meant the Russians. Dmowski thought that a grateful Russia might agree to autonomy for Poland, perhaps even independence in the future. Josef Pilsudski led the Polish Socialists. He also commanded the Polish Legion in the Austrian Army. He thought that Russia might be knocked out of the War. Austria which had gained Galicia in the partition had been the most willing to allow a measure of Polish autonomy. The poor performance of the Austrian Army on the Eastern Front resulted the Germans assuming command. Marshal Pilsudski refused to take an an oath of allegiance to the Kaiser. German authorities arrested him and imprisoned him in Magdenburg Castle. Russian collapse changed the political situation in the East. America had joined the war. President Wilson promoted the 14 Points wgich included national self determination. With Russia no longer in the war Britain and France came out for Polish self-determination. Although the Germans had achieved their goals in the East reverses in the West changed the political landscape. Revolts broke out in German cities. The Kaiser abdigated and fled to Holland.

Second Polish Republic: Inter-War Era (1918-39)

Marshal Pilsudski had become a Pilsudski hsad beome the leading Polish nationalist figure. Hefougjht with the Austrians againt Russia, but was eventually arrested by the Germans. German authorities released Marshal Pilsudski from Magdenburg prison, the day before the Armistace on the Wesern Front (November 10, 1918). He immeditely headed for Warsaw. He arrived there on the same day the Armistice on the Western Front went into effect (November 11). The Germans had set up a Regency Council in Warsaw. Understanding that a Polish national rising was about to take place, the Regency Council turned to Marshal Pilsudski. The German garrison in Warsaw chose to evacuate by train. The Allies recognized the new Polish state set up by Pilsudski. At Versilles the Poles demanded the boundaries of Poland before the 18th century partitions. The boundaries of the new Polish nation were only established by diplomacy and military engagements (1919-21). This included the war with the Bolsheviks (1919-21). Inter-war Poland included a German minority in the west and eastern areas where Lithuanians, White Russians, and Ukranians outnimbered Poles. Poland was devastated by the War. It is believed that about 1 million Poles died during the War. The Poles had to create the institutions of an independent state. President Wilson in his 14 Points promoted national self determination. The Allies in the Treaty of Versailles transfer western Prussia to Poland and a cirridor across land with German populations to the Baltic Sea--the Polish corridor. , thus getting access to the Baltic Sea. There is no way the Allies can determine the eastern border. This is determined by the Polish-Soviet War (1919-20). Marshal Pilsudski's army defeats the Boshevicks and gains control western Ukraine and Belarus under the Treaty of Riga (1923). Poland also seizes Vilnus from Lithuania. This meant that the new Polish state controlled large areas with non-Polish populations. Polish democracy does not last long. Pilsudski estanlishes a dictatorship (1926). The dictatorship continues until his death (1935). It is then maintained by Colonel's Clique. Economic conditions imprives and the country's cultural life flourishes. Poland signs nonagression pacts with both Germany and the Soviet Union (1930s).

NAZI-Soviet Non-Agression Pact (August 23, 1939)

T he War in Europe began in 1939 when the German blitzkrieg smashed Poland in only a few weeks. The invasion was made possible the preceeding week when Stalin signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler. NAZI Foreign Minister Ribbentrop and newly appointed Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs Molotov on August 23, 1939, signed the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact. At the time of the signing, British and French delegations were in Moscow trying to reach an understanding with Stalin. He was convinced, however, that they were tring to draw him into a war with Hitler. The two countries which until that time had been bitter foes, pledged not attack each other. Any problems developing between the two countries were to be delt with amicably. It was last for 10 years. The Pact shocked the world and the purpose was immedietly apparent. It meant that Germany could attack Poland without fear of Soviet intervention. Thus after defeating Poland, Germany did not have to fear a full-scale European war on two fronts. What was not known at the time was that there was a secret protocol to the pact which in effect divided Eastern Europe betwen the two countries. This protocol was discovered after the end of the World War II in 1945. The Soviets continued to deny this protocol until 1989. The NAZIs 8 days after signing the Pact invade Poland on September 1, 1939, launching World War II. Although the Soviet's did not enter the War against Britain and France, the Soviets were virtual NAZI allies as they provided large quantaies of strategic materials, especially oil. Communist parties in Britain and France opposed the war effort. The Communist Party in America opposed President Roosevelt's efforts to expand defense spending and assist Britain and France.

World War II (1939-45)

World War II began with the German invasion of Poland (1939). The Soviets of course also invaded Poland in 1939, but Britain and France wisely only declared war on Germany. The subsequent Cold War between the Soviets and the western Allies also had its origins in Poland. Stalin's repressive measures in Poland, especially the murder of Polish officers in the Katyn Forrest was revealed by the NAZIs in 1942. Soon Soviet measures against the Polish Government in exile, the creation of a rival Polish Governmrent, and the abandonment of the Polish Home Army in Warsaw (1944) were some of the major issues which began the separation of the Soviet and Western Allies even before the end of World War II. Poland was a major issue at both Yalta and Potsdam. Many critics hav charged that tht President Roosevelt in particula abandoned Poland to the Soviets. [Olson and Cloud] The simple fact is, however, that the Red Army destroyed the Whermacht. If it had not been for the relentless pressure of the Red Army in the East, D-Day would have never been possible. The Soviet domination of Poland and Eastern Europe after the War was a simple reflection of that basic fact. America and the Western Allies could not have rescued Poland from the Soviets without war. In the end it was the Polish people who would prevail. It was in Poland with Solidarity in the 1980s that the Soviet empire began to unravel.

Yalta Conference (1945)

Poland was a major issue at both Yalta and Potsdam. Many critics hav charged that tht President Roosevelt in particula abandoned Poland to the Soviets. [Olson and Cloud] The standard right-wing cant is that Americ won the war, but lost Poland. The simple fact is, however, that the War was never fought to save Poland. The war was fought to defeat the NAZIs. Many of FDR's criticics did not even want to go towar to save Britain--let alone Poland. Also the War was not won by America. It was won by America and Britain and their allies and the Soviet Union. In fact, it was the Red Army destroyed the Whermacht. Eight out of every 10 Wehrmacy soldiers killed during the War were killed on the Eastern Fron by the Soviets. If it had not been for the relentless pressure of the Red Army in the East, D-Day would have never been possible. The Soviet domination of Poland and Eastern Europe after the War was a simple reflection of that basic fact. As it was not America and Britain that won the war alone, America was not in a position to impose a peace settlement and boundries in Eastern Europe. America and the Western Allies could not have rescued Poland from the Soviets without war.

Cold War

In the end it was the Polish people who would prevail. It was in Poland with Solidarity in the 1980s that the Soviet empire began to unravel. Poland because of its geographic location became the epicenter for the Cold War. For without a compliant Communist Poland, a the Communist East German regime was untenable. Unfortunately for the Soviets, Poland proved the most difficult Eastern European satellite country to control. It is interesting to specuale as to just why Poland proved so difficult for the Soviets to dominate. Poland was the only Eastern European satellite that had until the 18th century been a major European power. With the Polish partitions of the late 18th century, the Polish nation disappeared from the maps of Durope. What did not disappear was the Polish Catholic Church which became the repository for Polish nationaism for three centuries. Stalin spoke derivisely of the Vatican, asking how many divisions the pope commanded. In fact it was a Polish pope in the 1980s that would play a critical role in the unraveling of the Soviet empire Stalin constructed in Eastern Europe.

Independent Poland (1990- )

The Communist Government had increasing economic problems. Inflation ran out of control. Prices rose by 250 percent (1990). At the sme time incomes dropped by 40 percent. Poland first fuly democratic election was won by Solidarity leader Lech Walesa (November 1990). He encountered both economic and and political problemsin leadingthe transition from Communism to Capitalim. The economy was left in a shables after four decades of Soiet domination. Pollution was a major problem. Communuist era factories were ineffucent and unable to compete with western industry. Poland is forced ton undergo a painful progress of economic readjustment. The Government made some difficult decesions and the population had to endure ral economic hardship. Poland's National Assembly adopts a new Constitution (1997). Poland joined the European Union as the economic reforms begin the bear fruit. Poland also joined NATO.


Olson, Lynne and Stanley Cloud. A Question of Honor: The Kosciuszko Squadron: Forgotten Heroes of World War II (Knopf, 2003).


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