|Full Name||Republic of Poland|
|Alliance||Allies - Minor Member Nation or Possession|
|Entry into WW2||1 Sep 1939|
|Population in 1939||34,775,000|
|Military Deaths in WW2||400,000|
|Civilian Deaths in WW2||5,200,000|
|- Civ Deaths from Holocaust||3,000,000|
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
On 11 Nov 1918, at the end of WW1, Poland returned to the map of Europe for the first time for 123 years. The revolutionary and dictator Józef Pilsudski, who ruled Poland from 1918 until his death in 1935, quickly established rather effective legal, transportation, administrative, and military systems.
Economically, Poland had a relatively prosperous 1920s, but the global depression of the 1930s hit the country rather hard, especially in the face of an exploding population growth. The conservative government spending habits did little to increase the monetary supply in the Polish economy, though the Polish government did developed very advanced socialist programs.
During the inter-war year, Poland's greatest achievement was in the realm of foreign policy. Pilsudski laid out a careful circle of friends in the diplomatic arena, first allying with France to restraint Germany from the thought of invasion from the west, then allied with neighboring Hungary and Romania to discourage aggression from Russia in the east. In 1932, Poland signed a non-aggression treaty with the Soviet Union that calmed relations and reduced the incidents on the borders. In 1934, a similar treaty was signed with Germany to reduce tension and normalize trade. On the surface, recent decades' border tensions with Germany (which was frustrated at the physical separation of East Prussia after the creation of Poland) and the Soviet Union (which lost territory in the Polish-Soviet War of 1919-1921) seemed to have been eased by the mid-1930s.
Militarily, the Polish Navy was small but strong enough to counter a modest attack from the Baltic Sea, the Polish Air Force was highly advanced with the world's only all-metal air fleet, and the Polish Army was unified and enjoyed high prestige. However, as the 1930s went on, politicians who controlled the armed forces, despite top leadership's military origins, did not effectively manage the build-up to its maximum potential during peace time, and the Polish military fell behind its neighboring counterparts as quickly as it had grew.
To bolster diplomatic and military efforts, the Polish dedicated much resource to the field of intelligence. As early as the early 1930s, Polish mathematicians from the University of Poznan cracked German and Russian military codes, therefore able to monitor military movements of the two powers.
As Europe moved toward war, Czechoslovakia and Poland drew closer as they faced a potential common enemy in Germany. The two countries negotiated toward an alliance where Poland would gain partial ownership of the Skoda weapons plants for the promise that Poland would come to the aid of Czechoslovakia should a German invasion take place. When Germany annexed Czechoslovakia, however, Poland turned on its ally and took part in the partition of the country, capturing a small piece of eastern Czechoslovakia (generally the territory of Treschen and the nearby Bohumin rail junction) in Mar 1939. Although Germany and Poland had been debating over the Danzig issue, the Polish did not realize Germany would soon turn on Poland until it was too late.
On 1 Sep 1939, after a series of purposefully unacceptable ultimatums, German troops poured across the Polish border after staging a bogus border incident. The Polish forces fought back fiercely, often outperforming the German Army when the odds were even, but those battles were far and few in between; the highly modernized and mobile German Army, with air superiority, outmaneuvered the Polish forces with ease. On 5 Sep, German leadership moved the High Command to southeastern Poland, meaning to drag on the war to give French and Britain, Poland's allies, time to make their move against Germany (which never happened). This move proved to be a terrible mistake for Poland. This move cut the communication between the top leadership and the field units, making the defense effort uncoordinated. Nevertheless, despite high casualties, the Polish forces were also able to inflict greater damage on the German forces than what the Germans expected. Just as the Polish thought they were seeing a glimpse of hope, it was quickly extinguished as the Russians invaded from the east on 17 Sep. Poland surrendered on 28 Sep, and coordinated military resistance ceased by the first week of Oct.
After the conquest, the eastern third of Poland was occupied by Russian forces. The Polish Corridor, Silesia, and portions of western Poland were incorporated into Germany. Central Poland was governed by a German military government. At first, the occupation forces of both powers treated Poland as an economic colony, with the Germans taking large portions of the produce without regard to the starvation of the people, while the Russians uprooted Polish industries and brought the loot back east. That was not the worst yet. The Russians played intrigue in the Polish political arena, exploiting the differences between Jews and Ukrainians so that they fought one another under the careful manipulation of the occupation leadership. The Germans did the exact same thing, exaggerating the differences between the Jews and the Christians and played one group against another. Both sides also drafted the Polish people as slave labor for their own war efforts, with countless dead of starvation, disease, and exhaustion. What made the Russo-German occupation of Poland between 1939 and 1945 so terrible, however, was the work of the German SS, German Einsatzgruppen units, and the Russian NKVD. Entire villages were wiped out in the most brutal manner by both sides, and the Germans rounded up Jews in ghettos and concentration camps.
In Jun 1941, Germany invaded Russia, and eastern Poland was one of the first battlefields. As the Russian occupiers fled east, the Einsatzgruppen units moved in immediately after them. In many towns and villages, the mobile killing squads systematically rounded up the civilians, Jews or otherwise but particularly Jews, and either executed a few to set an example or massacred the entire population. Of course, such barbarity called for by the Nazi Party did not reflect the common German soldier, and morale began to decline. The answer to that was even unthinkable cruelty; to make executions impersonal, Nazi leaders devised methods of mass killing in the form of gas chambers. The first such killing took place on 3 Sep 1941 at Auschwitz, and within months entire trains were dedicated to bringing Jews and other "sub-humans" into the death camps.
Of course, the Polish people resisted. The group that posed the greatest threat to the German and Russian occupiers was the Home Army, or the Armia Krajowa. The AK, which absorbed smaller resistance groups during the occupation, was more so a secret underground government than a mere guerrilla force. In addition to a military chain-of-command, it also maintained schools, industries, radio stations, and even publishing services for the Polish people. The military wing of the AK initially opposed frequent confrontations with German forces in order to preserve strength, particularly with the brutal retribution attacks on civilians in mind. That restraint was lifted on 1 Aug 1944 as Russian troops neared Warsaw. Although the Polish still held the Russians with suspicion as they were as brutal an occupier as the Germans only a few years before, the AK thought they would begin the fight in Warsaw to weaken the German defenses ahead of the Russian invasion; AK was hoping that would legitimize its claim for a future regime free of Russian control. The AK fought fiercely, even in the face of great odds they destroyed German tanks and killed many occupation soldiers. Adolf Hitler was furious, ordering his troops to systematically level entire sections of Warsaw until the city was nothing more than a pile of rubble. To the surprise of the AK, the Russian forces waited merely miles outside the city, refusing to attack in coordination. Additionally, Joseph Stalin even refused the Western Allies from using Russian air bases to mount operations to supply the Polish resistance by air. Stalin's plan, of course, was to let Hitler's troops get rid of the non-Communist AK for him, before he ordered his troops to drive out the Germans. The Polish people, once again, suffered at the hands of the two neighboring powers.
During the occupation between 1939 and 1945, an estimated 5,200,000 civilians died as a direct result; that number alone was staggering without needing to stress the fact that it amounted to 15% of the 1939 population of Poland.
The liberation of Poland by Russia was one without freedom. Just as the occupation of 1939 to 1941, the Russians once again looted all they could from Poland, and the people starved. The AK gave up the effort to set up a government of its own as the Western Allies avoided voicing direct support to please Stalin.
After WW2, Polish borders were redrawn as Stalin pleased. Eastern Poland conquered by the Russians during the 1939 invasion were annexed. To justify the territorial loss, the Allies granted Poland the western half of East Prussia, the Polish Corridor, and pre-war German territory east of the Oder and Neisse Rivers, but the resulting forceful relocation of the Polish (and German) people were only sources of pain and suffering. With a Moscow-backed puppet government in place in Warsaw, Poland remain independent in name only until the end of the Cold War.
John Radzilowski, A Traveller's History of Poland
William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
|Anders, Władysław||Jankowski, Jan||Rumkowski, Chaim|
|Beck, Józef||Komorowski, Tadeusz||Rydz-Śmigły, Edward|
|Bohusz-Szyszko, Zygmunt||Maczek, Stanislaw||Sikorski, Władysław|
|Czerniaków , Adam||Rokossovsky, Konstantin|
Events Taken Place in Poland
|The Danzig Crisis||24 Oct 1938 - 29 Aug 1939|
|Invasion of Poland||1 Sep 1939 - 6 Oct 1939|
|Gestapo-NKVD Conferences||27 Sep 1939 - 31 Mar 1940|
|Operation Barbarossa||22 Jun 1941 - 30 Sep 1941|
|Warsaw Ghetto Uprising||19 Apr 1943 - 16 May 1943|
|Erntefest Massacre||3 Nov 1943 - 4 Nov 1943|
|Discovery of Concentration Camps and the Holocaust||24 Jul 1944 - 29 Apr 1945|
|Warsaw Uprising||1 Aug 1944 - 2 Oct 1944|
|Vistula-Oder Offensive||12 Jan 1945 - 2 Feb 1945|
|Silesian Offensive and the Siege of Breslau||8 Feb 1945 - 6 May 1945|
|East Pomeranian Offensive||24 Feb 1945 - 4 Apr 1945|
|PZL.11||PZL.23 Karaś||PZL.24||PZL.37 Łoś||PZL.7|
|Blyskawica Submachine Gun||Vis Handgun|
Visitor Submitted Comments
All visitor submitted comments are opinions of those making the submissions and do not reflect views of WW2DB.
- » 758 biographies
- » 307 events
- » 28514 timeline entries
- » 682 ships
- » 306 aircraft models
- » 163 vehicle models
- » 255 weapon models
- » 70 historical documents
- » 310 book reviews
- » 219 maps
- » 17490 photos, 1537 in color
General Douglas MacArthur at Leyte, 17 Oct 1944