Poland

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.

Sources:
John Radzilowski, A Traveller's History of Poland
William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

People

Anders, WładysławJankowski, JanRumkowski, Chaim
Beck, JózefKomorowski, TadeuszRydz-Śmigły, Edward
Bohusz-Szyszko, ZygmuntMaczek, StanislawSikorski, Władysław
Czerniaków , AdamRokossovsky, Konstantin

Events Taken Place in Poland

The Danzig Crisis24 Oct 1938 - 29 Aug 1939
Invasion of Poland1 Sep 1939 - 6 Oct 1939
Gestapo-NKVD Conferences27 Sep 1939 - 31 Mar 1940
Operation Barbarossa22 Jun 1941 - 30 Sep 1941
Warsaw Ghetto Uprising19 Apr 1943 - 16 May 1943
Erntefest Massacre3 Nov 1943 - 4 Nov 1943
Discovery of Concentration Camps and the Holocaust24 Jul 1944 - 29 Apr 1945
Warsaw Uprising1 Aug 1944 - 2 Oct 1944
Vistula-Oder Offensive12 Jan 1945 - 2 Feb 1945
Silesian Offensive and the Siege of Breslau8 Feb 1945 - 6 May 1945
East Pomeranian Offensive24 Feb 1945 - 4 Apr 1945

Aircraft

PZL.11PZL.23 KaraśPZL.24PZL.37 ŁośPZL.7

Ships

BłyskawicaBurzaGarlandGromOrzel

Vehicles

7TPC7P

Weapons

Blyskawica Submachine GunKarabin przeciwpancerny wzór 35 Anti-Tank RifleVis Handgun

Facilities

Auschwitz Concentration CampPrison Camp
Belzec Concentration CampPrison Camp
Chelmno Concentration CampPrison Camp
Majdanek Concentration CampPrison Camp
Sobibór Concentration CampPrison Camp
Treblinka Concentration CampPrison Camp

Photographs

Rydz-Smigly receiving the title of Marshal of Poland from Ignacy Moscicki, Warsaw, Poland, 10 Nov 1936Reichenau and Hitler in Poland, circa Sep-Oct 1939German soldiers carrying MG34 machine guns, Poland, Sep 1939City of Wielun, Poland damaged after German aerial bombing, Sep 1939
See all 36 photographs of Poland in World War II





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Visitor Submitted Comments

  1. Kristof Rutkowski says:
    23 Oct 2008 03:22:00 AM

    In paragraph 10 there is a spelling error:
    it says "Armia KORJOWA" while it should read "Armia KRAJOWA".
  2. Anonymous says:
    2 Dec 2008 07:37:36 PM

    On the first line of the article, there is an obvious grammatical error. Just letting you know.
  3. Anonymous says:
    1 Aug 2009 09:22:38 AM

    Despite the few acceptable grammatical errors, I, an Irishman, wish to THANK YOU very much for doing an excellent job of condensing this crucial period of history.
    I wouldn't mind Germany's obvious invasion, and general abhorrent behaviours, as somehow, it's to be expected, not justifiably by any means of course.
    But Russia's part to play in the occupation and atrocious looting, scheming, butchery, genocide was without doubt, just unforgivable.
    It looks like the Polish people, of all the people in Europe, could definitely have suffered the most of all....not an enviable claim of course.
    But thanks to you, I got a very clear insight, into how Poland suffered horrendously, and so unjustly, and to this day, why those Polish living in Ireland whom I've met and befriended, have a strong distrust and disliking for the Russians.
    I know we're all completely new generations, but the information you've provided here is still STAGGERING.
    THANK YOU SO MUCH, AND WELL DONE.
  4. Gregg Heilman says:
    7 Dec 2009 05:21:08 PM

    Our area of Pennsylvania was settled 300 years mainly by Germans.

    As Americans our community fought proudly for America in everyone of our wars, including the Revolution.

    A Pennsylvania German Unit crossed the Delaware River with George Washington to defeat the German Hessian Mercenaries.

    Our German roots became American roots and we fought for our new home America in ALL the wars.

    A couple years ago we had some fine young Polish Students work with us during the summer. They were hard workers and trying to earn money for school back home.

    My new Polish coworker was studying to become a doctor. I told him my family doctor is of Polish decent. I said I will call him and see if he can take you to the hospital and show you first hand how our health care system works. He was so excited for this chance.

    I told him, Matthew, I am going to write my name and phone number and you call me if I do not see you this week again. I then walked away.

    He quickly came to me and stopped me. Matthew said "Gregg, you are German why would you do this for me a Pole?"

    I said Matthew this is America, we are Americans and the other things don't count with our relationships, or at least they shouldn't. I pointed out to him a dozen people we worked with who were all of German decent but Americans. All had treated Matthew well and they liked Matthew and he them.

    I believe he left knowing there was a difference in this country, the America that we call HOME.
  5. Anonymous says:
    6 Jan 2010 07:35:34 AM

    Thank you for this summary on Poland. I find this DB very usefull in finding information.
  6. Prusa says:
    15 Feb 2010 10:03:47 PM

    Prussia belonged to Prussian!
  7. anonymous says:
    10 Apr 2012 12:19:24 PM

    where is prussia?
  8. Mirek/ Polish says:
    6 Nov 2012 04:42:46 AM

    why Poland is "minor ally"???? we had 4th fighting army along alies.
    some sentances which are FALSE
    FALSE! "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"
    - Poland and Chechoslovakia weren't allies!!!, the Cieszyn anexation took part after Munich Crisis in 1938!, maybe write who allowed Germans to took Sudetenland? =UK,FRA,ITA,GER.

    FALSE!!! "Poland surrendered on 28 Sep, and coordinated military resistance ceased by the first week of Oct."
    Poland never surrendered! On 28th Warsaw surrended but NEVER was a surrender agreement like the French did in 1940 signed between Poland and Germany!!!

    FACTS please! "The Germans did the exact same thing, exaggerating the differences between the Jews and the Christians and played one group against another"
    after those words some will say about "polish-death camps" we can't agree with this sentence without numbers, names and other examples from the author. Got some? please write.

    in the end
    PLEASE read
    Norman Davies: Europe at War 1939–1945: No Simple Victory. Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-69285-3

    or
    Norman davies: Rising '44. The Battle for Warsaw. London: Pan Books. ISBN 0-333-90568-7
    kind regards
  9. Anonymous says:
    27 Mar 2013 06:54:17 AM

    My father was in the Polish army in WW2. As I recall he kept talking about a RIFLE he had and he said he shot HOLES IN RAILROAD TRACKS with it. I know that the WZ 35 was a secret Polish rifle that could do that. How do you find a list of people who were issued this RIFLE? I think he might have used this RIFLE to help the French Resistance as they rescued him from Natzweiller. Please email me if you have any info. My father's name was WASYL WLADYLO from Nienowice. My email is justice8244@yahoo.com

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Poland in World War II Photo Gallery
Rydz-Smigly receiving the title of Marshal of Poland from Ignacy Moscicki, Warsaw, Poland, 10 Nov 1936
See all 36 photographs of Poland in World War II



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