Poland has experienced remarkable historical events in the last100 years. The 20th century started with the creation of the Second Polish Republic (1918 – 1939), then the World War II (1939 – 1945), then the creation of the People's Republic of Poland (1945-1989), and finally the birth of the Third Polish Republic (1989-today). Within these periods, several events took place, some of which will remain in the ears of the Polish for ever. One such event is World War II, which is considered as the most devastating event in the history of Poland. I set out to investigate this event here-in. in my investigation; I have keenly analyzed the major contributions made by Poland towards this historic event, and the effects of the war to Poland.
World War II (European conflict) is considered as the worst event ever in the history of Poland. The war started with Hitler’s inversion of Poland in September 1939. Within the six-year war period (1939 and 1945), over 15% of Poland’s population died. The number of people who died was approximated to be 6 million. There was a uniquely cruel extermination of the Jews who were in concentration camps in Poland. Other than the human deaths, the war left the country in ruins. The country was ruined economically, politically, socially, and culturally. This was the Worst Event of the 20th century as it led to the greatest genocide in the history of life. Even though it was tough, the Polish made single handed efforts as they fought relentlessly until they got back their country. However, towards the end of the War period, the Polish got a substantial support from the Soviet Union, which largely contributed towards the victory. After the war, the Polish have concentrated their efforts in rebuilding their country as they want the very best for their nation. This is the reason behind the birth of the third Polish Republic.
It all started with Germany. World War II, commonly known as the European conflict erupted due to the Germans demands against Poland. German constantly threatened Poland with war and boarder readjustments (territorial readjustments). Germany wanted the Poland’s border to be readjusted in the Baltic coast and Dazing regions so that East Prussia could connect with the other parts of Germany. Hitler’s proposal was considered as a mere joke when Warsaw refused, as there were promises French and British backings. On August 1939, the nonaggression treaty was signed between the Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. This ended the hostilities that resulted from the interwar. Hitler therefore had an upper hand in his endeavors. This treaty nearly divided the Eastern Europe into German and Soviet domination spheres. Joseph V. Stalin, the then Soviet dictator, declared that Soviet would not interfere if Germany attacked Poland. This agreement between Hitler and Stalin placed Poland in an indefensible position.
On 1st September, Germany launched an official attack on Poland, and World War II started. Two days later, France and Britain declared war since they had guaranteed Poland security. However, their assistance was not very effective. The Polish forces were gradually outnumbered and by mid September, Warsaw was surrounded. On 17th September, Soviet Union invaded from the East. The September campaign was over by the end of the month. Both Hitler and Stalin had achieved their goals as they subjected Polish lands for occupation.
German and Soviet Rule
The conditions which Poland was subjected to in the five year period that followed were the most severe in the modern European history. Germany initially took western Poland directly. Here, it established a very brutal colonial government. The main aim of this government was to completely do away with polish nationality. The poles were to be made perpetual slaves of the newly created German empire. Over one million Poles were displaced as the German settlers occupied their land. In addition, two and half million Poles were forced to work in Germany into forced labor camps.
Soviet Union and Germany continued to enjoy the dominion over Poland as they maintained good relationships until mid 1941. The eastern region that was largely occupied by the Belorussians and Ukrainians was absorbed by Moscow, and by 1941, one and half million Poles were moved into labor camps in Soviet Union. Also, thousands of Polish war prisoners had been murdered by Stalin’s secret police. Those largely murdered were the public administration and political figures. The worst incident was the murder of the Polish military officers in 1940. 4000 bodies of the military officers were later discovered in the Katyn forests in a mass grave, near Smolensk in 1943. It was dubbed “the Katyn Massacre”, and was regarded by the Polish as the “Ultimate symbol of Soviet cruelty and mendacity”. However, Soviet authority could not admit any responsibility until 1991 when the Soviet Union ended.
Another worst bit came in June 1941when Germany attacked the Soviet Union. The entire Poland went under the control of a more bloodthirsty group; the Third Reich. The occupation policies of this group worsened as the war continued.
Poland was considered as the integral part of German Lebensraum by Hitler. Hitler had an opinion of killing all the “putative racial inferiors” in the Eastern Europe as he considered this region a “Germanic empire”. This notion propelled the genocidal fanaticism of Germany and Soviet Union. The Poles were reduced to the status of slaves and were subjected under severe life restrictions nurtured by extensive punishments.
Poland, being the main centre of European Jewry, became the hot spot (main killing ground) of the Nazi Holocaust. Almost all the three million Polish Jewish were killed in the most dangerous death camps like Treblinka, Auschwitz, and Majdanek. Several Polish gentiles were also killed under these occupations.
From the start of the war to the end of the war in Europe, Poland was the only country which fought against Germany. After the 1939 September disaster, a legitimate and constitutional Polish government-in-exile was established in London under General Wladyslaw Sikorski’s directions.
There was a strained cooperation between the Soviet leader, Stalin and the polish government-in-exile. However, Stalin continued to demand the retention of the eastern territories of Poland which was secured by the Hitler-Stalin pact. He assured that his country would be friendly towards Poland after the war.
Shortly after the German’s invasion on the Soviet Union, Kremlin decided to organize the Polish forces so as to help in rejecting the Nazis on the eastern side. 75000 Polish troops were gathered; however, as a result of the disagreements about how they were to be utilized, they were never deployed on the Soviet front. Under the “London Poles”, the forces acted with great distinction during the British Eighth Army in both Italy and North Africa.
The intelligence personnel of Poland made a great contribution. They had secured vital information about the top-secret German code Machine. The Polish experts helped the British in using the information in intercepting the orders of Hitler.
The Home Army also known as the Armia Krajowa, offered the most resistance elements. It operated under the ‘London government-in-exile” directives. During World War II, the Home Army became the largest and the most effective movement (underground movement). It functioned as a guerrilla force and as a social means of defense. It conducted several sabotage campaigns as well as intelligence gatherings. It developed into a clandestine network which formed the basis for genuine Polish institutions. 400, 000 members were claimed by the Home Army in 1944. Also, there was the Jewish resistance that was working independently. They tried and organized the 1943 risings in Vilnius, Bialystok, and the ghettos of Warsaw. This plan was however not successful.
Soviet Liberation of Poland
Towards the end of the war, Poland’s fate depended much on the Soviet Union, which initially was the deliverance agent from Nazi tyranny. However, it emerged as another new oppression form. Over the Katy Massacre, Stalin’s response to the Polish was by the establishment of the alternative government of the polish communists. The Polish Workers Party, also known as the Polska Partia Robotnicza, which was an underground organization, was already very active in the areas occupied by the Germans, in Poland. A small military wing was established by this party in 1943. It was named “the People's Army” or the “Armia Ludowa”. Both the Polish Workers' Party and the Home Army acted separately and independently throughout the war period.
As the Soviet Union and the Red Army turned in favor of Poland, hopes were high that the Germans would finally be defeated. In the summer of 1944, when the Soviet forces neared Warsaw, the Red Army was highly anticipated to assist the Home Army. After knowing that they would get assistance, the Home Army launched a massive rebellion against the German in the capital. Unfortunately, the Soviets retreated just before Warsaw. This isolated the uprising and enabled the Germans to defeat the Polish and crush the Warsaw in two months of the intense war. The Warsaw was demolished by the Germans. The Germans then retreated westward after completely destroying the Warsaw city.
The Polish Committee of National Liberation was formed by the communist factions before the Home Army uprising. It came to be known later as the Lublin Committee. In the liberated territory, the Lublin Committee was the official legal authority. In early 1945 (January), it was installed in Warsaw and was recognized as the Provisional Government by the Soviet Union. There was a lot of primary influence exerted by the polish communists about the restoration schemes and decisions. They wanted to restore Poland. It can be said that; based on this, it was an internal scheme of Stalin to destroy the resistance forces of the communists when the Soviet Union’s Red Army failed to help the Home Army in 1944. Several weeks before the allied victory, the very last German forces were expelled from Poland by the Red Army in March 1945.
Polish Aid to the Jews
During the war period, the Poles did their best to save the Jews. A good number of the Polish risked their lives in the attempt of saving the Jews during the German occupation. The unique contribution of Poland was that it was the only country which established a special organization whose main role was to provide aid to the Jewish people. This organization was called Żegota or the “Council for Aid to Jews"). It provided food, shelter, clothing, medicine, financial support, and at the same time offered protection by providing false documents for the Jews so that they could be identified as Christians all across the country. The Polish government-in-exile directly provided most of the funding for this organization.
The contribution made by the individual Poles was also substantial. The poles, both secular and clerical, offered various aids to the Jewish people. Led by Irena Sendler, 2,500 Jewish children were saved by the children section of Żegota in collaboration with the Polish families. The Sisters of the Family of Mary (Roman Catholic) had a Warsaw orphanage which also contributed greatly towards this event. Almost all the Jews who survived during the German occupation in Poland were rescued by the Poles who were unconnected with Żegota. The number of the Jews who survived in Poland was in the range of 40,000 to 120,000. Research also indicates that for the life of one Jew to be saved, it required the efforts of ten Poles.
The number of the Polish citizens who were awarded medals of “Righteous among the Nation” was greatest. This medal was awarded to the non-Jews, whose contributions in saving the Jews from extermination during the Holocaust, was exemplary. The State of Israel awarded the medal. On the day of the award, 6195 Poles, both men and women, were recognized as "Righteous". This amounted to over 25% of the total number. A total of 22,765 honorary titles were awarded.
The Polish Weapons during the War
There was massive development of weapons during the war time championed by the Polish engineers. These were the engineers who escaped from the German occupied Poland. The team invented the Polsten. This was a very cheap and simple derivative of Oerlikon 20 mm cannon.
Large quantities of weapons and munitions were manufactured by the Polish Home Army. This was the only resistance movement in World War II that manufactured such a large quantity of weapons. The team of the experts also developed and produced the Polski Sten machine pistols, the Bechowiec, the Błyskawica submachine gun, and the KIS. They also developed the sidolówka and filipinka hand grenades.
Several armoured cars were also built by the Polish engineers during the Warsaw Uprising. An example of such cars was the Kubus which was largely used in the fight. The KIS was the only modern firearm which could be made in the forest. Its manufacture did not require the use of very sophisticated tools. This weapon was designed and developed at the Jan Piwnik's Guerrilla unit which was operating in the region of the Holy Cross Mountains.
The Table below summarizes the events of the World War II
Poland is invaded by Hitler on 1st September 1939. The Soviet Union also invades eastern Poland on 17th September, causing mass arrests and executions. The exiles then begin.
Poland remains under the Nazi regime for three years as Hitler attacks the Soviet Union. Several Poles are deported to labor camps. The execution of the Polish intelligentsia takes place, as the Nazis plan to completely eliminate the Polish Jews. Most of Polish Jewish population, and several non-Jews, die in Nazi death camps. The camps were set up throughout Poland at Oswiecim (Auschwitz), Birkenau, and Maidanek. Three million Jews from Poland together with several Jews from other countries are killed by the Germans.
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is set up. It was fought by the desperate insurgents of the Jews whose groups were removed and killed.
The Soviet Union breaks relations with the polish government-in-exile over the discovery of the mass graves at Katyn in the Soviet Union.
The poles requested that the Red Cross investigates the matter. However, the Soviets refer to this as an insult.
1944 - 1945
The Poland’s Peoples Army and the Soviet’s Red Army enter Poland in July, 1944. The fighting continues till 1945 when the Germans are defeated. The Germans lost approximately 600,000 solders.
The Warsaw Uprising takes place in 1944. The Germans are defeated as the Red Army of Russia emerges victorious. Russia then sets up a Communist-dominated government in Lublin for Poland. United States, Great Britain, and Russia meet at the Yalta Conference in February 1945, and agree to leave Poland under Soviet control. When World War II ended, over 6 million Poles lost their lives. This was approximately 20% of the pre-war population of Poland.
Results of the War
It is difficult to establish the exact number of the Polish citizens that were killed during the period of World War II. However, modern research shows that approximately 6 million Polish citizens lost their lives. This included the 3 million Jews. Figures from Holocaust Memorial Museum indicate that three million Polish Jews at least two million ethnic Poles were killed during the war. Two and a half million Poles were deported to Germany to provide the forced labor or to the extermination camps of German like Auschwitz and Treblinka.
Joint Sabotage and diversionary actions of the Red Army and the Home Army
Type of Action
- Built-in faults into artillery missiles 92,000
- Built-in faults into condensers 70,000
- Various acts of sabotage performed 25,145
- Damage to railway wagons 19,058
- Damaged locomotives 6,930
- Planned assassinations of Germans 5,733
- Built-in faults in parts for aircraft engines 4,710
- Fuel destroyed (in tonnes) 4,674
- Army vehicles damaged or destroyed 4,326
- Damage to important factory machinery 2,872
- Built-in faults into (electro-industrial) lathes 1,700
- Fuel tanks destroyed 1,167
- Delayed repairs to locomotives 803
- Derailed transports 732
- Disruptions to electricity supplies in the Warsaw grid 638
- Transports set on fire 443
- Built-in faults into cannon muzzles 203
- Wagons of wood wool destroyed 150
- Military stores burned down 130
- Built-in faults into air traffic radio stations 107
- Blown up railway bridges 38
- Damaged aeroplanes 28
- Disruptions of production in factories 7
- Blocked oil wells 5
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