From 970 after Christ until the last world war, Poland was always forced to fight to defend its freedom from the aims of two powerful enemies: Russia and Germany.
At the beginning of the eighth century after Christ, many different tribes lived in Poland, the most important of which was that of the Poloni, from which the name derived. Living conditions were rather poor; the tribes then lived off hunting and fishing and as soon as agriculture appeared. Until the ninth century, religion was paganism, but then Christianity came by a missionary: Saint Methodius. In the following century, among the many families of the tribes, one became more powerful, the one that started the Piasti dynasty.
The first king of Poland was Mieszko I, who immediately found himself facing the Germans to defend the territory. For the same reason he was later forced to fight against the Russians. And to the latter the king had to yield part of his lands, the eastern ones.
After the death of this king, the struggles for succession started. The kingdom was then divided into many Ducati and then, in the XII century, it was subjected to the German empire by Federico Barbarossa.
In 1386 the last pretender to the throne of the Piasti, Queen Hedwig, married Jagellone of Lithuania, a country located east of Poland, and the Jagelloni dynasty ruled Poland for two centuries. The rulers of this house were all engaged in wars against the usual enemies. And with good results; memorable the battle of Orca, in Lithuania, where the Russians were soundly beaten. The Jagelloni, among other things, were very involved in the education of the country and they owe the importance of the university of Krakow, where he studied the great scientist Copernicus.
At the death of the last king of the Jagelloni dynasty, Sigismondo Augusto, a period of serious unrest began. Until then all rulers had been elected by the nobility; but in the late 1500s the Polish people chose Sigismund Vasa III, a native of Sweden, who had married the last descendant of the Jagelloni as king.
And in this period another enemy of Poland came forward, Turkey, which had already taken possession of some ports on the Black Sea for some time, to remove any access to the sea to Poland. The penetration of the Turks into the interior of the country began.
Sigismund III fought with all his people against the Turks but the overwhelming power of the enemies eventually got the better of it and the Turks arrived in Warsaw, the capital. And at this point, when everything now seemed lost, a very valiant warrior arose, Giovanni Sobieski; he took the lead of the Polish army and started the counter-offensive. From 1672 to 1696, the year in which Sobieski died, the Poles fought strenuously against the Turks who, in the end, were forced to leave the territory.
But from 1697 to 1763 another period of struggle opened for Poland and no longer only against the Germans and the Russians, traditional enemies; to these were added the Swedes and the Prussians. In 1772 Poland was forced to surrender a third of its territory to Russia. Then came a period of truce, as Russia had to use its forces in a war against the Turks.
Once this war was completed, Russia again advanced on Polish territory with another powerful army that defeated the small, albeit valiant, Polish army, which was forced to cede land again so that in 1793 Russia occupied half of the territory of Poland. The conditions of peace were very harsh and then the Polish people rose up under the command of General Kosciuszko. To tame the revolt Russia allied itself with Prussia; Poland, at the end of this new war, taken prisoner by General Kosciuszko in 1794, was forced to cede to the winners all the territories that still remained.
In the following century the Poles tried, but to no avail, to rise up against harsh foreign dominations. World War I had to come to restore Poland’s independence. While the revolution against the tsars broke out in Russia, Austria and Germany occupied Poland. But the war was harmful to these two nations who, defeated, had to abandon all the occupied territories. The Treaty of Versailles of 1919 returned all its lands to Poland and indeed allowed it to use the important city of Gdansk as an outlet to the sea. This “corridor”, created for Poland’s access to the Baltic Sea, was the cause of the outbreak of the Second World War, which began from Hitler’s Nazi Germany, precisely to take over the city of Gdansk. It was 1939 and Russia also went to war and invaded the eastern provinces of Poland. At the end of the Second World War Poland found itself occupied by the Russians.
Until then Poland had maintained a political state of equilibrium without binding to either of the two neighboring nations, namely the Soviet Union and Germany. And, while keeping to this principle, however, he had made an approach to Germany in conjunction with a cooling towards the Soviet Union. Furthermore, always to remain outside each block, he had never taken on demanding situations with regard to Germany and indeed he had also disappointed the request to join the Berlin-Rome-Tokyo agreement.
When Austria joined Germany on March 12, 1938, Poland breathed with relief thinking that the German expansionist aims would have turned there instead of towards Warsaw. And he could, therefore, devote himself more to the contrasts he had with Lithuania, which always claimed possession of its capital, Wilno, which instead in 1920 had been forfeited in Polish territory.
And when accidents occurred at the border in 1938, Poland asked Lithuania to restore and even improve their relations. This indeed happened and on that side the matter could be considered concluded. However, another was born and this time with Czechoslovakia, with which Hitler had tried to force his hand to find meeting points for his expansionist aspirations. This time Poland took the side of Germany hoping to solve the problem of belonging to the former principality of Tesin, which each of the two states claimed, while Germany asked Czechoslovakia to arrange the national minorities within that republic. And while after a brief ultimatum, on September 30, 1938, Germany invaded Czechoslovakia, Poland came forward again to settle its dispute. Czechoslovakia, then, caught between two fires, joined the Polish request, pledging to return the territories by 1 October.
So satisfied, Poland began to oppose Hitler with regard to the Hungarian claims on Slovakia and Subcarpatic Ruthenia. All this exacerbated relations with the Soviet Union. In January 1939 the Polish premier Beck met in Germany with Hitler; invited von Ribbentropp, German Foreign Minister, to Warsaw and in February recognized the Franco government in Spain. At the same time he signed a commercial agreement with the Soviet Union. Beck’s diplomatic activity continued with his official visit to London; then with receiving a visit to Warsaw from the Italian Foreign Minister, Count Galeazzo Ciano, declaring Polish solidarity with the Italian government.
When the second German-Czechoslovakian crisis occurred in March 1939, Poland began to feel the ground underfoot, and sought a rapprochement with Great Britain.
Germany advanced Warsaw’s request to renounce the famous “Gdansk corridor”, and obtained a refusal, on 1 September 1939 invaded Poland.
Nothing could be done against the overwhelming power of the Nazis and on September 17 Poland reached the extreme of resistance, while on the same day Soviet troops also entered Polish territory. And always on the same day the president of the republic Ignacy Moscicki, with the whole government, took refuge in Romania. In Paris, meanwhile, the Polish emigrant general Wladyslaw Sikorski assumed the position of head of the government in exile and as such organized the Polish military resistance units.
The Soviet Union and Germany meanwhile had settled in the territories previously agreed. Moscow agreed a pact with Lithuania to which Wilno returned the capital; what provoked the protest of the Polish foreign minister emigrated Zaleski.
The year 1939 ended with the commencement of massacres and mass shootings. In the following years there were exterminations in the sadly famous concentration camps of Auschwitz, Treblinka, Sobibor, Chelmno, Majdanek, Belzec, of millions of Jews. And it continued until the end of the war with the shooting of children and the annihilation of people in the furnaces. The unprecedented ferocity of the Nazis never stopped reaping its victims.
Meanwhile, the Polish forces brought together by Sikorski fought on French soil until the capitulation of Paris. Then together with the government in exile they moved to London.
In January, in the meantime, 127 military organizations were already operating in Poland, which gradually improved in their anti-German activity.
Then in London on July 30, a Russian-Polish agreement was concluded for the detachment of a liberation army in Soviet territory, when, beyond the previous pacts, the Soviet Union began its war against Germany.
Hard and full of dire events was this war that overcame any imagination and various iniquities. General Sikorski died in a plane crash near Gibraltar on July 4, 1943. His successor as prime minister was Stanislaw Mikolajczyk, and as general military commander was General Sosnkowski.
The war continued but the Germanic power ended. Germany remained alone to fight on all fronts, pursued by much more technical, active and powerful enemies. Poland paid a great tribute to this dementia: the Warsaw survivors in November 1943 were deported and the city was completely destroyed. The country, with the arrival of Soviet troops, was liberated in very sad conditions. And when the war finally ended, at the Yalta Conference on February 12, 1947, attended by the Greats of the three powers. The United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union established the creation of a national government for Poland, already requested in London by Prime Minister Milolajczyk, in collaboration with the Lublin Committee. However, this was not accepted by his government and he, then, on November 24, 1944,
On May 9, 1945, after the capitulation of Germany, the Polish provisional government began to study the composition of the future national unity government. President of the Consaiglio was Edward Osobka-Morawski, vice president Mikolajczyk. In July 1945, on the 5th, the Polish government first recognized the great powers and then on the 16th sent a delegation to Potsdam where the new Polish borders were discussed. Not many were the variations but Wilno returned to the Soviet Republic of Lithuania and Lviv to the Ukrainian one. The border with Czechoslovakia was restored as in 1938. After which Poland had to face many and very difficult problems of reconstruction. Cities and ports, stations, light and heavy industries, educational institutions had to be created again, the system of the transpots and to restore agriculture from scratch. A huge job. In January 1946, banks, mines, large and medium-sized industries passed under state ownership.
In politics the presence of two opposing blocs was immediately revealed: the Peasant Party on one side and the Communist and Socialist Parties on the other. Elections were called for January 18-19, 1947. The peasant party was defeated. On February 4, the new Parliament met for the first time and elected the head of the National Council Boleslan Bierut as President of the Republic. After receiving the resignation of the National Unity government, he entrusted the task of forming the new government to the Secretary General. of the socialist party Jozef Cyrankiewicz. The socialists and communists together, as well as in the government, were decidedly united for workers’ power.
Poland, although not yet engulfed in the Soviet model, certainly went hand in hand with that country, gradually distancing itself from the western world. And in this system of “popular democracy” the peasant opposition was increasingly weak and unheeded. Until in October 1947 its leader Mikolajczyk escaped clandestinely abroad and the peasant party, left to itself, was unable to do better than agree with government parties. See Countryaah for population and country facts about Poland.
After the Second World War, the country’s population consisted almost entirely of Poles. This was one of the consequences of resettlements, expulsions and border changes, which had a major impact on the composition of Poland’s population.
The population is fairly evenly distributed across the country. Only the border regions in the northeast and the mountainous southeast are sparsely populated.
The proportion of the urban population is around 65%. Large cities with more than 500,000 residents are in addition to the capital Warsaw, Lodz (Łódź), Krakow (Kraków), Breslau (Wrocław) and Poznan (Poznań). In addition to central Poland, the population’s metropolitan areas are the Upper Silesian industrial area in the south and the coastal cities of Danzig, Gdynia and Elbing on the Baltic Sea.
Thus the single party was created which initiated basic reforms on the economy, especially agricultural, structured on integral socialism. In foreign policy, Poland was increasingly approaching the countries of Eastern Europe and full collaboration with the Soviet Union from which it had significant loans and also important support when it was decided in Britain to review and correct some deliberations. concerning Germany at the end of the war. Poland also had some support from France and then, when it did not join the Marshall Plan, Anglo-Polish-American relations deteriorated a lot and Europe walked more and more towards a division of the continent into the two blocs: eastern and western.
During this period, 1948, a resurgence of nationalism was taking place in Tito’s Yugoslavia. So the Soviet Union, fearing that the same thing would happen also in Poland, operated an increasingly marked control over the country. And here the secretary general of the socialist party, W. Gomulka, was preparing a moderate base from which to launch a social-democratic regime that would have revived the party somewhat in its national and peasant traditions. Gomulka was accused of deviation and defenestrated, but never underwent a trial. And from here began the fusion of the socialist party with the communist one, ever closer to the Soviet model. And ever closer to the Soviet model was the formation of the state in compliance with the Constitution promulgated on July 22, 1952. This led to the appointment of Minister of Defense and Deputy Prime Minister of the Soviet Marshal, of Polish origin, C. Rokossovskij who dealt almost exclusively with implementing reforms in the field of armaments and war materials. To assist him in his work came many Soviet generals and officers and in the end the Polish army was the most valid corollary of that of the Soviet Union.
Then it was necessary to coordinate relations between the traditionally Catholic Polish state with the Catholic Church, and this was done without the intervention of the Holy See. However, the state soon imposed precise restrictions on the prerogatives of the Church, which saw its powers, as well as its privileges, considerably reduced. In 1950 limits were imposed on religious education, “Caritas” was nationalized, which already at that time was carrying out charitable work, especially for American aid, but all the lands owned by the Church and other entities were also nationalized religious, and finally the validity of civil marriage was confirmed for the state.
The primate of the Polish Catholic Church, Cardinal J. Wyszynski, reacted to this state of affairs. they respected the new institutions, such as the collectivization of the lands, and which prevented, by any means, any revisionist attempt by Germany on the western territories.
In return, the Catholics would not have had other impediments on the part of the state to religious education, to the carrying out of the activities of all the Catholic associations and in case of nationalization of the assets, the interests of the religious bodies would have been safeguarded.
But this state of affairs soon degenerated since as of February 9, 1953 the state imposed its mandatory approval on ecclesiastical appointments. And since the primate, at the head of the other bishops, opposed him, he was arrested and confined to house arrest, while all the clergy was forced to swear allegiance to the state.
After Stalin’s death in 1953, things began to change and the first rebellious ferments began.The Soviet Union could not fail to intervene, otherwise in Poland the already latent signs of a nationalist revival would have fully awakened. And the opportunity arose when strikes were launched in factories in Poznan on June 28, 1956, solely for economic reasons. Intellectuals soon joined the workers, who launched an anti-Stalinist campaign with requests for changes to the current state of work. They asked not to exercise state ownership over companies but “social” ownership, in which workers’ control and their participation in profits were present.
Faced with this alignment, the ruling class had to give way to the more moderate party current. On October 9, 1956 K. Minc, the Stalinist planner of the Polish economy, was forced to resign. Gomulka came back into fashion; the cardinal primate was freed and “workers’ councils” were established in all factories, which awakened enthusiasm in all workers, as they were created “from below”. As a consequence of this, on October 9 Khrushchev, Kaganovic, Mikojan and Molotov arrived from Moscow to discuss this new situation with Gomulka who, thanks to the adhesion of all his people, was able to plead his cause making it clear to the Soviet delegation that the new order would also have been a factor in strengthening relations between the two countries.
In November the government was restored under the presidency of F. Cyrankiewicz and Minister of Defense became Marian Spichalski, who was also commander of the armed forces. Then relations with the Church were rearranged.
As we proceeded with the reorganization of all social spheres, however, Gomulka, now powerful, began to do without the opinions of intellectuals, so much so that in October 1957 the magazine “Po Prostu” was suppressed, which had served so much in Poznan’s time, and practically also the workers’ councils disappeared in April 1958. But the economic situation had improved; relations with the Soviet Union did not change, and Poland continued on its path not disdaining a rapprochement even with western countries, while the Polish Communist Party remained the proponent of the country’s politics.
And Gomulka just wanted this; not to disdain international relations, without wanting to abandon the communist bloc, the close alliance with the Soviet Union, but not dependence, and finally the individualistic development of agriculture and industry, in continuous expansion. And this renewal developed throughout the course of 1959. In the 1960s, a phase of instability began. After the innovations introduced, especially in the agricultural sector, the constraints of socialization returned. In 1962 there was a poor harvest, also by virtue of the low mechanization of peasant labor and so it continued until 1967, when with the return to the state farms Gomulka considered the final chapter of his agricultural strategy concluded.
In the industrial field too, the reform was relaunched and during the negotiations for the sector, strong contrasts emerged within the government, contrasts that marked the definitive decline of Gomulka’s policy.