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Poland

Poland in World War One

polish soviet warAnd then came World War I. With Poland's three occupying powers at war with each other, Poland became the main fighting ground. There was no Polish army, so Poles were forced into the Russian, German, and Austrian armies and forced to fight against one another.

Poland Regains Independence

Shortly after the armistice with Germany in November 1918, Poland regained its independence as the Second Polish Republic, however, the country was devastated by the war, and approximately one million Poles had died.

The Polish–Soviet War (1919–1921) brought fighting again to Poland (but this time) the Polish army inflicted a crushing defeat on the Red Army at the Battle of Warsaw in 1920 under Marshal Pilsudski. As a result Poland gained lands in western Belarus and Ukraine.

In 1926, a coup brought an authoritarian government into power, and a number of undesirable political parties followed. In an effort to prevent future regional wars Poland signs non-aggression pacts with Germany and the Soviet Union, that however would soon prove worthless.

Poland In World War Two

World War II was about to rear its ugly head, as on September 1, 1939, Nazi Germany invaded western Poland. On September 17, the Soviet Union invaded eastern Poland and the country was now split into two war zones. These two invasions were later found to have been the result of a secret pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.

In 1941 the Germans attacked the Soviet Union which proved to be a bad decision, however, over the next three years Nazi Germany controlled Poland and the worst for the long-suffering Polish people was yet to come.

concentration campMany Poles were deported to labor camps and intellectuals were executed. Most of Poland's Jewish population, including many non-Jews, would die in Nazi death camps set up throughout Poland at Maidanek, Birkenau and Auschwitz. And in a hard to read (fact-of-war) the Germans exterminated most of Poland's three million Jews, along with Jews from other occupied countries.

The Soviet Army also brought much suffering to the Polish people. In 1940 the Soviets executed over twenty thousand Polish prisoners of war, including officers, and buried them in a mass grave. During the war the Soviet Army also sent many Polish people to forced labour in Siberia.

1943 brought the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Jews in the ghetto bravely but fruitlessly fought back against the Nazi effort to transport the remaining ghetto population to concentration camps. In the end 13,000 Jews were killed in the ghetto within 24 hours, and the remaining 50,000 were shipped to the Treblinka concentration camp.

In 1944 the Warsaw Uprising broke out. Polish soldiers and citizens rose up to drive the Nazis out of Warsaw. The uprising lasted for 63 days, but it was brutally crushed and Warsaw razed to the ground. Over 10,000 soldiers and over 100,000 civilians perished, including children who had participated in the fighting. The Soviets, while they expressed their support for the Poles in this uprising against the Nazis, did not help them fight.

In 1944, Russia's Red Army was victorious over the Germans so Russia consequently set up a Communist-dominated government for Poland.

In 1945 World War II finally ended. Six million Poles had died in this war – this was 20 percent of the country’s entire pre-war population. But, again, this was not the end of Poland’s suffering. That same year, Russia, the United States, and Great Britain met at Yalta and handed Poland over to Soviet Union control and a Communist government. This was a crushing blow to the Polish people’s hopes for freedom after a devastating war.

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This page was last updated on April 7, 2017.