World War I, 1914-1918 World War II, 1939-1945

Poland between World War I and World War II (1919-1939)

A.) The Reestablishment of the Polish State, 1918-1922

With Russia in turmoil, the German administration on Jan. 17th 1917 established a PROVISORICAL STATE COUNCIL in Warsaw, for occupied Russian Poland. One of it's members was JOZEF PILSUDSKI, who left it in August 1917. In October 1917, the German military authorities installed a regular government for Russian Poland, which functioned for a year.
With the Central Powers' surrender in November 1918, a new situation arose. The government of Russian Poland, as a creation of the Central Powers, had lost credence. The Polish provinces of Galicia (hitherto Austrian), Posen (Poln. : Poznan) and West Prussia, hitherto German, were free to merge with the hitherto Russian core of the country. Since November 11th 1918, Poland is regarded independent.
Many Poles dreamt of reestablishing the borders of 1772, which would include all of Lithuania and Belarus and most of Ukraine. However, in all three of these regions, governments had been established which proclaimed independence. Negotiations aiming at a Polish-Lithuanian-Ukrainian union were held, but did not lead to results. In WESTERN UKRAINE, (i.e. Eastern Galicia, an area with a Ruthenian (= Ukrainian) population majority) the influential Polish minority stages a coup d'etat and unified the country with Poland. Polish forces marched at Kiev, were defeated by the Red Army which now invaded Poland, where in August it was defeated outside Warsaw. Poland and the USSR signed the PEACE OF RIGA (1921) according to which western Belarus and Ukraine were Polish territory. In the Vilna Region - Vilna (Lit. Vilnius) was the capital of the young Lithuanian state - the Polish minority took control. The region, called CENTRAL LITHUANIA, in 1923 was incorporated into the Polish state.
Also Poland's western borders were, at first, unclear. The TREATY OF VERSAILLES foresaw PLEBISCITES in areas with mixed population. Such areas were UPPER SILESIA, MARIENWERDER and ALLENSTEIN. These regions were separated from Germany, placed under allied control, and the plebiscites were to be held in 1920/21. In UPPER SILESIA irregular troops - Polish insurgents and the German FREICORPS - fought; the Poles were defeated in the BATTLE OF ANNABERG. The plebiscites of Marienwerder and Allenstein showed clear 90%+ majorities for Germany. The Upper Silesians voted 65 % for Germany, 35 % for Poland, and the region was partitioned. The port city of DANZIG was declared a FREE CITY under the protection of the LEAGUE OF NATIONS. Because it controlled the mouth of the Vistula river, Poland's economical lifeline, Poland could not concede this predomonantly German city to be under control of a hostile Germany. And Germany did not accept it's new eastern borders.
Apart from border conflicts, enemies and alliances (with France), Poland had to worry about other problems. The northwest had been part of Prussian/German economy, the south of the Austrian economy, the center and east of Russia's economy; they had to be integrated. The Polish economy had to switch from wartime economy to peacetime economy, and the damage inflicted by the war had to be repaired. Although Poland did not have to pay reparations, the country experienced a severe INFLATION.

B.) The Democratic Experiment, 1918-1926

On March 17th 1921 Poland ratified it's final constitution. There was to be a bicameral parliament, consisting of SEJM and SENATE. The office of the president was to be representative (CABINET SYSTEM). The rights of minorities (ca. 4 million Ukrainians, ca. 1 million Germans and Belorussians, almost 3 million Jews in a nation of 27 million) were guaranteed. Jozef Pilsudski, president during the tumultuous years of 1918-22, did not run for president in 1922.
The ENDECJA (social democrats) governed 1922-26. To become independent of Danzig, Poland built a Polish seaport at Gdingen just west of Danzig, and connected it with the Polish railway network. However, the nation suffered from a German economic boycott (1925-1934) which was intended to weaken Poland and force it to make concessions. In April 1926 a third of all Poles was out of a job. The Endecja pursued a policy of assimilating the minorities, either by POLONIFICATION or by forcing them to emigrate.

C.) Pilsudski's Dictatorship 1926-1939

On May 12th 1926, Jozef Pilsudski, leaning on 15 army units loyal to him, staged a coup d'etat, taking the capital Warsaw in street fighting. Pilsudski, a man of 58, acted to reestablish law and order; he installed a MORAL DICTATORSHIP. He appointed IGNACY MOSCICKI president, Pilsudski, the strong man, held only the office of minister of defense. The government appointed in 1926 is called the SANACJA-Government
Poland's economy improved after 1926, but was hit by the economic crisis of 1929. When the socialist and peasant's parties federated to form the CENTROLEW, the prime minister Slawek in June 1930 had their leaders arrested. Organisations of the national minorities were dissolved. In Eastern Galicia, guerilla activity was answered by Polish terror. On March 23rd 1933, the Sejm passed an ACT OF ENABLING, which gave the government dictatorial powers. In 1934, CONCENTRATION CAMPS were established to "treat" radical political opposition. In September 1934, Poland annulled the constitutional statute guaranteeing protection of the minorities' rights, which lead to a worsening of German-Polish relations.
Jozef Pilsudski died in 1935. In the years of APPEASEMENT, Poland forced Lithuania to accept the common border and in October 1938 compelled Czechoslovakia to cede the OLSA TERRITORY. Polish politicians were convinced that Germany and the USSR could not overcome their friction, and as long as that friction existed, Poland was safe.

National Revival, from Library of Congress, Country Studies
Deutsche Zollgeschichte : Polen, from Deutsche Zollgeschichte, postcards from the 1920es and 1930es, commented in German
The Russo-Polish War, 1919-1920: A Bibliography of Materials in English, by John A. Drobnicki at CUNY
DOCUMENTS Treaty of Locarno between France and Poland, 1925, from Avalon Project at Yale Law School
List of Presidents etc., from World Statesmen by Ben Cahoon
Images from Chronik 2000 Bilddatenbank : Annaberg in Upper Silesia, stormed May 21st 1921, German-British checkpoint, Upper Silesia, Marshall Josef Pilsudski; Marshal Pilsudski host to Joseph Goebbels, after signing a Non-Aggression Pact 1934
Polish banknotes, from Ron Wise's World Paper Money, and from Currency Museum
Poster featuring Gas Station 1934, Foundry 1937, Port of Gdynia, c.1930 , Jozef Pilsudski, 1930 , Petrol Industry, c.1930, King Stephan Bathory; 1926, posted by Library of Congress
Paper Money Gallery, Polish notes issued between 1918-1944, posted by Krankow Szwajcarskich, comment in English
Constitution of 1921, from, in German
Constitutional Law of 1935, from, in German
Maps : Poland 1921 (Andrees Handatlas 7th edition 1921 1st Print, 2nd print, posted by M. Witkam
REFERENCE Enno Meyer, Grundzüge der Geschichte Polens (Main Features of Poland's History), Darmstadt : Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1977 [G]
Chapter XXXIV : Poland and the Baltic States, pp.484-495, in : John Gunther, Inside Europe, 1940 war edition, NY : Harper & Bros. 1940 [G]
Article : Poland, in : Statesman's Yearbook 1919 pp.1220-1227, 1924 pp.1204-1212, 1925 pp.1212-1220, 1926 pp.1172-1188, 1928 pp.1206-1217, 1929 pp.1183-1195, 1932 pp.1201-1212, 1937 pp.1230-1243 [G]
Article : Poland, in : Americana Annual 1927 pp.694-697, 1928 pp.636-639, 1930 pp.627-629, 1931 pp.615-617, 1932 pp.584-586, 1933 pp.622-624, 1934 pp.473-476, 1935 pp.573-576, 1936 pp.589-593, 1937 pp.579-582, 1938 pp.565-568, 1939 pp.628-630 [G]
Article : Poland, in : New International Year Book 1919 pp.530-534, 1920 pp.546-548, 1921 pp.570-574, 1923 pp.603-607, 1925 pp.563-565, 1928 pp.609-610, 1930 pp.631-634, 1932 pp.674-678, 1933 pp.672-675, 1934 pp.579-582, 1935 pp.594-597, 1938 pp.610-612, 1939 pp.625-630 [G]
Article : Poland, in : Funk & Wagnall's New Standard Encyclopedia Year Book 1932 pp.437-440, 1933 pp.430-432, 1934 pp.441-443, 1935 pp.438-440, 1936 pp.409-412, 1937 pp.412-415, 1938 pp.416-419, 1939 pp.436-440 [G]

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on April 3rd 2008

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