1919-1939 Post-War Poland

Poland during World War II, 1939-1945

A.) Prelude to the War and the German/Soviet Invasion, September 1939

The Weimar Republic had never officially recognized it's eastern neighbour, and Nazi Germany was even more hostile to Poland. The German-Soviet NON-AGGRESSION PACT of August 23rd 1939 was directed against Poland, the partition of which had been decided by Hitler and Stalin. On September 1st 1939, German troops began with the invasion of Poland; the first shots were fired by a German gunboat lying in the harbour of the Free City of Danzig (WESTERPLATTE), targetting the Polish Post Office in that city.
Poland's Allies in the west, France and Britain, declared war on Germany on September 3rd and 4th - and did nothing to help the Poles (PHONEY WAR). German forces quickly advanced, meeting heavy, but doomed Polish resistance. On September 17th, the situation of the Polish troops being desparate, Soviet forces invaded from the east. Poland surrendered Sept. 18th, isolated fighting continued a few more days.
Soviet losses are estimated at between 8,000 and 10,000 (the Polish High Command had ordered to retreat in front of the Red Army), Polish losses in the entire campaign, against Germans and Soviets, were 70,000 dead, 133,000 wounded, more than half a million P.O.W.s; the German losses are given at 45,000.

B.) Poland under Soviet Occupation

The USSR had joined in the invasion of Poland; France and Britain, however, did not declare war on the USSR. They regarded it with deep suspicion, though.
Eastern Poland or the regions now called WESTERN UKRAINE and WESTERN BELORUSSIA were integrated into these Soviet Republics. A communist society and economy was enforced. The captive Polish soldiers were divided in ordinary ranks and officers; the officers, many of them of noble or bourgeois background, were summarily executed and buried in mass graves such as at KATYN, an act Soviet authorities tried to conceal for years to come. The area gained hat a combined population of 14 million, of them 5 million ethnic Poles. The Soviets immediately implemented a policy of deportation, to which 1.7 million fell victim, for the most part ethnic Poles. In addition, another 1.5 million were killed in a systematic de-Polonization of the USSR's recent acquisitions (Biskupski 2000 p.105). This policy targetted especially the traditional elite, owners of estates, bureaucrats, teachers etc.

C.) Poland under German Occupation

Large tracts of western and northern Poland were directly annexed to Germany, an area of approcimately 100,000 square km with a population of c. 10,000,000, only c. 10 % of whom were ethnic Germans, the overwhelming majority Poles. The German Empire underwent an administrative reorganization; the old provinces and states were replaced by GAUs, compatible to the French departements. In the east, such units would comprise old German as well as newly annexed territory. Here, a policy of GERMANIZATION was implemented; the Polish population was considered to partially consist of persons of Aryan stock who over time had been assimilated into Poles; such persons would 'qualify' for reassimilation into the German nation. Thus, people were selected according to 'racial criteria' either for reassimilation or for other treatment; c. 2 million were evicted from annexed Poland; some, classified as 'OSTISCH' (eastern), were s ent to the death camps. In this area the Polish language was forbidden, Polish institutions and publications closed down.

The remainder of German-held Poland was administrated under the name GENERALGOUVERNEMENT; the name 'Poland' seized to be used by the German administration. Governor, throughout the war, was HANS FRANK.
Here in Poland, with it's large Jewish minority, the Holocaust took on new dimensions. In a number of larger towns, the worst districts of the town were turned into GHETTOES; surrounded by walls and guards, here the Jewish population of the town and it's surrounding area was squeezed together and systematically starved; only persons with a BLAUSCHEIN (work permit) could get in and out and thus obtain food. Here in Poland, the large CONCENTRATION CAMPS destined to serve as annihilation camps were established : AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU, TREBLINKA, SOBIBOR, MAJDANEK.
The plan was to gain entire occupied Poland as additional LEBENSRAUM (living space) for Hitler's 'Arian Race'. Plans were made to resettle the remainder of the Polish nation somewhere east of the Volga (the plans were irreal, as this territory was not under German control). As in Soviet-occupied Poland, the Polish intelligencia was a prime target of German atrocities.
Polish cities and villages were renamed; Lodz now was named LITZMANNSTADT.
The Poles were regarded a labour force to be exploited, the country's economy to supply Germany with agrarian products and other supplies the country needed. The Poles suffered under a much harsher occupation regime than the French in occupied France.

All in all, during the occupation, in the Generalgouvernement and the annexed territories combined, Germans killed c. 5,384,000 Polish citizens, Polish-Jewish victims of the Holocaust included.

C.) Poles in Exile

In September 1939, right after fighting in Poland had ended, Polish politicians set up a GOVERNMENT-IN-EXILE. Much of Poland's airforce had made it to the west; they contributed to the defense of Britain in the BATTLE OF BRITAIN. What was left of Poland's navy recognized the government in exile, and units of Free Poles were formed. They were to play a decisive role in the BATTLE OF MONTE CASSINO in 1944. Poland further had contributed to the allied war effort by providing the allies with the code the Germans used for secret messages.

D.) The German Invasion of the USSR

On June 25th 1941, German troops began with the invasion of the USSR. The district of Bialystok (hitherto Soviet-occupied Poland) was annexed to Germany (Gau Ostpreussen); the District of Lemberg (Lwow, eastern Galicia) to the Generalgouvernement. The remainder of former eastern Poland came under German military administration (OSTLAND, UKRAINE). The occupation was followed by commandoes executing the entire Jewish population of occupied regions (ROLLKOMMANDOs), often, but not exclusively conducted by SS units.

For the Polish Government-in-Exile in London, the German-Soviet War was a mixed blessing. Churchill and Roosevelt signed the ATLANTIC CHARTER on August 14th 1941, but recognizing the NATURAL ALLIANCE the west found itself in with the Soviet Union; Stalin over night transformed from a rogue politician into UNCLE JOE.
Yet Stalin's forces had joined in the occupation of Poland when the war began. At negotiations between the Allies, the Polish Government-in-Exile was represented by the British. The London-based exile government hoped to form Polish army units out of the prisoners of war held by the Soviets. Questions were the officers were held were unanswered, and the Germans meanwhile excavated the mass graves at Katyn.
Stalin insisted that Western Ukraine and Western Belorussia were not to be discussed at any negotiations. As the Soviets stopped the German advance at Stalingrad in January/February 1943 and again in summer 1943 at Kursk, Churchill was in no position to press the Polish position.
Stalin had plans for Poland, and the democratic Exile politicians did not play major roles in there. When in the summer of 1944 the Red Army advanced into Poland, the citizens of WARSAW rose in revolt (August-October 1944). The Red Army waited until Germ,an forces had crushed the revolt, and then moved on. Late in 1944/early in 1945, Poland was liberated. Stalin planned to compensate Poland for it's territorial loss in the east by handing German territory over to Polish administration (Silesia, eastern Pomerania, eastern Brandenburg, southern East Prussia). Millions og German inhabitants fled westward.

Warsaw Rising, from polandinexile.com
Enrique Aynat, Auschwitz and the Exile Government of Poland According to the 'Polish Fortnightly Review' 1940-1945, posted by IHR
Stamp Issues by the Polish Govt. in Exile, by Edward Nowak
Warsaw, from USHMM
The Warsaw Uprising, August 1-October 2 1944, from Poland in the Classroom, from Spartacus Schoolnet
Article Polish Government in Exile, from Nation Master
Poland in World War II, from World War II Multimedia Database
DOCUMENTS Prime Ministers IInd Republic of Poland in Exile, from The Chancelery of the Prime Minister, scroll down, clickable biographies
SS Report : The Warsaw Ghetto is no more, from Avalon Project at Yale Law School, Engl. translation
Polish Propaganda Poster, from : Miscellaneous Propaganda Posters, posted by Earth Station #1
Images from Chronik 2000 Bilddatenbank : German troops hold victory parade in Warszawa, 1939; Adolf Hitler watching victory parade, Warszaw, Oct. 1939, German Stukas over Poland, German and Russian officers negotiate the demarcation line in Poland, Sept. 1939, German Governor of Poland, Hans Frank, German tanks invading Poland, Sept. 1st 1939 , German troops crossing into Poland, Sept. 1st 1939, Adolf Hitler in the Reichstag, justifying the attack on Poland, Sept. 1st 1939, German battleship "Schleswig-Holstein" taking the Polish Post office in Danzig under Fire, Sept. 1st 1939, Polish cavalry, German and Russian soldiers meet at the demarcation line, Sept. 21st 1939, German Tank in Warsaw, Sept. 27th 1939, Victory parade in Warsaw, in front of A. Hitler, Oct. 5th 1939; Discrimination against Jews in Occupied Poland : Jewish workers wearing the Star of David, German troops during the Warsaw Ghetto Rising, May 1943, Inhabitants of the Warsaw Ghetto are deported to Treblinka. May 16th 1943, A boy is deported from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka, German soldiers during the Warsaw Ghetto Rising, Warsaw Ghetto residents are deported to Treblinka, Warsaw Ghetto residents are deported to Treblinka, Warsaw Ghetto children. Warsaw's inner city after the Rising of 1944 had been suppressed, The Russian Army breaks through to the Vistula river, here some of the many German P.O.W.s, General Governor for occupied Poland, Hans Frank
Speech : Neville Chamberlain on the Nazi Invasion of Poland, Sept. 1st 1939, from The History Place
Romuald Lipinski's story : Poland - Siberia 1941; the knock on the door, from Stories from the 1940es
Deported as a slave-labourer at age 14, by Feliks Chustecki, Stories from the 1940es
Living through the hell of Auschwitz, by Janina Parafjanowicz , Stories from the 1940es
Banknotes for Litzmannstadt (Lodz) labour camp, from Ron Wise's World Paper Money
Polish banknotes 1940, 1941, from Ron Wise's World Paper Money
German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, w. Secret Memorandum, Aug. 23rd 1939, from The History Place, text of memorandum in German from A selection of events and documents on the history of Finland
Documents Relating to the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact and Partition of Poland, 1939, posted by Words of Peace, Words of War
The Western Guarantee of Polish Independence, March 31, 1939, from Words of Peace, Words of War
Some Documents Relevant to Germany's Invasion of Poland and Response to Great Britain's Ultimatum, Sept. 1939, from Words of Peace, Words of War
Some Documents Relevant to Great Britain's Response to Germany's Invasion of Poland, Sept. 1939, from Words of Peace, Words of War
Some Documents Relevant to France's Response to Germany's Invasion of Poland, Sept. 1939, from Words of Peace, Words of War
Text of a Letter from Ambassador of Poland, Jan Ciechanovski, to the Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, on the Subject of Polish-Soviet Relations, from Words of Peace, Words of War, Sept. 29th 1941
Polish-Soviet Union Agreements, Moscow, July 30, 1941, from Words of Peace, Words of War
Documents of the Holocaust - Poland, posted by Yad Vashem
Stalin's Order to Shoot Polish Officers (Katyn), March 5th 1940, from Katyn Forest Massacre
The Personal Notes and Diary of Eugeniusz Melech (on the Warsaw Rising 1944), posted by L.P. Gideon, in English, very extensive
The Stroop Report: The Warsaw Ghetto Is No More, posted by Jewish Virtual Library, 23 V 1943
Illustration Warsaw Rising Aug. 2nd, Swearing in of Volunteers, from Polish Academic Information Center
Excerpts from John Damski's Memoirs, on the Warsaw Rising, posted by To Save a Life
Poster : Poland fighting Nazi Dragon, posted by Library of Congress
Paper Money Gallery, Polish notes issued between 1918-1944, posted by Krankow Szwajcarskich, comment in English
Situation religieuse dans les Archidioceses de Gniezno et de Poznan. Roma, 20 decembre 1939. posted by Jan Konieczny
The Polish Government and the Polish Underground State (1944 official document of exile govt.), posted by Republika
REFERENCE M.B. Biskupski, The History of Poland, Westport : Greenwood 2000
Winston Churchill, The Second World War : Vol.6, Triumph and Tragedy, Boston : Houghton Mifflin 1953, KMLA Lib.Sign. 940.53 C563t; chapters : The Martyrdom of Warsaw (pp.113-129), Russia and Poland - the Soviet Promise (pp.319-340), The Polish Dispute pp.367-386)
United States Holocaust Museum, Historical Atlas of the Holocaust, NY : MacMillan 1996 [G]
Richard C. Lukas, Forgotten Holocaust. The Poles under German Occupation 1939-1944, NY : Hppocrene (1990) revised edition 2005, KMLA Lib. Call Sign 940.53 L955f
Article : Poland, in : Statesman's Year Book 1943 pp.1182-1189 [G]
Article : Poland, in : Americana Annual 1940 pp.643-644, 1943 pp.603-604, 1944 pp.577-579, 1945 pp.586-588, 1946 pp.608-610 [G]
Article : Poland, in : New International Year Book, Events of 1940 pp.603-605, 1941 pp.525-527, 1942 pp.552-555, 1943 pp.493-497, 1944 pp.480-486, 1945 pp.462-464 [G]
Article : Poland, in : Funk & Wagnall's New Standard Encyclopedia Year Book 1940 pp.435-436, 1941 pp.399-400, 1942 pp.363-365, 1943 pp.360-363, 1944 pp.266-271 [G]
Article : Poland, in : Britannica Book of the Year 1944 pp.556-557, 1945 pp.557-558 [G]
VIDEOS The Pianist, 2003; Schindler's List, 1993, cc; Battle of Britain, 1969, cc

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on August 26th 2007

Click here to go Home
Click here to go to Information about KMLA, WHKMLA, the author and webmaster
Click here to go to Statistics

Impressum · Datenschutz