World War II People's Republic

Poland after the War, 1945-1948

A.) Poland's International Situation and Foreign Policy

In the course of the war, Poland fell into the Soviet sphere of interest. When the western allies landed on the beaches of Normandy, the Red Army closed in on Poland's eastern borders. When Churchill proposed Poland to be allocated to the Soviet sphere at the Yalta Conference (Feb. 1945) much of the country was already occupied by the Red Army.
In September 1939, Poland had been attacked not only by Nazi Germany (against whom Poland's allies, Britain and France, had declared war), but also by the Soviet Union, who, as Poland's enemy, in the course of the war became Poland's allies' ally. In 1944/45 the USSR reoccupied the regions annexed in 1939 as Western Belarus and Western Ukraine, and refused to hand them back to Poland, offering German territory (southern East Prussia, Silesia, eastern Brandenburg and Hither Pomerania) instead. In addition, the USSR refused to acknowledge responsibility for the massacre of Katyn, where several thousand Polish officers had been executed in 1939.
Polish forces crossed the Oder river, occupying the port city of Stettin (now Szczecin) on the river's left bank.

B.) Domestic Policy

The German population of the newly gained territories was forcefully expelled (over 3 million), the area settled by Poles, many of whom originated from the provinces in the east, now lost to the USSR. In the course of the war, Poland had lost most of its once large Jewish population (which used to account for 11 % of Poland's prewar population); now, there were only a few thousand left. Still, in 1946 a pogrom against the Jewish inhabitants of the city of Kielce occurred.
In a Poland the borders of which had been redrawn and the ethnic composition of the population had been considerably altered, a multiparty coalition government was formed, comprising of members of the London-based exile government and of communists; the latter claimed the key ministries of the interior and of justice. However the communists were not the leading political force in the country; both the Peasants Party and the Socialists were stronger. Political pressure was put on the socialists to merge with the communists; the socialist party split and her left wing was integrated into the communist party (1947). Stanislaw Mikolajczyk, former prime minister of the exile government based in London, head of the Polish Populist Party (PSL, moderates) and a member of the provisional government, fled the country in 1947.
The policies of suppressing democratic movements as well as the forced emigration of Poland's ethnic Ukrainian population met armed resistance, which continued over several years (AK / Home Army, NSZ / National Armed Forces; UPA / Ukrainian Insurgent Army) and cost an estimated 30,000 lives.
As in other Soviet occupied countries, the communists, with the support of the Soviet military administration, put pressure on so-called 'counterrevolutionary elements'; in 1948 massive purges were carried out against persons who had served in institutions of democratic prewar Poland, against persons with a bourgeois background or other 'suspicious' elrments; c. 100 labor camps were established for this clientele. In 1948 the Polish Workers Party (i.e. the communists) took sole control of government, proclaimimg a People's Republic.

C.) The Economy

In 1946 Poland in her new borders had a population of 24 million, mostly Polish-speaking Catholics, as compared to a prewar population in the prewar borders, of 35 million.
Wartime destruction had been extraordinarily in Poland, the city of Warsaw, having been the scene of uprisings twice, being affected the most. Immediately after the war Poland benefitted from UNRRA aid (food shipments etc.); the Soviets granted Poland reparations in form of industrial installations dismantled in occupied Germany, transferred to Poland and reassembled there. German P.O.W.s held in Poland were, by their labour, contribute to the nation's reconstruction. East German author Hermann Kant described his experience as a Polish P.O.W. in the novel "The Crossword Puzzle War".
From the beginning the Poles aimed at accurately restoring their destroyed cities to the condition they have been in before the war began.
Nationalization of major industries began in 1946; certain industries which had not operated during the war years, such as banks, were not permitted to resume operations. The country's industry was developed according to a Six Year Plan started in 1946.
CARE distributed food parcels from 1947. The operation as scaled down in mid 1948 due to increasing government interference, and closed down in December 1949 (Campbell p.58).

The Jewish Pogrom in Kielce, July 1946 - New Evidence, by Bozena Szaynok, from Intermarium
Statistics of Poland's Democide : Estimates, Calculations, and Sources, from Statistics of Democide by R.J. Rummel
DOCUMENTS The Yalta Conference, February, 1945, from Avalon Project
First Meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers, London, Sept.-Oct. 1945, after Byrnes report 1946, from Avalon Project, consultations of US, UK foreign ministers, mentions recognition of Polisj Provisional Govt.
New Evidence on Poland in the Early Cold War: The Conversation Between Wladyslaw Gomulka and Josef Stalin on 14 November 1945, from CWIHP
Winston Churchill, The Sinews of Peace, speech held at Fulton, Massachusetts, March 5th 1946, from The Challenge of Democracy, "Iron Curtain Speech", specifically mentions Poland
Summary of telegrams from Greece, Poland, and the USSR, February 25, 1947, from Project Whistlestop
Declaration of the founding of the Cominform at the Conference of the Communist Parties of Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, the U.S.S.R., France, Czechoslovakia and Italy, from The Great Powers and the Division of Europe : 1945-1949
The Polish Contribution to the Victory of the "Prague Coup" in February 1948, from CWIHP
Report of the Special Action of the Polish Socialist Party in Prague, 21-25 February 1948, from CWIHP
Polish banknotes, from Ron Wise's World Paper Money, and from Currency Museum
Polish Posters of the 1940s and 1950s, from Internet Museum of Polish History
Statement by the President Announcing Establishment of Diplomatic Relations With the New Polish Government. July 5, 1945, from Public Papers of the Presidents : Harry S. Truman
Exchange of Messages With the Prime Minister of the Polish Provisional Government of National Unity. July 5, 1945, from Public Papers of the Presidents : Harry S. Truman
Estimates of Polish Victims of Stalinist Suppression, posted by Matthew White, scroll down for Poland
REFERENCE Eric P. Kelly, The Land and People of Poland, Philadelphia : J.B. Lippincott, (1943) revised ed. 1964
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, Chapter : Potsdam : the Polish Frontiers, pp.560-578
Wallace J. Campbell, The History of CARE, NY : Praeger 1990 [G]
Article : Poland, in : Britannica Book of the Year 1946 pp.587-590, 1947 pp.609-611, 1948 pp.595-597, 1949 pp.523-525 [G]
Article : Poland, in : Americana Annual 1947 pp.568-571 (on events of 1946) [G]
Warsaw Redivivus pp.245-257; More about the Poles pp.258-282, in : John Gunther, Behind the Curtain, NY : Harper & Bros. (1948) 1949 [G]
Article : Poland, in : Funk & Wagnall's New Standard Encyclopedia Year Book 1946 pp.337-339 [G]
Norman Davies, Poland, pp.39-58 in : Martin McCauley (ed.), Communist Power in Europe 1944-1949, London : MacMillan 1977 [G]

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on November 25th 2009

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