The Polish society of the Second Republic has built its statehood under extremely difficult circumstances, both internally and externally. Despite this, during their 20 years of independence, the Polish people managed to adapt quickly to the ever-changing Modern World. “There have been numerous attempts to erase the marks of over a century left by the partition period; the economy had been improved; numerous qualifications were introduced for new posts and, moreover, a new generation had formed with a keen feeling of attachment for the state and the people”[1] [trad.a]. Whilst the educational system and culture had developed, these further allowed the creation of social advocacy for the financially unfavored.

Autor: Alice Milena Sprînceană

The purpose of this paper is to accustom the reader to the notions of nation and state and reflecting this in my case study of the Second Polish Republic, how it came into being, and what steps it had to undertake to its formation as a national-state. Furthermore, I will emphasize the idea of Polish nationalism and how it led and constantly contributed to the Polish spirit. For this, I will mention a few key aspects in regards to the situation of the Polish nationals during the three partition period, their status in the 20th century, as well as the years linked to general Józef Pilsudski’s iron fist leadership period of the Second Republic. I will also highlight what issues Pilsudski’s government had to confront due to its imposed nationalism (predominantly on the ethnic minority groups side).

  1. A) Historical factors that contributed to the development of the Polish state (1919 – 1938)

I. Introduction: The Normative isomorphism of language, nation, and state in Poland

Similar to the concept of ‘nation’, theoretician and linguist Tomasz Kamusella associates the term ‘language’ to “an ascriptive label arbitrarily designated by political forces”[2] to more than a specific dialect (vernacular) that is endowed to a specific written form. Because of their intimate link, the linguistic and political spheres influence each other, and thus ‘a language’ becomes a field of interest for political scientists.

The ethnolinguistic aspect of a zone becomes synonymous with the term “isomorphism”. It is the result of the fusion of more ‘ethnolects’ or distinctive human groups that separate them from the outside world. He refers to the concept of basic-level ethnic group formation to that of a community (Gemeinschaft) “whose most pervasive trait is face-to-face communication, conducted via direct verbal exchange in the community’s dialect or language”.[3] The evolution of the communities in the form of hierarchies gave birth to the establishment of an elite class (comprised of merchants, warriors (nobility), men of clergy which together were known as the natio) and lower class (the populus consisted of commoners and peasantry). The main factor that differentiated the elite from the lower class was literacy, which allowed the spread of non face-to-face communication that later led to the distribution of a single standard language (or a language of power), which was “based on the lect of a power center (usually the capital of a polity)”.[4]

The knowledge of the standard language was distributed through the means of compulsory elementary education. The West was opposed to dialects, their main distinction was that of writing and power. “The latter are lects that are spoken outside power centers and are not commonly committed to paper. The French revolution, as in the case of many other things, also offered a political-cum-bureaucratic model of how to obliterate dialects and replace them with the national language to be spoken and written by all the nation-state’s inhabitants.”[5] Thus, the French Revolution brought about the divine role of legitimation upon a given polity’s population, in this function being renamed as “nation”.

In this normative insistence, nationalism became the first-ever “infrastructural” ideology of the entire human world. The stunning success of this ideology, accepted at present quite unquestioningly by all as “normal,” created a standardized arena onto which human relations are simultaneously channeled and at which they are played out. Ideally, this “playing out” of the relations ought to happen among states and within them. (Kamusella, 354)

The nationalist principle of the 19th century is regarded by theoretician Ernest Gellner to be the century of nationalist irredentism, guided in the author’s perception by the nationalist principle. He claims this to be the legitimate foundation of the state. According to a nationalistic vision, the reason for this late reaction to the nationalist endorsement was due to the dormant state.

In the light of Hegel’s observation that nations only enter history when they acquire their own state, they insisted on securing their place on the historic stage. If denied it—and of course the old power-holders did not abdicate simply on request—they often reached for the gun. […] The most widely held theory of nationalism is, I suspect, the one that believes it to be not merely the reawakening of cultures, but the re-emergence of atavistic instincts of Blut und Boden in the human breast. (Gellner, 128[6]

In the case of Poland, there were numerous insurrections and uprisings against the foreign occupants, but they were all in vain. It determined those irredentists to go on a long exile and affirm themselves in foreign regiments and armies, whilst promoting the national cause of Poland and hear their cries for an independent state which wasn’t under the monarchic control of Russia, Prussia or Austria-Hungary.

II. The partitions of Poland

II. 1. The Three Partitions (Russia, Prussia and Austria)

The three partitions of Poland were a series of successive events (1772, 1793 and 1795) that culminated with Poland being completely erased off the map. This constant weakening was possible due to the state’s constant decay and internal disunity, the numerous wars it had to undertake in the 17th and the first decade of the 18th century, but moreover due to its neighboring states, Russia, and Prussia’s emergence as European powers. In the first partition, Frederick II of Prussia made an agreement with Catherine the Second of Russia to annex parts of Poland in exchange for renouncing the Danubian principalities, as well as persuade Austria to take parts of Poland, in order to balance Russia’s gains. Poland proved to be powerless in front of its three neighbors and thus the partition of 1772 “gave Pomerelia and Ermeland to Prussia, Latgale and Belarus East of the Dvina and Dnieper rivers to Russia, and Galicia to Austria”.[7] Catherine the Great later “initiated the second and third partitions in 1793 and 1795”[8] respectively.

In 1794, under the lead of Tadeusz Kosciuszko, former general of the American army during the Independence War and one of the prominent characters in the war against Russia in 1792, started an uprising against the foreign occupation. The uprising was unsuccessful and ended with his imprisonment, as well as the final partition on the 24th of October 1795. The Third Partition of Poland seized the existence of Poland and Lithuania as independent entities for 123 years.

II. 2. The Polish troops under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte

After the suppression of the uprising from 1794, a large portion of those insurrects went in exile. A percentage of them sought support for the Polish cause in Revolutionary France. The French authorities vowed in favor for the foundation of a Polish military unit in Italy, where general Napoleon Bonaparte’s army held its operations.

Jan Henryk Dąbrowski was appointed as general for the Polish legions, that gathered thousands of men and served under the command of the Republic of Lombardy. Poland owes them the favor for presuming the fight for “your freedom and ours”[9] (“W imię Boga za naszą i waszą wolność” – in the name of the Lord, for your freedom and ours), text which would later be present in the national anthem (“Dąbrowski’s Mazurka” which is known in English as “Poland Is Not Yet Lost”). It was penned in 1797 by general Józef Wybicki, “a member of the Polish troops which served Napoleon in Italy and Spain […] to bid farewell to the departing Polish army.”[10] The Polish Legion’s intentions were to bring about the Napoleonic troops “From Italy to Poland” to liberate their country. The Mazurka’s text boosted the morals of the Polish soldiers for this cause.

Napoleon’s fiasco of invading Russia proved to be fatal for the Poles. They were once again occupied by Russian troops, which occupied even more territory than its previous borders established in the partitions. The brief rebellion of the Polish peopled had completely vanished concomitantly with Napoleon’s exile.

However, Poland was not yet lost…the age of rebellion that Napoleon had brought about had made most Poles determined in achieving their goal. Poles found solidarity in religion, their language, and their customs. This would later take the form of a romantic nationalism, and despite their military loss, they were successful in their mission of keeping the Polish spirit alive, to which contributed notable figures such as Chopin and Mickiewicz.

III. The concept of Polish nation, state, national – state

III.1 Romanticism in a partitioned and stateless Poland

While their hope was redeemed for a moment with the Duchy of Warsaw created by Napoleon, it was short-lived and had its final straw in 1815. Another attempt for the Kingdom of Poland, established after the Congress of Vienna, seemed at a first glance to align with the principle of a free country, although in the end it deceived the Polish and their expectations. This internal turmoil touched its climax in 1830, in the November Uprising, which, after it was suppressed, had bigger repercussions, and pushed writers, intellectuals as well as ordinary people into exile. Thus, Polish Romanticism was shaped by the intense experiences of its people – “The loss of independence, failure of the Enlightenment, defeat of national uprisings, and nostalgia for the glory days of the Commonwealth”.[11]

Poland was right along many Europeans in channeling Romantic Era ideals into a struggle for nationhood. Although the Polish had a nation, in the cultural sense as well, they lacked a state. They turned for their source of inspiration and hope to the ideology from the 1200s, which was focused on the church as a cultural anchor point for Polishness. Thus, the concept of “Poland” narrowed significantly, away from the multiethnic and multifaith society of the Commonwealth towards what is renown as ethnonationalism.

The Polish thinkers saw in their nation as an allegory for Christ (see figure 1). It was perceived as The Christ of Nations, that died as a martyr for other nations in the partition and would one day re-emerge. However, the division of the Polish – Lithuanian Commonwealth didn’t represent a sole source for messianic ideas. “Romanticism in Poland was also the struggle to maintain Polishness in a people without their country, in the era when Prussia and Russia had tried to wipe out Polish culture and its traditions.”[12] It was discovered by authors that history was also an important factor in uniting Poles. Hence, works such as Mickiewicz’s are a passage to the past, that reminded people of “better times, as well as unify and solidify them in their struggle for independence […] it also tried to help people cope with the feudal past, leave it behind and move on to create a new model of society”.[13]

III. 2. The 1830 November Uprising and the Spring of Nations (1848)

The summer of 1830 was to leave its mark on Polish history. An uprising took place in Paris which succeeded with the overthrow of the Bourbon dynasty. Seeing the opportunity, states such as Belgium wanted to separate themselves from the Netherlands, whilst Poland from Russian rule. The tsar’s hasty decision of dispatching the Polish army to suppress the Belgian people’s upsurge led to the rise of the insurrection in Warsaw (see figure 2). The conspirators attacked the Belvedere Palace, where the Grand Duke Constantin of Russia resided. They managed to make the Grand Duke flee to his Russian detachments and overnight at the call “Poles, to arms!” the population of Warsaw seized the capital, followed by the withdrawal of the Russian detachments.

However, their initial victory would eventually be outlasted by the Russians. On the 5th of October, the Supreme Commandment, outnumbered by the Russian troops, as well as losing its impetus, crossed the Prussian border alongside 20.000 troops, leaving Congress Poland fall once more “under stricter and more repressive Russian control”[14].

The November Insurrection lasted for 10 months. For 8 months, the Polish people felt like a free population, despite other European states’ reluctancy of recognizing the independence of the Polish state. After the defeat of the Insurrection, many officers and soldiers found themselves wandering on Prussian and Austrian territory, accompanied by members of the National Government and intelligentsia (from writers to scholars). While at the end of 1831 the Tsar proclaimed amnesty, they would be incorporated in the Russian army. Because of this, many soldiers preferred to become rogues. In this massive emigration, 10 thousand people were refugees of the November Insurrection. They played a major role for the Polish culture and maintaining the national spirit and remained known as the ‘Great Emigration’.

III. 3. The Polish question

The Polish Question became a primary focus for 19th century diplomacy, for both the allies and rivals of Poland. Historian Zamoyski specifies this aspect by putting an emphasis on one hand on the support that Poland received from Great Britain under the form of a diplomatic demarche, as well as Turkey’s support, which showed its “disapproval of the partitions”. Perhaps the most promising is that of the French Chamber of Deputies that opened “every session after 1830 with a solemn declaration of its wish for a free Poland”[15]. However, the stability of Europe ironically depended on the state of Poland and whenever this was threatened, the issue was buried.

Perhaps one of the aftermaths resulted from the erasure of the Commonwealth from European maps and, respectively, the exclusion of Poles from active public life in the homeland, was the creation of a group of wanderers who left their mark on history at a global level. They played a significant role in wars and revolutions, such as the French colonial wars or the Spanish civil wars. Furthermore, they fought under the allegiance of Garibaldi and the Paris Commune; “they fought in the northern and southern hemispheres, and on both sides of the Atlantic”[16], with some honorable mentions in the American Civil War as well.

IV. The reemergence of The Polish State (1914 – 1918)

IV. 1. The rise of Pilsudski’s Polish Legions

Jozef Pilsudski has left his mark on Polish history distinguishing himself as an important figure in the recreation of the state in the midst and after World War I. Involved in a wide range of insurgences against Russian authority, he vowed for a liberated Poland that wouldn’t be harnessed by Russia. With the official outbreak of World War I, Pilsudski took off alongside his regiment to siege the city of Kielce. His goal was to reach Warsaw, in hopes to start an uprising and liberate the capital from Russian occupation, however his plans didn’t succeed.

Afterwards, Pilsudski entered into an agreement with the supreme command of the Austro-Hungarian army. The latter demanded he “join forces with the Austro-Hungarian Landsturm (militia – a reserve force intended to provide replacements for the first line units). On 16 August […] the Vienna government agreed to create Polish Legions. Piłsudski became a commander of the first regiment of the Legions.”[17] In 1917, he would acquire the rank of commander in chief of the Polnische Wehrmacht. An “Oath crisis” emerged when Polish troops refused to swear their allegiance to the German and Austro – Hungarian emperors. Piłsudski prohibited Polish soldiers from doing so, this ultimately leading to his arrest on 21st – 22nd of July 1917 and later to his imprisonment on the 2nd of August in Magdeburg. The Legion was disbanded.

However, faith was on Pilsudski’s side. After the outbreak of the November Revolution in Germany and his release from prison, he returned to Warsaw. On the 11th of November 1918 he assumed full control over the army and soon thereafter accepted the function of Provisional Chief of State. From thereon there would be made further agreements with political figures such as Roman Dmowski and Ignacy Paderewski whom represented Poland at the Paris Peace Conference, in order to be recognized internationally the principle of Polish Independence.

IV. 2. Russian and German occupation ended with the Kingdom of Poland

1914 was a difficult year for the Polish people, for they were faced to kill each other as soldiers of the three fighting armies, representing respectively the tsar and the two kaisers. The Polish lands extended on the eastern front of the warzone, and its economic resources were of great value to the warring sides.

Belligerent sides were in a counter time race to capture the Polish people’s trust. While in 1914 the Grand Duke of Russia vowed for the establishment of a unified and autonomous Poland under the Romanov scepter as one of the war aims, the Central Powers promised the Poles similar manifestos. Because the Central Powers occupied a large portion of the former Kingdom by august 1915, this changed the course of history. The Russian occupation of Warsaw was finally ceased, while political figure Dmowski departed alongside his National Democrats and Realist parties to Petrograd to continue their action of persuading the tsarist government to look into the Polish cause. On the other side of the spectrum, the Germans were making attempts of wooing “the Poles of the Kingdom with significant concessions: the use of the Polish language was permitted in local government, in the courts, and especially in education.”[18]

The Austrians eventually accepted Berlin’s proposal of creating a small puppet Polish state which would be under German control. On the 5th of November 1916 both emperors of Germany and Austro-Hungary issued a decree in which the creation of a Polish constitutional monarchy was proclaimed.

IV. 3. The situation of the Polish nationals in the first part of the 20th century

The writers Jerzy Lukowski and Hubert Zawadzki broaden this subject by analysing the occurring divergences between the nationals which came from the history of the three partitioned lands, as well as the elements that brought them together under the same national ideology. The civic behavior was shaped by the differing standards and quality of the public administration. For instance, Russian Poland would be profoundly shaped by the tsarist regime and its outcomes heavily felt in restored Poland after 1918 (“the wholesale evasion of government rules and regulations, as an expression of contempt for the tsarist regime was proverbial”[19]).

However, a cultural and literary presence enhanced the Poles’ unique sense of nationality that passed state frontiers and snuck in wider segments of society. Ignacy Paderewski, composer and activist for the Polish cause in the United States is perhaps one of the most important figures in both the cultural and political spectrum, for he had a great entry at Woodrow Wilson and determined the latter to vow in the 13th Point out of his 14 Points at the Versailles Conference for a free Poland with exit to the sea later in 1918.

IV. 4. The race towards the Second Republic

For the first time since the Vienna Congress in 1815, one of the great powers brought the Polish question onto the international scene. The tsarist government protested in vain. In December 1916, Tsar Nicholas II declared that Poland should be free, united, and possess its own political system, but remain in the union with Russia. In March 1917, following the February Revolution, the Provisional Government acknowledged the Poles’ rights to build an independent state, which should maintain its military alliance with Russia. It also allowed for the formation of Polish national units within the ranks of the new republican Russian army. This decision untied French and British hands regarding the Polish case, now no longer considered an internal Russian affair.[20].

The entrance of the United States in the Great War in 1917 meant a great step for the Polish national ideal. In his 14 Points, president Woodrow Wilson claimed at the Congressional Speech in 1918 that “as a result of the war, an independent Poland, consisting of all ethnic Polish territories and having access to the sea would be reestablished”.[21] This was again mentioned at the Versailles Declaration of the same year, and because of this, in the final two years of the Great War, the Polish saw more opportunities from a treaty with the Entente rather than the Central Powers.

The Great War marked the intervention of over 2 million Polish soldiers who fought on the Entente’s side. Moreover, favorable events such as the revolutions from the Russian Empire and Germany had further facilitated Poland to regain its independence on the 11th of November 1918. The Kingdom once created as a puppet state by the Central Powers was now the foundation for the Second Polish Republic. Its capital, Warsaw, was freed from German occupation, while Joseph Pilsudski had been assigned the head of the Polish Army.

Despite this initial success, the reconstruction of Poland was marked by a serious issue with its borders. The German – Polish borders had been established at the Treaty of Versailles, signed on the 28th of June 1919. It was mutually decided that the port of Gdansk would be declared a free city placed under the protection of the League of Nations, being accessible through the means of the Corridor (a layer of land which delimitated the territory of East Prussia into two) which further increased the resentment of the Germans.

  1. B) The political, social, and historical evolution of Poland between the two World Wars

V. The Second Polish Republic (1918 – 1939)

V. 1 Battle of Warsaw (1920) and Peace of Riga (1921)

After the Treaty of Versailles, the Polish would further pursuit their goal of extending their territory to the extent of its Commonwealth years, with an emphasis put in the region of Ukraine. The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 had disconnected Russia from the on-going events of the Great War and left it to fight an inner civil war; the White Army (that of the Romanov dynasty) versus the Red Army. Once the latter gained control, they set their sight on the former Polish lands which they had recently lost and whose tension grew due to Polish nationalism.

After the establishment of their newly found independence, the Poles marched eastward into Belarus and Ukraine, which inevitably led to confrontations with the Red Army which was extending its communist revolution westward. Lenin, thought that by invading Poland and approaching the capital respectively, would lead Polish Communists alongside the working classes “into revolution and welcome the Red Army as liberators, a pattern to be followed in Germany and beyond.”[22] He viewed Poland as a “Red Bridge” that would help achieve his goal. In August 1920, the Battle of Warsaw took place, and was marked by the Polish people’s triumph over the Red Army that had to undertake a humiliating defeat. In what would later be remembered in history as the ‘Miracle on Vistula’, Lenin was forced to accept his defeat and retrocede a “large tract of territory whose population was in no way Polish”[23]. Eventually, a peace treaty was signed between the two belligerent states in early 1921 (the Treaty of Riga). “The Polish state that emerged from the Treaty of Riga included 27 million people and nearly 400,000 square kilometers, making it the sixth-largest in Europe”[24] (see figure 3). Furthermore, similar to the Ukrainian population inside Poland, the Belarusians also had to face the forced Polonization installed by Josef Pilsudski.

V.2. The concept of the nation – state ideology during the Second Republic

After 123 years of foreign domination under three empires, the foundation of the new state would soon prove to be a challenging task. It didn’t help that the creation of the Second Polish Republic had been perceived with disdain and overall antipathy by the world-class politicians and leaders. For instance, historian and theoretician Norman Davies shares with the reader the quotes of the likes of Adolf Hitler, who disregarded Poland of its national, historical, or cultural background, as well as viewed the state as a result of the bloodshed of German soldiers. On the other side of the political spectrum, Joseph Stalin also disregarded the Second Republic’s status as a state, whereas Molotov quoted it ‘the monstruous bastard of the Peace of Versailles’[25].

In truth, the Second Republic came into being not due to Molotov’s assertion, “whose territorial provisions were limited to defining the frontier with Germany alone”(Norman Davies, 291), nor was it the state that was pending to be constructed by the Allied governments alongside Dmowski’s National Committee from Paris. It didn’t represent the bridge of the Bolsheviks to bring about the revolution into Germany, nor the puppet state that it was formally proposed by the Russians, Germans or Austrians during the Great War. To finish off Norman Davies’ quotes with that of historian Alicja Dybrowska, “to a large extent, this was the merit of the great politicians that represented the [Polish] society at both a local and external level. Among these notable distinctions held Josef Pilsudski, Roman Dmowski, Ignacy Paderewski, Wincenty Witos, Wojciech Korfanty and Ignacy Daszynski” [26][trad.a]

At an internal level, each of the three partitions had left a mark on the mentality and behavior of the Poles. It would later be remembered as a period of great instability and weakness prior to Joseph Pilsudski’s sanacja regime. Adam Zamoyski shares important insight about the disputes that resulted from their differences.  “Those brought up in a Prussian mould found it difficult to work with those of more urbane Habsburg habits, let alone with those schooled in the Byzantine inefficiency of the tsarist bureaucracy” (Zamoyski, 297).

The next years which would be regarded as the ‘interwar period’, marked by a strong political rhetoric, radical ideas and a high focus on foreign policy. Furthermore, emphasis was put on a “constitutional model that would put in balance traditional Polish strivings for liberty with that of a strong government”. [27]The Sejm[28] was the only legal body to hold extensive powers, but it turned into an arena of endless interparty frictions. Those who sported a political background and were accustomed to the Reichstag’s system in the Prussian partition found it difficult to cooperate with those from the Russian partition who were shaped by the Russian Duma. The Poles were at a stake and the situation needed an urgent compromise.

V. 3.     The conflict between Pilsudski and Dmowski

Józef Piłsudski and Roman Dmowski are considered to be the greatest activists for the cause of the Polish independence and furthermore associated with the success of Poland’s regained independence, as well as its subsequent shaping into a sovereign state. Despite this, the two statesmen had opposing visions of the state after its rebirth and as such were strongly linked to the special path (Sonderwag[29]) that the Second Polish Republic had to undertake, in the sense it was opted for a Third Way, opposed to western democracy, and eastern Tsarist autocracy.

On one hand, Pilsudksi aspired for a great federal state, referring to the multicultural tradition of the Polish – Lithuanian Commonwealth. To do this, he wanted to persuade Lithuania, Latvia and representatives of Ukraine and Belarus to cooperate as a federation, however, they were not interested in creating a union with Poland. Supporters of the federal ideal assumed to recruit Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Finland, and Romania in the form of an intermarium, but didn’t meet their goals. Another key aspect of Pilsudski’s politics was based on prometheism, an ideology based on the constant weakening of the Russians and what later came to be the Soviet Union by promoting nationalist independent movements amongst the majority of non-Russian ethnics from the neighboring countries.

On the other hand, Roman Dmowski postulated instead the idea of a nationally uniform state, meaning that he didn’t vow for the regions largely inhabited by Lithuanians, nor the distant lands from the east, where the population considered itself to be either Ukrainian, Belarusian, or Russian. Unlike Pilsudski’s ideal of creating a huge federation of Central European nations which would remind of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Dmowski’s plan was based on a more rational basis. He wanted the Second Polish Republic to solely include the lands inhabited by a large majority of Poles. His incorporation concept was seen with success and it further contributed to the fact that Poland shaped its borders loosely based on the national element. The lands from the east (with cities such as Lvov, Vilnius, Grodno and Tarnopol) were mostly inhabited by a majority of Poles and became part of the Republic until the outbreak of World War II in 1939.

The animosity of the two wouldn’t end here. After retiring from the political life in 1923, Jozef Pilsudski returned in 1926 in an armed takeover to “cleanse” the political life of “excessive political struggles, corruption and general weakening of the state”[30] by imposing the Sanacja (Sanatisation) regime after the coup d’etat of May 1926. It wasn’t a dictatorship per se, for it strived for a stable economy and a strong executive. However, it restricted civil rights through the passed Constitution from 1935, as well as the freedom of the press. The major political organization was the Non-Party Bloc of Cooperation (BBWR). It had numerous opponents, with the most vehement insurgents being Dmowski’s Camp of Great Poland alongside other right-wing organizations.

Figure 3. Norman Davies, Map 12. The Formation of the Polish Republic, (1918 – 1921), 2005, in God’s Playground. A History of Poland: 1795 to the Present.  (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), p.293

The regime would later adopt the Polonization ideals of the National Democrats. Around the end of the 30’s the regime “strongly advocated for the “strengthening of the Polish presence in the outlying territories through the forced Polonization, colonization, restricted national development, and the creation of artificial divisions among the Ukrainian population”.[31]

V. 4 The minorities problem

Political pressures built up in Poland. Given its multiethnic and multicultural state, the Second Republic had the task of finding a solution of establishing positive relationships with its citizens, “1 in 3, who did not regard themselves in any meaningful way as being ‘Polish’.”[32] The answer lay in several sources, but primarily in the notion of the nation-state which had been adopted in Europe after 1918 and “had been a crucial part of the postwar peace settlement, so that nationalist sentiment was running at historically high levels”[33]. Did the minorities (acc. to Stachura there were estimated to be around 5-6 million Ukrainians, over 3 million Jews, one and a half million Byelorussians and some 800,000 Germans) have to undertake the assimilation process of becoming wholly ‘Polish’ or could they assimilate only to an extent and permitted to keep a sense of a dual national consciousness?

While Pilsudski’s camp vowed to adopt a softer approach in regards to favoring a supranational, federalist Poland, from Dmowski’s point of view, the term “nation” was a concept that “included those whose language and culture were Polish and whose religion was Catholic, but as in the case of converts from Judaism, outward conformity to any or even all of these standards was not enough”.[34] He intended through the support of his National Democratic Party (or Endecja in Polish) to construct a strong country, where the minorities wouldn’t be allowed to become an impediment in achieving this goal. Specifically, Dmowski vowed for the gather of non-Polish ethnic elements, given that they would enhance the collective strength of the Polish nation and contribute to the Catholic-nationalism, as well as form the basis of a unitary state. This was directed mainly towards the Ukrainians and Byelorussians, through the means of “polonization”.

It is assumed by historiographical means that Poland didn’t properly address the question of its minorities and couldn’t reach a consensus due its chauvinist relegation of minorities to the status of second-class citizens. “Such a situation, it is argued, meant that Poland failed repeatedly to respect the formal statutory guarantees which were introduced after 1918, notably through the Minorities Treaty of 1919, the Treaty of Riga (Article VII) in 1921, and the Polish constitutions of 1921 and 1935.”[35]

VI. The Year 1939

VI.1 The British Guarantee of Poland (31st of March)

Interwar politics focused primarily on the pursuit of a constitutional model which would integrate “traditional Polish strivings for liberty with the need for a strong government”[36], as well as “remain neutral regarding its two giant neighbors (Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union), while concluding alliances (in 1921) with France and Romania”[37]. The Polish nation had acquired a new sense of confidence from its 20 years of independence, which had to undergo harsh trials in World War II.

Following the aftermath of the occupation of Czechoslovakia by the Nazis on the 16th of March 1939, the British and French “offered a guarantee of Polish sovereignty against any act of aggression”[38] on the 31st of March that same year. French and British governments through their conciliatory policy had made numerous concessions for Nazi Germany to prevent an upcoming war. The potential threat that Hitler posed came when he violated the Munich agreement and annexed Czechoslovakia as a whole. In an effort of deterring Nazi Germany from claiming other territories from Europe, these didn’t last, for the German government’s leitmotiv was that of annexing the Polish Corridor which had been a source of constant tension after the Polish Second Republic redeemed at the 1919 Peace Conference of Paris.

Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain told the House of Commons that ‘in the event of any action which clearly threatened Polish independence, and which the Polish Government accordingly considered it vital to resist, His Majesty’s Government would feel themselves bound at once to lend the Polish Government all support in their power’[39], a statement with which the French Government consented.

VI.2 The Ribbentrop – Molotov Pact (23rd of August)

Despite the British and French guarantee offered to Poland to preserve its territorial integrity, the two states were unable to enforce it without the Soviet Union’s support. To respond to the appeal of France and Great Britain, Stalin played on two fronts, based on the principle of which side offered him more, and the Soviet Union’s support never came once the secret pact had been signed. In Hitler’s view, the Munich settlement in which France and Britain lay impassive and proved to be weak convinced him to further pursuit his goal of extending territorially (conquer to form the Lebensraum). Furthermore, the invasion of Poland would allow Hitler to “touch his short-term goals; i.e. to seize the industrial heartland (Upper Silesia) in order to sustain Germany as a military power, but also his long-term goals of eradicating Jews and other ‘inferior races’ whilst paving the path towards the invasion of his arch-nemesis, the Soviet Union”. [40]

The Ribbentrop – Molotov pact comprised of two parts. The first one was a typical non-aggression treaty among Nazi Germany and the USSR, that created the favorable conditions for Adolf Hitler to invade Poland without fearing Soviet intervention. However, the second part was a secret plan that carried out the division of states in Central and Eastern Europe (it divided Poland into two spheres of influence) among the two powers. It was established that a common border would be traced along the Vistula, San and Narev rivers, as well as trace the spheres of influence for the USSR and the Third Reich (see figure 4).

Figure 4. Jan Karski Program and Polish History Museum, On August 23, 1939, the Secret German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact Was Signed in Moscow, Dividing Eastern Europe into German and Soviet Spheres of Influence. A Secret Protocol Set the Rules of Partition for Territories Including Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland and Romania. This Pact Set the Stage for the Soviet Invasion of Poland from the East While the Country Was Waging a Losing War with Hitler’s Army., Google Arts & Culture (Jan Karski Program, n.d.),

On the 1st of September 1939, Germany invaded Poland, and once with it was declared the beginning of World War II. “Poland was surrounded on three sides by German-held territory from which the invasion was launched. The Soviets invaded from the East once it was clear that the Poles were losing the war. Their defeat was inevitable from the beginning: the Germans had vastly superior forces and far better and more modern military equipment.”[41] The Wehrmacht’s mission was to destroy the Polish Army through the means of a surprise attack, the infamous Blitzkrieg. On the 17th of September, the Soviets invaded Poland through the east.

VI.3 September Campaign: Poland partitioned by Germany and USSR (28th of September)

At the end of September 1939, the border between The Third Reich and the USSR on Polish land was traced according to the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, along the main rivers of Poland. Furthermore, both occupying powers agreed to mutually help each other to suppress the Resistance or any other third-party acts that would allow the rebirth of the Second Polish Republic. The Polish were between the hammer and the anvil.

In the Eastern Polish territories caught under Soviet occupation panic started to unleash. Locals were forced to accept the communist order, and moreover, “elections took place for the local events, which accepted the annexation of the Eastern territories belonging to the Second Polish Republic to the Soviet Union. The population from this region was given Soviet citizenship.” [42][trad.a] Thus terror unleashed; submission to the new regime meant that common abuses were carried out (from arrests of landowners or priests to NKVD troops imprisoning thousands of Polish soldiers, politicians or military formations that had retaliated in September and were met with an uncertain faith in concentration camps or gulags).

German authorities had incorporated the Western provinces directly in the Third Reich’s component, while in Central Poland they created the General Government (GG), which remained under their complete control. According to Hitler’s plan, the Polish territories would undergo complete Germanization. In fact, the policy of both invading powers guided itself after the principle of sovereignty first through imposing their language. Conditions were atrocious; the Polish were prohibited from owning radio stations, talking in their native language, going to theatres, as well as their cultural inheritance, monuments and works of art being confiscated and taken to Berlin. Moreover, in the administrative zone of the GG, led by Hans Frank, “all major forms of superior education and high schools had been disbanded (with the exception of the vocational ones): “The Polish should be given only the educational opportunities that show them their national situation, left with no hope” sounded the recommendation of Frank.”[43] [trad.a].

VI.4 A small kernel of faith

Frank’s quote was proven to be debunked by history itself. Shortly after the September campaign, secret organizations had sprung throughout the country. After the German army defeated the Polish Army at Warsaw, thousands of troops evacuated, and enrolled in the armies of the Allied Powers, to continue to fight throughout the war. “Many thousands more (comprised of civilians and soldiers) went into underground resistance in towns and forests, to continue fighting the Germans and the Russians”.[44]

Shortly after the partition of Poland, The Union of Armed Struggle was established by the Polish government in exile from Paris. The Union distinguished itself as the first army group that operated underground, with the primary goal of fighting the two occupying forces. Between 1939 – 1941, the Union’s officers carried out a series of preparations, from military practices to armament purchase and, above all, carried out espionage missions for the French and British. A symbol emerged, (the slogan “Poland is still fighting” stylized as an anchor) which was soon assimilated with the Polish Underground State.

  1. C) Further developments in the history of Poland after 1939

VII. Conclusion: Summary, A brief presentation of the aftermath of WWII and present-day Poland

While it seems that Poland has been tested far more than other European countries, what kept it bind together during its statal dissolve period was its strong nationalism spirit, as well as its affirmation in foreign army legions. If in one war their valiant effort was compensated with the formation of the Duchy of Warsaw by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1815, then with the turn of the century, the Great War made it clear that its importance as a rebirthed state depended on whom the Poles would choose to ally with (Tsarist Russia promised the formation of an independent state of Poland under Russian sovereignty, whilst Austria-Hungary and the Prussian Empire promised the same thing, but perhaps made the first step by founding the puppet state; the Kingdom of Poland in 1916. It was from that milestone that the Polish proved their might both inland (through the Polish legion led by Jozef Pilsudski, who later became the Chief of State), and abroad diplomat Dmowski, alongside Paderewski at the Peace Conference in Paris in 1919 representing the Polish cause, which was brought about once more through the means of Woodrow Wilson’s 14 Notes.

The Second Polish Republic built its statehood under difficult conditions. It expanded its territory following Jozef Pilsudski’s ideology of forming a Polish state reminiscent in size of the Commonwealth. After The Battle of Warsaw from 1920 and The Treaty of Riga in 1921 the Second Republic was half the size of the former Commonwealth, and it was a melting pot of ethnic groups, which would later turn out to become one of the main issues during Pilsudski’s leadership, alongside the constant political clashes. In May 1926 he threw a coup and imposed an authoritarian dictatorship called Sanacja (to clean the political body of the common tyranny, and economic deficiencies). This regime would ultimately clash with political opposition and especially Roman Dmowski’s points expressed through his right-wing party. After eventually coming to a consensus and adopting the National Democrat’s ideology of a nationalistic view that focused on the Catholic nature of the Poles and deprived minorities of their own national pursuit, these gave way to the Sonderweg, a third way of governing one’s state besides the western democracy or the tsarist autocracy.

World War II began on Polish soil, once with its invasion by the Third Reich. Poland was partitioned just like in the olden days between foreign occupants, but this time it was between The Third Reich (which led itself after the principle of ethnic cleansing and Germanisation), and the USSR (it imposed a regime of terror and fear by obliging the Polish to give up their citizenship and become “Sovietized”). Despite these times of hardship, the Polish nationalism wasn’t snuffed out and they continued to oppose resistance to the two invading powers through the means of an operating Polish Underground State (that kept in touch with the Polish government in exile from London).

The Soviet Union joined the Allies and after the war and turned Poland into a communist satellite state. Once again Poland was materially and demographically devastated by the conflict, and the heavy-handed policies of Stalinism weren’t keen on the rebuilding process. They swapped an extreme ideology and leader for another. Over the decades various reforms were made and undone, and once again, the Church acted as a guide and offered a small kernel of faith for the Polish unity. The election of Cardinal Wojtyla of Krakow as Pope John Paul II was an important step, for his actions encouraged Poles of “their subsequent defiance of the communist regime”[45], while his “speeches and activities served as models for the Polish priests who would carry out his independence campaigns in the country”.[46]

After the Trade Union “Solidarity” started in 1980 and gained a huge following among Polish workers, support from America and the Vatican helped it become the main political opposition against the communist government and the church facilitated the negotiations to allow Solidarity to participate in the elections of 1989, which broke the Communist monopoly on power. It led to the abolishment of communism and the return of the government in exile.

Poland’s pathway out of Communism in the 90s and beyond brought another series of struggles. In 1999, the 3rd Polish Republic joined NATO, signaling an important westward shift in foreign policy. By 2004, they became part of the European Union, contributing to the stabilization of the growing economy. Poland’s post-communist prosperity has made it one of the Eastern bloc success stories.

[1] Alicja Dybkowska et al., Istoria Poloniei: Din Cele Mai Vechi Timpuri până̆ Azi (Târgoviște: Cetatea de Scaun, 2020), 304.

“Polonezii se puteau mândri cu rezultatele consistente: s-au făcut multe lucruri pentru a șterge urmele lăsate de perioada de peste o sută de ani a împărțirilor; s-a modernizat economia; au fost pregătiți specialiști în diferite domenii și a crescut o nouă generație cu simțul atașamentului față de stat și de popor”

[2] Tomasz Kamusella, “The Politics of Language and Nationalism in Modern Central Europe” (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), p.35.

[3] Ibidem, p.38.

[4] Tomasz Kamusella, “The Rise and Dynamics of the Normative Isomorphism of Language, Nation, and State in Central Europe”. Harvard Ukrainian Studies 35, no. 1/4 (2017): p.356,

[5] Ibidem, p.357

[6] Ernest Gellner, “Nationalism and Politics in Eastern Europe”, 1, No.4, pp:127 – 134, NLR I/189

[7] Columbia University Press on Infoplease (The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed) “Poland, Partitions Of,”. .Accessed January 3, 2022,

[8] Lonnie Johnson, “Central Europe: Enemies, Neighbors, Friends” (New York, NY u.a.: Oxford Univ. Press, 1996), p.121, (Accessed February 1, 2022).

[9] Jerzy Lukowski and Hubert Zawadzki, “A Concise History of Poland”, Second (Cambridge University Press, 2006), p.172. (Accessed January 3, 2022)

[10] Maja Trochimczyk. “Introduction: A Brief History of National Anthems.” Polish Music Center. USC University of Southern California, June 6, 2019. Accessed January 3, 2022.

[11] Adrian Sobolewski, “Poland’s Unique Take on Romanticism: Why Is It so Different?” (Adam Mickiewicz Institute), January 1, 2018. Accessed January 3, 2022.

[12] idem

[13] idem.

[14] Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. “November Insurrection.” Encyclopedia Britannica, November 22, 2021. Accessed January 3, 2022.

[15] Adam Zamoyski, “Poland: A History” (London: William Collins, 2015), p.247.

[16] Adam Zamoyski, “Poland: A History” (London: William Collins, 2015), p. 248.

[17] Michał Leśniewski, “Piłsudski, Józef.” International Encyclopedia of the First World War, October 8, 2014. Accessed January 10, 2022.

[18] Jerzy Lukowski and Hubert Zawadzki, “A Concise History of Poland,” Second (Cambridge University Press, 2006), p.218. (Accessed January 15, 2022).

[19] Jerzy Lukowski and Hubert Zawadzki, “A Concise History of Poland”, Second (Cambridge University Press, 2006), p.213. (Accessed January 15, 2022).

[20] Piotr Szlanta. “Poland.” 1914-1918-online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War, October 8, 2014. Accessed January 15, 2022.

[21] idem

[22] John Swift, “Battle of Warsaw.” Encyclopedia Britannica, August 5, 2021. Accessed January 15, 2022.

[23] Andrew Hutchinson et al. “Poland.” Encyclopedia Britannica, last modified January 22, 2022. Accessed January 15, 2022.

[24] Tony Wesolowsky, “A Century Ago, the Treaty of Riga Redrew the Map. It Still Reverberates Today.,” RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty (A Century Ago, The Treaty Of Riga Redrew The Map. It Still Reverberates Today., March 18, 2021). Accessed January 16, 2022.

[25] Norman Davies, “God’s Playground. A History of Poland: 1795 to the Present”, revised, vol. 2 (Columbia University Press, 2005), p.291.

[26] “În mare măsură, acesta a fost meritul marilor politicieni care reprezentau societatea atât în țară, cât și în străinătate. Dintre ei făceau parte, printre alții, Jozef Pilsudski, Roman Dmowski, Ignacy Paderewski, Wincenty Witos, Wojciech Korfanty și Ignacy Daszynski” (Alicja Dybkowska p.263.)

[27] Andrew Hutchinson et al. “Poland.” Encyclopedia Britannica, last modified January 22, 2022. Accessed January 16, 2022.

[28] Sejm = Parliament

[29] Sonderweg (or the “unique path”) is a concept in German historiography that revolves around the unusual course of evolution that Germany followed (from aristocracy to democracy), distinctive from other countries. Furthermore, it is oftentimes used to describe the foreign policy and ideology during and after World War I

[30] Jozef Pilsudski Institute of America, “Józef Piłsudski”. Accessed January 27, 2022,

[31] Andrzej Zięba, “Sanacja Regime,” Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine (Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies. ). Accessed January 27, 2022,

[32] Peter D. Stachura, Poland, 1918-1945: An Interpretive and Documentary History of the Second Republic (London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2004), p.79.

[33] idem

[34] Alexander J. Groth, “Dmowski, Pilsudski and Ethnic Conflict in Pre-1939 Poland*,” Canadian-American Slavic Studies 3, no. 1 (1969): p. 69-70,×00367

[35] Peter D. Stachura, Poland, 1918-1945: An Interpretive and Documentary History of the Second Republic (London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2004), p.80

[36] Andrew Hutchinson et al. “Poland.” Encyclopedia Britannica, last modified January 22, 2022. Accessed January 27, 2022.

[37] idem

[38] The Loyal Edmonton Regiment Museum. “Britain and France Guarantee Polish Sovereignty: 31 March 1939.” Prince of Wales Armouries Heritage Centre (2018). Accessed January 27, 2022.

[39]  Parl. Debs, 5th ser., House of Commons, vol. 345, col. 2415. quoted in Gill Bennett, “What’s the context? 31 March 1939: the British guarantee to Poland”, 2019, History of government. Accessed January 27, 2022.

[40]James Suibhe, “The Animated History of Poland | Part 2”, Youtube (Youtube, 2017). Accessed 18 January, 2022.

[41] Richard J Evans, “Prof. Richard J. Evans: The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. the First Step towards the Destruction of the Polish Nation,” Wszystko Co Najważniejsze, August 30, 2021. Accessed January 27, 2022.

[42] “…au avut loc alegeri pentru adunări locale, care apoi și-au exprimat acordul în legătură cu anexarea la URSS a teritoriilor răsăritene aparținând celei de-a Doua Republici. Populația din această zonă a primit cetățenie sovietică” (Alicja Dybrowska, p.315)

[43] “Au fost desființate instituțiile de învățământ superior și majoritatea liceelor (cu excepția celor profesionale): “Polonezilor ar trebui să li se lase doar oportunități educaționale care să le arate situația lor națională, lipsită de orice speranță” (Alicja Dybrowska, p.313)

[44] James Suibhne, “The Animated History of Poland | Part 2”. Youtube video, 11:28. 25.09.2017. Accessed on January 27, 2022.

[45] William Blakemore, “St. John Paul II.” Encyclopedia Britannica, May 14, 2021. Accessed February 1, 2022.

[46] idem


Books/Electronic Books:

  • Davies, Norman. “God’s Playground. A History of Poland: 1795 to the Present.” Revised. Vol. 2. Columbia University Press, 2005.


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  • Johnson, Lonnie. “Central Europe: Enemies, Neighbors, Friends” (New York, NY u.a.: Oxford Univ. Press, 1996), (Accessed February 1, 2022).


  • Kamusella, Tomasz. “The Politics of Language and Nationalism in Modern Central Europe.” Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.


  • Lukowski, Jerzy, and Hubert Zawadzki. “A Concise History of Poland.” Cambridge University Press, 2006,


  • Stachura, Peter D. “Poland, 1918-1945: An Interpretive and Documentary History of the Second Republic.” London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2004.


  • Gellner, Ernest, “Nationalism and Politics in Eastern Europe”, 127 – 134, Cambridge, September 1991. NLR I/189 Accessed December 30, 2021.


  • Groth, Alexander J. “Dmowski, Pilsudski and Ethnic Conflict in Pre-1939 Poland*.” Canadian-American Slavic Studies 3, no. 1 (1969): 69–91.×00367


  • Kamusella, Tomasz. “The Rise and Dynamics of the Normative Isomorphism of Language, Nation, and State in Central Europe.” Harvard Ukrainian Studies 35, no. 1/4 (2017): 351–81.



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  • Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. “November Insurrection.” Encyclopedia Britannica, November 22, 2021. Accessed January 3, 2022.


  • Columbia University Press on Infoplease . The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. “Poland, Partitions Of.”. Accessed January 28, 2022.


  • Dawson, A. Hutchinson , Jasiewicz, . Krzysztof , Davies, . Norman , Smogorzewski, . Kazimierz Maciej , Kondracki, . Jerzy A. , Wandycz, . Piotr S. and Roos, . Hans. “Poland.” Encyclopedia Britannica, last modified January 22, 2022. Accessed January 15, 2022.


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  • Leśniewski, Michał. “Piłsudski, Józef.” International Encyclopedia of the First World War, October 8, 2014. Accessed January 10, 2022.


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  • Swift, J.. “Battle of Warsaw.” Encyclopedia Britannica, August 5, 2021. Accessed January 15, 2022.


  • Szlanta, Piotr. “Poland.” 1914-1918-online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War, October 8, 2014. Accessed January 15, 2022.


  • The Loyal Edmonton Regiment Museum. “Britain and France Guarantee Polish Sovereignty: 31 March 1939.” Prince of Wales Armouries Heritage Centre 2018. Accessed January 27, 2022.


  • Trochimczyk, Maja. “Introduction: A Brief History of National Anthems.” Polish Music Center. USC University of Southern California, June 6, 2019. Accessed January 3, 2022.


  • Wesolowsky, Tony. “A Century Ago, the Treaty of Riga Redrew the Map. It Still Reverberates Today.” RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty. A Century Ago, The Treaty Of Riga Redrew The Map. It Still Reverberates Today., March 18, 2021. Accessed January 16, 2022.


  • Zięba, Andrzej. “Sanacja Regime.” Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine. Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies. Accessed January 27, 2022.


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