Polish history (1939-1945)

18 mins read
Leave a comment

Polish history (1939-1945)

Polish history (1939-1945) – the history of Poland during World War II, from the aggression of the Third Reich and the USSR against Poland to the end of World War II on May 8, 1945 and the Potsdam Conference (July 17-August 2, 1945), which determined the status and borders of Poland after World War II.


1 German invasion 2 Slovakian attack 3 USSR aggression against Poland 4 German occupation 5 Soviet occupation 6 Polish government in exile 7 Polish Armed Forces 8 Polish Underground State 9 Sikorski-May Pact 10 Polish-Ukrainian conflict. Ukrainian 11 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising 12 Warsaw Uprising 13 Polish Committee for National Liberation 14 Red Army’s entry into Poland in 1944-1945 15 Provisional Government of National Unity 16 Potsdam Conference 17 Material Losses and Destruction 18 Footnotes 19 Notes 20 Bibliography 21 External links

German invasion[edit | edit code].

Separate article: September Campaign.

September 1939: German soldiers and policemen of the 1st WMG State Police Regiment destroy a Polish border barrier and Poland’s emblem in Gdynia-Kolibki[a].

On the morning of September 1, 1939, the Wehrmacht[1] struck Poland along the Polish-German-Slovak border. The war began with the bombardment of Wieluń at 4:35 a.m. Then, at 4:45 a.m., the German battleship “Schleswig-Holstein” began shelling the Polish military outpost at Westerplatte[2]. On the same day, in the early morning hours, the Germans struck the Polish Post Office in the Free City of Danzig[3], arrested the first 250 Poles living in Danzig and murdered Polish railwaymen in Szymankowo[2][4].

Within the first three days, the Polish army lost the border battle and was forced to retreat across the front line. On September 3, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany, and shortly thereafter went into military action (the Saarland offensive). Meanwhile, the Wehrmacht, taking advantage of its superiority in Luftwaffe aviation and armored weapons, won a number of victories in Poland by defeating Polish troops at Piotrków Trybunalski and Tomaszów Mazowiecki[5].

On September 6, Polish troops began withdrawing to the other side of the Vistula River. The next day the Polish army was defeated in the battle of Ilza. Three days later, the largest battle of the September campaign took place on the Bzura River[5]. In this battle the two Polish armies “Poznan” and “Pomerania” fought against the German 8th Army and 10th Army from Army Group South (“Süd”). On September 8, the battle for Warsaw began, ending with the capitulation of the capital on September 28[6].

Slovak attack[edit | edit code].

Separate article: Slovak attack on Poland.

The Slovak Army attacked Poland on September 1 at 5 a.m. with a force of three divisions in the directions of Podhale, Nowy Sącz and Bieszczady. The 1st Division occupied Jaworzyna and Niedzica and advanced 30 kilometers in a few days, reaching Ochotnica on September 3 in the evening, and Zabrze-Rivers area on September 4, where fire contact was established with units of the “Carpathian” Army. On September 9, the division returned to Slovakia (a small force remained in Polish Spiš until it was incorporated into Slovakia and as occupation troops in Zakopane). The 2nd Division, as part of the XVIII Army Corps of Infantry Gen. Eugen Beyer took up positions on the line Jaslo – Krosno – Sanok, having combat contact with Polish units (11 KDP).

During the campaign, the Slovak infantry took positions, from the west on the line Kamienica – Zbludza – Zalesie, Jaworki – Biala Woda and Krynica-Zdroj – Tylicz, without significant resistance from the Polish side. By September 16, infantry units had seized the towns of Liszna, Jablonki, Baligrod, Sanok, Krosno and Dukla, after which they were withdrawn to the borders of Slovakia.

During the entire September campaign, Slovak army losses in Poland amounted to 18 killed, 46 wounded and 11 missing. Some 1,350 Polish prisoners of war were taken prisoner. In January 1940, about 1,200 of them were handed over by the Slovaks to the Germans and the Soviets, and the rest were imprisoned in a camp in Lešť[7].

USSR’s aggression against Poland[edit | edit code].

Soviet infantry columns entering Poland on September 17, 1939

Separate articles: The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, The USSR’s aggression against Poland, Polish prisoners of war in Soviet captivity (since 1939) and The Katyn Massacre.

On September 17, as a result of the implementation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 23, 1939, and an additional secret protocol on the division of spheres of influence in Polish lands, Red Army troops struck the Republic along the entire length of the Polish-Soviet border. in the strength of six armies numbering 600-650,000 soldiers and more than 5,000 tanks, divided into two Fronts: the Belorussian and Ukrainian. These forces were tasked with occupying the eastern lands of Poland up to the Vistula line. The Polish Army resisted the aggressors. On September 28, 1939, the Third Reich and the USSR concluded a treaty of friendship and borders demarcating the border on the occupied territories of the Second Polish Republic. Soviet aggression – in a note not accepted by Ambassador Grzybowski – was “justified” by the claim that “the Ukrainian and Belarusian populations were taken and the Polish state collapsed.”[6]

German occupation[edit | edit code].

Execution of Poles after the start of the German occupation of Bydgoszcz on September 9, 1939

Separate articles: German occupation of Polish lands (1939-1945), General Government and Territory of the Republic of Poland annexed by the Third Reich.

As a result of the aggression of Germany and the USSR against Poland in September 1939, after the occupation of the entire territory of the Second Republic by the Wehrmacht and the Red Army and the establishment of the German-Soviet border on occupied Polish territory in the September 28, 1939 Border and Friendship Pact between the Third Reich and the USSR, Adolf Hitler unilaterally annexed the western territories of Poland to the Reich by two decrees – dated October 8 and 12, 1939.

From the territory of the Republic of Poland between the line of the German-Soviet border of September 28, 1939, and the eastern border of Polish lands incorporated directly into Germany, as specified in the decree (defined as the new eastern border of the Reich), Adolf Hitler created a separate administrative entity subordinate to the Reich – the General Government.

The above legal acts, contrary to the Hague Convention IV (1907) ratified by Germany, were invalid under international law and were not recognized by both the Government of the Republic of Poland in exile and the states allied to Poland, as well as third (neutral) states throughout World War II.

The remaining territory of the Republic of Poland east of the border line established on Polish territory in the treaty between the Third Reich and the USSR was annexed by the USSR in October 1939[8].

There were arrests and deportations of Polish citizens in the areas occupied by Germany. At the turn of 1939/1940, 860,000 Polish citizens were displaced, populating the territories with German population arriving from the former Baltic republics of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, Bessarabia.

In the occupied territories, the Third Reich pursued a policy of terror and genocide.

Separate articles: Intelligenzaktion, Operation Tannenberg, Aktion AB, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Aktion Zamosc, Pacifications of Polish villages during the German occupation, Warsaw Ghetto, Holocaust of Jews and Death Marches.

Soviet occupation[edit | edit code].

Column of arrested policemen and civilian “enemies of the people,” September 1939

Separate articles: Katyn crime, Soviet occupation of Polish lands (1939-1941), USSR repression of Poles and Polish citizens 1939-1946, Polish prisoners of war in Soviet captivity (since 1939) and NKVD prison massacres in 1941.

In the territories occupied by the USSR, pseudo-elections to the People’s Assembly of Western Belarus and the People’s Assembly of Western Ukraine were held on October 22. Sessions of the elected parliaments were held in Bialystok and Lviv. At a session from October 31 to November 2, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR formally incorporated the territories of Western Belarus and Western Ukraine into the USSR.

Separate article: Elections to the People’s Assemblies of Western Ukraine and Western Belarus 1939.

On November 29, 1939, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR adopted a decree according to which Polish citizens living in the western regions of Ukraine and Belarus automatically became citizens of the USSR. It also made it compulsory for citizens of the Second Polish Republic who found themselves in these territories as a result of the war to hold internal USSR passports. The registration action associated with this was the basis for subsequent police repression by the NKVD (including the mass deportations of 1940).

The above-mentioned acts, which contradicted the Hague Convention IV (1907) ratified by Russia, were invalid under international law and were not recognized by both the Polish Government in Exile and the states allied to Poland, as well as third (neutral) countries throughout World War II. Nevertheless, from June 1941, the USSR consistently invoked the fact that the “elections” were held as a plebiscite of the population living in Polish territories occupied since the USSR’s aggression against Poland in favor of the territories’ affiliation with the USSR.

Several hundred thousand people were arrested by the NKVD and imprisoned in Soviet concentration camps of the Gulag system, deported to Siberia, Komi or Kazakhstan, or murdered. Among those arrested were Polish policemen and soldiers. On March 5, 1940, the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union(b) decided to execute Polish officers located in the camps at Kozelsk, Starobielsk and Ostashkov. In April and May, the NKVD murdered some 15,000 officers in Miednoye and Katyn. The Soviet occupation of Polish lands ended with the German attack on the USSR on June 22, 1941. After the German attack on the USSR, the NKVD murdered several thousand political prisoners in prisons in the occupied territories.

Polish government in exile[edit | edit code].

Separate article: Government of the Republic of Poland in Exile.

In view of the aggression of Germany (September 1, 1939) and the USSR (September 17, 1939) against Poland, the authorities of the Republic were forced to move their headquarters out of the country to avoid captivity and forced surrender. On the night of September 17-18, the President of the Republic of Poland and the Commander-in-Chief crossed the Polish-Romanian border at Kuty having been promised, in accordance with the Fifth Hague Convention and the Allied Agreement between Poland and Romania of 1921, passage to France (droit de passage). Under parallel pressure from the authorities of the Third Reich, the USSR and France, the Romanian authorities demanded, contrary to the Fifth Hague Convention, that the Polish authorities relinquish their sovereign state prerogatives under threat of internment. In view of the refusal of the Polish president, prime minister and commander-in-chief, they were interned by the Romanian authorities in internment centers that had already been prepared in the first half of September 1939. In view of the situation, the authorities of the Republic had to be appointed from among Polish politicians who were beyond the reach of both aggressors (the Third Reich and the USSR). The unquestionable candidates in the situation of the collapse of state structures were diplomatic representatives of the Republic protected by diplomatic immunity. Consequently, on September 25, Polish President Ignacy Moscicki, in accordance with Article 24 of the April Constitution (authorizing the appointment of a successor to the President of the Republic in a state of war), appointed Boleslaw Wieniawa-Dlugoszowski, Polish Ambassador to Italy, as his successor. However, over the objections of the representatives of the opposition parties to Sanation residing in Paris and the opposition of the French government,[9] caused by their pressure (which was an interference with the sovereignty of Poland’s Allied decision), Wieniawa-Dlugoszowski relinquished his appointment, and Władysław Raczkiewicz was nominated and assumed the office of President of the Republic of Poland. After discussions, President Raczkiewicz appointed Lieutenant General Władysław Sikorski as Chairman of the Council of Ministers, who in turn appointed a coalition cabinet (which included representatives of the SN, SP, SL, PPS and Sanacja politicians)

The legal international continuity of Poland’s state institutions was thus preserved, contrary to the declarations made by Germany and the USSR in the September 28, 1939 Border and Friendship Treaty, and was internationally recognized throughout World War II.

Polish Armed Forces[edit | edit code].

Separate articles: Polish Armed Forces, Polish Army in France (1939-1940), Polish Armed Forces in Great Britain, Polish Armed Forces in the USSR (1941-1942), Polish Army in the East and the 2nd Polish Corps (PSZ).

One of the main tasks of the Polish Government was to expand the Polish Armed Forces. A number of agreements were signed with the British and the French, and there were even plans to create a 100,000-strong Polish army in France. Finally, on January 4, 1940, a Polish-French military treaty and an air agreement were signed. Although these plans could not be fully realized, the 1st Grenadier Division (under the command of Brig. Gen. Bronislaw Duch), the 2nd Infantry Rifle Division (under the command of Gen. Brig. Gen. Bronislaw Prugar-Ketling), the Independent Highland Rifle Brigade (under the command of Brig. Gen. Zygmunt Bohusz-Szyszka), the Polish Air Force (one compact squadron 1/145 Warsaw was formed). The 3rd and 4th Infantry Divisions and the 10th Armored Cavalry Brigade (under the command of Brig. Gen. Stanislaw Maczek) were also organized. On the initiative of the Polish government, the Carpathian Rifle Brigade of Gen. Stanislaw Kopanski was also formed in Syria

Polish Underground State[edit | edit code].

Separate articles: Polish Underground State, Home Army, Grey Ranks, Arsenal Action, Kutscher Action, Wachlarz (armed organization) and Warsaw Uprising.

On the night of September 26-27, 1939, the Polish Victory Service was established in besieged Warsaw. In November 1939, it was transformed into the Union of Armed Struggle (ZWZ). On February 14, 1942, General Władysław Sikorski transformed the ZWZ into the Home Army. It functioned under this name until the end of World War II. Among the most famous actions of the Home Army Kedyw was the Kutscher Action, in which the sentence was carried out on the commander of the SS and police for the Warsaw district, responsible for the mass public executions of Poles Franz Kutscher. The Polish Underground State ceased to exist after the Red Army occupied Polish territory and the NKVD arrested the leaders of the Polish Underground State.

Separate articles: The Trial of the Sixteen and Soldiers of the Cursed.

Sikorski-May Pact[edit | edit code].

Signing of the treaty. From left: Sikorski, Eden, Churchill and Majski

Separate article: Sikorski-Mayski Pact.

After the German aggression against the USSR, a treaty on the normalization of relations between Poland and the USSR, called the Sikorski-Mayski Agreement,[10] was concluded with the mediation of the British government. The treaty was signed by General Wladyslaw Sikorski, Prime Minister of the Polish government-in-exile and USSR Ambassador to London Ivan Mayski. The agreement stipulated that the USSR would annul all agreements made with the Third Reich regarding Poland, restore diplomatic relations between the two countries release Polish citizens convicted and deported by the NKVD during the Soviet occupation of the territory of the Second Polish Republic and establish a Polish army in the USSR under Polish command. The agreement was signed on July 30, 1941. It became the basis for the creation of the Polish Armed Forces in the USSR under the command of General Władysław Anders consisting of Poles previously imprisoned and deported deep into the Soviet Union[10].

Polish-Soviet diplomatic relations were severed by the USSR on April 25, 1943, when the Polish Government in Exile asked the ICC to investigate the circumstances of the case following the discovery and disclosure by the Germans of the mass graves of Polish officers at Katyn, murdered in the spring of 1940 by the NKVD[11].

Separate articles: Polish Armed Forces in the USSR (1941-1942) and The Katyn Massacre.

Polish-Ukrainian conflict[edit | edit code].

Polish victims of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army’s crimes in Volhynia (Lipniki, March 1943).

Conflict between the Polish and Ukrainian populations living in the eastern territories of the Second Polish Republic, the apogee of which was the Volhynian slaughter, which lasted from February 1943 (the Parosla I Massacre) until February 1944.

Separate articles: The Volhynian Slaughter, Ethnic Cleansing in Eastern Lesser Poland and Polish-Ukrainian Partisan Struggles in 1944-1945.

Warsaw Ghetto Uprising[edit | edit code].

Separate article: Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

Photo from the Stroop Report. Original German caption: “These bandits put up armed resistance”.

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising broke out on April 19, 1943. Its cause was the desire to resist the imminent liquidation of the ghetto, which housed some 50-70,000 people. The insurgent forces consisted of about 1,000 poorly armed fighters of the Jewish Military Union and the Jewish Combat Organization[12]. May 5 – Prime Minister of the Polish government-in-exile Wladyslaw Sikorski, in a BBC radio broadcast, appealed to Poles to help the ghetto fighters. Despite the assistance – very limited due to a lack of forces and resources and the great German superiority – the uprising’s command was broken up on May 8[12]. On May 16, the uprising ended with the Germans blowing up the Great Synagogue.

Warsaw Uprising[edit | edit code].

Separate articles: Operation “Storm” and the Warsaw Uprising.

The Warsaw Uprising broke out on August 1, 1944 at 5 pm and lasted 63 days[13] About 40,000 soldiers joined the fight. During the uprising, some of the Germans’ strategic points of resistance were captured. However, a significant advantage in men and equipment, as well as passivity on the part of the Red Army, which stood on the Prague side, resulted in the defeat of the Warsaw Uprising. On October 2, 1944, the uprising commander Tadeusz Komorowski decided to capitulate. On the night of October 2-3 at 2:00 a.m., the Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities in Warsaw was signed, and at 5:00 a.m. an armistice was signed. The last insurgent units left Warsaw on October 5[14].

About 200,000 people died in the uprising, including 17,000 Home Army soldiers.

Polish Committee for National Liberation[edit | edit code].

PKWN manifesto poster

Separate articles: Polish Committee of National Liberation and Provisional Government of the Republic of Poland.

On July 21, 1944, the Polish Committee for National Liberation (see puppet government) was established in Moscow. It functioned under the political control of Joseph Stalin. It was dominated by Polish communists and implemented the USSR’s policy in Poland. The formation of the PKWN was dominantly influenced by communists from the Central Bureau of Communists of Poland, but the final decision to form it was made by Stalin.

The decision to establish it was made in Moscow between July 18 and 20, 1944,[15] and the name itself (a copy of that of the French Committee of National Liberation, which had been in operation since 1943 under de Gaulle’s leadership) was personally approved by Joseph Stalin,[15] also deciding on the composition of the committee and making the final decision to establish the PKWN. On July 22, 1944, Radio Moscow reported that the PKWN was established in Chelm, the first Polish city west of the Curzon Line occupied by the Red Army in the Belorussian offensive (since June 1944). In fact, the first members of the PKWN did not arrive in Chelm until July 28, 1944, finding there the legal Polish authorities – the district delegate and representatives of the Home Army[16].

On July 27, 1944, the PKWN recognized the so-called Curzon Line as the Polish-Soviet border in an agreement with the USSR. On August 1, Lublin became the seat of the Polish Committee of National Liberation[17]. On December 31, 1944, Jozef Stalin transformed the PKWN into the Provisional Government of the Republic of Poland,[18] headed by Edward Osóbka-Morawski, formally in accordance with a KRN resolution.

The legal and internationally recognized Polish government until July 1945 was the Government of the Republic of Poland in Exile.

Red Army incursion into Poland in 1944-1945[edit | edit code].

Separate articles: Operation “Tempest,” Repression of the USSR against Poles and Polish citizens 1939-1946, NKVD camps for Polish prisoners of war, Trial of the Sixteen, Ministry of Public Security and Soldiers of the Damned.

The Red Army entered the territory of the Second Republic, which was under German occupation, from January 1944. Polish territory was completely captured by the Red Army by May 1945. In the occupied territory, NKVD organs carried out mass arrests of soldiers of the Home Army and officials of the Polish Underground State, Polish political and social elites, combined with deportations to the Gulag concentration camp system.

The most important military operations of the Red Army on Polish territory were:

Lvov-Sandomierska operation Dukla-Prešovska operation Vistula-Odra operation Upper Silesia operation East Prussian operation (1945) Pomeranian operation

Provisional Government of National Unity[edit | edit code].

Separate article: Provisional Government of National Unity.

In execution of the provisions of the Yalta Conference on the establishment of a new provisional government of Poland, to hold power until free democratic elections, the Provisional Government of National Unity[19] was established on June 28, 1945, based on an agreement reached at a conference in Moscow between the NRA and some émigré politicians centered around Stanislaw Mikolajczyk and the People’s Party. Edward Osóbka-Morawski became prime minister of the government, while Władysław Gomułka and Stanisław Mikołajczyk became deputy prime ministers. On July 5, the Provisional Government of National Unity was recognized by the US and Britain. It was also recognized by other countries of the anti-Hitler coalition. At the same time, recognition of the Polish Government in Exile was withdrawn. The Provisional Government of National Unity, while maintaining the appearance of coalition, was actually dominated by the PPR.

Potsdam Conference[edit | edit code].

Attlee, Truman and Stalin at Potsdam

Separate article: Potsdam Conference.

From July 17, 1945 to August 2, 1945, there was a meeting of the Big Three (leaders of the US, Britain and the USSR), referred to as the Potsdam Conference[20]. At the conference, the amount of war reparations was agreed upon, and the areas east of the rivers Nysa Lusatta, Oder and the free city of Gdansk were put under Polish administration. The Polish delegation was represented by Bolesław Bierut, Edward Osóbka-Morawski, Stanisław Grabski, Stanisław Mikołajczyk, Wincenty Rzymowski, and Michał Rola-Żymierski. The Potsdam Conference established the course of Poland’s western border, confirmed by the Zgorzelec Agreement (1950), the PRL-RFN Agreement (1970) and finally the Polish-German Border Treaty (1991).

Material losses and destruction[edit | edit code].

Separate articles: Poland’s material losses during World War II, List of cities in Poland destroyed during World War II and Looting of Polish cultural property during World War II.

Poland suffered the greatest biological losses during World War II (it lost 220 people for every thousand inhabitants) and material losses (material losses per capita, which amounted to $626 compared to Yugoslavia’s $601)[21]. Many Polish towns and villages were largely destroyed, many works of art were irretrievably lost or destroyed, and destruction also affected many other areas of life.

Share :

Leave your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *