At the end of nineteenth century a large number of Poles became involved in the struggle against Nicholas II and the Russian autocracy. In 1893 Rosa Luxemburg and Leo Jogiches formed the Social Democratic Party of Poland. As it was an illegal organization, they went to Paris to edit the party's newspaper, Sprawa Robotnicza (Workers' Cause).
During the 1905 Revolution Luxemburg and Leo Jogiches returned to Warsaw where they were soon arrested. Eventually they were released and joined the Bolsheviks in exile and began planning the possibility of gaining Polish independence by taking part in a world revolution.
Others in Poland strongly disagreed with this approach. Roman Dmowski, the main leader of the Polish nationalist movement, believed the best way to achieve a unified and independent Poland, was to support the Triple Entente against the Triple Alliance.
Josef Pilsudski, a nationalist leader based in Galicia, disagreed and saw Russia as the main enemy. Pilsudski began building a private army that he hoped would enable Poland to fight for its independence from Russia.
Other Polish revolutionaries such as Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Radek, Felix Dzerzhinsky and Leo Jogiches were opposed to the First World War and joined with others in Russia such as Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky in calling for soldiers to use their weapons to overthrow the Nicholas II.
Other Polish revolutionaries such as Josef Pilsudski took a different view of the war. Pilsudski built a private army that he hoped would enable Poland to fight for its independence from Russia. In 1914 Pilsudski and his 10,000 men fought with the Austrians against the Russian Army.
Josef Pilsudski became the new leader of Poland and during the Russian Civil War his army made considerable gains and the Soviet-Polish Treaty of Riga (1921) left Poland in control of substantial areas of Lithuania, Belorussia and the Ukraine.
After his success at Munich that led to the takeover of Czechoslovakia in 1938, H believed that Britain and France would not interfere in Europe as long as Germany headed east towards the Soviet Union. He therefore began to make plans for his next step. Poland was the obvious choice as it was in the east and included areas of land taken from Germany by the Treaty of Versailles. Hitler began to make speeches demanding the return of Danzig, and German access to East Prussia through Poland.
Neville Chamberlain now changed tactics in an attempt to convince Hitler that Britain would indeed go to war if Germany continued to invade other countries. He made a speech in the House of Commons promising to support Poland if it were attacked by Germany. The British government also sent diplomats to the Soviet Union to talk to Joseph Stalin about the possibility of working together against Germany.
The British government were still uncertain about signing a military agreement with the Soviet Union, and while they hesitated Germany stepped in and signed one instead. The Nazi-Soviet Pact took the world by surprise. Fascists and communists had always been enemies. However, both Hitler and Stalin were opportunists who were willing to compromise for short-term gain.
In August 1939, a group of concentration camp prisoners were dressed in Polish uniforms, shot and then placed just inside the German border. Adolf Hitler claimed that Poland was attempting to invade Germany. On 1st September, 1939, the German Army was ordered into Poland.
Following the German invasion of Poland a Polish Home Army was established under the leadership of its commander-in-chief, General Tadeusz Komorowski. During the Second World War it was heavily involved in the resistance to German occupation.
On 21st September, 1939, Reinhard Heydrich told several Schutz Staffeinel (SS) commanders in Poland that all Jews were to be confined to special areas in cities and towns. These ghettos were to be surrounded by barbed wire, brick walls and armed guards.
The first ghetto was set up in Piotrkow on 28th October 1939. Jews living in rural areas had their property confiscated and they were rounded up and sent to ghettos in towns and cities. The two largest ghettos were established in Warsaw and Lodz.
In October 1939, the SS began to deport Jews living in Austria and Czechoslovakia to ghettos in Poland. Transported in locked passenger trains, large numbers died on the journey. Those that survived the journey were told by Adolf Eichmann, the head of the Gestapo's Department of Jewish Affairs: "There are no apartments and no houses - if you build your homes you will have a roof over your head."
In Warsaw, the capital of Poland, all 22 entrances to the ghetto were sealed. The German authorities allowed a Jewish Council (Judenrat) of 24 men to form its own police to maintain order in the ghetto. The Judenrat was also responsible for organizing the labour battalions demanded by the German authorities. Conditions in the Warsaw ghetto that in two years an estimated 100,000 Jews died of starvation and disease.
A Polish government-in-exile was formed in London under the leadership of Wladyslaw Raczkiewicz, Wladyslaw Sikorski and Stanislaw Mikolajczyk. Following the invasion of the Soviet Union by the German Army, Joseph Stalin agreed in June 1941, to invalidate the Soviet-German partition of Poland.
At the Wannsee Conference held on 20th January 1942, Reinhard Heydrich chaired a meeting to consider what to do with the large number of Jews under their control. Those at the meeting eventually decided on what became known as the Final Solution. From that date the extermination of the Jews became a systematically organized operation. It was decided to establish extermination camps in the east that had the capacity to kill large numbers including Belzec (15,000 a day), Sobibor (20,000), Treblinka (25,000) and Majdanek (25,000).
Between 22nd July and 3rd October 1942, 310,322 Jews were deported from the Warsaw ghetto to these extermination camps. Information got back to the ghetto what was happening to those people and it was decided to resist any further attempts at deportation. In January 1943, Heinrich Himmler gave instructions for Warsaw to be "Jew free" by Hitler's birthday on 20th April.
Warsaw contained several resistance groups. The largest was the Polish Home Army. There was also the Jewish Military Union and the communist Jewish Fighter Organization (ZOB) led by Mordechai Anielewicz, Yitzhak Zuckerman, Gole Mire and Adolf Liebeskind.
On 19th April 1943 the Waffen SS entered the Warsaw ghetto. Although they only had two machine-guns, fifteen rifles and 500 pistols, the Jews opened fire on the soldiers. They also attacked them with grenades and petrol bombs. The Germans took heavy casualties and the Warsaw military commander, Brigadier-General Jürgen Stroop, ordered his men to retreat. He then gave instructions for all the buildings in the ghetto to be set on fire.
As people fled from the fires they were rounded up and deported to the extermination camp at Treblinka. The ghetto fighters continued the battle from the cellars and attics of Warsaw. On 8th May the Germans began using poison gas on the insurgents in the last fortified bunker. About a hundred men and women escaped into the sewers but the rest were killed by the gas. It is believed that only 100 Jews survived the 1943 Warsaw Uprising.
In the spring of 1943 the Nazi Government in Germany announced that a mass grave had been found in Katyn Forest near Smolensk in the Soviet Union. Over 1,700 bodies were discovered and the Germans claimed that men were Polish soldiers who had been murdered by being shot in the head. It was suggested that the men had been killed by the NKVD.
A Polish government-in-exile in London demanded an investigation of the deaths by the Red Cross. Joseph Stalin refused claiming that the Poles was a victim of Nazi propaganda. When they continued to complain Stalin decided to break off relations with the Polish government.
In the summer of 1944 the Red Army began to advance rapidly into German occupied Poland. The advancing Soviet troops refused to accept the authority of the Polish government-in-exile and disarmed members of the Polish Home Army they met during the invasion.
The Polish government-in-exile in London feared that the Soviet Union would replace Nazi Germany as occupiers of the country. On 26th July 1944 the Polish government secretly ordered General Tadeusz Komorowski, the commander of the Polish Home Army, to capture Warsaw before the arrival of the advancing Russians. Five days later Komorowski gave the orders for the Warsaw Uprising.
The Home Army had about 50,000 soldiers in Warsaw. There were a further 1,700 people who were members of other Polish resistance groups who were willing to join the uprising. The men were desperately short of arms and ammunition. It is estimated they had 1,000 rifles, 300 automatic pistols, 60 sub-machine-guns, 35 anti-tank guns, 1,700 pistols and 25,000 grenades. The army also had its own workshop and were attempting to produce pistols, flame-throwers and grenades.
On the first day of the rising on 1st August, 1944, the Poles managed to capture part of the left bank of the River Vistula in Warsaw. However, attempts to take the bridges crossing the river were unsuccessful.
German reinforcements arrived on the 3rd August. The German Army used 600mm siege guns on Warsaw and the Luftwaffe bombed the city around-the-clock. British and Polish airmen flew in supplies from bases in Italy but it was difficult to drop the food and ammunition to places still in the hands of the rebels. The Royal Air Force and the Polish Air Force made 223 sorties and lost 34 aircraft during the uprising.
Heinrich Himmler gave instructions "that every inhabitant should be killed" and that Warsaw should "be razed to the ground" as an example to the rest of Europe under German occupation. As soon as territory was taken the Nazi's took revenge on the local people. In the Wola district alone an estimated 25,000 people were executed by firing squad.
When the Old Town was taken by the German Army on 2nd August, the Polish resistance fighters were forced to flee via the sewer canals. This network of underground canals were now used to move men and supplies under enemy controlled areas of Warsaw.
On 20th August the Polish Home Army captured the Polish Telephone Company building and the Krawkowskie Police Station. Three days later they took control of the Piusa Telephone Exchange.
On 10th September the Red Army led by Marshal Konstantin Rokossovy, entered the city but met heavy resistance. After five days Soviet forces had captured the right bank of the city. Rokossovy then halted his troops and waited for reinforcements. However, some historians have argued that Rokossovy was following the orders of Joseph Stalin, who wanted the Germans to destroy what was left of the Polish Home Army.
The insurgents were forced to leave Czerniakow on 23rd September. Three days later they were forced to leave the Upper Mokotow area via the underground sewers. On 30th September General Tadeusz Komorowski appointed General Leopold Okulicki as head of the Polish underground.
Running out of men and supplies General Komorowski and 15,000 members of the Polish Home Army were forced to surrender on 2nd October 1944. It is estimated that 18,000 insurgents were killed and another 6,000 were seriously wounded. A further 150,000 civilians were also killed during the uprising.
After the Polish surrender the German Army began to systematically to destroy the surviving buildings in Warsaw. By the time the Red Army resumed its attack on Warsaw, over 70 per cent of the city had been destroyed. Over the next few weeks the Soviet forces took control of the city.
In February, 1945, Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt held a conference in Yalta in the Crimea. With Soviet troops in most of Eastern Europe, Stalin was in a strong negotiating position. Roosevelt and Churchill tried hard to restrict post-war influence in this area but the only concession they could obtain was a promise that free elections would be held in these countries.
Poland was the main debating point. Stalin explained that throughout history Poland had either attacked Russia or had been used as a corridor through which other hostile countries invaded her. Only a strong, pro-Communist government in Poland would be able to guarantee the security of the Soviet Union. As a result of the conference the Allies withdrew their recognition for the Polish government-in-exile.
The Polish Home Army, under the leadership of Leopold Okulicki, continued the fight against the Red Army. In March 1945, 16 leaders of the army were arrested and sent to the Soviet Union where they were convicted of sabotage.
Joseph Stalin established a communist dominated coalition in Poland after the war. Wladyslaw Gomulka became vice-president in the new government. However, Gomulka resisted attempts to impose a Stalinist government on Poland. He was dismissed from office in 1948 when he gave his support to Josip Tito in Yugoslavia. Stanislaw Mikolajczyk, the deputy prime minister, fearing for his life, fled the country.
During the 20th Party Congress in February, 1956, Nikita Khrushchev launched an attack on the rule of Joseph Stalin. He condemned the Great Purge and accused Stalin of abusing his power. He announced a change in policy and gave orders for the Soviet Union's political prisoners to be released.
Krushchev's de-Stalinzation policy encouraged people living in Eastern Europe to believe that he was willing to give them more independence from the Soviet Union. In June 1956 there was a massive anti-government and anti-Soviet demonstration in Poznan. The marchers, protesting against poor living standards, low wages and high taxes, were dispersed by Soviet tanks.
Nikita Khrushchev visited Poland and in October 1956 agreed that Wladyslaw Gomulka should be given the post of first secretary of the Communist Party. Gomulka was told that as long as the Polish government supported the Soviet Union in foreign affairs they could develop their own domestic policies.
Gomulka liberalized the communist system in Poland. Only 10 per cent of farmland was collectivized and the country traded extensively with capitalist countries in Western Europe.
In 1970 Poland experienced an economic crisis. After riots took place Wladyslaw Gomulka resigned from office and was replaced by Edward Gierek. In an attempt to solve the country's economic problems Gierek instigated an ambitious industrialization programme. This plunged the country into debt and in 1980 the country suffered from food shortages.
Lech Walesa, along with some of his friends in the anti-communist trade union movement, founded Solidarnosc (Solidarity). It was not long before the organization had 10 million members and Walesa was its undisputed leader. In August 1980 Walesa led the Gdansk shipyard strike which gave rise to a wave of strikes over much of the country. Walesa, a devout Catholic, developed a loyal following and the communist authorities were forced to capitulate. The Gdansk Agreement, signed on 31st August, 1980, gave Polish workers the right to strike and to organise their own independent union.
In 1981 General Wojciech Jaruzelski, replaced Edward Gierek as leader of the Communist Party in Poland. In December 1981, Jaruzelski imposed martial law and Solidarnosc was declared an illegal organization. Soon afterwards Walesa and other trade union leaders were arrested and imprisoned.
In November 1982 Lech Walesa was released and allowed to work in the Gdansk shipyards. Martial law was lifted in July 1983, but there were still considerable restrictions on individual freedom. Later that year, in the recognition of the role he was playing in Poland's non-violent revolution, Walesa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Reformers in Poland were helped by the fact that Mikhail Gorbachev had gained power in the Soviet Union. In 1986 Gorbachev made it clear he would no longer interfere in the domestic policies of other countries in Eastern Europe. Wojciech Jaruzelski was now forced to negotiate with Walesa and the trade union movement. This resulted in parliamentary elections and a noncommunist government and in 1989 Solidarnosc became a legal organization.
In 1989, Mikhail Gorbachev revealled to the world that in March 1940, Joseph Stalin had given the orders for the execution of 25,700 Polish soldiers in Soviet prison camps. He also admitted that two other mass graves had been found in the Katyn Forest area.
In December 1990 Lech Walesa was elected President of the Republic of Poland. He was not a success and his critics claimed he developed an authoritarian style in running the country. His behaviour was erratic and he was criticised for his close links with the military and security services. In November 1995 Walesa was defeated by the former communist, Aleksander Kwasniewski.
In November 1995 presidential election Aleksander Kwasniewski (leader of the Democratic Left Alliance) defeated Lech Walesa (51.7 per cent against 48.3 per cent). Over the next few years he worked hard to get Poland admitted to North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In attended summit meetings in Madrid and Washington and on 26th February, 1999, signed the documents that ratified Poland membership of NATO. In 2000 Kwasniewski was re-elected as president with 53.9 per cent of the vote.