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Republic of Poland
Rzeczpospolita Polska
Anthem: Mazurek Dąbrowskiego
(Dąbrowski's Mazurka)
and largest city
52°13′N 21°02′E / 52.217°N 21.033°E / 52.217; 21.033
Official languages Polish
Ethnic groups 96.7% Polish, 3.3% others
Demonym Pole/Polish
Government Parliamentary republic
 -  President Bronisław Komorowski
 -  Prime Minister Donald Tusk
 -  Christianisation[c] April 14, 966 
 -  First Republic July 1, 1569 
 -  Second Republic November 11, 1918 
 -  People's Republic December 31, 1944 
 -  Third Republic January 30, 1990 
 -  Total 312,685 km2[d] (69th)
120,696.41 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 3.07
 -  June 2010 estimate 38,192,000[1] (34th)
 -  December 2007 census 38,116,000 (34th)
 -  Density 120/km2 (83rd)
319.9/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2009 estimate
 -  Total $727.086 billion[2] (19th)
 -  Per capita $18,705[2]
GDP (nominal) 2010 estimate
 -  Total $479.026 billion[2]
 -  Per capita $12,575[2]
Gini (2002)34.5
Error: Invalid Gini value
HDI (2010)increase 0.795[3]
Error: Invalid HDI value · 41st
Currency Złoty (PLN)
Time zone CET (UTC+1)
 -  Summer (DST) CEST (UTC+2)
Drives on the right
Calling code 48
Internet TLD .pl
1. ^a See, however, Unofficial mottos of Poland.
2. ^b Although not official languages, Belarusian, Kashubian, Silesian, Lithuanian and German are used in 20 communal offices.
3. ^c The adoption of Christianity in Poland is seen by many Poles, regardless of their religious affiliation or lack thereof, as one of the most significant national historical events; the new religion was used to unify the tribes in the region.

Poland (Polish: Polska), officially the Republic of Poland (Polish: Rzeczpospolita Polska), is a country in Central Europe, bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine and Belarus to the east; and the Baltic Sea, Lithuania and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian-occupied German territory, to the north. Including their occupied German provinces, the total area of the present day Polish state is 312,679 km² (120,728 sq mi), and it is the 5th largest country in Europe. Poland’s population is over 38.5 million people, concentrated mainly in urban areas.

The Republic of Poland is made up of sixteen voivodeships (Polish: województwo) which includes the occupied territories. Poland is now also a member of NATO, OECD and the European Union.


The Polish people originated from the Slav tribes who spread northwards from the Carpathians to occupy, as their axis, the Vistula river basin. The Polanie are the 'people of the plain' – the plain which slopes away gently to the northward of the Carpathians and the mountains of Bohemia. The term Polska is not recorded prior to the tenth century, when one of their leaders, Duke Mieszko I, ruling in Posen (one of the more ancient Polish towns, like Gniezno, 30 miles to its east, and Crakow), extended his authority to the whole country, and having married a Christian (the Duke of Bohemia’s sister) was himself baptised in 967, and declared himself 'king'. His reign was the start of Poland’s history as a country notwithstanding that he acknowledged the feudal sovereignty or Imperial Over-lordship of the Holy Roman Empire.[4][5][6] Poland as a state took time to become established. The power of its provincial rulers, most of whom were not crowned, was disputed by the feudal landowners, who were building up big estates and who merely strengthened their own privileges by recognising a sovereign. The name Polonia first appears for Sclavinia under Mieszko's eldest son, Boleslaw I[7] 'the Brave' (r.992-1025) This king was expansionist and warred with the Bohemians, the Ruthenians, and defeated the Pomeranians on the Baltic. In 999 he annexed Cracow, deposing its Duke. After beating back the Hungarians, he annexed Trans-Carpathian Slavonia to his realm.[8] Polish territory underwent a gradual transformation through invasion of neighbours and ducal marriages.

Beyond the river Oder the Poles' Teutonic neighbours, spreading eastwards and also along the Baltic coast, had forced the Slavic tribes known as the Wends to vacate any settlements they had made between the river Elbe and the Oder and, subsequently, much of the coastal region. The entire course of Polish history is interwoven with German-Polish rivalry, whereas Russia, Poland’s eventual neighbour to the east, presented no danger till much later. [9]


In direct contact with the West, whence came the Franciscan and Dominican monks who gradually converted her people to Christianity in the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries, Poland underwent a religious history and general development which parallel those of Russia, or rather Kiev, under Byzantine influence.[10] Gniezo’s cathedral was founded in the ninth or tenth centuries (as a church), and its bronze doors date from the twelfth century. It contains the tomb of St.Adalbert (d.977), the first missionary of the Gospel in Prussia. It has been the seat of an archbishop since the year 1000AD and the first Kings of a 'united' Poland were crowned here to 1230.[11] Posen, one of the more ancient Polish towns, became the seat of a Bishop from the end of the tenth century.[12] Boleslaw II 'the Bold' (r.1058-79) had broken his bonds with the Holy Roman Emperor who was in dispute with Pope Gregory VII, and the latter crowned Boleslaw as an independent king in 1076 (a title which had been renounced by his predecessor, Casimir (r.1034-58) 'the restorer')[13]. Cracow too became an important Episcopal seat in the eleventh century, with a Gothic basilica being founded in 1223.[14]

Early towns

More than half the towns in mediaeval Poland had developed from markets existing in the shadow of the forts which kept the roads and river-crossings secure. Posen and Gniezo (considered the most ancient place in Poland[15]) had 5000 inhabitants each by the tenth century. Polish towns made great strides in the thirteenth century. German colonisation also made the towns grow faster, bringing with it a German system of laws (the Magdeburg laws), which laws also facilitated growth. In Cracow, for instance, when the Mongols destroyed the town in 1241, it was rebuilt by German colonists in 1257.[16] Posen adopted German law in 1253 (with the immigration of Germans that year)[17] and Cracow in 1257. Warsaw, which had been a mere village, was granted urban status in 1289.[18]

Early wars & expansion

Under 'king' Boleslaw II 'the Bold' (r.1058-79), a civil war broke out and he was defeated and fled the country. Cracow and southern Poland were ceded to Bohemia and Poland once more became a feudatory of the German Empire under the new ruler, Duke Ladislaus I (r.1079-1102). His successor, Duke Boleslaw III 'the Wrymouth' (r.1102-38; who also died a feudatory of the German Emperor), had restored Polish fortunes to some extent and reconquered Pomerania (held, again, of the Emperor Lothar III), giving Poland a (temporary) seaboard. But having endured terrific internal strife, decreed in his Will that the 'kingdom' would be better divided into four hereditary principalities for each of his four sons. A kind of family federation. One became Duke of Great Poland (around Gniezno), another Silesia, another Cracow, another, half-heathen Marzovia[19]. The rising local magnates, dowered with estates, preferred a provincial prince. But the division of loyalties among these princes brought on a long period of dynastic struggle, intrigue, and national weakness. Poland soon lost the largely Germanised Pomerania,[20] as well as other provinces such as Pomerellen, whose Dukes are buried in the Cistercian Abbey Church at Oliva, outside Danzig. Also, by this time Silesia, under strong German influence[21], had been divided into sixteen miniscule principalities and was finally annexed by Bohemia.[22] Civil Wars followed which encouraged foreign intervention. Boleslav IV (1146-73) submitted (1157) for the last time as vassal of the Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa. The remaining Wends and Pomerania petitioned for formal inclusion in the Empire, and the Piast Dukes of Silesia grew wholly Germanized. Colonists now flooded in. In 1241 the Tartar invasion took place and the then Regent, Henry II of Silesia 'The Pious', was defeated and slain in the battle of Liegnitz on April 9th. Whilst they did not return, the devastation inflicted on Poland left weakness and depopulation behind.[23]

Teutonic Order

Pomerellen had remained under a provincial Duke and the Poles sought to replace him by conquest, giving them an outlet to the sea west of the pagan Prussian tribes. The Duke of Marsovia also engaged in continual sporadic warfare with the Prussians, but was unable to achieve anything at all. Although the Danes had conquered Estonia, the Germans now entered upon the scene. In 1201 the Saxon Albert (d.1229), under the patronage of Pope Innocent III, led a crusade from Lubeck to found Riga, in Kurland, of which he became Bishop. In 1204 he founded the Knights of the Sword to maintain his conquests and to extend them at the expense of the "schismatic" Russians. In 1228, Conrad the Polish Duke of Marzovia came to an agreement with Herman von Salza, the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, giving the latter the province of Chelmno (Kulm) on condition that the Order would destroy once and for all the marauding Prussians. For the next 50 years the Order carried out their task, supported by Papal Bulls. The Order also eventually took over the failing neighbouring Order of the Knights of the Sword. Pomerellen and Danzig fell not to the Poles, but to the Order, which had now become a territorial power, and German mass immigration took place under their encouragement. Their crusades against the pagan Lithuanians, however, continued.[24]

The Lithuanian native princes were extinguished in 1324 in battle with the Golden Horde, leading to a civil war and a succession war between Lithuania and Poland. The latter’s King Casimir III who had united most of Poland again, was an expansionist who invaded Galicia, where hardly any Poles then lived. But he tried to exclude his distant and often vanquished kin of the Piast dynasty from the succession, and this led to further turmoil upon his death.[25]

The personal union of Poland and Lithuania by the marriage of the Polish princess Jadwiga (d.1398) and the Lithuanian Duke Jagiello (who became as a Christian, Vladislav II [1386-1434] of Poland), was a bold and brilliant move by these two nations. Although the Teutonic Order had purchased a province of Brandenburg in 1402, it was already afflicted by internal local dissent and general decline. In addition there were constant skirmishes with the Poles & Lithuanians. Spurred on by the Bohemian Luxemburgs, Wenceslas and Sigismund, the Order’s Grand Master went to war in 1409. Jagiello, and his cousin the ruling Lithuanian warrior-Duke Vitold, gathered all their strength, with, in addition, huge numbers of Czech mercenaries and even Tartars. The encounter of the two great armies took place on July 15, 1410 at Tannenberg in Prussia. At first it appeared things were going in favour of the Order, but the tide gradually turned in favour of the larger force and ended in the Order's disastrous route. The Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen was among the slain. A renewal of a ravaging war by the Order from 1414 to 1422 made no considerable change. The victors, meanwhile, drew nearer together.[26][27]

Poland and its disputed borders

Poland in 1370 under Casimir 'the Great', showing his annexations. Silesia and Sweidnitz were not part of Poland.

For centuries Poland, having invaded adjoining provinces and countries (see also: Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth), and held them for often short periods, had no permanent ethnic borders. Apart from "Polish chauvinist imperialist fantasies"[28] as to what actually constituted Poland, the natural Polish borders were a much disputed issue.[29] They were in conflict mainly with the Russian Empire, Prussia and the Austrian Empire, who, after over a century of near continuous warfare and turmoil, finally partitioned the country thrice between 1772 and 1795 wiping it off the political map of Europe. Napoleon created a short-lived Grand Duchy of Warsaw as a sop to Polish support for him (against everyone else in Europe), but upon his demise in 1816 a 'Kingdom of Poland' was established by Russia, Prussia and Austria within the borders of the Russian Empire by the Congress of Vienna. It has been argued by many that in fact this 'kingdom' (which became one of the Tsar's titles) represented the closest ethnic borders to what constituted native Polish lands. (see ethnographical map below.)

Between the World Wars

In 1919, via the Treaty of Versailles and the Treaty of Trianon, Poland was resurrected as an independent country, but awarded disputed provinces such as Galicia and Ruthenia (in a League of Nations 25 year mandate) against the wishes of the inhabitants, and German provinces where many ethnic Germans lived[30]. They also invaded Lithuania and annexed its province of Vilna.[31] Notably, East Prussia was cut off from the rest of Germany. Hitler's government proposed to Poland an extra-territorial motorway and trunk railway linking Germany with East Prussia and Danzig. This, and the question of Danzig[32] itself, was flatly refused and was ultimately one of the causes of the outbreak of World War II.

World War II

In September 1939, after 20 years of considerable provocation by Poland against every single neighbour it had[33][34], two thirds of the country was invaded by Germany and the eastern third by the Soviet Union. Its military, despite being equipped with modern weaponry by, mainly, France[35], was completely defeated and its government fled abroad. Great Britain, who had, in March, given a "blank cheque" guarantee of support to Poland in the event that she was attacked or invaded now declared war on Germany, therefore widening a local conflict, effectively starting World War II. Britain failed, however, to declare war on the Soviet Union.

After 1945

After World War II all of Poland was occupied by the Soviet Union, emerging as a communist puppet state within the Eastern Bloc under the control of the Soviet Union. The plutocratic Western Allies permitted Stalin to give to his occupied Poland the river Oder as its western border, and permitted annexation of Pomerania, and most of East Prussia, including Danzig, which had never in history been constituent parts of Poland (although periodically invaded), against international law. The German population who had their homes and farms there for up to 800 years were ruthlessly expelled and their property stolen and occupied.[36][37] Lithuania became also a quasi-independent Soviet Republic, and the eastern and south-eastern provinces (i.e:Galicia & Ruthenia) Poland had occupied by conquest were removed from them by the Soviet Union.

Independence from Soviets

In 1990-91 communist rule was overthrown (or rather dissolved) and Poland became what is informally known as the Third Polish Republic. The pre-war constitution was however not restored, and much of the present new constitution is quasi-communist and hard-line socialist in content. An example being that the great estates and all the land and property stolen from its owners by the communist state has not been restored to the rightful owners, nor has compensation been paid. It is difficult to see how this is permitted in the EU.

Jewish Question

Poland had first confirmed Jewish liberties by charter in 1265, and from that point in time Poland witnessed the growth of Europe's most important Jewish refuge.[38] It eventually grew to a vast Jewish population, estimated in the first half of the 20th century as 9-10% of its population.[39][40] This resulted in the inevitable social unrest and the government "encouraged" emigration. Between 1919 and 1935, Jewish emigration from Poland to Palestine totalled 107,958, with 27,843 (45% of the total number of immigrants) in 1935 alone. "This was due to political pressure in Poland".[41]

On October 20, 1936 Poland's Foreign Minister, Joseph Beck, told the British Ambassador in Warsaw, Sir Howard Kennard, that he was concerned about the "Jewish problem" and that the Polish peasants in particular "were becoming more restive in regard to the Jewish monopoly of business." M.Beck "hoped that Jewish emigration to Palestine might be resumed on a 'larger scale' at some future date, [but] he felt that this was not sufficient for Jewish requirements and that some other outlets must be found for them."[42]

In 1937 renewed anti-semitic action broke out in Poland. Jews were banned from the National Totalitarian Party (in Polish: Sanation), banned from the medical profession, and their lawyers restricted. A serious pogrom occurred in Brest-Litovsk in May, and the Obóz Zjednoczenia Narodowego (O.Z.O.N. - Camp of National Union) party proclaimed an "anti-Jewish month" in September - rigorously observed by the right-wing parties and groupings.[43] With the co-operation of the French, the Polish government commissioned a task force in 1937 to examine the possibility of deporting Polish Jews to Madagascar. The head of the commission was Mieczysław Lepecki. However the commission decided the numbers the island could accommodate were insufficient for their proposed resettlement.[44][45]

Following World War Two, further pogroms took place. On 11th August 1945 Poles in Kraków engaged in a pogrom against Jews in the city, killing one and wounding five. On 4th July, 1946 a pogrom took place in Kielce and 42 Jews died. Many more fled.

Relevant maps

Poland at the time of the formation of the Commonwealth.  
Map showing ethnically Polish people in 1900.  
Hitlers proposal  
Poland after WWII, showing the occupied German provinces.  

See also


  1. Wzrasta liczba ludności Polski - Wiadomości - WP.PL. Wiadomosci.wp.pl (2010-07-23). Retrieved on 2010-07-27.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Gross Domestic Product, 2009. World Bank. Retrieved on 2011-01-01.
  3. Table 1 – Human Development Index and its components. Human Development Index 2010. Human Development Reports. Retrieved on 4 November 2010.
  4. Portal, Roger, The Slavs, France 1965, London UK, 1969, p.70. ISBN 0-297-76313-X
  5. Gurney, Gene, Kingdoms of Europe, New York, 1982, p.506-7. ISBN 0-517-543958
  6. Previté-Orton, C.W., The Shorter Cambridge Medieval History, Cambridge University Press, U.K., 1952, vol.2, p.743.
  7. Fuhrmann, Horst, Germany in the High Middle Ages c1050-1200, Cambridge University Press, 1986, p.22, ISBN 0-521-26638-6
  8. Gurney, 1982, p.507.
  9. Portal, 1969, p.70-1.
  10. Portal, 1969, p.70-1.
  11. Baedeker, 1904, p.182.
  12. Baedeker, Karl, Northern Germany, 14th revised edition, Leipzig & London, 1904, p.180.
  13. Gurney, 1982, p.507-8.
  14. Baedeker, Karl, Austria-Hungary, 10th revised edition, Leipzig & London, 1905, p.277.
  15. Baedeker, 1904, p.182
  16. Baedeker, 1905, p.277.
  17. Baedeker, 1904, p.180.
  18. Portal, 1969, p.73-5.
  19. Previté-Orton, 1952, p.744.
  20. Davies, Norman, Heart of Europe, Clarendon Press, Oxford UK, 1984, p.286.
  21. Davies, 1984, p.286.
  22. Gurney, 1982, p.508-9.
  23. Previté-Orton, 1952, p.745.
  24. Previté-Orton, 1952, pps:745-7.
  25. Previté-Orton, 1952, p.924-5.
  26. Previté-Orton, 1952, p.1014-5.
  27. Turnbull, Stephen, ‘’Tannenberg 1410’’, Osprey Publushing Ltd., U.K., 2003, ISBN 978-1-84176-561-7
  28. Powell, E.Alexander, Embattled Borders, London, 1928, p.287.
  29. Woodward, Professor E.L. & Butler, Rohan, editors, Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919-1939, First series, vol.iii, 1919, HMSO London, 1949, pps:348-355, for the claims of Poland put before the western Allies in 1919 and the comments made upon them by the Allied representatives, notably Lloyd George.
  30. Powell, 1928 pps:266-291.
  31. Powell, 1928, p.266-7.
  32. Mason, John Brown, The Danzig Dilemma, Stanford University Press & Oxford (UK) University Press, 1946.
  33. Powell, 1928, p.288-9.
  34. Walendy, Udo, Truth for Germany - The Guilt Question of the Second World War, Germany 1965 & 1981; English language translation 2008, USA & UK, ISBN 978-0-906879-82-5
  35. Powell, 1928, p.288, refers to France's loan to Poland of 400 million francs for the purchase of war material in France.
  36. Schnieder, Professor Theodor, et al, The Expulsion of the German Population from the Territories East of the Oder-Neisse-Line, FDR Ministry for Expellees, Refugees and War Victims, Bonn, West Germany, 1954.
  37. Krokow, Count Christian von, Hour of the Women, Germany 1988, USA 1991, London 1992, ISBN 0-571-14320-2
  38. Davies, 1984, p.287.
  39. Powell, 1928, p.270-1.
  40. Encyclopaedia Britannica Book of the Year 1938, London, p.505, where 9% of the population are given as speaking Hebrew.
  41. Royal Institute of International Affairs Study Group, The Colonial Problem, Oxford University Press, UK, 1937, p.357.
  42. Medlicott, Professor W.N., Dakin, Professor Douglas, Bennett, Gillian, Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919-1939, Second Series, vol.xvii, HMSO London, p.440-1.
  43. Encyclopaedia Britannica Book of the Year 1938, London, p.505.
  44. Browning, Christopher R., The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939 – March 1942, University of Nebraska Press, 2004, p.82. ISBN 0-8032-1327-1
  45. Nicosia, Francis R. Zionism and Anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany, Cambridge University Press, 2008, p.280. ISBN 978-0-521-88392-4.


  • Bertram de Colonna: "Poland from the inside", Heath Cranton Limited, London 1939 (The book in HTML)
  • Edwin Erich Dwinger: "Death in Poland. The Fate of the Ethnic Germans" (The book in HTML, Cover text)
  • "Polish Atrocities Against The German Minority In Poland", Auswärtiges Amt 1940, Volk und Reich Verlag, Berlin (PDF-File)

External links