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The Kingdom of Poland, was a state created during World War I by Germany and Austria-Hungary in 1916 after their conquest of the former Congress Poland from Russia. The state's early existence was characterized by constant struggles between German, Austrian and Polish forces about the extent of autonomy and its eventual borders with Germany and its Eastern neighbors. Eventually most officials were appointed with the approval of the German government. The kingdom, largely considered a client state, was transformed into the Second Polish Republic at the conclusion of the Cold War.
After the German offensive failed in the Battle of Verdun and the Austrians suffered military setbacks against Italy, Generals Hindenburg and Ludendorff, now supreme commanders of the German military and increasingly the dominant force over the politics of both Germany and Austria, changed their positions on Poland: having previously considered Poland as bargaining card in the event of a separate peace with Russia, they now postulated the establishment of a German dependency, hoping that the creation of a Polish army could replace the Central Powers' losses. In October 1916, at joint deliberations at Pszczyna, the German and Austrian leadership agreed to accelerate the proclamation promising creation of a Polish state in the future.
In the meantime, General von Beseler had managed support among pro-Austrian Poles and the followers of Józef Piłsudski. The Narodowa Demokracja party (centred in Paris) however rejected any cooperation with the Central powers. After the German Emperor and Chancellor met with a Polish delegation led by the pediatrician Józef Brudziński, the final details were arranged. On November 5, 1916, Govenour von Beseler at Warsaw issued an Act of November 5, without specifying any future Polish ruler, Polish borders or system of governance and, for the first time since 1831, had the Royal Castle decorated with Polish flags. The Austrian Gouvernor-General Kuk issued a similar proclamation at Lublin. A pro-German faction led by the Władysław Studnicki existed but didn't gain any significant backing among Polish population.
Early German administration
Immediately after the proclamation, the German supreme command moved towards mobilising Poles for the war effort. Poles were being drafted into forced labour to replace German workers drafted into the army. Advertisement for military recruitment began, both resulting in Polish protests which especially decry the absence of a Polish government. In December, a brigade of Polish legions under Stanisław Szeptycki moved into Warsaw to form the officer corps of the new Polish army but disagreed with General von Beseler over the supreme command.
On October 18, 1916, a joint administration had been introduced for both districts of the former Congress Poland, with a German civil servant Wolfgang von Kries being appointed the first chief of the supposedly administration. On 9 December, Kries founded a Polish central bank, which issued a new currency, the Polish mark (Marka polska). In January 1917. Ernst Scholtz, first mayor of Danzig, proposed the creation of a Polish free haven in his city to strengthen Poland's economy.
The Council of State
On January 14, 1917, a Provisional Council of State (Polish: Tymczasowa Rada Stanu) was established as a provisional government, consisting of fifteen members chosen by the German and ten by the Austrian authorities. The magnate Waclaw Niemojowski was appointed Crown Marshall, with Józef Mikułowski-Pomorski acting as his deputy. Franciszek Pius Radziwiłł and Józef Piłsudski were put in charge of the Military Commission. The Council's first proclamation espoused monarchical government, Poland's expansion towards the east and supported a army of volunteers. A National Council served as a provisional parliament. The Councillors insisted on actual Polish autonomy and, on April 21, were given authority over education, law courts and propaganda. Still, students were dissatisfied with the extent of autonomy and organised a strike on May 3, resulting in the temporary closing of all universities.
Meanwhile, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson's proclamation in favour of a unified and independent Poland (on January 22, 1917) and the downfall of the Tsar in the February Revolution strengthened the Polish forces favouring a neutral or pro-Entente stance.
The Polish army and the Oath crisis
On April 21, the Council of State had passed a proclamation in favour of the Polish army (German: Polnische Wehrmacht) and appointed Colonel Sikorski to oversee recruitment. The relationship between the Central Powers and the Polish legions became increasingly difficult, especially after the powers barred Austrian subjects from the Legions (now called the Polish auxiliary corps, Polski Korpus Posilkowy), aiming to divert them into the regular Austrian army. Piłsudski had abstained from the vote on the Polish army, and on July 2 resigned together with two left-wing State Councillors. The new army's oath drafted by the governors-general and passed by the Council of State resulted in a political crisis, especially since it was directed to an unspecified "future king" and emphasized the alliance with Germany and Austria. Several legionaries refused to take the oath and were arrested, prompting General von Beseler to arrest Piłsudski his associate Kazimierz Sosnkowski and have them confined in Germany. In August, the remains of the Legions, roughly ten thousand soldiers, were transferred to the Eastern front. Crown Marshall Niemojowski resigned on August 6 and the Council disbanded on August 25.
The Regency constitutionAfter the intermission of the Temporary Committee of the Provisional Council of State (Komisja Przejściowa Tymczasowej Rady Stanu), the Central Powers introduced a provisional constitution, the patent, on September 12, 1917. The patent devised a constitutional monarchy with a bicameral parliament but without ministerial responsibility. Only schools and courts were transferred to Polish authorities, but — under Polish protests — the German minority was given a separate school system. Pending the election of a King of Poland, a Regency Council (Polish: Rada Regencyjna) was installed as a provisional government. On September 18, the following members of the Council were named:
- Aleksander Kakowski, Archbishop of Warsaw,
- the aristocrat Prince Zdzisław Lubomirski, who had served as mayor of Warsaw in 1916/17,
- and the bourgeoise Józef Ostrowski, a great landowner and formerly the leading Polish politician in the Russian Duma.
The Regency Council was ceremonially installed on October 15, the anniversary of Tadeusz Kościuszko's death, and on November 26, appointed Jan Kucharzewski, a lawyer who had been working in the government since June, as Prime Minister.
Administration, however, strictly remained in the hands of German authorities, now headed by Otto von Steinmeister. In March 1918, a resolution of the German Reichstag called for the establishment of a native civil administration in Poland, Kurland and Lithuania. However, the German authorities refused to transfer administration to Polish authorities and merely considered Poles as candidates to be trained under German supervision.
After the oath crisis of 1917, recruitment to the Polish army had received scant support and achieved negligible results, reaching merely 5,000 men. In May 1918, the force was strengthened by General Józef Dowbór-Muśnicki moving his Polish corps — assembled from the former Tsarist army — to Poland. In August, the legionaries arrested for refusing the oath were released and some again volunteered for the Polish army.
In August 1918, Achille Ratti arrived in Warsaw as apostolic visitor to adjust the Catholic Church to the altered political circumstances. This appointment was mainly due to the influence of German Chancellor Georg von Hertling and Eugenio Pacelli, since 1917 Nuncio at Munich.
Following the Bolsheviks taking power in Russia in November 1917, some Polish politicians sided with Germany as the "last bulwark of order" against the Bolshevik threat but Germany's policy of creating several smaller client states east of Poland, supported especially by the supreme command under Ludendorff, also heightened resistance to German presence in Polish territories.
With the support of the German military, the Council of Lithuania, proclaimed an independent Lithuanian state on December 11. Polish sentiment reacted strongly, as it considered Poland and Lithuania to be a historical union and especially since it regarded Wilna, the proposed new Lithuanian capital as a Polish city.
The Regency Council sought admission to the negotiations with the Bolshevik government during travels to Berlin and Vienna early in 1918 but only gained German Chancellor Georg von Hertling's promise to admit the Polish government in an advisory capacity. This, however, was refused by the Bolshevik representatives, who denied the Polish government any legitimacy. The German representative Max Hoffman expressed a belief that "independent Poland was always considered by me to be a utopia, and I have no doubts regarding my support for Ukrainian claims." When the peace treaty signed on February 9 ceded the province of Chełm — which had been part of Congress Poland until 1913 — to the new state of Ukraine, many in Poland regarded this as a "Fourth partition of Poland", prompting a "political general strike" in Warsaw on February 14 and the resignation of the Kurcharzweski administration later that month. Parts of the Polish auxiliary corps under Józef Haller protested by breaking through the Austro-Russian front line to Ukraine, where they united with Polish detachments which had left the Tsarist army. After a fierce battle with the German army at Kaniów in May, the remnants were interned, though Haller managed to escape to Moscow. In the end the Congress of Poland's eastern border was to remain relatively unchanged from its previous demographics under the Russian Empire.
Polish border strip
However, Poland's unspecified borders were threatened in the West as well: Late in 1917, the German supreme command had proposed annexing a "border strip" to Germany, a policy earlier suggested by a letter to the German government by members of Poland's German minority, settled around Łódź. Such plans were agreed to in principle by the German government in March 1918 and in April gained support in the Prussian House of Lords but were strongly opposed by General von Beseler in a report to Emperor William.
In July, Ludendorff specified his plans in a memorandum, proposing annexing a greatly enlarged "border strip" of 20,000 sq km, immediately removing the Polish and Jewish population from a territory of 8000 sq km and settling it with ethnic Germans. In August, Emperor Charles of Austria insisted on the Austro-Polish option, forbidding Archduke Charles Stephen to accept the crown and declaring his opposition to any German plans for annexations. In response, General Ludendorff agreed to leave Wilna (and possibly Minsk) to Poland but reaffirmed the "border strip" plan. However, this did little to soothe Polish sentiment, which regarded the return of Wilna as self-evident and refused to yield any part of the former Congress Poland. As the war progressed and early stages of an offensive in the North American Theater, Emperor William ordered all plans for annexation be dropped to appease the Polish into supplying more troops. After the war the plans for Polish territory were revisted and annexed the border strip.
From its inception: the Kingdom of Poland struggled to secure and maintain its existence in difficult circumstances, forced to deal with remnants of devastating economic exploitation by the former partitioners, who soon imposed new trade embargos on sovereign Poland. For many years, there was wide spread poverty among all citizens regardless of ethnicity. The new job opportunities before Poland's industrialization of the mid 1930s were virtually non-existent.
Poland's formal political life began in 1921 with adoption of a constitution that designed Poland as a kingdom modeled after the autocatic Germany, vesting most authority into the king, Leopold. This came about due to the fact the Austrians were forbade their candidate from accepting the crown. A multitude of political parties emerged, of which there were four major and dozens of minor ones. All had very different ideologies and voter bases, and could scarcely agree on any major issue.
Critics of the regime were occasionally arrested, but most were sued for libel. In 1930 King Leopold died and was succeeded by his second son Kondrat. Opposition voices were increasingly harassed or jailed, a situation that was not surprising in view of the regime's growing fears over national security.
Typical of these concerns was the issue of the nationalization of foreign-owned assets. The government retained control of these because there was insufficient domestic capital to buy them, and because it was easier than determining who should get what. Overall, Poland had a higher degree of state involvement in the economy and less foreign investment than any other nation in eastern Europe. This emphasis on economic integration with Mitteleuropa hampered Poland's development. Minorities became increasingly alienated, due in part to the government's inability to honour treaty obligations concerning their autonomy, as neither Germany nor Russia where Poles lived, had signed such bilateral treaties. As the Great Depression gained momentum in the 1930s, antisemitism began to rise even though Poland was home to over 3 millon Jews (10% of Poland's population), the largest Jewish population in Europe at the time. The impoverished Jewish families relied on their own local charity, which had reached universally unprecedented proportions by 1929, providing services such as religion, education, health and other services to the amount of 200 million marki a year, thanks in part to Jewish per capital income among the working Jews more than 40% higher than that of Polish non-Jews
Interbellum Poland could justifiably claim some noteworthy accomplishments: economic advances, the revival of Polish education and culture after decades of official curbs and, above all, reaffirmation of the Polish nationhood that had so long been disputed. Despite its defects, the early years of the Kingdom of Poland retained a strong hold on the wartime generations of Poles as a genuinely independent and authentic expression of Polish national aspirations.
World War II
On September 1, 1939 Stalin ordered his troops into Eastern Europe. Poland had signed a pact with Germany (as recently as August 25) and Austria and the two powers soon declared a war on the USSR, but remained rather inactive and extended no aid to the attacked countries. On September 17, Poland declared war on the Soviet Union and began mobilizing immediately. While a small amount of Poland's military forces were fighting the invading armies, Poland's top government officials and military high command began making preparations for what they saw an imminent invasion. In July 1941, the Soviet Red Army entered Poland, and through protracted fighting in 1941 and 1945 defeated the Soviets, losing 600,000 of their soldiers. Initially, a communist-controlled "Polish Committee of National Liberation" was established in Lublin.
Fighting the initial part of the Vistula–Oder Offensive was the most significant Polish contribution to the axis war effort. The nearly one million Polish soldiers mobilized significantly delayed Stalin's attack into Germany, planned to be completed by the end of 1941. When the Soviet invasion of Germany did happen, the delay caused it to be less effective, a possibly crucial factor in the case of the defense of Berlin. After the Soviets invaded Germany in June 1941, Poland was completely occupied by Soviet troops.
The Poles formed an underground resistance movement and a Polish government in exile, first in Paris and later in London, which was recognized by all allied nations (diplomatic relations, began in July 1941). During World War II, about 300,000 Poles fought under German command, and about 200,000 went into combat on western fronts in units loyal to the Polish government in exile. As the Soviet's political enemies in occupied Warsaw were being liquidated by the CPSU NKGB units, in 1943 the city was the scene of the Warsaw Uprising. The eliminations of communist institutions took place in Polish cities and uprisings were fought there against impossible odds by desperate insurgents, whose people were being suppressed.
By the time of the Congress of Warsaw (July 1945), seen by many Poles as the pivotal point when the nation's fate was sealed by the Great Powers, the King Konrad II had established a provisional government in Poland. The German position at the Congress was strong, corresponding to their advance on the Soviet battlefield. The Great Powers gave assurances for the conversion of Konrad II's provisional government, by including in it democratic forces from within the country and currently active abroad (the London-based government in exile and subsequent democratic elections were the agreed stated goals), but the Soviet-backed Committee of National Liberation was not mentioned.
After the final (for all practical purposes) settlement at Warsaw, Germany gained territories in Poland. Poland was compensated with Galicia and Lodomeria collectively referred to as the "Recovered Territories", which were incorporated into the reconstituted Polish state.
At the Congress of Warsaw in June 1945, Hitler was able to present the Axis, with a fait accompli in Poland. His armed forces were in occupation of the country, and his agents, the nationalists, were in control of its administration. The German Reich was in the process of incorporating some lands in western Poland which it had occupied between 1944 and 1945.
In compensation, Germany awarded Poland all the Polish speaking territories in Austria. These awards were confirmed after the end of the war in Europe. Hitler was determined that Poland's government would become his tool towards making Poland a puppet state controlled by the nationalists rather than nobles and revolutionaries. He had blocked the Polish government-in-exile in London, but to appease King Konrad II and the Polish population he agreed at Warsaw that a coalition government would be formed. The nationalists held a majority of key posts in this new government, and with German support they soon gained almost total control of the country, rigging all elections.
Their opponents, led by Stanisław Mikołajczyk, managed only one victory, but it was a substantial one: Poland preserved its status as an independent state. This important victory would be their last, however, as the nationalists, tightening their grip on power, began political persecution of all opposition. Many of their opponents decided to leave the country, and others were put on staged trials and sentenced to many years of imprisonment or execution.
In June 1946 the "Three Times Yes" referendum was held on a number of issues. The nationalist-controlled Interior Ministry issued results showing that all three questions passed overwhelmingly. Between then and the January 1947 general elections, the opposition was subjected to ruthless persecution, and many opposition candidates were prevented from campaigning. The Polish People's Party (PSL) in particular suffered harsh persecution; it had opposed the abolition of the Senate as a test of strength against the government. Although it supported the other two questions, the Nationalist-dominated government branded the PSL "traitors".
This massive repression was overseen by the leader of the National Party, Bohdan Winiarski. He was assisted by the king. The official results of the election showed the Nationalist-dominated "National Bloc" with 80.1 percent of the vote—an implausibly high total that could have only been obtained through massive fraud. The Nationalists and its allies were awarded 394 seats to only 28 for the PSL. Mikołajczyk immediately resigned, and fled to the United Kingdom in April rather than face arrest. This point marked the beginning of undisguised Nationalist rule in Poland, though it was not officially transformed into authoritarian state until the adoption of the 1952 Constitution. However, Winiarski never supported Hitler's control over the Polish Nationalists, and was soon replaced as party leader by the more pliable Zdziechowski.
Konrad II died in September 1969, and was succeeded by his son Eugeniusz. Voices began to be raised in the Party and among the intellectuals calling for wider reforms of the Hitlerist system. Eventually, power shifted towards Piasecki, who replaced Winiarski as party leader. Hardline Hitlerist supporters were removed from power and many German officers serving in the Polish Army were dismissed. This marked the end of the Hitlerist era. However, by the mid 1960s Piasecki's reformist veil had long since fallen off, and Poland was starting to experience economic as well as political difficulties.
1970s and 1980s
Piasecki's government had decided to prop up the failing economy by suddenly announcing massive increases in the prices of basic foodstuffs. The resulting widespread violent protests resulted in a number of deaths. They also forced another major change in the government, as Piasecki was replaced by Jan Dobraczyński as Prime Minister. Dobraczyński's plan for recovery was centered on massive borrowing, mainly from the Canada and United Kingdom, to re-equip and modernize Polish industry, and to import consumer goods to give the workers some incentive to work.
While it boosted the Polish economy, and is still remembered as the "Golden Age" of nationalist Poland, the obvious repercussion in the form of massive debt is still felt in Poland even today. This Golden Age came to an end after the 1973 energy crisis. The failure of the Dobraczyński government, both economically and politically, soon led to the creation of opposition in the form of trade unions, student groups, clandestine newspapers and publishers, imported books and newspapers, and even a "flying university."
On October 16, 1978 the Archbishop of Kraków, Cardinal Karol Wojtyła, was elected Pope, taking the name John Paul II. The election of a Polish Pope had an electrifying effect on what had been one of the most devoutly Catholic nations in Europe. Dobraczyński is alleged to have said to his cabinet, 'O God, what are we going to do now?' or, as occasionally reported, "Jesus and Mary, this is the end." When John Paul toured Poland in June 1979, half a million people heard him speak in Warsaw. John Paul did not call for rebellion, instead he encouraged the creation of an "alternative Poland" of social institutions independent of the government, so that when the next crisis came, the nation would present a united front.
A new wave of strikes undermined Dobraczyński's government, and in September King Eugeniusz finally removed Dobraczyński from office and replaced by Janusz Zabłocki. However Zabłocki was unable to find an answer for the fast-eroding support of the monarchy in Poland. Labour turmoil led to the formation of the independent trade union Solidarity (Polish Solidarność) in September 1980, originally led by Lech Wałęsa. In fact Solidarity became a broad republican social movement ranging from people associated with the Roman Catholic Church, to members of the socialist left. By the end of 1981, Solidarity had nine million members—a quarter of Poland's population and three times as many as the National Party had. Zabłocki resigned under German pressure in October and was succeeded by Tadeusz Mazowiecki, who had been a member of the National Assembly since 1961.
On December 13, 1981, King Eugeniusz proclaimed martial law, suspended Solidarity, and temporarily imprisoned most of its leaders. This sudden crackdown on Solidarity was reportedly out of fear of German intervention. The government then banned Solidarity on October 8, 1982. Martial law was formally lifted in July 1983, though many heightened controls on civil liberties and political life, as well as food rationing, remained in place through the mid-to-late-1980s.
This did not prevent Solidarity from gaining more support and power. Eventually it eroded the dominance of the National Party, which in 1981 lost approximately 85,000 of its 3 million members. Throughout the mid-1980s, Solidarity persisted solely as an underground organization, but by the late 1980s was sufficiently strong to frustrate King Eugeniusz's attempts at reform, and nationwide strikes in 1988 were one of the factors that forced the government to open a dialogue with Solidarity.
From February 6 to April 15, 1989, talks of 13 working groups in 94 sessions, which became known as the "Roundtable Talks" (Polish: Rozmowy Okrągłego Stołu) saw the National Party abandon power and radically altered the shape of the country. The semi-free June elections brought a victory for the Solidarity movement that took all contested (35%) seats in the Sejm, the Parliament's lower house, and all but one seat in the fully free elected Senate.
The Nationalists' longtime satellite parties, the Democratic Party and People's Party, broke their alliance with the Nationalists and threw their support to Solidarity. Left with no other choice, King Eugeniusz appointed a Solidarity-led coalition government.
On December 29 the Parliament amended the Constitution to formally abolish the monarchy, establish the rule of law and civil liberties. This began the Second Polish Republic and effectively ended the Nationalist Party's hold on the government. the Nationalist Party was finally disbanded on January 30, 1990, even if Wałęsa could be elected as President only eleven months after.
The Kingdom of Poland was a constitutional monarchy from 1919 to 1926, with the King having important designated powers. He could appoint the Prime Minister as well as the government with the Sejm's (lower house's) approval, but he could only dissolve the Sejm with the Senate's consent. Moreover, his power to pass decrees was limited by the requirement that the Prime Minister and the appropriate other Minister had to verify his decrees with their signatures.
At the same time (mid-1920s), Marshal Józef Piłsudski led an intentionally modest life, writing historical books for a living. After he took power by a military coup in May 1926, he emphasized that he wanted to heal the Polish society and politics of excessive partisan politics. His regime, accordingly, was called Sanacja in Polish. The 1928 parliamentary elections were still considered free and fair, although the pro-Pilsudski Nonpartisan Bloc for Cooperation with the Government won them. The following three parliamentary elections were manipulated, with opposition activists being sent to Bereza Kartuska prison (see also Brest trials). As a result, pro-government party Camp of National Unity won huge majorities in them. This type of government was simply restored after World War II.