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History of Poland: Primary Documents

Lech Waź³sa

Few nations over the centuries have seen more military action than the Poles.

From being the largest Empire in Europe to the years of partition, the people of Poland developed one of the most intense and self-sacrificing versions of Romantic nationalism ever seen in Europe.

Major Conflicts:
Polish Armies
Mongols 1259 & 1287
Battle of Grunwald 1410
End of Teutonic Knights
13 Years War
Gdansk Rebels 1576-78
Swedish War 1600-08
Muscovite War 1610-18
Battle of Vienna
Tartar Knight Legion

Complete List of Wars

Incredible Epic Film

Slavic Europe is a region of Europe where Slavic people live. This area corresponds, more or less, to East-Central, Eastern Europe and Southeastern Europe, and consists of: Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, the Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, the disputed territory of Transnistria, and Ukraine.

Slavic Beginnings:
Slavic Origins
Slavic Origins 2

Unlike many of its Central European neighbors, Poland is overwhelmingly homogeneous; no less than 98 per cent of its population is ethnically Polish. However, there are some small ethnic minority groups.

Minorities in Poland
National Minorities
Polish Tartar Muslims

Read the book before you see the movie released January 2009

Polish History in a Nutshell

Poland Begins as a Nation

Polish history began in the early 9th century when the Polians (dwellers in the field) obtained hegemony over the others Slavic tribes that occupied the country. Their principal dynasty (PIAST) accepted Christianity in 966. Poznan was the earliest Polish capital and Gniezno the first Episcopal see. The main line of the Piast dynasty ended in 1370 with Casimir III, and the crown passed to Casimir's nephew, Louis I of Hungary and to Louis's daughter Jadwiga. Jadwiga married Ladislaus (Wladyslaw) Jagiello, duke of Lithuania, who became king of Poland as Ladislaw II (Wladislaw).

Poland's Golden Age

The time 1386-1572 under Jagiello's power was considered the "golden age" of Poland. King Ladislaw III (Wladislaw) (killed) by the Turks in the battle of Warna (1444), gave Poland the prestige of championing the Christian cause against the Muslim tide to over run Europe. In 1569 Poland absorbed Lithuania by the Union of Lublin. After 1572 no dynasty maintained itself for long, and the theory that the entire nobility could take part in the royal elections, applied in practice, frequently led to contested elections and civil unrest. There was considerable religious toleration in 16th century Poland, and the progress of Protestantism was arrested without coercion by the Jesuits. Much of the reigns of Stephan Batory (1575-86), and of Sigismund III (Zygmunt) (1587-1632) were taken up with schemes to conquer Russia. The great figure of this time was the chancellor Jan Zamojski.

Sigismund III (Zygmunt), a prince of the Swedish ruling house of Vasa also became the king of Sweden. He was succeeded by his sons Ladislaus IV (Wladislaw) (1632-48) and John II (1648-68).

Post Golden Age

In 1655 Charles X of Sweden over ran the country, while tsar Alexis of Russia attacked from his side. Only the miracle of Czestochwa saved Poland from annihilation.

The Peace of Oliva (1660) cost Poland considerable territory, and by the Treaty of Andrusov (1667) the Ukraine passed to Russia.

With John II the Vasa dynasty ended. John III (Jan Sobieski), the savior of Vienna temporarily restored Polish greatness, but with his death Poland virtually ceased to be an independent country.

Division and Regeneration

The three successive partitions (1772, 1793, 1795) resulted in the disappearance of Poland from European map. Russification and Germanization processes started. Only in Galicja could the Poles enjoy a considerable degree of autonomy.

The Restoration

The First World War (1914-18) gave Poland an opportunity to recover its independence. Poland was declared an independent republic of 11 November 1918. In 1926 democratic government was suspended by a military coup d'Žtat that made Jozef Pilsudzki virtual dictator. After his death Rydz-Smigly took over control.

Through the Holocaust

On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland and thus precipitated the Second World War. On September 17 Soviet troops invaded Poland from the east. The German occupation started. German authorities proceeded methodically to exterminate a large part of the population by massacres and starvation and in the extermination camps such as Oswiecim. The worst fate was reserved for the Jews. The Germans, hunting them down like animals, exterminated all but some 100,000 Jews. Polish prisoners of war in the USSR were allowed to form a corps under General. Wladyslaw Anders and fought with distinction with the Allies, particularly in Italy; other Polish units were organized in Great Britain and Canada.

A mass grave of some 10,000 Polish officers were executed by the Russians in the Katyn forest.

Germany declared war on the USSR in 1941.

Early in 1945 the last German troops were expelled from Poland by the Soviet army. After the war under the Potsdam Agreement, the former German territories laying east of the rivers Oder and Neisse came under Polish sovereignty. Poland's frontier with the USSR was also shifted westward. Poland become a "people's democracy" on the Soviet model.

A People's Republic was established in February 1947 with the Polish Worker's Party - PWP (Polska Partia Robotnicza - PPR) led by Wladislaw Gomulka. In December 1948 the communist PWP merged with the Polish Socialist Party to form the Polish United Workers' Party - PUWP (Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza - PZPR). A new constitution was adopted in July 1952. The government's strict control eased slightly with the death in 1953 of Marshal Stalin, the Soviet leader.

In December 1970 an outbreak of strikes and rioting, caused by a sharp rise in food prices, led to the resignation of Gomulka as party leader, and the Marshal Marian Spychalski, who had been Head of State since April 1968. Jozef Cyrankiewicz, the chairman of the Council of Ministers (Prime Minister) since 1954, resigned from the post to become the new Head of State. His former post was taken by Piotr Jaroszewicz.

In February 1980 Jaroszewicz was replaced as Chairmen of the Council of Ministers by Edward Babiuch. Gomulka was succeeded as First Secretary of PUWP by Edward Gierek.

The introduction of higher meat prices led to strikes in factories near Warsaw. A wave of labor unrest began to spread through the country, and many industries and services were disrupted. Workers' demands for higher wages, however, developed into unprecedented protests against the economic and political management of the country.

Self-governing unions were formed under the guidance of Solidarity (Solidarnosc), the organization involved in the Gdansk strike, led by Lech Walesa.

In September 1980 Gierek was taken ill and was removed from the PUWP leadership. Stanislaw Kania was promoted to the post of First Secretary of the Central Committee.

In January 1981 the Central Council of Trade Unions was formally dissolved. In 1981 the country was paralyzed by a numbers of national strikes. The former recognition of Rural Solidarity in May ended the protracted dispute between the Government and Poland's and private farmers. The worsening shortages of food and other commodities led to further strikes.

In October 1981 Kania was replaced by General Wojciech Jaruzelski as First Secretary of the PUWP.

Marital law was imposed on 13 December 1981, and a military Council of National Salvation, led by Gen. Jaruzelski, was set up. All trade union activity was suspended, and Lech Walesa and other Solidarity leaders were detained. Violent clashes between workers and the security forces followed, resulting in several deaths and thousands of arrests. Sporadic disturbances continued through 1982.

Underground Solidarity started organize a massive Strikes in Gdansk, at the Nowa Huta steelworks. Solidarity rapidly spread to other sectors leading to the most serious industrial unrest since 1981.

In September 1988 the Government of Prof. Zbigniew Mesner resigned. Dr. Mieczyslaw Rakowski was appointed Chairman of the new Council of Ministers.

In early 1989 the Government offered to negotiate on the contentious question of the restoration of legal status to Solidarity and, in February 'round-table talks' on the future of Poland finally began.

In December 1989 the country became the Republic of Poland, when the National Assembly approved the change of name. The local election of May 1990 were the first full free election for more than 50 years.

On 9 December 1990 Lech Walesa resigned from the chairmanship of Solidarity and in late December was sworn in as the country's President for a five-year term. Elections to the Sejm and to the Senate took place on 27 October 1991, with only 43.2% of the electorate participating.

In January 1992 the Government faced a serious challenge when extensive strike actions, to protest against the implementation of higher energy prices, was organized by Solidarity.

In December 1992 an interim Constitution, known as the 'Small Constitution', entered into force.

In May 1993 President Lech Walesa dissolved the Sejm and called new general elections. The leader of the PSL Waldemar Pawlak became the Prime Minister of Poland.

Text prepared and issued for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Republic of Poland.

List of Famous Poles
Famous Poles

Fascinating perspective of a young girl watching the transformation of Poland from oppression to freedom.

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