Polish people
Total population
20px 36,522,000[1]
The Poles (Polish: Polacy) or the Polish people (Polish: Polaków) are a nation and West Slavic ethnic group, who are native to Central Europe, inhabiting mainly Poland with historical populations in the Kresy borderlands of western Belarus and western Ukraine.

A wide-ranging Polish diaspora exists throughout Europe (Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Russia, Belarus, Lithuania and Ukraine), the Americas (the United States, Brazil and Argentina) and Australia. In 1960, Chicago in the United States, had the world's largest urban Polish population after Warsaw.


Early HistoryEdit

The Slavic people have been in this territory for over 1500 years. They organized into tribal units, of which the larger ones were later known as the Polish tribes; the names of many tribes are found on the list compiled by the anonymous Bavarian Geographer in the 9th century.[2] In the 9th and 10th centuries the tribes gave rise to developed regions along the upper Vistula (the Vistulans within the Great Moravian Empire sphere),[2] the Baltic Sea coast and in Greater Poland. The last tribal undertaking resulted in the 10th century in a lasting political structure and state, Poland, one of the West Slavic nations.[3]

Piast period (10th century–1385)Edit

During the Piast dynasty rule (10th–14th century), Poland was formed and established as a state and a nation. The historically recorded Polish state begins with Mieszko I in the second half of the 10th century. Mieszko, who ruled from before 963 to his death in 992, chose to be baptized in the Western Latin Rite in 966,[4] following his marriage to Princess Dobrawa of Bohemia. Mieszko completed the unification of the West Slavic tribal lands fundamental to the new country's existence. Dagome iudex, a 991 document, placed Mieszko's country under the protection of the Pope.[4] Following its emergence, the Polish nation was led by a series of rulers who converted the population to Christianity, created a strong kingdom and integrated Poland into the European culture.[5] Mieszko's son Bolesław I Chrobry (ruled 992–1025) established a Polish Church province, pursued territorial conquests and was officially crowned at the end of his life in 1025, becoming the first King of Poland.

After Bolesław III divided Poland among his sons in 1138,[4] internal fragmentation eroded the initial Piast monarchy structure in the 12th and 13th centuries.

Attempts to reunite the Polish lands gained momentum in the 13th century and in 1295 Przemysł II of Greater Poland was crowned king of Poland;[4] he ruled over a limited territory and was soon killed. In 1300–05 the Czech ruler Václav II was also the king of Poland.[4] The Piast Kingdom was effectively restored under Władysław I the Elbow-high (1306–33), crowned in 1320.[4] In 1308 the Teutonic Knights seized Gdańsk[4] and its region. King Casimir III the Great (1333–70),[4] Władysław's son and the last of the Piast rulers, significantly strengthened and expanded the country. The western provinces of Silesia (formally ceded by Casimir in 1339) and Pomerania were lost after the fragmentation. Progress was made in the recovery of the central province of Mazovia and in 1340 the conquest of Red Ruthenia began,[4] marking Poland's expansion to the east. The Congress of Kraków took place in 1364, the same year that the future Jagiellonian University was founded.[4][6]

Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth 1569–1795Edit

The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (or Union; since the 17th century often referred to as the Republic of Poland[7] and after 1791 officially the Commonwealth of Poland, Respublica Poloniae) was a dualistic state of Poland and Lithuania ruled by a common monarch. It was one of the largest[8][9] and one of the most populous countries of 16th- and 17th-century Europe, and a multi-ethnic population of 11 million at its peak in the early 17th century.[10] It was established at the Union of Lublin in July 1569, but the actual personal union between the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania began when Lithuania's Grand Duke Jogaila became the king of Poland (1386). The Commonwealth was reduced in the First Partition of Poland in 1772 and disappeared as an independent state after the Third Partition of Poland in 1795.[11][12][13]

The Union possessed features unique among contemporary states. Its political system was characterized by strict checks upon monarchical power. These checks were enacted by a legislature (sejm) controlled by the nobility (szlachta). This idiosyncratic system was a precursor to modern concepts of democracy,[14] constitutional monarchy,[15][16][17] and federation.[18] The two component states of the Commonwealth were formally equal, yet Poland was the dominant partner in the union.[19]

The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was marked by high levels of ethnic diversity and by relative religious tolerance, guaranteed by the Warsaw Confederation Act 1573;[20][21][22] however, the degree of religious freedom varied over time.[23]

After several decades of prosperity,[24][25][26] it entered a period of protracted political,[17][27] military and economic[28] decline. Its growing weakness led to its partitioning among its neighbors, Austria, Prussia and the Russian Empire, during the late 18th century. Shortly before its demise, the Commonwealth adopted a massive reform effort and enacted the Constitution of May 3, 1791 - the first codified constitution in modern European history and the second in modern world history (after the United States Constitution).[29][30][31][32][33]

World War IEdit

World War I and the political turbulence that was sweeping Europe in 1914 offered the Polish nation hopes for regaining independence. On the outbreak of war the Poles found themselves conscripted into the armies of Germany, Austria and Russia, and forced to fight each other in a war that was not theirs. Piłsudski's paramilitary units stationed in Galicia were turned into the Polish Legions in 1914, and as a part of the Austro-Hungarian Army fought on the Russian front until 1917, when the formation was disbanded.[34] Piłsudski, who refused the demands that his men fight under German command was arrested and imprisoned by the Germans and became a heroic symbol of Polish nationalism.[35][36]

During the course of the war, because of the German victory on the Eastern Front, the area of Congress Poland became occupied by the Central Powers,[34] with Warsaw captured by the Germans on 5 August 1915.

Kingdom of PolandEdit

In the Act of 5th November 1916, the Kingdom of Poland (Polish: Królestwo Regencyjne) was recreated by Germany and Austria on the formerly Russian-controlled territory.[34] This puppet, but increasingly autonomous state existed until November 1918, when it was replaced by the newly established Republic of Poland. The existence of the "Kingdom", conceived within the German Mitteleuropa scheme, and its planned Polish army had a positive effect on the Polish national efforts on the Allied side. But the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (March 1918) between Germany and defeated Russia ignored Polish interests.[35][36]

The independence of Poland had been campaigned for in Russia and in the West by Dmowski and by Ignacy Paderewski in the West. The Russian Tsar and then the leaders of the February Revolution and the October Revolution installed governments declared in turn their support for Polish independence.[36] In 1917 France formed the Blue Army (placed under Józef Haller) comprising by the end of the war about 70,000 Poles, including men captured from German and Austrian units as well as 20,000 volunteers from the U.S. There was also a 30,000 men strong Polish anti-German army in Russia. Dmowski, operating from Paris as head of the Polish National Committee (KNP), became the spokesman for Polish nationalism in the Allied camp. On the initiative of Woodrow Wilson, Polish independence was officially endorsed by the Allies in June 1918.[34][35][36]

In all, about two million Poles served in the war, counting both sides, and about 400–450 thousand died. Much of the fighting on the Eastern Front took place in Poland, and civilian casualties and devastation were high.[35][37] Total deaths from 1914 to 1918, military and civilian, within the 1919–39 borders, were estimated at 1,128,000.[38]

On the ground in Poland in October–November 1918 the final upsurge of the push for independence took place and, with the end of the war, Austro-Hungarian and German units were being disarmed. The Austrian army's collapse freed Cieszyn and Kraków at the end of October, which was followed by the Poles and Ukrainians contesting Lviv. Ignacy Daszyński headed the first short-lived independent Polish government in Lublin (the leftist Provisional People's Government of the Republic of Poland, proclaimed as a democracy) from November 7. Germany, now defeated, was forced by the Allies to stand down its large military forces in Poland. Overtaken by a revolution at home, it released Piłsudski from prison. He arrived in Warsaw on November 10 and was granted by the Kingdom's Regency Council extensive authority, also recognized by the Lublin government.[34] On November 22 Piłsudski became the Temporary Head of State. He was held by many in high regard, but was resented by the National Democrats. The emerging Polish state was internally divided, heavily war-damaged and economically dysfunctional.[35][36]

Migration of Ethnic Poles to the United StatesEdit

Around the 1800s and through World War I, many ethnic Poles primarily from Russia, Germany and Austria settled in the United States. Like other European migrants, ethnic Polish people migrated to the United States to look for bread. Many of these Poles ended up settling in Chicago, which contains one of the world's largest Polish diaspora communities. Polish people continued to migrate to the United States from then on, coming in waves. However, they clashed with the other white ethnics including Irish Americans and German Americans. Many of the Polish Americans integrated and assimilated into American society, often abandoning the Polish language and teaching their children only English. Polish Americans have contributed well to American society, such as the popularizing of their cuisine.

Second Polish Republic 1918-1939Edit

After more than a century of foreign rule Poland regained its independence at the end of World War I. The rebirth of Poland was one of the outcomes of the negotiations that took place at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919.[39] In 1919 the Treaty of Versailles set up an independent nation with an outlet to the sea, but left some of its boundaries to be decided by plebiscites. Settling the German-Polish border turned out to be a prolonged and convoluted process. It involved the Greater Poland Uprising, the Treaty of Versailles itself, the three Silesian Uprisings, the East Prussia plebiscite, the Upper Silesia plebiscite and the 1922 Silesian Convention in Geneva.[40][41][42]

Other boundaries were settled by war and subsequent treaties. A total of six border wars were fought in 1918–21, including a conflict with Czechoslovakia over Cieszyn Silesia in January 1919.[40]

The Polish–Soviet War of 1919–21 was the most important conflict of the time. Piłsudski had entertained far-reaching anti-Russian cooperative designs for Eastern Europe, and in 1919 the Polish forces pushed eastward into Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine, taking advantage of the Russian preoccupation with the civil war, but soon meeting the Russian forces pushing westwards. Western Ukraine or Galicia was already a theater of the Polish–Ukrainian War, which eliminated the proclaimed West Ukrainian People's Republic in July 1919. By June 1920, the Polish armies were past Vilnius, Minsk and, allied with the Directorate of Ukraine of the Ukrainian People's Republic, reached Kiev.[43] In the autumn, Piłsudski rejected urgent pleas from the Entente powers to support Anton Denikin's Whites in their advance on Moscow. From March 1920, a massive Soviet counter-offensive pushed the Poles out of most of Ukraine and on the northern front arrived in early August at the outskirts of Warsaw. A Soviet triumph and the quick end of Poland seemed inevitable. However, the Poles scored a stunning victory at the Battle of Warsaw. Afterwards more Polish military successes followed, the Soviets had to pull back and left to Polish rule swathes of territory occupied largely by Belarusians or Ukrainians. The new eastern boundary was finalized by the Treaty of Riga in 1921.[40][42][44]

The Peace of Riga settled the eastern border, preserving for Poland, at the cost of partitioning the lands of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania (Lithuania and Belarus) and Ukraine,[45][46] a good portion of the old Commonwealth's eastern lands.[42] Ukrainians ended up with no state of their own and felt betrayed by the Riga arrangements; their resentment gave rise to extreme nationalism and anti-Polish hostility.[47] The territories in the east won by 1921 would form the basis for a swap arranged and carried out by the Soviets in 1943–45, who at that time compensated the re-emerging Polish state for its eastern lands lost to the Soviet Union with conquered areas of eastern Germany.[48]

The successful outcome of the Polish–Soviet War gave Poland a false sense of being a major and self-sufficient military power, and the government a justification for trying to resolve international problems through imposed unilateral solutions.[49][50] The interwar period's Polish territorial and ethnic policies contributed to bad relations with most of Poland's neighbors and to uneasy cooperation with the more distant centers of power, including France, Britain and the League of Nations.[42][49][50]

World War II 1939-1945Edit

On September 1, 1939 Hitler ordered the invasion of Poland and World War II began. Poland had signed a pact with Britain (as recently as August 25) and France, and the two western powers soon declared war on Germany, but remained largely inactive and extended no aid to the attacked country. The numerically and technically superior Wehrmacht formations rapidly advanced eastwards and engaged massively in the murder of Polish civilians over the entire occupied territory.[51] Poland's top government officials and military high command fled the war zone and arrived at the Romanian border in mid-September. On September 17, Soviet troops invaded under the terms of the German-Soviet agreement and occupied most of the areas of eastern Poland with heavy Ukrainian and Belarusian populations.[h]

Among the military operations where Poles held out the longest (until late September or early October) were the Defense of Warsaw, the Defense of Hel and the resistance of the Polesie Group. Warsaw fell on 27 September after a heavy German bombardment which killed about 40,000 civilians.[52] Poland was partitioned between Germany and the Soviet Union according to the treaty of alliance and friendship signed by the two powers in Moscow on September 29.[53]

However, Hitler betrayed the Soviet Union and ordered its terrotiroes to be invaded. After Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, the whole of Poland was overrun and occupied by German troops.[54][55]

German-occupied Poland was divided from 1939 into the General Government area and the territories annexed by the German Reich.[56] The Poles formed an underground resistance movement and a Polish government in exile, first in Paris and from July 1940 in London,[57] which was recognized by the Soviet Union. Polish-Soviet diplomatic relations, broken since September 1939, were resumed in July 1941, which facilitated the formation of a Polish army in the Soviet Union.[58][59][60] In November 1941, Prime Minister Sikorski flew to the Soviet Union to negotiate with Stalin on its role on the Soviet-German front, but the British wanted the Polish soldiers in the Middle East. Stalin agreed and the army was evacuated there.[61][62][w]

The members of the Polish Underground State which functioned in Poland throughout the war were loyal to and formally under the Polish government in exile, acting through its Delegation.[63] During World War II, about 400,000 Poles joined the underground Polish Home Army,[64][t] a part of the Polish Armed Forces of the government in exile.[57] About 200,000 fought in campaigns in the west in units loyal to the government in exile, and about 300,000 fought under the Soviet command in the last stages of the war.[65] The pro-Soviet resistance movement, led by the Polish Workers' Party, was active from 1941. It was opposed by the gradually forming extreme nationalistic National Armed Forces.

Persecution under Nazi and Soviet RuleEdit

Beginning in late 1939, hundreds of thousands of Poles from the Soviet-occupied areas were deported and taken east. Of the upper-rank military and others, deemed uncooperative or potentially harmful by the Soviets, about 22,000 were secretly executed.[66] In April 1943, the Soviet Union broke off deteriorating relations with the Polish government in exile after the German military announced the discovery of mass graves containing murdered Polish army officers in woods at Katyn in the Soviet Union. The Soviets claimed that the Poles committed a hostile act by requesting that the Red Cross investigate these reports.[54][67]

In 1944, the Soviets advanced into Polish territory as the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union had begun backfiring on Gemany. The Soviet Red Army, along with puppet Polish state armies and militias helped to liberate Poland from Geman forces. Increasing cooperation and temporary allyship between the Soviet Union and the Western Powers also helped Poland gain independance from Nazi Germany.

People's Republic of Poland 1945-1989Edit

The infamous era after World War II was known as the Cold War. In this period, the temporary allyship between the eastern and western powers came to a slow and degrading end as both blocs of power turned against each other. Each side established puppet states, and the People's Republic of Poland (Polish: Polska Rzeczpospolita Ludowa) was established as a puppet state of the Soviet Union. Poland became one of the most prominent members of the Soviet-dominated Eastern Bloc, however the Polish people underwent subsequent persecutions from Soviet rule. This caused more militant uprisings in Poland against the Soviet government, and anti-Soviet sentiment ever increased. In 1989, communism ended in Poland as a result of the weakening Soviet Union and their inability to give military supplies to their allies. Like the other former Eastern Bloc nations, Poland developed an independant government as well as a democratic constitution.

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