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Poland During World War 2

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I. History of Poland

After the Partitions of Poland (1772-1795), which had decreased the size of the country, giving most of the land to Russia, Prussia, and Austria-Hungary.

The First World War provided a practical chance for Poland to restore its independence. The powers, which had separated the country more than one hundred years earlier, were fighting on opposite sides. Germany with the Austro-Hungarian Empire (the Central Powers) fought Imperial Russia allied with France and Great Britain. Polish troops, under their own banners, also joined the fight. At first, under the command of the anti-Russian revolutionary JÐ"Ñ-zef PiÐ'Ñ-sudski, Polish battalions were formed to fight Russia. But in 1917, after a number of successful operations against Russians, the legions were disbanded and PiÐ'Ñ-sudski was tossed into jail when the Polacks refused to take an oath of allegiance to the Central Powers. Meanwhile, with the fall of its monarchy, Russia's grip on Poland began to slowly decrease to nothing. This enabled the Polacks to organize a Polish army in France to fight against the Central Powers. Russia was defeated first and Germany and Austria soon followed. Finally, on November 11, 1918, Poland re-emerged as a free nation after 123 years of captivity.

However, some problems remained. After the Communist Revolution Russia was determined to carry the flame, so successfully kindled at home, to Poland, Germany and beyond. In 1920, not quite two years after regaining independence, Poland was forced to fight again to maintain its sovereignty and to defend Europe.

II. Pre World War II

The brief, nineteen-year period of peace following the war and lasting until 1939 was marked by a consolidation of the three partitioned territories, which for over one hundred years had belonged to an alliance of different countries. It also marked a time of vigorous economic growth for Poland. In the early 1920s German intrigues in the Free City of Gdansk prevented the free flow of Polish trade through that port. Poland's response was to build a new port in the small fishing town of Gdynia. By 1938, Gdynia became the busiest port in the Baltic Sea and provided serious competition for Gdansk. In south-central Poland, construction of an industrial complex began in 1936. It had hydroelectric power plants, steel works, aircraft manufacturing, machinery, ammunition and fertilizers. In 1938 Poland was the eighth largest producer of steel in the world. By the following year the population of Poland had reached 34.8 million.

Poland had to balance between Germany and Soviet Russia. In 1932 Poland signed a non-aggression treaty with the Soviet Union, which was to last until 1945. In 1934 a similar ten-year pact was signed with Germany. One year earlier, shortly after Adolf Hitler's ascension to power, Polish Head of State Marshal Pilsudski made a secret proposal to France to mount together a preemptive strike against Germany to unseat Hitler before the Germans had time to rearm. But France refused, compelling the Polacks to do the next best thing: to enter into a non-aggression pact with the Germans. In 1936 the Germans broke the Versailles treaty by reoccupying the demilitarized zone in the Rhineland, thus demonstrating to the world their aggressive intentions. As we now know, Hitler and Joseph Stalin eventually broke both non-aggression pacts.

After annexing Austria, Sudetenland and Czechoslovakia in March 1939, the German government repeated their request to Poland, demanding that Gdansk become part of the Third Reich and that an extraterritorial highway and railroad be constructed across the so-called "Polish Corridor." The request was rejected by Poland. In April 1939 a mutual assistance



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