History of Poland

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Today's coat of arms of the Republic of Poland

The history of Poland encompasses developments in the territory of the Republic of Poland and the historical Polish empires from prehistory to the present. The - unwritten - prehistory of Poland includes numerous Slavic tribes, castles, settlements and grave sites. A precise ethnic allocation is uncertain. Today's ignorance about Poland's origins is a result of the lack of sources in the 10th century, which historical research calls the “ dark century ”.

The - written - history of Poland begins in the year 963, when the Polish Duke Mieszko , Latin Misaca († 992), is mentioned by Widukind von Corvey in a Latin chronicle as a capable ruler. Mieszko's voluntary acceptance of Christianity, through baptism in 966, led to the Christianization of Poland and protected the country from foreign missioning. The kingdom of Poland , recognized by the emperor and the pope and firmly established towards the end of the Piast era (960–1386), emerged from his duchy, which is said to have included a tribe of the Polans .

The so-called Dagome-iudex-Regest is an important source for establishing or recognizing a Polish state , although it is not explicitly mentioned in it. It is assumed that the entry of a monk from the years 1086/1087 describes an act of donation by the Polish Duke Mieszko I to the Apostolic See from the year 991, with which Mieszko placed his city or country under the direct protection of the Pope . At the Cracow Academy the certificate was called Oda's donation.

The Polish Church developed independently of the Imperial Church and was in direct contact with the Roman Curia . The British historian Norman Davies described the official adoption of Christianity as "the most important event in Polish history".

From the late Middle Ages to modern times , there was a dynastic connection with Lithuania through a personal union . From 1386, the union with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania under the ruling dynasty of the Jagiellonians (1386–1572) from there brought the rise to a major European power, their territory od morza do morza ("from sea to sea"), from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, was enough.

From 1569 the union of Poland and Lithuania was consolidated in a common state . The aristocratic republic , which existed from 1572 to 1795, manifested itself as an elective monarchy . In the 16th and 17th centuries, a high parliamentary culture with extensive nobility rights emerged there. This led to a strong identification of the nobility, the magnate (high nobility) and the Szlachta (land nobility), with the country. The increasing structural grievances caused by numerous wars with neighboring states, civil wars and uprisings by the Ukrainian Cossacks , the unwillingness to reform among those in charge, plus egoism among several electoral kings and among the nobility, weakened the Polish state. The diplomatic and military interference of the neighboring states, the Empire of Russia , Prussia and the Habsburg Monarchy , finally brought about the complete collapse of the state through three partitions in 1772, 1793 and 1795.

As a result, Poland disappeared from the maps of Europe as a sovereign state from 1795 to 1918. Characteristics of the time of division are suppressed uprisings - in the years 1830 , 1848 and 1863 - and very different developments in the three areas of division. Polish culture survived this time despite foreign oppression and its own statelessness.

After the state "rebirth" as the Second Republic after the end of the First World War in 1918, Polish history was marked by laborious state reorganization and several military conflicts with almost all neighboring states. The two dictators Hitler and Stalin agreed in the additional protocol of the German-Soviet non-aggression pact signed at the end of August 1939 that Poland should be divided up again. The attack on Poland by the Wehrmacht , the beginning of World War II , and the Soviet invasion of eastern Poland were followed by years of German and Soviet occupation . About six million Poles died in World War II. After the unconditional surrender of the Wehrmacht , Poland, shifted to the west, became a people's republic and part of the Eastern Bloc and a satellite state (not always more convenient for the Soviet Union) under massive Soviet influence . The revolutions of 1989 cleared the way for the Third Republic ; this became a member of NATO in 1997 and of the European Union in 2004 .

Aspects of territorial development

Prehistory and early history

The Biskupin settlement , a settlement of the Lusatian culture

Numerous prehistoric finds, the oldest from the Stone Age in the area of ​​today's southern Poland , with fortifications, settlements and grave sites testify to different cultural epochs and the settlement of today's Polish territory. The assignment of the finds to a closed settlement area of ​​the Poles is not clear. Migration movements of various peoples through the area of ​​today's country resulted in a great ethnic diversity, in historical times one of the characteristics of the population of Poland. The British historian Norman Davies notes that prehistory is often interpreted to mean that "exclusive ownership" of an area for the benefit of only one ethnic group is derived from it. This is what happened with the area between the Oder and the Bug ; The “autochthonous school” in Poland interprets the area as the “fixed and sole home of the ancient Slavs” ( Prasłowianie ). The national Prussian historiography, however, made the area the original home of the early East Germans. Indeed, the lengthy process that gave the Slavic, Polish-speaking element a prominent position within the general population is in the dark.

Taking into account the aforementioned restrictions, it can be assumed that some Slavic tribes from the Dniester and Pripet region settled in the area between the Oder, Vistula and Baltic Sea between the 6th and 7th centuries . Their migration was triggered by the Huns storm at the beginning of the Germanic migration .

Formation of rule by the Polans

The Slavic tribes that were united during the reign of Duke Mieszko, including the Polans , Wislanes , Silesians , Masovians , Pomorans and the Lendizi (Polish map)

The tangible beginning of Polish history falls in the 10th century. Between 880 and 960, various West Slavic tribes grew together to form a state between the Oder and Vistula. The most important of these tribes were the Opolans , the Slenzans , the Masovians , and the Wislanes . Another tribe, the Polanen ( polanie , "field residents") is said to have established a permanent state that emerged as a duchy in the late 10th century in the region around the cities of Poznan and Gniezno . The fact that the ruling association of the Polans, whose settlement center formed an area around Gniezno, did not appear in the written sources in the 9th and 10th centuries, explained the older Polish historiography with the relative isolation of central Greater Poland . Without contact with Eastern Franconia, Bohemia, Moravia, and beyond the known trade routes, the Polans could have developed and consolidated here completely unnoticed by the outside world.

The emergence of their increasingly condensed and coherent territory took place through a planned conquest. The first traces of their violent actions can be found on the middle Warta and along the Obra , where at the beginning of the 10th century older, small castle seats from the 8th to 9th centuries of various small rulers were systematically destroyed. The local population was resettled in the Gnesen highlands , the possible home area of ​​the Polans. Up until then, the Gnesen highlands had neither a more intensive population nor a network of castles. The original area was consolidated in the 920s and 950s through the expansion of the two castle towns of Giecz and Moraczewo . Furthermore, wooden and earth walls as well as castle chains were built on its periphery. These planned expansions required large amounts of resources and a large number of workers. Archaeological findings at this time show changes in the geographic area of ​​settlement, in the course of which the western and southwestern regions of Greater Poland were exposed to massive destruction and depopulation, while the central area of ​​Poznan and Gniezno experienced an internal colonization and an increase in population.

The leaders of the Polans relied on an elite, tightly managed, powerful military following. Since the 930s and 940s, luxury goods from interregional exchange have increasingly reached Wielkopolska. These were exchanged for people who were mainly in demand on the oriental and southern European slave markets. For the actual livelihood of this ruling elite, the local population had to pay for taxes and services. Due to the still underdeveloped agricultural society, it quickly reached its limits. In order to secure the loyalty of his military allegiance, the duke had to provide for and reward them regularly, for which his own territory and the population were insufficient. Slaves could only be drawn from their own population to a small extent. Therefore, raids and wars in foreign territories and the extraction of the local resources were an indispensable instrument for securing rule. This explains the rapidly increasing expansion of the Polans outside of their own core area.

960–1138: From Mieszko I on the first crisis of the Piast state

Poland “Civitas Schinesghe ” (dark coloring) around 960, its approximate territorial development under Duke Mieszko I until 992 (lighter coloring) and the neighbors.

Christianization and rise of Poland

The subsequent expansion of the Polanen was directed initially to the south and southeast in the areas of Kalisz , Sieradz and Łęczyca , to the west in the area of Międzyrzecz , to the east in the area of Kruszwica and beyond to the lower Vistula . When Mieszko I took over leadership , around 960 in Gniezno, Poland entered European history as an organized state. In the west Mieszko advanced to the lower Oder until 960, where he collided with pagan Elbe Slavs and Saxon margraves, who set limits to his western expansion.

Mieszko is first mentioned in 962 or 963 as rex Misaca (King Misaca) in the Saxon history of Widukind von Corvey from around 967 in connection with two heavy military defeats against a Slavic army under the leadership of the Saxon nobleman Wichmann II . In 965 Mieszko allied himself with the Christian Duchy of Bohemia , married the Bohemian duke's daughter Dobrawa from the Przemyslid family and was baptized in 966 according to the Latin rite . He gradually implemented the Christianization of Poland . The adoption of Christianity was a power political decision. It was triggered by the incursions of the margraves on the pretext of fighting the heathen and missioning. Mieszko I was able to expand his own borders under the pretext of proselytizing and at the same time gain an advantage against the competition of inner noble families by being accepted into the Christian community of European princes. A missionary diocese was founded in Posen in 968 for the Polish ecclesiastical province . Whether this was directly subordinate to the Pope or formally to the Archdiocese of Magdeburg is disputed (→  Diocese of Posen ).

Despite the Polish prince's acceptance of the Christian faith, Wichmann, the military leader of the Slavic Wolin League , began a war against Mieszko in 967. Mieszko benefited from his alliance with Bohemia for the first time when he was able to flee Wichmann together with Pre-Semyslid cavalry troops. The margrave's sword was delivered by Mieszko to Emperor Otto . Nothing stood in the way of Mieszko's advance to Pomerania . In the period between 967 and 979 Mieszko subjugated the whole of Pomerania and Pomerania . Access to the Baltic Sea resulted in a conflict with Scandinavia. Thereupon Mieszko arranged the wedding of his daughter Świętosława with King Sven of Denmark . In 972 Mieszko successfully fended off an incursion by Margrave Hodo I from the Lausitz region . Emperor Otto I - concerned about the conditions on his eastern border - called on the opponents to rest and order during the Quedlinburg Court Day (six weeks before his death on May 7, 973). Mieszko made peace with Hodo, swore the emperor's oath of allegiance in 968 and thus established a feudal relationship with the East Franconian-German ruler.

After the death of Mieszko's first wife Dobrawa and his marriage in 978 to the daughter of the Saxon margrave Dietrich von Haldensleben , Oda von Haldensleben , there was a break between Poland and Bohemia and in 989 a war broke out in which Poland, Slovakia, Moravia, Silesia and Lesser Poland were conquered. In the east, the Chervenian castles were lost in 981 , and with them control over an important trade route with Eastern Europe . Mieszko paid homage to the underage King Otto III in 986 . in Quedlinburg and led a pagan campaign against the Elbe Slavs in his name as "Margrave of the Empire" . Mieszko thus took an active part in the further Christianization of Slavic peoples. In return, the empire supported him militarily against Bohemia. Shortly before his death, Mieszko put his country under the protection of the Pope ( Donatio Poloniæ ) in 991 , making Poland a papal fiefdom . Mieszko may have wanted to demonstrate his independence from its powerful western neighbor.

At his death in 992 Mieszko I left behind a consolidated and expanded domain that was accepted by the European nobility. An area threatened with compulsory missionary work had become a basis for the further Christianization of the Slavic world.

Political emancipation from the empire

Poland at the beginning of the 11th century under the reign of Bolesław Chrobry

Mieszko I. divided his empire according to Old Slavic tradition among his sons Bolesław I , Świętopełk, Lambert and Mieszko. With the support of influential magnates, Bolesław ousted his stepmother and drove her and her sons out of Poland, where she was accepted and protected by relatives in Saxony . Imperial unity was thus restored. Bolesław continued his father's policy of alliances by helping Otto III defend the Christian faith. According to the Quedlinburg Agreement of 991, he participated in the unsuccessful fight against the pagan Elbe Slavs. By integrating the Christianized peoples of the East, the emperor tried to establish a new Christian world empire under the leadership of the emperor as the secular head of Christianity. In these considerations, Poland assumed a key position within the Sclavinia . Consequently, Otto III announced. during a visit his imperial concept of the Renovatio Imperii Romanorum , which Sclavinia envisaged as an equal pillar of the empire alongside Roma, Gallia and Germania . The Archdiocese of Gniezno was established for the Slavic provinces , to which the bishoprics of Kolberg , Krakow and Breslau were subordinate. The establishment of an independent church province played an important role in the emancipation of Poland from the Roman-German Empire. Otto III. officially recognized the sovereignty of the piastic-Polish ruler. The obligation to pay tribute, which had existed since 963, was dropped. Otto III. favored the consolidation and expansion of power of the Piasts against the Czech Przemyslids, whose interests were not in line with those of the empire.

Bolesław is said to be from Otto III. had been raised to king in the act of Gniezno . This is historically controversial. What is certain is that the Pope's permission was missing. Due to the early death of Otto III. and the political resistance of the new German king and later Roman-German emperor Heinrich II. the official coronation took place as a repeat act only in 1025.

The early death of Otto III. in 1002 and the following accession to the throne of Henry II, who saw Bolesław as a Slavic vassal, fundamentally changed Poland's relations with the Empire. Bolesław came into opposition to the empire, developed his own ideas of a Christian universal empire, pursued personal expansion goals and refused any homage to Heinrich. This led to a multi-year war between Poland and the empire, at the end of which Poland was able to assert itself thanks to its already established statehood and in the Peace of Bautzen concluded a compromise peace with the emperor. Bolesław owed this to his dynastic policy, the Saxon allies in the empire and his brother-in-law King Sven of Denmark , who threatened the emperor from the north. Although he could not wrest the Mark Meissen from the emperor, in return he kept his acquisitions in the west, the Milzener Land and the Mark Lausitz, which remained with Poland until 1031. Overall, the war with the Reich led to a loss of substance internally.

The agreement reached between Poland and the Reich in Gniezno in 1000 was confirmed by Heinrich. After the peace agreement with the emperor, he received military support from the Roman-German emperor as an ally for his long-planned move to Kiev against Yaroslav to support his brother, his son-in-law Grand Duke Svjatopolk . After the successful reinstatement of the expelled prince, he bought back the Chervenian castles for Poland in 1018. After his move to Kiev, Bolesław was the most influential ruler in Central and Eastern Europe. Emperor Heinrich died in 1024. Bolesław used the resulting German interregnum by having himself crowned king a second time in 1025 (repeat act of the coronation ceremony from the year 1000). Despite the gain in prestige, the kingship could not establish itself permanently.

Bolesław intervened in the disputes of the Slavic tribes in the Nordmark and built a castle in Berlin-Köpenick on today's castle island. For the next 120 years, until the middle of the 12th century, Köpenick was the seat of a piastic vassal.

Bolesław promoted the Christian faith in Poland, since the Pope was one of the most important power-political competitors of the German emperor in the 11th century. With the successful establishment of an independent Polish ecclesiastical province and the Archdiocese of Gniezno and his coronation as the first Polish king, he promoted Polish emancipation from the empire. He was also the founder of the Polish castellan's constitution . During his reign, the politically relatively insignificant duchy of his father became a power factor in the region with spheres of influence from the Elbe to the Dnepr and from the Baltic Sea to the Danube .

Decline of power and division of inheritance

Depiction of Mieszkos II and Mathildes von Schwaben on the dedication picture of the Liber de divinis officiis; St. Gallen first quarter of the 11th century. Düsseldorf, University and State Library, Ms.C 91, (lost), fol. 3r

After Bolesław's death, his son Mieszko II. Lambert took over the rule. He and his German wife Richeza immediately rose to the rank of kings in order to secure themselves from the feudal rule of the Roman-German emperors. Nevertheless, he did not succeed in holding the territories conquered by his father. After only five years of reign, his empire began to disintegrate due to internal instability: This is due to a variety of factors:

  • The costs imposed on the people:
    • through wars,
    • for building the monarchy,
    • for the growing church structures
  • The brothers Mieszkos, Otto and Bezprym , who fled abroad and undermined Mieszkos rule.

In 1028 and 1030 King Mieszko II undertook military campaigns against eastern parts of the East Frankish-German Empire, especially against Thuringia and the tribal duchy of Saxony , because the new emperor, Konrad II , refused to recognize him as king. Mieszko had powerful enemies in the Salian Empire and in the Kievan Rus. Several military actions carried out at the same time by Konrad and the Ruthenian Grand Duke Yaroslav, who was already one of his father's enemies, led to the loss of the Lausitz region and the Chervenian castles . This alliance strengthened the internal opposition, since Mieszko's relatives now allied with the ruler's opponents. Finally Mieszko was overthrown in 1031 and was forced to leave the land to his half-brother Bezprym and younger brother Otto, he himself fled to Bohemia.

Bezprym's rule did not last long. An uprising against the new ruler led to his assassination in 1032. His death led Mieszko II to return home after an understanding with Otto. After Emperor Konrad threatened another military intervention in Poland, an agreement was reached during the Merseburg Court Conference in 1033. Mieszko II renounced his royal dignity and shared his empire with his brother Otto and Dietrich , a grandson of Mieszkos I. Duke Otto died in the same year, and Dietrich lost his sphere of influence for unknown reasons, so that Mieszko was unified shortly before his death , on May 10, 1034, regained. After his death, Mieszko II left behind a weakened empire which, due to a lack of strong royal authority, began to erode through popular uprisings and pagan reactions. By renouncing royal honors, Poland was again dependent on the Roman-German Empire for decades from 1033 . Mieszko's son Casimir I took over the rule after his death. He too did not stay in power for long and, under pressure from the opposition, had to flee from Poland to Hungary in 1037. Between 1037 and 1039 the Polish state disintegrated. In Wielkopolska there were revolts against the church and the magnates. These had benefited from socio-political changes such as the introduction of a system similar to the tithe , while the free peasants were forced into a relationship of dependence and a relapse into paganism ensued. Individual regions became independent, including Mazovia and Pomerania.

The Bohemian duke used the lack of structure for a campaign to Poland. Greater Poland was devastated and Silesia was conquered. In addition, pagan Prussians and Pomorans were plundered. The new emperor in the empire, Heinrich III. , tried to prevent a political strengthening of Bohemia under Břetislav I and supported Casimir I militarily in 1039. With this help, Duke Casimir I came back into possession of Greater Poland and, in 1040, Lesser Poland. Krakow became the new capital of Poland. In 1041 the emperor forced the Bohemian ruler to renounce his claims against Poland, but did not return Silesia to Poland. In order to secure the border in the east, Casimir I concluded an alliance with Yaroslav of Kiev in the same year and a little later married his sister, Princess Dobroniega Maria . Yaroslav then granted him military assistance in the reconquest of Mazovia and Pomerania in 1047. Against the will of the emperor, Casimir I regained Silesia from Bohemia around 1046. After Břetislav I supported a rebellion against the emperor around 1053 and fell out of favor, he had to finally renounce Poland in 1054, which became the occasion for further Bohemian-Polish disputes. The two equally strong Slavic states weakened each other politically and militarily. Casimir rebuilt the Christian state of the Piasts after the last pagan reaction and established chivalry in Poland by giving land to warriors to provide for them .

Poland 1102–1138

After Kasimir's death in 1058, he was followed by his son Bolesław II . This operated a successful foreign policy. He got rid of the tribute obligation for Silesia to Bohemia. He continued his father's reconstruction work, especially in the area of ​​church structures. The condemnation and killing of Bishop Stanislaus of Cracow under unclear circumstances, which sparked an uprising against Bolesław that led to his flight, cast a shadow over his rule . Bolesław II was followed by his younger brother Władysław I Herman . For a few years he again paid tribute to Bohemia for the possession of Silesia. At the end of his rule he came into conflict with his sons, Bolesław (III.) And Zbigniew. Under pressure from the aristocratic opposition, he had to allocate their own provinces in 1098, but retained the supremacy with its headquarters in Płock . During his reign, the first Jews came to Poland in large numbers in 1096 , seeking protection against the pogroms that broke out in many cities in Western Europe during the First Crusade . Władysław Herman died in 1102, leaving a Poland divided between his sons. Bolesław III. Schiefmund subjugated his half-brother Zbigniew in 1108 and successfully repelled a campaign by Emperor Henry V , who did not agree , in 1109 . Under his rule, Poland expanded its sphere of influence through the final submission of the pagan Pomorans to Pomerania. In Otto's escort, among other things, the first German settlers came to Pomerania as monks. Bolesław's sphere of influence extended into what is now Brandenburg . Through the establishment of the diocese of Lebus , Brandenburg remained ecclesiastically connected to the archbishopric of Gniezno until the 15th century . Towards the end of his reign he embroiled Poland in conflicts with Hungary and Bohemia. He let his daughters marry into the Scandinavian, Saxon and Ruthenian rulers. Since Bolesław III. Wanted to avoid fratricidal struggles among his four sons, he divided his empire according to Slavic custom, with the elder of the Piast family embodying the unity of the country to the outside world within the framework of the seniority principle .

1138-1295: particularism

The Seniorate of Poland or the Polish Duchies (on the map of the Kgr. Polonia ) and its neighbors. political situation in 1190

For the next 150 years, ongoing struggles broke out for control of Krakow and the supremacy of the entire country. The kingdom broke up into several piastic duchies, which feuded for power, territory and influence. The oldest of the Piast dynasty, Władysław II , became Senior Duke of Poland with his seat in Cracow. The younger brothers ruled as junior dukes in the regions assigned to them. This weakened Poland's politico-military position in 13th century Europe. The idea of ​​the unified Polish state lived on in the unified church organization and the tradition of the great noble families as well as in the dynastic relationship of all rulers.

East German settlement

German colonization of the Slavic areas from around 1200 to the outbreak of the Great Plague Pandemic around 1350, which heralded its end (map after Walter Kuhn )

During the expulsion of Mieszko III. the younger representatives of the dynasty prevailed in Krakow in 1177 through local magnate families. Although the Duke of Cracow retained a certain suzerainty, the Assembly of Polish Dukes and Bishops at Łęczyca in 1180 repealed the seniority principle and guaranteed the prerogatives of the clergy. The unity of Poland was not achieved; the Piast duchies continued to coexist as sovereign regions. The Seniorate Province of Lesser Poland with Krakow fell to Leszek I in 1194. In his titulature dux totius Poloniae , Leszek I was the last duke to claim suzerainty in all of Poland and tried to enforce this from 1217 in Pomerania as well. The Polish princes met in 1227 in Gąsawa, Kujawien , for a Wiec to advise against Duke Swantopolk of Pomerania and her cousin, the Piast Władysław Odonic , Duke of Greater Poland and grandson of Mieszkos III. The gathering was blown while Leszek was fleeing from Pomeranian and Greater Poland captors. His demise ultimately resulted in the complete disappearance of a central power in Poland. Except for the ecclesiastical structures of the Archdiocese of Gniezno there was no supra-regional Polish state law or other supraregional state institutions. An increased fragmentation of Polish countries began, which made it easier for the German and Bohemian princes to expand in Poland from the middle of the 13th century.

During this time there was an increased colonization of Polish areas by emigrants from the Holy Roman Empire . Until 1250 large parts of Pomerania and Silesia were populated by Germans and Flemings , who were brought into the country by local lords, such as the griffins in Pomerania and the Silesian Piasts. The Pomeranian aristocrats, as well as the Silesian princes, promised themselves primarily higher economic prosperity, better tax revenue, but above all a faster connection to the (rural) economic-urban standards of Western Europe through the new settlers. Due to the number of new settlers and the personal commitment and support of the eastern settlement by the Polish sovereigns, large parts of medieval Poland became part of the German-speaking area over the centuries and permanently lost their Slavic-Polish character. Some rulers, such as the Silesian Piasts, voluntarily opened up to Germans by filling high offices in the state and in ecclesiastical structures with Germans and marriages with princesses from German noble houses, which resulted in kinship relationships with the German aristocracy. The fact that the Griffins and the Silesian Piasts were Polish senior dukes and the most powerful sovereign princes in the first half of the 13th century also favored the eastern colonization and the spread of Germanness in Silesia and beyond the borders of Silesia. The deslawization and the corresponding Germanization took place peacefully and was not a brutal German conquest of Polish territories - however, conflicts cannot be ruled out due to the lack of consideration of the interests of the local indigenous population through the process of eastern settlement between the long-established Poles and the immigrants who were mostly not Slavic. It was not until the end of the 13th century and the beginning of the 14th century that an opposing movement began, which pushed back the cultural-economic dominance and the influence of Germanness in the core provinces of Poland (Lesser and Greater Poland) and the repolonization of large regions and many cities led.

Mongol storm of 1241

Emperor Friedrich I. Barbarossa, from the Staufer family , intervened militarily in Poland

Władysław the expellee, who fled to the empire, won the favor of the emperor, who intervened militarily for him in Poland in 1157. Frederick Barbarossa forced the Polish Senior Duke Boleslaw IV. To surrender Silesia to the sons of the ousted sovereign and made him a part of his kingdom lehnspflichtig . However, Bolesław hesitated for a few years to comply with the Hohenstaufen demands and only in 1163, under the threat of a new imperial intervention, he handed Silesia over to the sons of Władysław, Bolesław the Long and Mieszko Sacrum . When this province was handed over to the descendants of Władysław, the long-lived line of the Silesian Piasts was born .

The unification of Poland through the Silesian line of the Piasts came to an abrupt end with the death of Henry the Pious . The duke lost his life in the battle against the Golden Horde in the Battle of Liegnitz , and the Duchy of Silesia disintegrated after 1241 into a number of feudal principalities that came under the influence of Bohemia after the Mongol invasion . The Mongol invasion added importance to the German colonization in the east in Poland and in other regions of Central Europe affected by it, where a considerable part of the population was either killed or driven into Mongol servitude. The Mongols, who were also called Tatars , withdrew into the Ruthenian principalities they had conquered. Until the end of the 13th century they remained a constant threat and undertook further raids towards the west, which weakened the politically fragmented Poland economically and militarily, so that the rulers of the neighboring peoples, such as the Lithuanians, but especially the Bohemians and the Germans, began. to expand their own territories on Polish territory.

The expansion of the Mark Brandenburg to the east on Polish-Piastic areas led to the loss of Lebus in 1250 and the emergence of the Neumark as a counterpart to the Altmark. Around 1250, Poland was pushed back from today's Oder border for centuries , despite attempts to recapture it under King Władysław I. Ellenlang at the beginning of the 14th century.

Help from the Teutonic Order

The Marienburg order castle , symbol of the power of the knights and from 1309 capital of the Teutonic Order in Prussia (Prūsa, Prussia)

The Polish Duke Conrad I began to expand his sphere of influence. The Prussian area around Kulm was his war target. Expansion at the expense of its pagan neighbors was a fiasco. He lost his conquests and in turn was threatened by the awakened neighbor. Since he was also involved in conflicts with other Piast rulers, he turned his gaze to the Teutonic Order, which was expelled from Hungary in 1225 because it wanted to found its own state in Transylvania in the fight against pagan steppe peoples, the Cumans . In 1226 Konrad von Masowien asked the Teutonic Order for help and promised him the Kulmer Land as a ducal fiefdom, as a consideration and starting point for their fight against the pagans. To what extent the territories to be conquered belonged to the order according to the agreement is still unclear and has in the past led to disputes between German and Polish historians. In order to protect himself against a similar development as in Hungary, the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, Hermann von Salza , had the possession of the Kulmer Land and all areas to be conquered by Emperor Friedrich II confirmed with the Golden Bull of Rimini in March 1226 . In addition, the order concluded the Treaty of Kruschwitz with the Duke on June 16, 1230 , which made the land freely available to him. Hundreds of years of hostility developed between the Teutonic Order of Knights in Prussia and Poland, and later also Lithuania .

1295–1386: Reunification

End of particularism

Przemysław's royal seal with the crowned white eagle of the Piasts; the coat of arms of Poland has its origin here

Renewed attempts at reunification were made from Poznan and Gniezno. At the end of the 13th century, Duke Przemysław II of Wielkopolska assumed leadership of the Union of Piast-Polish Duchies. Although he never came into permanent possession of the Duchy of Malopolska-Krakow , he only ruled there for about a year and, under pressure from the Bohemian King, had to leave it in 1291 for Poznan. In possession of the Krakow royal insignia and as regent of the duchies of Greater Poland and Pomerania (from 1294), he was crowned by the Polish Archbishop Jakub Świnka in Gniezno in 1295 as the fourth Polish king since Bolesław the Bold. With this symbolic act, he ended Polish particularism and, with his coronation, focused the forces of the Polish nobility and the church to regain the state unity of Poland against the German and Bohemian sovereigns. During a trip to Poznan in early February 1296, he was captured and slain in Rogoźno near Poznan by a group of noble opposition members. With him, the Piast line of Greater Poland, which was founded by Mieszko the ancients, died out in the male line. Wielkopolska and Pomerania fell to his cousin, Władysław Ellenlang, Duke of Kujawy , who defended both provinces against Bohemia until 1300. After the king's death, the Brandenburgers, together with the dukes of Glogau , Heinrich III., Appropriated some of the Warta and Netzed districts in Greater Poland. After Przemysław's death, the Bohemian King Wenceslaus II came into possession of the country with the help of the Polish Church and the German bourgeoisie living in Poland. As early as 1291 he was lord of Lesser Poland including Cracow, nine years later, in 1300, he was elevated to the status of a Polish king. To give his rule in Poland a legal impression, Wenzel married Przemysław's daughter Elisabeth Richza in 1303 . After his coronation, the Bohemian pushed his political opponent Władysław entirely out of Poland, who was forced to seek protection and help in exile in Hungary .

However, the Bohemian possession of Poland, as well as the Polish crown, was declared illegal by Pope Boniface VIII . With the death of Wenceslas III. , a Polish titular king , 1306, the old Czech family of the Přemyslids died out in the male line entitled to inheritance and the first German dynasty, the House of Luxemburg , came to power in Bohemia. Only after the assassination of the Bohemian ruler was the rule of the Piasts secured for the time being and Władysław Ellenlang was recognized as the new ruler. Under his rule Poland was reunited in a somewhat reduced form.

Conflicts over the western territories

The possessions, headquarters and acquisitions of the Teutonic Order in Prussia and the Livonian Union up to 1410

Władysław I. Ellenlang returned from exile with Hungarian help and took control of large parts of Poland (Lesser Poland, Central Poland with the main castles Sieradz and Łęczyca, Kujawia and Dobrin) in the years 1305–1306. In Pomerania and Danzig he was unable to assert himself against the Brandenburgers and called on the Teutonic Knights Order for help. Because the king did not pay the agreed war debts, the Teutonic Knights kept Danzig, a procedure that was quite common at the time (see takeover of Danzig by the Teutonic Order ). The order also acquired Pomeranian and, in view of the failed crusades and the dissolution of the Knights Templar , relocated the Grand Master's seat from Venice to Marienburg in the Vistula Delta . This started a conflict with the Christian state of Poland, which was seeking access to the Baltic Sea along the Vistula between Pomerania and Prussia. In the Kraków uprising of Bailiff Albert , the city sought more rights under the leadership of German citizens, in alliance with other cities and parts of the church. Władysław put down this uprising, the subsequent repression permanently broke the political influence of the cities. During a rebellion of the Wielkopolska nobility in 1314 against the rule of the Dukes of Glogau, the Duchy of Wielkopolska became part of the Władysław Empire. In 1320 he was crowned King of Poland. In 1325 Władysław tried to exploit the unclear situation in the Margraviate of Brandenburg, which arose after the Ascanian line of Brandenburg died out in 1320, in an alliance with Lithuania, whose head of state was still "pagan", and limited the territory of the Brandenburg counts to the area west of the Oder . Which a few years later gave the Teutonic Order the pretext to take action against him. He was openly supported by the Lubusz Bishop Stephan II. To the annoyance of his new sovereign, the Margrave Ludwig from the House of Wittelsbacher . The armed conflict brought hardly any land gains for Poland and left an area of ​​scorched earth in the Neumark. In 1329 peace was made with the Brandenburgers because the Luxembourgers allied themselves with the Knights of the Order against him. In the winter of 1327 King John of Bohemia moved against Cracow, but had to back down under Hungarian pressure, but many dukes of Silesia paid homage to him. After 1331, many Piast princes of Silesia recognized the Bohemian feudal sovereignty.

An expansion policy of the Teutonic Order directed against Poland led in 1329 to the loss of the Dobriner Ländchen and Kujawien in 1332; After the Battle of Płowce in 1331, against the combined armies of the Knights of the Order and the Bohemians, the Polish king could not prevent the annexation of both areas. In view of the weakness of the Polish king, the Duke of Mazovia, Wacław von Płock, swore the Bohemian king the oath. The king died during an armistice in the summer of 1332. Power passed to his son Casimir, who was crowned King of Poland immediately after his father's death and who inherited a difficult inheritance. Władysław went down in Polish historiography as a unified Poland. The embrace of the German territorial states, he opposed alliances with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Hungary . In the fight against the German feudal lords and the German patriciate in Polish cities, he found strong support in the Polish Church and the Pope. The kings of Bohemia derived claims to the crown of Poland and the Silesian principalities. Despite these circumstances, he was able to consolidate his work with a coronation as King of Poland. However, Władysław failed to achieve the goal of regaining the old piastic borders. He bequeathed only two old Piast domains to his son, Greater Poland with the center of Poznan and Lesser Poland with Cracow.

King Casimir the Great

Kingdom of Poland within the borders of 1370

Casimir III took over from his father's political legacy . the alliance with the Kingdom of Hungary and the conflicts with:

  • the Teutonic Order around the Duchy of Pomerania,
  • with the Luxemburgers Johann and Karl IV. for supremacy in Silesia
  • as well as with Johann, who as King of Bohemia also laid claim to the Polish royal crown.

The lands that Casimir inherited were relatively small compared to the borders of the state of 1138. The western border of the empire had been pushed back far to the east, almost into the core areas of the ancient Polans. The Duchy of Pomerania became independent under the Greifen dynasty in the 12th century and, after 1227, became directly dependent on the Ascanian Mark Brandenburg. Western areas of the Duchy of Wielkopolska, in the Oder-Warthe region, were conquered or purchased by the margraves from Brandenburg in the second half of the 13th century. Likewise, in the north between 1309 and 1332, the Teutonic Order of Pomerania, Kujawien and the Dobriner Ländchen appropriated. As early as 1327–1331, under the reign of his father, most of the Silesian Piasts submitted to the House of Luxembourg from Bohemia. The kingdom consisting of Greater Poland, Lesser Poland and some Central Polish countries was given the name Corona Regni Poloniae . Due to its military and political inferiority compared to the Bohemian and German sovereigns, Poland continued to find itself in an extremely critical situation. Unlike his father, who wanted to force solutions through military decisions, Kasimir sought more peaceful and diplomatic solutions. King Casimir therefore tried to settle the conflict with John. In the Treaty of Trenčín and the Compromise of Visegrád in 1335, as well as after a Bohemian-Polish border war in 1345 and the death of his ally in the empire against Bohemia, Emperor Ludwig IV , in 1347, Casimir finally recognized the Bohemian suzerainty over Silesia in the Treaty of Namslau . This was a great foreign policy defeat for Casimir. The renewed kingdom was ultimately unable to regain the old Piast territories, which was a major foreign policy goal of the last Piasts. Finally, the Bohemian King Charles IV, since 1346 also the Roman-German (counter) king, incorporated Silesia in 1348 into the lands of the Bohemian Crown. The only connection that existed between the Silesian province and Poland over the centuries was their ecclesiastical affiliation to the Archdiocese of Gniezno, which lasted until the 19th century.

Considerable socio-economic upheaval in Europe around 1347, due to the outbreak of the plague pandemic (spread in the years 1347–1351)

Since the western areas of early and high medieval Poland became part of the Holy Roman Empire at the beginning of the 14th century, also ethnically as part of the German colonization in the east, the Polish rulers oriented themselves eastward. By Abdrängung Poland in the Eastern part of the continent, he submitted in the years 1340 to 1366 that of the Ruthenian inhabited Kingdom of Galicia-Volhynia , also called Red Russia, with Podolien his rule. In 1343, Kasimir made peace with the Teutonic Order, renouncing the use of Pomeranians and the Kulmer Land. For this he got Kujawien and the Dobrin countryside back. King Casimir also sought to consolidate his influence in Pomerania through an alliance with the Griffins, which led to the occupation of some Netze and Neumark districts. In 1348 the plague spread across Europe. Casimir countered this catastrophe by imposing a quarantine on his kingdom so that the epidemic could largely be averted. In the north of his empire, the Duchy of Mazovia was subjugated in 1351. The Piastic-Mazovian duchies, with the main castles Płock and Warsaw, were incorporated into the kingdom after the respective rulers died out. At Kasimir's instigation, an academy was founded in Krakow in 1364, the second in Central Europe after Prague , later called the Jagiellonian University . Casimir promoted the cities through numerous construction measures, including securing the borders of his empire with 50 fortified castles, as well as the admission of Germans and the granting of German city rights. After the pogroms in Western Europe in the wake of the plague, he invited the Jews to Poland, reformed the military system, fought robber barons, had the Polish legal and monetary system standardized, secured new trade routes and favored the opening of salt pans. The economic reforms required the constitutional codification of land law, the statutes of Casimir the Great and the introduction of the General Starosteien with administrative and judicial powers, State Council and chancellery management. He created his own courts of appeal for Magdeburg city law . King Casimir died in 1370 and left no male heir entitled to inherit, which means that the Piast family died out. Although the restored Piast monarchy in the 14th century was able to halt the pushing back of its western borders by the expanded East German territorial states and partially revise them, the Polish territory in the west and in the north at the end of the dynasty in 1370 was compared with the territorial stock around the year 1000 got smaller. In addition to the expansion of Brandenburg and the German monastic state, this had also brought about the German colonization in the east , which led to the separation of Pomerania (1180), Pomerania (1309/1343) and Silesia (until 1335) from the Union of the Monarchy.

As his successor he appointed his nephew, the Hungarian King Ludwig von Anjou, who united Poland with Hungary in a personal union until 1382 . After Kasimir's death, Poland was connected to the Hungarian royal family in 1370. The Hungarian king, Ludwig von Anjou , came from the house of Capet-Anjou . Due to his absence from staff, he was unpopular in Poland. He left the business of Poland to his Polish mother Elisabeth as regent. He also began to claim Galicia, which had become Polish, for Hungary, which met resistance from the Polish aristocracy. Since he had no sons, the Polish nobility were granted political privileges and almost complete tax exemption in the Kaschau privilege in 1374 , which confirmed and enforced the female succession to the throne. The Kaschau privilege became the basis of later aristocratic democracy in Poland. Ludwig died in 1382 and the affairs of government in Poland passed to his daughter Hedwig von Anjou . She was crowned the ruling Polish king in 1384. However, she had to break her engagement to Prince Wilhelm von Habsburg , as the Polish aristocracy, who were mostly anti-German, did not want any German aristocrats as their kings.

1386–1569: Polish-Lithuanian personal union

the territorial development of Lithuania during the late Middle Ages

The Grand Duchy of Lithuania was one of the largest states in Europe; it stretched from the Black Sea to the Baltic Sea. Due to its long borders, it had many enemies: the Teutonic Order, the Grand Duchy of Moscow and the Tatars constantly threatened the relatively loose state structure. The Lithuanians therefore promised themselves support against external enemies from the union with Poland.

The previous epoch was replaced by an era in which the history of East Central Europe was mainly characterized by the formation of dynastic great empires and their interpenetration in the classroom. This was made possible by the numerous Interregna after the extinction of the East Central European founding dynasties in Hungary, Bohemia and Poland in the 14th century. Poland immediately used the new trend to regenerate its foreign policy position on the northern flank. Through skillful diplomatic use of its improved position in the old Russian southwest, in Halicz and Volhynia , Poland succeeded in bringing about dynastic union with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which had expanded strongly towards western Russia. The marriage of the Polish ruler Hedwig von Anjou with the Grand Duke of Lithuania resulted in a personal union between the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Together, at the time of the merger, the two countries formed the largest country in Europe. The sphere of influence of the new monarchy, which was called the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania , was expanded to the north, east and south by Władysław II Jagiełło, as Grand Duke Jogaila was called since his coronation. The union was not an incorporation of Lithuania, but rather a dynastic personal union of two different parts of the empire. For the Polish crown, the union brought a considerable increase in power and territorial expansion. At the same time, she was drawn into conflicts with Lithuania's neighbors.

Fight against the Teutonic Order

Battle of Tannenberg from the Lucerne Schilling by Diebold Schilling the Younger , around 1515

With the baptism of the Lithuanian Prince Jagiello, the Teutonic Order also lost its last legitimation for missionary conversion in the Baltic States. As a result, Poland had suddenly built up a great potential for power against the Teutonic Order, although there was not yet an exact coordination of Polish and Lithuanian politics. The Teutonic Order was plunged into a serious crisis due to the changed political situation, as its tasks in the Poland region ceased to exist. This turned into the prohibition of Pope and King Wenceslas to continue his campaigns in Lithuania.

In 1410 the German Order was defeated in the Battle of Tannenberg , which caused the Order to lose its aura of invincibility. The surrender of castles without a fight seemed to herald the rise of the order in Poland and Lithuania. The successes were not based on Polish-Lithuanian cooperation against their common enemy - Lithuania almost does not take part in the warfare - the successes were based on the attractiveness of the Polish privilege system for the nobility, which led to a reorientation towards Poland in the neighboring countries. In addition to the Lithuanian-West Russian boyars, an oppositional league was also formed in the Kulmer Land. Knighthood, bishops and cities paid homage to the Polish king and had their rights confirmed. In the First Peace of Thorn in 1411, the Grand Master was able to protect his property against "reparation payments". In the Peace of Lake Melno in 1422, the Dobriner Land and Lower Lithuania fell away from the Teutonic Order .

The Council of Constance withdrew the Teutonic Order's right to proselytize Lithuania , which meant that from a Polish point of view, the order of knights was no longer entitled to exist. The king was politically supported by princes of the Holy Roman Empire in their fight against the order. In 1421, Elector Friedrich I of Brandenburg promised his support against the knights of the order. Polish policy and its goals were becoming more and more evident: territorial revision on the Baltic Sea and expansion of the Polish constitutional model throughout Eastern Central Europe. The Prussian uprising of 1454, the fall of the Prussian estates from their sovereign and the election of King Casimir IV of Poland as the new head, but especially the Thirteen Years War 1454–1466 with the Second Peace of Thorne, 1466 , brought about extensive territorial changes: The German Order was decisively weakened and had to record significant territorial losses. The result was Royal Prussia , which as an autonomous part of the country, like the Duchy of Warmia , was subordinated to the Polish crown. The remaining area of ​​the Teutonic Order became a royal fief. The Polish-Lithuanian Jagiellonian Empire approached its Golden Age after this victory .

The Jagiellonian dynasty rose to become a major European power

Largest sphere of influence of the Jagiellonians in Europe since 1490, through the acquisition of the Hungarian crown until the Battle of Mohács in 1526, the beginning of the almost 200 year Turkish wars in Central Europe

King Władysław II. Jagiełło, the founder of the Jagiellonian dynasty, died in 1434. It was only in his fourth marriage that he fathered two male heirs to the throne. The elder Władysław III. A bright future seemed to lie ahead as King of Poland from 1434 until he unexpectedly fell in the battle of Varna in 1440 in the fight against the Ottomans. Due to the four-year absence of a king, the Lithuanian oligarchs had decided to break with the repeatedly renewed union with Poland (1386, 1401, 1413, 1432) by making his younger brother Casimir Grand Duke. The election of Kasimir as King of Poland appeared to be the best solution for the renewal of the Union and the effective defense against Tatar expeditions against both countries. In September 1464, the Union of Brest came into being , a purely personal union , which gave the King-Grand Duke the choice of his place of residence and left territorial points of conflict outside. After three years of Interregnum , Casimir IV received the crown in 1447 . Its focus was initially based on Lithuania, which was able to successfully counteract the waste phenomena of Lithuanian territories on the Lithuanian eastern border. On August 31, 1449 he concluded with Grand Duke Vassilij III. a border treaty that remained in force until the beginning of the Moscow conquests in 1486 and represented the culmination of the Lithuanian acquis in the northeast., As the last living Jagiellon of the Polish line, he saved the biological population of the dynasty and left eleven living descendants when he died in 1490. The large number of children presented the Jagiellonians with the task of acting as a dynasty for the first time. Pure continuity of rule in Poland and Lithuania alone was no longer sufficient to provide for the sons appropriately, since a division of rule was ruled out. So the dynastically oriented policy of the Jagiellonian had to aim at acquiring further kingship and prerogatives for the sons. Appropriate starting points for a dynastic expansion were above all the claims to the crowns in Bohemia and Hungary resulting from the Queen's Luxembourgish-Habsburg origin.

Four of his male descendants were to wear the Polish royal crown after his death. The eldest son, Władysław , had been King of Bohemia since 1471 and received the Hungarian crown in 1490 after the death of Matthias Corvinus . The election and coronation of Władysław as Hungarian king increased the splendor of the dynasty, but also brought it in contrast to the Habsburgs in view of the Habsburg claims on Hungary. The Jagiellonians ruled the vast area between the Baltic Sea, Adriatic Sea and the Black Sea around 1500. The rule in the individual kingdoms took place in different density and quality. The geographical and cultural scope of this rule was limited by the multitude of languages ​​and peoples and religious diversity. With the rule of a dynasty over the entire East Central European area, mutual cultural contacts between the countries belonging to it were also considerably promoted. The size of the Jagiellonian Empire around 1500 was strength and weakness at the same time, because on the one hand it could not be circumvented as a power factor and on the other hand, due to its low internal cohesion, it was hardly capable of unified powerful action. Due to the external threat, the individual rulers of the Jagiellonians came together again for a time to act as a dynastic unit.

The succession of the late Kasimir was divided in 1492 by the brothers Johann Albrecht as King of Poland and Alexander as Grand Duke of Lithuania. The latter followed his brother in Poland in 1501. From 1506 Sigismund took over the rule as Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland as the last surviving son of Kasimir IV.

Loss of territory in the east and south-east

The Prince's Day of Vienna between the kings Sigismund I of Poland and Lithuania (right), Władysław II of Bohemia and Hungary (center) and Emperor Maximilian von Habsburg (left) in 1515 (woodcut by Albrecht Dürer , approx. 1515 )

With the expansion of the dynastic empire, this large area of ​​dominion was tied into various areas of conflict on its fringes. In the east, the competition between the extensive Lithuanian empire and the emerging Grand Duchy of Moscow dominated , in the south-east the Ottoman Empire was threatened with expansion, and in the north the Teutonic Order, which was striving for a solution from the Polish hegemony, remained a constant source of unrest. In the west, the Jagiellons were in a dynastic rivalry with the Habsburgs in the struggle for the Hungarian crown and future supremacy in East Central Europe.

  • South-East policy: Poland wanted to extend its rule to the Black Sea coast and thus came into conflict with the Ottoman Empire. The defeat of a contingent in Bukovina in October 1497 led to the loss of direct political influence over the Principality of Moldova in 1512 to the Ottoman Sultan. The Sublime Porte set up their vassals, the Crimean Tatars , against Poland and Lithuania. Over the next two centuries, they regularly raided the southern provinces of the empire. In response, the southern border region was populated with free military farmers , which led to the emergence of the later Ukrainian Cossacks . The “ wild field ”, as the areas north of the Crimean peninsula were called , subsequently developed into a “permanent war zone” in the area of ​​tension between its residents.
  • Eastern politics: The rise of the Grand Duchy of Moscow became a threat to the existence of Lithuania. It tied all the forces of Poland and Lithuania in the east for centuries. From 1492 (wars of the years 1492–1494, 1500–1503, 1507–1508, 1512–1522) both states were in fact in a permanent state of war with Russia. The armed forces were only interrupted by armistice agreements. In eventful battles on the threshold of the 15th / 16th centuries In the mid-19th century, Lithuania lost large areas of its territory by 1522. In Eastern Europe, the Grand Duchy of Moscow gained power over Lithuania.
  • Western politics: The claims to the Bohemian and Hungarian crowns led Poland into competition with the House of Habsburg . In 1515 the agreement was reached in Vienna . Maximilian I von Habsburg and Sigismund I agreed on a double wedding, and the future Hungarian king married the Habsburg Maria. In return, Habsburg renounced the support of the Grand Duchy of Moscow and the Teutonic Order. When Ludwig II fell in the battle of Mohács against the Ottoman Empire in 1526 , Poland's influence on Hungary also ended. Instead, the Baltic Sea region took first place in the power struggle for foreign policy.

Despite the essentially offensive policy, Poland soon began to withdraw on itself. Neither the royal family nor the nobility, which was gaining more and more power, were able or willing to be the leading power in the East as they were in the 15th century. The incipient decline in power in Poland was masked by a subsequent period of inner calm, because the potential winners of the sudden Polish abstinence, Sweden and Russia, were in turn too weak to fill the vacuum created by Poland. This and the ties between the Spanish-Austrian and Ottoman forces in its south gave Poland a deceptive calm for about 100 years. The Jagiellons had to grant privileges to the nobility. The Polish Diet, which was made up of the nobility and clergy, gained increasing power over the king. In 1505, the Nihil Novi constitution laid down extensive participation rights for the Sejm. The privilege of the nobility and their increase in power led to the disenfranchisement of the peasant and middle class. With a view to strengthening his power, Sigismund enacted a series of reforms, established a conscript army in 1527, and expanded the bureaucratic apparatus necessary to rule the state and finance the army. With the help of his Italian wife, Queen Bona Sforza, he began buying land to expand the royal estate. He also began a process of restitution (restoration) of royal goods that had previously been pledged or given as fiefs to members of the nobility. In 1537 the king's policy led to a major conflict, known as the Chicken War . The Szlachta, the lower nobility, gathered near Lemberg for a levée en masse and demanded military intervention against Moldova. The small and middle nobility began a rebellion with the intention of inducing the king to abandon his reforms.

Albrecht von Hohenzollern, Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, submitted to the Polish King in 1525 and took the new Duchy of Prussia as a fief. The country was secularized and the new evangelical faith guaranteed. As early as the 15th century, a change in economic conditions began to emerge. In the countryside, serfdom and corporal economy prevailed, while the cities, especially Krakow, Danzig, Thorn, Lublin, and later Warsaw, grew into flourishing trading cities of international standing.

1569–1795: Republic of Poland-Lithuania (Rzeczpospolita)

The Treaty of Vilnius presented in 1561 the sphere of in Kurland , Livonia and Estonia footed branch of the Teutonic Order under Polish supremacy. The king guaranteed Landmeister Gotthard Kettler the German language, German law, German self-government and freedom of belief, which later survived under Swedish and Russian rule until the 19th century. The Livonian Confederation thus protected itself against the Russian policy of conquest.

The Baltic crisis, which followed the dissolution of the order in the Baltic States, opened an era of the Northern Wars in which Poland-Lithuania, after the end of the Jagiellonian dynasty in 1572, gradually lost its dominant position in Eastern Europe. The impetus for this renewed turn of the epoch came from Tsarist Russia. When Tsar Ivan IV invaded the politically torn Livonia in 1558 , it unleashed a 25-year conflict on the Baltic coast. This advance called counter-strategies in Sweden, Denmark and Poland, each of which aimed at supremacy in the Baltic Sea. In the First Northern War , Sweden and Poland were initially able to push back Russian power until 1582 and keep it away from the Baltic Sea for a century and a half.

Lublin Union

The Union of Lublin Act of 1569
Largest area of ​​international law power of the Rzeczpospolita in 1618, after the Treaty of Deulino with the Russian Czarism
Large-scale structure of the Polish Rzeczpospolita at the time of its greatest expansion in 1618. The Duchy of Prussia and the Duchy of Courland were Polish fiefdoms at that time.

Under the impression of the Russian offensive in the Livonian War against the Baltic States , the personal union between Poland and Lithuania was converted into a real union with the Union of Lublin in 1569 due to the lack of successors . A majority of Lithuania agreed to the union with Poland - against the guarantee of autonomy in the areas of military sovereignty, state finances, jurisdiction and the official language. Poland and Lithuania became the Rzeczpospolita, a republic based on a federation under the presidency of a King of Poland elected for life and Grand Duke of Lithuania in Realunion (officially the Republic of the Polish Crown [Kingdom of Poland] and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania ). For Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine, this meant the extensive Polonization of their ruling classes in the long term . At the end of the 16th century, the Rzeczpospolita comprised the area of ​​central, northern and eastern Poland, Kaliningrad Oblast, Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus, Ukraine, Slovakia, Estonia and Moldova.

When electing a king, all noble imperial citizens should assemble on the electoral field in Wola near Warsaw to determine the ruler in free choice. Every nobleman had a vote, the impoverished country nobleman as well as the most powerful magnate. Buying votes was common. The elected king was forced to make concessions to the nobility with the pacta conventa . He also had to conjure up the Articuli Henriciani . The king was regarded as primus inter pares , real power lay in the hands of the high nobility, who exercised it through sole possession of all state offices and rulership over the subjects. Since the constitution, the Nihil Novi of 1505, the head of state has not been able to pass a new law with his two chambers without the consent of the Reichstag.

The principle of unanimity for all Reichstag resolutions had been in effect since the 16th century, but was only applied since 1652 in such a way that a single MP with the call of the Liberum Veto could block parliament and invalidate all resolutions passed so far. The problem of these regulations was recognized by many, but power and social disinterest of the large landowners prevented reforms. Most of the cities remained without political influence and, like the defense of the country, were neglected because the nobility refused to raise the necessary financial resources to set up a powerful army. As a result of the refusal to pay taxes, the state treasury remained notoriously damp from the establishment of the common state until its demise. As a result, the Polish-Lithuanian republic had to be defended with small armies on several fronts. The situation of the oppressed peasant class was bad because of the forced labor and personal lack of freedom. Characteristic of the political development of this time is the formation of a " noble nation " with Polonized Lithuanian, Ruthenian and German-Prussian-Baltic nobility, while the rural population in the north and east of the country remained predominantly German, Lithuanian, Belarusian and Ukrainian-speaking. After 1572, the Polish Imperial Diet of Magnates increasingly restricted the power of kingship and permanently secured the privilege of electing a king.

Reformation and Counter-Reformation

The Reformation spread rapidly in Poland and Lithuania. The Calvinism was in 1540 by Jan Łaski taken to Poland. Under the influence of the Unitarian , Faustus Sozzini , the Church of the Socinians was founded in 1579 . The Lutheranism had found initially in the German population in the Prussian cities and in Krakow collection, in the Duchy of Prussia, the lessons began Luther and Calvin enforce. King Sigismund I fought them politically with a series of edicts and rights restrictions, in Danzig also militarily. His son and successor Sigismund August, in whom the Protestants had high hopes, did not change denominations, but did not take any vigorous action against the Reformation. In the years after 1548, Reformation communities of various stripes formed in a number of places: in the west of the country the expelled Bohemian brothers in Leszno and Ostroróg , in the east Arians and Anabaptists in Raków and other media cities of noble magnate families. The Protestant schools of the Rzeczpospolita concluded the Sandomir Consensus in 1570 . With the "Pax Dissidentium" of the Confederation of Warsaw in 1573, the unrestricted freedom of religion of Protestants, including their political equality and civil rights, was sanctioned under constitutional law.

The fragmentation of the movement in different directions was a weakness on which the Counter-Reformation began, which began in Poland with Stanislaus Hosius , the Bishop of Warmia. The foreign policy leaning of the following three Wasa kings to the Catholic Habsburg and the domestic political struggle against the nobility pushed the Protestants back further and further. However, there was no institution like the Inquisition in Poland and no one was burned at the stake. The Polish tolerance of that time was explained by the fact that the representatives of the dominant nobility wanted to save themselves a religious war like in the neighboring Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation or Huguenot France. A balance was found with a part of the Ruthenian Orthodox Church in the Church Union of Brest , which was concluded in 1596 . This was intended to secure the eastern border, but did not meet the expectations of the state leadership and the local dignitaries involved. From the middle of the 17th century, the country began to become more and more re-Catholic , and religious and national minorities were increasingly marginalized. It encouraged the emigration of large parts of the Protestant population, which meant that the country's economic and intellectual potential was permanently lost.

Golden century

Poloniae descriptio by the Polish geographer Wenceslaus Godreccius in the world atlas Theatrum Orbis Terrarum by Abraham Ortelius , 1592

Art, literature and science reached a climax in the "golden century" of the Renaissance and humanism , especially during the reign of the Renaissance king Sigismund the Elder, an upswing in literature and art, with Latin, which had dominated the literature up to that point, being replaced by Polish fully unfolded from around 1500. The “Vistula Gothic” flourished, the Italian Renaissance penetrated the “Krakow School of Painting” and the influence of German and Flemish artists, including Veit Stoss, increased . At the Kraków Academy , a center of humanism, Conrad Celtis and the lawyers Paweł Włodkowic and Jan Ostroróg worked . Through the immigration of German printers, wood carvers and publishers, Krakow rose to become the leading center of book printing in East Central Europe. The poets Mikołaj Rej , Jan Kochanowski and Łukasz Górnicki founded Polish literature , the philosopher Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski the Polish state theory and Nicolaus Copernicus the heliocentric worldview . Italian and French influences were reflected in architecture and art. Numerous aristocratic palaces, town houses and churches were built, the royal castle on Wawel Hill was expanded into a magnificent residence, and new cities were founded. The Chancellor Jan Zamoyski had a Renaissance model city, Zamość , built, the cities of Lemberg , Vilnius and Posen became important cultural centers, the Prussian Hanseatic cities of Elbing , especially Danzig , became the country's most important trading ports.

Struggle for control of the Baltic Sea

Second sovereign of the "Rzeczpospolita" in 1573 was the French Prince Heinrich von Valois . However, the king suddenly left his throne after a few months of reign without having formally abdicated. He had from the death of his brother Charles IX. , King of France and was able to secure the French crown, which was connected with more power, by being present at the Paris court. Heinrich left behind the Pacta conventa and the Articuli Henriciani, which had a constitutional character and reduced royal rights to a minimum. The rights and privileges granted by him, despite his short "rule of 146 days", became the basis of the golden freedom and established the prominent position of the aristocratic republican aristocracy . Heinrich let the return date set for him pass by. He was declared forfeit of the crown and with Stephan Báthory , who had strong support from Jan Zamoyski , a Hungarian aristocrat from the Principality of Transylvania was able to successfully assert himself in Poland in 1576 . Báthory was a skilful tactician in the power structure of the republic and led his army victoriously against the Moscow state in the Livonian War. In three campaigns ( Polotsk 1579, Velikije Luki 1580 and Pleskau 1581) he defeated the Tsar, who finally concluded an armistice with the Polish king in the Treaty of Jam Zapolski . The Tsar ceded the area around the city of Polotsk, which had been conquered in 1563, and Livonia with Dorpat, which had been partially annexed since 1558, to the Polish crown. Stephan Báthory founded the University of Vilnius in 1579 with the help of the Jesuits whom he brought to Poland and promoted . The plan to liberate his Hungarian homeland from Turkish rule with the help of Poland could not be realized because of his sudden death in 1586.

1587 was Sigismund III. Wasa , who united the race of the Jagiellonians and the Wasa in his person, was elected king. The election of a Swedish prince favored the outbreak of momentous Swedish-Polish wars . In 1592 Sigismund III. additionally Swedish king and thus established a Swedish-Polish personal union. However, when he was elected, the Sejm had obliged him to be permanently present in Poland. So Sigismund III. appoint a regent in Sweden. 1603 tried Sigismund III. Wasa regaining the throne of his Swedish homeland, which he had lost as a result of the Battle of Stångebro in 1598 and his deposition as King of Sweden by the Swedish Diet in 1599. This resulted in the end of the personal union between Sweden and Poland, which existed from 1592 onwards, and provoked the outbreak of the Swedish-Polish wars 1600–1629 . For Poland this brought the loss of Livonia and Prussian coastal areas. King Sigismund moved the capital of Poland from Krakow to Warsaw in 1596 because of its central location in Poland and the greater proximity to his hereditary kingdom of Sweden. At the same time as the war against Sweden, there were conflicts with the Ottoman Empire and with Tsarist Russia.

The Polish King Sigismund III. during the siege of Smolensk
  • The king intervened in the Russian throne chaos, the Smuta , which broke out in Russia after the death of Tsar Boris Godunov around 1605. During the conflict that lasted from 1609 to 1618 , in 1610 Polish-Lithuanian Union troops under the leadership of the crown field hetman Stanisław Żółkiewski occupied Moscow for two years. A desired personal union failed because of Russian resistance to the royal plans and the internal constitution of Poland. After eventful battles, the war came to an end with the Treaty of Deulino in 1618. King Sigismund received rule over Smolensk and Severia. With this, the aristocratic republic reached its greatest territorial extent with a state area of ​​almost 1,000,000 square kilometers. After Sigismund's death and breaking the treaty concluded in 1618, Tsar Michael tried to enforce his territorial claims to the lost territory in the " Smolensk War " from 1632, which resulted in defeat due to the timely relief from the new Polish king, Władysław IV. Wasa of the Russian state flowed.
  • The foreign policy of the Polish Wasa, oriented towards the Habsburgs, and the raids by the Cossacks on Turkish territory, shattered the relatively good relationship with the Ottoman Empire, also due to the many raids by the Tatar peoples, Ottoman vassals, against the provinces of the kingdom. After Cossack-Tatar border skirmishes, interference of local magnates from Ukraine in the internal affairs of the Ottoman vassals, the Danube principalities , the Ottoman-Polish War 1620–1621 broke out . Sultan, Osman II , assembled a force of up to 300,000 men against the republic, which the Polish king opposed at Chocim with a mixed Polish-Ukrainian army (up to 75,000 troops , including 6,450 Germans). When the Ottomans, despite their numerical superiority, failed to break through the Polish-Ukrainian front after more than a month, both sides agreed to an "honorable" armistice.

Age of the "Bloody Deluge"

ukrainian cossack
The Cossacks were free Russian Orthodox warriors who lived along the Dnieper and fought against the Crimean Tatars. Some of them were registered Cossacks in royal pay. Another part, the Zaporozhian Cossacks , evaded any rule. The Cossacks felt exploited by Polish landowners. They developed a collective self-confidence and rose up in numerous revolts against Polish rule .

In 1648 John II Casimir became the new Polish king. Hardly in power, tensions intensified in the southeast. The feudal and religious pressure on the Ruthenian population sparked another major uprising, the Khmelnytskyi uprising led by Bohdan Khmelnytskyi against Polish rule. The Cossacks plundered the properties of Polish landowners, brought large parts of Ukraine under their control and advanced with their army as far as Lviv. At the same time Chmielnyzkyj was against living in Ukraine Jewish pogroms perpetrate because many of them served as Polish managers. According to recent estimates, the pogroms killed almost half of the approximately 40,000 Jewish residents of Ukraine, and many of the survivors fled the country.

After eventful war events, the conflict came to an end in 1654. The Cossacks switched to the sovereignty of the Russian Tsar. The change of side was not without controversy within the Cossack nation, since some preferred to reunite with Poland. The deep divisions left the Ukraine area in war-like conditions and chaos for decades. The annexation of eastern Ukraine to Russia led to the Russo-Polish War from 1654 to 1667 . In the spring of 1655 this led to the occupation of a large part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Ukraine by Russian troops. When Johann Kasimir declared himself king of Sweden in 1655, he gave the Swedish king Karl X Gustav the welcome occasion to attack Poland. The Thirty Years' War had emptied the Swedish treasury, and at the same time an expensive army had to be maintained in the conquered countries. Sweden's advance was favored by the different interests of the Polish magnate houses and the military situation of the republic in the east. The Wielkopolska aristocracy surrendered to the Swedish armed forces without a fight and then paid homage to Karl X. Gustav as their king. One after the other, the most important cities fell into Swedish hands: Warsaw in September and Krakow in October. The Russians, in alliance with the Cossacks, advanced as far as Lublin , Puławy and the Vistula .

King John Casimir was abandoned by most of the nobility and fled to the Holy Roman Empire in Silesia, where he hoped for help from the Habsburgs. In Lithuania, in view of the Russian successes, the nobles agreed to a union of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania with Sweden , which meant the break of the real union with Poland. However, the number of Swedish troops was insufficient to hold the conquered territories. The representatives of the Polish nobility also changed fronts and organized themselves into the Tyszowce Confederation . Moreover, the Russian Tsar Alexei fell out with the Karl Gustav on the division of conquests and explained to him the end of May 1656 the war , while the Polish king a limited two-year ceasefire Niemież concluded. The Swedish-Polish and Russian-Polish Wars thus expanded into a Swedish-Russian-Polish conflict, the Second Northern War . Johann Kasimir returned to Poland in early 1656. In 1656 the Elector Friedrich Wilhelm von Brandenburg , who was subject to Karl Gustav, accepted his offer to make him sovereign Duke in Prussia for an alliance. With the victory of the Swedish-Brandenburg armed forces over the aristocratic republic's troops in the three-day battle near Warsaw , Karl Gustav recognized the sovereignty of the Duchy of Prussia in the Treaty of Labiau in 1656.

Karl Gustav saw his only hope in a victory over Poland and the partition of the republic with the involvement of Transylvania, Brandenburg and Chmielnicki. At the beginning of 1657, the principality of Transylvania, which was under Ottoman protection, took the side of the Swedes under the leadership of the Protestant Georg II Rákóczi and devastated large areas of Poland in the south and east with his Transylvanian-Cossack army. To prevent Sweden from becoming overweight in Northern Europe, the Kingdom of Denmark and the Habsburg Monarchy under Emperor Ferdinand III allied . and the Netherlands with Poland. The Swedish defeats from mid-1657 onwards, Friedrich Wilhelm, who had remained waiting, took the opportunity to ask Archduke Leopold to mediate with the Polish king. Poland's top government accepted the offer to change sides in Brandenburg. Poland now also granted the Duchy of Prussia full sovereignty. This should enable the son of Friedrich Wilhelm to elevate the duchy to the Kingdom of Prussia in 1701 .

Territorial losses and Poland as a pawn for European powers

Decline and loss of the great power under King John II Casimir, the last of the Vasa in Poland

The war with Sweden lasted until the Treaty of Oliva in 1660. The treaty established the status quo ante bellum . The Elector of Brandenburg gained sovereignty over the Duchy of Prussia. France assumed the guarantee of keeping the peace. The tsar's troops could now be pushed back as far as the Dnieper. The victories of the renegade magnate Jerzy Sebastian Lubomirski and the change of power in the Crimean khanate, which threatened the southern border, resulted in the conclusion of an unfavorable armistice with Moscow in 1667. With this, Poland lost over a quarter (a total of 261,500 km²) of its territory, which from 1667 amounted to 733,500 km². In 1668 the last Vasa king, Johann Casimir, abdicated. A quarter of the population at that time had died as a result of epidemics, famine, looting and acts of violence. Additional population losses resulted from the loss of territory to Russia and the Polish economy was also shattered. Manfred Alexander describes Poland's situation after the resignation of Johann Kasimir as follows: “In five years, Poland lost as many people in percentage terms as Germany did in the Thirty Years War , the main burden was borne by the cities. Their planned and methodical destruction [... led to] Poland remaining an agricultural country. It was not until 1848 that the cities returned to roughly the level of 1655. ”In 1669 the Sejm elected Michael Wiśniowiecki as King of Poland. Four other candidates were rejected because the representatives of the small nobility wanted to give their vote to a local candidate after bad experiences with foreigners, in contrast to the noble Republican magnates.

The state of war existing in right-bank Ukraine culminated in the Ottoman-Polish War from 1672 to 1676. In order to forestall an imminent military defeat, the weakened Poland concluded the Preliminary Peace of Buczacz . Ottoman Turkey extended its rule over large parts of southern Ukraine. The Polish Reichstag refused to ratify the treaty; acts of war began again. After eventful battles, the war ended in 1676 with the Treaty of Żurawno . King Wiśniowiecki died in 1673. The Grand Crown Hetman Jan Sobieski was elected as his successor in 1674 thanks to his popularity and military merits.

Contemporary painting of the siege of Vienna in 1683. In the foreground the relief army of King Johann III. Sobieski in the battle against the Turks, in the background the besieged city.

Under Sobieski, who initially had the support of France, the aristocratic republic , which was in a deep political-economic-military crisis, experienced a brief renaissance of political power at the end of the 17th century. The new king was supposed to free the state from the perpetual threat from the Turks in the south-east of the empire. Sobieski turned away from his ally France and concluded a mutual assistance pact with the Habsburgs in April 1683. This was quickly applied when the Turks besieged Vienna in the summer. The Polish Reichstag approved the dispatch of a relief army, which contributed significantly to the victory of the Allied troops in the Battle of Kahlenberg (1683). Further advances in the southeast against the Ottoman-occupied Podolia, Moldavia and Wallachia were unsuccessful. Poland entered 1684 through the mediation of Pope Innocent XI. founded Holy League . Two years later, "perpetual peace" was made with Russia . Domestically, the king failed to achieve his goals: he was unable to enforce his family's claims to rule or limit the power of the nobility. The latter openly opposed him because he saw a threat to his rights in a strong kingdom. The consequences of wars and occupations by foreign armies - occupation costs, looting and destruction of the country - led to the impoverishment and indebtedness of large social classes, including the nobility. After Sobieski's death (1696), the federation fell into a decentralized magnate confederation with weak foreign kings. Poland became the “plaything” of European powers, especially Russia. The general decline manifested itself in a permanent blockade of the Polish parliament through the Liberum Veto and in the formation of legal resistance movements against the overall interests of the state whenever the nobility saw their prominent position in danger. In the 18th century, the confederations were often under the influence of foreign ambassadors who brought the country to the brink of civil war.

Saxon time

Election of King August the Strong at Wola in 1697
Oil painting by Jean-Pierre Norblin de La Gourdaine , circa 1790

In Poland, the Saxon period means the reign of the two kings of the Wettin family . It was August the Strong 1697–1733 and his son August III. 1733–1763, the Poles ruled in personal union with their native Electorate of Saxony . The elections were accompanied by massive bribery and did not go unchallenged. In order to secure the Polish crown, the Protestant elector had to convert to Catholicism. The Karlowitz Peace Treaty in 1699 with the Sublime Porte made it possible for Podolia to return to Poland. The conflicts with the Ottoman Empire that had been waged since 1444 also ended with the Great Turkish War . The country's politics were increasingly determined by the high aristocratic factions, namely the Potockis , Czartoryskis and Sapiehas , who were at war with one another and increasingly financially dependent on foreign powers. The king's attempts to establish an absolutist rule failed due to the lack of domestic power .

Depiction of the campaigns during the first phase of the war from the outbreak of war in 1700 to the end of the war as a result of the Battle of Poltava in July 1709. At this time, Poland was devastated by Swedish, Russian and Saxon-Polish armies, which led to drastic economic losses and impoverishment of the population led.

The great dispute between Russia and Sweden over Livonia and over domination in the Baltic Sea in the Great Northern War extended to Poland. Both warring parties also fought for political influence over the aristocratic republic. In the first decade of the war, when Petrine Russia was on the verge of collapse, Poland was primarily threatened by Sweden. After the defeat of the Swedish king, the aristocratic republic came under increasing pressure from Russia. This made use of the internal conflict between the absolutist reform efforts of the electoral king August II and the conservatism of the nobility to play the role of mediator who in reality forced the interests of Russia on the parties. In this emerging sovereignty crisis, the boundaries between internal and external politics blurred. This was first noticeable in the Mute Sejm of 1716/17 , on which Peter I was assured of military control of Polish territory. In fact, the army strength of 24,000 men fixed in the Silent Sejm of 1717 (effectively hardly more than 10,000 men) meant the military collapse of Poland. In the Peace of Nystad, Peter I was able to secure his intervention success in Poland by means of international law. Russia was given the right to intervene in the event of constitutional reforms.

After the death of the Polish King August II, an interregnum was created, from which the War of the Polish Succession developed. The three neighboring powers of Russia, Prussia and Austria came to an agreement to prevent the election of a French-backed king (as an attempt at a Barrière de l'Est against the central and eastern European dominance of the three powers). Furthermore, Poland's incapacity to act should be maintained. Thanks to the support of Russia and Austria, his son, August III., Was able to prevail against his opponent Stanislaus I. Leszczyński during the War of the Polish Succession, at the cost of increasing political influence from Russia in Poland. The country was largely ruled by his favorite Heinrich Graf von Brühl . At the same time, the aristocracy developed increasing prosperity, which led to questions of internal reform of the state. The spirit of the Enlightenment penetrated Poland, and attempts were made to improve the educational system. The consequences in architecture were particularly positive. The image of the capital Warsaw changed: the Royal Castle was extensively rebuilt, the Saxon Axis was created based on the model of Versailles with the Saxon Palace and the Saxon Garden . The chances for fundamental reforms that arose after the end of the War of the Polish Succession were wasted. The country and with it the system of aristocratic democracy drifted to the brink of ruin. Several attempts to reform and strengthen the state structures, especially its finances, during the Diets of 1738, 1744, 1746 and 1748 were unsuccessful. The high nobility refused to tax themselves, in addition to the fear of absolutist aspirations. The institution of kingship in Poland was too weak to implement the reforms against the particular interests of the magnate families.

Partitions of Poland-Lithuania

With this copper engraving, Johannes Esaias Nilson shaped the image of the first partition of Poland-Lithuania in 1772 for a long time. At the same time, the widespread engraving kept the memory of the existence of Poland alive in the minds of numerous patriots.
The adoption of the May constitution on May 3, 1791, at the time of the four-year-old Sejm in the Warsaw Royal Castle (painting from 1806)
General Tadeusz Kościuszko swears the oath in the main market square in Krakow to liberate Poland from the invading powers

The internal decline of the Polish-Lithuanian aristocratic republic continued even after Stanislaus August Poniatowski was elected king in 1764. Despite careful reform efforts, such as the establishment of educational institutions and factories and a heyday in the field of art and culture, further steps such as the abolition of the Liberum Veto failed, mainly because of resistance from Russia. Russia wanted to keep Poland under political control. Under Russian pressure, King Poniatowski and the Sejm had to sign a Polish-Russian treaty in 1768, which left everything the same and placed the Royal Republic on a par with a Russian protectorate. Numerous conservative nobles were against the treaty and formed a resistance organization, the Confederation of Bar . This was directed against the pro-Russian King Poniatowski, the reforms in the country, the curtailment of the Golden Freedom and the strong Russian influence in Poland. A four-year civil war began, which deepened the chaos in the country and assumed European dimensions. The French King Louis XV. and the Ottoman Sultan Mustafa III. entered into an alliance with the Confederation. Their goal was to secure the republic as a barrier de l'est against Russian expansion. In the subsequent Russo-Turkish war , the confederation suffered high numbers of victims among the nobility. In order to secure their share of the Polish booty, Austrian and Brandenburg-Prussian troops had marched into parts of Poland as early as 1769 and kept them occupied. In the treaties of 1772, Russia received the Połock, Vitebsk, Mścisław and Livonia voivodeships . Large parts of Malopolska and Ruthenia fell to Austria. Prussia took over Royal Prussia and parts of the Inowrocław and Gnesen voivodeships as West Prussia and the Duchy of Warmia. In total, Poland lost almost 200,000 km² with 4.5 million inhabitants when it was first divided. He had 527,000 km² with seven million people.

These events drove leaders of the state to push for internal reforms. A fundamental reform of the state finances, a modernization of the army (construction and financing of a 100,000 strong standing army) and the education system (through the establishment of the commission for the national education system ) were agreed . Further reforms emerged at the end of the 1780s when the four-year-old Sejm passed a new constitution. This provided for a hereditary monarchy under the House of Wettin and went down in history as the constitution of May 3, 1791 . In addition to a division and entanglement of powers, the principle of popular sovereignty should also apply, even if the nobility should remain the most important class. The resistance of the old dividing powers to the reforms grew. Prussia sought proximity to Russia, although it had been allied with Poland in an anti-Russia defensive alliance since 1790. Russia encouraged conservative nobles to band together in the Targowica Confederation , which was supported by the Russian military. The resistance of the anti-reformist forces and the Russian intervention in support of their vassals in Poland forced another Russian-Polish war in 1792 . The hasty capitulation of the king and his accession to the Targowica Confederation contributed to a further division of revolutionary Poland in 1793, in which all areas east of the line from Daugavpils to Chocim were part of Russia; Greater Poland, Western Mazovia and the cities of Danzig and Thorn fell to Prussia. The country had to submit to the annexations in the last aristocratic republican Sejm, the Sejm of Grodno , with military force. It remained a Polish rump state with 240,000 km² and 3.5 million inhabitants.

A year later, the Kościuszko uprising broke out. For the first time it was a popular uprising. Kościuszko proclaimed himself a dictator and hoped for outside help. The fighting was initially successful, for example in the Battle of Racławice . But the overwhelming power of Prussians and Russians prevailed. In the Battle of Maciejowice in October 1794, the main contingent with Kościuszko in the lead. With the successful struggle for the Polish capital for the invaders , the Kościuszko uprising had finally failed and the fate of Poland was sealed. With the third division, in which Russia received all Lithuanian and Ruthenian areas east of Bug and Memel , Austria received the rest of Lesser Poland with Krakow and Brandenburg-Prussia, the rest of Mazovia with Warsaw and parts of Lithuania, Poland and Lithuania were out of the political process for over 100 years Map of Europe disappeared. The final partition convention, concluded in Saint Petersburg in 1797, was supplemented by a secret supplementary agreement:

In the face of the need to abolish anything that could revive the memory of the Kingdom of Poland… the contracting parties agree… never to add the name or dignity of the Kingdom of Poland to their titles, which is today and for all Time should remain suppressed! "

1795–1914: foreign rule

Poland in the coalition wars 1795–1815

The Duchy of Warsaw within the borders of 1809

→  Main articles: Duchy of Warsaw , Congress Poland , Republic of Krakow and Grand Duchy of Poznan

The insurgents and opposition members who remained after the end of the Polish statehood placed their hopes in revolutionary France . At his suggestion, a 6,000-strong Polish Legion under General Jan Henryk Dąbrowski was established in northern Italy by 1797 , which fought on Napoleon's side until the Peace of Lunéville in 1801, without getting any closer to its actual goal. Instead, because their Polish officers were so close to the Jacobins , the Polish soldiers were used by Napoleon, who was striving for absolute power, in the fight against insurgents in Haiti , where the majority of them were decimated by tropical diseases. What remained was the legionnaires' will to win, which was manifested in the text of the song by Józef Wybickis from 1797: “ Poland is not lost as long as we live ”, and furthermore “March, march, Dąbrowski, from Italy to Poland” (since 1918 the national anthem of Poland).

At the same time, Polish nobles at the Petersburg court, like Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski , who came to influence the Tsar (1801–1825 it was Alexander I), tried to alleviate the situation in the Russian division, which was temporarily achieved through greater freedom, especially in the educational system However, it did not show any successes in foreign policy because Russia was not ready for a war against Prussia. The French war successes of 1806 induced some Poles to count on Napoleon and to dare an armed uprising in the Polish South Prussia . Due to the weakness of Prussia and the advance of the Grande Armée , the survey was successful.

Napoleon, who was celebrated like a liberator when he invaded Warsaw on December 19, 1806 after defeating Prussia, thought of the future struggle against Russia. He declared himself ready, within the framework of the Tilsit Peace , from which Prussia emerged weakened, to form the Duchy of Warsaw, headed by the Saxon Elector Friedrich August . Instead of the expected confirmation of the May constitution , following the French model, the “Conventional Statute” was issued so that political power fell to the French resident in Warsaw.

Prince Józef Antoni Poniatowski, military leader of the Duchy of Warsaw

The commitment of the Polish population to the new state grew. The military fighting on the French side succeeded in 1809 in recapturing parts of Lesser Poland from the Austrian Empire . During the Austro-Polish War under Archduke Ferdinand Karl von Österreich-Este , Austria tried to stifle the newly established Polish state. For these reasons, the Polish willingness to participate massively in Napoleon's Russian campaign was also high . With over 100,000 men and around 4 million inhabitants, the Poles from the duchy made up the largest contingent after the French and fought alongside France in Russia in the winter of 1812–1813. Only a few thousand returned to their homeland. Due to the defeat of Napoleon and his Grande Armée, Russia occupied large parts of the duchy, including the capital Warsaw, and gave the country contributions.

The Napoleonic Wars left an emaciated “rump Poland”. While almost all of Europe opposed Napoleon in 1813, the Poles were the only European people who remained loyal to Napoleon in the Battle of Leipzig , while the remaining French allies overflowed mainly from the Rhine Confederation . Because the Russian emperor was not prepared to make any concessions on the question of a sovereign Poland, Prince Poniatowski and his people found themselves in a difficult situation. With the fall of Napoleon by the partitioning powers and the United Kingdom , the Poles were under foreign rule for a little over a century . The final decision on Poland's future came at the Congress of Vienna in 1815, when the partition of Poland was confirmed (although Prussia had to cede most of the territories acquired in the third partition (1795) to Russia). Krakow, which was Austrian until 1809, was declared a Free City . The Duchy of Warsaw was reduced to the province of Posen , which fell back to Prussia. The rest was given its own constitution and autonomy as the “ Kingdom of Poland ” and was united in a personal union with the Russian Empire. Although the existence of a Polish nation was recognized by all major European powers, the Polish nation-state disappeared from the European map (finally after the dissolution of the “Congress of Poland” constitution in 1831) and the Polish culture and language were partially suppressed.

Period of uprisings 1815–1864

Deposition of the Russian Emperor on January 25, 1831
Edward Dembowski during the Cracow Uprising

In the long run, after the Vienna resolutions of 1815, the Polish nation was unwilling to accept the status quo . The Catholic Church grew into the role of a keeper of traditions.

The political development since 1815 was characterized by a rather moderate repression by the emperor and his Warsaw governor Novossilzew . But many young Poles, who were shaped by the spirit of Polish Romanticism , were not satisfied with this. The news of revolutions in Paris and Belgium in 1830 also led a group of Warsaw conspirators to take up arms. On November 28, 1830, the uprising against Russian rule broke out. The uprising had no concrete political goals. Due to the hesitant Russian reaction, some initial successes were achieved which led the Sejm, which met in December, to declare the Romanov dynasty deposed. In the course of 1831 Russia retained the upper hand in the massive military conflict, also because the rebels were not prepared to take any further steps on the peasant question.

The November uprising was extremely popular all over Europe, especially in Germany, where the Polish infatuation continued even after the failure of the uprising and the onset of the “Great Emigration” and led to the emergence of solidarity committees and “Polish songs”, the climax of which was the “ Hambacher Fest “in 1832, where German and Polish national aspirations were combined. In the Russian partition, the special position of the Poles has now been massively restricted. Russification began in parts of the administration and the Polish-language education system was weakened. The Hôtel Lambert in Paris became a new center of Polish politics, to which many important politicians fled and where the two main camps, the "Conservatives" and the "Democrats", were established.

Due to the repression in the Russian partition, the main focus for a renewed uprising turned to the other two regions. At the beginning of 1846 an all-Polish survey was planned, which should focus on the Prussian Poznan and the Free City of Krakow. The Poznan plan was betrayed and the conspirators and Ludwik Mierosławski were arrested. The efforts in the Austrian division were only carried out half-heartedly. At the same time, however, a peasant uprising broke out there, which was primarily directed against the Polish noblemen and was partially supported by the authorities. This civil war resulted in over 1,000 deaths in two months. During the Cracow uprising Cracow came temporarily into Polish hands, but was occupied by Austrian troops and incorporated into the Danube monarchy in 1846 . In view of this failure, it was all the more surprising that two years later the Polish question returned to a dominant issue in Prussia.

In the Prussian partition, the years since 1815 were mainly characterized by the peasant liberation carried out in 1823 . The relatively moderate policy towards the Poles became increasingly anti-Polish after the assumption of office of the new Chief President Eduard Heinrich von Flottwell at the end of 1830, especially in education and church policy. From the beginning of the 1840s, under the new Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV., A more liberal Poland policy became apparent, until the uprising plans of 1846 and the great Berlin Poland trial initiated a turning point. The March Revolution of 1848 led to the resurgence of Polish organizations in the Prussian province of Posen . There was a riot there . German and Polish Democrats worked closely together. The Prussian king overcame his temporary weakness and national tensions in the country increased. The insurgents did not succeed in defeating the Prussian military superiority. In the three-day debate on Poland held by the Frankfurt National Assembly in July 1848, only a few stood for the rights of Poles; the national-conservative forces finally prevailed. There was no uprising in the Russian partition.

Russian troops on the streets of Warsaw 1861

It was not until the Russian defeat in the Crimean War in 1855 and the assumption of office of the new emperor Alexander II led to plans for close Polish-Russian cooperation under the moderate nobleman Aleksander Wielopolski , who was appointed head of a civilian government consisting only of Poland in 1862. The democrats saw themselves again induced by the unification efforts of Italy ( Risorgimento ) to revolutionary deeds and started an armed uprising in January 1863, the January uprising , in which it was not possible to get support from other European states. The various social intentions of the Polish emigration, the lack of an effective military leadership in the country and the futile attempts to mobilize the peasants too, brought this uprising to failure as well. The reprisals of the Russians, expropriations and deportations to Siberia , led to the fact that the nobility lost their dominant power within Polish society; the ideas of romanticism finally failed.

“Organic Labor” and the Polish National Movement 1864–1914

The failure of the uprisings led to new considerations among the elites in all three subdivisions, which were increasingly made up by the bourgeoisie. From the passive resistance, especially in the Russian part, arose the will to escape the threatening Russification and Germanization on one's own without resorting to rebellions. The elites favored the concept of a slow, evolutionary development of one's own skills in the fields of business, education or culture. This concept was given the catchphrase “ organic work ”. This approach was developed by publicists and writers who mainly gathered in Warsaw. Among other things, they founded the " flying universities ", at whose secret meetings the social, scientific and medical problems of their time were discussed. Based on the main work “Positive Philosophy” by the French philosopher Auguste Comte , those who belonged to the movement called themselves positivists .

In the context of this cultural national struggle, the return to the past played a major role. The Krakow history painter Jan Matejko created numerous patriotically motivated paintings that played an important role in preserving Poland's cultural identity during the 123 years of division. The patriotic literature of that time was also based on history. The historical novels by Henryk Sienkiewicz were important here . Popular myths and stories such as the experiences of Michał Drzymała or the hymn " Rota " by the important writer Maria Konopnicka with its anti-German and anti-Prussian lines played an important role in the national struggle. How inspiring and mobilizing the political myth of Grunwald has on the oppressed Polish population was shown in July 1910 when 150,000 people gathered for the centenary of the battle - the largest national rally during the entire period of division. Since the battlefield itself belonged to the German Empire, the event took place in Krakow, Galicia, where the Austro-Hungarian government pursued a much more liberal cultural policy.

"Kulturkampf" and consequences: Prussian partition

In Prussia, with the assumption of office of the new Prime Minister Otto von Bismarck, efforts towards full integration of the predominantly Polish-inhabited parts of the country (parts of West Prussia, the province of Posen and Upper Silesia) were intensified. His policy began in the 1860s to be directed against the local nobility and the Catholic clergy in all parts of Prussia. After the establishment of the German Empire in 1871, the Germanization efforts were intensified. This included the gradual abolition of Polish as the language of instruction in high schools. In addition, massive steps against the Catholic clergy were reflected in the course of the Kulturkampf , which also took place in Catholic Westphalia, the Rhineland and Bavaria (including the abolition of religious school supervision ). The last-mentioned actions in particular had the opposite of what was desired, because the Polish farmers who had previously been rather passive on the national level - partly in cooperation with Catholics from the south and west of the empire - began to fight for their Catholic faith.

In West Prussia and in the province of Posen the attempt to further “Germanize the soil” by buying up Polish land failed, as did efforts to lure new German settlers into the country. The main reason was the agricultural character, which promised little prospect of prosperity in the age of the industrial revolution . Germans and Poles alike emigrated from West / East Prussia and Posen to the Ruhr area and the Upper Silesian industrial area. Organizations like the " Ostmarkenverein " exacerbated the differences even more and led to counter-founding of Polish associations. The expulsion of tens of thousands of Poles with Russian citizenship in the years 1885–1886 also raised international public opinion against the German Reich. There were well-organized and effective school strikes against the German language of instruction , the most famous of which in Wreschen in 1901 also attracted international attention. Even a more liberal policy pursued in the meantime under Chancellor Caprivi could not change these long-term actions. As a result, the proportion of Germans and German speakers in the province of Posen fell from 44 to 38 percent between 1871 and 1910, while the proportion of Poles rose accordingly from 56 to 62 percent.

Of course, the Poles also participated in the economic boom of the empire. The emerging modest prosperity also resulted in popular education initiatives, which in turn could be used well as part of “organic work”. A certain degree of legal security for the individual and the possibility of parliamentary participation, for example through the Party of Poles in the Reichstag, gave rise to structures that were useful in the Polish state after 1918. That was an essential difference to Tsarist Russia, in which there was no legal security and in some cases there was not even religious freedom. The Upper Silesian industrial area played a special role within the Prussian state. In those years, like the Ruhr area, it experienced enormous growth, but at the same time the German-Polish national tensions began to discharge ever more violently. The two industrial centers also attracted hundreds of thousands of workers, which led to the high proportion of Poles in the Ruhr area's population. In the Ruhr area, the Polish immigrants ( Ruhr Poles ) quickly integrated into the local population.

Situation in Galicia

Kingdom of Galicia, administrative division, 1914

The conditions for the further development of Polish structures were most favorable in the Austrian partition. After Austria had to accept severe setbacks in Upper Italy, in the context of the Italian Wars of Unification, Risorgimento , at the end of the 1850s and then lost the fight in the German War against Prussia for supremacy in the German Confederation in 1866 and also the internal one in the context of the Austro-Hungarian understanding Compromised with the Kingdom of Hungary , Galicia felt compelled to loosen the reins. The Emperor of Austria , Franz Joseph I, allowed the polonization of the school system and the administration, in other areas one also granted growing Polish influence, so that from 1867 a de facto autonomy of Galicia existed, which, however, the disapproval of the Prussians and Russians conjured up. The Polish-dominated autonomy did not take into account the language and culture of the Ukrainians living in Eastern Galicia.

The University of Cracow and Lviv University , where a number of Polish scientists were trained, had an important influence on intellectual life . In return, the Polish conservative camp pledged its full loyalty to the House of Habsburg-Lorraine and represented it at the Viennese court. The situation of the rural population and the largely unassimilated Jews remained problematic in the structurally weak region . That is why populist peasant movements soon emerged, which laid the foundations for the peasant parties that were powerful in the interwar period. The liberal intellectual climate on the eve of the First World War made it possible for paramilitary groups to be set up to fight for independence. What was missing, however, was a clear and generally supported political concept for further development.

Location in Congress Poland ("Weichselland")

Administrative map of Congress Poland 1907

In the Russian partition, the administrative structures were Russified after the January uprising. The use of the Polish language in newspapers, books and churches was banned. Since 1885, apart from Polish and religion, only Russian has been allowed in schools.

The demographic and economic changes in the second half of the century in the course of the onset of industrialization favored the emergence of socialist movements. The “ Polish Socialist Party ”, founded in Paris in 1892 , which was also active in the Weichselland a year later, led moderate positions under its leader Józef Piłsudski and, since the turn of the century, represented the slogan “Through independence to socialism ”. At the same time, there were terrorist attacks that did not allow the Russian police to calm down. In contrast, more radical forces under the two leaders Julian Balthasar Marchlewski and Rosa Luxemburg formed the " Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania " (SDKPiL) and sought cooperation with the Russian socialists. On the right-hand side of the party spectrum, the “ Liga Narodowa ” ( National League ) established itself , which, with its nationalist, anti-Semitic and Pan-Slavist orientation, sought a different path to national independence and sought Polish autonomy under Russian rule. Their leader Roman Dmowski was Piłsudski's main adversary until his death in 1939. While Dmowski had argued in a book publication around 1908 for an expansion of Poland to the west and had already agreed with the Russian government in 1914 to define Poland's future eastern border with Russia by applying the ethnographic principle , Piłsudski wanted the Polish state borders with reference to the Push the state borders of the Lithuanian-Polish confederation, which fell in 1772, far beyond ethnographic Poland to the east. The peasant movement under Wincenty Witos gained increasing political importance in the rural areas .

At the beginning of the 20th century, the political situation in parts of the Russian Vistula came to a head. The beginning of the Russo-Japanese War with the attack by the Japanese on the Russian Pacific Fleet at Port Arthur on February 8, 1904 heightened hopes for a collapse of the Russian Empire . Towards the end of the year demonstrations against the recruitment of Poles for the Russian army took place in Warsaw and other cities, in which smaller Polish combat units Piłsudskis took part for the first time. These troops carried out attacks and robberies during this period. In February 1905 school strikes were organized, which led to successes such as the re-admission of the Polish language in class. The Russian government also had to make concessions in the religious and economic areas. The violent workers' protests in Russia with their climax on St. Petersburg Bloody Sunday on January 9th jul. / January 22, 1905 greg. gradually spread to the Baltic provinces and Congress Poland. In June there was barricade fighting in Łódź , the industrial center of the Vistula, which claimed many victims.

The Russian Revolution of 1905 exacerbated the crisis, even if Emperor Nicholas II announced political reforms in his October manifesto on October 30th . Further attempts to gain power in Warsaw were made by the PPS. The National Democrats supported the new Russian government of Pyotr Stolypin and conservative-clerical circles of Pope Pius X. called for restraint. In the years that followed, the Russian leadership again took a confrontational course on all nationality issues.

1914–1918: Poland in the First World War

Shifting of the Eastern Front due to the Great Withdrawal of the Russian Army in 1915

The First World War, which broke out in 1914, put the question of revising the Polish partitions back on the European agenda. The Polish territory became the main theater of war in the east. The occupation of large parts of Galicia by the Imperial Russian Army led to a great wave of people fleeing west. These included a particularly large number of Jews who feared renewed pogroms under Russian rule. The counter-offensive by the Central Powers in the summer of 1915 changed the situation and led to the withdrawal of the Russians from all of Congress Poland by winter. The conquered territory was divided into a German Generalgouvernement Warsaw and an Austrian one based in Lublin .

The Regency Council: Polish Duma member Józef Ostrowski, Archbishop Aleksander Kakowski and Prince Zdzisław Lubomirski (from left) in 1917

Politicians in Berlin disagreed on Poland's future. While some, supported by Governor General Hans von Beseler , advocated an autonomous Polish kingdom of Poland, others, such as Erich Ludendorff , pleaded for a peace of understanding with Russia and a return to the pre-war borders. Meanwhile, the Polish Supreme People's Council was established in Poznan . Only after this and after the final failure of the Blitzkrieg strategy was it decided to make an offer to Poles in order to win more Polish soldiers for their own ranks. With the act of November 5, 1916, the German Emperor Wilhelm II and the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph proclaimed the establishment of a Kingdom of Poland in the areas that had previously belonged to Russia, which should lean politically and militarily closely to the Central Powers. In Berlin, however, territorial annexations were still planned at the expense of this state, whose borders were never precisely defined. Shortly afterwards, the Russian Emperor Nicholas II (on December 25, 1916) and the US President Woodrow Wilson (on January 22, 1917) also spoke out in favor of the restoration of the independent Polish state, although only the latter's ideas differed approached Polish interests and wishes regarding the territory of the future Polish state.

In the Austrian division area immediately after beginning of the war were Polish legions under Kuk been set -Oberbefehl that emerged from the para-military organizations protect Jozef Piłsudski. These units comprised around 25,000 men in the summer of 1916 and fought primarily against Russia. After the act of November 5, the legions were placed under German command, and in 1917 the Polish Wehrmacht was to emerge from them . However, part of the brigades refused in July 1917 to take the oath of an imaginary Polish king and of allegiance to the emperors of Germany and Austria, and as a result were either disarmed and imprisoned or directly included in German troops. Piłsudski himself was also arrested and taken to Magdeburg Fortress . On September 18, 1917, the supreme power of the state was formally transferred to a newly established three-member Regency Council, which consisted of the Warsaw Archbishop Aleksander Kakowski , the magnate Prince Zdzisław Lubomirski and the also noble former chairman of the Polish club of the Russian Duma Józef Ostrowski .

General Józef Haller with his troops at the front

Further planning was primarily determined by the collapse of the Russian Empire after the February Revolution and the October Revolution in 1917. The Reich leadership with the OHL at the head now believed in a quick victory and further territorial gains in the east. In the so-called " Bread Peace " with the newly formed People's Republic of Ukraine on February 9, 1918 in Brest Litovsk - not to be confused with the later peace of Brest-Litovsk with Soviet Russia - this part of Polish territory, the region around Chełm, was assured. The support of the German military authorities for an independent state of Lithuania with Vilnius as the capital had already sparked outrage in Poland in December 1917. The requisition of raw materials and food and the deportation of Polish forced laborers to the Reich because of its increasingly difficult economic situation made matters worse .

When the collapse of the German western front began to emerge, all political camps in Poland agreed to achieve their own independence as quickly as possible in accordance with the right of peoples to self-determination advocated by US President Wilson . Polish soldiers who fought on the French side also contributed. The Blue Army founded in June 1917 under General Józef Haller , around 70,000 men (volunteers, former prisoners of war, etc.), was deployed in Champagne , among other places .

1918–1939: Second Republic

Marshal Józef Piłsudski, leader of the Second Polish Republic in the interwar period

Independence and consolidation of the state

At the beginning of 1918 the Central Powers in Brest-Litovsk demanded independence for Poland from Russia; Poland's borders with Germany and Austria were drawn closer than in 1772. After the German Reich and Austria-Hungary had effectively lost the war and the Russian Empire sank into the chaos of the Russian civil war , Poland regained its full state sovereignty , also thanks to the political support of the Western powers . On October 7, 1918, the Regency Council in Warsaw proclaimed an independent Polish state and five days later took over command of the army.

In November 1918, Józef Piłsudski, who was released from custody in Magdeburg, took power in Warsaw as interim head of state. He convened a constituent Sejm , which was supposed to work out and adopt a democratic constitution. In the Versailles Treaty (Article 87) Germany recognized the complete independence of Poland . The first years of independence passed with the internal structure of the state. The existing state structures, which the three different partitioning powers had left behind, had to be standardized and in some cases newly created. In addition, the country was largely devastated by war, and its borders were largely undefined.

When the new constitution was passed in 1921, in which only a weak president was envisaged, Piłsudski renounced the exercise of this office and withdrew into private life. Domestically, the years up to 1926 were determined by several successive parliamentary governments. Gabriel Narutowicz , a representative of the moderate left, was elected Poland's first official president in 1922 . A few days after his inauguration, he was murdered by a nationalist fanatic. His successor chose the National Assembly the moderate socialists Stanisław Wojciechowski . Since the majority in the Polish parliament were unstable, there were frequent changes of government.

From 1921 Poland developed good relations with Great Britain and France , who were interested in Poland as a strategic alliance partner and financed the construction of a new port in Gdynia . The fishing village with 1000 inhabitants became a major and military port with over 100,000 inhabitants in just a few years. Because Gdynia competed with the Danzig port and Poland, against the will of the Danzig government, enforced a Polish ammunition dump on the Westerplatte , tensions arose with the Free City of Danzig. Access to East Prussia from the rest of the German Reich was possible via a sealed corridor train from Konitz to Dirschau through the Polish area on the Eastern Railway or by ship (Sea Service East Prussia).

Conflicts with neighbors

The reorganization of Poland, changes of territory between 1918 and 1922

Due to the unclear border lines of the restored Polish state, there were conflicts with the neighbors. Between 1919 and 1921 there were fights with Germany, mainly over possession of Upper Silesia , which resulted in three uprisings . The referendum in Upper Silesia on March 20, 1921 resulted in a majority of almost 60% in favor of remaining with Germany. There were considerable regional differences; in some areas the pro-Polish vote prevailed. Polish irregulars thereupon began on May 3, 1921, supported by French occupation troops - Italians and British sided with Germany - an armed uprising to force the annexation of the eastern part of Upper Silesia to Poland. The Allies wanted to advance only the county Pless connect to Poland. Due to the restrictions imposed by the Versailles Treaty and the intervention of the Anglo-French victors, the German Reich was unable to take action against the irregulars, but there were still some bloody clashes between Germans and Poles. With the approval of the German government, voluntary corps attempted to prevent the annexation to Poland by force. On May 21, 1921, the German Freikorps of the “ Oberschlesien Self-Defense ” succeeded in storming St. Annaberg , the strongest fortification of the Poles, which stabilized the situation. On October 20, 1921, the Supreme Council of the Allies decided, following a recommendation by the League of Nations , to transfer the Upper Silesian industrial area around Katowice to Poland, to which it was attached as the Autonomous Silesian Voivodeship . The larger, more agrarian part of the voting area remained with the German Reich in terms of area and population.

With the exception of the German-speaking peripheral areas, the provinces of Prussia, which had become part of Prussia through the partition of Poland, West Prussia and Posen, were detached from the Weimar Republic and incorporated into the new republic without plebiscites . This gave Poland access to the Baltic Sea near Gdynia . The Polish military had already occupied some of the areas during the Wielkopolska uprising. Danzig was declared a Free City of Danzig against the will of the inhabitants and remained under the supervision of the League of Nations with Poland's rights of use at the Danzig port outside the borders of the new Polish state. For predominantly Polish-speaking areas of East and West Prussia, the Versailles Treaty provided for referendums on citizenship. In Masuria ( Olsztyn administrative district ) and Marienwerder administrative district , referendums took place under Allied supervision, in which the vast majority of the population (98% and 92%, respectively) decided to remain with East Prussia and Germany.

The Polish territorial aspirations also met resistance in the east. Because the settlement areas of different peoples could not be clearly defined, there were overlapping territorial claims, especially with the Ukrainians and the Lithuanians . One week after the Polish declaration of independence, the Ukrainians in Lviv also proclaimed their independence, which triggered the Polish-Ukrainian war over the former Habsburg Kingdom of Galicia . Particularly fierce fighting was waged around Lemberg, which was captured by Polish volunteer units and regular army units on November 21. The war lasted until March 1919 and was ended on April 21, 1920 by an agreement between Poland and the People's Republic of Ukraine . The League of Nations provided for the drawing of a border line through which the Polish state would have lost the predominantly Polish-speaking areas around Vilna in Lithuania and Lemberg in Galicia. Piłsudski's plans, on the other hand, aimed at the re-establishment of a republic under Polish leadership in the tradition of the aristocratic republic , which fell in 1795 and which should also include areas inhabited by Ukrainians and Belarusians . In 1919, Polish troops occupied the eastern part of Lithuania near Vilnius , which had just achieved independence against Russia. Poland declared the occupied Lithuanian territory as Litwa Środkowa . In addition, Polish troops penetrated deep into the Ukraine, which due to the overlap with the territorial claims of Soviet Russia to the Polish-Soviet war resulted.

The Polish-Soviet War, the course of the front in June 1920

Initially, Polish troops under General Rydz-Śmigły, with the support of national Ukrainian forces, succeeded in conquering Kiev. Soviet troops advanced as far as Warsaw in a counter-offensive and besieged Lemberg. Under Piłsudski, the Polish army managed to break through and destroy the Soviet units. Piłsudski then launched a major offensive towards the north. The surprise effect was so great that the last retreating units of the Red Army had to flee via German territory - East Prussia.

On March 18, 1921, the warring parties signed the Riga Peace Treaty in the Latvian capital of Riga . Piłsudski succeeded in drawing the Polish state border about 200 km east of the closed Polish language border with a relative majority of the population, the Curzon Line. In the eastern part of Poland the Polish population was around 25% in 1919, and 38% described themselves as Polish in 1938. The majority of the population described themselves as Ukrainian, Belarusian or Jewish. The cities of Wilna and Lemberg, on the other hand, were mostly Polish - with a high proportion of Jews.

May coup and Sanacja regime

President Ignacy Mościcki conferring the title of Marshal on General Edward Rydz-Śmigły (November 10, 1936)

Józef Piłsudski, dissatisfied with the domestic political situation, carried out a coup in May 1926 with the support of numerous supporters in the army and remained in power until his death in May 1935. However, Piłsudski held here only rarely and only for a short time officially important offices. He was z. B. never president, but left this office to his loyal follower Ignacy Mościcki . Piłsudski was mostly just defense minister. However, he was the generally recognized supreme authority in the state. There was also a more or less functioning opposition represented in parliament, at least until the end of the 1920s; however, this was consistently prevented from taking power. After the assassination of Interior Minister Bronisław Pieracki in June 1934, the government set up an internment camp for Ukrainian nationalists, communists and other prominent opponents of the regime in the small town of Bereza Kartuska in what is now Belarus .

The regime called itself Sanacja ( something like "recovery"). According to the historian Wolfgang Benz , it showed unmistakably fascist tendencies with its clear nationalism , its resolute anti-communism and its anti-Semitism , in which, especially after Piłsudski's death, “the Jews” were blamed for Poland's structural economic problems. A new constitution tailored to the person of Piłsudski came into force after his death in 1935. Now two centers of power emerged in Poland: the group of “colonels” around the new Marshal Edward Rydz-Śmigły (1886–1941) and the “Castle” group around Mościcki, named after the president's residence, the royal palace in Warsaw . The trend towards an authoritarian state continued to grow; the rights of the Slavic minorities in particular (Ukrainians, Belarusians) were severely restricted and Jews were discriminated against. Even the German minority, which was secretly financially supported by the Nazi state , was increasingly restricted in its rights despite the officially good German-Polish relations since the non-aggression treaty between Hitler and Piłsudski, to which the growing enthusiasm of many ethnic Germans for National Socialism also contributed.

The foreign policy efforts of Poland, which are primarily connected with the person of Foreign Minister Józef Beck , were in line with French policy aimed at creating a bloc of small and medium-sized states to contain both Germany and the Soviet Union. The mutual territorial claims that arose after the First World War were drawn up stood in the way. For example, shortly before it was itself attacked by Germany and the Soviet Union, Poland was actively involved in the smashing of Czechoslovakia and, in accordance with the Munich Agreement , annexed the industrial areas in Moravian Silesia and the Olsa area, which were mostly populated by Poles and Germans, in October 1938 .

A few months before the outbreak of World War II, the governments of France and Great Britain issued guarantees to protect Poland's independence (see Anglo-French Guarantee ); After the outbreak of war, however, these had no major consequences, which Poles viewed as “treason of the West”.

1939–1945: Second World War

Molotov signing the German-Soviet border and friendship treaty , in the background in the middle standing Ribbentrop and Stalin (from left)

September war

On April 28, 1939, Hitler used the British-French guarantee for Poland as an opportunity to terminate the German-Polish non-aggression pact . Four months later he ordered the attack on Poland . The result of the German attack on Poland was the entry of Great Britain and France into the war and with it the Second World War.

The German troops advanced rapidly. Against the military superiority of the Germans, the Poles had only to oppose their desperate will to fight. Individual actions by Polish units, for example in the Battle of Wizna (September 6th to 10th) or the Battle of the Bzura (September 9th to September 15th), were unable to stop the advance that was accompanied by extensive encircling maneuvers. After two weeks, the Polish capital was included. On September 17, Poland was attacked by the Soviet Union - as provided for in the secret additional protocol of the Hitler-Stalin Pact . On September 28, Warsaw capitulated. An official cessation of the fighting on the part of Poland, as in the following year with the armistice of Compiègne by France, did not take place.

The country was divided between the Nazi state and the Soviet Union . The Polish government and the high Polish military fled first across the border to Romania and were interned there at Hitler's express request. The government in exile then went to Paris , later to London, and from there reorganized the armed forces and the resistance .

Europe at the end of September 1939 after the German and Soviet occupation of Poland as a result of the Hitler-Stalin Pact

According to the will of the Nazi regime, the war against Poland was to take on the features of a racist campaign of repression and extermination. The Polish state should be smashed and the German “ living space ” expanded. Unlike in the West, Hitler made it clear beforehand that he wanted to apply different standards. It is not about specific geographical lines that should be reached, but about 80 million Germans getting their rights. The "liquidation of leading Poles" ( Reinhard Heydrich ), beginning with the Krakow special campaign , was seen as a priority. The pretext for the murder of tens of thousands of members of the Intelligentsia was crimes committed against ethnic Germans in the first days of the war, for example as part of the “ Bromberg Blood Sunday ”.

Members of the Einsatzgruppen moved into Poland immediately behind the front . They consisted of a total of around 3,000 men, made up of members of the SS , security service and police, who primarily carried out the shootings. The " Volksdeutsche Selbstschutz ", which was subordinate to the SS, acted as an additional terrorist instrument . In the first four months of the German occupation alone, several 10,000 people were shot. In addition to the groups mentioned, members of the Gestapo and the Wehrmacht also took part in the executions, the geographical focus of which was the West Prussia region . It was not a question of individual excesses that arose out of the climate of hatred and the coincidences of the war, but of organized mass murder.

German and Soviet Occupation: Terror and Genocide

The occupation had serious consequences for large parts of the Polish civilian population. The industrially and agriculturally developed parts were directly annexed. Remaining Poland with about ten million people was subordinated to the Reich Minister Hans Frank as the " General Government". The overarching objectives of the occupation policy throughout the area included:

  • the elimination and destruction of the Polish intelligentsia,
  • moving the German eastern border forward and expanding the " living space in the east ",
  • the strengthening of the German war economy through ruthless exploitation of the potential workforce and material resources of Poland.

The annexed areas should be "depolonized" as soon as possible, partly through physical extermination, partly through expulsion of the approximately 8 million Poles and Jews living there, or through the "Germanization of useful populations" and the resettlement of German minorities from other parts of Eastern Europe, such as the Baltic Germans , who are now had to leave their home. The Generalgouvernement understood Hitler as a reservoir of cheap, semi-free migrant workers and as a “dumping ground” in the Reich territory for undesirable Poles and Jews. When the deportations ended in June 1941 as a result of the war with the Soviet Union, around 500,000 Poles had been expelled and replaced by around 350,000 ethnic German resettlers. The deportations from Poles to the Reich as forced laborers , which affected around 1.2 million people from the Generalgouvernement alone during the war, were continued. In a series of instructions, the aim of the Nazi leadership was made clear, to limit the Poles to the level of a poorly trained aid people without political self-awareness.

The Poles, who came under Soviet rule, were also affected by violent measures. It is estimated that around 1.5 million former Polish citizens were deported, of whom 50 to 60 percent were Poles, 15 percent Ukrainians, 5 percent Belarusians, and around 20 percent Jews. 300,000 Polish soldiers were taken prisoner by the Soviets, only 82,000 of them survived. The Katyn massacre , which not only killed soldiers, went down in history as a "historic crime". Tadeusz A. Kisielewski writes: "In April and May 1940 the Soviet NKVD murdered 4,410 Polish prisoners of war [...] exclusively officers [...] in total [...] 21,857 [leaders] in places in the Soviet Union [...]." Kisielewski compares this number and states: “[…] three times more were murdered than [1995] in Srebrenica […].” The historian Norman Davies judges: “As long as the crime of Katyn is not admitted, solved and atoned for, the Poles will be his as commemorate the symbol of Soviet oppression in the past and present. "

Death and extermination camps of the German National Socialists in Auschwitz-Birkenau

Polish Jews suffered a difficult fate, 89 percent (or 2.5 to 3 million) of whom did not survive the genocide. The terror, harassment, looting and pogroms of the first weeks of the war were followed by the adoption of the German administrative regulations: labeling requirement, registration of property, forced labor , travel restrictions, blocking of accounts, Aryanization of property.

In the autumn of 1940, the "resettlement" began in the ghettos . The largest were Warsaw with 450,000 people and Litzmannstadt with 160,000 people. Since the ghettos were not in a position to sustain themselves and economic exploitation was not desired in crucial places, the rate of deaths, often from hunger and disease, was high from the start. By the middle of 1942, the mass murders were expanded into an overall program for the systematic murder of Jews under German rule, the Holocaust . Details of the practical implementation were laid down at the Berlin Wannsee Conference in January 1942. Now the SS began with the deportations to the extermination camps . These originated mainly on Polish soil: Kulmhof , Bełżec , Sobibór , Treblinka , Auschwitz-Birkenau . There was resistance by the Jews against the Germans, which was sometimes supported by the Polish resistance movement, but also abandoned by it. The best-known example of resistance is the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto in early 1943. For political reasons, the number of victims was sometimes not given objectively.

Loss of population in Poland during World War II People
War losses 644,000
Death in extermination camps, through executions, “pacifications”, liquidation of the ghettos 3,577,000
Death in prisons and camps from epidemics, deprivation and exhaustion 1,286,000
Death outside the camp through starvation, deprivation, exhaustion, injury, overwork 521,000
Total loss of people in Poland 6,028,000
According to the Polish War Damage Bureau (22% of the Polish population in total).


Polish Scout soldiers in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944

Even after the military defeat, partisan groups formed in Poland who tried to offer resistance. Most of them formed the " Home Army " in February 1942 , which was under the bourgeois government-in-exile in London. The right-wing groups ( NSZ ) and the communists ( AL ) stayed away from them. Some Jewish resistance organizations also emerged; they organized the 1943 uprising in the Warsaw ghetto . After the Red Army crossed the 1939 Polish border in January 1944, the Home Army troops were disarmed by the NKVD , their officers shot or deported to the Gulag . The struggle of individual underground units lasted until the late 1940s.

The Warsaw Uprising followed in 1944 . The Soviet Union, whose troops were already on the east bank of the Vistula, had no interest in supporting the units of the Home Army. German troops were able to brutally suppress the uprising, the number of deaths is estimated at 180,000, and in the past the number was even mentioned as 250,000. The inner city of Warsaw was meticulously razed to the ground house by house with great use of explosives.

The resistance also included an almost extensive network of underground facilities such as schools, universities, newspapers and much more, which contributed to making the suffering of the population a little more bearable. Against this background, the extent of collaboration was comparatively low in the European context and, in view of the enormous suffering of the Polish population during the German occupation, was taboo for a long time. A broad social debate about Polish perpetrators only started at the beginning of the 21st century on the occasion of the book “Neighbors. The murder of the Jews of Jedwabne ” initiated by the Polish-American sociologist Jan Tomasz Gross, the investigation of the pogrom in Jedwabne .

1945–1989: People's Republic of Poland

Westward displacement of Poland (comparison of the pre-war and post-war borders)

Consolidation of Soviet influence

Manifesto of the “Polish Committee of National Liberation”, the “birth certificate” of the People's Republic of Poland

In July 1944 the communist “Polish Committee of National Liberation” was set up in Moscow, which was to seize power as soon as the Red Army crossed the Curzon Line. This happened in Lublin on July 22, 1944 (see Lublin Committee ). The negotiations between the “London” and “Lublin” governments, which took place under pressure from the Allies, did not lead to any result. At this point in time, international preliminary decisions had already been made about Poland's future borders ( Tehran Conference 1943). They led to the west shift of the country . At the same time, Josef Stalin agreed with Churchill and Roosevelt that the Germans would be largely forced to resettle from what had been East Germany. On January 1, 1945, the Lublin Committee proclaimed itself the Provisional Government and moved to Warsaw that same month. After the Red Army occupied Poland in the spring of 1945 and abducted the 14 most important leaders of the Home Army to Moscow, where they were sentenced to long prison terms and some were murdered, the main resistance to the new occupation and the "Sovietization" of Polish society was broken. At the end of 1944, an armed resistance movement was formed from parts of the Home Army. In the forests of eastern Poland, the resistance movement was initially a serious force. In the years after the end of the war, the partisans numbered an estimated 100,000 members. Their actions remained fruitless and decreased from the end of the 1940s, as the Red Army, the NKVD and the emerging organs of the communist-Polish state took massive action against them.

Westward displacement of Poland in 1945:
Green Line : ethnographic demarcation line proclaimed by the Western Allies in December 1919, called the Curzon Line since July 1920 .
Turquoise-colored area : territorial expansion of Poland after the First World War until 1923, which was revised by the Soviet Union in 1945.
Blue line : State border of Poland until 1938
Yellow area : German territories (1937) under Polish administration
Red line : today's state border of Poland
Brown line : German-Soviet demarcation line from September 28, 1939

As early as July 1942, the British War Cabinet called for the forced relocation of the German population from East Central and Southeast Europe. In the Potsdam Agreement of 1945, the Allies decided to "transfer the German population or parts of it who remained in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary to Germany", whereby "any such transfer [...] should take place in an orderly and humane manner" . All of the countries mentioned carried out the forced resettlement of the German population . In particular, around seven million refugees and 1.2 million forcibly evacuated people were affected in Poland (→  displaced persons ). The German eastern territories were placed under Polish administration until the final decision was made by a peace conference. The border issue was regulated by bilateral border agreements and treaties between Poland and the GDR ( 1950 ) and the Federal Republic of Germany ( 1970 ). The final peace settlement, which is undisputed under international law, took place with the Two Plus Four Treaty in 1990.

Between 1944 and 1946, around 500,000 Ukrainians were forcibly resettled from the eastern parts of present-day Poland, and around 400,000 more were deported to Lower Silesia and Pomerania, ie to the “ regained western and northern regions ” of Poland. At the same time, around 1.5 million Poles had to leave their homeland in the east. Between 1945 and 1947, around 1 million Poles were repatriated to Poland from Ukraine, 300,000 from Belarus and 200,000 from Lithuania . A large number of them were settled in the formerly German areas. About 3 million new settlers from central Poland and returning Poles from the west also streamed there.

Apart from Stanisław Mikołajczyk , the “Government of National Unity” formed in June 1945 consisted almost exclusively of representatives of the Communists. In the elections held in January 1947, socialists and communists emerged victorious. With their votes, a first transitional constitution was passed in the same year. As the last remaining democratic party, the Polish People's Party was marginalized by police measures, among other things, and Mikołajczyk fled into exile in 1947. In late 1948 the two left parties merged to form the United Workers' Party , while all other parties were downgraded to block parties .

Stalinist terror and the Bierut era 1948–1956

Bolesław Bierut , first general secretary of the Polish Central Committee until 1956, 1947–1952 president of the communist-dominated “Republic of Poland”, 1952 with the establishment of the People's Republic of Poland and dissolution of the presidency until 1954 Prime Minister

While the Polish communists were initially convinced that they could do without a complete takeover of the Soviet system, after 1947 Stalin's pressure increased. Above all, he demanded a forced build-up of heavy industry , the takeover of the central planning system and the rapid collectivization of agriculture. He found himself at odds with the more national forces in the Polish party leadership under its General Secretary Władysław Gomułka , who showed sympathy for the Yugoslav model of Tito .

Extensive cleansing and restructuring were carried out within the framework of the party and society. The temporary rule of socialist realism began in the cultural sphere . This phase ended with the death of Stalin in 1953, without show trials of disgraced communist politicians as in other countries under Soviet rule.

In the field of foreign policy, the nationalist attacks on Germany were replaced by the theories of dialectical materialism, so that now the USA and Great Britain as well as the Federal Republic of Germany and the Vatican became the main opponents, while rapprochement with the GDR was sought, the 1950 Görlitz Treaty of the Oder -Neiße limit recognized.

Polish October 1956 and Gomułka era 1956–1970

Władysław Gomułka , General Secretary of PVAP

On the secret speech of Khrushchev during the XX. At the party congress in February 1956 on the crimes of Stalin, the unexpected death of the Polish party leader Bolesław Bierut in Moscow followed a few days later . Against the will of the new Soviet party leader Khrushchev , the divided leadership of the Polish United Workers' Party agreed on the compromise candidate Edward Ochab as Bierut's successor.

The poor stability of the political system became apparent as early as June 1956, when thousands of workers in Poznan in western Poland struck and the Poznan uprising finally broke out.

The dispute over how to proceed deepened the conflict in the Politburo. The situation was exacerbated by the political developments in Hungary , where profound disputes within society became apparent. The economic chief Hilary Minc was forced to resign, the rehabilitated former general secretary Władysław Gomułka returned to power, although Moscow initially refused to agree, mobilized its troops and the entire party leadership had arrived in Warsaw for an unannounced lightning visit. Eventually they gave in and the previous Polish Defense Minister Marshal Konstanty Rokossowski - a Soviet citizen, through his father of Polish origin - was called back to his homeland.

In his first speech, Gomułka announced far-reaching reforms. Greater freedom was granted in the ecclesiastical and cultural area, the forced collectivization of agriculture was no longer forced, and a reorganization of the entire economic system was promised. It soon became apparent, however, that these words were followed by few deeds: liberal magazines were again banned, and religious education in schools abolished. The party leadership began to take massive action against apostates in their own ranks.

In view of the celebrations of the millennium of Christian Poland in 1966, the dispute between the state and the Polish Catholic Church was heading for a new high point, which also had the monopoly on interpreting Polish history as its theme. In addition, there were foreign policy upheavals, especially against the background of the anti-West German agitation that increased again after 1956 .

In the cultural field, the first years of Gomułka rule were marked by positive developments. During the years of "small stabilization" (named after a play by Tadeusz Różewicz ), a number of important works in literature, art and cinema emerged, such as the first films by Andrzej Wajda , Andrzej Munk and Roman Polański .

In the second half of the 1960s, internal party conflicts in the PVAP came to a head. A group of communist cadres, who felt particularly connected through their struggle against the German occupiers in World War II, the “partisans”, pushed to power under their leader, Interior Minister General Mieczysław Moczar . Moczar expanded the secret service and the citizens' militia and created a broad following among the population who were dissatisfied with the economic development. The official propaganda against Israel because of the Six Day War in 1967 and the events of March 1968 was the occasion for Moczar to start the first state-tolerated and sponsored anti-Semitic campaign against Jews, which was unprecedented in a European country after 1945 and liberal intellectuals , as well as real and potential oppositionists, and to secure power in the Polish state. As a result, around 20,000 Polish Jews were driven to leave Poland in 1968/1969, losing their Polish citizenship. In addition, protests related to the “ Prague Springspilled into the country. On the dismissal of the performance of the play funeral of Adam Mickiewicz in Warsaw following student protests were violently crushed. A wave of purges began in the PVAP. a. Foreign Minister Adam Rapacki fell victim.

Party leader Gomułka was initially neither willing nor able to stop this development. Only gradually did he carefully distance himself from the interior minister. At the same time he tried to counter the crisis of his rule through foreign policy efforts. Social dialogue with the Federal Republic and Poland began at the beginning of the 1960s . Gomułka declared that he was ready for official negotiations, which should primarily deal with the question of Poland's western border. After Bonn had reached a treaty agreement with Moscow on German-Soviet relations, negotiations with Poland were also concluded at the end of 1970 .

The signing of the treaty in Warsaw, which confirmed the Oder-Neisse border from a West German legal position, as the GDR had already done in the Görlitz Treaty of 1950, included a mutual renunciation of force and the willingness to continue political cooperation, followed the legendary as a symbolic climax Willy Brandts kneeled in front of the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial on December 7, 1970, which was heavily criticized in the Federal Republic of Germany, but for which Poles - although hardly any official reports were made - represented a decisive turning point in post-war relations.

Of course, Gomułka's rule could no longer save this foreign policy success. Less than two weeks after the German-Polish treaty was signed , radical increases in food prices suddenly led to workers' protests. Unrest broke out in the industrial centers from the large shipyards in Gdansk and Szczecin . Only the use of the military was able to stop the riot, which killed 45 people and injured over 1,000. The Politburo then forced party leader Gomułka to resign.

Gierek era 1970–1980

Edward Gierek (in the middle) while visiting an LPG

Gomułka's successor, the Upper Silesian party functionary Edward Gierek , enjoyed great sympathy in large parts of the population. He managed to quickly replace many of the old cadres. His new economic policy aimed to better satisfy the consumer needs of the population. With wages and pensions increases, the general standard of living should be raised. The reforms introduced (greater independence of the government from the communist party, expansion of workers' participation, changes in administrative structures, etc.), however, actually resulted in an increase in the power of the PVAP at all levels.

The approaches to a comprehensive modernization of the economy were mainly in the area of ​​the creation of new structures, whose processes and production facilities were bought on credit in the West. The repayment should be made by selling the new products produced abroad. These efforts brought about positive changes in the psychological area in particular. The larger product range and the increasing purchasing power created the impression of a rapprochement with the consumer societies of the West, which is why many Poles have positive memories of the Gierek era in retrospect. In reality, however, the Central Economic Planning Commission was not able to coordinate the different developments in different branches of the economy.

Archbishop of Kraków Karol Wojtyła, when Pope John Paul II

In foreign policy, the relationship with the Federal Republic continued to improve, also because of the "male friendship" between Gierek and the new Chancellor Helmut Schmidt . However, the opening of the border with the GDR created a number of tensions due to the economic differences between the two countries.

Domestic political repression was gradually increased again in the mid-1970s, which showed the suppression of votes against the new, socialist constitution. When the prices of staple foods rose drastically in June 1976, riots broke out in the industrial centers of Radom and Ursus near Warsaw . The price increases were then withdrawn, but at the same time large numbers of workers were laid off, arrested and sentenced to long prison terms.

While there were no clear dividing lines within Polish society up until then and the reform discussions continued well into the PVAP, now for the first time clearly opposition groups developed in Poland itself. On September 23, 1976, leading intellectuals founded the “ Committee for the Defense of Workers ". The increasing pressure of public opinion prevented repressive measures by the party leadership in the period that followed. In the next few years more civil rights organizations were founded. At the same time, the Catholic Church under Stefan Cardinal Wyszyński became increasingly involved. Their special position was strengthened by the enthusiastic election of Krakow Archbishop Karol Wojtyła as Pope on October 16, 1978 and his first trip to Poland, which was received with enthusiasm six months later.

At the beginning of the new decade, in view of the increasing economic problems, it became apparent that the time of the once acclaimed Edward Gierek was over.

Opposition, strike movement and Solidarność

August strikes in Gdańsk's Lenin Shipyard, 1980

In 1977 and 1978, cells of independent trade unions had been established in Radom and Katowice, respectively . On April 29, 1978, the “Founding Committee of Free Trade Unions for the Coastal Area” was set up in Gdansk, most of whose participants had already struck in 1970. The young electrician from the “Lenin Shipyard” Lech Wałęsa soon joined them . In September 1979 the “Charter of Workers' Rights” was published in the underground magazine “Robotnik” ( The Worker ). It took into account previous experiences with strikes, made demands for the future and defined general positions.

At the beginning of 1980 the macroeconomic situation had deteriorated dramatically: the subsidies for staple foods consumed around 40% of state revenues, the excess purchasing power increased steadily, the debts taken on in the West could no longer be serviced. The government again chose the path of price increases and began with them without public notice on July 1, the national start of the summer vacation. Nevertheless, strikes immediately broke out in many factories, first at the Ursus tractor plant in Warsaw, then in eastern Poland and in mid-August in Gdansk. Although the party leadership was now ready to give in again and approved the wage demands, they could no longer contain the movement. When the workforce at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk went on strike on August 14, as in 1970, and occupied the factory premises, the new strike committee also made political demands for the first time, such as the reinstatement of the dismissed strike leaders and the erection of a memorial for the victims of 1970.

The Warsaw government soon recognized the danger posed by the spreading wave of strikes and cut all connections to Danzig and the surrounding area. Some of the striking shipyard workers accepted the compromise offer made by the plant management, others pleaded for an extension of the labor dispute, which also took place with the establishment of an inter-company strike committee (MKS) on August 16. The list of demands presented by its chairman Lech Wałęsa contained, among other things, the wish for free trade unions to be allowed, freedom of expression and the right to strike.

Within the PVAP, the forces of reform prevailed and government representatives accepted most of the demands in negotiations in Szczecin and Danzig on August 30 and 31. On the afternoon of August 31st, the Gdansk Agreement was signed, which politically codified the results of the negotiations. The union forces, however, were no longer prepared to limit their activities to the Gdańsk area and decided to extend it to the whole country. With a warning strike, the new organization, which gave itself the name " Solidarność " ( Solidarity ), forced its judicial registration on October 3rd. In the weeks that followed, there was a huge onslaught on her, so that by November she had around 10 million employees (out of a total of 16 million), including over 1 million members of the PVAP.

The domestic political situation now seemed to be gradually easing after party leader Gierek had been replaced by the moderate Stanisław Kania in September and most of the hardliners had been removed from the Politburo. The proposal of several party leaders, including Erich Honecker , to march in with the Warsaw Pact troops failed because of Moscow's veto , which feared a further deterioration in the global political climate after the experience of the occupation of Afghanistan .

However, the Soviet Union increased pressure on the PVAP to fight the "counter-revolution" and repeatedly organized maneuvers near the Polish borders. In the spring of 1981 there were repeated violent clashes between state organs and trade union activists. Because of the worsening economic situation, wildcat strikes increased and the impression of chaos spread in view of the "dual power". In this decisive phase, the Church's tried and tested mediation options were also limited because both the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II and Primate Stefan Wyszyński had died in May.

After the first state congress of Solidarność in September 1981 decided on an even stronger political commitment and sent a message to all workers in the other socialist states, the PVAP leadership finally decided on the confrontation course.

Jaruzelski and Martial Law

Tanks on the streets during martial law

At the 4th Central Committee Plenum from October 16 to 18, party leader Stanisław Kania was replaced by Defense Minister General Wojciech Jaruzelski . The preparations for a decisive blow against the opposition had already been completed by then.

Despite the readiness of “Solidarność” to compromise, the military and security organs took power in Poland on the night of December 12th and 13th, 1981 . General Jaruzelski announced in a televised address the imposition of martial law , which remained in force until 1983. The union leaders were arrested in Gdansk. Regional leaders, heads of works commissions and opposition intellectuals, a total of several thousand people, were taken to internment camps. Jaruzelski justified this step with an imminent threat of the Red Army invasion at the time, but there is no evidence for this.

The communist party, whose activity had also been suspended for a short time, had no concept for internal renewal of the country. Rather, they were looking for ways of understanding with those social forces that did not belong to "Solidarność", especially with the Catholic Church. In the economic field, tentative reforms began, but their successes left much to be desired. They were accompanied by internal power struggles between “hawks” and “doves” in the PVAP, which led to the murder of the opposition priest Jerzy Popiełuszko by members of the security apparatus in October 1984.

Parallel to the development in the Soviet Union after Mikhail Gorbachev came to power, the reform forces have also been asserting themselves in Poland since the mid-1980s. As part of an amnesty, all political prisoners were released in July 1986. In order to win the support of the population for further economic reforms in view of the further deteriorating supply situation, the first referendum in over 40 years was held in November 1987, which ended in a clear defeat for the government. Two waves of strikes in April, May and August 1988 brought the reformers to the realization that the ongoing crisis could not be overcome without further concessions.

End of the People's Republic

Solidarność had continued to work underground all along. Numerous magazines and books were published in connection with the Soviet samizdat tradition in the "second round". The system-compliant trade unions were largely boycotted. The growing strike movement was viewed with concern by the PVAP, especially as it turned out that it was mainly younger workers of the post-“Solidarność” generation who were involved. Jaruzelski's policy, based on the principles of consultation and co-optation , had failed. On August 31, 1988, with the mediation of leading intellectuals and the Catholic Church , the first meeting between Interior Minister Czesław Kiszczak and Lech Wałęsa “among equals” took place. The negotiations initially went on the spot, especially when the new Prime Minister Mieczysław Rakowski wanted to concentrate on pure economic reforms. On November 30, 1988, a television discussion took place on Polish television ( TVP1 ) between Wałęsa and the head of the official trade union - OPZZ , Alfred Miodowicz , which Wałęsa clearly won in the opinion of the majority of viewers. The PVAP leadership realized that new reforms in the population would only be enforceable with the participation of "Solidarność".

From February 6 to April 5, 1989, representatives of the PVAP and the social opposition gathered in Warsaw for round table discussions . The actual work in different negotiating groups led to profound changes in all areas of public life. In the political arena, the gradual introduction of full popular sovereignty with the associated pluralism was agreed . As an immediate measure, “Solidarność” was re-approved on April 17th. The recognition of a multi-party system , the principle of free elections and independent courts were other important stages in this process, which was a mixture of revolution and reform.

The parliamentary elections on June 4 and 18, 1989 were the first semi-free elections since 1938; they accelerated system change. The seats in the Sejm were allocated according to the key 65 percent for the PVAP and its allies, 35 percent for the opposition, while the elections to the Senate were unlimited. All but one of the 261 “Solidarność” candidates who were previously determined were elected; the PVAP only got its candidates through by changing the electoral law at short notice.

General Jaruzelski was narrowly elected President on July 19 (270 in favor, 233 against, 34 abstentions); a cabinet led by the PVAP under General Kiszczak did not come about. Instead, “Solidarność” succeeded on September 12, in cooperation with two previous bloc parties , to form a government under the Catholic publicist Tadeusz Mazowiecki . These events in Poland also had a catalytic function; They made a major contribution to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain , to the decline of communism in the states of Central and Eastern Europe (→  Eastern Bloc ) and ultimately to the collapse of the Soviet Union .

Since 1989: Third Republic

Fireworks for joining the EU in 2004 on the city bridge between Frankfurt (Oder) and Słubice

In 1990 the western border of Poland was recognized by the reunified Germany under Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl . With this, Kohl completed what Willy Brandt had started around 1970 (see Ostpolitik ). Since then, Poland's contacts with its western neighbor have developed trustingly and closely. Many friendships have also developed between German residents of the former eastern territories and today's Polish residents, benefiting from the work of the churches and parts of the expellees' associations. Relations between Poland and Germany improved further in 2004 when the German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder was invited to the celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising. Schröder was the first German Chancellor to take part in the annual celebrations. However, this visit followed Schröder's discussions about reparations for the German expellees, which led to new fears against the Germans in Poland.

On May 25, 1997, a new Polish constitution was adopted by referendum . Today Poland is considered an economically aspiring, stable and democratic state. On March 12, 1999 he was accepted into NATO (see also NATO eastward expansion ) and on May 1, 2004 into the European Union (together with other states, see 2004 EU expansion ). In a referendum in June 2003, 43 percent of Polish citizens (73% yes votes with a turnout of around 59%) voted in favor of joining the EU .

Poland participated in the coalition of the willing and developed into an important ally of the US in Europe during the Iraq war and afterwards alongside Great Britain, Italy and Spain . Poland sent troops to Iraq during the war . In post-war Iraq , Poland took over the administration of one of three zones of occupation; 9,500 soldiers (2,400 of them Polish) secured the 80,000 square kilometer area.

During the conflict over the presidential election in the neighboring state of Ukraine in November / December 2004 , Polish President Aleksander Kwaśniewski acted as a mediator between the conflicting parties, while the Polish public and the media showed solidarity with Viktor Yushchenko .

The 2005 parliamentary elections led to a change of direction: the Bund of the Democratic Left , which had ruled until then, was voted out of office in favor of a conservative alliance. The winner was Jarosław Kaczyński , leader of the national-conservative party PiS (German: Law and Justice ). His twin brother Lech Kaczyński held the office of President from 2005. However, the PiS lost its position as the strongest party in the early parliamentary elections on October 21, 2007 .

From November 2007 to November 2015, the PO and its coalition partner, the moderate farmers' party PSL , formed three governments . Donald Tusk , who was re-elected as Prime Minister in 2011 , moved to Brussels as President of the European Council in December 2014 . Ewa Kopacz succeeded him in the office of Prime Minister .

After Lech Kaczyński was killed in a plane crash near Smolensk on April 10, 2010, Bronisław Komorowski took over as managing director of the Polish President. In the early presidential election in summer 2010 , Komorowski was elected as Kaczyński's successor.

The 2015 parliamentary election again led to a change of power in favor of the PiS . In November 2015 Beata Szydło was elected Prime Minister by Parliament. In the course of a government reshuffle, the PiS decided that Mateusz Morawiecki should replace Ms. Szydło after her resignation as Prime Minister. At the beginning of December 2017, he was appointed the country's new Prime Minister.

See also

Portal: Poland  - Overview of Wikipedia content on Poland


Overall presentations and overviews

Individual epochs

  • Daniel Brewing: In the shadow of Auschwitz. German massacres of Polish civilians 1939–1945 . Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2016, ISBN 978-3-534-26788-0 .
  • Marcin Zaremba: The great fear. Poland 1944–1947: Living in a State of Emergency . Translated by Sandra Ewers. Ferdinand Schöningh, Paderborn 2016, ISBN 978-3-506-78093-5 .


  1. Manfred Alexander : Small history of Poland. Stuttgart 2008, p. 17 f.
  2. ^ Gerhard Lubich: The Middle Ages. Paderborn 2010, ISBN 978-3-506-76582-6 , p. 84.
  3. ^ Manfred Alexander : Small history of Poland. Stuttgart 2008, p. 16.
  4. Johannes Fried : Gnesen, Aachen, Rome. Otto III. and the cult of St. Adalbert. Observations on the older Adalbert life. In: Michael Borgolte : Poland and Germany 1000 years ago. The Berlin conference on the "Gnesen Act". Akademie Verlag, Berlin 2002, ISBN 3-05-003749-0 ( Europe in the Middle Ages 5), pp. 235-279, Sebastian Brather : Völker, Stämme and gentes in the RGA. Archaeological Interpretations and Ethnic Identities. In: Heinrich Beck, Dieter Geuenich, Heiko Steuer (Hrsg.): Classical Antiquities - Classical Studies - Cultural Studies: Income and perspectives after 40 years Real Lexicon of Germanic Classical Studies. DeGruyter, Berlin, Boston 2012, ISBN 978-3-11-027360-1 , p. 414 and Eduard Mühle : Die Piasten. Poland in the Middle Ages. (= CH Beck Knowledge 2709). Verlag CH Beck, Munich 2011, ISBN 978-3-406-61137-7 , p. 14 f. consider the existence of a Polan tribe to be very doubtful. Brather, referring to current Polish research, speaks of an invention.
  5. ^ Gotthold Rhode : Brief history of Poland . Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1965, p. 8 ff.
  6. Norman Davies : History of Poland. Munich 2006 (4th edition), p. 263. In his work Heart of Europe. He wrote A Short History of Poland (1984) (p. 255): Mieszkos baptism in ad 965 was the first step in the formation of the single most important element in modern Polish culture. ISBN 978-0-19-873060-6 .
  7. ^ Manfred Alexander : Small history of Poland. Stuttgart 2008, p. 25.
  8. ^ Norman Davies: History of Poland. Munich 2006, p. 238 ff.
  9. ^ Manfred Alexander: Small history of Poland. Stuttgart 2008, p. 342.
  10. ^ Norman Davies: History of Poland. Munich 2006, p. 256.
  11. ^ Norman Davies: History of Poland. Munich 2006, p. 257.
  12. Andrea Schmidt-Rösler: Poland - From the Middle Ages to the Present. Verlag Pustet , Regensburg 1996, ISBN 3-7917-1521-6 , p. 14.
  13. The Great Ploetz . S. 604. The name is only documented from 1015 in the " Hildesheimer Annalen ".
  14. Eduard Mühle: The Piasts - Poland in the Middle Ages. Munich 2011, p. 10.
  15. Eduard Mühle: The Piasts - Poland in the Middle Ages. Munich 2011, p. 15.
  16. Eduard Mühle: The Piasts - Poland in the Middle Ages. Munich 2011, p. 16 f.
  17. Widukind III, 67.
  18. ^ Manfred Alexander: Small history of Poland. Stuttgart 2008, p. 25.
  19. ^ Chronicle of Thietmar von Merseburg
  20. ^ Manfred Alexander: Small history of Poland. Stuttgart 2008, p. 26.
  21. Andrea Schmidt-Rösler: Poland - From the Middle Ages to the Present. Verlag Friedrich-Pustet, Regensburg 1996, p. 15.
  22. cf. Andrea Schmidt-Rösler: Poland - From the Middle Ages to the Present. Verlag Friedrich-Pustet, Regensburg 1996, p. 15.
  23. ^ Manfred Alexander: Small history of Poland. Stuttgart 2008, p. 28.
  24. ^ Gerd Althoff: Otto III. Darmstadt 1996, p. 144ff .; Johannes Fried: Otto III. and Bolesław. The dedication image of the Aachen Gospel, the "Act of Gniezno" and the early Polish and Hungarian royalty. An image analysis and its historical consequences. Wiesbaden 1989, pp. 123-125.
  25. ^ Manfred Alexander: Small history of Poland. Stuttgart 2008, p. 35.
  26. ^ Sławomir Gawlas: The problems of feudalism and feudalism from a Polish perspective. In: Michael Borgolte, Ralf Lusiardi: The European Middle Ages in the arc of tension of comparison. Akademie Verlag, 2001, p. 120.
  27. Andrea Schmidt-Rösler: Poland - From the Middle Ages to the Present. Verlag Friedrich-Pustet, Regensburg 1996, p. 26.
  28. ^ A b Andrea Schmidt-Rösler: Poland - From the Middle Ages to the Present. Verlag Friedrich-Pustet, Regensburg 1996, p. 27.
  29. ^ Theodor Schieder: Handbook of European history: The emergence of modern Europe, p. 1011.
  30. ^ Theodor Schieder: Handbook of European history: The emergence of modern Europe, p. 1013.
  31. Yearbook for European History 2007. Volume 8, pp. 10–15.
  32. Andrea Schmidt-Rösler: Poland - From the Middle Ages to the Present. Verlag Friedrich-Pustet, Regensburg 1996, p. 30.
  33. ^ Theodor Schieder: Handbook of European history: The emergence of modern Europe, p. 326.
  34. The Polish-Lithuanian state budget in the second half of the 17th century was around 10-11 million zlotys a year. For comparison, the equivalent for the same period was around 360 million in France and around 240 million in England ( https://www . britica.com/place/Poland/The-17th-century-crisis ).
  35. ^ Pierre Chevallier: Henri III. Pp. 209-231.
  36. Andrea Schmidt-Rösler: Poland - From the Middle Ages to the Present. Verlag Friedrich-Pustet, Regensburg 1996, pp. 41-42.
  37. a b Józef Szujski: Dzieje Polski podług ostatnich badań. Volume 3, Lwów 1866, p. 218 (including entourage).
  38. Andrea Schmidt-Rösler: Poland - From the Middle Ages to the Present. Verlag Friedrich-Pustet, Regensburg 1996, p. 43.
  39. ^ Robert A. Friedl: Poland and its East on the eve of a catastrophe. The great Cossack and peasant uprising of 1648 . Dissertation, University of Düsseldorf 2004 (PDF)
  40. ^ Frank Golczewski : Chmielnicki pogroms (1648–1649) . In: Wolfgang Benz (Ed.): Handbook of Antisemitism , Vol. 4, Events, Decrees, Controversies . De Gruyter Saur, Berlin 2011 ISBN 978-3-598-24076-8 , p. 74. (accessed via De Gruyter Online).
  41. On the question of the transfer of sovereignty over the Duchy of Prussia to the Brandenburg line of the Hohenzollern see Dietmar Willoweit, Hans Lemberg: Reiche und Territorien in Ostmitteleuropa. Oldenbourg, 2006, pp. 78-79.
  42. Norman Davies: In the Heart of Europe - History of Poland. Fifth Chapter - “The End of an Ancient Culture, A Historical Nation”, par. 4. “The Noble Republic, 1569–1795”, p. 276.
  43. ^ Manfred Alexander: Small history of Poland. P. 134 f.
  44. ^ Otto Büsch: Handbook of Prussian History. Volume 1, p. 417.
  45. ^ Otto Büsch: Handbook of Prussian History. Volume 1, p. 418.
  46. ^ Otto Büsch: Handbook of Prussian History. Volume 1, p. 419.
  47. ^ According to Wacław Szczygielski: Konfederacja Barska w…. Warsaw 1970, p. 6, up to 60,000 dead; up to 6,000 men exiled to Siberia according to Zygmunt Gloger: Geografia historyczna ziem dawnej Polski.
  48. ^ Hans-Jürgen Bömelburg: Between the Polish estates society and the Prussian authoritarian state. P. 215.
  49. ^ Meyers Konversationslexikon. Fourth edition, p. 179.
  50. Małgorzata Danecka, Thorsten Hoppe: Discover Warsaw - tours through the Polish capital. Trescher-Verlag, 2008, p. 26.
  51. Dieter Schulze: Poland - the south with Warsaw and Poznan. Dumontreise-Verlag, 2008, p. 331.
  52. Carl Neyfeld: Poland's revolution and struggle in 1831. p. 48
  53. ^ Richard Brettell: Modern Art 1851-1929. Capitalism and Representation. Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 198.
  54. ^ Feliks Szyszko: The Impact of History on Polish Art in the Twentieth Century. ( Memento of the original from September 26, 2011 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / info-poland.buffalo.edu
  55. Christoph Mick: "To the forefathers to fame - the brothers to encouragement", variations on the Grunwald / Tannenberg theme. In: zeitblicke. 3 (2004), No. 1 (PDF; 534 kB).
  56. ^ Roman Dmowski : La question polonaise. Armand Colin, Paris 1909.
  57. Paul Roth : The emergence of the Polish state - A political and international legal investigation. Liebmann, Berlin 1926, p. 4, fn. 3.
  58. Section VIII
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  60. Norman Davies: In the Heart of Europe - History of Poland. 4th, reviewed edition, Munich 2006, p. 433.
  61. Quoted from Tadeusz A. Kisielewski: Katyń, Zbrodnia i Kłamstwo. Poznań 2008, p. 10. A map, p. 294, shows the places and camps from which people were abducted and the direction of transport to the places of execution.
  62. Norman Davies: In the Heart of Europe - History of Poland. 4th edition. Beck, Munich 2006, p. 62.
  63. Klaus-Peter Friedrich: Legitimations of victim status in terms of politics of remembrance: On the instrumentalization of questionable numbers of victims in historical images of the Second World War in Poland and Germany. In: The Destruction of Dialogue - On the domestic political instrumentalization of negative external images and enemy images: Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany and the Netherlands in comparison, 1900–2005. Publications of the German Poland Institute . Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2007, ISBN 978-3-447-05488-1 , pp. 176–191 ( restricted preview ).
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  68. ^ Timothy Garton Ash : We the people. The Revolution of '89 Witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin and Prague. London 1999, p. 14.
  69. FAZ.net, September 30, 2003: Poland symbolically takes over the occupation zone
  70. ^ According to the election commission, PiS won an absolute majority in Poland. In: www.salzburg.com. Retrieved January 1, 2016 .
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  72. Mateusz Morawiecki becomes Poland's new head of government. In: Spiegel online from December 7, 2017, accessed on April 18, 2020.
  73. Poland's new Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has been officially appointed. In: NZZ , December 8, 2017, accessed on April 18, 2020.
  74. Between horror and fear in FAZ of June 14, 2016, page 6

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