History of Poland (1939–45)

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The History of Poland (1939–45) encompasses primarily the period from the Invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany to the end of World War II. The outbreak of the war followed the period of intense armament by Nazi Germany and other neighbors of Poland, with which Poland was unable to keep up because of the country's fundamental economic weakness.

Following the German-Soviet non-aggression treaty, Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany on 1 September 1939 and by the Soviet Union on 17 September. The campaigns ended in early October with Germany and the Soviet Union dividing and annexing the whole of Poland. After the German attack on the Soviet Union in summer 1941, Poland was occupied by Germany alone.

Under the two occupations, Polish citizens suffered enormous human and material losses. It is estimated that about 5.7 million Polish citizens died as a result of the German occupation and about 150,000 Polish citizens died as a result of the Soviet occupation. Ethnic Poles were subjected to both the Nazi and Soviet persecution. The Jews were singled out by the Germans for a quick and total annihilation and about 90% of Polish Jews (close to three million people) were murdered. Jews and others were killed en masse at Nazi extermination camps, such as Auschwitz, Treblinka and Sobibór. Ethnic cleansing and massacres of civilian populations, mostly Poles, were perpetrated in western Ukraine from 1943. The historically unprecedented war crimes committed in Poland were divided at the postwar Nuremberg trials into three main categories of wartime criminality: waging a war of aggression, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

A Polish resistance movement began organizing soon after the invasions in 1939. Its largest military component was a part of the Polish Underground State network of organizations and activities and became known as the Home Army. The whole clandestine structure was formally directed by the Polish government-in-exile through its delegation resident in Poland. There were also peasant, right wing, leftist and Jewish partisan organizations. Among the anti-German uprisings waged were the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the Warsaw Uprising. The latter was a late (August-September 1944), large-scale and ill-fated attempt to prevent the Soviet Union from dominating Poland's postwar government.

Collaboration with the occupiers was limited. The Nazis planned a permanent elimination of any form of Polish statehood and even a longer-term destruction of the Polish nation.

In September 1939 the Polish government officials sought refuge in Romania, but their subsequent internment there prevented the intended continuation abroad as the government of Poland. General Władysław Sikorski, a former prime minister, arrived in France, where a replacement government in exile was soon formed. After the fall of France the Polish government was evacuated to Britain. It was torn by a conflict between the post-Sanation and anti-Sanation elements, with the latter, led by Sikorski, gaining the upper hand because of the support of the French and then the British government. The Polish armed forces had been reconstituted and fought alongside the Western Allies in France, Britain and elsewhere.

In order to cooperate with the Soviet Union, after the German attack an important war ally of the West, Sikorski negotiated in Moscow with Joseph Stalin and the formation of a Polish army in the Soviet Union was agreed, intended to fight on the Eastern Front alongside the Soviets. The "Anders' Army" was indeed created, but with the Soviet and British permission was instead taken to the Middle East. Further attempts at a Polish-Soviet cooperation were made, but they failed because of the disagreements over the borders, the discovery of the Katyn massacre of Polish POWs perpetrated by the Soviets, and the death of General Sikorski.

Stalin pursued a strategy of facilitating the formation of a Polish government independent of (and in opposition to) the exile government in London. He empowered the Polish communists, whose party he eliminated in 1938 by murdering most of its members (they had little popular support in Poland). Among the new communist organizations were the Polish Workers' Party in occupied Poland and the Union of Polish Patriots in Moscow. A new Polish army was being formed in the Soviet Union to fight together with the Soviets. At the same time Stalin worked on co-opting the Western Allies (the United States led by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the United Kingdom led by Prime Minister Winston Churchill), who in reality conformed to Stalin's views on Poland's borders and future government (he promised free elections). A series of negotiations included the conferences in Tehran, Yalta, and finally at Potsdam. The Polish government in exile approved and the underground in Poland undertook unilateral political and military actions aimed at establishing an independent Polish authority, but they were not successful. The government ceased being a recognized partner in the Allied coalition. The Polish communists founded the State National Council in 1943/44 in occupied Warsaw and the Polish Committee of National Liberation in July 1944 in Lublin, after the arrival of the Soviet army. The Soviet Union did not return the prewar Polish Kresy (the eastern lands), granting Poland instead the southern portion of the eliminated German East Prussia and shifting the country west to the Oder–Neisse line, under Stalin's plan to prevent Germany's future re-emergence as a great military power.

Poland was still to experience much internal turbulence and power struggle, but barring the West's war with the Soviet Union, the Soviet domination was a foregone conclusion.

Before the war[edit]

The officially pursued German rearmament began in 1935 under Adolf Hitler, contrary to the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles, the foundation of the post-World War I European order. Britain and France also pursued rearmament in response, but failed to strongly react to Hitler's early moves, which emboldened him to embark on a series of territorial expansion undertakings in central and eastern Europe. The Anschluss took place in March 1938 and Austria became a part of Greater Germany. At the Munich conference, called in September to dispel the German plans to conquer Czechoslovakia, the two Western powers agreed nevertheless to Germany's incorporation of the Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia's border areas inhabited by German-speaking populations. The Munich Agreement did not last long and in March 1939 Germany occupied Bohemia and Moravia, leaving Slovakia as a German puppet state. Lithuania was forced to give up its Klaipėda Region (Memelland) and formal demands were made for the return to Germany of the Free City of Danzig, whose status had been guaranteed by the League of Nations. Getting ready to attack and occupy Poland, Hitler secured Germany's eastern flank by signing a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union on August 23. Poland was invaded on September 1 and two days later Britain and France, both under a military alliance with Poland, declared war on Germany.[1]

In Poland, after the death of Józef Piłsudski (1935), the successor regime of his "colonels" and President Ignacy Mościcki belatedly pursued military reform and modern rearmament. French loans made possible the Central Industrial Region project, conducted from 1936 as an attempt to catch-up with Poland's economically more developed neighbors' advanced weapon industries. Józef Beck, the influential foreign minister, continued the deceased marshal's even-handed approach to Germany and the Soviet Union and resisted pressure from the Western Powers, who wanted Poland to cooperate with Joseph Stalin's state.[2][3][4] Against the large and rapidly increasing German offensive force, Poland not only possessed no comparable quantity of technical resources, but also lacked the knowledge and concepts of the developing modern warfare.[5]

Soviet Prime Minister Vyacheslav Molotov signs the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. Behind him stand (left) Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop of Germany and (right) Joseph Stalin. The Pact effectively created a Nazi-Soviet alliance and arrangements for a partition of Poland's territory were made.

At the time of seemingly good relations (the Polish opposition frequently criticized the Sanation regime for "flirting" with Hitler), after Munich and in early 1939 Hitler proposed Poland an alliance on German terms, with an expectation of certain acceptance. The Polish government would have to agree to Danzig's incorporation by the Reich and to an extraterritorial highway passage connecting East Prussia with the rest of Germany (through the Polish Corridor, a narrow area linking the Polish mainland with the Baltic Sea). Poland would join an anti-Soviet alliance, coordinate its foreign policy with Germany and become a German client state. The independence-minded Polish government was alarmed and a British guarantee of Poland's independence was issued on March 31. Reacting to this act and to the Poles' effective rejection of the German offer, Germany renounced the existing non-aggression pact with Poland on April 28.[6][4]

In August the final and competing Allied-Soviet and Nazi-Soviet negotiations took place in Moscow, each participating team working to enlist Stalin's powerful army on their side. By the evening of August 23 Germany was the winner (by default, because given the Polish leaders' continuing refusal to cooperate, the Allied negotiators had nothing to offer) and the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact had been signed. Years later it was discovered that the pact included secret provisions carving up Eastern Europe into spheres of influence of the two signatories, with the dividing line running through the territory of Poland. The "desirability of the maintenance of an independent Polish State" was left to mutually agreed "further political developments".[6][4]

The Soviet Union, having its own reasons to fear the German expansionism further east, repeatedly negotiated with France and the United Kingdom and through them made an offer to Poland of an anti-German alliance, similar to the earlier one made to Czechoslovakia. The British and the French sought the formation of a powerful political-military bloc, comprising the Soviet Union, Poland and Romania in the east and France and Britain in the west.[4] The Soviet conditions for the co-operation included: a demand for the stationing of Red Army troops in eastern Poland, the termination of the Polish–Romanian Alliance, and the limitation of the guarantee, given by Great Britain, to the western Polish frontier.[7] The Polish leaders feared Stalin's communism and throughout 1939 refused to agree to any arrangement which would allow Soviet troops to enter Poland. The Polish unwillingness to accept the Soviet offer is illustrated by the quote of Marshall Edward Rydz-Śmigły, Commander-in-Chief of the Polish armed forces, who said: "With the Germans we run the risk of losing our liberty. With the Russians we will lose our soul".[8] The attitude of the Polish leadership was also reflected by Foreign Minister Józef Beck, who, apparently confident in the French and British declarations of support, asserted that the security of Poland was not going to be guaranteed by a "Soviet or any other Russia". The Soviets then turned to concluding the German offer of a treaty and the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact was signed. The Soviet-Nazi cooperation had been making progress since May 1939, when Vyacheslav Molotov became the Soviet minister of foreign affairs.[6]

At the end of August the Polish-British and Polish-French alliance obligations were updated. Poland, surrounded by the Nazi-led coalition, was under partial military mobilization but poorly prepared for war.[4]

German and Soviet invasions[edit]

Polish infantry in action in September 1939

On 1 September 1939, without a formal declaration of war, Nazi Germany invaded Poland with the immediate pretext being the Gleiwitz incident, a provocation (one of many)[9] staged by the Germans claiming that Polish troops attacked a post along the German–Polish border.[6][4] During the following days and weeks the technically, logistically and numerically superior German forces rapidly advanced into the Polish territory. Secured by the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, the Soviet troops also invaded Poland on 17 September 1939. Before the end of the month most of Poland was divided between the Germans and the Soviets.

The German attack was not anticipated in a timely manner. Defense preparations of the western border were discontinued under Józef Piłsudski's leadership after 1926 and resumed only in March 1939.[10] Afterwards the Polish Armed Forces were organized for the defense of the country. Their strategic position was made more hopeless by the recent German occupation of Czechoslovakia. Poland was now surrounded on three sides by the German territories of Pomerania, Silesia and East Prussia, and the German-controlled Czechoslovakia.[11] The newly formed Slovak state assisted their German allies by attacking Poland from the south.[5] The Polish forces were blockaded on the Baltic Coast by the German navy.

The German "concept of annihilation" (Vernichtungsgedanke) that later evolved into the Blitzkrieg ("lightning war") provided for rapid advance of Panzer (armoured) divisions, dive bombing (to break up troop concentrations and destroy airports, railways and stations, roads, and bridges, killing large numbers of refugees crowding the transportation facilities), and aerial bombing of undefended cities to sap civilian morale.[11] The Polish army, air force and navy had insufficient modern equipment to match the onslaught.[12]

Each of Germany's five armies involved in attacking Poland was accompanied by a special security group charged with terrorizing the Polish population; some of the Polish citizens of German nationality had been trained in Germany to help with the invasion, forming the so-called fifth column.[11] Many German leaders in Poland and communist activists were interned by the Polish authorities after September 1.[9][12]

Germany commanded 1.5 million men, 187,000 motor vehicles, 15,000 artillery pieces, 2,600 tanks, 1300 armored vehicles, 52,000 machine guns and 363,000 horses. The Luftwaffe had 2,800 warplanes and 400 transport planes. On September 1 the German navy positioned its old battleship Schleswig-Holstein to shell Westerplatte, a section of the Free City of Danzig, an enclave separate from the main city and awarded to Poland by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. 53 navy ships were designated for action against Poland.[9]

According to Antoni Czubiński, 1.2 million Polish troops had been mobilized, but some did not even have rifles. There were 30 infantry divisions, 11 cavalry brigades, 31 light artillery regiments, 10 heavy artillery regiments and 6 aerial regiments. They possessed 3,600 artillery pieces (mostly regular, with only a few hundred of anti-armor or anti-aircraft units), and 600 tanks,[5] of which 120 were of the advanced 7TP-type. The air force regiments included 422 aircraft,[5] including 160 PZL P.11c, 31 PZL P.7a and 20 P.11a fighters, 120 PZL.23 Karaś reconnaissance-bombers, and 45 PZL.37 Łoś medium bombers. The navy's participation was limited by the withdrawal of major ships to the United Kingdom to prevent their destruction, and their linking up with the Royal Navy (known as the Peking Plan). The navy consisted of four destroyers (of which three had left for England),[5] one minelayer, five submarines, and some smaller vessels, including six new minesweepers.

Although the UK and France on September 3 declared war on Germany, little movement took place on the western front. The offensive in the West that the Poles understood they were promised was not materializing,[13] and, according to Norman Davies, it was not even immediately feasible or practical.[11] Because of the Western inaction, of the secret protocols of the German-Soviet treaty, and other factors including its own poor intelligence, the Polish government was initially not fully aware of the degree of the country's isolation and the hopelessness of its situation.[5] The combined British and French forces were strong in principle, but not ready for an offensive for a number of reasons. The few limited air raids attempted by the British were ineffective and caused losses of life and equipment. Dropping propaganda leaflets had henceforth become the preferred course of action, to the dismay of the Polish public, which was led to believe that a real war on two fronts and a defeat of the Third Reich were coming.[14]

Survivor of bombing of Warsaw

The Polish armies were positioned along the border in a semicircle, which provided for weak defense, because the Germans concentrated their forces in the chosen directions of attacks.[5] The German armored corps quickly thwarted all attempts of organized resistance and by September 3-4 the Polish border defenses were broken along all the axes of attack. Crowds of civilian refugees fleeing to the east blocked roads and bridges. The Germans were also able to circumvent other concentrations of the Polish military and arrive in the rear of Polish formations.[12]

As the Polish armies were being destroyed or in retreat, the Germans took Częstochowa on September 4, Kraków and Kielce on September 6. The Polish government was evacuated to Volhynia and the supreme military commander Edward Rydz-Śmigły left Warsaw on the night of September 6 and moved in the eastern direction toward Brześć. General Walerian Czuma took over and organized the defense of the capital city.

The Germans began surrounding Warsaw on September 9. City president Stefan Starzyński played an especially prominent role in its defense effort. The major Battle of the Bzura was fought west of the middle Vistula and a determined defense of Lwów was mounted.[11] Southeastern Poland, next to the Romanian and Soviet borders, was designated by Rydz-Śmigły as the final defense bastion.

On September 11 foreign minister Józef Beck asked France to grant asylum to the Polish government and Romania to allow the transfer of the government members through its territory. On September 12 the Allied war council deliberating in France determined that the Polish military campaign had already been resolved and that there was no point in undertaking an anti-German relief offensive; the Polish authorities were unaware of the decision.

Germany urged the Soviet Union from September 3 to engage its troops against the Polish state,[15] but the Soviet command was stalling,[11] waiting for the outcome of the German-Polish confrontation[15] and possibly to see what the French and the British were going to do. The Soviet Union assured Germany that the Red Army advance into Poland would follow later at an appropriate time.[15]

For the optimal "political motivation" (the collapse of Poland), Molotov wished to hold the Soviet intervention until the fall of Warsaw, but the city's capture by the Germans was being delayed due to its determined defense effort (until September 27). The Soviet troops marched on September 17 into Poland, which the Soviet Union claimed to be by then non-existent anyway (according to the historian Richard Overy, Poland was defeated by Germany within two weeks from September 1).[15][1] Concerns about the Soviets' own security were used to justify the invasion.[16] The Soviet entry was also justified by the need to protect the Belarusian and Ukrainian populations, was coordinated with the movement of the German forces,[15] and met little resistance from the Polish forces. The Polish army was ordered by its command, who were now at the Romanian border, to avoid engaging the Soviets, but some fighting between Soviet and Polish units did take place (such as the Battle of Szack fought by the Border Protection Corps).[17] The Soviet forces moved west (to the Bug River) and south to fill the area assigned to them by the secret protocol of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact.[11]

The Nazi-Soviet treaty process was continued with the German–Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Demarcation signed on September 28. It finalized the territorial division, placing Lithuania within the Soviet sphere, and authorized further joint action to control occupied Poland.[11]

The Polish government and military high command retreated to the southeast Romanian Bridgehead territory and crossed into neutral Romania. There was no formal surrender, and resistance continued in many places. Warsaw was defended but bombed into submission. The event that served as a trigger for its surrender on 27 September was the damage to the water supply system caused by one of the German bombs and the subsequent lack of water. Some army units fought until early October (Battle of Kock). In the country's woodlands, army units began underground resistance almost at once.[11] The Polish Army lost 65,000 troops, 400 air crew, and 110 navy crew. The German losses were 16,000 troops, 365 air crew, and 126 navy crew. 285 German aircraft were destroyed, of which 126 were claimed by Polish fighter pilots, 90 were shot down by anti-aircraft fire, and 70 kills remained unclaimed. Three hundred more German aircraft were so badly damaged they were written off. The Polish Air Force lost 327 aircraft, 260 of which were lost due to direct or indirect enemy action, with around 70 in air-to-air fighting. Anti-aircraft fire destroyed the other 67.

Occupation of Poland[edit]

Poland was partitioned in 1939 as agreed by Germany and the Soviet Union in their treaty; division of Polish territories in 1939–41
Changes in administration of Polish territories following the 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union

German-occupied Poland[edit]

About 15 of Polish citizens lost their lives in the war,[18] most of the civilians targeted by various deliberate actions. The German plan involved not only the annexation of Polish territory, but also a total destruction of Polish culture and the Polish nation (Generalplan Ost).

Under the terms of two decrees by Hitler (8 October and 12 October 1939), large areas of western Poland were annexed to Germany. These included all the territories which Germany had lost under the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, such as the Polish Corridor, West Prussia and Upper Silesia, but also a large area of indisputably Polish territory east of these territories, including the city of Łódź. The population of the annexed areas was subjected to intense racial screening and Germanisation.[11]

The annexed areas of Poland were divided into the following administrative units:

The area of these annexed territories was 94,000 square kilometres and the population was about 10 million, the great majority of whom were Poles.

Under the terms of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and the German–Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Demarcation, the Soviet Union annexed all Polish territory east of the line of the rivers Pisa, Narew, Bug and San, except for the area around Vilnius (known in Polish as Wilno), which was given to Lithuania, and the Suwałki region, which was annexed by Germany. These territories were largely inhabited by Ukrainians and Belarusians, with minorities of Poles and Jews (for numbers see Curzon Line). The total area, including the area given to Lithuania, was 201,000 square kilometres, with a population of 13.5 million. A small strip of land that was a part of Hungary before 1914 was given to Slovakia.

After the German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, the Polish territories previously occupied by the Soviets were organized as follows:

(see also: Expulsion of Poles by Nazi Germany)

The future fate of Poland and Poles was decided in Generalplan Ost, a Nazi plan to engage in genocide and ethnic cleansing of the territories occupied by Germany in Eastern Europe in order to exterminate the Slavic peoples. The remaining block of territory was placed under a German administration called the General Government (in German Generalgouvernement für die besetzten polnischen Gebiete), with its capital at Kraków. It became a part of Greater Germany (Grossdeutsches Reich).[19] The General Government was subdivided into four districts, Warsaw, Lublin, Radom, and Kraków. (For more detail on the territorial division of this area see General Government.)

A German lawyer and prominent Nazi, Hans Frank, was appointed Governor-General of the General Government on 26 October. Frank oversaw the segregation of the Jews into ghettos in the larger cities, including Warsaw, and the use of Polish civilians for compulsory labour in German war industries.

The population in the General Government's territory was initially about 12 million in an area of 94,000 km², but this increased as about 860,000 Poles and Jews were expelled from the German-annexed areas and "resettled" in the General Government. Offsetting this was the German campaign of extermination of the Polish intelligentsia and other elements thought likely to resist (e.g. Operation Tannenberg and Action AB). From 1941, disease and hunger also began to reduce the population. Poles were also deported in large numbers to work as forced labour in Germany: eventually about a million were deported, and many died in Germany.

According to a recent (2009) estimates by IPN, between 5.62 million and 5.82 million Polish citizens (including Polish Jews) died as a result of the German occupation.[20][21]

Soviet-occupied Poland[edit]

By the end of the Polish Defensive War, the Soviet Union took over 52.1% of the territory of Poland (circa 200,000 km²), with over 13,700,000 people. Population estimates vary; one analysis gives the following numbers in regard to the ethnic composition of these areas at the time: 38% Poles (ca. 5.1 million people), 37% Ukrainians, 14.5% Belarusians, 8.4% Jews, 0.9% Russians and 0.6% Germans. There were also 336,000 refugees from areas occupied by Germany, most of them Jews (198,000).[22] Areas occupied by the Soviet Union were annexed to Soviet territory, with the exception of the Wilno/Vilnius region, which was transferred to the Republic of Lithuania. Lithuania itself was soon annexed by the Soviets and, including the contested Wilno area, became the Lithuanian Soviet Republic.

The Germans enforced their policies based on the Nazi racism ideology. The Soviet administrators used slogans about class struggle and dictatorship of the proletariat,[23] as they applied the policies of Stalinism and Sovietization in occupied eastern Poland.[24][25] On October 22, the Soviets organized staged elections to Moscow-controlled Supreme Soviets (legislative bodies) of Western Belarus and Western Ukraine[26] to legitimize the Soviet rule.[27]

All institutions of the dismantled Polish state were closed down and reopened with new directors who were mostly Russian and in rare cases[22] Ukrainian or Polish.[22] Lviv University and other schools restarted anew as Soviet institutions. Studies were devoted to Soviet propaganda.[22] Polish literature and language studies were dissolved.

The Soviet authorities attempted to remove all signs of Polish existence and activity in the area.[22] On 21 December, the Polish currency was withdrawn from circulation without any exchange to the newly introduced ruble.[28] In schools, Polish language books were burned.[22]

All the media became controlled by Moscow. Soviet occupation implemented a police state type political regime,[29][30][31][32] based on terror. All Polish parties and organisations were disbanded. Only the communist party and subordinate organisations were allowed to exist. Soviet teachers in schools encouraged children to spy on their parents.[22]

Organized religions were persecuted. Most churches were closed; priests and ministers were discriminated against by the authorities and subjected to high taxes, drafts into military service, arrests and deportations.[22] All enterprises were taken over by the state, while agriculture was made collective.[33] The results of the Soviet economic policies soon resulted in serious difficulties, as shops lacked goods, food was scarce and people were threatened by famine.[22]

According to the Soviet law, all residents of the annexed area, referred to as citizens of former Poland,[34] automatically acquired the Soviet citizenship. Residents were still required and pressured to consent[35] and those who opted out were threatened with repatriation to Nazi controlled territories of Poland.[16][36][37]

The Soviets exploited past ethnic tensions between Poles and other ethnic groups, inciting and encouraging violence against Poles by calling upon the minorities to "rectify the wrongs they had suffered during twenty years of Polish rule".[38] The hostile propaganda resulted in instances of bloody repression.[39]

Parts of the Ukrainian population initially welcomed the end of Polish rule[40] and the phenomenon was strengthened by a land reform. However, the Soviet authorities soon started a campaign of forced collectivisation, which largely nullified the reform gains. There were large groups of prewar Polish citizens, notably Jewish youth and, to a lesser extent, Ukrainian peasants, who saw the Soviet power as an opportunity to start political or social activity outside of their traditional ethnic or cultural groups. Their enthusiasm faded with time as it became clear that the Soviet repressions affected everybody.[41] The organisation of Ukrainians desiring independent Ukraine (the OUN) was persecuted as "anti-Soviet".

A rule of terror was started by the NKVD and other Soviet agencies. The first victims were the approximately 250,000 Polish prisoners of war.[42] The Soviet Union had not signed any international convention on rules of war and they were denied the status of prisoners of war. When the Soviets conducted recruitment activities among the Polish military, an overwhelming majority of the captured officers refused to cooperate; they were considered enemies of the Soviet Union and a decision was made by the Soviet Politburo (5 March 1940) to secretly execute them (22,000 officers and others).[43] The officers and a large number of ordinary soldiers[44] were then murdered (see Katyn massacre) or sent to Gulag.[45] Of the 10,000-12,000 Poles sent to Kolyma in 1940–41, most POWs, only 583 men survived, released in 1942 to join the Polish Armed Forces in the East.[46]

Similar policies were applied to the civilian population. The Soviet authorities regarded service for the prewar Polish state as a "crime against revolution"[47] and "counter-revolutionary activity",[48] and subsequently started arresting large numbers of Polish intelligentsia, politicians, civil servants and scientists, but also ordinary people suspected of posing a threat to the Soviet rule. Schoolchildren as young as 10 or 12 years old who laughed at Soviet propaganda presented in schools were sent into prisons, sometimes for as long as 10 years.[22]

The prisons soon got severely overcrowded[41] with detainees suspected of anti-Soviet activities and the NKVD had to open dozens of ad hoc prison sites in almost all towns of the region.[27] The wave of arrests led to forced resettlement of large categories of people (kulaks, Polish civil servants, forest workers, university professors or osadniks, for instance) to the Gulag labour camps.[25]

According to recent (2009) estimates by IPN, around 150,000 Polish citizens died as a result of the Soviet occupation.[20][21] The number of deportees was estimated at around 320,000.[20][21]

Resistance in Poland[edit]

For more details on this topic, see Polish resistance movement in World War II.

Resistance to the German occupation began almost at once and included guerrilla warfare. In June 1940 Władysław Sikorski, prime minister in exile, appointed General Stefan Rowecki to head the underground forces. The Home Army (in Polish Armia Krajowa or AK), loyal to the Polish government in exile in London and a military arm of the Polish Underground State, was formed from the Union of Armed Struggle (Związek Walki Zbrojnej, in existence from 1939) and other groups in 1942. Gwardia Ludowa and then Armia Ludowa were the much smaller leftist formations, backed by the Soviet Union and controlled by the Polish Workers' Party. The ultra-nationalist National Armed Forces also operated separately. By mid-1944, the AK had some 400,000 members but was not well-armed.[49]

The Underground State was endorsed by Poland's main prewar political blocks, including the peasant, socialist, nationalist and Catholic parties and absorbed many supporters of the Sanation rule, humbled by the 1939 defeat. The parties established clandestine cooperation in February 1940 and dedicated themselves to a future postwar parliamentary democracy in Poland. From autumn 1940, the "state" was led by a Delegate appointed by the government in London. The communists, more active after the 1941 Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, and the right wing extremists, neither joined the broad coalition nor recognized the Government Delegate.[49]

The Underground State maintained the continuity of the Polish statehood and conducted a broad range of political, military, administrative, social, cultural, educational and other activities, within the practical limits of the conspiratorial environment.[49]

With Stalin's encouragement, Polish communist institutions rival to the Government in Exile and the Underground State were established. They included the Polish Workers' Party (from January 1942) and the State National Council in occupied Poland, and the Union of Polish Patriots in the Soviet Union.[49]

In August 1943 and March 1944, the Underground State announced its long-term plan, partially designed to counter the attractiveness of some of the communists' proposals. It promised land reform, nationalisation of the industrial base, demands for territorial compensation from Germany, and re-establishment of the pre-1939 eastern border. Thus, the main difference between the Underground State and the communists, in terms of politics, amounted not to radical economic and social reforms, which were advocated by both sides, but to their attitudes towards national sovereignty, borders, and Polish-Soviet relations.[49]

In April 1943, the Germans began deporting the remaining Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto, provoking the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising from 19 April–16 May, one of the first armed uprisings against the Germans in Poland. The Polish-Jewish leaders knew that the rising would be crushed but they preferred to die fighting than wait to be deported to their deaths in the death camps.

In early 1943, the Home Army built up its forces in preparation for a national uprising.[49] The plan was code-named Operation Tempest and began in late 1943. Its most widely known elements were the Operation Ostra Brama and the Warsaw Uprising. In August 1944, as the Soviet forces approached Warsaw, the government in exile approved an uprising in the city to try to prevent a communist takeover of the Polish government. The AK, led by Tadeusz Bór-Komorowski, launched the Warsaw Uprising. Soviet forces were nearby, but on the orders of the Soviet high command gave little assistance. Stalin described the rising as a "criminal adventure." The Poles appealed to the western allies for help. The Royal Air Force and the Polish Air Force based in Italy dropped some arms but very limited help was possible without Soviet involvement.

The fighting in Warsaw was desperate, with selfless valour being displayed in street-to-street fighting. The AK had between 12,000 and 20,000 soldiers, most equipped with only small arms. They faced a well-equipped German army of 20,000 SS and regular army units. The Polish command's hope that the AK could take and hold Warsaw for the arrival of the London government was never likely to be achieved. After 63 days of savage fighting, the city was reduced to rubble and German reprisals were savage. The SS and auxiliary units recruited from the Soviet Army deserters were particularly brutal.

After the Uprising's surrender, the AK fighters were given the status of prisoners-of-war by the Germans but the civilian population was ruthlessly punished. Overall, the Polish casualties are estimated to be between 150,000 and 300,000 killed, with 90,000 civilians being sent to labour camps in the Reich, while 60,000 were shipped to death in concentration camps such as Ravensbrück, Auschwitz, Mauthausen, and others. The city was almost totally demolished by the German punitive bombing raids. The Warsaw Rising allowed the Germans to largely destroy the AK as a fighting force, but the main beneficiaries were the Soviets and the communists, who were able to impose a communist government on postwar Poland with little fear of armed resistance.

Collaboration with the occupiers[edit]

German recruitment poster: "Let's do agricultural work in Germany: report immediately to your Vogt"

In occupied Poland, there was no official collaboration at either the political or economic level.[50][51] Poland never officially surrendered to the Germans or to the Soviets (a state of war was formally declared on Germany, but not on the Soviet Union). In the German occupation zone, the Polish resistance movement in World War II was the largest in all of occupied Europe.[52] As a result, Polish citizens were unlikely to be given positions of any significant authority.[50][51] The vast majority of the prewar citizenry collaborating with the Nazis was the German minority in Poland, the members of which were offered one of several possible grades of the German citizenship (Volksdeutsche).[53] During the war there were about 3 million former Polish citizens of German origin who signed the official list of the Volksdeutsche.[51] People who became Volksdeutsche were treated by Poles with special contempt, and the fact of them having signed the Volksliste constituted high treason according to the Polish underground law.

Depending on a definition of collaboration (and of a Polish citizen, including the ethnicity and minority status considerations), scholars estimate number of "Polish collaborators" at around several thousand in a population of about 35 million (that number is supported by the Israeli War Crimes Commission).[50][51][54][55] The estimate is based primarily on the number of death sentences for treason by the Special Courts of the Polish Underground State.[54] John Connelly quoted a Polish historian (Leszek Gondek) calling the phenomenon of Polish collaboration "marginal" and wrote that "only relatively small percentage of Polish population engaged in activities that may be described as collaboration when seen against the backdrop of European and world history".[54]

In October 1939, the Nazis ordered the mobilization of the prewar Polish police to the service of the occupational authorities. The policemen were to report for duty or face a death penalty.[56] The so-called Blue Police was formed. At its peak in 1943, it numbered around 16,000.[57] Its primary task was to act as a regular police force and to deal with criminal activities, but they were also used by the Germans in combating smuggling and patrolling the Jewish ghettos. Many individuals in the Blue Police followed German orders reluctantly, often disobeyed them or even risked death acting against them.[16][58][59] Many members of the Blue Police were double agents for the Polish resistance.[60][61] Some of its officers were ultimately awarded the Righteous Among the Nations awards for saving Jews.[62][63] According to Timothy Snyder though, acting in their capacity as a collaborationist force, the Blue Police may have killed more than 50,000 Jews.[64]

Following Nazi Germany's attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, the German forces quickly overran the territory of Poland controlled by the Soviets since their 1939 invasion. There were no known joint Polish-German actions, and the Germans were unsuccessful in their attempt to turn the Poles toward fighting exclusively against the Soviet partisans.[16]Tadeusz Piotrowski quotes Joseph Rothschild as saying "The Polish Home Army (AK) was by and large untainted by collaboration" and that "the honor of AK as a whole is beyond reproach".[16] In 1944, the Germans clandestinely armed a few regional AK units operating in the area of Vilnius in order to encourage them to act against the Soviet partisans in the region. AK turned these weapons against the Nazis during the Operation Ostra Brama.[65] Such arrangements were purely tactical and did not evidence the type of ideological collaboration as shown by the Vichy regime in France or the Quisling regime in Norway.[16] The Poles' main motivation was to gain intelligence on German morale and preparedness and to acquire much needed equipment.[66]

Gunnar S. Paulsson estimates that in Warsaw the number of Polish citizens collaborating with the Nazis during the occupation might have been around "1 or 2 percent" (p. 113).[58] However, the damage that they did was substantial. Most were interested in money. Blackmailers significantly increased the danger facing Jews and their chances of getting caught and killed. They harassed rescuers, stripped Jews of assets needed for food and bribes, raised the overall level of insecurity, and forced hidden Jews to seek out safer accommodations. Some individuals took advantage of a hiding person's desperation by collecting money, then reneging on their promise of aid—or worse, turning them over to the Germans for an additional reward. Individuals who turned in Jews in hiding to the Gestapo received a standard payment consisting of some cash, liquor, sugar and cigarettes. Many Jews were robbed and handed over to the Germans by such "szmalcowniks", many of whom practiced blackmail as an "occupation". Those criminals were condemned by the Polish Underground State and a fight against the informers was organized by the AK. Death sentences for collaborators were meted out on a scale much greater than in occupied countries of Western Europe.

The village of Jedwabne was occupied by the Soviet Union before Operation Barbarossa and some members of the Jewish community were subsequently accused of collaboration with the Soviets. During the Jedwabne pogrom of July 1941, a mob of Poles murdered around 300 local Jews in a burning barn-house.[67]

The Holocaust in Poland[edit]

The entrance to the Auschwitz I concentration camp

Despite the various forms of anti-Jewish harassment taking place in late prewar Poland, the Jewish community there was the largest in Europe and thrived.[2]

Persecution of the Jews by the Nazi occupation government, particularly in the urban areas, began immediately after the occupation. In the first year and a half, the Germans confined themselves to stripping the Jews of their property, herding them into ghettos and putting them into forced labor in war-related industries. During this period the Jewish community leadership, the Judenrat, had an official recognition by the Germans and was able to some extent to bargain with the Germans. After the German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, special extermination squads (the Einsatzgruppen) were organised to kill Jews in the areas of eastern Poland which had been annexed by the Soviets in 1939.[68]

In 1942, the Germans engaged in the systematic killing of the Jews, beginning with the Jewish population of the General Government. Six extermination camps (Auschwitz, Bełżec, Chełmno, Majdanek, Sobibór and Treblinka) were established in which the most extreme measure of the Holocaust, the mass murder of millions of Jews from Poland and other countries, was carried out between 1942 and 1944.[68] Of Poland's prewar Jewish population of 3 million, only about 10% survived the war.[69]

During the German occupation, most Poles were engaged in a desperate struggle for survival and were in no position to oppose or impede the Nazi extermination of the Jews even if they had wanted to. There were, however, many cases of Poles risking death to hide Jewish families and in other ways assist the Jews. Only in Poland was death a standard punishment for a person and his whole family, and sometimes also neighbours, for helping the Jews.

For more details on this topic, see Rescue of Jews by Poles during the Holocaust.

In September 1942, the Provisional Committee for Aid to Jews (Tymczasowy Komitet Pomocy Żydom) was founded on the initiative of Zofia Kossak-Szczucka. This body later became the Council for Aid to Jews (Rada Pomocy Żydom), known by the code-name Żegota. It is not known how many Jews were helped by Żegota, but at one point in 1943 it had 2,500 Jewish children under its care in Warsaw alone. (See also an example of the village that helped Jews: Markowa). Because of such actions, Polish citizens have the highest number of Righteous Among the Nations awards at the Yad Vashem Museum.[70]

Polish-Ukrainian conflict[edit]

The Polish-Ukrainian conflict, also referred to as a civil war, occurred with the onset of the massacres of Poles in Volhynia (Polish: Rzeź wołyńska, literally: Volhynian slaughter), an ethnic cleansing operation in the eastern part of occupied Poland. The entire conflict took place mainly between late March 1943 and August 1947, extending beyond World War II.[71] The actions, orchestrated and conducted in most part by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) together with other Ukrainian groups and local Ukrainian peasants in three provinces (voivodeships), resulted in between 35,000 and 60,000 Polish civilians being murdered in the former Wołyń Voivodeship alone. Along with Galicia and eastern Lublin area, total Polish civilian losses are estimated to exceed 60,000. The peak of the massacres took place in July and August 1943, when a senior UPA commander, Dmytro Klyachkivsky, ordered the extermination of the entire ethnic Polish population between 16 and 60 years of age.[72] The massacres committed by the UPA led to ethnic cleansing and retaliatory killings by Poles against local Ukrainians both east and west of the Curzon Line. Estimates of the number of Ukrainians killed in Polish reprisals vary from 10,000 to 20,000, in all areas affected by the conflict.[73] The ethnic cleansing reached its full scale with the Soviet and Polish communist implementation of the Operation Vistula, aimed at securing ethnic homogeneity on both sides of the Poland-Soviet Ukraine border. Due in part to the successive occupations of the region, ethnic Poles and Ukrainians were brutally pitted against each other, first under the German occupation, and later under the Soviet occupation. Hundreds of thousands on both sides lost their lives over the course of this conflict.

Government in exile[edit]

For more details on this topic, see Polish government-in-exile.

Because of the Polish government leaders' internment in Romania, the government reassembled in Paris and formed a government in exile under a new leadership. Under French pressure, On October 1, 1939 Władysław Raczkiewicz was appointed as president and General Władysław Sikorski, an anti-Sanation politician, became prime minister and commander-in-chief of the Polish armed forces, reconstructed in the West. The government in exile, recognized by France and Britain, was evacuated from Paris to London, where it remained.[74]

Most of the Polish Navy ships reached the United Kingdom and tens of thousands of soldiers escaped through Hungary to continue the fight. Many Poles took part in the Battle of France, the Battle of Britain, and, allied with the British forces, in other operations (see Polish contribution to World War II).[74]

After Germany attacked the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, the British government allied itself with the Soviet Union on July 13 and Winston Churchill pressed Sikorski to also reach an agreement with the Soviets. The Sikorski–Mayski treaty was signed on July 30 and Polish-Soviet diplomatic relations were restored. Polish soldiers and others imprisoned in the Soviet Union since 1939 were released and a formation of a Polish army there was agreed, intended to fight on the Eastern Front, help the Red Army to liberate Poland and establish a sovereign Polish state. Under changed plans the 70,000 Polish soldiers (and 40,000 civilians), led by General Władysław Anders, left the Soviet Union through Iran in the summer of 1942.[49] They formed the basis for a Polish army that fought alongside the Western Allies at Monte Cassino, Arnhem and other battles. But they were taken from where they conceivably could have affected the fate of Poland and enhance the standing of the exile government, to where, as it turned out, they could not.

As the Soviet forces began their westward offensive with the victory at Stalingrad, it became increasingly apparent that Stalin's visions of a future Poland and of its borders were fundamentally different from those of the Polish government in London and the Polish Underground State and Polish-Soviet relations kept deteriorating. Polish communist institutions rival to the main national independence and pro-Western movement were established in Poland and in the Soviet Union. The Soviets began recruiting for a communist Polish army led by Zygmunt Berling, a Polish Army colonel.[49] With the Western Allies stalling a serious offensive undertaking from the west, it was clear that it would be the Soviet Union who would enter Poland and drive off Nazi Germans.

Polish volunteers to Anders' Army, released from a Soviet POW camp

In April 1943, the Germans discovered the graves of 4,000 or more Polish officers at Katyn near Smolensk. Sikorski, suspecting the Soviets to be the perpetrators of an atrocity, requested the Red Cross to investigate. The Soviets denied involvement and Stalin reacted by "suspending" diplomatic relations with Sikorski's government on April 25. The Katyn massacre information was suppressed during and after the war by the British, to whom the revelation was an embarrassment and presented a political difficulty.[49][11]

Prime Minister Sikorski, the most prominent of Polish exile leaders, was killed in an air crash near Gibraltar on July 4. Sikorski was succeeded as head of the government in exile by Stanisław Mikołajczyk.[49]

In November–December 1943 the Allied Tehran Conference took place. US President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill agreed with Stalin's ideas of using the Curzon Line as the basis of Poland's new eastern border and compensating Poland with lands taken from Germany. The strategic war alliance with the Soviets inevitably outweighed the Western loyalty toward the Polish government and people; they were not consulted.[49]

In 1944, the Polish forces in the West were making a substantial contribution to the war: in May, the Second Corps under General Anders stormed the fortress of Monte Cassino and opened a road to Rome, in August General Stanisław Maczek's 1st Armoured Division distinguished itself at the Battle of Falaise, in September General Stanisław Sosabowski's Parachute Brigade fought hard at the Battle of Arnhem. At the same time, however, Churchill applied pressure to Mikołajczyk, demanding accommodation with the Soviets, including on the borders issue. The Red Army was marching into Poland defeating the Nazis and Stalin toughened his stance against the Polish exiled government, wanting not only the recognition of the proposed frontiers, but a resignation from the government of all elements 'hostile to the Soviet Union', which meant in practice President Raczkiewicz, armed forces commander Kazimierz Sosnkowski, and other ministers.[49]

Polish state reestablished with new borders and under Soviet domination[edit]

Battalion Zośka soldiers in Wola during the Warsaw Uprising

As the Soviets advanced through Poland in late 1944, the German administration collapsed. Over 600,000 Soviet soldiers died fighting German troops in Poland.[75] The communist-controlled Polish Committee of National Liberation (PKWN) was installed in July in Lublin, the first major Polish city to be seized by the Soviets from the Nazis, and began to take over the administration of the country as the Germans retreated. The government in exile in London had the forces of the Home Army (AK) at its disposal. The government in exile was determined that the AK would cooperate with the advancing Red Army on a tactical level, while Polish civil authorities from the underground took power in Allied-controlled Polish territory (see Operation Tempest) to ensure that Poland remained an independent country after the war. However, the failure of the Warsaw Uprising laid the country open to the establishment of communist rule and Soviet domination. The Soviets performed arrests, executions and deportations of Home Army members that assisted them in fighting the Germans.[76]

The legacy of World War II: Poland's old and new borders

At the Yalta Conference in February 1945, the Allies continued their discussions and finalized decisions on the postwar order in Europe. The Soviet armed forces were gaining control of Poland and Polish communists were establishing their administration throughout the country. The Soviet Union was in the process of incorporating the lands in eastern Poland (Kresy), previously occupied and annexed in 1939 (see Territories of Poland annexed by the Soviet Union). Deferring to Stalin's territorial schemes, the Allies compensated Poland with the German territories east of the Oder–Neisse line, parts of Pomerania, Silesia and East Prussia (in Polish communist government's propaganda referred to as the Recovered Territories).[77] The entire country was shifted to the west and resembled the territory of Medieval early Piast Poland. Eight million Germans were expelled and forced to relocate their families to the new Germany. The new western and northern territories of Poland were repopulated with Poles "repatriated" from the eastern regions now in the Soviet Union and from other places. The new Poland emerged 20% smaller (by 77,500 km² or 29,900 mi²). The population transfers included also the moving of the Ukrainians and Belarusians from Poland into their respective Soviet republics.[78] The Polish communist authorities and the Soviets expelled especially hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians into Soviet Ukraine, and then in 1947 to the Recovered Territories during the Operation Vistula, ensuring that postwar Poland would not have any significant minorities to contend with.

January 1945 aerial photo of destroyed Warsaw

Stalin agreed at Yalta that a coalition government would be formed in Poland. The prime minister of the Polish government in exile, Stanisław Mikołajczyk, resigned his post and, with several other Polish exile leaders, went to Lublin, where the communist-controlled provisional government had been established. It was headed by a socialist, Edward Osóbka-Morawski, but the communists held a majority of key posts. It was recognized by the Western Allies in July 1945.

In April 1945, the provisional government signed a mutual pact with the Soviet Union. The Government of National Unity was constituted on 28 June with Mikołajczyk as deputy prime minister. The communists' principal rivals were Mikołajczyk's Polish People's Party (PSL) and the veterans of the underground Home Army and of the Polish armies which had fought in the West. The communist Polish Workers' Party (PPR), under Władysław Gomułka and Bolesław Bierut, held the most power, controlled the army and the police, and was supported by the Soviet army. Potential political opponents of the communists were subjected to Soviet terror campaigns, with many of them arrested, executed or tortured. At least 25,000 people lost their lives in labour camps created by the Soviets as early as 1944.[79]

The PKWN Manifesto was issued on 22 July 1944

The Western Allies, and their leaders Roosevelt and Churchill in particular, have been criticised, by Polish writers and some Western historians, for what most Poles see as the abandonment of Poland to Soviet rule. Decisions were made at the Tehran, Yalta and Potsdam conferences and on other occasions that amounted, according to such opinions, to Western complicity in Stalin's takeover of Eastern Europe.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  72. ^ Tadeusz Piotrowski, Poland's holocaust. Published by McFarland. Page 247
  73. ^ Magosci, Motyka, Rossolinski
  74. ^ a b Jerzy Lukowski; Hubert Zawadzki. A Concise History of Poland. pp. 255–256. 
  75. ^ WW II: The Chronicle of Stone
  76. ^ The NKVD Against the Home Army (Armia Krajowa), Warsaw Uprising 1944
  77. ^ Kopp, Kristin; Niżyńska, Joanna (2012). Germany, Poland and Postmemorial Relations: In Search of a Livable Past. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-230-33730-5. 
  78. ^ Forced migration in the 20th century
  79. ^ Polski Gułag

Further reading[edit]

  • Chodakiewicz, Marek Jan. Between Nazis and Soviets: Occupation Politics in Poland, 1939-1947. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2004 ISBN 0-7391-0484-5. online review
  • Coutouvidi, John, and Jaime Reynold. Poland, 1939-1947 (1986)
  • Davies, Norman (1982), God's Playground. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-05353-3 and ISBN 0-231-05351-7.
  • Davies, Norman Rising '44: The Battle for Warsaw (2004)
  • Douglas, R.M. Orderly and Humane. The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War. Yale University Press, 2012. ISBN 978-0-300-16660-6.
  • Fritz, Stephen G. (2011). Ostkrieg: Hitler's War of Extermination in the East. University Press of Kentucky. 
  • Gross, Jan Tomasz, Revolution from Abroad: The Soviet Conquest of Poland's Western Ukraine and Western Belorussia, Princeton University Press, 2002, ISBN 0-691-09603-1.
  • Gross, Jan T. Polish Society under German Occupation: The Generalgouvernement, 1939-1944 (Princeton UP, 1979)
  • Hiden, John. ed. The Baltic and the Outbreak of the Second World War, Cambridge University Press, 2003, ISBN 0-521-53120-9
  • Kochanski, Halik. The Eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War (Harvard U.P., 2012) excerpt and text search
  • Koskodan, Kenneth K. No Greater Ally: The Untold Story of Poland's Forces in World War II, Osprey Publishing 2009, ISBN 978-1-84908-479-6.
  • Lukas, Richard C. Did the Children Cry: Hitler's War Against Jewish and Polish Children, 1939-1945 (1st ed.; N.Y.:Hippocrene, 1994). ISBN 0-7818-0242-3
  • Lukas, Richard C. Forgotten Holocaust:The Poles under German Occupation, 1939-1944 (3rd rev. ed.; N.Y.:Hippocrene, 2012). ISBN 978-0-7818-1302-0
  • Lukas, Richard C. Forgotten Survivors:Polish Christians Remember the Nazi Occupation (1st ed.; Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2004). ISBN 0-7818-0242-3
  • Sword, Keith (1991). The Soviet Takeover of the Polish Eastern Provinces, 1939-41. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 0-312-05570-6. 
  • Snyder, Timothy. Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (2010)
  • Terlecki, Olgierd. (1972), Poles in the Italian Campaign, 1943-1945, Interpress Publishers.
  • Steven J. Zaloga, Poland 1939: The birth of Blitzkrieg, Osprey Publishing 2002, ISBN 1-84176-408-6.

External links[edit]