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Panorama of Kraków, former capital of Poland

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Poland is a country in Central Europe, bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast to the north. It is an ancient nation whose history as a state began near the middle of the 10th century. Its golden age occurred in the 16th century when it united with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to form the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. During the following century, the strengthening of the gentry and internal disorders weakened the nation. In a series of agreements in the late 18th century, Russia, Prussia and Austria partitioned Poland amongst themselves. It regained independence as the Second Polish Republic in the aftermath of World War I only to lose it again when it was occupied by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in World War II. The nation lost over six million citizens in the war, following which it emerged as the communist People's Republic of Poland under strong Soviet influence within the Eastern Bloc. A westward border shift followed by forced population transfers after the war turned a once multiethnic country into a mostly homogeneous nation state. Labor turmoil in 1980 led to the formation of the independent trade union called Solidarity (Solidarność) that over time became a political force which by 1990 had swept parliamentary elections and the presidency. A shock therapy program during the early 1990s enabled the country to transform its economy into one of the most robust in Central Europe. With its transformation to a democratic, market-oriented country largely completed, Poland is an increasingly active member of NATO and the European Union.

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From Polish history

German soldiers dismantling a Polish border checkpoint
The Polish September Campaign was the conquest of Poland by the armies of Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and a small contingent of Slovak forces during World War II. The campaign began on 1 September 1939 following a German-staged attack in Gleiwitz (Gliwice). This military operation, which saw the first use of Blitzkrieg tactics, marked the start of World War II in Europe as the invasion led Poland's allies, including the United Kingdom and France, to declare war on Germany on 3 September. On 17 September 17, the Soviet Red Army invaded the eastern regions of Poland. The Soviets were acting in coöperation with Germany, realizing the secret protocol of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact which envisaged division of Central Europe into Nazi and Soviet spheres of influence. The campaign ended on 6 October 1939 with Germany and the Soviet Union occupying the entirety of Poland.
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Wawel Cathedral
Credit: Jan Mehlich

The Royal Archcathedral Basilica of Saints Wenceslaus and Stanislaus on the Wawel Hill in Kraków is the spiritual heart of Poland. It was the site of royal coronations in the 14th–18th centuries and its crypts have been a burial place for Polish kings and queens, bishops of Kraków, saints, national heroes and greatest poets. The church is an amalgam of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles, and its golden-domed Sigismund's Chapel is considered a gem of Renaissance architecture.

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Paweł Jasienica, born Leon Lech Beynar (1909–1970), was a Polish historian, journalist and soldier. During World War II, Beynar fought in the Polish Army, and later in the Home Army resistance. Near the end of the war, he was also working with the anti-Soviet resistance, which later led to him taking up a new name to hide from the communist government of the People's Republic of Poland. He was associated with the Tygodnik Powszechny Catholic weekly and several other newspapers and magazines. He is best known for his books about pre-partition Poland, which played an important role in popularizing Polish history among several generations of readers. Jasienica became an outspoken critic of the communist censorship, and as a notable dissident, he was persecuted by the government. He was subject to invigilation by security services, and his second wife was in fact a communist secret police agent. Jasienica's books were banned during a brief period prior to his death.
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Old Town Hall of Toruń by night

Toruń is a city on the Vistula River in northern Poland. Known in German as Thorn, it was founded by the Teutonic Knights in 1233 and ceded to the Kingdom of Poland under the terms of a treaty signed here in 1466. Seven years later, it became the birthplace of Nicolaus Copernicus. Today, Toruń is the seat of the legislature (sejmik) of the Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship, forming with the city of Bydgoszcz, its western neighbor, the Bydgoszcz-Toruń metropolitan area. With its medieval spatial layout preserved almost intact and with many brick Gothic buildings, including the town hall, churches and burgher houses, Toruń is a popular tourist attraction and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also famous for its traditional gingerbread flavored with honey and spices.

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