Second Polish Republic
Republic of Poland
Anthem: Mazurek Dąbrowskiego
|Common languages||Polish official|
Ukrainian, Yiddish, Belarusian, German also spoken
• upper chamber
• lower chamber
|Historical era||Interwar period|
• World War I
|November 11 1918|
|September 1 1939|
|1921||387,000 km2 (149,000 sq mi)|
|1931||388,634 km2 (150,052 sq mi)|
|1938||389,720 km2 (150,470 sq mi)|
|Currency||Marka (until 1924)|
Złoty (after 1924)
|ISO 3166 code||PL|
When the borders of the state were fixed in 1922 after several wars, the republic had borders with Czechoslovakia, Germany, Free City of Danzig, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania, and the Soviet Union, plus a tiny strip of the coastline of the Baltic Sea, around the city of Gdynia. It had an area of 388 634 km² (sixth largest in Europe, in the fall of 1938, after the annexation of Zaolzie, the area grew to 389,720 km².), and 27.2 million inhabitants according to the census of that year. In 1939, just before the outbreak of World War II, it had an estimated 35.1 million inhabitants. Almost third of these were minorities (13.9% Ukrainians, 3.1% Belarusians, 8.6% Jews, 2.3% Germans, and 3.4% percent Lithuanians, Russians and Czechs).
The Second Republic is often associated with times of great adversity, of troubles and of triumph. Having to deal with the economic difficulties and destruction of World War I, followed by the Soviet invasion during the Polish Soviet War, and then increasingly hostile neighbors such as Nazi Germany, the Republic managed not only to endure, but to expand. Lacking an overseas empire (see: Maritime and Colonial League), Poland nevertheless maintained a level of economic development and prosperity comparable to that of the West. The cultural hubs of Warsaw, Kraków, Poznań, Wilno and Lwów raised themselves to the level of major European cities. They were also the sites of internationally renowned universities and places of higher learning. By 1939 the Republic was becoming a major world player in politics and economics.
- Independence; Warsaw was free: November 11, 1918.
- Elections to the Sejm: January 26, 1919.
- Treaty of Versailles (Articles 87-93) and Little Treaty of Versailles, June 28, 1919, establish Poland as a sovereign and independent state on the international arena.
- War against the Ukrainians: Polish-Ukrainian War.
- War against the Soviets: Polish-Soviet War. Miracle of the Vistula. Treaty of Riga.
- War against the Lithuanians: Polish-Lithuanian War.
- Border conflicts between Poland and Czechoslovakia.
- Uprisings in Wielkopolska and Silesia. Great Poland Uprising, Silesian Uprisings.
- July 15, 1920 - Agrarian Reform.
- March 17, 1921 - March Constitution.
- 1921 - alliances with France, Romania.
- Elections to the Sejm (1922-11-05) and to the Senat - 1922-11-12.
- President Gabriel Narutowicz, and his assassination (December 16, 1922).
- 1924 - Wladyslaw Grabski Government. Bank Polski. Monetary reform 1924 in Poland.
- President Stanisław Wojciechowski - December 20, 1922, to Zamach majowy.
- Coup of May - Zamach majowy, 1926, May, Józef Piłsudski coup d'etat (May Coup). beginning of Sanacja government.
- Roman Dmowski, Obóz Wielkiej Polski (4 December 1926), Endecja.
- 1928 - Piłsudski's Bezpartyjny Blok Współpracy z Rządem.
- 16 November 1930 - wybory brzeskie (elections).
- 25 July 1932 - non-aggression pact with Soviet Union
- 26 January 1934 - non-aggression pact with Germany
- 23 April 1935 - April Constitution
- 12 May 1935 - death of Józef Piłsudski
- Gdynia, Centralny Okreg Przemyslowy (1936), Eugeniusz Kwiatkowski
- 2 February 1937 - creation of the Obóz Zjednoczenia Narodowego political party
- October 1938 - annexation of Zaolzie, Górna Orawa, Jaworzyna from Czechoslovakia
- 2 January 1939 - death of Roman Dmowski
- 31 March 1939 - military guarantees from United Kingdom and France
- 23 August 1939 - non-aggression pact between Soviet Union and Germany: Ribbentrop-Molotow Pact with a secret military alliance protocol targeting Poland (among several other countries)
- 25 August 1939 - alliance between Poland and United Kingdom
Occupied by German and Austro-Hungarian armies in the summer of 1915, the formerly Russian-ruled part of what was considered Poland was proposed to become an German puppet state by the occupying powers on November 5, 1916, with a governing Council of State and (from October 15, 1917) a Regency Council (Rada Regencyjna Królestwa Polskiego) to administer the country under German auspices (see also Mitteleuropa) pending the election of a king.
Shortly before the end of World War I, on October 7, 1918, the Regency Council dissolved the Council of State and announced its intention to restore Polish independence. With the notable exception of the Marxist-oriented Social Democratic Party of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania (SDKPiL), most political parties supported this move. On October 23 the Council appointed a new government under Józef Swierzynski and began conscription into the Polish Army. On November 5, in Lublin, the first Soviet of Delegates was created. On November 6 the Communists announced the creation of a Republic of Tarnobrzeg. The same day, a Provisional People's Government of the Republic of Poland was created under the Socialist, Ignacy Daszynski.
On November 10, Józef Piłsudski, newly freed from imprisonment by the German authorities at Magdeburg, returned to Warsaw. Next day, due to his popularity and support from most political parties, the Regency Council appointed Piłsudski Commander in Chief of the Polish Armed Forces. On November 14 the Council dissolved itself and transferred all its authority to Piłsudski as Chief of State (Naczelnik Państwa).
Centers of government that were created in Galicia (formerly Austrian-ruled southern Poland) included a National Council of the Principality of Cieszyn (created in November 1918) and a Polish Liquidation Committee (created on October 28). Soon afterward, conflict broke out in Lwów between forces of the Military Committee of Ukrainians and the Polish irregular units of students and children, known as Lwów Eaglets, who were later supported by the Polish Army.
After consultation with Pilsudski, Daszynski's government dissolved itself and a new government was created under Jędrzej Moraczewski.
World War II
The beginning of the Second World War put an end to the Second Polish Republic. The "Invasion of Poland" campaign began 1 September 1939, one week after the signing of the secret Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and ended 6 October 1939, with Germany and the Soviet Union occupying the entirety of Poland (with the exception of the area of Wilno, which was annexed by Lithuania). Poland did not surrender, but continued as Polish Government in Exile and the Polish Underground State.
Politics and government
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Chief of State
- Józef Piłsudski – 22 November 1918 - 9 December 1922
- Gabriel Narutowicz – 9 December 1922 - 16 December 1922
- Stanisław Wojciechowski – 20 December 1922 - 14 May 1926
- Ignacy Mościcki – 1 June 1926 - 30 September 1939
- Bolesław Wieniawa-Długoszowski - 1 October 1939
- Jędrzej Moraczewski – 18 November 1918 - 16 January 1919
- Ignacy Paderewski – 18 January 1919 - 27 November 1919
- Leopold Skulski – 13 December 1919 - 9 June 1920
- Władysław Grabski – 27 June 1920 - 24 July 1920
- Wincenty Witos – 24 July 1920 - 13 September 1921
- Antoni Ponikowski – 19 September 1921 - 5 March 1922
- Antoni Ponikowski – 10 March 1922 - 6 June 1922
- Artur Śliwiński – 28 June 1922 - 7 July 1922
- Wojciech Korfanty – 14 July 1922 - 31 July 1922
- Julian Nowak – 31 July 1922 - 14 December 1922
- Władysław Sikorski – 16 December 1922 - 26 May 1923
- Wincenty Witos – 28 May 1923 - 14 December 1923
- Władysław Grabski – 19 December 1923 - 14 November 1925
- Aleksander Skrzyński – 20 November 1925 - 5 May 1926
- Wincenty Witos – 10 May 1926 - 14 May 1926
- Kazimierz Bartel – 15 May 1926 - 4 June 1926
- Kazimierz Bartel – 8 June 1926 - 24 September 1926
- Kazimierz Bartel – 27 September 1926 - 30 September 1926
- Józef Piłsudski – 2 October 1926 - 27 June 1928
- Kazimierz Bartel – 27 June 1928 - 13 April 1929
- Kazimierz Świtalski – 14 April 1929 - 7 December 1929
- Kazimierz Bartel – 29 December 1929 - 15 March 1930
- Walery Sławek – 29 March 1930 - 23 August 1930
- Józef Piłsudski – 25 August 1930 - 4 December 1930
- Walery Sławek – 4 December 1930 - 26 May 1931
- Aleksander Prystor – 27 May 1931 - 9 May 1933
- Janusz Jędrzejewicz – 10 May 1933 - 13 May 1934
- Leon Kozłowski – 15 May 1934 - 28 March 1935
- Walery Sławek – 28 March 1935 - 12 October 1935
- Marian Zyndram-Kościałkowski – 13 October 1935 - 15 May 1936
- Felicjan Sławoj Składkowski – 15 May 1936 - 30 September 1939
After regaining her independence Poland was faced with major economic difficulties. Within the borders of the Republic were the remnants of three different economic systems, with three different currencies and with little or no direct infrastructural links. The situation was so bad that neighboring industrial centers as well as major cities lacked direct railroad links, because they had been parts of different occupying nations. For example, in the 1920s there was no direct railroad connection between Warsaw and Kraków, the line was not completed until 1934.
On top of this was the massive destruction left after both World War I and the Polish Soviet War. There was also a great economic disparity between the eastern (commonly called Poland B) and western (called Poland A) parts of the country, with the western half being much more developed and prosperous. Frequent border closures and tariff wars (especially with Nazi Germany) also had negative economic impacts on Poland.
Despite these problems Poland managed in the interwar period to achieve a state of economic prosperity on par with Western Europe. In 1924 prime minister and economic minister Władysław Grabski introduced the złoty as a single common currency for Poland, which remained one of the most stable currencies of Central Europe. The currency helped Poland to bring under control the massive hyperinflation, the only country in Europe which was able to do this without foreign loans or aid.
The basis of Poland's relative prosperity were the economic development plans which oversaw the building of three key infrastructural elements. The first was the establishment of the Gdynia seaport, which allowed Poland to completely bypass Gdańsk (which was under heavy German pressure to boycott Polish coal exports). The second was construction of the 500-kilometer rail connection between Upper Silesia and Gdynia, called Polish Coal Trunk-Line, which served freight trains with coal. The third was the creation of a central industrial district, named the COP - Central Industrial Region (Centralny Okręg Przemysłowy). Unfortunately, these developments were interrupted and largely destroyed by the German and Soviet invasion and the start of World War II.
Poland has traditionally been a nation of many nations, with large Jewish and Ukrainian minorities. This was especially true after she regained her independence in the wake of World War I, in 1918. The census of that year allocates 30.8% of the population in the minority. This was further exacerbated with the Polish victory in the Polish Soviet War, and the large territorial gains made by Poland as a consequence. According to the 1931 Polish Census (as cited by Norman Davies), 68.9% of the population was Polish, 13.9% were Ukrainians, 8.6% Jews, 3.1% Belarusians, 2.3% Germans and 2.8% - others, including Lithuanians, Czechs and Armenians.
Poland was also a nation of many religions. In 1921 16,057,229 Poles (approx. 62.5%) were Roman (Latin) Catholics, 3,031,057 citizens of Poland (approx. 11.8%) were Eastern Rite Catholics (mostly Ukrainian Greek Catholics and Armenian Rite Catholics), 2,815,817 (approx. 10.95%) were Greek Orthodox, 2,771,949 (approx. 10.8%) were Jewish, and 940,232 (approx. 3.7%) were Protestants (mostly Lutheran Evangelical). By 1931 Poland had the second largest Jewish population in the world, with one-fifth of all the world's Jews residing within Poland's borders (approx. 3,136,000).
|30 September 1921 (census)||27,177,000||75,4%||69,9|
|9 December 1931 (census)||32,348,000||72,6%||82,6|
|31 December 1938 (estimate)||34,849,000||70%||89,7|
- Largest cities in early 1939:
- Warsaw – 1,289,000
- Łódź – 672,000
- Lwów – 318,000
- Poznań – 272,000
- Kraków – 259,000
- Wilno – 209,000
- Bydgoszcz – 141,000
- Częstochowa – 138,000
- Katowice – 134,000
- Sosnowiec – 130,000
- Lublin – 122,000
- Gdynia – 120,000
- Chorzów – 110,000
- Białystok – 107,000
The Administrative division of Second Polish Republic was based on the three tier system. On the lowest rung were the gminy, which were little more than local town and village governments. These were then grouped together into powiaty which were then arranged into wojewodstwa.
|Polish voivodeships in the interbellum |
(data as per April 1, 1937)
in 1000 km² (1930)
in 1000 (1931)
|00-19||City of Warsaw||Warsaw||0,14||1179,5|
|55-59||poleskie||Brześć nad Bugiem||36,7||1132,2|
On April 1, 1938, borders of several western and central Voivodeships changed considerably. For more information, see Territorial changes of Polish Voivodeships on April 1, 1938.
Geography of the Second Polish Republic
Second Polish Republic was mainly flat, with average elevation of 223 meters above sea level (after World War Two, average elevation of Poland decreased to 173 meters). Only 13% of territory, along the southern border, was higher than 300 meters. The highest elevation was Mount Rysy, which rises 2,499 meters in the Tatra Range of the Carpathians, 95 kilometers south of Kraków. Between October 1938 and September 1939, the highest elevation was Lodowy Szczyt (known in Slovakian language as Ľadový štít), which rises 2,627 meters above sea level. The biggest lake was Lake Narach.
Country's total area, after annexation of Zaolzie, was 389,720 km²., it extended 903 kilometers from north to south and 894 kilometers from east to west. On January 1, 1938, total length of boundaries was 5 529 km., including:
- 140 kilometers of coastline (out of which 71 kilometers were made by the Hel Peninsula),
- 1412 kilometers with Soviet Union,
- 948 kilometers with Czechoslovakia (until 1938),
- 1912 kilometers with Germany (together with East Prussia),
- 1081 kilometers with other countries (Lithuania, Romania, Latvia, Danzig).
Among major cities of the Second Polish Republic, the warmest yearly average temperature was in Kraków (9.1 C in 1938) and the coldest in Wilno (7.6 C in 1938).
- Northernmost point: located in the Braslaw county of the Wilno Voivodeship
- Southernmost point: located in the Kosów county of the Stanisławów Voivodeship
- Easternmost point: located in the Dzisna county of the Wilno Voivodeship
- Westernmost point: located in the Międzychód county of the Poznań Voivodeship
Almost 75% of the territory of interbellum Poland was drained northward into the Baltic Sea by the Vistula (total area of drainage basin of the Vistula within boundaries of the Second Polish Republic was 180 300 km².), the Niemen (51 600 km².), the Odra (46 700 km².) and the Daugava (10 400 km².). The remaining part of the country was drained southward, into the Black Sea, by the rivers that drain into the Dnieper (Pripyat, Horyn and Styr, all together 61 500 km².) as well as Dniester (41 400 km².)
- Note: 3.1% of Belarusians is derived from the official census data. In fact, the number of Belarusians was about 3.5 million, i.e., about 10%. However in the 1921 Polish Census the number was reduced to about 1 million and to 890,000 in 1931 Polish Census by counting Belarusian Roman Catholics as Poles, see Jan Zaprudnik, "Belarus: At a Crossroads" (1993, ISBN 0-8133-1794-0), p. 83.
- The End, TIME Magazine, October 2, 1939
- , Atlas Historii Polski, Demart Sp, 2004, ISBN 83-89239-89-2
- Joseph Marcus, Social and Political History of the Jews in Poland, 1919-1939, Mouton Publishing, 1983, ISBN 90-279-3239-5, Google Books, p. 17
- Norman Davies, God's Playground, Columbia University Press, 2005, ISBN 0-231-12819-3, Google Print, p.299
- , Powszechny Spis Ludnosci r. 1921