Second Polish Republic

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Republic of Poland

Rzeczpospolita Polska
Republika Polska
Common languagesPolish official
Ukrainian, Yiddish, Belarusian, German also spoken
Prime minister 
• upper chamber
• lower chamber
Historical eraInterwar period
• World War I
November 11 1918
• Invasion
September 1 1939
1921387,000 km2 (149,000 sq mi)
1931388,634 km2 (150,052 sq mi)
1938389,720 km2 (150,470 sq mi)
• 1921
• 1931
• 1938
CurrencyMarka (until 1924)
Złoty (after 1924)
ISO 3166 codePL
Preceded by
Succeeded by
German Empire
Kingdom of Poland (1916–1918)
West Ukrainian National Republic
Lemko-Rusyn Republic
Komancza Republic
Ukrainian People's Republic
Galician Soviet Socialist Republic
Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria
Republic of Central Lithuania
Nazi Germany
Soviet Union
Polish Underground State
Polish Nation in 1912 and territorial claims
Second Polish Republic, Physical 1939
Second Polish Republic 1922-1939
Polish armoured car Korfanty in 1920 in the Silesian Uprisings

The Second Polish Republic or interwar Poland is the Republic of Poland between World War I and World War II.

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%[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.[2]


Timeline (1918-1939)

The beginnings

Soldiers of the Army of Greater Poland, 1919
Polish soldiers displaying captured Soviet battle flags after the Battle of Warsaw.

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

Edward Rydz-Śmigły receiving the Marshal buława from president of Poland Ignacy Mościcki. November 10, 1936, Warsaw.

Chief of State


Prime ministers


File:WWII-Poland-1939-communications and industry.gif
Industry areas and communication routes in Poland before the start of the WWII.

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[citation needed].

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.[3]


Poland, linguistic 1937
Nations of II Polish Republic in 1931
Polish voivodeships 1922-1939
Administrative map of Poland from 1930

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.[4] 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[5]), 68.9% of the population was Polish, 13.9% were Ukrainians, 8.6% Jews, 3.1%[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).[6] 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).[4]


Date Population Percentage of
rural population
Population density
(per km²)
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:
  1. Warsaw – 1,289,000
  2. Łódź – 672,000
  3. Lwów – 318,000
  4. Poznań – 272,000
  5. Kraków – 259,000
  6. Wilno – 209,000
  7. Bydgoszcz – 141,000
  8. Częstochowa – 138,000
  9. Katowice – 134,000
  10. Sosnowiec – 130,000
  11. Lublin – 122,000
  12. Gdynia – 120,000
  13. Chorzów – 110,000
  14. Białystok – 107,000

Administrative division

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.

Popadia in Gorgany. Polish-Czechoslovak border (before II World War)
Polish voivodeships in the interbellum
(data as per April 1, 1937)
car plates
(since 1937)
Separate city
Capital Area
in 1000 km² (1930)
in 1000 (1931)
00-19 City of Warsaw Warsaw 0,14 1179,5
85-89 warszawskie Warsaw 31,7 2460,9
20-24 białostockie Białystok 26,0 1263,3
25-29 kieleckie Kielce 22,2 2671,0
30-34 krakowskie Kraków 17,6 2300,1
35-39 lubelskie Lublin 26,6 2116,2
40-44 lwowskie Lwów 28,4 3126,3
45-49 łódzkie Łódź 20,4 2650,1
50-54 nowogródzkie Nowogródek 23,0 1057,2
55-59 poleskie Brześć nad Bugiem 36,7 1132,2
60-64 pomorskie Toruń 25,7 1884,4
65-69 poznańskie Poznań 28,1 2339,6
70-74 stanisławowskie Stanisławów 16,9 1480,3
75-79 śląskie Katowice 5,1 1533,5
80-84 tarnopolskie Tarnopol 16,5 1600,4
90-94 wileńskie Wilno 29,0 1276,0
95-99 wołyńskie Łuck 35,7 2085,6

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).

Extreme points


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.)


  1. ^ a b 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.
  2. ^ The End, TIME Magazine, October 2, 1939
  3. ^ , Atlas Historii Polski, Demart Sp, 2004, ISBN 83-89239-89-2
  4. ^ a b 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
  5. ^ Norman Davies, God's Playground, Columbia University Press, 2005, ISBN 0-231-12819-3, Google Print, p.299
  6. ^ , Powszechny Spis Ludnosci r. 1921