Territorial changes of Poland

Territorial changes of Poland

Over the past millennium, the territory of Poland varied greatly. At one time, in the 16th century, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was the second largest state in Europe, after Russia. At other times, there was no separate Polish state at all. Poland regained its independence in 1918, after more than a century of rule by its partitioners and had its borders redrawn yet again after its liberation from Nazi Germany at the end of Second World War.


In the period following the emergence of Poland in the 10th century, the Polish nation was led by a series of strong rulers of the Piast dynasty, who converted the Poles to Christianity, created a strong Central European state and integrated Poland into European culture. Formidable foreign enemies and internal fragmentation eroded this initial structure in the thirteenth century, but consolidation in the 1300s laid the base for the dominant Polish Kingdom that was to follow. Beginning with the Lithuanian Grand Duke Jogaila, the Jagiellon dynasty (1385–1569) formed the Polish-Lithuanian Union. The Lublin Union of 1569, established the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth as an influential player in European politics and a vital cultural entity.

By the 18th century the nobles' democracy (see: Liberum veto) had gradually declined into anarchy, making the once powerful Commonwealth vulnerable to foreign intervention. Eventually the country was partitioned by the countries bordering it (Russia, Austria and Germany) and erased from the map in 1795. Although the majority of the szlachta were reconciled to the end of the Commonwealth in 1795, the idea of Polish independence was kept alive by events inside and outside of Poland throughout the 19th century.

Poland's location in the very center of Europe became especially significant in a period when both Prussia and Russia were intensely involved in European rivalries and alliances and modern nation states were established over the entire continent. Poland regained its independence in 1918, but the Second Polish Republic was destroyed by Germany and Soviet Union by the Invasion of Poland at the beginning of the Second World War. Nevertheless the Polish government in exile never surrendered and managed to contribute significantly to the Allied victory. Nazi Germany's forces were forced to retreat from Poland as the Soviet Union Red Army advanced westwards, which led to the creation of People's Republic of Poland, a Soviet satellite state. By the late 1980s a Polish reform movement, Solidarity, was able to enforce a peaceful transition from communist state to democracy, which resulted in the creation of the modern Polish state.

Partitions of Poland

In 1772, 1793 and 1795, Prussia, Russia and Habsburg Austria engaged in three separate partitions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, dividing up the Commonwealth lands among themselves and thus ending the existence of the sovereign Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

Three partitions took place:

*August 5, 1772.
*January 23, 1793.
*October 24, 1795.

After the Napoleonic Wars, when Napoleon Bonaparte restored a Polish state in the form of the Duchy of Warsaw, the three states that partitioned Poland decided to create out of the territories they annexed somewhat autonomous (at least in theory) regions, which were:
* Grand Duchy of Posen
* Republic of Kraków
* Kingdom of Poland (better known as Congress Poland)

In all cases assurances were made towards the recognition of the Polish language, respect for Polish culture and the rights of Poles. In all cases these promises were quickly broken and the regions annexed.

Territorial changes after World War I

Treaty of Versailles

The provisions of the Treaty of Versailles at the end of World War I obliged Germany to transfer some territory to other countries. The provisions relevant to the territory of Poland included:

* The Prussian provinces Posen and West Prussia, which Prussia had annexed in Partitions of Poland (1772-1795), were returned to the reborn Poland. . This territory had already been taken over by local Polish insurgents during the Great Poland Uprising of 1918-1919 (area 53 800 km², 4,224,000 inhabitants (1931), including 510 km² and 26,000 inhabitants from Upper Silesia).
* 70% of West Prussia was given to Poland to provide free access to the sea, along with a 10% German minority, creating the Polish corridor.
* The east part of Upper Silesia, to Poland (area 3 214 km², 965,000 inhabitants), after disputed plebiscite 60 % voted for Germany and circa 40 % for Poland, as a result the area was divided.
* The area of Działdowo (Soldau) in East Prussia (492 km²),
* From the eastern part of West Prussia and the southern part of East Prussia Warmia and Masuria, a small area to Poland,
* Danzig (Gdańsk) with the delta of Vistula river at the Baltic Sea was made the "Freie Stadt Danzig" (Free City of Danzig) under the League of Nations. (area 1 893 km², 408,000 inhabitants (1929)).

ilesian uprisings

The Silesian Uprisings ( _pl. Powstania śląskie) were a series of three armed uprisings (1919–1921) of the Polish people in the Upper Silesia region against Weimar Republic in order to join the region (where in some parts Poles constituted a majority) from Germany and join it with the new Polish state, which had been established following World War I (1914–1918).

World War II

In 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union invaded Poland and partitioned it pursuant to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pacten icon cite book | author =Michael Brecher | coauthors =Jonathan Wilkenfeld | title =A Study of Crisis | year =1997 | pages =255 | publisher =University of Michigan Press | location = | id =ISBN 0-472-10806-9 | url =http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN0472108069&id=GjY7aV_6FPwC&pg=PA255&lpg=PA254&dq=Zeligowski+state&sig=uzmRepBmlI5W8pFsddP5qXsuBU0] .

After invading Poland in 1939, Germany annexed the lands it was forced to give to a reformed Poland in 1919–1922 by the Treaty of Versailles, including the "Polish Corridor", West Prussia, the Province of Posen, and parts of eastern Upper Silesia. The council of the Free City of Danzig voted to become a part of Germany again, although Poles and Jews were deprived of their voting rights and all non-Nazi political parties were banned. Parts of Poland that had not been part of Wilhelmine Germany were also incorporated into the Reich.

Two decrees by Adolf Hitler (October 8 and October 12, 1939) provided for the division of the annexed areas of Poland into the following administrative units:

* Reichsgau Wartheland (initially Reichsgau Posen), which included the entire Poznań Voivodeship, most of the Łódź Voivodeship, five counties of the Pomeranian Voivodeship, and one county of the Warszawa Voivodeship;
*Reichsgau Danzig-West Prussia (initially Reichsgau West Prussia), which consisted of the remaining area of the Pomeranian Voivodeship and the Free City of Danzig;
* Ciechanów District (Regierungsbezirk Zichenau), consisting of the five northern counties of Warszawa Voivodeship (Płock, Płońsk, Sierpc, Ciechanów, and Mława), which became a part of East Prussia;
* Katowice District (Regierungsbezirk Kattowitz), or unofficially East Upper Silesia (Ost-Oberschlesien), which included Sosnowiec, Będzin, Chrzanów, and Zawiercie Counties, and parts of Olkusz and Żywiec Counties.

These territories had an area of 94,000 km² and a population of 10,000,000 people. The remainder of the Polish territory was annexed by the Soviet Union (see Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) or made into the German-controlled General Government occupation zone. Eastern areas of Poland became part of either Soviet Belarus (with such cities as Białystok, Łomża, Baranowicze and Brest) or Soviet Ukraine (with the cities of Lwów, Tarnopol, Lutsk, Rowne and Stanisławów). The city of Wilno with adjacent area was annexed by Lithuania.

After the German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, the district of Białystok, which included the Białystok, Bielsk Podlaski, Grajewo, Łomża, Sokółka, Volkovysk, and Grodno Counties, was "attached to" (not incorporated into) East Prussia.

Territorial changes after World War II

After World War II, there were extensive changes to the territorial extent of Poland.

In 1945, Poland's borders were redrawn, following the decision taken at the Teheran Conference of 1943 at the insistence of the Soviet Union. The eastern Polish territories which the Soviet Union had occupied in 1939 (minus the Bialystok region) were permanently annexed, and most of their Polish inhabitants expelled. Today these territories are part of Belarus, Ukraine and Lithuania.

Poland received Recovered Territories east of the Oder-Neisse line in turn, consisting of the southern two thirds of East Prussia and most of Pomerania, Neumark (East Brandenburg), and Silesia. The German population was expelled before these territories] were received Poles from central Poland and those expelled from the eastern regions, strengthening the local Polish minority.

Polish resistance fighters were incarcerated or deported to Siberia by Stalin in line with decisions forced upon Churchill and Roosevelt.

The fact that Western leaders tried to force Polish leaders to accept the conditions of Stalin is a matter of continuing resentment for some Poles even today. Some view it as a "betrayal" of Poland by the Western allies (which can be seen as part of a larger "betrayal" to allow it to fall entirely into the Soviet sphere of influence anyway). Moreover, it was used by ruling communists to underline anti-Western sentiments. It was easy to argue that Poland wasn't too important to the West, since its leaders sacrificed Poland's borders, legal government and free elections. On this background even Stalin was made to look better, since he had strong interests in Poland.

Defenders of the actions taken by the Western allies maintain that realpolitik made it impossible to do anything else, and that they were in no shape to start a war with the Soviet Union over the subjugation of Poland and other Eastern European countries immediately after the end of World War II. Arthur Bliss Lane, the US Ambassador to Poland at the time, claimed that some actions of Secretary of State were a result of ignorance rather than realpolitik.

The latest discussion indicates that the real problem was that Western politicians had promised Stalin that they would settle the issue of borders with the Poles, but failed to do so. The Polish Prime Minister, expecting a serious debate on the borders, faced Stalin, who expected this problem to be already solved — in his favour. The result was the failure of the Warsaw Uprising, and 200,000 civilian victims.

In 1951 Poland and the Soviet Union exchanged 480km²; this was one of the largest territorial exchanges in post-Second World War Europe (see Polish-Soviet border adjustment treaty). Poland has also exchanged small amounts of territories with other countries; those exchanges or adjustments were limited to few square kilometers or less:
*1945, Germany
*1949, Germany
*1951, Germany
*1951, Czechoslovakia
*1958, Czechoslovakia
*1975, Czechoslovakia
*2002, Slovakia

ee also

* Borders of Poland
* Geography of Poland
* Treaty of Warsaw (1970)


* Arthur Bliss Lane. "I saw Poland betrayed: An American Ambassador Reports to the American People". Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1948.

External links

* [http://commonwealth.pl Commonwealth of Diverse Cultures: Poland's Heritage]

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