A Country Divided

Although historically, Poland had maintained a successful existence as an independent state – the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth - by the end of the 18th century it gradually found itself being divided up (known as the three partitions) by its powerful neighbours - Austria, Prussia and Russia – who all wished to influence and control its population. This was done to such an extent that it eventually no longer existed as a separate, independent nation.

Therefore, from 1795–1918, Poland existed only as an idea kept alive by those who wished to see its restoration, and during this period, there were a series of uprisings which reflected this: The November Uprising (1930), the Greater Poland Uprising (1848) and the January Uprising (1863), which all had this aim in mind. Although all were ultimately unsuccessful, they helped illustrate the strength of feeling on this issue. 

          A map of partitioned Poland.                                                                                

Despite not being a distinct country in its own right, the Poles found themselves dragged into World War One – either as combatants fighting on either side, or as victims – their homes destroyed, property confiscated, and entire swathes of the population forcibly relocated. After four years of fighting, the end of the First World War finally saw the revival of an independent Polish state – the Second Polish Republic. The reformation of this country was seen as one of the success stories of the Paris Peace Conference.

The Second Republic 

Although the war itself had ended in 1918, it took several years of disputes and bickering before the borders of the Second Republic were finally settled in 1922, with a range of European countries now bordering the newly reconstituted country – the newly formed Czechoslovakia, a recovering Germany, the Free City of Danzig, Lithuania, Latvia, a now expanded Romania and the mighty Soviet Union.

The Polish Second Republic

A Polish market during the 1930's.

Internal struggles

Poland had also been given access to the Baltic Sea – at the expense of the defeated German Empire – via a short strip of coastline around the city of Gdynia – this was generally referred to as the ‘Polish Corridor’.

Although the Poles had finally got their country back, all was not plain sailing. The new republic faced an economy suffering from four years of war; an extensively damaged infrastructure and a significant amount of minority groups within its borders – all with their own agendas. It needed to reintegrate the former three zones into one country and deal with external influences on its industries.

Polish farmer workers in the 1930's

A succession of wars

Indeed, the first few years of Poland’s existence seemed to entail one war after another, as the new country battled for its very existence.

  • The new country found itself fighting the Ukraine, (itself an independent region after the collapse of the Austro-Hungary empire) in November of 1918.
  • The Greater Poland Uprising of 1918 saw them clash with Germany in the disputed region of Poznan.
  • The Seven-Day-War (also known as the Polish-Czechoslovakian War) of January 1919 followed that as the Poles squared off with yet another new country, the Czech Republic.
  • Tensions with Russia led to the immense Polish-Soviet War (Polish-Russian War) of 1918- 1921 in which Poland eventually emerged victorious after three hard fought years.
  • And despite being entangled in a war with Russia, the Poles still found time to get into a war with Lithuania in spring of 1919.

The Polish government was new and constantly changing its personnel and corruption was becoming an increasing problem. The four main political parties disagreed on most issues which hampered progress in certain areas.

It tried to model itself on the French Third Republic but found itself slowly edging towards a dictatorship, which came to a head in the 1926 coup which placed military strongman Józef Piłsudski in charge and removed any vestiges of democracy.

By the late 1930’s Poland was in a tricky position. It’s Foreign Minister Józef Beck was distrusted outside of his country and Poland itself was held in low regard by many Western countries:

Józef Piłsudski 

Warsaw in the 1930's


Growing pressure

Administrative division of Second Polish Republic, 1930.

Poland had a substantial population of 35 million but compared to other countries, it was lagging behind in industry – much of its economy was still based around agriculture and it was only slowly upgrading its infrastructure: For example, in the mid-1930’s - Poland had 340,000 kilometres (211,266 miles) of roads, but only 58,000 had a hard surface.

Militarily, it was focussed primarily on the threat from Russia despite the growing Nazi menace. Geographically, it shared long borders with both these countries – both of which had more powerful militaries than Poland.


It would not be long before these issues came to a head.

Map comparing the border of the Polish Second Republic with the later German Occupied Poland (General Government 1939 - 1945) and later post war borders.


Overy, Richard (1989). The Road To War: The Origins of World War II. p. 9

Piotr Osęka, Znoje na wybojach. Polityka weekly, 21 July 2011

Second Polish Republic - Wikipedia

(697) Pinterest

​Teraz W kolorze

Rare and Stunning Color Photographs Capture Daily Life in Poland in the 1930s ~ Vintage Everyday (© Hans Hildenbrand/National Geographic Society/Corbis)

Austrian Department - Wikipedia

WWI - 6th Grade History MRS. BROWN (weebly.com)


(10) Administrative division of Second Polish Republic, 1930. Colors denote voivodeships, division into powiats visible on the lower level. [Author - XrysD] : europe (reddit.com)