History of Poland (1939–1945)

Soviet Prime Minister Vyacheslav Molotov signs the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. Behind him stand (left) Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop of Germany and (right) Joseph Stalin. The non-aggression pact had a secret protocol attached in which arrangements were made for a partition of Poland's territory.
Polish infantry in action during the Invasion of Poland in September 1939
Polish anti-aircraft artillery in September 1939
Polish cavalry at Battle of the Bzura
Survivor of bombing of Warsaw
Soviet invasion of Poland, September 1939
Poland was partitioned in 1939 as agreed by Germany and the Soviet Union in their treaty; division of Polish territories in 1939–41
Changes in administration of Polish territories following the 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union
Hans Frank
Public execution of 54 Poles in Rożki village, 1942
Photos from The Black Book of Poland, published in London in 1942 by the Polish Government-in-Exile
One of the mass graves of the Katyn massacre (spring 1940), exhumed in 1943. The number of victims is estimated at 22,000, with a lower limit of confirmed dead of 21,768. Of them 4,421 were from Kozelsk, 3,820 from Starobelsk, 6,311 from Ostashkov, and 7,305 from Byelorussian and Ukrainian prisons.
Wanda Wasilewska
German recruitment poster: "Let's do agricultural work in Germany: report immediately to your Vogt"
An announcement of fifty Poles tried and sentenced to death by a Standgericht in retaliation for the assassination of one German policeman, 1944
Battalion Zośka soldiers in Wola during the Warsaw Uprising
Warsaw Uprising in the Old Town
Starving Jewish children in the Warsaw Ghetto (1940–1943), during the German occupation of Poland
The entrance to the Auschwitz I concentration camp, established by Nazi Germany in Poland
Victims of a massacre committed by the UPA in the village of Lipniki in Volhynia, 1943
Władysław Sikorski
Polish volunteers to Anders' Army, released from a Soviet POW camp
January 1945 aerial photo of destroyed Warsaw
The PKWN Manifesto was issued on 22 July 1944
The legacy of World War II: Poland's old and new borders

The history of Poland from 1939 to 1945 encompasses primarily the period from the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union to the end of World War II.

- History of Poland (1939–1945)
Soviet Prime Minister Vyacheslav Molotov signs the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. Behind him stand (left) Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop of Germany and (right) Joseph Stalin. The non-aggression pact had a secret protocol attached in which arrangements were made for a partition of Poland's territory.

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Follow-up letter from Reinhard Heydrich to the German diplomat Martin Luther asking for administrative assistance in the implementation of the Final Solution, 26 February 1942

Final Solution

Nazi plan for the genocide of Jews during World War II.

Nazi plan for the genocide of Jews during World War II.

Follow-up letter from Reinhard Heydrich to the German diplomat Martin Luther asking for administrative assistance in the implementation of the Final Solution, 26 February 1942
Hitler's prophecy speech in the Reichstag, 30 January 1939
The villa at 56–58 Am Großen Wannsee, where the Wannsee Conference was held, is now a memorial and museum.
Himmler note 18 December 1941: als Partisanen auszurotten
Nazi extermination camps marked with black and white skulls. General Government territory: centre, Distrikt Galizien: lower–right. Death camp at Auschwitz: lower–left (in Provinz Oberschlesien), Nazi-Soviet line in red
Berlin, Reichstag session of 11 December 1941: Adolf Hitler declares war on the United States of America

In his monograph, The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939 – March 1942, Christopher Browning argues that Nazi policy toward the Jews was radicalized twice: in September 1939, when the invasion of Poland implied policies of mass expulsion and massive loss of Jewish lives; and in spring 1941, when preparation for Operation Barbarossa involved the planning of mass execution, mass expulsion, and starvation—to dwarf what had happened in Jewish Poland.

Resettlement of Jews to the Ghetto area c. undefined March 1940. Old Synagogue in the far background (no longer existing).

Łódź Ghetto

Nazi ghetto established by the German authorities for Polish Jews and Roma following the Invasion of Poland.

Nazi ghetto established by the German authorities for Polish Jews and Roma following the Invasion of Poland.

Resettlement of Jews to the Ghetto area c. undefined March 1940. Old Synagogue in the far background (no longer existing).
German and Jewish police guard at the entrance to the Ghetto
Chaim Rumkowski delivering a speech in the ghetto, 1941–42
Young girl working in the paper factory
Identity card Lodz Ghetto 19-4-1942
Children rounded up for deportation to the Chełmno death camp, September 1942
Jews clean and repair coats salvaged at Chełmno for redistribution among Volksdeutsche in accordance with the top secret August Frank memorandum. The yellow badge was removed.
The Gypsy quarter in the Ghetto after its inhabitants had been transported to the Chełmno extermination camp
Jewish prisoners of the Gestapo KZ Radogoszcz in Łódź, 1940
Photographs such as this served to record the horrors of ghetto life for posterity.
The Polish rescuers and the Jewish survivors plant Trees of Memory during the ceremony at the Park of the Rescued Park Ocalałych w Łodzi inaugurated in Łódź in August 2009.

After the invasion of Poland, many Jews, particularly the intellectual and political elite, had fled the advancing German army into the Soviet-occupied eastern Poland and to the area of future General Government in the hope of the Polish counter-attack which never came.

Poland

Country in Central Europe.

Country in Central Europe.

A reconstruction of a Bronze Age, Lusatian culture settlement in Biskupin, 8th century BC
Poland under the rule of Mieszko I, whose acceptance of Christianity under the auspices of the Latin Church and the Baptism of Poland marked the beginning of statehood in 966.
Casimir III the Great is the only Polish king to receive the title of Great. He built extensively during his reign, and reformed the Polish army along with the country's legal code, 1333–70.
The Battle of Grunwald was fought against the German Order of Teutonic Knights, and resulted in a decisive victory for the Kingdom of Poland, 15 July 1410.
Wawel Castle in Kraków, seat of Polish kings from 1038 until the capital was moved to Warsaw in 1596.
King John III Sobieski defeated the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Vienna on 12 September 1683.
Stanisław II Augustus, the last King of Poland, reigned from 1764 until his abdication on 25 November 1795.
The partitions of Poland, carried out by the Kingdom of Prussia (blue), the Russian Empire (brown), and the Austrian Habsburg Monarchy (green) in 1772, 1793 and 1795.
Chief of State Marshal Józef Piłsudski was a hero of the Polish independence campaign and the nation's premiere statesman from 1918 until his death on 12 May 1935.
Polish Army 7TP tanks on military manoeuvres shortly before the invasion of Poland in 1939
Pilots of the 303 Polish Fighter Squadron during the Battle of Britain, October 1940
Map of the Holocaust in German-occupied Poland with deportation routes and massacre sites. Major ghettos are marked with yellow stars. Nazi extermination camps are marked with white skulls in black squares. The border in 1941 between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union is marked in red.
At High Noon, 4 June 1989 — political poster featuring Gary Cooper to encourage votes for the Solidarity party in the 1989 elections
Flowers in front of the Presidential Palace following the death of Poland's top government officials in a plane crash on 10 April 2010
Topographic map of Poland
Morskie Oko alpine lake in the Tatra Mountains. Poland has one of the highest densities of lakes in the world.
The wisent, one of Poland's national animals, is commonly found at the ancient and UNESCO-protected Białowieża Forest.
The Sejm is the lower house of the parliament of Poland.
The Constitution of 3 May adopted in 1791 was the first modern constitution in Europe.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, located in Warsaw
Polish Air Force F-16s, a single-engine multirole fighter aircraft
A Mercedes-Benz Sprinter patrol van belonging to the Polish State Police Service (Policja)
The Old City of Zamość is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
PKP Intercity Pendolino at the Wrocław railway station
Physicist and chemist Maria Skłodowska-Curie was the first person to win two Nobel Prizes.
Nicolaus Copernicus, the 16th century Polish astronomer who formulated the heliocentric model of the solar system.
Population of Poland from 1900 to 2010 in millions of inhabitants
Dolina Jadwigi — a bilingual Polish-Kashubian road sign with the village name
John Paul II, born Karol Wojtyła, held the papacy between 1978-2005 and was the first Pole to become a Roman Catholic Pope.
Jagiellonian University in Kraków
The Polish White Eagle is Poland's enduring national and cultural symbol
All Saints' Day on 1 November is one of the most important public holidays in Poland.
Lady with an Ermine (1490) by Leonardo da Vinci. It symbolises Poland's cultural heritage and identity.
Selection of hearty traditional comfort food from Poland, including bigos, gołąbki, żurek, pierogi, placki ziemniaczane, and rye bread.
Traditional polonaise dresses, 1780–1785.
Andrzej Wajda, the recipient of an Honorary Oscar, the Palme d'Or, as well as Honorary Golden Lion and Golden Bear Awards.
Headquarters of the publicly funded national television network TVP in Warsaw
The Stadion Narodowy in Warsaw, home of the national football team, and one of the host stadiums of Euro 2012.

In September 1939, the German-Soviet invasion of Poland marked the beginning of World War II, which resulted in the Holocaust and millions of Polish casualties.

Cover of the English version

Treaty of Versailles

The most important of the peace treaties of World War I.

The most important of the peace treaties of World War I.

Cover of the English version
The heads of the "Big Four" nations at the Paris Peace Conference, 27 May 1919. From left to right: David Lloyd George, Vittorio Orlando, Georges Clemenceau, and Woodrow Wilson
British Prime Minister David Lloyd George
German delegate Johannes Bell signing the Treaty of Versailles in the Hall of Mirrors, with various Allied delegations sitting and standing in front of him
German colonies (light blue) were made into League of Nations mandates.
Workmen decommissioning a heavy gun, to comply with the treaty
Location of the Rhineland (yellow)
A British news placard announcing the signing of the peace treaty
Senator Borah, Lodge and Johnson refuse Lady Peace a seat, referring to efforts by Republican isolationists to block ratification of Treaty of Versailles establishing the League of Nations
German delegates in Versailles: Professor Walther Schücking, Reichspostminister Johannes Giesberts, Justice Minister Otto Landsberg, Foreign Minister Ulrich Graf von Brockdorff-Rantzau, Prussian State President Robert Leinert, and financial advisor Carl Melchior
Demonstration against the treaty in front of the Reichstag
Medal issued by the Japanese authorities in 1919, commemorating the Treaty of Versailles. Obv: Flags of the five allies of World War I. Rev: Peace standing in Oriental attire with the Palace of Versailles in the background
A crowd awaits the plebiscite results in Oppeln
French soldiers in the Ruhr, which resulted in the American withdrawal from the Rhineland
Adolf Hitler announcing the Anschluß in violation of Art. 80 on the Heldenplatz, Vienna, 15 March 1938
John Maynard Keynes, the principal representative of the British Treasury, referred to the Treaty of Versailles as a "Carthaginian peace".
Commemorative medal issued in 1929 in the Republic of Weimar on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Treaty of Versailles. The obverse depicts George Clemenceau presenting a bound treaty, decorated with skull and crossbones to Ulrich von Brockdorff-Rantzau. Other members of the Conference are standing behind Clemenceau, including Lloyd-George, Wilson and Orlando.
American political cartoon depicting the contemporary view of German reparations, 1921
Map of territorial changes in Europe after World War I (as of 1923)

These sharpening ethnic conflicts would lead to public demands to reattach the annexed territory in 1938 and become a pretext for Hitler's annexations of Czechoslovakia and parts of Poland.

Refugees moving westwards in 1945. Courtesy of the German Federal Archives (Deutsches Bundesarchiv).

Flight and expulsion of Germans (1944–1950)

During the later stages of World War II and the post-war period, Germans and Volksdeutsche fled and were expelled from various Eastern and Central European countries, including Czechoslovakia, and the former German provinces of Silesia, Pomerania, and East Prussia, which were annexed by Poland and the Soviet Union.

During the later stages of World War II and the post-war period, Germans and Volksdeutsche fled and were expelled from various Eastern and Central European countries, including Czechoslovakia, and the former German provinces of Silesia, Pomerania, and East Prussia, which were annexed by Poland and the Soviet Union.

Refugees moving westwards in 1945. Courtesy of the German Federal Archives (Deutsches Bundesarchiv).
Europe before and after the First World War.
Karl Hermann Frank, Secretary of State and Higher SS and Police Leader in Nazi Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (right) was born in Carlsbad, Austria-Hungary (present-day Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic).
Adolf Hitler being welcomed by a crowd in Sudetenland, where the pro-Nazi Sudeten German Party gained 88% of ethnic-German votes in May 1938.
The Curzon Line
Votes for the Nazi Party in the March 1933 elections
Polish teachers from Bydgoszcz guarded by members of Volksdeutscher Selbstschutz before execution
Massacred German civilians in Nemmersdorf, East Prussia. News of Soviet atrocities, spread and exaggerated by Nazi propaganda, hastened the flight of ethnic Germans from much of Eastern Europe.
Evacuation from Pillau, 26 January 1945
Refugee camp in Aabenraa (Apenrade) in Denmark, February 1945
Potsdam Conference: Joseph Stalin (second from left), Harry Truman (center), Winston Churchill (right)
German expellees, 1946
Czech territories with 50% (red) or more German population in 1935
Retreating Wehrmacht, Hungary, March 1945
Monument to the expelled Germans in Elek, Hungary
German refugees from East Prussia, 1945
Polish boundary post at the Oder–Neisse line in 1945
August 1948, German children deported from the eastern areas taken over by Poland arrive in West Germany.
Evacuation of German civilians and troops in Ventspils, October 1944
A refugee trek of Black Sea Germans during the Second World War in Hungary, July 1944
Refugee treks, Curonian Lagoon, northern East Prussia, March 1945
Push-cart used by German refugees with some items they were able to take with them
Former camp for expellees in Eckernförde, picture taken in 1951
Refugees in Berlin, 27 June 1945
Refugee settlement in Espelkamp, about 1945 to 1949
Refugee settlement in Bleidenstadt, 1952
Expellee organisations demonstrate in Bonn, capital of West Germany, in 1951
A road sign indicating former German cities
Parade of German expellees in October 1959 in Espelkamp, North Rhine-Westphalia
A stamp issued in West Germany ten years after expulsions began

They assured the leaders of the émigré governments of Poland and Czechoslovakia, both occupied by Nazi Germany, of their support on this issue.

The "Big Three" at the Yalta Conference, Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin. Behind them stand, from the left, Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, Fleet Admiral Ernest King, Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, General of the Army George Marshall, Major General Laurence S. Kuter, General Aleksei Antonov, Vice Admiral Stepan Kucherov, and Admiral of the Fleet Nikolay Kuznetsov.

Yalta Conference

The World War II meeting of the heads of government of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union to discuss the postwar reorganization of Germany and Europe.

The World War II meeting of the heads of government of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union to discuss the postwar reorganization of Germany and Europe.

The "Big Three" at the Yalta Conference, Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin. Behind them stand, from the left, Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, Fleet Admiral Ernest King, Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, General of the Army George Marshall, Major General Laurence S. Kuter, General Aleksei Antonov, Vice Admiral Stepan Kucherov, and Admiral of the Fleet Nikolay Kuznetsov.
Soviet, American and British diplomats during the Yalta conference
Yalta American Delegation in Livadia Palace from left to right: Secretary of State Edward Stettinius, Maj. Gen. L. S. Kuter, Admiral E. J. King, General George C. Marshall, Ambassador Averell Harriman, Admiral William Leahy, and President F. D. Roosevelt. Livadia Palace, Crimea, RSFSR
A Big Three meeting room
Leaders of the Big Three at the negotiating table at the Yalta conference
Allied-occupied territories (red) on 15 February 1945, four days after the end of the conference
Poland's old and new borders, 1945 – Kresy in light red
The eventual partition of Germany into Allied Occupation Zones: {{legend|#69AB69|British zone}} {{legend|#2464D8|French zone (two exclaves) and beginning in 1947, the Saar protectorate}} {{legend|#FCA93E|American zone, including Bremen}} {{legend|#FF5555|Soviet zone, later the GDR}} {{legend|#FFFFCF|Polish and Soviet annexed territory}}
Partition plan from Winston Churchill: {{legend|#C9A091|North German state}} {{legend|#9195C9|South German state, including modern Austria and Hungary}} {{legend|#92C991|West German state}}
Morgenthau Plan: {{legend|#FF6464|North German state}} {{legend|#6464FF|South German state}} {{legend|#64ff64|International zone}} {{legend|#C8C8C8|Territory lost from Germany (Saarland to France, Upper Silesia to Poland, East Prussia, partitioned between Poland and the Soviet Union)}}
From left to right: Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin. Also present are Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov (far left); Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Andrew Cunningham, RN, Marshal of the RAF Sir Charles Portal, RAF, (standing behind Churchill); General George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff of the United States Army, and Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, USN, (standing behind Roosevelt)

In the east, Soviet forces were 65 km from Berlin, having already pushed back the Germans from Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria.

Stanisław Sosabowski

Polish general in World War II.

Polish general in World War II.

Colonel Sosabowski, c. 1942
Gen. Sosabowski (left) with Lt-Gen Frederick Browning, commander of the British 1st Airborne Corps.
The resting place of General Sosabowski and his family, Powązki Military Cemetery, Warsaw

He was ordered to leave Poland and reached France to report on the situation in occupied Poland.

Pawiak Prison in 1864

Pawiak prison

Prison built in 1835 in Warsaw, Congress Poland.

Prison built in 1835 in Warsaw, Congress Poland.

Pawiak Prison in 1864
Pawiak, beginning of 20th century
Model of the Pawiak prison in the Pawiak Museum in Warsaw
Preserved prison corridor with cells
<center>Ruins of 27 Dzielna Street; located near Pawiak Prison; a place of executions of Poles and Jews by the Germans</center>
<center>Site of Pawiak prison</center>
<center>Ruin of Pawiak prison gate</center>
<center>Memorial tree</center>

During the World War II German occupation of Poland, it was used by the Germans, and in 1944 it was destroyed in the Warsaw Uprising.

Karl Marx

Communism in Poland

Founded in 1882.

Founded in 1882.

Karl Marx

In 1939, World War II began and Poland was conquered by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.