Welcome back to History With Snark! This week is the series’ first actual issue; if this is your first time reading History With Snark, the first issue may be found here:
This week will cover Poland! This nation was perhaps one of the most unfortunate during World War II, suffering not only the initial Nazi invasion, but further invasion, resistance, massacres, and occupation even after the war.
While there was a long history of the Polish nation, the state of Poland as we know it today is relatively new — founded in 1919 and formed out of German land. Don’t feel any sympathy for Germany, though: this land was inhabited by ethnic Poles, and the Germans had been ruling over them for some time. The Second Republic of Poland was not merely land stolen by the Poles, though the Germans who annexed Poland in the 19th century may have thought otherwise.
In 1919, just four months after it was reconstituted, the newborn state of Poland found itself under attack from none other than the Soviet Socialist Republics of Russia and Ukraine (Lenin was very intent on expanding the Soviet Union by force; this was by no means new or unique to Stalin). The decisive (and incredibly unlikely) Polish victory at the Battle of Warsaw in 1920 checked Lenin’s plans for expansion and secured Poland’s sovereignty for another nineteen years.
Poland used this opportunity to rebuild: railways, roadways, and political freedoms were the new trend until the 1930s, where an authoritarian government whose motives were to “curb corruption” came into power. It seems like this change did not do much to prepare the Poles for what came next.
On September 1, 1939, Hitler’s Panzers invaded Poland. The Nazi regime in Germany had already taken the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia (and had in fact invaded and annexed the rest of the country) and the infamous Anschluss united Germany and Austria in an underhanded display of politics. Poland was another piece of the German world that needed to be united under the banner of the Third Reich, whether they liked it or not. Poland had expected such an invasion and withdrew (most of) its troops from the border, choosing instead to concentrate their forces on defending inner Poland. The Blitzkrieg swept through practically unopposed by either the absence of Poles or the far lower quantity and quality of Polish forces.
On September 17, the Soviet Union, at Hitler’s invitation, invaded an already-doomed Poland from the east. By October 6, Poland had capitulated and its territory was split between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany — conditions for Jews and other minorities were terrible in both halves (many large concentration camps such as Auschwitz were located in Poland, rather than within what was perceived as a brilliant inner Reich that should not have to hold such horrors). The Polish Home Army relocated to London, where they continued to work with the British government and resistance forces within occupied Poland.
Sixteen Polish air squadrons had major participation in the legendary Battle of Britain, particularly the infamous 303 Polish Fighter Squadron, helping to stave off Nazi invasion and perhaps even avert the ultimate conquest of National Socialism. But Poland still belonged to the Soviets and the Nazis, and ethnic Poles were still being harshly treated.
The Poles did not stop there. The underground state knew that something was up in that Auschwitz place, and an officer by the name of Witold Pilecki volunteered to intern himself in Auschwitz using falsified documents in order to gain intelligence and organize resistance within the camp. He formed a secret resistance group in the camp dedicated to improving morale, distributing food and clothing, and most importantly receiving news of the outside world for the prisoners. His organization even managed to “set up intelligence networks and train detachments to take over the camp in the event of a relief attack by the Home Army, arms airdrops or an airborne landing by the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade based in Britain.” (Shamelessly plagiarized from Wikipedia) None of these relief efforts would ever come, of course. While Pilecki managed to establish communication with London, they refused to even believe his stories of Auschwitz, discarding them as exaggerations, and they found his suggestions of storming the camp, airdropping soldiers or even guns for the prisoners to be logistically impossible. In 1943, he escaped Auschwitz with stolen Nazi documents and continued the resistance outside the camp, keeping his identity as a Polish army officer secret. He participated in the fateful Warsaw Uprising (expounded upon below) and later went on to spy for the true Polish government in the communist-controlled puppet state of Poland. They later ordered all their men to withdraw as tensions between the government-in-exile and communist government worsened, but he elected to remain in Poland. He collected information on how the Soviets were persecuting people in Poland, but was captured, tortured, and executed in 1948 for spying on behalf of foreign imperialists. Good for you, Soviets. I’m sure some cyka is proud.
“But… but…,” an astonished reader begins. “Russia changed sides in 1941 because the Axis stabbed them in the back, right? So the Poles would have a new an unexpected ally who already had a large army in Poland to help retake it from the Nazis!”
If any of you thought that before (or God forbid after) you read the story of Witold Pilecki, you would be miserably wrong.
In 1944, an uprising began in the streets of Warsaw, Poland. Men, women and children began fighting against the Nazi occupation in entirely one-sided guerilla and street warfare. The iconic Stahlhelm, a symbol of Nazi military superiority, became a trophy among the fighters, a symbol that there was one less German oppressing Warsaw. The mass upheaval was coordinated with the Soviet advance toward Warsaw, with the thought that the Red Army would come assist the Free Polish and drive off the Nazi invaders for good.
No such thing happened. The Soviets set up checkpoints around Warsaw instead, disarming or even exchanging fire with Polish resistance fighters who were on their way to Warsaw. The resistance in Warsaw was not a communist resistance, and to that end it had to be exterminated, even if the Nazis did it for them, which they did. By the end of the fighting, Warsaw had literally been reduced to rubble, and the resistance forces surrendered. Despite assurance that only members of the Home Army would be treated as POWs, and the civilians would be treated as… well, civilians, the Nazis deported the entire population of Warsaw, 16% of whom were sent to labor camps and 10% of whom were sent to extermination camps. That’s a total of 150,000 Polish civilians. The remaining population were distributed across Poland and released. 85% of buildings were entirely destroyed, either as a result of the fighting or the pre-planned destruction of Poland (Hitler had dreamed of turning Warsaw into a German city and later a military base. No, I have no idea why the heck he was set on turning Poland into a “German city.” He wanted to turn Moscow into an artificial lake, though, so we can’t say he wasn’t just loopy.)
In early 1945, the “Big Three” (Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Josef Stalin) convened near Yalta (in Crimea) to discuss the future of Europe after an Allied victory. It was at this conference that the map was drawn where Britain, America, France and the Soviet Union would occupy different zones of Germany. Poland was a subject of discussion, since Stalin had sort of committed war crimes and annexed half the fricking country. In one of Churchill’s less-fine moments, he remarked: “Poor Neville Chamberlain believed he could trust Hitler. He was wrong. But I don’t think I am wrong about Stalin.”
The agreement literally allowed Stalin to keep the half of Poland he conquered in 1939, leaving the half taken by Germany to be a “free” state (it was only swallowed up by communism, joined the lovely Eastern Bloc, and… oh, have you heard of the Warsaw Pact?).
Well… uh. There were hundreds of thousands of Poles fighting for the British to free their homeland, and it had just been signed over to Stalin. The other side was gifted with the promise of “democracy.” Thirty Polish soldiers committed suicide upon hearing how their homes had been transferred to the Soviets. Many Poles refused to even return to Poland, and the communist government began mass persecution of Poles who did not see at their level, along with targeted atrocities against any veteran of the Polish Home Army. Whaaaatever. It’s all good. At least, in 1991 it became good… or better, at least.
So it’s alright, little, unassuming, innocent Polandball. I know the kind of horrors you’ve seen in the last century, no matter how much the other Countryballs laugh at you. I recognize your World War heroes who died resisting oppression from the Nazis and the Communists. Your people will remain among my favorite.
DISCLAIMER: NO, THERE WAS NO POLISH CAVALRY FIGHTING PANZERS.
However, in the battle for Moscow, a regiment of Mongolian horsemen attacked a Nazi division. They were entirely wiped out and the Nazis did not even sustain an injury.
This is why we have mechanized cavalry.