After 44 years of Communist rule, Poland re-emerged as an independent state once more. The fighting
spirit of the Polish people never died, even as the last remnants of the Home Army struggled to the very
end to defend Poland's freedom. Those who survived were conscripted into the Red Army.
At the end of the war, Poland had lost 20% of its population - over 6,000,000 people were murdered, half
of them Polish Jews. Warsaw's population was reduced to 25,000 people. Before the war, it was
1,289,000. Moreover, Poland lost 38% of its national assets, while Britain lost only 0.8% and France 1.5%.
The two great cities, Lwow and Wilno, both centers of Polish culture for centuries was now part of the
Soviet Union. In a most revealing and rare statement of clarity, Churchill confided, after the war, that
"terrible and even humbling submissions must at times be made to the general aim. " Poland suffered the
most among all the warring nations in World War II, and was treated as an enemy by her Allies, England,
and the United States.
Polish soldiers suddenly found themselves stateless. Those who dared to return home were immediately
arrested by the NKVD, and executed or sent to the gulag. With Poland's economy in complete ruin, Stalin
did not allow Poland to have any portion of aid from the Marshall Plan.
In January 1945, the Soviets arrested 16 Polish resistance leaders on charges of subversion and espionage. All but 3
were found guilty and sent to prison. Four died. Britain and the U.S. did not intervene.
January 19, 1947. The first elections were held but was anything but democratic. Through the application of brutal
intimidation, the police arrested and murdered scores of citizens in order to ensure that the Soviet-backed Communist
Peasant Party won. They received more than 70% of voter support. In the following year, over 100,000 Polish military
and civilians were arrested and interned at abandoned concentration camps. More than 10,000 members of the
Home Army were sent to Soviet prisons and labor camps. The Home Army was disbanded after the war. Between
1945 and 1957, thousands more Poles disappeared. It is not known exactly how many.
The years of communist rule was one of gross fiscal mismanagement, and irresponsible use of Polands' natural
resources. Students and workers demonstrated in the streets to protest the Soviet imposition of higher prices on
consumer goods and on food. In 1956, workers in Poznan organized a rebellion against Soviet authorities, but it was
put down by the army. In 1968, Polish students in Warsaw, Poznan, Lublin, and Krakow demonstrated against the
Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. In 1970, there were massive strikes and demonstrations by the Polish people in
protest over sharp increases in the price of food. In December of that year, strikes were also organized at Gdansk,
Gdnia, and Szczecin. Underground publications were being circulated encouraging workers to organize independent
trade unions. One of them was the leader of the Gdansk ship-workers - Lech Walesa.
By the 1970s, Poland's economy had surged upwards
and became one of the world's highest, thanks to the
substantial credits received from the West. But by 1979
the Soviets had squandered the money and increased
debt, making economic growth negative again. In
October 1978 Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, the Bishop of
Krakow became Pope John Paul II. Poland's destiny
was in sight.. In his first visit to Poland, Pope John Paul II
was met with an outpouring of emotion from the Polish
people. He inflamed hope and patriotism in the heart and
soul of every Polish compatriot. It was the Catholic Church
that sustained the courage and stamina of the Polish nation
through a brutal war, followed by severe repression under
In July 1980, Poland's foreign debt reached more than 20 billion dollars. In response, the Soviet government
increased meat prices yet again. A massive series of revolts took place against the communist regime. In August, the
workers at the Lenin shipyard at Gdansk, led by Lech Walesa, agreed to a 21 point agreement with the government
that ended their strike. It was a pivotal moment - the workers were given the right to organize independent trade
unions and the right to strike. Solidarnosc began to gain momentum and power with every charge of corruption and
mismanagement hurled against the Polish state. Lech Walesa had the support of more than 10 million people, 25 %
of the population.
In December 1980, Jaruzelski, the Defense Minister, Prime Minister and First Secretary of Poland, ordered a
massive build-up of troops along Polands borders in order to demonstrate Soviet authority. Martial law was
declared, followed by arrests of Solidarity leaders and intellectuals. Despite the Soviet crackdown, Solidarnosc
went underground in order to avoid invasion by the Red Army. The U.S. and the West responded quickly with the
imposition of economic sanctions against Poland and the Soviet Union. In September to October 1981, the First
Solidarity National Congress was held. Lech Walesa was elected National Chairman of the Union.
It was not until 1982 that marshall law was suspended, but only a small number of political prisoners were released. A
year later, the Soviet government declared general amnesty, but still there were hundreds of Poles still confined in
prison. In 1984 another general amnesty was declared and finally two years later, almost all the political prisoners
were released. Irregardless, the Soviets continued to harass the Solidarity activists, solidarity publications were still
banned, and other publications of similar nature were censored.
In April, May, and August of 1988, the government was unable to prevent Poland's decline. By months end, the
Soviets gave de facto recognition to Solidarity and talks began between Interior Minister Kiszczak and Lech Walesa
but by October talks had broken off. They resumed in February 1989. The meeting produced an agreement
allowing for partly open national assembly elections. In the June election, one third of the seats went to the
Communists, and one third to the two parties that formed the coalition. The remaining third of the seats were
freely contested. All the seats were won by Solidarnosc.
However, the agreement of February called for a Communist president and National Assembly. On July 19,
General Jaruzelski was elected to the office of the president, supported by several Solidarnosc officials. On August
9, President Jaruzelsi asked Tadeusz Mazowiecki (a journalist and Solidarity activist) to form a government.
On September 12, the Sejm (the lower house) voted its approval for the first non-communist government in more than
40 years. In December 1989, the Sejm approved the transformation of a centrally planned economy to a free market
one. It also amended the constitution to eliminate every reference to the "leading role" of the Communist party.
Poland was renamed, Republic of Poland. The communist-based, Polish United Workers Party was dissolved and in
its place was the Social Democracty of the Republic of Poland. All communist property was turned over to the free
The May 1990 elections were completely free, but only slightly more than 40% of the electorate turned out to vote.
The Cabinet was reorganized replacing the National Defense and Interior Affairs porfolios - remnants of the
now-defunct Soviet regime. In October 1990, the Constitution was amended to end President Jaruzelski's term, and
in December of the same year, Lech Walesa became the first popularly elected President of Poland. The 1989
election was the first democratic vote in 45 years. It started a chain reaction in which one after another of
Russia's satellite states began to topple.
The soul of Poland is indestructible....she will rise again
like a rock which may for a spell be submerged by a tidal
wave but which remains a rock.
Winston Churchill (the House of Commons, October 1, 1939.)