The Polish kingdom

Mieszko I: AD 963-992

After being the homeland of illiterate Slav tribes for many centuries, Poland bursts into recorded history with unparalleled suddeness. The first mention of the Polanie tribe is in 963 when a German knight, pressing eastwards, comes into contact with them. They control the area round the town of Gniezno. Prince Mieszko has become, within the past year or two, their leader.

Threatened by German expansionism, Mieszko moves with extraordinary speed - using the structures of feudal Europe to secure his territory. Within a year or two of this first link with the German empire, he has himself accepted as a vassal of the newly crowned emperor Otto i.

In 965 Mieszko marries a Christian Czech princess. In the following year he adopts the Roman Catholic faith for himself, his family and all his people. To secure Poland's position even further, he subsequently places all his lands under the direct authority of the pope - thus providing the Poles, in principle, with the special protection of Rome.

Mieszko also gains territory for Poland, extending his realm north through Pomerania to the Baltic coast. He bequeaths a powerful kingdom to his descendants. Known as the Piast dynasty (because a later story traces their line back to a legendary ploughman of this name), they rule Poland for four centuries.

Poland divided: from AD 1138

For several generations the descendants of Mieszko I develop and strengthen his unified kingdom, but Poland becomes fragmented after the reign of a particularly strong and successful ruler, Boleslaw III. On his death in 1138 the Piast inheritance is divided between several sons.

Weakened by these divisions, the Polish principalities are also plagued by incursions of pagan Prussians and Lithuanians who occupy the territories to the north. In about 1225 one of the Piast princes, Conrad of Mazovia, invites the Teutonic knights to help with this problem. They undertake the task with enthusiasm and success, bringing a significant increase in German colonization eastwards along the coast of the Baltic.

The Teutonic knights are a long-term threat to Poland's security, but the next few years bring a more immediate crisis in the sudden arrival of the Mongol horde of Batu Khan. Mongols sweep through the Polish plains in 1241, defeating an army at Legnica and ravaging Cracow - the capital of one of the most important of the fragmented Polish principalities.

Fortunately the Mongols withdraw at the end of that year, returning to the region round the Volga. The Poles soon repair the damage. But in the following decades the Polish principalities remain in political disarray, with power often in the hands of German bishops and merchants. By the end of the century there is even a military threat from neigbouring Bohemia.

Wladyslaw I and reunion: AD 1296-1333

The revival of a Polish national spirit is achieved, in opposition to Bohemian interference, by Wladyslaw - a Piast prince whose own inheritance is the small territory of Kujavia. In 1296 he acquires a more prominent role when the nobles of Great Poland (the region around Poznan in the west, as opposed to Little Poland around Cracow in the southeast) elect him as their prince.

However they almost immediately transfer their allegiance elsewhere, supporting instead a king of Bohemia who has been campaigning in Little Poland and has recently occupied Cracow. He is Wenceslas II.

By 1300 Wenceslas has gathered sufficient support to be crowned king of Poland at Gniezno. But his reign over the two kingdoms of Bohemia and Poland is interrupted by his early death in 1305.

He is succeeded by a 17-year-old son, also Wenceslas. The young king travels to Poland in 1306 to claim his second crown. During the journey he is murdered in his bed (it is not known by whom, but in spite of his tender years Wenceslas III already has a reputation as a libertine). His successor on the Bohemian throne, John of luxembourg, revives the claim to Poland. But this time the Polish nobles finally elect their own prince, Wladyslaw.

Wladyslaw travels to Rome in 1305 to enlist the support of the pope for his cause. He then campaigns vigorously in Poland against the Bohemian faction. There is particularly strong opposition in Cracow, which has a German bishop and a city council controlled by Germans. In 1311 the city openly declares its support for his Bohemian rival.

Wladyslaw takes the city, ejects the bishop and bans the use of the German language in the council. In 1320 he is crowned king of Poland. Significantly he chooses for his coronation not the traditional Gniezno, but the recently rebellious Cracow. It becomes his capital city, and henceforth the place where all kings of Poland are crowned and buried.

Casimir III: AD 1333-1370

Casimir the Great, son of Wladyslaw, presides over a period of peace and prosperity in Poland. He has close family links with two powerful neighbours (he is married to the daughter of Gediminas, king of Lithuania, and his sister is the wife of Charles I, king of Hungary). This leaves only the Teutonic knights in the north and Bohemia in the southwest as hostile neighbours.

Growth of the towns, advances in learning (linked with the founding of a university in Cracow in 1364) and the provision of public buildings all testify to the wise patronage of Casimir - as does his unconventional decision to welcome to Poland the Jews displaced by persecution elsewhere after the horrors of the Black death.

The only failure of Casimir, in dynastic terms, is that he has no son. He is therefore the last king in the direct line of the long-established Piast dynasty. The crown passes peacefully to his sister's son, Louis i of Hungary, who rules Poland as a somewhat absentee landlord from 1370. But Louis also has no son. On his death in 1382 he leaves two daughters, Maria aged eleven and Jadwiga aged eight.

Louis intends Maria to inherit Poland, leaving Hungary for Jadwiga. The Polish nobles decide otherwise. In 1384 they choose Jadwiga as their queen. And they arrange for her a marriage which brings great advantage to Poland. In 1385 Polish ambassadors visit Jogaila, now the king of Lithuania.

Link with Lithuania

Jogaila and Jadwiga: AD 1385-1386

In August 1385 Jogaila and the Polish ambassadors come to an agreement. Lithuania, together with Belorussia and Kiev (part of Jogaila's inheritance), is to be linked to the Polish crown. In return, he is himself to marry the 11-year-old queen (he is about thirty-four) and become king of Poland.

During the following winter Jogaila, or Jagiello as his name is written in Polish, travels south to Cracow. He is baptized a Roman Catholic in the cathedral on February 15, adding the Polish name Wladyslaw to his own. He marries Jadwiga on February 18. On March 4 he is crowned, as Wladyslaw II.

In making Lithuania Roman Catholic, Wladyslaw brings into the Christian fold the last remaining pagan kingdom in Europe. The conversion which the Teutonic knights have tried so hard to impose in a century and a half of violence is achieved at a stroke, by Polish diplomacy, through the more peaceful means of marriage.

The kingdom created by the union of Lithuania and Poland becomes immediately the most powerful state in eastern Europe. Its strength is shown in a dramatic clash with the Teutonic knights. They attack Poland in 1409, provoking a response from Wladyslaw which brings a great victory over the knights at Grunwald in 1410.

Poland and Lithuania: AD 1386-1772

The coronation of Wladyslaw II in 1386 forges a link between Poland and Lithuania which lasts nearly four centuries. At first the separate identity of Lithuania is carefully preserved. The region is guaranteed a grand prince of its own, who sometimes but not invariably will also be the king of Poland.

In 1501 it is agreed that the king of Poland shall always be the grand prince of Lithuania. In 1569 this personal union develops into a more complete merging of kingdom and principality when a joint sejm or parliament is established, formed of nobles and gentry from both regions. Lithuania has its own identity (the language of the majority is Belorussian), but it remains a part of Poland until the partitions of 1772-95.

This History is as yet incomplete.

The Jagiellon dynasty: AD 1386-1572

The descendants of Wladyslaw ii (or Jagiello in his Lithuanian name) rule Poland for two centuries. It is a period during which the country is greatly strengthened, by the expansion of its borders but also by internal consolidation.

The expansion mainly involves the vast territories of Lithuania, though from 1561 there is a further advance along the Baltic coast when part of Livonia comes under Polish control. Internally the strengthening of Poland differs from the rest of Europe. Elsewhere at this time rulers are achieving greater autocracy. In Poland power is increasingly gathered in the hands of parliament.

The first recorded Parliament or Sejm representing the whole of Poland is called by the king (John I Albert) in 1493. The royal purpose, as with parliaments elsewhere, is to raise funds.

The power of the new national assembly is vividly emphasized in 1505 when the crown accepts the principle of Nihil novi (Latin for 'nothing new'). The principle states that no new law may be introduced without the authority of the Sejm.

The power of Poland's broadly based Sejm is again evident at the end of the Jagiellon dynasty. The last king in the line, Sigismund II, dies childless in 1572. There are five candidates eager to succeed him, including the Russian tsar, a French royal duke and an Austrian archduke.

Such a list provokes bitter reactions from rival groups, whether on religious grounds (Protestant as well as Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox interests are now involved, in post-Reformation Poland and Lithuania) or on a national basis (mainly a case of passionate commitment for or against the German cause).

Tempers are cooled by an exercise of democracy unusual for its period. It is decided that the new king shall be elected by an assembly in which all the nobles and gentry of the country will have a voice.

The convention meets in April 1573 in Warsaw (the site four years earlier of the first joint Polish-Lithuanian Sejm). French diplomacy wins the day and Henry de valois is elected. His reign only lasts a year. In 1574 he succeeds to the throne of France as Henry III, abandoning Poland with what is considered unseemly haste. But the practice of democracy has been considerably extended in this election. And Warsaw has begun to replace Cracow as Poland's capital - a process gradually completed during the next thirty years.

16th - 17th century

Stephen Báthory: AD 1575-1586

In 1575 the Poles choose as their king Stephen Báthory, who has made his name in central Europe as commander of the Transylvanian army and then as the elected prince of Transylvania. He marries the last princess of the Jagiellon dynasty (the sister of Sigismund ii).

Stephen's eleven years on the Polish throne bring many successes to Poland, particularly in the campaign against Russia - where the border is pushed steadily northwards in successive campaigns. For his armies Stephen skilfully harnesses the energies of Poland's wild men from the southeast, the Cossacks. He also encourages the talents of another large minority within Poland, the Jews.

Appreciating the value of the skills of the Jews, Stephen Báthory takes special steps to protect their interests - restricting, for example, the trading rights of merchants and pedlars arriving in Poland at this time in large numbers (rather surprisingly) from Scotland.

He also grants the Polish Jews their own parliament, which meets twice a year and has tax-raising powers. It remains in existence for nearly two centuries, till 1764.

Vasa kings of Poland: AD 1587-1669

After the death of Stephen Báthory without an heir, the Poles elect in 1587 Sigismund III, a member of the Vasa dynasty of Sweden. His father is John iii of Sweden; his mother is a Polish princess, sister of Sigismund ii. Brought up in his mother's faith as a Catholic, Sigismund fails to hold the Lutheran throne which he inherits in Sweden.

He and his two sons rule Poland for nearly a century, until 1669. For much of that time the branches of the Vasa family, in Poland and in Sweden, are at war with each other. The Polish Vasas do considerably less well for their kingdom than their cousins on the Swedish throne..

Poland, which includes Lithuania, has two neighbours of comparable stature, with each of whom there is constant likelihood of warfare - Russia to the northeast and Muslim powers to the southeast, consisting of Tatars in the Crimea and the Ottoman turks. Between these groups, in the Ukraine, are the unpredictable Cossacks.

At the start of the Vasa period the Cossacks, though always unruly, are for the most part loyal to Poland - the kingdom within which their Ukrainian territory lies. But high-handed behaviour by Polish landowners and religious discrimination (the Cossacks are Greek Orthodox, the Poles Catholic) prompt a great Cossack rebellion in 1648.

At times during this period the Cossacks unite with the Tatars against Poland, at other times with the Russians. In the long run their actions damage themselves as much as the Poles. By the truce of Andruszow, in 1667, all the Cossack territory to the east of the river Dnieper is transferred from Poland to Russia. With it goes the ancient city of Kiev.

In addition to loss of territory, Poland is weakened during the Vasa period by an increasingly unworkable political system. The parliament, or sejm, now makes a fetish of the ancient right of any single deputy to veto legislation simply by exclaiming Nie pozwalam (I disapprove). The business of state virtually grinds to a halt.

John III Sobieski: AD 1674-1696

In the century after the Vasa dynasty (which ends with the death of John Casimir in 1668), Poland continues in a gradual and ultimately fatal decline. The process is hastened by two wars which rage around and across the kingdom - the Northern war and the War of the polish succession. It leads eventually to the Partition of the country in the late 18th century.

But there is one outstanding moment of glory during the reign of John III Sobieski, in 1683, when the Polish king Saves vienna and Christendom from the Turks.

Vienna and Hungary: AD 1683-1718

On 31 March 1683 a huge Turkish army marches west from Edirne. On the same day, in Warsaw, the Polish king John iii sobieski signs a treaty committing him to bring a force to the defence of Vienna. There is panic in the Austrian capital as the Turks approach, with a force estimated to be about 250,000 strong. Early in July the emperor and his court abandon Vienna, slipping away to safety higher up the Danube. A few days later the invading army arrives to blockade the city.

Two months pass before John III arrives with his Polish contingent, reinforced by Catholics from Bavaria and by Protestants from Saxony. The Christian army amounts to about 70,000 men.

The attack on the Turkish force takes place on September 12. After eight hours of fighting the Turks are routed and the city relieved. It is a symbolic moment which also proves a turning point, inspiring the Austrians to transform the retreat of the Turks into a lasting withdrawal.

Further campaigns to the east result in the capture of Buda in 1686, followed by the gradual recovery of other parts of Hungary. By 1699 the Turks are willing to sign the peace of Karlowitz, ceding to the Habsburg emperor, Leopold I, the whole region of Hungary which has been Under turkish control since 1547 - apart from the small area of Banat in the extreme southeast, which remains with the Turks until 1718.

Exhilarated by this gradual process of liberation from their Muslim overlord, the Hungarian diet - meeting at Pressburg in 1687 - grants more of Leopold I's demands than he might normally have expected. They give up their ancient claim to elect the king, allowing instead a hereditary Habsburg right to the Crown of st stephen.

Having recovered a kingdom which he considers his by descent from Ferdinand i, Leopold applies to Hungary the blend of absolute rule and religious intolerance which has reduced Bohemia to a state of abject decline. Hungary proves more resilient. The removal in 1703 of Austrian troops, needed elsewhere in the War of the spanish succession, is followed by a series of uprisings.

Calm is not fully restored until 1710. By then the Austrian emperor is in more conciliatory mood. In a series of agreements, finalized in a diet of 1723 during the reign of Charles VI, it is accepted that Hungary will not be merged with the rest of the Austrian empire. It will continue to be ruled through its own diet, according to its own laws and traditions, as a separate kingdom.

This special status survives almost unbroken until the end of the Austrian empire in 1918, but only just. From the middle of the 19th century there is mounting clamour for reform and independence.

Poland and Saxony: from AD 1697

John iii sobieski dies in 1696. Poland, a hereditary kingdom during the Vasa dynasty, has reverted to being an elective monarchy. On this occasion nineteen candidates put themselves forward - to the great benefit of the members of the sejm, among whom the candidates' agents distribute lavish bribes.

The winner of the contest is Augustus II (known as Augustus the Strong), the elector of Saxony. A significant factor in his favour is his late arrival on the scene. He comes with a fresh supply of funds when those of his rivals are already exhausted. The most recent bribe is the most vivid. But the decision, made in 1697, is a bad one for Poland. Augustus views his new kingdom as an accessory to Saxony.

In 1699 Augustus makes a secret alliance with Denmark and Russia for a joint attack on the Swedish territories round the Baltic. His own target is Livonia, which he intends to acquire for Saxony (his new Polish subjects refuse to cooperate in the enterprise). In February 1700 Augustus marches north with a Saxon army to besiege Riga.

His action launches the long Northern war against Sweden. But in spite of his own resounding name, Augustus the Strong more than meets his match in 1700 in the young Charles XII of Sweden.

18th - 19th century

Baltic campaigns: AD 1700-1706

The Northern War, often called the Great Northern War, distributes the coastline of the Baltic among the neighbouring nations in a manner which lasts into the 20th century.

Provoked by Sweden's dominant position, and launched in 1700 by an act of concerted aggression against Sweden by the kings of Poland and Denmark and the tsar of Russia, the war seems at first to give conclusive proof that Sweden fully deserves her pre-eminence in the region. The early Swedish successes are in large part due to the energy and military genius of the young king, Charles XII, eighteen years old in 1700 and three years into his reign.

The concerted attack on Swedish territory during 1700 takes place in three regions. In February the Polish king, Augustus II, moves north to besiege the port of Riga. A month later the Danish king, Frederick IV, marches south into Swedish possessions in Schleswig-Holstein. In August the Russian tsar, Peter the Great, brings an army west to attack the port of Narva.

Charles XII deals with each in turn, scoring rapid hits against his multiple enemies almost in the manner of a lone hero in a western. First, in August 1700, he ferries an army across the water to the island of Sjaelland, landing a few miles from Copenhagen. By the end of the month the Danes have withdrawn from the war.

In October Charles lands with 10,000 men at Pärnu, a point from which he can move south to relieve Riga or east to the defence of Narva. He selects as his first target the Russians besieging Narva. An attack in November on the tsar's fortified encampment, containing 23,000 soldiers, is entirely successful. Peter the Great withdraws from the immediate fray (giving himself a lull which he will use to excellent effect, establishing a Naval base in the Gulf of Finland).

Meanwhile Charles is able to give his full attention to the Polish king, Augustus ii, who is also the elector of Saxony.

Over the next six years Charles XII has a series of unbroken successes against Poland and Saxony, extending his already great control over the Baltic. By 1707 he is ready to attack Russia, now his only major opponent in the region.

Like other generals rash enough to march an army into Russia, Charles's fortunes are reversed by the harsh realities of winter. Defeat by the Russians at Poltava in 1709 proves a turning point. Sweden is already greatly weakened when Charles XII dies, still campaigning, in 1718.

Over the next six years the victories of Charles XII over Augustus the Strong are devastating. The Saxons are driven back across the Daugava river in the summer of 1701, ending their threat to Riga. Charles XII reaches and enters Warsaw in May 1702. He defeats Augustus two months later in a battle further south in Poland, at Kliszow.

In 1704 Charles persuades the Poles to depose Augustus and to elect in his place a Polish noble as Stanislaw I. In 1706 the Swedish king completes the humiliation of Augustus by marching into Saxony to impose a treaty signed at Altranstädt.

By 1707, with Denmark, Saxony and Poland out of the war, Charles XII is free to tackle the major threat to Sweden's dominance of the Baltic. The Russian tsar, Peter the Great, has merely retired wounded in 1700.

Peter has made much of the intervening years. He has founded St petersburg as a new Russian base on the Baltic, and he has profited from Charles's southern campaigns to move his own armies down the coast. In 1704 he captures Narva, which he failed to take in 1700. When Charles enters Saxony, in 1706, Peter moves a large Russian army down the Baltic coast and across the Polish border.

Peace negotiations continue for three years after the death of Charles XII, and the final terms are a disaster for Sweden compared to the high hopes raised early in the war. Most of the Swedish possessions on the southern coast of the Baltic are now ceded to Prussia and to Hanover. And the commercial advantage of free passage through the St petersburg for Swedish goods is surrendered.

But the greatest blow is Sweden's loss to Russia. By the treaty of Nystad, in 1721, Peter the Great obtains the east Baltic coast from Vyborg down to Riga (a stretch in which he has already built himself St petersburg). With these advantages Russia replaces Sweden as the leading power in the Baltic.

This History is as yet incomplete.

Augustus II and III: AD 1696-1763

Augustus later recovers his Polish throne, in 1709, with the help of Peter the great of Russia. Well aware of the danger of Russian dominance, Augustus attempts during the rest of his reign to reduce the implicit threat to Poland. But on his death, in 1733, it is again with Russian help that his son Augustus III wins the throne in the War of the Polish Succession (1733-8) against the claim of Stanislaw i (who ruled from 1704 to 1709).

In two long reigns, from 1696 to 1763, the Saxon kings of Poland preside over a time of chaos and economic weakness. In Europe's wars of 1740-48 and 1756-63 the kingdom is trapped (ominously for its future) between three major players - Prussia, Austria and Russia.

On the death of Augustus III, in 1763, the succession to the Polish throne is yet again decided by the Russian ruler - by now the empress Catherine ii. Her troops are in Poland to ensure the election, in 1764, of Stanislaw II. One of her lovers, he has lived in St Petersburg for the past seven years.

During Stanislaw's reign Russian policy towards Poland becomes increasingly brutal, with Russian troops even terrorizing members of the sejm on important occasions. Stansilaw contrives, against the odds, to keep a sophisticated and civilized court in Warsaw. But Poland steadily shrinks during his reign, partitioned between his neighbours.

Three partitions of Poland: AD 1772-1796

Over a period of a quarter of a century Poland is dismembered and consumed by her neighbours. The process begins during the confusion of a war between Russia and turkey. In 1769 Austria takes the opportunity of occupying part of Poland, to the south of Cracow.

Frederick the Great follows suit in 1770, sending troops to seal off the coastal region between the two main parts of his realm (Brandenburg and the kingdom of Prussia). This valuable area, known as Polish Royal prussia, has long been part of the Polish kingdom. Frederick claims that he is acting only in precaution against an outbreak of cattle plague. But acquiring Royal prussia would neatly unify his territory.

The first official annexation of Polish land is cynically agreed in 1772 between Russia, Prussia and Austria. Russia, at war with Turkey, has an interest in keeping Prussia and Austria in benign mood. She accepts the proposal that each of them should annexe part of Poland. Russia's influence in the kingdom means that she can force acceptance of the arrangement on the Poles.

By the treaties of 1772 Austria acquires the region round Lvov. Frederick secures Royal prussia (with the exception at this stage of the port of Gdansk). And Russia takes a slice of northeast Poland.

The next two partitions occur when Russia finds new excuses to intervene in Poland's internal affairs. Russian armies enter the kingdom during a disturbance in 1792, and are on hand again to tackle a national insurrection in 1794.

On both occasions Polish armies offer strong resistance to superior Russian forces. But force prevails. After a two-month siege, and a massacre of Poles in the suburbs, Warsaw falls in September 1794 to a combined Russian and Prussian army.

The second partition, agreed in 1793, benefits only Prussia and Russia. Prussia now receives Gdansk and a swathe of land stretching south almost to Cracow. Russia takes a vast slice of eastern Poland, amounting to some 97,000 square miles.

This is greater than the territory which Poland now retains, in a strip from the Baltic coast down to Cracow and Brody. A few years later, in treaties of 1795 and 1796, this final Polish remnant is divided between the three predators. Prussia is extended east to include Warsaw. The Austrian frontier moves north to the same area. Once again the lion's share, in the east, goes to Russia.

The effect of the three partitions on the citizens of Poland is that some 23% are now under Prussian rule, 32% are in the Austrian empire, and 45% are subject to the tsar. In geographical terms the new Prussian and Austrian territory approximates to the original kingdom of Poland. Lithuania has been absorbed into Russia.

The third partition, in 1796, occurs on the eve of the Napoleonic era. The great conqueror, changing the face of Europe, brings new hope to the Poles. And indeed, in the Treaty of tilsit in 1807, a grand duchy of Warsaw is created from the territories annexed by Prussia. But the final peace terms, agreed at Vienna in 1815, prove profoundly disappointing to the Poles.

1815 - 1939

The Congress Kingdom: AD 1815-1918

The Congress of vienna allows the three despoilers of Poland to keep the territory which they have seized in the partitions of the 18th century. The only concession to Polish sentiment is that the region around Warsaw becomes a kingdom of Poland, technically independent but united to Russia because the tsar is to be the Polish king. Its origins cause the new state to become known as the Congress Kingdom.

The kingdom remains under Russian control for almost exactly a century. In the early years there is strong Polish resistance, particularly in an uprising which begins in November 1830.

With Polish military units leading the insurrection, it is many months before the Russian army is finally able to suppress the rebels. In the aftermath of the uprising the Russians exile some 10,000 leading members of the Polish community - an event known as the Great Emigration.

In the following decades Russia uses every means to impose Russian culture and language on the Poles, in an intense programme of 'russification'. The other Poles, forcibly confined within the national boundaries of Prussia and austria, are under similar pressures. Yet the Polish sense of national identity remains sufficiently strong for the next opportunity of independence, after World War I, to be vigorously seized.

Sections are as yet missing at this point.

20th century

Sections missing

Sections are as yet missing at this point

Danzig and the Polish corridor: AD 1938-1939

At the very moment of the Munich agreement the Polish government presents its own demand for a slice of Czechoslovakia. There is logic to the claim. If the Sudetenland with its largely German population is to be annexed by Germany, then there is a clear case for the rich industrial area of Teschen Silesia, inhabited mainly by Poles, to be transferred to Poland. On the day the Munich agreement is announced, 30 September 1938, Poland asserts this claim - not for the first time, but now it is instantly acceded to by Czechoslavakia.

Unfortunately the ethnic-majority argument has dangerous implications for Poland herself, confronted by a Hitler increasing day by day in confidence.

The great port of Gdansk (in Polish) or Danzig (in German) has long been a bone of contention between Polish and German interests. Though first brought to prominence by the Hanseatic merchants, the city and its hinterland (eastern Pomerania, or in its Polish name Pomorze) have historically been part of Poland. But from time to time they have been seized by Germans - first by the Teutonic knights in 1308 - and in recent times they have again been German, from the late 18th-century Partitions of poland until the end of World War I.

In 1919 the treaty of Versailles restores Pomorze to Poland and gives Danzig, with its almost entirely German population, the status of a free city within the borders of Poland.

This arrangement is probably unworkable at the best of times, and more so from the mid-1930s when Danzig has an elected Nazi city council. Moreover in this area the provisions of Versailles provide a further cause for German grievance. In returning Pomorze to Poland, and restoring her historical access to the sea at Danzig, the treaty has the effect of severing the province of East Prussia from the rest of Germany.

Pomorze becomes known in the terminology of the 1920s as the Polish corridor, linking Poland and the sea. Hitler now demands a more literal German corridor - a narrow strip of German territory through Poland to East Prussia. Together with this goes his claim to bring Danzig within the Reich.

Both claims are pressed by Hitler with new vigour in October 1938, within days of his winning the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia. The Polish government firmly rejects the German demands. Unlike unfortunate Czechoslovakia, this stance wins a positive response from the western powers.

In March 1939 Neville Chamberlain, speaking with the approval of both France and the USSR, gaurantees help to Poland if her independence is threatened. In April Hitler abrogates his own ten-year nonaggression treaty with Poland, signed in 1934, and secretly orders his army to prepare for a Polish invasion. In May France commits herself to military action against Germany if a conflict begins. But then, in August, Hitler produces a diplomatic bombshell.

Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact: AD 1939

In August 1939 a Franco-British military mission is in Moscow trying to persuade Stalin to commit to a treaty for the defence of Poland. Little progress is made, ostensibly because the Poles are refusing to allow Soviet troops to cross their territory to attack Germany. But there is another hidden reason which soon becomes apparent.

The Soviet Union and Communism have always been twin forces of demonic evil in Hitler's oratory, but he now proves himself happy to sup with the devil for a very real strategic advantage. It is important to his plans that he shall not be distracted by a major war on his eastern front. In August he opens negotiations with Stalin. Poland is his bait.

Stalin, invited by the western powers to join an alliance which will almost certainly involve him in a costly war against Germany for no very evident benefit, now finds himself offered a more attractive option - inactivity and a sizable increase in his territory.

It takes the Russian dictator little time to choose. The world is astonished on August 21 by the announcement from Berlin that Ribbentrop is flying to Moscow to sign a nonaggression pact with his opposite number, the Russian foreign minister Molotov. This sudden friendship of two implacable enemies would seem less inexplicable if people knew of the secret protocol which accompanies the pact.

The protocol agrees a new set of international boundaries. As modified slightly in a second visit by Ribbentrop to Moscow, in September, it acknowledges Germany's approval of the Russian annexation of the independent nations Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (should any such opportunity occur). And it establishes an agreed division of Poland between Germany and Russia.

With this much achieved, Hitler is ready to take his next step - launched, for propaganda purposes, with a Grisly little charade.

The act of war: AD 1939

During the night of August 31 a group of German soldiers, dressed as Poles, attack the German radio station in the border town of Gleiwitz. They have brought with them a German criminal, taken for the purpose from a concentration camp. They shoot him and leave his body as evidence of the night's dark deeds.

Berlin radio broadcasts to the world the news of this act of Polish aggression, together with details of the necessary German response. In the early hours of the morning of September 1 Hitler's tanks move into Poland. His planes take off towards Warsaw on the first bombing mission of a new European war.

After a final desperate day of diplomacy, attempting even at this late stage to find a peaceful solution, Chamberlain and Daladier each sends an ultimatum to Hitler. When no answer is received, both nations declare war on September 3.

The Polish army, airforce and civilian population put up a brave resistance to massive German force - increased, from September 17, by a Russian invasion from the east. Within a few weeks 60,000 Polish soldiers and 25,000 civilians die. By September 28 Warsaw has fallen. Poland is once again partitioned, with an eastern slice going to Russia (as so recently agreed in Moscow) and the lion's share to Germany.

This History is as yet incomplete.
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