World War II in Poland, its Impact on Everyday Life; Personal Perspective

How Second World War affected us in Poland? Enormously. I would say, Poland still today did not recover completely from five years of Nazi and Soviet occupation. Especially since many aspects of Soviet occupation were not officially discussed until early 90-es. Read a second part of the article: Misconceptions, Myths and Truth about World War II in Eastern Europe.

I was born almost twenty years after the war, in the beginning of 60-es but… the impact of the war on my childhood was just enormous. Even as kids we were very conscious about the war. I remember until now my fifth birthday, not because anything special happened or because I was given some beautiful toys I was waiting long time for it. It is because my older brother was teasing me (think about it, I was just five!) that the war would start at the day of my birthday. I was a very sensitive kid, I took words seriously, especially about so serious matter as the war. It had such an impact on me that I could not really enjoy my birthday waiting that the war may start any moment. I was not sure whether it is because of my birthday or just by coincidence, still I do remember fragments from my fifth birthday until now. Hearing an airplane low in the sky was associated with the irrational fear that it may be a bomber until I was a teenager.

The vivid memories of war were everywhere, in the mass media, radio, TV, movies, but also in minds of our parents, family and all adults who still remember these times. It was something more overwhelming even than the communism around us.

I did not even live in regions which were the most affected by the war, Krakow in Southern Poland and Katowice in Silesia were the least destroyed in the war. Compare it to Warsaw, Polish capital which was destroyed in over 90% or a region of central and easter Poland where many villages were burned and destroyed because of the partisan (guerilla) war. I wonder sometimes whether the communistic propaganda did not even try to focus people’s attention to the war and to divert their attention from problems of everyday life. At least communistic propaganda officially celebrated and grieved war the same way as common people did. So, there was some common ground for all in war memories and celebrations.

Why the impact of war on Poland was so deep? Lets remember that the attack of Hitler on Poland started officially War World II on September 1st, 1939. So, Poland was the first hit hard by war. Two weeks later, on September 17th Soviets invaded eastern part of Poland. Some Polish military who were scattered around this region was taken by surprise and trapped. Nobody knew about a hidden part of Molotov-Ribbentrop “non-aggression” pact to divide Poland. How Nazi-communistic union could ever be possible? It was almost unthinkable.

Until then many countries of Western Europe and the USA were trying to please Hitler and avoid war at all costs. They agreed on Germany’s occupation of Austria and Czechoslovakia, they were still some diplomats who were trying to please Hitler by convincing Poland that it should return so called Polish corridor back to Germany. They were also asking that Poland would cease any claims to the town of Gdansk (Danzig), that was under international protection in that time. The policy of pleasing Hitler led nowhere, it also escalated Hitler’s demands as the history showed.

When the war started Poland was counting on France and Great Britain. These countries were bound by a treaty with Poland so that in the case of aggression they would help. Poles were convinced that when France and Great Britain became officially in state of war with Germany they would start fighting. But nothing happened, no any site (either British, French or German) started any action. Unfortunately no any other European country was really prepared for a war and nobody was able to act against Germany.

The war started in the time when Polish economy was finally recovering after the years of economical crisis of the early thirties. Polish economical plan was starting to work, the poorer areas of Eastern Poland were being developed, Polish marine port in Gdynia was working well. We need to remember that Polish sovereign state was very young. Polish independence between first and second world wars was no more than twenty years after over hundred years of partitions between Russia, Prussia and Austria.

So, the war started in the least good time (as like it was really a good time for starting the war) when finally things started to work out. It brought not only terrible economical losses (it destroyed lots of infrastructure, housing etc). Poland was the most destroyed country in the world, except Germany and Japan who were aggressors. The war also brought terrible human losses, six million Poles – half of them Jewish and half of non-Jewish origin died. Over 90% of Polish Jews annihilate during the war, this is a very unfortunate fact although good known around the world. Every Polish non-Jewish family lost somebody also– either in combat against Germany or Soviet Union or in the labor camp or in Siberia after massive compulsory transportation there.

Please, read the next article about common misconceptions about the war in Poland here. Read several articles related to war in history section of Polish culture. One of the articles is related to Polish heroic battle in Monte Cassino. It is entitled: Polish National Flowers – Red Poppies from Monte Cassino.

written by Jaga, August 30, 2003 (article #122)

I recommend a book about famous Polish airforce pilots from Great Britain A Question of Honor: The Kosciuszko Squadron: Forgotten Heroes of World War II, by Lynne Olson, Stanley Cloud

Here is a link to a history book written by Richard C. Lukas, Norman Davies entitled:
Forgotten Holocaust: The Poles Under German Occupation 1939-1944

One of the best one-volume histories of Poland in English is:

Heart of Europe: A Short History of Poland (Oxford Paperbacks)

by Norman Davies

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