Why did Poland keep Warsaw as its capital instead of returning it to Krakow in the 20th century?

Why did Poland keep Warsaw as its capital instead of returning it to Krakow in the 20th century?

My recollection is that Krakow was Poland's capital for much of the Middle Ages, having moved there from Thorn(?) shortly after 1000 A.D.

My understanding is that Warsaw, a newer city, became Poland's capital in the 16th century, largely because of the Union with Lithuania (which then included part of Latvia, Belarus, and much of the Western Ukraine), and because Warsaw was at the center of what was then the combined country.

But when Poland was reconstituted after World War I, and again after World War II, "Lithuania" was not part of it. So had Warsaw lost its raison d'etre? Why wasn't the capital moved back to Krakow?

You may want to read this answer while listening to a poetic song by Andrzej Sikorowski and Grzegorz Turnau, called "Nie przenoście nam stolicy do Krakowa", what means "Please don't move the capital back to Kraków", written in the 90's, after the end of communist era in Eastern Europe, when some politics started to express such ideas.


I've decided to cut my answer a lot in comparison with what I've written off-line, in order to provide the most direct answer to the actual question. But for the background, few things need to be clarified, so I'll at least point it in short without providing details.

The previous capital before Krakow was Gniezno, the role of which for Polish history is somewhat similar to that of Canterbury for England or Reims for France. Even if Krakow was the center of political power from 11th century, it became the factual capital in 1320, with the coronation of Wladyslaw I the Elbow-high.

Also the role of Krakow as the center of political power before 1320 wasn't always clear. This happened because of very complexed internal situation of Poland (which was divided into many smaller parts) between 11th and 14th centuries and because of different role of capital in medieval Poland that we understand it recently. There are also towns Poznan and Plock, which proudly use the title of capital city, because they were also centers of political power in various periods before 1320.

Now as for Warsaw becoming the capital. The court of Sigismund III Vasa was moved to Warsaw in 1595 from the highly interesting reason including the results of alchemical experiment, which is unfortunately not a matter of this question. But it was only short, temporal change - the permanent move was made by him in 1609, also from few different reasons. Still, the official capital of Poland was Krakow, what led to several awkward situations and even national scandals. So officially, Warsaw was never described in any documents as a capital until Grodno Sejm in 1793, two years before Poland vanished from the maps of Europe.

I will be extremely happy to describe all of that if any adequate questions happen in the future. :)

(source: raremaps.com)
Page from Liber Chronicum by Hartmann Schedel, 1493, with his illustration of Kraków, Jewish town Kazimierz and royal Wawel Castle

Fall of Krakow in 17th century

Speaking of why Krakow didn't become a capitol once again, we have to go back as far as to second part of 17th century. Note that we don't go back to the first part. Because even if the court moved to Warsaw, it didn't stop Krakow from development, thanks to its important role at the trading map of Europe.

Unfortunately, bad things started to happen with the enthronement of John II Casimir Vasa in 1648 (in my opinion the worst kings of Poland if not to count Russians which we just don't legitimize because we didn't chose them).

It started with a fire at Wawel Castle in 1649, which wasn't anything unusual, but let's count it as a prelude. Soon there came Khmelnytsky Uprising in Ukraine and at the same time Peasant Uprising of 1651 almost at the fields of Krakow. In 1652, nearly 20000 citizens of Krakow agglomeration died in smallpox epidemy, which was quickly followed by one of the biggest floods in town's history. And as if it wouldn't be enough, during the so called Deluge (Swedish invasion) Krakow was sieged, ruined and looted with its surroundings two times in 1655 and 1657.

After that decade, Krakow just wasn't the same anymore. Of course it slowly raised, but in overall, demographic and economic development of the town stopped for many years.

Siege of Krakow according to Samuel Pufendorf, 1695, click here for full resolution

Role of Krakow during Partitions of Poland

Like I've written previously, in 1795 Poland vanished from map of Europe for 123 years because of so called Partitions. At the beginning, Krakow became a free city on the border of three occupants - Austria, Prussia and Russia. But after unsuccessful Krakow Uprising during Spring of Nations in 1846, it became part of Austria.

And it wasn't even the most important town of its region, as the capital ofKingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria became Lviv.

There were both advantages and disadvantages of such situation. On one hand, there was much bigger freedom in Krakow than in Warsaw and other Russian or Prussian towns. Austro-Hungarian Empire just didn't have enough forces to control everything in its borders, especially when they had to deal with many other nations (see map below). This led to development of Krakow once again as the cultural, artistic and historical heart of Polish nation in those difficult times.

On the other hand, Galicia became poor in comparison with other Polish regions, especially Greater Poland. Austrians were spending much more money to satisfy others, e.g. raising from the ground Budapest after Hungarian Revolution of 1848.

By that time, Krakow itself was a very small town, surrounded by few other ones (Stradom, Kazimierz, Kleparz) and a new one - Podgorze, founded by Austrians on the other side of Vistula river. Also the town of Krakow was mainly covered by churches and monasteries, from which many weren't even used. It was a difficult task with not always right decisions to reform it into modern, big town. And even if local government was finally successful to realize it, it was still much smaller than other towns.

Role of Warsaw during Partitions of Poland

In the times of Partitions, Warsaw become capital of two countries. Firstly, capital of Duchy of Warsaw, which existed between 1807 and 1815, until Napoleon's fall. Later, of Congress Poland, the name of which comes from the Congress of Vienna.

This way Warsaw was still developing as center of political power, at least at the local level, as it didn't have any own foreign politics and was completely dependent on Russia, with Russian tsar being at the same time king of Poland.

During World War I Warsaw became capital of Regency Kingdom of Poland (founded by Germans and Austrians on the lands of Russian partition) and after the end of it, which meant rise of the Second Polish Republic, Warsaw was also a natural choice for a capital city. Rapid development of the town continued for 20 years between the wars.

As far as I hate to admit it, in comparison to Warsaw, Krakow was at that time rather a province.

Here are the numbers of citizens in Polish towns in 1939, at the beginning of World War II:

Warsaw - 1,289,000 Łódź - 672,000 Lwów - 318,000 (recently in Ukraine) Poznań - 272,000 Kraków - 259,000 Wilno - 209,000 (recently in Lithuania)

Greetings from Warsaw, postcard dated before 1939

Krakow and Warsaw during World War II

I skip all the history of the war, except for the fact that Warsaw was meant by Germans to be completely demolished and replaced by a new town for German elite with around 100000 citizens. This way during all the war the destroying continued and didn't stop even in 1945. From 1.3 million of citizens, 700 thousands were killed during the war (300 thousands of them being Jews). Here you can see collection of photos showing Warsaw after the war.

At the same time Krakow was as a capital of new General Goverment, as Germans treated it as a previously German town. It was also the central place for German garrison in Poland, what made any tries of uprising in Krakow impossible. This way, speaking about buildings, the town survived rather untouched, of course if not to count Jewish district Kazimierz which was destroyed.

View of Warsaw after World War II

After World War II

So finally we come to the times after the war.

First of all, were communists thinking about moving the capital from Warsaw? Of course they were. But surprisingly, the rival of Warsaw wasn't Krakow, but city of Lodz. Being the biggest at the time, after the fall of Warsaw, and very close to it, what meant the same, central position in a newly established country, it quickly started to serve as a new cultural center with new universities, theaters, cinemas and artists passing the main Piotrkowska Street.

Another reason for which Lodz was taken into account was a large amount of big, empty buildings, perfect for new government offices. During the war Lodz lost around 300000 of Jews (after Warsaw, Lodz had the biggest Jewish population in Poland), 120000 of Poles and 80000 of Germans who left the town together with German army. But before the end of 1945, the population once again raised from 300000 to 500000.

This way many official agencies moved to this town quickly after the war. It resulted with Lodz being a center of political power between years 1945 and 1948, when the main offices went back to Warsaw.

Other towns on the list were Poznan and of course Krakow. But Krakow wasn't a good option for communists from different reason. Krakow was a town of intelligence, lying in Lesser Poland which was also the most religious region. Even after the war, when intelligence of Poland was crushed, it was still too strong to change it into a communist one and the support for left-winged politics was the lowest in the country.

It was proven in 1946, during the People's Referendum, when the communist party PPR organized huge campaign to vote 3 x yes. Later it took them 12 days to falsify the results in order to prove that the country accepts the new politic order. But in Krakow and other towns of Lesser Poland original results were announced and they were opposite:

The official results, published on 12 July 1946, showed that from a population of 13,160,451 eligible voters, 90.1% or 11,857,986 had taken part in the referendum. Of these, 11,530,551 or 97.2% were counted as valid. On the first question, 68% voters chose "yes". On the second question, 77.2% voted "yes". On the third question, 91.4% voted "yes".

(… )

In Kraków, where the opposition managed to ensure a fair vote, the "no" results were: 84%, 59% and 30% for all three questions.

In opposite, Lodz was not only biggest and in the center of the country, but also a modern worker's city. What a perfect match for new, communist government. In the end, the vision of creating whole new town suited the needs of communist government the most, as they would be able to build it fully under their control and to unite the country over the rebuild of the capital under the communist flag.

Now who made the final decision? Of course Stalin. Son of Edward Osóbka-Morawski, Prime Minister of Provisional Government of the Republic of Poland which ruled Poland after the war, describes it in Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper in the following words (translated by me):

Bierut (chairman of State National Council) had an opinion that the state of city's devastation justifies the move of capital and his proposition was Lodz. The Council of Ministers, of which my father was a leader, insisted on rebuilding of Warsaw. Because of lack of agreement the case was decided by Stalin, who gave support to my father.

When Bierut came back from Moscow in January of 1945, he told the government that Stalin wants Warsaw to be rebuilt and offers his help.

Surprisingly among the people who opted for Warsaw was Marian Spychalski, born in Lodz and the last mayor of Warsaw at the time of war.

Finally, Warsaw became a constitutional capital of Poland in 1952, as says the text of Constitution of the People's Republic of Poland:

Article 105

Warsaw, a city which embodies the heroic traditions of the Polish Nation, shall be the capital of the Republic of Poland.

Poland’s Territorial Changes 1635-Present – Life, Death & Rebirth

Poland has not been one of Europe’s luckiest countries.

It’s gone from being the largest country in Europe to being wiped off the map, not once but several times.

The map below traces the history of Poland’s borders from 1635 right through to the present day.

Watch as the borders shrink from their peak during the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth to the partitions of Poland at the end of the 18th century to the massive shift west during the 20th.

Here’s a bit more background about some of the key years listed in the map above:

  • 1635:Treaty of Stuhmsdorf, favourable to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
  • 1655:The Deluge Swedish and Russian invasions of Poland.
  • 1657:Treaty of Wehlau and Bromberg the Hohenzollern dynasty of Brandenburg given hereditary sovereignty in the Duchy of Prussia.
  • 1660:Treaty of Oliva, the end of Swedish involvement in the Deluge.
  • 1667: End of Russo-Polish War and the end of the Deluge.
  • 1672:Treaty of Buchach, ceded Podolia to the Ottomans.
  • 1686: Eternal Peace Treaty of 1686, reconfirms peace with Russia. The peace itself would prove not to be eternal.
  • 1699:Treaty of Karlowitz Podolia returned to Poland from Ottomans.
  • 1772:First Partition of Poland
  • 1793:Second Partition of Poland
  • 1795:Third Partition of Poland – Poland disappears from the map.
  • 1807:Duchy of Warsaw created.
  • 1809:Battle of Raszyn, results in an expanded Duchy of Warsaw.
  • 1815:Congress Poland created following Napoleonic Wars. While de jure an independent state, it was in personal union with the Russian Empire. Thus, it was de facto a Russian client state until 1867, when it was formally absorbed into the empire.
  • 1815:Grand Duchy of Posen also created following the Napoleonic wars and was a Prussian client state.
  • 1815:Free City of Kraków also created.
  • 1831: Start of direct Russian military rule in the Congress of Poland, following November Uprising.
  • 1846:Kraków Uprising failure results in Free City of Kraków being annexed to Austria.
  • 1848: Grand Duchy of Posen downgraded to a Prussian province following the failure of the Greater Poland Uprising. Poland once again ceases to exist.
  • 1867:Austria-Hungary created following Austria defeat in the Austro-Prussian war.
  • 1871:German Empire proclaimed in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles.
  • 1914: Outbreak of World War One.
  • 1917:Russian Revolution begins.
  • 1918: World War One ends and West Ukrainian People’s Republic declared.
  • 1919: New Polish state created as part of the Treaty of Versailles. The new state includes most of Posen, Polish Corridor, part of eastern Upper Silesia. Poland also seizes territory from the West Ukrainian People’s Republic as part of the short Polish–Ukrainian War.
  • 1920:Free City of Danzig created.
  • 1920: Polish–Lithuanian War results in the creation of the short lived Republic of Central Lithuania.
  • 1920:Conference of Ambassadors results in minor territorial exchanges with Czechoslovakia.
  • 1920:Battle of Warsaw results in a deceive Polish victory against the Soviet Union, saving Poland.
  • 1921:Peace of Riga ends the Soviet-Polish War, ending Poland’s conflicts with its neighbours.
  • 1922: Republic of Central Lithuania becomes part of Poland.
  • 1924: Further territorial changes between Czechoslovakia and Poland.
  • 1938: Czech half of Cieszyn, was annexed by Poland in 1938 following the Munich Agreement and First Vienna Award.
  • 1939: Poland ceases to exist once again after being partitioned between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia at the outbreak of World War Two.
  • 1945: Poland re-emerges on the map following the end of World War Two as the People’s Republic of Poland, a Soviet satellite state. As a result of extensive territorial changes, Poland moves several hundred kilometres to the west, losing its former eastern territories to the Soviet Union.
  • 1945-1975:Minor territorial changes between Poland and its communist neighbours.
  • 1989:People’s Republic of Poland comes to an end and Poland becomes a democracy.
  • 2002: Minor border adjustments with Slovakia.

If you’d like to learn more about the history of Poland have a look at the following books:

Napoleon's Russian Campaign of 1812

Napoleon's Russian Campaign of 1812 was one of the greatest disasters in military history. Napoleon invaded Russia at the head of an army of over 600,000 men but by the start of 1813 only 93,000 of them were still alive and with the army. The Russians had prevented Napoleon from fighting the decisive battle he wanted until he was at the gates of Moscow, and their refusal to negotiate after he captured the city eventually forced the French to carry out a lengthy and very costly retreat, harassed by the cold and by Cossacks. The retreat from Moscow was one of the defining images of the Napoleonic period, and the disaster in Russia helped convince many of Napoleon's former allies to turn against him, especially in Germany. Within two years Napoleon went from the master of most of Europe to abdication and his first exile.

Russia's previous involvement in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars had been intermittent, with her policy affected by arbitrary changes of attitude on the part of the Tsar. Catherine the Great had condemned the French Revolution, but at the time she was involved in the partition of Poland and so Russian didn't get involved.

Paul I was neutral until the French seized Malta in June 1798. In the aftermath of this disaster for their order the Knights of St John offered Paul the Grand Mastership of the Order and the cause of the Knights was one of the main reasons why Russia joined the Second Coalition. A Russian army under Suvorov performed well in Switzerland and northern Italy, but the Tsar then became jealous of his general's successes and pulled Russia out of the war in 1800. In December 1800 and January 1801 he even wrote to Napoleon to suggest that they meet and apply joint pressure on Britain to end the conflict. By now Paul's erratic behaviour had alarmed many at his court and on 24 March 1801 he was overthrown and murdered. He was succeeded by his son Alexander I.

At first Alexander hoped to work with Napoleon to establish a general peace, but his efforts in this area failed. In March 1804 Napoleon kidnapped the Duc d'Enghien from Baden and on 21 March the Duke was executed. This angered Alexander on two levels - first because of the blatent injustice of the act and the breach of international rules and second became his wife Elizabeth came from the royal family of Baden. The execution of the Duc d'Enghien was one of Napoleon's biggest mistakes, convincing many across Europe who might have been willing to tolerate his rule that he was entirely untrustworthy. It helped convince Alexander to sign a defensive treaty with Austria in November 1804 and to create an alliance with Britain in April 1805. The Austrians joined the alliance in August 1805, and it became the Third Coalition.

Russian involvement in the Third Coalition was a disaster. Tsar Alexander was the nominal commander-in-chief of the Russian and Austrian armies during their crushing defeat at Austerlitz (2 December 1805). Austria was knocked out of the war and the Russians forced to retreat out of their territory. Only now did Prussia enter the war, forming the Fourth Coalition. This new alliance went little better. The Prussians were crushed at Jena and Auerstädt (14 October 1806), before the Russians could reach the theatre of war. This time the Russians performed rather better, and Napoleon suffered his first serious setback in the costly and inconclusive battle of Eylau (8 February 1807). When the fighting resumed in the spring and summer of 1807 Napoleon was better prepared, and the Russians suffered a heavy defeat at Friedland (14 June 1807).

After the battle the Russians retreated to Tilset, where they entered into negotiations with the French, On 24 June Tsar Alexander and Napoleon met on a raft in the middle of the Niemen River and over the next few days Napoleon appears to have charmed the Tsar. Tilsit saw Napoleon just about at the peak of his powers, effectively dictating terms to Frederick William III, King of Prussia and the Tsar of Russia. The Russians emerged from the negotiations fairly well. They had to concede ground in Poland, and agreed to the formation of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw. This was formed from land taken from Prussia, and ruled by King Frederick Augustus of Saxony. The Russians also agreed to Napoleon's restructuring of much of Germany, with the formation of the Kingdom of Westphalia and expansion of the Duchy of Berg. They also surrendered their Mediterranean possessions - Cattaro in Montenegro and the Ionian Islands. Perhaps most importantly Russia agreed to join the Continental System, Napoleon's trade blockade of Britain and to go to war with Britain if peace wasn't agreed by November 1807. In return Napoleon agreed not to interfere if Russia went to war with Sweden to conquer Finland, and to help bring about peace between Russia and the Ottoman Empire, or if this failed to help the Russians in the war.

Build-up to War

The French alliance was very unpopular in Russia, but at first Alexander stuck by the Tilsit agreement. Russia was soon officially at war with Britain and the Continental System was implemented. Alexander then focuses on internal reforms. On the French side Napoleon withdrew most of his troops behind the Elbe, while many ended up fighting in Spain. He also encouraged Russian efforts in Finland and in Asia.

Despite this apparently cordial relationship there were several areas of tension between the two powers. Alexander wanted to take Moldavia and Wallachia from the Ottomans, and even had aspirations to take Constantinople and give Russia direct access to the Mediterranean from the Black Sea. Napoleon was equally determined to keep the Russians out of the Mediterranean. Further north French influence in the Grand Duchy of Warsaw angered many Russians, who saw the area as part of their sphere of influence (even though the Duchy had been formed out of lands taken from Prussia). Napoleon attempted to satisfy the Russians by refusing the recreate the Kingdom of Poland, but the tension remained. The Continental System also became to cause problems in Russia. Trade with Britain had been vastly more valuable than trade with France, and many Russian nobles and merchants suffered financial hardship as a result.

The tensions began to come into the open in 1808 when war between France and Austria began to look more likely. Napoleon and Alexander met at the Congress of Erfurt in September-October 1808, where Napoleon attempted to gain Russian support against the Austrians. Although only a year had passed since Tilsit Alexender was much more confident and less willing to go along with Napoleon's demands. Napoleon agreed that Russian could occupy Moldavia and Wallachia but in return all he got was a vague promise to help against Austria. Napoleon emerged from Erfurt convinced that Alexander was now his main rival in Europe.

When war broke out in 1809 the Russians only made token moves to aid the French. They took a handful of border provinces, but unofficially made it clear that they weren't going to advance any further. This allowed the Austrians to concentrate against Napoleon, although didn't prevent them from losing the war. Napoleon was angered by the Russian inactivity. He further strained the relationship by giving Austrian Galicia to the Grand Duchy of Warsaw. In January 1810 in an attempt to placate the Russians Napoleon drafted a convention in which he promised not to recreate the Polish Kingdom, but the offer didn't convince the Russians and the convention was never ratified.

Late in 1809 Napoleon divorced Josephine and began to hunt for a second wife, hoping to produce a son. He had been looking for a suitable bride for some time, and had approached Alexander about the possibility of marrying a Russian princess. By January 1810 Napoleon had settled on the Grand Duchess Anna, Alexander's sister and the sixth daughter of Paul I. He opened formal negotiations with Alexander, but his mother, the Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna was violently opposed to the idea. Alexander attempted to play for time, suggesting that Napoleon should wait for two years. By this point Napoleon was also in negotiations with the Austrians. When his upcoming marriage with the Emperor Francis I's daughter Marie Louise was announced Alexander was privately relieved, but in public he claimed that the marriage was an affront to Russian honour. In return the French claimed that Alexander's earlier indecision was an insult to Napoleon. Napoleon used this as an excuse not to ratify the earlier convention on the future of Poland.

The most serious cause for tension was still the Continental System which was having a major impact on Alexander's tax income. In response an increasing number of neutral ships were allowed into Russian ports (opening a door for trade with Britain), and on 31 December 1810 the Tsar issued a ukase that placed heavy duties on all imported luxury goods, including those from France. This meant that Russia had effectively left the Continental System.

The relationship continued to suffer in 1811. At the start of the year Napoleon decided to annex Holland and the Hanse Towns in an attempt to close holes in the Continental System. This included the lands of the Duke of Oldenburg, the Tsar's brother-in-law, and inevitably increased tension.

In May 1811 the Swedes offered the reversion of their throne to Marshal Bernadotte. The Swedes hoped that this would improve their relationship with the French and protect them from the Russians. In contrast the Russians worried that this was part of a plot to surround Russia with French allies, from Sweden in the north, through the expanded Grand Duchy of Warsaw, to Austria, now tied to Napoleon through marriage and even on to Turkey and Persia. What the Russians didn&rsquot realise was that Napoleon didn't really trust Bernadotte, and was initially reluctant to agree to the move. Once Bernadotte was in Sweden he quickly realised that his new country's interests would be best served by an alliance with Russia and Britain

By this point Napoleon was convinced that Alexander was preparing to make war on France. Alexander consistently denied that he had any such plans, and this was probably the case.

By August 1811 Napoleon was convinced that war was inevitable, and on 15 August he made a bitter verbal assault on the Tsar at a diplomatic reception at the Tuileries. This was a deliberate act of provocation, but Alexander ignored it. This may have delayed the outbreak of war, but from the start of 1812 both sides began to prepare for the increasingly inevitable conflict.

Napoleon made the first move. On 27 January 1812 he issued a list of grievances to his German allies, claiming that the territory of the Confederation of the Rhine was endangered. He also ordered his brother Jerome, king of Westphalia, to mobilise his army by 15 February and asked the Austrians to provide 40,000 men and the Prussians 20,000. On 8 February Napoleon mobilised his own army and began to mass troops in northern Germany. He claimed that this was to block local holes in the Continental System, but nobody was fooled.

In March 1812 Napoleon annexed Swedish Pomerania, a move designed to protect his flanks during the upcoming war. This move finally pushed the Swedes into the Russian camp and in April Bernadotte adopted a position of friendly neutrality with Russia. In return the Tsar promised to support the return of Norway to Swedish control.

In the same month the Russians issued their own demands. Ambassador Kurakin in Paris delivered the ultimatum - Napoleon was to evacuate Prussia, compensate the duke of Oldenburg and create a neutral zone between France and Russia (in effect abandoning the Poles and his allies in Germany). If he did this then Alexander might agree to consider Napoleon's grievance and revive the Continental System. Unsurprisingly the French didn't accept these terms. The Russian position improved in May 1812 when the Peace of Bucharest ended a war between Russia and Turkey. When combined with the agreement with Sweden this meant that Russia no longer had to worry about her northern or southern borders and could concentrate her efforts against the French.

By May Napoleon was ready to join his armies. He left St Cloud on 9 May and one week later was in Dresden. Here he had one of his last meetings on equal terms with the crowned heads of Europe, spending two weeks with the Emperor of Austria, the King of Prussia and the Princes of the Confederation of the Rhine. Part of the time was spent planning the upcoming campaign and part socialising. Napoleon also sent one last envoy to Alexander at Vilna, mainly to convince his more reluctant allies that he wanted peace but was being forced into war.

By mid-May most of Napoleon's troops were massed between Danzig and Warsaw on the Vistula. On 26 May Imperial Headquarters issued orders for a general advance to the Niemen. The army moved with its three main units in echelon - the main army at the front, Prince Eugene in the middle, Jerome at the rear, and with MacDonald guarding the northern flank and Schwarzenberg the south. There was no military opposition to this advance, but the local Prussians were unfriendly, the terrain was difficult and the men were under orders not to use the twenty four days worth of supplies they were carrying. The army thus reached the Niemen tired.

On 29 May Napoleon left Dresden. On the following day the Army reached its concentration areas and was ready to cross the Niemen. Napoleon reached the Grand General Headquarters on 17 June at Insterburg, and then advanced towards Kovno along with Bethier and the staff. The stage was now set for the biggest gamble of Napoleon's career.

Napoleon's Preparations

Napoleon put a massive amount of effort into his plans for the invasion of Russia. He studied every available book on Russia, in particular those on Charles XII of Sweden's failed invasion of 1709. Napoleon decided that he would need 500,000 men in the front line with more men in the rear and a massive stockpile of supplies. This would be far too many men for him to control in a single army, and so he split his army into three, forming what would later be known as 'army groups'.

Preparations began in 1810 when Napoleon ordered extra supplies to be stored in his German and Polish fortresses, officially to guard against any danger of Russian aggression. In 1811 he cancelled or scaled down any preparations for campaigns in Britain or in the East. One blind spot was Spain, where the Peninsula War dragged on, requiring around 200,000 of his most experienced men.

Napoleon divided the first line of his massive army into three main 'army groups' and two flanking forces. In addition he had a second and third line of troops, partly to guard his rear and partkly to provide reinforcements for the main army.

Napoleon commanded the main army. This contained the Imperial Guard, three corps and two cavalry corps. The Guard was around 47,000 strong. Marshal Lefebvre commanded the Old Guard, Marshal Mortier the Young Guard and Marshal Bessières the Guard Cavalry.

Marshal Davout's I Corps was the largest formation, 72,000 strong. Marshal Oudinot led the 37,000 strong II Corps and Marshal Ney the 39,000 strong III Corps.

The cavalry was commanded by Marshal Murat, King of Naples, and was split into two cavalry corps. I Cavalry Corps (12,000) was led by General Nansouty, II Cavalry Corps (10,500) by General Montbrun. This gave Napoleon around 217,500 men under his direct command at the start of the operation, most of whom were French

Next came Prince Eugène de Beauharnais and the Army of Italy. This consisted of the Prince's own IV Corps (46,000 men, mainly French or Italian)), General Gouvion Saint-Cyr's VI Corps (25,000 Bavarians) and General Grouchy's III Cavalry Corps (10,000 men, mainly French). This gave Eugène around 81,000 men.

The final part of the first line was the Second Support (or Auxiliary) Army, commanded by Napoleon's brother Jérôme Bonaparte, king of Westphalia. Jerome had the most international force, with no French troops. He commanded VIII Corps (18,000 Westphalians), General Poniatowski's V Corps (36,000 Poles), General Reynier's VII Corps (17,000 Saxons) and General Latour-Maubourg's IV Cavalry Corps (8,000 Poles, Westphalians and Saxons), for a total of 79,000 men.

The flanks were protected by Marshal Macdonald on the left and the Austrian General Schwarzenberg on the right. Macdonald had X Corps (32,000 men, half of them Prussians, the rest a mix of Poles, Bavarians and Westphalians), while Schwarzenberg had the 34,000 strong Austrian Reserve Corps. Neither of these forces was entirely trustworthy, although they didn&rsquot turn on the French until the very end of the campaign.

Between them the three first line armies and flank guards contained over 400,000 men.

The second line contained around 165,000 men and was commanded by Marshal Victor. This included the 33,000 men of his own IX Corps, part of XI Corps and Polish, Lithuanian and German troops. This force was intended to act as a source of reinforcements for the first line.

The third line was responsible for defending the army's rear areas. It contained around 50,000-60,000 men commanded by Marshal Augereau. This included the rest of his own XI Corps, the garrisons of Danzig and the troops left on the Vistula.

In order to defend France Napoleon mobilised 80,000 men aged between 20 and 26 and formed them into 100 cohortes. There were also two regiments of the Young Guard, 24 line and 8 foreign battalions, eight squadrons of cavalry, 48 artillery batteries, 155 depot battalions and a number of National Guard and coast guard units.

The quality of this massive army was more varied than had been the case in Napoleon's earlier campaigns. Most of the senior commanders were good battlefield generals, but were less capable when given independent commands. Napoleon had tended to keep every formation under close control in earlier campaigns, but the vast expanses of Russia meant that this was no longer possible. He didn't help the situation by giving his inexperienced brother Jerome a key command.

Lower down the increase in size of the army and earlier losses had reduced the quality of the lower ranking commissioned troops while a large proportion of the troops were recent conscripts or inexperienced. However there was still a very experienced, very high quality core to the army and some elements of it would still be able to perform impressive feats towards the end of the disastrous retreat.

The cavalry was impressive on the battlefield, but less so off it, and suffered massive losses of horses from the moment it crossed the border. The same was true in the artillery and the lack of horses would play a major part in the horrors of the retreat from Moscow.

Normally Napoleon expected his army to live off the land, but he realised that this wouldn't be possible in Russia, and so put a great deal of effort into creating a suitable supply system. A series of supply magazines were created and vast amounts of food, weapons, ammunition and other supplies were gathered. This aspect of the campaign did work - Napoleon was never actually short of supplies during the campaign.

The same can't be said of the transport arrangements. Twenty six transport battalions were formed - four received 600 light carts capable of carrying 600kg, four got 600 heavy wagons capable of carrying 1,000kg and the rest got 252 four-animal wagons capable of carrying 1,500kg. The French also gathered vast herds of cattle and oxen with the intention that they would follow the armies. A total of 200,000 animals accompanied the army - 80,000 cavalry horses, 30,000 artillery horses and the rest in transport or supply units. The army began the campaign with around 25,000 wagons. Each solder was to cross the Niemen with 24 days worth of supplies - 4 in the backpack, 20 in wagons, but none of this was to be eaten before crossing into Russia.

The big problem was that the French were dramatically over-optimistic when it came to the speed with which their supply convoys could move. They were already behind schedule at the very start of the campaign and things never really got better. The wagons got bogged down on Russia's mud roads, the animal herds moved much slower than expected and the army moved far further east than anyone had planned. As a result the army itself ran short of supplies almost before they reached the Niemen. As the army retreated from Moscow it came across a series of fully stocked supply depots, but those supplies never got far enough east.

Napoleon's Plans

Napoleon's aim at the start of the Russian campaign was to win an overwhelming victory somewhere in western Russia as quickly as possible, ideally within the first twenty days of the campaign (although his supply preparations show that he was aware that this might not be possible). He hoped that Alexander would see reason once his armies had been destroyed and agree to fully implement the Continental System.

Russia's western borderlands were split by the Pripet Marshes. Napoleon had to decide which side of the marshes to operate - the northern side offered a quicker route to Moscow and would also allow him to threaten St Petersburg, while the southern route (via Kiev) offered better weather and more fertile country, but would take longer and eliminate any threat to St Petersburg. When Napoleon first formed his plans Barclay de Tolly's army was spread out between the marshes and the Courland Coast, while Bagration was south of the marshes.

Napoleon decided to attack in the north. His armies would form up on the Vistula in Poland, quietly advance to the Niemen and then advance towards Vilna. He hoped to split Barclay de Tolly's army in half, and prevent the two main Russian armies from uniting.

Napoleon's plan involved most of his armies. While he advanced on Vilna Schwarzenberg and Reynier would mount a feint in the south in the hope that it would distract Bagration. King Jerome had an important role in the plan - he was to advance east from Warsaw and prevent Bagration from moving north. Napoleon hoped that this would pin Bagration on the River Bug. After about twelve days Jerome was to retreat back towards Prince Eugene and Davout's I Corps on the right of the main army. By this point Napoleon would have 400,000 men behind Bagration's right wing, and would be able to turn south to trap the Russians around Grodno.

Napoleon considered three possible Russian reactions. They could retreat east to try and cover St Petersburg and Moscow. In that case Napoleon would be able advance east into the gap between the two Russian armies and defeat them one at a time. The second possibility was that Barclay de Tolly would abandon Vilna and move south to join Bagration, In this case Napoleon would struggle to prevent the two Russian armies from uniting but he would be able to trap them against the Pripet Marshes, and the Rivers Bug and Narew and force the major battle he required. Finally Barclay de Tolly might retreat east in front of Napoleon while Bagration attacked Warsaw. In this case Napoleon would lead his main army against Barclay de Tolly while the French flanking armies dealt with Bagration.

There were two big problems with this plan. The first was that Napoleon couldn't be everywhere at once. His subordinates lacked experience of independent command, and the distant parts of the operation rarely went as well as Napoleon had hoped. Jerome was especially poor and soon left the army. This problem was made worse by Napoleon's own performance with was sometimes rather lacklustre and lacking in energy - on more than one occasion he missed a fleeting chance to force a battle by pausing for a day.

The second problem was the plan assumed that the Russians would either attack west or at least stand and fight to protect the key cities of western Russia. When the Russians refused to fight Napoleon struggled to come up with an alternative, and his repeated attempts to trap them and force a battle only ended up dragging him ever-further east. Napoleon had hoped to win his major victory within twenty days, but the first significant fighting on the main front didn't come until 25 July, over a month into the campaign (and only involved a small Russian force).

Russian Preparations

In 1810 Barclay de Tolly was appointed as Minister of War and he began a process of much-needed reforms in the Russian army.

One of Barclay de Tolly's key reforms was to create army corps on the French model, at least in the First and Second Western Armies. Each corps contained two infantry divisions, a force of cavalry, two brigades of artillery and one battery of horse artillery. Each infantry division contained three brigades - two of line infantry and one of light infantry. Each brigade had two regiments, each of which had two battalions with the main army and one with the separate Supply Army. Each division thus had twelve battalions of infantry, each around 800 men strong. Most of the corps commanders and above were of good quality, as were most of the Guard and cavalry officers. Lower ranked infantry officers were regarded as fairly useless, while the soldiers themselves were well disciplined, well motivated and famously determined in the defence.

By 1812 the Russian infantry contained six regiments of guards, fourteen grenadier regiments, fifty light infantry and ninety six. The Guard regiments had three front battalions, the others had two front line battalions and a weaker depot battalion.

The cavalry consisted of 6 regiments of guards, 8 of cuirassiers and 36 of dragons in the line cavalry, 11 hussar and 5 uhlan regiments in the light cavalry and 15,000 Cossacks, soon doubled to 30,000. The estimated size of the Russian army in June 1812 was 409,000 regulars, 211,000 of them in the front line armies, 45,000 in the second line and 153,000 in garrisons and reserves.

At the start of the war Barclay de Tolly was the most important Russian commander. He was still Minister of War and also commander of the First Western Army. At the start of the war Alexander was present in person, but after he left Barclay became commander-in-chief because of his role as Minister of War. Barclay de Tolly's biggest problem was his family background - one of his ancestors was a Scot who had settled in Livonia in the Seventeenth Century and married into the local German aristocracy. Although the family had been in Russia for well over a century by 1812 Barclay de Tolly was still seen as a foreigner by many within the army and his policy of avoiding battle made him very unpopular.

The second most important officer at the start of the war was Prince Peter Bagration, a fiery Georgian prince who was command of the Second Western Army. He was brave but reckless and impatient and was far more popular than Barclay de Tolly. The two men frequently argued, but Bagration appears to have behaved loyally when Barclay de Tolly's position came under threat.

The Third Army was commanded by General Count Alexander Petrovich Tormazov, a very experienced but only moderately capable general.

During the retreat Barclay de Tolly was replaced as commander-in-chief by Field Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov, a very experienced commander whose performance during the 1812 campaign has always been rather controversial, with some crediting him for most of the Russian successes and others suggesting that he was almost entirely passive for most of the time.

The Cossacks were commandeered by Generam Matvei Ivanovich Platov, the Atman of the Don Cossacks. He was a brilliant and very popular light cavalry commander.

A less well regarded figure was General Karl Ludwig August von Pfuel, a member of the Prussian General Staff who had entered Russian service in 1807. He won Alexander's trust and was responsible for the initial plan for the defence of Russia - the retreat to the fortified camp at Drissa. Alexander realised the folly of his plan just in time and Pfuel's influence then faded away.

At the start of the campaign the Russians had three armies available and two more that had just been freed up by diplomatic triumphs.

In the north was Barclay de Tolly's 1st Western Army. This consisted of I Infantry Corps (Wittgenstein), II Infantry Corps (Baggovut), III Infantry Corps (Tuchkov I), IV Infantry Corps (Shuvalov), V Reserve (Guard) Corps (Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich), IV Infantry Corps (Dokhturov), I Cavalry Corps (Uvarov), II Cavalry Corps (Korf), II Cavalry Corps (Pahlen) and the Cossack Corps (Platov). Barclay de Tolly started with 120,000 men.

Further south was General Bagration's 2nd Western Army, consisting of VII Infantry Corps (Rayevsky), VIII Infantry Corps (Borozdin) and IV Cavalry Corps (Sievers), a total of 49,000 men.

To Bagration's south was the 3rd Reserve Army of General Tormasov, consisting of Kamenski I's Infantry Corps, Markov's Infantry Corps, Oster-Sacken's Infantry Corps and Lambert's Cavalry Corps, around 44,000 men. This army wasn't fully ready at the start of the war but soon came into action.

On the flanks there were two further armies. Admiral Chichagov's Army of the Danube was freed up by the peace treaty with the Ottoman Empire and played a part in the retreat from Moscow. In the north General Steingell's army in Finland was freed up by the alliance with Sweden.

Russian Plans

In the spring of 1812 the Russian armies were dangerously widely separated. Barclay de Tolly was based around Vilna, while Bagration was posted to the south of the Pripet Marshes, to guard the southern route towards Kiev and Moscow. This was part of a plan suggested by Pfuel, and based on the assumption that Napoleon would focus all of his efforts on one side of the marshes or the other. Whichever army was attacked was to retreat - Bagration to Kiev, Barclay de Tolly to the fortified camp at Drissa on the Dvina River, while the other army was to attack Napoleon's lines of communication. Work began in improving fortifications on the Dvina-Berezina-Dnieper line, with work at Riga on the Baltic, Dünaburg and Drissa on the Dvina, Borisov and Bobruisk on the Berezina and Kiev on the Dnieper. The was began before work on the Dünaburg or Borisov fortifications had really begun. The camp at Drissa was further advanced, but it was poorly designed and sited and was abandoned without a fight.

By June this plan appears to have been abandoned, or at least modified. Bagration had moved north, and his army was now spread out between Bialystok in the north and Volkovysk in the south, placing it to the west of the Pripet Marshes. His place to the south had been taken by General Tormasov's Third Army.

The Russians examined a wide range of options before the war began, including an offensive move into the Grand Duchy of Warsaw, defensive campaigns on the borders, or the retreat to the Dvina, Berezina and Dnieper. When the fighting finally began their main focus was on avoiding battle while their armies were divided, and this evolved into the strategy of training space for time, dragging Napoleon deep into Russia and only risking battle once his army had already been weakened. Even then the decision to stand and fight was only made after Barclay de Tolly had been replaced by Kutusov.

On 22 June 1812 Napoleon issued an Imperial Proclamation that officially marked the start of the war with Russia. Perhaps the most revealing element of this proclamation was that Napoleon called the upcoming conflict the 'Second Polish War', indicating that he expected to fight in western Russia and in particular in the areas only recently taken during the partitions of Poland. Napoleon also tried to blame the war on Russia's conduct, and made it clear that his aim was to eliminate Russian influence in Europe.

On the same day the first Polish cavalry patrols carefully approached the western bank of the Niemen, looking for Russians. Napoleon joined the Poles and then later in the day returned to the river dressed in a Polish hussars clock and forage cap and accompanied by General Haxo of the Engineers and made a more detailed examination of both banks of the river.

On 23 June the Reserve Cavalry, the Guard, Davout's corps and Oudinot's corps moved carefully up to the river, hiding in the forests of Vilkovischi. The only signs of the Russians were some Cossack patrols on the far bank of the river.

At 10pm on the evening of 23 June General Morand had three companies of light infantry cross the river in light boats to establish a bridgehead. General Eblé's bridging crews then began work and by dawn on 24 June three pontoon bridges had been completed. Morand's division and most of the reserve cavalry were the first to cross and most of the rest of the army crossed on 24-25 June. The only Russian resistance came from a Cossack patrol that fired three shots then withdrew.

Napoleon's biggest concern now was that his advance parties weren&rsquot running into Russian outposts. When contact was made it became clear that Barclay de Tolly was retreating east towards Vilna and Sventsiani, reach to move north-east towards the fortified camp at Drissa on the Dvina. Soon afterwards news arrived from the right flank - Napoleon had hoped that Bagration would advance west into the Grand Duchy of Warsaw but instead he was moving north towards Barclay de Tolly and the main army. It was clear that all of Napoleon's deception plans had failed, and the Russians were aware that the attack around Kovno was the main French effort.

Campaign in Western Russia

Attempt to Trap Bagration

The Russian movements still gave Napoleon a chance for a quick victory. Both of the Russian armies were moving north-east - Barclay de Tolly towards Drissa and Bagration towards Vilna. If Napoleon could move fast enough then he could get his main army between the two Russian forces and defeat them individually.

Napoleon's plan involved all three of his first line armies. The main army was to capture Vilna and form the barrier between the two Russian armies. Prince Eugune was to move to Kovno to guard the flanks and rear of the main army. Jerome was to advance east from his starting point near Warsaw and attack Bagration, pinning him in place and making it difficult for the Russians to slip away to the east.

Even though the campaign had only just begun, Eugune was already two days behind schedule, slowed down by his massive supply convoys. As a result Napoleon had to slow down Murat's cavalry, which was approaching Vilna, and keep Davout on the Niemen until Eugene arrived. Just as serious was Jerome's slow progress on the right.

Elsewhere Oudinot captured Kovno and headed north-east towards Keidany, where he hoped to catch Wittgenstein's two divisions. He was supported by Macdonald's flanking force, which was moving north-east from Tilsit, and by Ney's III Corps on his right.

On 27 June the French captured a Russian dispatch that stated that the Tsar and the First Army were at Vilna, and identified Vilna as the planned meeting place with Bagration. Eugune had finally crossed the Niemen, and so Napoleon decided to concentrate his main army and attempt to force a battle at Vilna. On 28 June the French advanced on Vilna with Murat in the lead, confidently expecting a battle. Instead the Russians fired off some artillery, burnt their stores, destroyed the bridge over the River Vilia and retreated. Vilna fell without a battle.

Although the main Russian army had eluded him Napoleon still had a chance to catch Bagration while he was isolated. Barclay de Tolly was still retreating north-east towards Drissa, while Bagration was somewhere to the south of Vilna. Napoleon was still between the two Russian armies, but the opportunity would be fleeting - the lead elements of Bagration's army had been reported at Ochmiana, south-east of Vilna.

Napoleon's new plan very nearly succeeded. Count Lobau was given command of a temporary corps that consisted of Friant's and Gudin's divisions. Lobau and Murat would follow Barclay de Tolley north-east from Vilna towards Sventsiani, supported by Oudinot on the left and Ney in the rear. Davout's corps, with Morand's 1st Infantry Division, was to advance up the Vilia and capture the bridge at Mikhalichki, blocking Bagration's best route across the river. Napoleon remained at Vilna with Dessaix's and Claparede's divisions. Eugene was to advance to Vilna. Finally Jerome was to advance rapidly east from Grodna towards Ochmiana. His task was to press Bagration hard and prevent him from escaping to the east. At this stage Napoleon wasn't entire sure where Bagration actually was, so he had to spread his net fairly wide.

On 1 July the French finally got firm news of Bagration, placing him somewhere on the road from Grodna to Vilna. Napoleon produced a new plan. The expectation was that the Russians would be found heading east, somewhere to the south of the French position. Davout was given an enlarged force, which was split into three columns. The left hand column, under General Nansouty, with Morand's infantry and four brigades of cavalry, would cut off the Russian advance guard. The right hand column, under General Grouchy with Dessaix's infantry, would attack the Russian rear. Davout would command in the centre with Compans' and Pajol's infantry, a division of cuirassiers and the lancers of the guard. Jerome was to press east towards Ochmiana to prevent Bagration from escaping. The attack would begin once Eugene had reached Vilna.

This plan quickly fell apart. On 2 July General Rouguet, part of Eugene's army, reported the presence of a large Russian army was about to attack the left flank of the Army of Italy. Eugene spent the entire day at Piloni on the Niemen before it became clear that this was a false report. The lead elements of VI Corps from Eugene's army finally reached Vilna on 3 July and Napoleon ordered Davout to begin his attack. On the same day Jerome's main force was still at Grodno on the Niemen, although his cavalry had reached Ochmiana, where it found a small Russian detachment but no sign of Bagration. The Russians had moved south-east and were heading for Minsk. Jerome sent this news to Napoleon, but it didn&rsquot arrive until 5 July.

On 4 July Napoleon must have believed that he was about to get his battle. Eugene finally reached Vilna, and so Claparede was sent to join Davout. Bagration's 45,000 men were now facing 110,000 French and allied troops, threatening him from the west, north and north-east. On 5 July Jerome's dispatch finally reached Napoleon, who was understandably furious with his brother. Napoleon sent a stinging rebuke to Jerome, who resigned in command and left the army on 14 July. Bagration was already aware of the danger, and was now moving south, towards Nesvizh (south-east of Grodno). The Russians rested for 72 hours at Nesvizh and then moved east towards Bobruisk.

Napoleon responded to the news from Jerome by sending Davout to Minsk in the belief that the Russians were still heading that way. Davout reached Minsk on 8 July, and only now did it become clear that Bagration was much further south. The chance to trap Bagration between several French armies and the Pripit Marshes was now gone. Bagration was already south-east of Davout, on the left of the French trap, and as long as he didn't make any mistakes could safely retreat east.

Manoeuvre on Vitebsk

Napoleon now turned his attention to Barclay de Tolly's First Western Army, last seen retreated towards Drissa. Napoleon didn't want to attack the Russians in their fortified camps and so decided to outflank them and either trap them in the camps or force them to abandon them and fight in the open. Murat's cavalry, with Oudinot's and Ney's forces in support, was nearest to Drissa, having followed Barclay de Tolly's retreat. Eugune and the Guard were sent east from Vilna towards Gloubokoie. The main army would cross the Dvina somewhere to the east of Drissa, and get behind the Russian positions, forcing them to either stand and fight or retreat north towards St. Petersburg. This would expand the gap between the two Russian armies and once against allow the French to deal with them one by one.

This plan was disrupted on 16 July when Murat reported some signs of a possible Russian advance. Napoleon recalled the Guard and VI Corps and headed north-east from Vilna to Sventsiani, but by 17 July it was clear that this had been a false alarm. Napoleon moved east and was at Gloubokoie on 18 July. On the following day Murat reported that the Russians had abandoned the camp at Drissa. When the Russian armies finally reached the much-vaunted camp it became clear very quickly that it was indefensible. The Tsar decided to abandon the position and retreat further east. The target was Vitebsk, about 100 miles to the east of Drissa. Barclay de Tolly hoped that Bagration would be able to join him and at one point seriously considered fighting a major battle at Vitebsk.

Napoleon realised that the Russians were heading east, but his initial instinct was that they were heading for Polotsk, about half way between Dissa and Vitebsk. He ordered his army to concentrate at Kamen, south of Polotsk, ready for a battle. On 21 July Napoleon realised that he had misjudged the Russian move, and ordered his troops to move east from Kamen to Biechenkowski, on the south bank of the Dvina.

The first significant battle of the invasion finally came on 23 July 1812 at Mohilev (or Mogilev) on the Dnieper. Davout had captured the town a few days earlier and on 23 July Bagration's men attacked the French in an attempt to recapture the town and open the road north towards Vitebsk. Davout's men had the best of the fighting and forced Bagration to cross the Berezina further south and continue with his journey east. Ironically this French victory played a part in denying Napoleon his battle.

During the night of 24-25 July the French began to move along the left bank of the Dvina, heading for Barclay de Tolly at Vitebsk. The main army finally fought its first significant battle on 25-26 July at Ostronovo, and by the end of 26 July the French were in position to attack. At this stage Napoleon made one of his most serious mistakes of the entire campaign and decided to wait for a day to allow reinforcements to arrive. He was assuming that Barclay de Tolly had decided to stand and fight, but by now the news of Mogilev had reached Vitebsk. Barclay de Tolly realised that this meant that Bagration could not longer join him at Vitebsk and he decided to retreat to Smolensk. When the French finally advanced on the morning of 28 July they discovered that the Russians had gone.

This ended the first stage of the campaign. Napoleon had been unable to force the Russians to stand and fight and his armies hadn&rsquot been able to move quick enough to keep the Russians divided. Although there had been relatively little combat the French were already missing around 100,000 men (mainly stragglers or sick), and the supplies were falling further behind. Napoleon decide to pause at Vitebsk to give his infantry time to rest and allow his supplies to catch up.

Napoleon entered Vitebsk on 28 November, and it would be his base for the next two weeks. Davout was ordered to move closer to the main army, and he advanced north up the Dnieper to Orsha.

There was still some activity on the flanks. On 27 July part of Reynier's corps was defeated by Tormasov's 3rd Army at Kobryn. Schwarzenberg's Austrians had to be moved up to help Reynier, and the combined force won a victory at Gorodechnya on 12 August, but this created gaps on Napoleon's right.

In the north Oudinot's efforts against General Wittgenstein had ended in failure. Instead of pushing the Russians back towards St Petersburg Oudinot was himself forced back to Polotsk. On 15 August he was joined by St. Cyr's corps of Bavarians, and the combined force fought a two day battle at Polotsk (17-18 August 1812). The Russians had the best of the first day and Oudinot was wounded. St. Cyr took over and late on 18 August launched a successful counterattack that forced Wittgenstein to retreat. St. Cyr was promoted to Marshal as a reward for his efforts. August also saw the start of the long (and eventually unsuccessful) siege of Riga, which dragged on into December. Elsewhere Marshal Victor was given command of Jerome's VIII Corps.

By early August the French were already very stretched. Their main front line had doubled in length and was now around 500 miles long. There had been no major battle, and the Russians had been able to unite their two main armies at Smolensk on 4 August.

Manoeuvre of Smolensk

At first Napoleon decided to end the campaign of 1812 at Vitebsk and take up a defensive position along the Dnieper and Dvina. He would spend the time organising Poland and gathering reinforcements, and would renew the war in the spring of 1813. Most of his generals supported this idea, although Murat argued strongly in favour of continuing the campaign until a victory had been won. Over the next couple of weeks Napoleon's resolve wavered. According to Ségur this was the point at which Napoleon began to consider advancing to Moscow, initially as the plan for 1813 but soon as the immediate objective for the rest of 1812. He was clearly aware that his generals wouldn't support such a dramatic move, and even his plans for an advance on Smolensk were opposed, but eventually he had his way. The scene was now set for the Manoeuvre of Smolensk, often considered to be one of Napoleon's most impressive plans.

Napoleon planned to form his men into a bataillon carré of nearly 200,000 men. The Dnieper flows west from Smolensk to Orsha, where it turns south and flows towards Mogilev (and eventually Kiev). Napoleon decided to form his army into two columns. The right-hand column, under Marshal Davout (I, V and VIII Corps) would cross the Dnieper at Orsha. The left-hand column, led by Napoleon in person (the Guard, III Corps, the Army of Italy and Murat's cavalry) would cross the river a little further east at Rosasna. Latour-Maubourg's Corps of Reserve Cavalry would make a diversionary attack further south along the Dnieper. The two main columns would turn left and advance east along the south bank of the Dnieper. They would cut the roads between Smolensk and Moscow and force Barclay de Tolly to fight on Napoleon's terms.

The Russians were also trying to decide what to do next. Barclay de Tolly and Bagration had finally united their armies at Smolensk on 4 August, but although their initial meeting went well the relationship between the two men was poor. Most Russian officers opposed Barclay de Tolly's policy of avoiding battle and used his Livonian-Scottish ancestry against him. At the start of August the Russians were still outnumbered, with around 125,000 to face Napoleon's 185,000, but the French were more stretched out, with V and VIII Corps to the south near Orsha, VI Corps, IV Corps and the Guard near Biechenkowski in the north and I, III Corps and the cavalry between them. The Russians held a council of war on 6 August, and after coming under pressure from the Tsar Barclay de Tolly decided to launch an offensive. A Russian force of 100,000 infantry, 18,000 cavalry and 650 guns was sent west from Smolensk.

On 7 August the Russian advance began. They moved west in three columns in the gap between the Dnieper and the Dvina, heading towards the new left flank of the French army as it prepared to head south towards the Dnieper. The offensive quickly broke down. On 8 August Barclay de Tolly received a false report of a French advance towards Porechye, north of Smolensk. He decided to abandon the move west and instead turned to the north-west and advanced slowly in that direction. The new orders didn't reach General Platov, and on the same day his Cossacks defeated Sebastiani's cavalry at Inkovo, west/ north-west of Smolensk.

The news of this battle triggered very different responses in the two commanders. Barclay de Tolly feared that it would trigger a major French attack that would overwhelm his army, and in response the Russian advance stopped. Napoleon hoped that the Russian advance would lead to the long-desired battle. He ordered his men to concentrate at Lyosno (north-west of Inkovo). By 10 August it was clear that the Russian advance had stalled and the French turned back south and resumed the manoeuvre on Smolensk.

On 13 August Barclay de Tolly resumed his advance, but the new offensive lasted less than a day and stopped east of Rudnia, west of Inkovo, but still some way to the east of the French. Napoleon's move south was successfully shielded by Murat's cavalry, and although Bagration correctly guessed that the main French attack would come on the Russian left he had no evidence to support that.

As Barclay de Tolly cautiously advanced towards Rudnia the French reached the Dnieper. Napoleon left Vitebsk to jouin the army, and on the night of 13-14 August Eblé's engineers built four pontoon bridges across the Dnieper. By dawn on 14 August 175,000 men had crossed the river and the advance east began.

By 2pm the leading French troops had run into the outposts of General Neverovsky's division, which had been posted south-west of Smolensk at Krasnyi to guard against a possible French attack. Neverovsky's men were soon outnumbered, but the French attack was badly coordinated by Murat and the Russians were able to retreat safely east, holding up the French advance (first battle of Krasnyi). Without Neverovsky's determined defence the French cavalry might have reached Smolensk late on 14 August while the city was only weakly defended.

Although the original plan for the manoeuvre is reasoned to be one of Napoleon's masterpieces, from now on his implementation of the plan was very poor. The younger Napoleon would have taken command at Krasnyi, and would almost certainly have performed better than Murat. Not only did the older Napoleon remain away from the front, he now decided to pause for a day to allow his troops to regroup. The French were thus largely inactive on 15 August, although they did celebrate Napoleon's 43rd birthday with a review of the army.

The Russians were more active. Both Barclay de Tolly and Bagration were informed of the French move early on 15 August and began to move back towards the city. Barclay de Tolly ordered General Rayevsky to move his division into the city, and the first Russian reinforcements arrived early on 15 August.

Napoleon now made his third mistake of the operation. Most of the Russian army was still north-west of Smolensk, and the French could have bypassed the city, advanced further east and cut the roads to Moscow. Instead Napoleon decided to launch a series of frontal assaults on Smolensk (16-17 August 1812). This was a costly failure, but the Russians were still worried about the road to Moscow, and so on the night of 17-18 August they evacuated Smolensk. Napoleon was given one more chance when the two Russian armies became separated. Junot nearly got between the two Russian forces, but moved too slowly, while a French attack on the Russian rearguard at Valutino (19 August) failed.

The fall of Smolensk without a major battle caused problems for both sides. Ever since the start of the campaign Barclay de Tolly's authority had been under attack by 'Old Russians' in the army. They saw his as a foreigner and thus not fully committed to the defence of Russia, and objected to his policy of avoiding battle. On 20 August the Tsar finally decided to place Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov in overall command of the armies, with clear instructions to stand and fight somewhere between Smolensk and Moscow. It took a few days for Kutuzov to reach the army, and Barclay de Tolly actually picked out a battlefield for a stand himself. When Kutuzov arrived he dismissed this choice and the retreat continued for a few more days before the Borodino position was chosen.

On the French side Napoleon had failed to bring the Russians to battle. He had captured one of Russia's Holy Cities, but that hadn't convinced the Tsar to enter negotiations. Napoleon now had to decide what to do next. He had two main options. The first was to overwinter at Smolensk. The Grande Armée would be closer to friendly territory in Poland and its supply lines and lines of communication would be more secure. Napoleon could have used the time at Smolensk to undo the damage suffered in the first part of the campaign, raise fresh troops in Poland and perhaps even restore the Kingdom of Poland, before resuming the campaign in the spring of 1813 with an advance on Moscow or St. Petersburg. On the downside the six month delay would leave Napoleon isolated from his government in Paris. It would give the Tsar time to raise fresh troops of his own and bring the experienced troops from the Finnish and Moldavian armies into the field. The Russians could also attack the extended French lines of communication. The pause would also have been portrayed as a French defeat that might have encouraged Austria and Prussia to change sides, leaving Napoleon dangerously isolated in Russia.

The second option was to advance towards Moscow, another 280 miles to the east, in the hope that the Tsar would be forced to make a stand to defend the city. If Napoleon could win a major victory this might convince the Russians to begin negotiations, and it offered the best chance of a quick victory. Napoleon had partly judged the Russian mode correctly - they did indeed make a stand - but by then he was so far into Russia that he didn't dare commit his full forces in the battle and the chance for a major victory slipped away. The biggest problem with an advance on Moscow was that there was no plan 'B' for if the Tsar didn't enter into negotiations.

On 24 August Napoleon decided to advance on Moscow. The army began to move on 25 August, in three columns so that it could deploy and fight quickly if the Russians did make a stand. Prince Eugene led on the left, Prince Poniatowski on the right and Marshal Murat in the centre, with the Guard, I Corps and III Corps in the second line.

30 August was so wet that Napoleon announced he would return to Smolensk if the rain continued, but 31 August was dry and so the fateful march continued. By 4 September the French were at Gridnevo, and on 5 September they finally found the Russians drawn up ready to offer battle at Borodino. The fighting began that day when the French attacked a Russian outpost somewhat to the west of their main line (battle of Shevardino). The Russians were forced to abandon this position and withdrew to the lines they would hold at the start of the battle.

Napoleon finally got his battle on 7 September. The battle of Borodino was not one of Napoleon's best. Contemporary reports show that he was listless and inactive during the day. The Russian position had a weak left flank, but Napoleon refused to consider a major outflanking movement and insisted instead on a series of frontal assaults on the strongest part of the Russian lines. By the end of the battle the Russians had been forced out of all of their original positions in the centre and left of the line and the French had captured the fortifications of the Grand Redoubt and the Bagration fleches. The Russian army had lost around 45,000-50,000 men, probably more than a third of the original army, but the survivors had retreated in good order. French losses were probably around 35,000 men on 5-7 September, more than a quarter of the troops involved.

After Borodino the road to Moscow was effectively clear. Kutuzov fought a number of rearguard actions, but at a council of war on 13 September the Russians decided to abandon the city. For most of 14 September the Russian army passed through the city, and later in the day the first French troops arrived. Inevitably Murat was one of the first French officers to enter the city, late on 14 September. Napoleon followed on 15 September and took up quarters in the Kremlin. The French army had shrunk dramatically in the last month. At Smolensk Napoleon had around 156,000 with him, by the time he reached Moscow the number was down to around 95,000. This was partly due to Borodino, but also down to the need to leave garrisons along the road west.

The occupation of Moscow began with a disaster. On the evening of 15 September the first fires broke out. The Russians had removed all fire fighting equipment from the city, and although the French managed to control some of the fires they were unable to put them all out. The fires linked up and large parts of the city caught fire. Napoleon had to flee from the Kremlin and watched the fire from a hill outside the city. At the time Napoleon refused to believe that the Russians had burnt down their own city, but there is plenty of evidence connecting the fires to the actions of the civil governor of the city, Count Rostopchin. There were far too many fires and too many fire starters for it to have been a random act.

About a quarter of the city survived the flames, as did most of the food remaining in Moscow, much of which was stored in cellars that weren't touched by the flames. If more of the city had been destroyed then Napoleon might not have been tempted to stay for quite so long, but as it was the French troops within the city managed to live in relative comfort.

Once he was settled in Moscow Napoleon attempted to enter negotiations with the Tsar. Alexander remained at St. Petersburg, so any messenger took two weeks to make the round trip. Napoleon wrote a first letter to the Tsar on 20 November to tell him of the fires and inform him that the French had not been responsible. The Tasr didn't reply. At first Kutuzov did enter into communications with the French, and he made sure that his men outside Moscow were friendly, fraternizing with their French opponents and lulling them into a false sense of security.

The French were already beginning to feel rather exposed at Moscow. On 24 September a force of Russian cavalry and Cossacks cut the road west near Mokaisk. Napoleon sent a force of chasseurs and Dragoons of the Guard to open the road, but they were captured in an ambush. General St. Sulpice was sent out to clear the blockage, but despite his success the earlier Russians victories helped reduce the general morale of the French troops in Moscow.

On 5 October an official Imperial Delegation was sent to negotiate an armistice with Kutuzov and a permanent peace with the Tsar. Kutuzov received them with all civility, and encouraged the impressive that the Russian soldiers wanted peace. At the same time he refused to allow the French envoys to move on to St. Petersburg and instead had his own couriers take their letter to the Tsar, along with one of his own advising the Tsar not to enter negotiations. The delegates returned to Moscow empty handed.

On 14 October Napoleon sent a second mission. This also failed, and soon afterwards the Tsar officially banned all of his generals from receiving any communications from the French HQ. Napoleon finally began to realise that the Tsar wasn't going to enter into negotiations.

Napoleon was now in a very dangerous position. The invasion of Russian had already been a costly disaster - of the 600,000 men who started the invasion only just over 200,000 were still with the colours. Two thirds of the army had already been lost even before the start of the famous retreat from Moscow.

Napoleon's troops were spread out along the edges of a narrow wedge of occupied territory ending at Moscow. Napoleon had 95,000 with him at Moscow and another 5,000 in VIII Corps near Borodino. Kutuzov now had around 110,000 men near Moscow.

Oudinot and St. Cyr had 17,000 men near Poltosk, guarding the northern flank of the army. They were faced by General Wittgenstein with around 40,000 men.

Marshal MacDonald had another 25,000 men on the far northern flank (including a number of Prussians of uncertain reliability). His tasks were to control the River Dvina as far as Dünaburg (an 80 mile long stretch) and besiege Riga, where the Russians had around 24,000 men under Generals Essen and Steinheil.

In the south Schwarzenberg and Reynier had 34,000 men to face Admiral Chichagov and General Tormassov's 65,000. On this flank the Russians failed to cooperate successfully and Schwarzenberg and Reynier would be able to escape from their dangerous position, although this would expose the southern flank of the retreating Grande Armée.

The French also had the 37,000 men of IX Corps (under Marshal Victor) around Smolensk, defending the long and vulnerable lines of communications against Cossack raids, 26,000 conscripts at Stettin and 10,000 men near Konigsberg.

Napoleon had several options available to him in early October (Chandler gives six in his study of Napoleon's campaigns). He could have chosen to over-winter in Moscow. This was just about logistically possible - the French had captured plenty of supplies in the Russian capital - but it would have left the army even more isolated than at Smolensk. Napoleon had bad memories of the winter campaign of Eylau of 1806-7 and didn't want to risk a repeat.

The second option was to move south to Kiev. This would have placed the army in more fertile un-ravaged lands, where the French would have found supplies and suffered much less from the winter. They might also have found Ukrainian allies. However this would have been a move away from the centre of Russian power, would have been seen as a retreat, and would have required a major battle to force Kutuzov out of the way.

Third was to retreat to Smolensk, moving south-west from Moscow to reach fresh areas before turning west. This would also have risked a battle with Kutuzov, but would have avoided the band of devastated territory along the original line of advance.

Fourth was an attack on St. Petersburg. Realistically it was far too late in the year to start such a major campaign with a weakened army, but Kutuzov had moved to the south of Moscow, so the French could have got a head start on him. Even the capture of St. Petersburg might not have resulted in a Russian capitulation.

Fifth the French could have moved north-west to the Velikye-Luki area. They would still have been able to threaten St. Petersburg, and it would have shortened the lines of communications, but made it harder to supply the army.

The sixth option was to retreat back towards Smolensk along the original route, which was at least still in French hands. The French could then pull back to Poland if required. This had two big disadvantages - everyone would see it as a retreat (even more than the move on Kiev). The Prussians and Austrians would be even more likely to change sides (as indeed they did, although not until very close to the end of the retreat). Matthieu Dumas, chief commissary of the army, calculated that it would take 50 days to reach the Niemen, and with the area already laid waste supplies would have to be provided for much of the trip. There were supply depots along the way, but they would never quite live up to expectations - some were lost to the Russians, others contained less food than expected but by far the biggest problem was the collapse of discipline that meant that most of the supplies were looted and then consumed almost immediately.

On 17 October the second delegation returned from the Tsar with no message. Napoleon decided to adopt the third plan, moving south-west from Moscow to enter fresh territory before heading back towards Smolensk. This could be portrayed as a continuation of the attack on Russia rather than a retreat, bringing the war to untouched areas. On 18 October the corps commanders were ordered to be ready to leave Moscow on the 20th. At this point Kutuzov finally decided to attack the French cavalry screen outside Moscow. Marshal Murat was so used to the peaceful conditions outside the city that he was caught almost entirely by surprise. The resulting battle of Vinkovo or Tarutino (18 October 1812) ended as a narrow French victory after the Russians failed to take advantage of their initial successes, but it did convince Napoleon to begin the retreat one day earlier. On 19 October, after 35 days in the city, the French began to leave Moscow.

The Retreat from Moscow

Napoleon left Moscow at the head of 95,000 men, with 500 cannons and an uncertain number of wagons (estimates range from 4,000 up to 40,000, with around 20,000 perhaps most likely). The wagon train included the Imperial HQ, the pontoon train, thousands of wagons filled with food and just as many filled with the loot of Moscow.

Napoleon made several attempts to hide his intentions. He sent a third set of envoys to the Tsar. He also told his own troops that he was intending to attack Kutuzov's left wing. He hoped that this news would leak to the Russians who would slip east to avoid a battle. Marshal Mortier was left in Moscow with orders to wait until 23 October, then blow up the Kremlin and advance west, forming a link between Napoleon on the southern road and Junot's corps at Borodino.

Napoleon headed down the old road to Kaluga. This was the western of the two roads, and the Russians were already on the eastern 'new' road. News of the French retreat didn&rsquot reach Kutuzov until 22 October, and he responded by ordered General Dokhturov's corps to move from Tarutino to Malojaroslavetz, a town on the old road. This was a key road junction - if Napoleon could occupy the town then he had a choice of two routes - south to Kaluga or west to Medyn. On the evening of 23 October General Delzons, at the head of Prince Eugene's IV Corps, reached Malojaroslavetz. He took the town but was unable to hold onto it was and was forced to retreat to the Lusha River. On 24 October Prince Eugene launched a series of attacks across the river (battle of Malojaorslavetz). Eventually the Russians retreated to the ridges south of the town, but the French decided not to risk crossing the river in force.

On 25 October Napoleon scouted south of the river in person, and was very nearly captured by Cossacks. After that he held a council of war at which he decided to abandon the Kaluga route. Instead the army was ordered to turn back and move north to Mojaisk, on the road from Borodino to Moscow.

This was one of the worst decisions of the campaign. After the battle of Malojaroslavetz Kutuzov had decided to pull back if the French attempted to advance, so the road to Kaluga was actually open. By turning back Napoleon wasted the week that the army had spent moving south and the time required to move back north.

Looking further ahead the lost week forced the French to fight a major battle to cross the Berezina - the Russian southern army under Admiral Chichagov only just reached the river ahead of Napoleon, so without that delay the army would simply have been able to cross the intact Berezina bridge at Borisov, avoiding around 20,000 casualties and making it possible for at least the core of the army to escape from Russian intact.

The Retreat from Moscow and Destruction of the Grand Armée

Huge numbers of men have already been lost by this point, but it is the retreat that is remembered - this is where the discipline of large parts of the army collapsed, food ran out, and eventually winter hit and snow and intense frosts killed many more. The first nasty experience came soon after the army changed route, when it was forced to cross the battlefield of Borodino, still covered in unburied corpses and the wreckage of military equipment.

The army now became dangerously stretched out. On 31 October Napoleon reached Viasma, where he rested on 1 November while he caught up with dispatches from his other armies. Napoleon moved off on 2 November, and on the following day reached Slavkovo. The rest of the army was stretched out between there and Fiedovoisky (five miles east of Viasma). On 3 November the Russians made one of their rare large scale attacks on the retreating French columns (battle of Fiedovoisky or Viazma, 3 November 1812). Davout's rearguard came under most pressure and had to be rescued by Prince Eugene, and then by Ney. Davout's corps had been once of the best in the army, but after this battle it collapsed into a virtual rabble. The same was happening across the army, with the number of combatants falling every day and the number of stragglers rising all the time.

Napoleon also had worries on both flanks. In the north Wittgenstein was pressuring St. Cyr and Victor (II and IV Corps), and on 7 November he captured Vitebsk, defeating Victor. In the south Admiral Chichagov was pressuring Schwarzenberg and Reynier. The fall of Vitebesk removed one of Napoleon's possible routes of retreat and forced him towards Smolensk and then Orsha. After that he hoped to reach the supply depot at Minsk.

On 9 November Napoleon reached the first of his major supply depots, at Smolensk. He had hoped to find enough food there to solve his supply problems, but instead he discovered that the stocks had been reduced by the rear echelon troops who were retreating ahead of the army. Worse was to come when discipline broke down and the army looted the city. Two weeks worth of food was used up in three days. On the same day Napoleon also suffered the loss of Baraguey d'Hillier's division of fresh troops. On the morning of 9 September they ran into a Russian ambush and after the lead brigade was destroyed the rest of the division was forced to surrender.

By 13 November the army had concentrated around Smolensk. By now the army was already down to 41,500 effectives, so had lost more than half of its strength since leaving Moscow. The Guard was the strongest unit, with 14,000 men. Davout had 10,000, Eugene 5,000, V Corps and VIII Corps between them only 1,500 while Ney's rearguard had been reduced from 11,000 to 3,000. The army was accompanied by tens of thousands of stragglers. Elsewhere Victor won a tactical victory over Wittgenstein at Smolyan near Polotsk, but Victor was still forced to pull back.

It took six days for the army to leave Smolensk - the advance guard set off on 12 November and Ney's rearguard (reinforced to 6,000 men) left on 17 November. This long delay was caused by Napoleon's decision to have each corps leave on a separate day in an attempt to restore some order to the army. Instead it left the army vulnerable to attack.

The second major attack on the column came as the army passed Krasnyi (second battle of Krasnyi, 15-18 November 1812). Once again the Russians were able to get into the gaps in the column, and came close to cutting off Eugene's VI Corps. Napoleon was finally forced to commit the Guard to clear his way, and by the end of the battle it looked as if Ney's rearguard had been lost. Napoleon was forced to make a dash for the Dnieper in order to prevent a Russian army under General Tormassov from capturing the river crossings.

Worse news came on 18 November. Schwarzenberg had been forced to move south-west to rescue Reynier's VII Corps, and this had created a gap that Chichagov used to capture Minsk. This had two effects - first, the French lost two million rations that were stored in the city, and second it meant that there was a real chance that they would be trapped on the River Berezina, one of the last major natural barriers before the western borders of Russia.

Napoleon realised that speed was now vital, and he ordered half of the wagon train to be destroyed. The bridging train was destroyed, possibly by mistake or possibly because its heavy wagons used hundreds of horses and at this stage Napoleon believed that the crucial bridge at Borisov on the Berezina was safe.

On 20 November the army began to leave Orsha. On the same day General Dombrowski was ordered to hold the Borisov bridgehead at all cost, Oudinot was ordered to rush to the town to reinforce Dombrowksi or retake the town if needed. Victor was to form a defensive line north of the town.

On 21 November the army had some good news. Ney had not after all been lost - instead he had cut off and after a series of extraordinary adventures, in which he lost all but 900 of the 6,000 men he had commanded on 17 November. The survivors had crossed the frozen Dnieper, and finally managed to reach Napoleon. On the same day there was bad news from the west - Chichagov's troops had attacked Dombrowski and had captured the bridgehead and town of Borisov. The French were now trapped east of the river.

The battle of the Berezina (21-29 November 1812) is widely considered to have been Napoleon's most impressive achievement during the 1812 campaign. He recovered the energy that had been missing earlier, and for a few crucial days was back on form. On 22 November he ordered half of the remaining wagons should be destroyed. A 'sacred band' of 500 officers who had managed to keep their horses was formed, while 1,800 dismounted cavalry of the guard were formed into two infantry battalions. Ségur also claimed that Napoleon had the eagles burnt to make sure that they couldn't fall into Russian hands, but this story was later attacked by other writers.

The fighting on the Berezina was the culmination of the 'St. Petersburg Plan'. This called for the complete destruction of the French army and the capture of Napoleon. The aim was for Wittgenstein and Chichagov to drive in the flanking armies while Kutuzov pressed the main French column from the rear. Kutuzov doesn't appear to have been keen on this plan, and may even have wanted a weakened Napoleon to escape from Russia (although it is more likely that he didn&rsquot want to risk a battle when the Russian winter was doing such a good job of destroying the French army).

On 23 November Oudinot defeated Chichagov east of Borisov (on the plains of Loshnitsa). He then recaptured Borisov but was unable to prevent the Russians from destroying the crucial bridge. Normally the Berezina would have been frozen in late November, but a sudden thaw on 20 November meant that it was an unusually difficult barrier, cold, fast flowing, with large blocks of ice being swept along and wide muddy floodplains on either side of the river. Napoleon now had a stroke of luck. General Corbineau, who had been detached for service in the north, was returning to Oudinot's corps. He ended up on the west bank of the Berezina, where some Polish troops in his division found a ford opposite the village of Studienka, eight miles north of Borisov. This news reached Napoleon on 24 November.

Napoleon put in place a deception plan in the hope that Chichagov would be tricked into moving his army south. The Admiral also received orders from Kutuzov that suggested Napoleon would be heading that way, and he moved the bulk of his men well to the south of Borisov. On the night of 25-26 November General Eblé's engineers began work on two pontoon bridges.

The first bridge was ready by 1pm on 26 November. Oudinot and Dombrowski were first to cross, and formed a flank guard to the south of the bridge. The second bridge was ready by 3pm and the artillery began to cross. The two bridges needed constant repairs - only forty of the engineers survived the campaign, and Eblé himself died a few weeks later.

For most of the battle Chichagov had to fight alone. Wittgenstein arrived in time to take part in the fighting on 28 November, but only the advance guard of Kutuzov's army reached the area. Napoleon was only really outnumbered on 28 November, but his escape was still an impressive achievement. The hardest day's fighting came on 28 November. On this day Wittgenstein attacked Victor east of the river while Chichagov attacked Oudinot to the west. Both of these battles were hard-fought, but in both cases the French were able to hold off their enemies. The last French troops were across the river by 1pm on 29 November. Thousands of stragglers then missed a chance to cross the river, and many were killed in a panic after the bridges were finally set on fire to deny then to the Russians.

The battle of the Berezina cost the French two-thirds of the troops that began the battle. Napoleon now had around 10,000 men under arms (by this stage all figures for the French army are estimates, so some sources give him more men at this stage).

After the Berezina the Russians continued to harass the retreating French, but there were not more major attacks. Kutuzov's own army was in a fairly poor state and he was content to let the weather and the Cossacks complete the destruction of the remnants of the Grand Armée.

By 3 December Imperial HQ was at Molodetchna, from where Napoleon dictated the 29th Bulletin of the Grande Armée. This announced the defeat of his army and blamed the weather (despite the worst frosts and snow having started after the Berezina).

Early on 5 November Napoleon reached Smorgoni. That evening he held a conference with his marshals - Murat, Eugene, Berthier, Lefebvre, Bessières, Ney and Davout all attended. At this meeting Napoleon announced that he was going to leave the remnants of the army and return to Paris. At 10pm Napoleon left with a small party and a small escort of Polish cavalry. He was nearly captured by partisans, but was at Warsaw by 10 November, Dresden on 14 November and Paris on 18 November. Napoleon's unexpected arrive in Paris did indeed secure his power and he was able to raise fresh armies to continue the war. Napoleon's decision to leave the army was probably correct, although his enemies did portray it as a cowardly betrayal of his army.

Napoleon had left Marshal Murat in charge of the army. He proved to be a poor choice. Around 20,000 men (mainly stragglers) were lost between Smorgoni and Vilna. This was the period of the most severe frosts, with the temperature dropping to -20c on 5 December and -26c on 9 December.

The army reached Vilna on 8 December where it finally found supplies, food and new weapons. A better leader than Murat might have been able to restore order at this point, but the chance was missed. The men rioted at the entrances to the city. Many were killed there, while others drank themselves to death inside the city. Murat had been ordered to spend at least eight days at Vilna, but he was panicked by Cossack raids and ordered the retreat to continue on the evening of 9 December. Amongst the casualties were 20,000 wounded who were left in the hospitals of Vilna.

On 10 December the army reached the frozen hill of Ponarskaia. This was mentioned in many of the memoirs of the campaign and was a frozen hill that most of the horses couldn't cope with. The few remaining guns, what was left of the transport, and the 10 million francs of the treasury were all abandoned. By now the army was down to 7,000 combatants and 13,000 stragglers.

On 11 December the army passed Kovno. The survivors finally limped across the Niemen in late December. Marshal Ney is said to have been the last to leave Russia, crossing the bridge of the Niemen on 14 December.

The main army wasn't the only one to suffer. In the north MacDonald received the order to retreat from Riga on 18 December. On 19 December he set out for Tilsit, harassed by the Russians as he went. On 25 December his Prussian column (General Yorck) was cut off. After five days of negotiations Yorck agreed the Convention of Tauroggen and his men became neutral. This was the first step towards Prussian changing sides. MacDonald managed to escape with his other column and joined up with parts of XI Corps at Konigsberg on 3 January 1813.

In the south Schwarzenberg and his Austro-French army had been pursuing General Sacken, but on 14 December they abandoned the pursuit and began to retreat. By 18 December they were back at Bialystock. The army then split, with Schwarzenberg heading back into Austria and Reynier taking his surviving men back into Saxony.

The Aftermath

On 16 January 1813 the Russian advance resumed. They advanced toward Marienwerder and cut the French cantonments on the Vistula in half. Murat ordered a continued retreat towards Posen, but then handed command over Prince Eugène and abandoned the army to return to Naples. Eugène continued to retreat until he reached the Elbe on 6 March. This marks the end of the Russian campaign. When the fighting resumed later in 1813 it would be as part of the War of Liberation in Germany.

Napoleon's crushing defeat in Russia shattered the aura of invincibility that had surrounded the Emperor. It encouraged the Prussians to rise against him, and triggered the War of German Liberation. Austrian stayed out of the war for some time, but joined in later in the year. Napoleon was now suffering on all fronts - Wellington was winning in Spain, the German campaign was eventually lost, and morale in France began to plummet as the scale of the losses in Russia sank in.

The exact scale of the defeat will probably never be known. Napoleon started the invasion with around 650,000 men. Only 93,000 of them survived to the start of 1813. Most of the losses came in the central army under Napoleon's direct command. This began the war 450,000 strong and ended it with no more than 25,000 men (most of them stragglers). These losses included 370,000 men dead in battle, of illness or of expose and 200,000 captured by the Russians. Many of these prisoners also died (some of wounds), while others are said to have settled in Russia. About half of the prisoners may have survived to be released in 1814.

Napoleon was able to restore the numbers in his armies for the campaigns of 1813 but he was never able to rebuild the quality, especially of his officer corps, which had suffered exceptionally heavy losses in Russia. The French had also lost some 200,000 horses, and Napoleon's cavalry would be one of his biggest weaknesses for the rest of the war. The invasion of Russia in 1812 was one of the biggest disasters in military history, and was a key factor in the eventual fall of Napoleon.

1812 - The March on Moscow, Paul Britten Austin. An account of Napoleon's invasion of Russia as seen by members of the French and Allied army. This first volume of three covers the advance on Moscow, including the battle of Borodino. A compelling vivid account of the first part of one of the most disastrous campaigns in history. [read full review]

1812 - Napoleon in Moscow, Paul Britten Austin. The second in Britten Austin's excellent trilogy on Napoleon's invasion of Russia, based around eyewitness accounts of the time spent in Moscow, from the fire that destroyed large parts of the city to the eventual decision to leave the city. Covers life in the occupied Russian capital, the failure of attempts to get in touch with the Tsar and the clashes between Ney's advance guard and the Russians as well as the slow isolation of the French as their lines of communication west were put under increasing pressure. [read full review]

1812 - The Great Retreat, Paul Britten Austin. The third part of a magnificent trilogy, this looks at the disastrous retreat from Moscow, where Napoleon's Grand Army melted away under attack from both the ever-present Cossacks and the bitter Russian winter. Based on eyewitness accounts of the disaster, this is a remarkable study of the horrors of war and the response of an army to a catastrophe. [read full review]

Political Situation in the Polish Territories before the War ↑

At the beginning of the 20 th century, the political status of the territories inhabited by the Poles differed greatly. Due to the partition of Poland at the end of the 18 th century, Poles lived in three different states under varying political, social, economic, and cultural conditions on the eve of the Great War. In Russian-Poland, also called Congress-Poland, authorities conducted a process of Russification. The Polish language was not allowed in the public sphere, including in contact with authorities. [3]

Many Poles who did not want to submit to these conditions moved to Galicia, also referred to as Austrian-Poland, where the political atmosphere was completely different. Poles living under Francis Joseph I, Emperor of Austria (1830-1916) were in a much better position than their compatriots in Russian-Poland, subjects of Nicholas II, Emperor of Russia (1868-1918). Since 1860, Galicia had enjoyed extensive political and cultural autonomy, with a local parliament in Lviv (Lwów), municipal corporations, and guaranteed citizens’ rights such as freedom of press, speech, and demonstration, and the right to establish political parties. Administrative, education, and judicial systems were polonized. Polish culture flourished and was able to develop without any political obstacles. Poles enjoyed a privileged status, both politically and economically dominating other ethnic and religious groups such as the Ruthenians/Ukrainians and the Jews, who together made up more than half the population of Galicia. [4]

The harshest restrictions placed upon Polish national life occurred in Prussian-Poland, where a ruthless process of Germanization was conducted. The Polish language was forbidden in the administration, in schools, and in the judiciary system. Germans were most hated by the Poles in the years leading up to the war. [5]

Assorted References

The terms Poland and Poles appear for the first time in medieval chronicles of the late 10th century. The land that the Poles, a West Slavic people, came to inhabit was covered by forests with small areas under cultivation where clans grouped themselves into numerous tribes. The…

Successive elective kings of Poland failed to overcome the inherent weaknesses of the state, and the belated reforms of Stanisław II served only to provoke the final dismemberments of 1793 and 1795. Russia was a prime beneficiary, having long shown that vast size was not incompatible with strong rule.…

…also were anti-Jewish purges in Poland in 1956–57 and 1968.

In Poland the postwar coalition included a minority of members returned from wartime exile in London, but a majority were their rivals, backed by the U.S.S.R., who held such key positions as the Ministry of Public Security and resorted to censorship, threats, and murder against the…

…to “consult” with 16 underground Polish leaders only to arrest them when they surfaced. As Stalin said to the Yugoslav Communist Milovan Djilas: “In this war each side imposes its system as far as its armies can reach. It cannot be otherwise.” On April 23, 1945, Truman scolded Molotov for…

…Church and the independence of Poland from Russian encroachment. Its activities precipitated a civil war, foreign intervention, and the First Partition of Poland.

In Poland, the Solidarity union demanded democratic reforms. The Sejm (parliament) legalized and vowed to return the property of the Roman Catholic church, and the government of General Jaruzelski approved partially free elections to be held on June 4, 1989, the first such in over 40…

Poland, Lithuania, Bohemia, and Hungary were all loosely associated at the close of the 15th century under rulers of the Jagiellon dynasty. In 1569, three years before the death of the last Jagiellon king of Lithuania-Poland, these two countries merged their separate institutions by the…

…followed the first partition of Poland in 1772 were dictated as much by the need to survive as by the imaginative idealism of King Stanisław. Despite her interest in abstract ideals, reforms in law and government in Catherine the Great’s vast Russian lands represented the overriding imperative, the security of…

In Poland the anti-Semitic Falanga, led by Boleslaw Piasecki, was influential but was unable to overthrow the conservative regime of Józef Piłsudski. Vihtori Kosola’s Lapua Movement in Finland nearly staged a coup in 1932 but was checked by conservatives backed by the army. The Arrow Cross…

…that all elected kings of Poland, beginning with Henry of Valois (elected May 11, 1573), were obliged to confirm and that severely limited the authority of the Polish monarchy. After King Sigismund II Augustus died (July 1572), Henry of Valois, duc d’Anjou and the future Henry III of France, emerged…

Following the invasion of Poland, German occupation policy especially targeted the Jews but also brutalized non-Jewish Poles. In pursuit of lebensraum, Germany sought systematically to destroy Polish society and nationhood. The Nazis killed Polish priests and politicians, decimated the Polish leadership, and kidnapped the children of the Polish elite,…

in eastern Germany, Poland, and Russia. These reactionary manorial developments were not reversed in eastern Europe until the 19th century in most cases.

…Germany’s western frontier and the Polish demand, supported by France, for Danzig (Gdańsk), while the Americans also objected to Japanese claims to Germany’s special privileges in Shantung (Shandong), China. Concerning the latter treaty, the Italians and the Yugoslavs quarreled over the partition of Austria’s former possessions on the Adriatic Sea.

Poland’s boundary became the Oder and Neisse rivers in the west, and the country received part of former East Prussia. This necessitated moving millions of Germans in those areas to Germany. The governments of Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria were already controlled by communists, and Stalin…

The major change affected Poland, which was figuratively picked up and moved some 150 miles to the west. This meant that large portions of eastern Germany came under Polish administration, while the U.S.S.R. absorbed the entire Baltic coast as far as the venerable German port of Königsberg (Kaliningrad). The…

…rigidly authoritarian communist regime in Poland relaxed some of its policies. It abolished the powerful and tyrannical Ministry of Security, demoting or arresting many of its chief officials, and declared an amnesty for 100,000 political prisoners. These changes stimulated a popular desire for more-radical reforms, but the Polish leadership, which…

Reconstituted Poland was equally an amalgam, and in 1921, after Józef Piłsudski’s campaign against the U.S.S.R., it moved its eastern frontier more than 100 miles beyond the so-called Curzon Line established in 1920. Yugoslavia, finally, was based mainly on Serbia but it also included Westernized Croatia,…

…only remaining independent portion of Poland. Established by the Congress of Vienna at the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars (1815), the free Republic of Cracow consisted of the ancient city of Cracow (Kraków) and the territory surrounding it, including two other cities and over 200 villages, altogether covering over 450…

In 1497 the Polish gentry won the right to export their grain without paying duty. Further legislation bound the peasants to the soil and obligated them to work the lord’s demesne. The second serfdom gradually spread over eastern Europe it was established in Poland as early as 1520…

…that his armies could invade Poland virtually unopposed by a major power, after which Germany could deal with the forces of France and Britain in the west without having to simultaneously fight the Soviet Union on a second front in the east. The end result of the German-Soviet negotiations was…

…international organization and, on the Polish question, the western Allies and the Soviet Union found themselves in sharp dissension, Stalin expressing his continued distaste for the Polish government-in-exile in London. On Iran, which Allied forces were partly occupying, they were able to agree on a declaration (published on December 1,…

…claimed after the war by Poland on the grounds that its prewar population had been 55 percent Polish, as well as by Czechoslovakia, which based its claims on historic arguments. A bitter conflict that erupted into violence when the Czechs forcibly occupied a large portion of Teschen (January 1919) was…

…military Enigma was by the Polish Cipher Bureau. In the winter of 1932–33, Polish mathematician Marian Rejewski deduced the pattern of wiring inside the three rotating wheels of the Enigma machine. (Rejewski was helped by photographs, received from the French secret service, showing pages of an Enigma operating manual for…

Formation of

…to all non-Roman Catholics in Poland. After the death of Sigismund II Augustus (July 1572) had brought an end to the rule of the Jagiellon dynasty, the Polish nobility had the duty of choosing a new king. Five candidates from various ruling houses of Europe emerged as major contenders for…

Poland and Soviet Russia that was proposed during the Russo-Polish War of 1919–20 as a possible armistice line and became (with a few alterations) the Soviet-Polish border after World War II.

…Germany or be attached to Poland. The plebiscite was finally held on March 20, 1921, after the Poles in Upper Silesia had staged two armed uprisings (August 1919 and August 1920) and a commission representing the Allies had taken over administrative control of the area from the Germans (February 1920).…

…section of German territory to Poland and was a matter of contention between the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and the Soviet bloc for 15 years.

…of Lublin, (1569), pact between Poland and Lithuania that united the two countries into a single state. After 1385 (in the Union of Krewo) the two countries had been under the same sovereign. But Sigismund II Augustus had no heirs and the Poles, fearing that when he died the personal…

International relations


…transferred from defeated Germany to Poland. Perhaps no provision of the treaty caused so much animosity and resentment among Germans than this arrangement, for the corridor ran between Pomerania and East Prussia and separated the latter province from the main body of the German Reich to the west. On the…

…new Slavic powers rose the Poles under Mieszko I and, to the south, the Czechs under the Přemyslids received missionaries from Magdeburg and Passau without falling permanently under the political and ecclesiastical domination of Saxons and Bavarians. The Wends, who had been subjugated by the Saxon margraves, resisted conversion to…

…in their relations, and with Poland (December 1970), recognizing Germany’s 1945 losses east of the Oder–Neisse Line. Brandt also recognized the East German government (December 1972) and expanded commercial relations with other eastern European regimes. Both German states were admitted to the UN in 1973. Support for Ostpolitik among West…

Poland retaliated by organizing an armed revolt and attempting to seize territory by force. After a division of opinion among the Allies, with France supporting the Poles, the dispute was referred to the League of Nations. The League awarded two-thirds of the territory to Germany…

…the war between Sweden and Poland (1658) in order to prevent the collapse of Poland. There were some military successes, but the Treaty of Oliva (1660) brought no territorial gains for Austria, though it stopped the advance of the Swedes in Germany.

The question of the Polish succession led to a revival of the Austrian conflict with the Bourbon countries. Austria, with Prussia and Russia, favoured Augustus III of Saxony, the son of the deceased king, whereas France backed Stanisław I (Stanisław Leszczyński). On the military intervention of Russia in Poland,…

…the crisis the annexation of Polish territory by the three great eastern European powers and the maintenance of the Ottoman Empire in its entirety in Europe. Austria agreed to this suggestion, although Maria Theresa herself did so most reluctantly. She believed that the difficulties she had had at the beginning…

…the union between Lithuania and Poland in 1569, however, the Lithuanian aristocracy became decidedly Polish in language and politics cultural decline and territorial shrinkage began, and by 1795 all Baltic lands were under Russian rule, which persisted, except for a period of independence from 1918 to 1940, until 1991.

…II Jagiełło, became king of Poland. Roman Catholicism became the official religion of the grand duchy of Lithuania, but the peasantry remained overwhelmingly Orthodox. Between the Polish-Lithuanian realm and the rising power of the Grand Principality of Moscow, there developed an incessant and bitter struggle for land and influence. During…

…prelude to his penetration into Poland, which culminated in 1300 with his coronation as its king. Diplomatic dexterity and enormous wealth quickly enhanced Wenceslas’s prestige. In 1301 he was considered a candidate for the vacant throne of Hungary, but instead he recommended his son Wenceslas, who ruled Hungary until 1304.…

…emperor Frederick III and the Polish king Casimir IV of the Jagiellon dynasty observed benevolent neutrality toward Bohemia. But George’s rival, the Hungarian king Matthias I, continued to claim the Bohemian throne and to control the provinces of Moravia, Silesia, and Upper and Lower Lusatia. In May 1471 Casimir’s son…

…of Teschen strained relations with Poland, which claimed the territory on ethnic grounds (more than half the inhabitants were Poles). Czechoslovakia desired it for historical reasons and because it was a coal-rich area, through which ran an important railway link to Slovakia. The duchy was partitioned between the two countries…

Shortly after the Munich verdict, Poland sent troops to annex the Teschen region. By the Vienna Award (Nov. 2, 1938), Hungary was granted one-quarter of Slovak and Ruthenian territories. By all these amputations Czechoslovakia lost about one-third of its population, and the country was rendered defenseless.

…that was a part of Poland before Austria annexed it in 1772 in the 20th century it was restored to Poland but was later divided between Poland and the Soviet Union.

… was joined administratively with purely Polish areas to its west into a single province, with Lviv (German: Lemberg) as the provincial capital. This and the fact that, in the province’s Ukrainian half, the Poles constituted overwhelmingly the landlord class and dominated the major cities (though many towns were largely Jewish)…

Western powers and especially the Polish government had pressured Kohl from the beginning to recognize for all time the inviolability of the Oder–Neisse border and thus the permanent loss to Germany of Silesia, eastern Pomerania, Danzig (Gdańsk), and East Prussia. At first Kohl hung back, earning for himself much abuse…

…1377–1434) concluded a pact with Poland (Union of Krewo), agreeing to accept the Roman Catholic faith, marry the Polish queen, become king of Poland, and unite Poland and Lithuania under a single ruler. Jogaila took the Polish name Władysław II Jagiełło.

…the acceptance of Orthodoxy, and Poland, which would require the adoption of Roman Catholicism. In 1385 Jogaila reached agreement with Poland. He married the 12-year-old Queen Jadwiga and acceded to the Polish throne as Władisław II Jagiełło Lithuania thus became a part of the Latin Christian world. Subsequently, Jogaila made…

Jogaila chose the latter course. On Aug. 14, 1385, he concluded an agreement to join his realm with Poland in return for marriage to the 12-year-old Polish queen Jadwiga and assumption of the Polish throne as king. The agreement was effected early in the…

…of Lublin between Lithuania and Poland gave Kyiv and the Ukrainian lands to Poland. Kyiv became one of the centres of Orthodox opposition to the expansion of Polish Roman Catholic influence, spearheaded by vigorous proselytization by the Jesuits. In the 17th century a religious Ukrainian brotherhood was established in Kyiv,…

In 1561 the Latvian territory was partitioned: Courland, south of the Western Dvina, became an autonomous duchy under the suzerainty of the Lithuanian sovereign, and Livonia north of the river was incorporated into Lithuania. Riga was likewise incorporated…

…in an effort to prevent Poland-Lithuania from gaining dominance over it, the Livonian Knights were unable to defend themselves. They disbanded their order and dismembered Livonia (Union of Wilno, 1561). Lithuania incorporated the knights’ territory north of the Western Dvina River (i.e., Livonia proper) Courland, the area south of the…

Poland was a favourite of the Americans and the French by dint of historic sympathies, the votes of Polish-Americans, and Clemenceau’s hope for a strong Polish ally in Germany’s rear. The Fourteen Points promised Poland an outlet to the sea, but the resulting Polish Corridor…

…signing a nonaggression pact with Poland. This bit of duplicity neutralized France’s primary ally in the east while helping to secure Germany over the dangerous years of rearmament. The new Polish foreign minister, Józef Beck, was in turn responding to the dilemma of Poland’s central position between Germany and the…

Hitler’s cynical occupation of Prague, giving the final lie to all his peaceful protestations after Munich, prompted much speculation about the identity of his next victim: Romania with its oil reserves, the Ukraine, Poland, or even the “Germanic” Netherlands, which suffered…

Poland and Lithuania formed their first dynastic union in 1386 and, in the 15th century, defeated the Teutonic Knights in a series of wars. By the Second Treaty of Toruń (1466) the Polish crown acquired direct sovereignty over the Teutonic Order’s former possessions to the…

…improving commercial relations with Sweden, Poland, England, and other western states, he negotiated a treaty of perpetual peace and alliance with Poland (1686), in which the Poles recognized Kiev and all the territory east of the Dnieper River as Russian possessions, and Russia agreed to join Poland and its allies,…

…Volhynia established closer links with Poland and Hungary. The princes of these areas still contested the crown of the “grand prince of Kiev and all of Rus,” but the title became an empty one when Andrew Bogolyubsky (Andrew I) of Suzdal won Kiev and the title in 1169, he sacked…

…of the Jews, autonomy for Poland, elimination of the remaining legal disabilities suffered by peasants, repeal of anti-trade-union legislation, and democratization of local government. This program had the support of eight ministers, at least as a basis for negotiation, but not of the premier, Ivan Logginovich Goremykin, who regarded it…

…political alliance between Sweden and Poland. Their son, Sigismund III Vasa, was elected king of Poland in 1587 before inheriting the throne of Sweden in 1592. Opposition to Sigismund developed because of his Roman Catholicism and his extensive stays in Poland. At a meeting in Uppsala in 1593 the clergy…

…older states as Denmark and Poland, were natural enemies of Sweden. Denmark, Poland, and Russia made a treaty in 1699, while Prussia preferred to wait and see. The Second Northern War (also known as the Great Northern War) began when the three allies attacked the Swedish provinces in February 1700,…

>Poland and Hungary, as well as Byzantium—brought considerable prosperity and culture flourished, with marked new influences from the West. In 1253 Danylo (in a bid for aid from the West) even accepted the royal crown from Pope Innocent IV and recognized him as head of…

…the remaining Ukrainian population by Poland to its new western territories—created for the first time in centuries a clear ethnic, as well as political, Polish-Ukrainian border. Northern Bukovina was reoccupied in 1944 and recognized as part of Ukraine in the Paris Peace Treaty of 1947. Transcarpathia, which had reverted from…

…Britain offered a guarantee of Polish territory (where Hitler would clearly be looking next), signed a military alliance with Poland, and undertook serious preparation for war, including the first peacetime military conscription.

…out between the Soviets and Poland as the Polish leader, Marshal Józef Piłsudski, pursued his ambition of a grand Polish-Lithuanian-Ukrainian empire. On May 7 the Poles captured Kiev, but a Soviet counterstroke drove them out (June 11), captured Vilnius (July 15), and soon threatened Warsaw itself. Alarms arose in western…

Riots in East Germany and Poland also induced Moscow to scale back its exploitation of the satellites and to reduce reparations from East Germany. A Soviet delegation even visited Belgrade in 1955 to attempt a reconciliation with Tito. That same year the Austrian State Treaty provided for the first Soviet…

…the Germans also collaborated against Poland, which they viewed as a bastion of French influence in eastern Europe directed at them both. During the Russian Civil War Józef Piłsudski, the Polish head of state, withheld military support from Denikin because of the White general’s refusal to acknowledge unequivocally Poland’s independence.…

) In Poland military intervention was averted at the last moment, with the Polish communists warning that they would fight. Władysław Gomułka took over the Polish Communist Party despite strong Soviet objections.

…Lithuanian state and Galicia by Poland. After the Polish-Lithuanian union of 1569, Volhynia was ceded to Poland. It remained a Polish territory until the second partition of Poland (1793) transferred most of it to Russia. After World War I it was divided between Russia and Poland and after World War…

Military conflicts

…aroused the hostility of both Poland, whose access to the Baltic Sea had been cut off, and Lithuania, whose territory the knights continued to menace despite Lithuania’s conversion to Christianity in 1387. Consequently, when a rebellion broke out against the order in Samogitia (1408), Poland and Lithuania joined forces and…

…expectations, did not support the Poles, who had revolted against the Russian tsar. Their revolt was ruthlessly suppressed, and Poland was incorporated into the Russian Empire. Revolts in Italy and the German kingdoms were equally unsuccessful. Belgium declared its independence from the Netherlands

…rebellion against Russian rule in Poland the insurrection was unsuccessful and resulted in the imposition of tighter Russian control over Poland.

…the Soviet Union and the Polish government-in-exile in London.

…during which Russia unsuccessfully fought Poland, Lithuania, and Sweden for control of greater Livonia—the area including Estonia, Livonia, Courland, and the island of Oesel—which was ruled by the Livonian branch of the Teutonic Knights (Order of the Brothers of the Sword).

…of the armed forces in Poland) or to capture the barracks of the Russian cavalry, they did manage to seize weapons from the arsenal, arm the city’s civilian population, and gain control of the northern section of Warsaw.

Poland, having been drawn in as a Baltic power coveted by Sweden, pushed its own ambitions by attacking Russia and establishing a dictatorship in Moscow under Władysław, Poland’s future king. The Russo-Polish Peace of Polyanov in 1634 ended Poland’s claim to the tsarist throne but…

…the 1620s at war with Poland, seeking to acquire territory on the southern shore of the Baltic. By the Truce of Altmark (Sept. 26, 1629), with the aid of French and British mediators, Poland made numerous concessions in return for a six-year truce. Gustav lost no time in redeploying his…

…London, to gain control of Poland.

…created an independent state of Poland in 1916, which prevented serious negotiations with Russia for a separate peace. They adopted submarine warfare in 1917, despite the knowledge that it would bring the United States into the war, because it offered a slim hope of quick victory if Triple Entente ships…

Russian Poland, the westernmost part of the Russian Empire, was a thick tongue of land enclosed to the north by East Prussia, to the west by German Poland (Poznania) and by Silesia, and to the south by Austrian Poland (Galicia). It was thus obviously exposed to…

At first glance Germany might have seemed the underdog in the war launched by Hitler. The Wehrmacht numbered 54 active divisions, compared to 55 French, 30 Polish, and two British divisions available for the Continent. But the combination of German…

” Hence Poland’s western frontier would be left to a peace conference. As for the Polish government, the most the Western Allies achieved was a vague promise from Stalin that he would reorganize the Lublin Committee and permit free elections among “non-Fascist elements” within a month after…

…determined to invade and occupy Poland. Poland, for its part, had guarantees of French and British military support should it be attacked by Germany. Hitler intended to invade Poland anyway, but first he had to neutralize the possibility that the Soviet Union would resist the invasion of its western neighbour.…

A similar division emerged in Poland, where the Soviet Union backed the communist resistance movement and allowed the Polish nationalist underground, the Home Army, to be destroyed by the Germans in the Warsaw Uprising of autumn 1944. In the Ukraine, where the Germans were at first welcomed as liberators, the…

Role of

…relaxation of Russian rule in Poland led to patriotic street demonstrations, attempted assassinations, and, finally, in 1863, to a national uprising that was only suppressed with some difficulty—and under threat of Western intervention on behalf of the Poles. Even more serious, from the tsar’s point of view, was the spread…

…General Wojciech Jaruzelski’s suppression of Poland’s Solidarity union in December 1981. His efforts to neutralize internal dissent within the Soviet Union itself were similarly determined.

…she resolved the problem of Poland, a kingdom lacking definite boundaries and coveted by three neighbouring powers, by installing one of her old lovers, Stanisław Poniatowski, a weak man entirely devoted to her, as king of Poland.

…Anjou to the throne of Poland (May 1573) than the prosecution of the fourth civil war. Upon the death of Charles IX a year later, she assumed the regency with the support of the Parlement until the return from Poland of Henry III in August. Catherine placed high hopes in…

…to fight Augustus II in Poland and to transform Poland from a divided country, where Augustus had both partisans and opponents, into an ally and a base for the final campaign against Russia. This transformation was to be accomplished by dethroning Augustus and substituting a Polish-born king willing to cooperate…

…Austrian Empire [now in Poland]), general who served with distinction with the armies of Napoleon and was briefly the dictator of Poland after the November Insurrection of 1830.

…had abdicated the throne of Poland but her failure seemed to please her since this meant that she could return to her beloved Rome. There she had formed a strong friendship with Cardinal Decio Azzolino, a clever, charming, prudent man, leader of a group of cardinals active in church politics.…

…having himself elected king of Poland, but, despite his determined measures and the support of Louis XIV, he was unsuccessful. (This dream of kingship he was to pursue vainly for several years.)

…after all, to campaign against Poland in 1028. After severe fighting, Mieszko—Bolesław’s son and heir—was forced to make peace and surrender lands that Conrad’s predecessor had lost. Even so, Conrad had to continue to campaign in the east, and in 1035 he subdued the heathen Liutitians.

Polish kings in the early 16th century began to organize the Zaporozhian Cossacks into military colonies to protect Poland’s borders. Throughout the 16th century and the first half of the 17th, those Cossacks retained their political autonomy, briefly forming a semi-independent state under Bohdan Khmelnytsky…

…was the first partition of Poland, in 1772. By this Prussia gained the Polish province of West Prussia (though without the great commercial city of Danzig), and thus Brandenburg and Pomerania, the core of the monarchy, became linked with the theretofore isolated East Prussia. This gave the state a much…

By invading Poland, King Charles X Gustav of Sweden sought to expand the power in the Baltic that Sweden gained by the Peace of Westphalia. Frederick William, as duke of Prussia, owed fealty to the Polish king, but, when offered an alliance by Sweden in return for…

…to power in East Germany, Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia in late 1989–90, Gorbachev agreed to the phased withdrawal of Soviet troops from those countries. By the summer of 1990 he had agreed to the reunification of East with West Germany and even assented to the prospect of that reunified nation’s…

… (who was also king of Poland) in 1599, and the resulting dynastic quarrel involved Sweden and Poland in a war that continued intermittently for 60 years. Until 1629 Gustavus had always to reckon with the danger of a legitimist invasion from Poland and the attempted restoration of the elder Vasa…

…east and made war against the Polish king Bolesław I the Brave. After a successful campaign, he marched into northern Italy to subdue Arduin of Ivrea, who had styled himself king of Italy. His sudden interference led to bitter fighting and atrocities, and although Henry was crowned king in Pavia…

Poland was critical to Hitler’s long-range strategy for the conquest of Lebensraum in the east any invasion of the Soviet Union required that Polish territory be available as a staging area. Until the British-French guarantee, he had hoped to enlist Poland, mostly through bombast and…

…of expansion lay eastward, in Poland, the Ukraine, and the U.S.S.R.—expansion that would necessarily involve renewal of Germany’s historic conflict with the Slavic peoples, who would be subordinate in the new order to the Teutonic master race. He saw fascist Italy as his natural ally in this

…centuries-long union of Lithuania and Poland.

Poland revolted against its government in October 1956. Hungary followed shortly afterward. Faced with open revolution, Khrushchev flew to Warsaw on October 19 with other Soviet leaders and ultimately acquiesced in the Polish leader Władysław Gomułka’s national communist solution, which allowed the Poles a great…

…up the constitutional Kingdom of Poland with the emperor of Russia as its king, Alexander appointed Konstantin commander in chief of Poland’s armed forces with the powers of viceroy (November 1815). Although Konstantin organized the Polish army, he failed to win its support, and he also alienated the Parliament and…

…dethroned king Stanisław I of Poland. Louis’s tutor, the bishop (later cardinal) André-Hercule de Fleury, replaced Bourbon as chief minister in 1726 and the dynastic connection with Poland led to French involvement against Austria and Russia in the War of the Polish Succession (1733–38).

…greatly increasing Russia’s influence over Poland before that country was partitioned. He later distinguished himself in Russia’s wars against the Turks.

…Council of Ministers of Soviet-dominated Poland and was accorded the title marshal of Poland. He held these positions until the return to power of Władysław Gomułka, former secretary of the communist Polish Workers’ Party, who had been imprisoned in 1948. Upon his expulsion by Gomułka (October 28, 1956, on charges…

In Poland, where monarchy was elective, the Sejm exercised such power that successive kings, bound by conditions imposed at accession, found it hard to muster forces to defend their frontiers. The constitution remained unshakable even during the reign of John Sobieski (1674–96), hero of the relief…

…of 1919, which would require Poland to return Danzig, the Polish Corridor, and Upper Silesia, as well as the annexation of Austria. Realistically appraising Germany’s central position in Europe and exploiting Anglo-French and Anglo-Soviet tensions, Stresemann tried to achieve his goals through negotiation, but his seesaw policy between East and…

…crush the nationalist-revolutionary movement in Poland—which he did with ruthless efficiency. The slaughter involved in his storming of the Warsaw suburb of Praga (which he justified as shortening the war and saving lives) shocked Western opinion, but it earned him a reward of 7,000 serfs and the promotion to field…

…and was crowned king of Poland in Kraków on Feb. 15, 1386, as Władysław II Jagiełło.

…and finally became king of Poland in 1300. Offered the Hungarian crown, he declined and placed his son Wenceslas (later King Wenceslas III) on the throne in 1301 but was forced to withdraw him in 1304.

…from asserting his right to Poland.


Poland returned its conquests in Moldavia but regained Podolia as well as part of Ukraine west of the Dnieper River, which the Turks had conquered in 1672. The Turks and the Russians concluded only a two-year armistice at Carlowitz, but in 1700 they signed the…

…half years the hostilities between Poland and Russia that had their beginning with the death of Ivan IV (the Terrible) in 1584 and continued through a prolonged dispute over the Russian throne. The truce placed Smolensk, as well as other conquered western Russian territories, in Poland’s possession.

…opened for Russian domination over Poland.

…succession crisis, a war with Poland, and peasant uprisings (Time of Troubles, 1606–13), offered the Russian throne to Władysław, the son of the Polish king Sigismund III. This action provoked Sweden, then at war with Poland, to declare war on Russia and claim the Russian throne for the Sweden’s Prince…

In the east, Poland was resurrected, given most of formerly German West Prussia and Poznań (Posen), given a “corridor” to the Baltic Sea (which separated East Prussia from the rest of Germany), and given part of Upper Silesia after a plebiscite. Gdańsk (Danzig) was declared a free city.…

…which John Casimir, king of Poland from 1648 to 1668, renounced the suzerainty of the Polish crown over ducal Prussia and made Frederick William, who was the duke of Prussia as well as the elector of Brandenburg (1640–88), the duchy’s sovereign ruler.

…of unrest had begun in Poland, where in June and July 1956 strikes and riots in Poznań had ended with the deaths of 53 workers. In October of that year in Hungary, there was a full-scale revolt, finally quelled on November 4 by Soviet tanks. A similar fate ended the…

In return for acquiring Poland, Alexander gave back Galicia to Austria and gave Thorn and a region around it to Prussia Kraków was made a free town. The rest of the Duchy of Warsaw was incorporated as a separate kingdom under the Russian emperor’s sovereignty. Prussia got two-fifths of…

post-World War I conflict between Poland and Lithuania over possession of the city of Vilnius (Wilno) and its surrounding region.

Hungary, Poland, and Romania. (Albania withdrew in 1968, and East Germany did so in 1990.) The treaty (which was renewed on April 26, 1985) provided for a unified military command and for the maintenance of Soviet military units on the territories of the other participating states.

…the United States supported a Polish government-in-exile in London, while the Soviets supported a communist-dominated Polish committee of national liberation in Lublin. Neither the Western Allies nor the Soviet Union would change its allegiance, so they could only agree that the Lublin committee would be broadened to include representatives of…


Poland is a largely Catholic nation, a religion that survived even under the anti-clerical reign of the communists. It is a deeply ingrained part of the Polish life, and thus immigrants to the United States brought the religion with them, Initially, Polish American parishes were established from simple meetings of the local religious in stores or hotels. These meetings soon became societies, taking on the name of a saint, and later developed into the parish itself, with priests arriving from various areas of Poland. The members of the parish were responsible for everything: financial support of their clergy as well as construction of a church and any other buildings needed by the priest. Polish American Catholics were responsible for the creation of seven religious orders, including the Resurrectionists and the Felicians who in turn created schools and seminaries and brought nuns from Poland to help with orphanages and other social services.

Quickly the new arrivals turned their religious institution into both a parish and an okolica, a local area or neighborhood. There was rapid growth in the number of such ethnic parishes: from 17 in 1870 to 512 only 40 years later. The number peaked in 1935 at 800 and has tapered off since, with 760 in 1960. In the 1970s the level of church attendance was beginning to drop off sharply in the Polish American community, and the use of English in the mass was becoming commonplace. However, the newest contingent of Polish refugees has slowed this trend, raising attendance once again, and helping to restore masses in the Polish language at many churches.

All was not smooth for the Polish American Catholics. A largely Protestant nation in the nineteenth century, America proved somewhat intolerant of Catholics, a fact that only served to separate immigrant Poles from the mainstream even more. Also, within the church, there was dissension. Footing all the bills for the parish, still Polish American Catholics had little representation in the hierarchy. Such disputes ultimately led to the establishment of the Polish National Church in 1904. The founding bishop, Reverend Francis Hodur, built the institution to 34 churches and over 28,000 communicants in a dozen years' time.

Poland: A Land Without Strangers

The crisis in Europe has created entire towns of refugees in rural Germany and prompted an epidemic.

On the afternoon of my fifth day in Warsaw, I find Nura sitting in the rear courtyard office where she sits every day. I've had some difficulty tracking her down – the building is unmarked, and distinguished only by some scrappy red ivy climbing the walls — and when I walk in the man at the front desk seems to think I'm lost.

Every day, women make their way to Nura. If it's their first time they glance nervously at the men until she appears, then smile when, lo and behold, she speaks their language. She takes them into a private room and guides them through their housing search or the job market, explains how to navigate grade-school registration or a Polish doctor's office — whatever they happen to need. That she knows how to sew, and toiled for years as a seamstress in a refugee camp, endears her to new arrivals looking for work.

Nura offers guidance where the government is silent. For years Poland has lacked a meaningful support system for refugees, and the new pseudo-autocratic state, led by the far-right Law and Justice party (PiS), is committed to an explicitly xenophobic platform. Life for foreigners has become increasingly complicated since the elections in October 2015. There has been a collapse of support for migrants, a rapid conflation of the terms 'Muslim', 'refugee' and 'terrorist'. Liberal Poles have protested this attitude but it seems to have reached critical mass anyway. 73 per cent of the country believes refugees from Syria and Iraq are a major threat, according to a Pew Research Center survey, and another poll found that 58 per cent of the country are against refugees totally. It is rarely reported that the largest group of asylum seekers who come to Poland are Chechen women traveling alone with their children. The men at home are dead or missing. In this respect Nura knows she's lucky. She has a husband by her side, even if he is always sick.

Today Nura is wearing a loose violet scarf and knee-length skirt. Her outfit reads Western but she recoils when I reach out to shake her hand. 'No, don't do that,' our translator advises. The clothing, it turns out, is a subterfuge. Nura isn't her real name, either. She has seven children, including a two-year-old, and she fears retaliation either from the authorities who determine her legal status or the thugs who have grown emboldened in her neighborhood since PiS came to power. Her home was vandalized the week of my visit. She's learned to say as little as possible.

'What made you decide to come to Poland?' I ask.

'There was an accident,' she says.

'A Russian tank ran into our car.'

Several of her young children were inside the car at the time, she adds.

So in 2006, at the end of the second Russian–Chechen War, they packed their things and crossed the border into Poland at Terespol, the most popular entry point for emigrants escaping through Belarus. She moved with her husband and five children into a refugee camp near Lublin. A year passed while the authorities processed their application for asylum. During the first six months they were forbidden to work. Instead, Nura took classes — language, computer, integration — in the hopes that she might find a job once her probation ended. When the year was over, so were their benefits, and no jobs appeared. They spent a fruitless five months in Paris, where they had no access to government aid or job centers, before returning to Poland, where they received the purgatorial 'tolerated' status: permission to live and work, but no financial assistance.

In Warsaw Nura found a job cutting onions in a kebab shop, then, a year later, as a seamstress in a camp outside the city. After itinerant years in shared rooms, they found an apartment of their own.

In 2013, Nura was hired at the NGO where she works today. Overall, she likes it. 'It was sometimes hard, sometimes easy,' she says. 'Sometimes I felt Poles didn't want to see me here.' She sighs, and seems to arrive at a decision.

'My oldest son was shot three times.'

'Because he was a foreigner, it's clear.'

'Didn't you go to the police?'

'They didn't want to do anything. They said it wasn't extraordinary, that sometimes people get shot. They didn't want to accept our application.'

'What about the newspapers?'

Her translator, a Georgian coworker, steps in. 'She didn't want us to tell anyone. She was afraid. She has five young girls.'

Her son was lucky, Nura says. One of the bullets entered through his cheek and could have paralyzed him down his left side. But he escaped with a few scars and last year they sent him to live far away. She won't say where.

All nations strive toward the superlative. Lesotho produces the least amount of carbon dioxide per resident of any country. Niger has the highest birth rate, Russia the most time zones, Switzerland the longest railway tunnel. Poland happens to be one of the most homogenous countries on earth. Few places so large and populous can claim to be as unified in race, ethnicity, language, religion — you name it. The country is a monoculture on the order of Japan or Portugal, both of which rank alongside Poland near the bottom of what sociologists call the 'ethnic fractionalization index'. (North Korea comes in last.) About 97 per cent of Poland's population are ethnic Pole, descendants of the West Slavs who settled around the primeval forests of the European Plain in the seventh century. Another 1 per cent are Silesian. You can wander around a bustling metropolis like Katowice or Warsaw for hours and encounter maybe a single person of color — usually a tourist or student — to say nothing of smaller towns, where you are unlikely to get far without a firm grasp of Slavic affricates and Catholic saints. In Poland, nine out of every ten people are Catholic, compared to a mere eight out of ten in Italy.

This combination of ethnic and religious purity is unique in Europe, and was unknown even in Poland until recently. From the Middle Ages through the Second World War, multitudinous thriving worlds orbited the ethnic Pole. My own ancestors were for generations wanderers through the Pale of Settlement — with stops along the way in Lithuania, Prussia, Poland and Ukraine — living what I imagine were very Sholem Aleichem lives as village innkeepers and middle-class jewelers. Jewish and Roma communities may have suffered centuries of abuse, but we were an unwavering presence in Poland – until the Holocaust. Enclaves of Ukrainians and Lithuanians persisted right up until Stalin's deportation orders. The country's ethnic pluralism never recovered. The largest concentration of Jews in pre-war Europe is remembered today in walking tours of wartime ghettoes and 'Lucky Jews', the popular wooden tchotchkes of bearded rabbis grasping golden coins. (Like a lot of first-time Jewish tourists, I find these offensive but am compelled to buy one right away — so I do, from a whittler in Krakow's town square. I ask whether they're for good luck. He laughs. 'Something like that.')

Which isn't to say there haven't been attempts to recapture the country's former diversity. Since 2004, Poland has been a full member of the European Union. It is neighbor to seven other countries and shares open borders with five of them. Centrist politicians see the EU as the diplomatic antidote to decades of totalitarianism, and their plan since the early nineties has been to emulate the West, court foreign investment, and reap the miracles of market capitalism. So you get Hard Rock Cafe across the street from Stalin's Palace of Culture and Science. You get ESL ads at every bus stop. You get guides to Auschwitz in a dozen languages and shimmering museums in glass and concrete, the winners of international architectural prizes. You get Airbnb. You get thousands of seasonal Ukrainian construction workers hauling stone and steel for low wages. You get puzzlement among many Poles that visiting Jews might see anything less than honorific in their wooden totems of entrepreneurial spirit. You get kebab stands and queer nightclubs and, for a few years, the fastest-growing economy in Europe.

Some of these impulses have triggered resistance among believers in the True Pole, a mythological figure of intransigence and national spirit. Like the more familiar (to me) Real American, the True Pole signifies whatever you need him to, but he is mainly a figure for nativists, and in Poland he represents, often in masculine form, the country's ethnic and religious purity. More than one Polish acquaintance invokes him by way of explaining to me the current political situation. ('Who the hell knows what a True Pole is?' a friend says. 'Only nationalists.') Forged in ages of violent oppression, the True Pole would prefer the economic benefits of Europeanism without the vitamin-rich word salad of multiculturalism, tolerance and diversity. He is suspicious of strangers. History has taught him that they are as likely to be victimizers as victims. He remains, as one friend puts it, unconverted.

Of course, most Poles do not believe in the True Pole, but his purifying influence is widely felt. Today about a third of Polish citizens admit to holding negative attitudes toward Jews, and more than half hold unfavorable opinions about Muslims — among the highest figures in Europe. Attitudes toward people of color are especially dim, and have been for years. A 2013 survey found that 69 per cent of Poles do not want non-white people living in Poland.

The True Pole's influence has expanded of late. Last year he claimed most of the top positions in Poland's government. The foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski, has said that 'there is no place for migrants on the Polish labor market' and party leader Jarosław Kaczyński has claimed that refugees are bringing 'cholera to the Greek islands, dysentery to Vienna, [and] various types of parasites.' The government has recently suspended local border traffic with Russia and guards near Belarus have refused to permit entry to asylum seekers from deteriorating Tajikistan, in violation of the Geneva Convention. The reason, they say, is obvious. Once in Poland, a migrant has reached the fabled Schengen Area of control-free travel that stretches from Knivskjellodden to Gibraltar. Whatever its final destination, the fox enters the henhouse at Terespol.

Yet actual refugees in Poland are rare. In 2015, just 13,000 people applied for asylum. Most are Chechen, Tajik, or Ukrainian, and are survivors of war and political persecution. About 8 per cent are accepted annually, which comes out to about a thousand official refugees per year in a country of 38 million. Several thousand Syrians did make their way here in 2015 — via Hungary and the Czech Republic, not across the infamous non-EU land borders — but nearly all of them left for Germany as soon as they could.

'Poles have no credible information on refugees in Poland,' Rafał Kostrzyński, a representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, tells me at a Warsaw cafe. 'If you ask, they give you figures from outer space. Two million? Come on.' The actual figure, between four and six thousand, is fuzzy, he says, because refugees aren't tracked by the government after their first year, whereupon welfare benefits are cut off. Even other migrants tend to discover the route to a good livelihood closed. Poland is one of the only countries in Europe where immigration has declined over the past five years. 'As far as foreigners go,' Kostrzyński says dryly, 'Poland is possibly the "cleanest" country in the world.'

For a few days in Warsaw I explore green neighborhoods of weather-beaten housing flats and gawk at old workers' murals: the clear-eyed women wielding pickaxes, the men with keystone jaws. I eat at milk bars and follow free walking tours (Soviet architecture, ghetto rebellion) and I meet with a lot of levelheaded people like Kostrzyński. They are NGO workers, activists, employees of charities and intergovernmental bodies. Everyone says roughly the same thing. Whatever's happening, it's new.

'Until the crisis in Europe, asylum politics wasn't part of our public debate,' Jacek Białas, a lawyer with the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, tells me at his office, a few blocks from the Palace of Culture and Science. Białas provides legal aid to asylum seekers whom the state has imprisoned. Detention is legal if the state is collecting evidence for an applicant's asylum case — the process can take months or years — but Białas believes the rules are not always followed, and he contends that children and victims of trauma or war should not be detained in the normal facilities, or even at all. There are long-standing arguments at play here, but now Białas sees the media working to justify detention as never before, even as the number of asylum seekers has remained constant. There has been no mad rush on Białystock or Wrocław. 'Asylum seekers perceive Poland as a poor country,' Białas says. 'The level of assistance for refugees is very low and hasn't been raised since 2005. People want to leave.'

Why, then, did PiS make the threat of radicalized refugees central to their 2015 election campaigns? And what, if anything, does this have to do with the mythic idea of the True Pole, which seems to wield greater influence now than at any time in the nation's post-Soviet history?

I don't know. I don't suspect I'm in a position to find out. In Poland I'm little more than an interested sightseer. I visit churches and museums and memorials of old massacres, and I think about the breed of nativism ascendant all over Europe for which the migrant is the great villain of our time. In the United States, Donald Trump expounds fantasies of ideological purity exams and mass deportations. Poland, a country of little to no immigration, has already embarked along a similar path. So it feels exactly appropriate when, caught in a rainstorm one afternoon, I duck into a bookshop in the middle of Warsaw to find The Art of the Deal displayed on a tall plastic plinth.

The Law and Justice party rode to victory in October 2015 on the three-horse chariot of nationalism, ethnic solidarity and Catholic values. Make Poland Great Again would have been an appropriate slogan, although the ones they used — We Can Do It Time for Bold Decisions Work, Not Promises — were no less vague or galvanizing. Party leaders promised to tax foreign-dominated industries and redistribute the proceeds to Poles. They also promised to enact a generous per-child welfare policy for Polish families to criminalise abortion, forcing even rape victims and women with life-threatening pregnancies to carry fetuses to term and to fight 'multiculturalism', meaning EU asylum politics and the perceived threat of Islam. The plodding incumbents of the Civic Platform party didn't stand a chance against this steel-clad conservatism. Voters were fed up with the country's slow if steady economic improvements. They had embraced the market as instructed, yet in many towns lives were still ruled by apartment shortages and gray-market privation. Despite the growth in Poland's largest cities, the promises of the West have been slow in reaching the rest of Mitteleuropa. The continent's refugee influx last year, with its countervailing rhetoric of fear on the far right, played directly into these resentments.

PiS's intellectual forefathers are Jarosław and Lech Kaczyński, the identical twins who entered the public consciousness in 1962 as the pale child stars of The Two Who Stole the Moon, a children's film. (Sample quote, via Wikipedia: 'If we steal the moon we would not have to work.') Both brothers claimed to have participated in the Solidarity labor union movement in the early eighties, although the extent of their involvement is unclear. The memory of Solidarity is rightfully unimpeachable in Poland. The movement's peaceful protests and calls for modest work and trade reforms proved to be a serious challenge to Soviet rulers, who struggled to quash the protests without provoking outright revolt. Its leaders were arrested, driven underground, or killed during a period of martial law that began in 1981. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Poles looked to former members of Solidarity to help write the new constitution, and to serve as the first prime minister and members of parliament. Few were old enough to recall the country's last era of political independence, the short-lived Second Republic of the twenties and thirties. Solidarity, a trade union, was the only bona-fide Polish political organization anyone could remember.

The Kaczyńskis claimed to be its authentic heirs, initially as centrists. Jarosław founded the Centre Agreement party in 1991, and Lech joined him in founding the then-moderate Law and Justice party in 2001. A family man, charismatic and savvy, Lech was the face of the movement and president of Poland in the late 2000s. Jarosław was the ideologue and history buff who stood behind his brother. When Lech died in a plane crash near Smolensk in 2010, Jarosław, who had briefly served as his brother's prime minister, found himself at the center of a nation in political disarray. Along with many Law and Justice supporters, he blamed Russia for Lech's death despite an investigation that indicated pilot error. The party drifted rightward the more it looked to external threats to explain Poland's problems. Anti-Russian sentiment had always been a hallmark of Kaczyński thought, and this new tale of Polish martyrdom contributed to the groundswell that brought PiS back to power last year.

Officially, Jarosław holds no government office, but his power as party leader is remarkable, and most people consider him the de facto head of state. Both the prime minister, Beata Szydło, and the president, Andrzej Duda, were handpicked by Kaczynski, who understands his party's victory as a clear mandate to overturn a few tables. 'All that has occurred in the last twenty-six years was wrong and shameful,' he said at a rally in December 2015. 'And we want to change it.' A few weeks later, with most of the country on holiday, parliament took control of the country's nonpartisan public media channels, which have since been rebranded as National Media. Station heads were fired and replaced with apparatchiks. EU flags vanished from official press briefings. The party has also stripped the country's highest court, the Constitutional Tribunal, of its most important power: to determine whether laws are constitutional. Poland's government now operates without judicial oversight.

PiS leaders say they are simply redressing imbalances and bias created by a quarter century of liberal compromise. 'We only want to cure our country of a few illnesses,' said Waszczykowski, the Kaczyński-tapped foreign minister. He continued by decrying 'a new mixture of cultures and races, a world made up of cyclists and vegetarians who only use renewable energy and who battle all signs of religion.' In March, following the Brussels terror attacks, Szydło reneged on the previous administration's promise to accept 7,000 Syrian refugees in the coming year, saying that she wasn't comfortable inviting any refugees into the country at all: a headline-making symbolic act. For PiS members, the foreigner lurks behind even seemingly unrelated political issues. In response to an informal letter of concern from the European Commission over the Constitutional Tribunal controversy, officials accused Brussels of blackmailing Poland in order to get them to accept more Syrian refugees. 'This resolution is absurd, harmful, incomplete and countereffective,' one member of parliament told a newspaper. 'There are bombs exploding, a refugee crisis underway, looming Brexit, and the EU focuses on a problem which is not even a problem.'

In June, both houses of parliament passed a new anti-terrorism bill whose language is textbook dictatorial. Developed in secret by PiS party leaders, the law gives the state broad powers of surveillance over all foreigners, including tourists and business travelers. Phones may be wiretapped and fingerprints taken without court oversight. Police can now hold terror suspects for two weeks instead of forty-eight hours before judicial review, which may then incorporate secret charges. Under the new four-stage system of terror alert level, the government may prohibit public assemblies. The law also prohibits the purchase of anonymous prepaid cell phone cards and grants paramilitary troops (now considered members of the state defense) broad and unregulated access to information about Polish citizens.

Concerned liberals have described these events as the 'Orbanization' of Poland. Kaczyński would probably prefer Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban's own term, illiberal state. Foreigners are not the only targets, and in fact leaders claim to be most concerned with bringing expatriated citizens — and their money and labor power — back to the motherland. Polonia, the Polish diaspora, is one of the largest in the world, with about 20 million people of Polish ancestry living outside the country. Some members of my family, Polish Jews who fled westward to escape the pogroms of the twenties, would surely qualify. But foreigners are the first to feel the effects of Poland's new illiberal state. If you want to gauge the density of freedoms in a democracy's atmosphere, you could do worse than to talk to the nearest foreign passport holder, or even those with no passport at all.

I meet Omar at a coffee shop near Warsaw Polytechnic, where he's about to graduate with a degree in programming after a decade of instruction in three countries. Omar is an unfortunate Odysseus of disintegrating states. His family left Baghdad in 2006, when every Iraqi who could afford it was fleeing the capital. He was sixteen when they settled in Syria.

Damascus wasn't perfect. A lot of Syrians held low opinions of Iraqis, Omar tells me, not all of them undeserved. There were a lot of nouveau riche Baghdadis flashing wads of cash around the Syrian city. More than once a landlord showed him photographs of a trashed rental property and apologized: 'Sorry, I don't rent to Iraqis. It's nothing personal.' His family moved to friendlier Raqqa but Omar stayed behind to study at Arab International, a prestigious private university where he paid $7,000 a year in tuition. (It was a whopping sum college in Iraq would have been free.) In 2012, with Omar a year away from graduation and Syria in the early days of civil war, the Iraqi government began offering cash gifts to entice its citizens out of exile. Omar's family was promised five grand, plus the assurance that he would be able to transfer his college credits to the local university. Instead, the college secretary in Baghdad told him he'd have to start from scratch.

'You have to understand,' he tells me, 'my surname is unmistakably Sunni. I was already having trouble at every checkpoint. The woman told me that, with my name, I shouldn't even bother trying to get my credits to transfer.' He shrugs. 'Four years of work, gone.'

An Iraqi in Syria, a Sunni in Iraq, Omar quit school and accepted a job at his father's ISP company, installing routers at the homes of the diplomatic set. A chance encounter with a friendly Polish consul proved life altering. 'He knew what was up. He knew it was every young man's dream to leave this shitpile.' Though his family would later claim asylum in Germany, the consul arranged for Omar to receive a 'language' visa to learn Polish. Once he arrived in Warsaw, in March 2014, he applied to the Polytechnic and was upgraded to a student visa. By the time we meet in May 2016, however, this visa has expired and he is receiving 'subsidiary protection' as an asylum seeker whose hometown is yet again a war zone.

Omar is equanimous about life in Poland. People aren't unfriendly here, he says — not exactly. He has dated Polish girls and collected a circle of lovely cosmopolitan friends. Yes, his first assigned roommate in college was a foaming racist, but then again Omar antagonized him with promises to pray to Mecca five times a day. ('I left religion long ago,' he says, 'but I didn't want to live with that guy.') And yes, there have been other incidents. A friend of his — also named Omar — was beaten up by skinheads. His professors have joked about refugees commanding Polish resources. One said that Omar might kill him over a class interruption 'because this is what you do where you come from.' The same professor later took him out to dinner. Apparently he was a pretty nice guy.

Then Omar says something I've often thought to myself but have never said aloud. 'Ultimately,' he says, 'I believe all humans are racist. We group ourselves naturally and then we have to overcome it.' We've been talking for hours and our conversation has drifted into the philosophical. Omar is well read and his enthusiasm is infectious. We talk Arab Spring. We talk behavioral psychology. Before I realize it we're talking about those moments in your life you never mention: the shameful ones. Moments of rash judgment, prejudice and weakness. It takes a lot of education not to be a bigot, he says. Each person must struggle for it. 'In my country, to call someone a Jew is the worst thing you could possibly say to them.' We laugh. Night has fallen. The cafe is filled with students cramming for finals.

Omar says he's confident the shift in Polish politics is just a phase, a human passage. These are good people who feel victimized and afraid. 'They have changed in the past and can change again.' I want to weep at his magnanimity.

I think a lot about my conversation with Omar. His words remind me of an experiment that is famous in certain academic circles, although less widely known than your Milgrams or Stanford prisons. In the late 1960s a British psychologist named Henri Tajfel began to wonder about prejudice. He wondered: Why are attitudes toward foreigners so similar across cultures, nations and classes? Why do we discriminate against others even when it serves no obvious purpose?

They weren't easy questions to approach scientifically, or even pseudo-scientifically. Tajfel came up with a methodology he called the minimal group paradigm. The MGP invites subjects to play a game to determine the minimal amount of 'difference' that must exist before people start to favor members of their own group over members of another. In the simplest of these games, a subject is told he must allocate reward money to two groups. Tajfal's idea was to begin with groups based on utterly meaningless distinctions and add 'meaning' through subjective details until discrimination began to emerge.

He never got that far. What Tajfel discovered, and what has since been confirmed and expanded over the decades, is that there is no bottom to the human propensity to discriminate. There's no attribute too trivial, no distinction too arbitrary. Forget race, religion or language. Tajfel found that people are happy to discriminate against others based on whether they tend to pick heads or tails when a coin is flipped, whether they over- or under-estimate the number of dots in a diagram, or whether they prefer Kandinsky to Klee.

In the preface to the article he published in Scientific American in 1970, Tajfel does not appear flabbergasted by these results. Instead he laments the way prejudice creates a feedback loop of suspicion and antipathy. First, he writes, economic competition causes people to favor members of their own group over outsiders, however arbitrary those terms are defined. Next, that behavior is justified through attitudes of prejudice ('Well, foreigners can't be trusted!') which in turn lead to new forms of discrimination, which lead to crime and other social problems that only 'prove' that people were right all along to discriminate. The cycle goes on and on, unstoppable, so long — he argues — as resources are limited.

Except that, as he continued to come up with more MGP variations, Tajfel found that discrimination takes place even absent any competition for resources. When members of one group have the option to give more money to another group without giving any less to their own, they still choose to practice what Tajfel calls 'gratuitous discrimination', maximizing the relative difference of money distributed. Groups will discriminate even when it means their own group also receives less money as a result. In the same way that the smile is often said to signify friendliness in every human society no matter how remote or untouched, the desire to get one over on some other bastard appears to be an absolute bedrock principle of human interaction.

A few years ago, a group of researchers tested a 'migrant' variation of Tajfel's minimal group paradigm. In this scenario, subjects weren't divided into groups at all. Instead they were asked to imagine a throng of people divided into the standard minimal groups of meaningless difference, and then to imagine that some members from group B moved into group A and vice versa. Even under such abstract and arbitrary conditions as these, subjects rated the 'migrants' as less honest, attractive and friendly, and more aggressive and rude, than 'native' group members. The study's subjects told the researchers it was just harder to think about migrants, period.

It's only while revisiting his research that I learn Tajfel was actually a migrant himself, and a Pole. He was born Hersz Mordche in Włocławek in 1919. Stymied by the strict quotas for Jewish students at universities in the 1930s, he emigrated to France to study chemistry at the Sorbonne, where he volunteered to serve in the French army during the Second World War. He claimed French citizenship when captured and so he survived the war in a POW camp. On returning to Poland after Germany's surrender, he learned that the Nazis had killed his entire family. He worked briefly for a Jewish relief group for orphaned children before moving to England, where he studied at Oxford and helped to develop what became known as social identity theory. He settled in as the chair of social psychology at the University of Bristol. A British citizen, he died in 1982, during Poland's nightmare era of martial law.

I'm afraid of what's happening in Poland. Who wouldn't be? The unsubtle grasping at myth, the paranoid claims of persecution, the widespread ressentiment. I'm afraid for the lovely and tolerant people I meet in Warsaw and Krakow, Poles and foreigners alike, who refuse to accept what's happening to their country. I'm afraid because it feels of a piece with what's happening all over, a glimpse into our own possible future. I drive around the German countryside before election weekends and count the extreme right-wing posters zip-tied to private fences. I read the running tally of unarmed black Americans executed by warrior cops. I follow Trump's latest untrumpable horror. It all seems part of the same lizard-brained conspiracy of racial fear. If Poland is special owing to its history — which has conferred on the national character a few well-earned insecurities, and has forced out or murdered the minorities whose numbers tend to correlate with a kind of begrudging tolerance — if Poland is special among nations, the difference is a matter of degrees, not of kind.

I share a draft of my thoughts with my friend in Warsaw. She asks why I haven't talked more about the hollowing out of Poland's labor force, and the pockets of rural poverty left untouched by the invisible hand. I'm focusing on symptoms, she says, not causes. Don't I know that the whole city of Warsaw mourned the Brexit vote, that most Poles still adore the EU despite feeling like the continent's unwanted stepchild? I know she's right. I'm being unfair, performing acts of national psychoanalysis with Wikipedia-sourced hash, conflating a country's government and its citizenry. I'm a tourist. I don't even speak the language. Yet because I arrive with my bag of Enlightenment tricks I feel I have the right to condemn a whole country. The emissary of the enlightened West with his banner of slavery and torture and CIA-sponsored coups.

Chastised, I tell my friend what I told Omar: that no one is innocent. Growing up white in and around Baltimore, I learned early on when I was supposed to cross to the other side of the street or lock the car doors. I parroted Israeli Defense Force talking points in Hebrew school with the confidence of every ten year old. In high school I attended a 'cultural stereotype' party, photos of which I'm not keen to revisit. I felt at times there were perhaps too many Chinese exchange students in my college seminars. I was racist, I was — still am — a bigot. I don't believe we ever reach the plateau of perfect tolerance. Even leaving Nura's office I cluck my tongue at the culture that saddles a woman with seven kids and a full-time job, and won't let her shake a stranger's hand. She says her husband is sick, but I've read that a lot of Chechen men in Poland simply refuse to work, that they consider the menial jobs on offer to be beneath them (if not their wives).

And while I know that statistically I should be more concerned about my cholesterol level, I'm afraid of dying in a terrorist attack. I scope emergency exit signs at airport terminals. I keep to the edges of crowds.

That said, I seek out one crowded Warsaw scene before heading home. Street vendors selling flags of all sizes, ribbons, flowers, lightsabers. One vendor at Stare Miasto sells pins of Poland's heraldic crests next to others depicting crossed-out silhouettes of minaret and dome. It's the eve of Constitution Day. Sporadic downpours interrupt the chords of afternoon sunlight singing down on Nowy Świat. I sit at a Costa Coffee across from the church where Chopin's exhumed heart floats in a jar of brandy encased in a pillar.

His body is buried in Paris, in that famous cemetery where Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde suffer the graffiti and hemp votives of gap-year pilgrims, but his heart made its way to Warsaw thanks to his uncommonly devoted sister, who returned to Poland after the funeral in a train carriage with the brandy jar hidden under her skirt. The year was 1850. Thus the heart found its way back by sense of ownership to the land of its first beating: back to the Catholic Church, to be exhumed and reinterred during Nazi occupation, exhumed and reinterred again by the Soviets, and a third time in 2014. This macabre symbol of patriotism can never rest. Like the legend of the True Pole, its portion of history can never be finished.

As I eat a slice of dry Costa cake, Legia Warszawa fans are stumbling back from the stadium on the other side of the Vistula, where their team has just won its eighteenth Polish Cup. They are headed for Sigismund's Column in the palace square. Even the drunkest fan seems to manage the route, falling into patches of fresh mulch and statues of Mickiewicz and Copernicus for the amusement of tourists. In Copernicus's hand someone has placed the bicolor. At his feet someone else has spray-painted the phrase REFUGEES WELCOME.

The next day my friend and I meet at the palace square, together with a few thousand Varsovians. We're surrounded by the sweetly marzipan buildings that were demolished during the Warsaw Uprising. Under siege by the Germans, abandoned by the Russians, Poles held onto their city for a savage month of combat. The Old Town has since been reconstructed with Epcot attention to detail, the houses painted vintage shades of apricot, lilac, ivory and coral. It's hot and dusty. No one is permitted anywhere near the temporary stage, where President Duda is busy heaping praise upon the Polish constitution.

My friend translates the speech for my benefit. Duda mentions 'a bloodless discussion', and how we must study the constitution not only academically but 'to see what kind of country we want to make.' It's boilerplate, she tells me. As the speech ends, a parade begins inching toward the presidential palace. We seek out the liberal counter-protest and are dismayed to find just a dozen or so people waving banners that spell out PiS's constitution-trampling reforms. A few yards beyond them, a larger demonstration gathers around a boyish student who is screaming through a bullhorn. Some of the people gathered — about an even split between young and old — are wearing green armbands showcasing the Słoneczko, a pagan sun symbol and neo-swastika for white-power Slavs. It's a bad scene. A huge EU flag is dragged across the wet pavement until it's a sopping blue tarp. Several pairs of boots grind it into the earth.

During the years of Soviet rule, hundreds of thousands of brave Poles registered — through protest, work slowdowns, strike, and revolt — their desire to join the West, a land of material fortune and personal freedom. They did so at great personal cost. Protest leaders were killed or imprisoned, workers were beaten and shot. Against this brutality, they developed an enviable awareness of their own history. Now even drunk football fans know how to play the heaving cello of Polish nationalism, singing patriotic songs around the column of a national unifier 500 years dead. As a typical American (by which I mean a person who struggles to recall the words to our national anthem or anything at all about the Stamp Act), I find it deeply impressive.

But the West is not just a place one joins. It is a process of migration and exchange. There can be no compromise on this point. Difference and tolerance are written into its founding documents. No matter how sorry our track record when it comes to enlivening the principles of those pages, we have more or less agreed not to abandon them. When made to confront the errors of my past, I reform, or try to. When made to face the most rancid hypocrisy — slavery, genocide — we revise. We improve. We enfranchise. That's the idea, isn't it? The Enlightenment project? I realize it has its critics as far as projects go. On the academic left, in particular, it is seen as the engine of colonialism and conquest – and fair enough. The sleep of reason produces monsters. But show me an alternative that doesn't drop us back into the deep well of mythology. It is because of this project, this 'unfinished project' in Habermas's phrase, that no country can afford to cling for very long to its blood myths, those stories about Real Americans and True Poles, about a land with no strangers. A land of pure citizen. For while this myth must speak to something deep within us, something as primal as lust or hunger, no such land has ever existed on any continent. When we try to construct one, the effect is grotesque precisely because the myth's falsehood is so apparent, so irreconcilable with the project we've signed on to. It remains false even if our belief creates its own contemporary mini-realities of apartheid, civil war, internment camps, Palestinian slums, or Guantanamo Bay. These places don't validate the myth. They only show that progress is not a given. We can slip backwards. Poland is the home not just of Chopin but of Chelmno, Treblinka, and Auschwitz-Birkenau. In Krakow I take the local bus to Auschwitz on what feels like the sunniest summer day in human history. Although I spend hours there, I find that I have no thoughts worth recording except to wonder where all my great-great-aunts and uncles were murdered, whether it was Auschwitz or another camp, or the ravine of Babi Yar, and if there are records I might consult to find out. It seems a little crass, even obvious, to mention — but we must mention — that the myth of the land without strangers is as dangerous as any in human history.

Poland is once again fighting a battle on two fronts: against a small but vocal part of itself, and against the globalized future. The country is aging rapidly and its native labor force is in decline. 500,000 Poles left the country in 2013 alone. In a restaurant looking onto the old kosher slaughterhouse in Krakow, now a flea market for jazz records and Nazi memorabilia, I meet Beata Kowalska, a veteran activist who once marched with Solidarity and today marches for refugees. She tells me that virtually every person in Poland knows a family member who traveled to some strange land to pursue a better life than they could find at home. According to her, the real migrant crisis is the fact that people can't connect their own family's experience to a larger narrative of migration: a story to rival the great and ruinous myths of nations. A story to lift the weight of difference.

At the start of May I head back to Berlin, where for a few years now I've lived the comfortable life of an American expat. Just days later, on 7 May, a quarter of a million people protest in Warsaw against the new administration. It's a spontaneous and peaceful uprising on a scale unknown since the Communist era. Nearly one-fifth of the city's population gathers in the street: students and pensioners, Poles, Ukrainians, the equivalent of at least a hundred Constitution Day parades. More assemblies follow in June, and in October hundreds of thousands of women all over the country walk away from their jobs to protest PiS's proposed abortion law, forcing parliament to retract plans to vote on the measure. A small but powerful step. The people are not hiding. They have changed in the past and can change again.

World War II Database

ww2dbase Poland had been reborn as an independent nation after World War I and the collapse of Austria-Hungary, Russia, and Germany. Polish borders had been partly re-established by the Versailles Treaty but a series of armed conflicts with Germany, Czechoslovakia, Lithuania, and Ukrainian nationalists, as well as a major war with the Soviet Union, gave the borders their final shape.

ww2dbase During the course of the Polish-Soviet War (1919-20), Poland had been forced to rely on her own resources as help from the Western Allies had been slow in coming or had actively blocked by pro-communist unions in Europe. Because of the Polish-Soviet war and continuing Soviet efforts at infiltration thereafter, Polish military and political planning focused primarily on a future conflict with the Soviets. To this end, the Poles developed alliances with Rumania and Latvia. Poland's policy toward Germany was based on her alliance with France, but Polish-Czech relations remained cool. The problem with the French alliance, as far as the Poles were concerned, was the instability in French politics which resulted in constant indecision about the eastern alliances. As governments rose and fell in regular succession, French policies toward Poland and other allies changed.

ww2dbase German military leaders had begun planning for war with Poland as early as the mid 1920s. Recovering the ethnically Polish territory of Pomerania, Poznan, and Silesia, as well as the largely German Free City of Danzig were the major objectives. Nevertheless, the restrictions of Versailles and Germany's internal weakness made such plans impossible to realize. Hitler's rise to power in 1933 capitalized on German's desire to regain lost territories, to which Nazi leaders added the goal of destroying an independent Poland. According to author Alexander Rossino, prior to the war Hitler was at least as anti-Polish as anti-Semitic in his opinions. That same year, Poland's Marshal Jozef Pilsudski proposed to the French a plan for a joint invasion to remove Hitler from power, which the French vetoed as mad warmongering.

ww2dbase In 1934, however, the Germans signed a non-aggression pact with Poland, providing a kind of breathing space for both countries. German efforts to woo Poland into an anti-Soviet alliance were politely deferred as Poland attempted to keep her distance from both powerful neighbors. As German power began to grow, however, and Hitler increasingly threatened his neighbors, the Poles and French began to revitalize their alliance.

ww2dbase The Munich Pact dramatically increased Poland's danger. At the last minute, the Poles and Czechs had attempted to patch up their differences. The Czechs would give up disputed territory taken in 1919 and half ownership in the Skoda arms works in exchange for Polish military intervention in the case of German attack. The Munich Pact, however, closed this option and Poland sent its troops to forcibly occupy the territory of Teschen and the nearby Bohumin rail junction to keep it out of German hands.

ww2dbase After Hitler violated the Munich treaty, Poland was able to extract guarantees of military assistance from France, and significantly, Britain. In March 1939, Hitler began to make demands on Poland for the return of territory in the Polish Corridor, cessation of Polish rights in Danzig, and annexation of the Free City to Germany. These Poland categorically rejected. As negotiations continued, both sides prepared for war.

ww2dbase Editor's addition: German demands sent to Poland on 25 Aug 1939 were the following.

  • The return of Danzig to Germany
  • Rail and road access across the corridor between Germany and East Prussia
  • The cession to Germany any Polish territory formerly of pre-WW1 Germany that hosted 75% or more ethnic Germans
  • An international board to discuss the cession of the Polish Corridor to Germany

ww2dbase Hitler, however, again altered the strategic landscape again in August 1939 when Germany and the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact which contained secret protocols designed to partition Poland and divide up most of eastern Europe between the two dictators.

ww2dbase Strategic Considerations

ww2dbase Poland's strategic position in 1939 was weak, but not hopeless. German control over Slovakia added significantly to Poland's already overly long frontier. German forces could attack Poland from virtually any direction.

ww2dbase Poland's major weakness, however, was its lack of a modernized military. In the 1920s, Poland had had the world's first all-metal air force, but had since fallen behind other powers. Poland was a poor, agrarian nation without significant industry. While Polish weapons design was often equal or superior to German and Soviet design, it simply lacked the capacity to produce equipment in the needed quantities. One example was the P-37 Łos bomber, which at start of the war was the world's best medium bomber. Another example was the "Ur" anti-tank rifle which was the first weapon to use tungsten-core ammunition.

ww2dbase To motorize a single division to German standards would have required use of all the civilian cars and trucks in the country. This occurred despite heroic efforts by Polish society to create a modern military which included fundraising among civilians and the Polish communities in the USA to buy modern equipment. As a percentage of GNP, Polish defense spending in the 1930s was second in Europe, behind the Soviet Union but ahead of Germany. Yet, in real dollar terms, the budget of the Luftwaffe alone in 1939 was ten times greater than the entire Polish defense budget. Yet even this did not give the full picture, since the Polish defense budget included money to upgrade roads and bridges and to build arms factories.

ww2dbase The Polish leadership was also hamstrung by political rifts and by the legacy of Pilsudski's authoritarian rule which had retarded the development of modern strategic thinking and command. The top leadership was held by Marshal Edward Smigly-Rydz, who had been an able corps commander in 1920 but lacked the ability to command a complex modern army. Yet there were many able officers, such as Gen. Tadeusz Kutrzeba and Gen. Kazimierz Sosnkowski. Although overburdened by military brass, Poland had a solid corps of junior officers. The Polish Air Force, by contrast, was a very strong service.

ww2dbase Poland's one major advantage was in intelligence, beginning in the early 1930s, a group of young mathematicians had managed to break the German military codes of the supposedly unbreakable Enigma encoding machine. Until 1938, virtually all German radio traffic could be read by Polish intelligence. Thereafter, the Germans began to add new wrinkles to their systems, complicating the task. On the eve of the war, the Poles could read about ten percent of Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe traffic and nothing from the Kriegsmarine. However, the German military police frequencies continued to use the older system and were fully readable. This was augmented by human intelligence efforts. By September 1, 1939, the Polish high command knew the location and disposition of 90 percent of German combat units on the eastern front.

ww2dbase Polish doctrine had developed during the Polish-Soviet War and emphasized maneuver with little reliance placed on static defenses, aside from a few key points. Unfortunately, the Polish army's ability to maneuver was far less than the more mechanized German army.

ww2dbase Much mythology surrounds Poland's use of cavalry, mostly due to Nazi propaganda absorbed by Western historians. About 10 percent of the Polish army was horse cavalry, a smaller percentage than the U.S. army in 1939. Poland had more tanks than Italy, a country with a well developed automotive industry. Polish cavalry were used as form of mobile infantry and rarely fought mounted, and never with lances. The cavalry attracted high-caliber recruits and the forces trained alongside tanks and possessed greater tank-fighting ability than comparable infantry units. Their use was also envisioned in any conflict with the USSR in eastern Poland where the terrain was mainly forest, swamp, and mountain.

ww2dbase Poland's primary strategic goal was to draw France and Britain into the war on her side in the event of an attack by Germany. Poland's defense strategy in 1939, developed by Gen. Kutrzeba, envisioned a fighting withdrawal to the southeastern part of the country, the "Rumanian bridgehead." There, the high command stockpiled reserve supplies of equipment and fuel. In the rougher terrain north of the Rumanian and Hungarian borders, the army would make its stand. If all went well, an Anglo-French counterattack in the west would reduce German pressure and Polish forces could be re-supplied by the allies through friendly Rumania.

ww2dbase Hitler's political tactics, however, forced a modification of this plan. Fearing the Germans might attempt to seize the Polish Corridor or Danzig and then declare the war over, Polish forces were ordered closer to the border to ensure that any German attack would be immediately engaged in major combat. In so doing they would ensure that Poland's allies could not wriggle out of their treaty obligations.

ww2dbase For its part, Germany's planners sought to deliver a rapid knock out blow to Poland within the first two weeks. German forces would launch deep armored attacks into Poland along two main routes: ?od?-Piotrkow-Warsaw and from Prussia across the Narew River into eastern Mazovia. There would be secondary attacks in the south and against the Polish coastal defenses in the north. The primary objective would be to cut off Polish forces in northern and western Poland and seize the capital. [Editor's addition: To further deter France from entering the soon-to-begin German-Polish conflict, Hitler made several public visits to the West Wall on the German-French border beginning from Aug 1938 to survey the construction of bunkers, blockhouses, and other fortifications. The Nazi propaganda machine elaborated on these visits to form a picture of an invincible defensive line to deter French attacks when Germany invades Poland.]

ww2dbase Opposing Forces

ww2dbase On paper, Poland's full mobilized army would have numbered about 2.5 million. Due to allied pressure and mismanagement, however, only about 600,000 Polish troops were in place to meet the German invasion on September 1, 1939. These forces were organized into 7 armies and 5 independent operational groups. The typical Polish infantry division was roughly equal in numbers to its German counterpart, but weaker in terms of anti-tank guns, artillery support, and transport. Poland had 30 active and 7 reserve divisions. In addition there were 12 cavalry brigades and one mechanized cavalry brigade. These forces were supplemented by units of the Border Defense Corps (KOP), an elite force designed to secure the frontiers from infiltration and engage in small unit actions, diversion, sabotage, and intelligence gathering. There was also a National Guard used for local defense and equipped with older model weapons. Armored train groups and river flotillas operated under army command.

ww2dbase German forces were organized in two Army Groups, with a total of 5 armies. The Germans fielded about 1.8 million troops. The Germans had 2600 tanks against the Polish 180, and over 2,000 aircraft against the Polish 420. German forces were supplemented by a Slovak brigade.

ww2dbase Opening Moves

ww2dbase Armed clashes along the border became increasingly frequent in August 1939 as Abwehr operations worked to penetrate Polish forward areas and were opposed by the Polish Border Defense Corps, an elite unit originally designed to halt Soviet penetration of the eastern frontier. These clashes alarmed the French who urged the Poles to avoid "provoking" Hitler.

ww2dbase Polish forces had been partly mobilized in secret in the summer of 1939. Full mobilization was to be declared in late August, but was halted at French insistence. Mobilization was again declared on August 30, but halted to French threats to withhold assistance, and then re-issued the following day. As a result of this, only about a third of Polish forces were equipped and in place on Sept. 1.

ww2dbase On August 31, operational Polish air units were dispersed to secret airfields. The navy's three most modern destroyers executed Operation Peking and slipped out of the Baltic Sea to join the Royal Navy. Polish submarines dispersed to commence minelaying operations.

ww2dbase As Hitler gathered his generals, he ordered them to "kill without pity or mercy all men, women, and children of Polish descent or language. only in this way can we achieve the living space we need." Mobile killing squads Einsatzgruppen would follow the main body of troops, shooting POWs and any Poles who might organize resistance. On the night of August 31, Nazi agents staged a mock Polish attack on a German radio station in Silesia, dressing concentration camp prisoners in Polish uniforms and then shooting them. Hitler declared that Germany would respond to "Polish aggression."

ww2dbase The invasion began at 4.45 A.M. The battleship Schleswig-Holstein was moored at the port of the Free City of Danzig on a "courtesy visit" near the Polish military transit station of Westerplatte. The station was on a sandy, narrow peninsula in the harbor, garrisoned by a small force of 182 men. At quarter to five on September 1, 1939, the giant guns of the battleship opened up on the Polish outpost at point-blank range. As dawn broke, Danzig SS men advanced on Westerplatte expecting to find only the pulverized remains of the Polish garrison. Instead, they found the defenders very much alive. In moments the German attack was cut to pieces. Further attacks followed. Polish defenders dueled the mighty battleship with a small field gun. At the Polish Post Office in Danzig, postal workers and Polish boy scouts held off Nazi forces for most of the day before surrendering. The post office defenders were summarily executed. A similar fate awaited Polish railway workers south of the city after they foiled an attempt to use an armored train to seize a bridge over the Vistula.

ww2dbase Battle for the Borders

ww2dbase German forces and their Danzig and Slovak allies attacked Poland across most sectors of the border. In the north, they attacked the Polish Corridor. In southern and central Poland, Nazi armored spearheads attacked toward Łódź and Kraków. In the skies, German planes commenced terror bombing of cities and villages. Nazi armies massacred civilians and used women and children as human shields. Everywhere were scenes of savage fighting and unbelievable carnage. Polish forces defending the borders gave a good account of themselves. At Mokra, near Częstochowa, the Nazi 4th Panzer Division attacked two regiments of the Wolynska Cavalry Brigade. The Polish defenders drew the Germans into a tank trap and destroyed over 50 tanks and armored cars.

ww2dbase The battle in the Polish Corridor was especially intense. It was here that the myth of the Polish cavalry charging German tanks was born. As Gen. Heinz Guderian's panzer and motorized forces pressed the weaker Polish forces back, a unit of Pomorska Cavalry Brigade slipped through German lines late in the day on Sept. 1 in an effort to counterattack and slow the German advance. The unit happened on a German infantry battalion making camp. The Polish cavalry mounted a saber charge, sending the Germans fleeing at that moment, a group of German armored cars arrived on the scene and opened fire on the cavalry, killing several troopers and forcing the rest to retreat. Nazi propagandists made this into "cavalry charging tanks" and even made a movie to embellish their claims. While historians remembered the propaganda, they forgot that on September 1, Gen. Guderian had to personally intervene to stop the German 20th motorized division from retreating under what it described as "intense cavalry pressure." This pressure was being applied by the Polish 18th Lancer Regiment, a unit one tenth its size.

ww2dbase Where the Poles were in position, they usually got the better of the fight, but due to the delay in mobilization, their forces were too few to defend all sectors. The effectiveness of German mechanized forces proved to be their ability to bypass Polish strong points, cutting them off and isolating them. By September 3, although the country was cheered by the news that France and Britain had declared war on Germany, the Poles were unable to contain the Nazi breakthroughs. Army Łódź, despite furious resistance, was pushed back and lost contact with its neighboring armies. German tanks drove through the gap directly toward Warsaw. In the Polish Corridor, Polish forces tried to stage a fighting withdrawal but suffered heavy losses to German tanks and dive bombers. In the air, the outnumbered Polish fighter command fought with skill and courage, especially around Warsaw. Nevertheless, Nazi aircraft systematically targeted Polish civilians, especially refugees. Bombing and shelling sent tens of thousands of people fleeing for their lives, crowding the roads, hindering military traffic.

ww2dbase Editor's addition: Realizing that escaping civilians crowded up important transportation routes and disrupted Polish military movement, the Germans began to broadcast fake Polish news programs that either falsely reported the position of German armies or to encourage civilians of certain areas to evacuate. With both methods, the Germans were able to exploit the fear of the Polish civilians and render Polish transportation systems nearly useless.

ww2dbase The effects of the Poles' lack of mobility and the fateful decision to position forces closer to the border now began to tell. On September 5, the Polish High Command, fearing Warsaw was threatened, decided to relocate to southeastern Poland. This proved a huge mistake as the commanders soon lost contact with their major field armies. Warsaw itself was thrown into panic at the news.

ww2dbase Resistance Stiffens

ww2dbase Although the situation was grim, it was not yet hopeless. Following the High Command's departure, the mayor of Warsaw Stefan Starzyński and General Walerian Czuma rallied the city's defenders. Citizen volunteers built barricades and trenches. An initial German attack on the city's outskirts was repulsed.

ww2dbase The fast German advance took little account of Army Poznań under the command of Gen. Kutrzeba which had been bypassed on the Nazis' quick drive toward Warsaw. On September 8-9, Army Poznań counterattacked from the north against the flank of the German forces moving on Warsaw. The Nazi advance halted in the face of the initial Polish success on the River Bzura. The Nazis' superiority in tanks and aircraft, however, allowed them to regroup and stop Army Poznań's southward push. The counterattack turned into a battle of encirclement. Although some forces managed to escape to Warsaw, by September 13, the Battle of Bzura was over and Polish forces destroyed. The delay, however, had allowed Warsaw to marshal its defenses, turning the perimeter of the city into a series of makeshift forts. In the south, German forces had captured Kraków early in the campaign but their advance slowed down as they approached Lwow. The defenders of Westerplatte had surrendered after seven days of fighting against overwhelming odds, but the city of Gdynia and the Hel Peninsula still held as Polish coastal batteries kept German warships at bay.

ww2dbase By the middle of September, Polish losses had been severe and the German advance had captured half of the country. The high command's fateful decision to leave Warsaw had resulted in more than a week of confusion, rescued only by the courage of Army Poznań's doomed counterattack. By the middle of September, however, Polish defenses were stiffening. Local commanders and army-level generals now directed defenses around the key bastions of Warsaw, the Seacoast, and Lwow. German losses began to rise (reaching their peak during the third week of the campaign). Small Polish units isolated by the rapid advance regrouped and struck at vulnerable rear-area forces.

ww2dbase Black September

ww2dbase This thin ray of hope, however, was extinguished on September 17 when Red Army forces crossed Poland's eastern border as Stalin moved to assist his Nazi ally and to seize his share of Polish territory. Nearly all Polish troops had been withdrawn from the eastern border to fight the Nazi onslaught. Only a few units of the Border Defense Corps aided by local volunteers stood in the way of Stalin's might. Although often outnumbered 100 to 1, these forces refused to surrender.

ww2dbase One such force commanded by Lt. Jan Bolbot was attacked by tens of thousands of Red Army troops in their bunkers near Sarny. Bolbot's surrounded men mowed down thousands of Soviet attackers who advanced in human waves. Finally, communist forces piled debris around the bunkers and set them on fire. Lt. Bolbot, who remained in telephone contact with his commander, reported that the neighboring bunker had been breached and he could see hand to hand fighting there. He told his commander that his own bunker was on fire and filling with thick smoke but all his men were still at their posts and shooting back. Then the line went dead. The entire Sarny garrison fought to the last man. Bolbot was posthumously awarded the Virtuti Militari, Poland's highest military decoration.

ww2dbase Polish defenses in the southeast fell apart as formations were ordered to fall back across the relatively friendly Rumanian and Hungarian borders to avoid capture. Fighting raged around Warsaw, the fortress of Modlin, and on the seacoast. On September 28, Warsaw capitulated. Polish forces on the Hel Peninsula staved off surrender until October 1. In the marshes of east central Poland, Group Polesie continued to mount effective resistance until October 5. When this final organized force gave up, its ammunition was gone and its active duty soldiers were outnumbered by the prisoners it had taken.

ww2dbase Throughout the first two and half weeks of September 1939, Germany threw its entire air force, all of panzer forces, and all of its frontline infantry and artillery against Poland. Its border with France was held by a relatively thin force of second and third string divisions. The French army, from its secure base behind the Maginot Line, had overwhelming superiority in men, tanks, aircraft, and artillery. A concerted push into western Germany would have been a disaster for Hitler. Yet the French stood aside and did nothing. The British were equally inactive, sending their bombers to drop propaganda leaflets over a few German cities. Had the Allies acted, the bloodiest and most terrible war in human history could have been averted.

ww2dbase Managing Editor C. Peter Chen's Addition

ww2dbase The Western Betrayal

ww2dbase Since Britain and France had given Germany a freehand in annexing Czechoslovakia, some people of Central and Eastern Europe placed a distrust on the democratic nations of Western Europe. They used the word "betrayal" to describe their western allies who failed to fulfill their treaty responsibilities to stand by the countries they swore to protect. Britain and France's lack of initial response to the German invasion convinced them that their western allies had indeed betrayed them.

ww2dbase Britain simply did not wish to give up the notion that Germany could be courted as a powerful ally. After a note was sent from London to Berlin regarding to the invasion of her ally, Lord Halifax followed up by sending British Ambassador in Berlin Nevile Henderson a note stating that the note was "in the nature of a warning and is not to be considered as an ultimatum." Deep in its pacifist fantasies, Britain did not consider the violation of her allies borders a valid cause for war. France's response to the invasion was similar, expressing a willingness to negotiate though refusing to send any deadline for a German response. At 1930 London time on 1 Sep 1939, the British parliament gathered for a statement from Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, expecting a declaration of war as dictated by the terms of the pact between Britain and Poland, or minimally the announcement of an ultimatum for Berlin. Instead, Chamberlain noted that Hitler was a busy man and might not had the time to review the note from Berlin yet. When he sat down after his speech, there were no cheers even the parliament characterized by its support for appeasement was stunned by Chamberlain's lack of action.

ww2dbase As Britain and France idled, the German Luftwaffe bombed Polish cities. They submitted messages to Berlin noting that if German troops were withdrawn, they were willing to forget the whole ordeal and return things to the status quo. It was a clear violation of the military pacts that they had signed with Poland. Finally, on 3 Sep, after thousands of Polish military and civilian personnel had already perished, Britain declared war on Germany at 1115. France followed suit at 1700 on the same day. Even after they had declared war, however, the sentiment did not steer far from that of appeasement. The two western Allies remained mostly idle. While Poland desperately requested the French Army to advance into Germany to tie down German divisions and requested Britain to bomb German industrial centers, Britain and especially France did nothing in fear of German reprisals. In one of the biggest "what-if" scenarios of WW2, even Wilhelm Keitel noted that had France reacted by conducting a full-scale invasion of Germany, Germany would have fallen immediately. "We soldiers always expected an attack by France during the Polish campaign, and were very surprised that nothing happened. A French attack would have encountered only a German military screen, not a real defense", he said. The invasion was not mounted instead, token advances were made under the order of Maurice Gamelin of France, where a few divisions marched into Saarbrücken and immediately withdrawn. The minor French expedition was embellished in Gamelin's communique as an invasion, and falsely gave the impression that France was fully committed and was meeting stiff German resistance. While the Polish ambassy in London reported several times that Polish civilians were being targeted by German aerial attacks, Britain continued to insist that the German military had been attacking only military targets.

ww2dbase Source: The Last Lion

ww2dbase Occupation and Escape

ww2dbase Both German and Soviet occupations began with murder and brutality. Many prisoners of war were executed on the spot or later during the war. Countless civilians were also shot or sent to concentration camps, including political leaders, clergy, boy scouts, professors, teachers, government officials, doctors, and professional athletes. Among them was Mayor Starzynski of Warsaw who had rallied his city to resist the Nazi onslaught. In the German sector, Jews were singled out for special brutality.

ww2dbase Many small army units continued to fight from remote forests. Among the most famous was the legendary "Major Hubal," the pseudonym of Major Henryk Dobrzański. Major Hubal and his band of 70-100 men waged unrelenting guerilla warfare on both occupiers until they were cornered by German forces in April 1940 and wiped out. Hubal's body was burned by the Germans and buried in secret so he would not become a martyr, but others soon took his place.

ww2dbase POWs captured by the Germans were to be sent to labor and prison camps. Many soldiers escaped and disappeared into the local population. Those who remained in German custody were frequently abused, used for slave labor, or shot. POWs captured by the Soviets suffered an even worse fate. Officers were separated from the enlisted men and an estimated 22,000 were massacred by the Soviets. Enlisted men were often sent to Siberian gulags where many died.

ww2dbase Large numbers of Polish soldiers had fled into neighboring Hungary and Rumania where they were interned. While both countries were officially allied to Germany, both had strong sympathy for the Poles. This was especially true in Hungary. Polish soldiers began to disappear from internment camps as bribable or sympathetic guards and officials pretended to look the other way. Individually and in small groups, they made their way to France and Britain. German diplomats raged at their Hungarian and Rumanian counterparts, but officials in neither country had much interest in enforcing Berlin’s decrees. As a result, within months a new Polish army had begun to form in the West.

ww2dbase Sources: Steven Zaloga and Victor Madej, The Polish Campaign, 1939 (1985)
John Radzilowski, Traveller's History of Poland (2006)
E. Kozlowski, Wojna Obronna Polski, 1939 (1979)
Jan Gross, Revolution from Abroad (1988)

Last Major Update: Jul 2006

Invasion of Poland Interactive Map

Invasion of Poland Timeline

3 Apr 1939 Adolf Hitler, on his own authority, ordered the armed forces to prepare "Case White" for the invasion and occupation of the whole of Poland later in the summer.
7 May 1939 German Generals Rundstedt, Manstein, and other General Staff members presented to Hitler an invasion plan for Danzig and Poland.
15 Jun 1939 The German Army presented a plan to Adolf Hitler for the invasion of Poland, with much of the strategy focusing on concentrated surprise attacks to quickly eliminate Polish opposition.
10 Aug 1939 Reinhard Heydrich ordered SS Officer Alfred Naujocks to fake an attack on a radio station near Gleiwitz, Germany, which was on the border with Poland. "Practical proof is needed for these attacks of the Poles for the foreign press as well as German propaganda", said Heydrich, according to Naujocks.
14 Aug 1939 Adolf Hitler announced to his top military commanders that Germany was to enter in a war with Poland at the end of Aug 1939, and that the United Kingdom and France would not enter the fray, especially if Poland could be decisively wiped out in a week or two.
17 Aug 1939 The Germany military was ordered to supply the SS organization with 150 Polish Army uniforms.
22 Aug 1939 With a non-aggression pact nearly secured with the Soviet Union, German leader Adolf Hitler ordered the Polish invasion to commence on 26 Aug 1939. He told his top military commanders to be brutal and show no compassion in the upcoming war.
24 Aug 1939 In Berlin, Germany, journalist William Shirer noted in his diary "it looks like war" based on his observations throughout the day.
24 Aug 1939 M1 ferried 230 naval infantry troops of the German Navy Marinestosstruppkompanie to the battleship Schleswig-Holstein during the preparations for the invasion of Poland.
25 Aug 1939 In the morning, Adolf Hitler sent a message to Benito Mussolini, noting that the reason why Italy was not informed of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was because Hitler had not imagined the negotiations would conclude so quickly. He also revealed to him that war was to commence soon, but failed to let him know that the planned invasion date was on the following day. Later on the same day, however, Hitler hesitated in the face of the Anglo-Polish mutual defense agreement he would quickly decide to postpone the invasion date. Meanwhile, in Berlin, Germany, journalist William Shirer noted in his diary that war seems to be imminent.
26 Aug 1939 Some German units ordered to lead the invasion of Poland, originally planned for this date, did not receive the message that the invasion had been postponed in the previous evening and crossed the borders, attacking Polish defenses with rifles, machine guns, and grenades they would be withdrawn back into Germany within hours. Because Poland had experienced so much German provocation in the past few days, Polish leadership brushed off the attacks as another series of provocation, despite having reports that the attacks wore regular uniforms. In the late afternoon, Adolf Hitler set the new invasion date at 1 Sep 1939.
28 Aug 1939 Citizens in Berlin, Germany observed troops moving toward the east.
29 Aug 1939 Adolf Hitler summoned the three leading representatives of the German armed forces, Walther von Brauchitsch, Hermann Göring, and Erich Raeder together with senior Army commanders to his mountain villa at Obersalzberg in southern Germany, where he announced the details of the recently-signed Soviet-German non-aggression pact, the plan to isolate and destroy Poland, and the formation of a buffer state in conquered Poland against the Soviet Union.
31 Aug 1939 The formal order for the German invasion of Poland was given specific instructions were made for German troops on the western border to avoid conflict with the United Kingdom, France, and the Low Countries.
1 Sep 1939 Using the staged Gleiwitz radio station attack as an excuse, Germany declared war on Poland. Meanwhile, the radio station in Minsk, Byelorussia increased the frequency of station identification and extended its playing time in an attempt to help German aviators navigate. Among the opening acts of the European War, the German Luftwaffe bombed the town of Wielu in Poland, causing 1,200 civilian casualties.
1 Sep 1939 German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop warned Adolf Hitler that the invasion of Poland would compel France to fight. Hitler (exceptionally irritable, bitter and sharp with anyone advising caution) replied: "I have at last decided to do without the opinions of people who have misinformed me on a dozen occasions. I shall rely on my own judgement."
2 Sep 1939 During the day, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French Prime Minister Édouard Daladier issued a joint ultimatum to Germany, demanding the withdraw of troops from Poland within 12 hours. During the late hours of the night, Chamberlain attempted to convince Dalalier to carry out the threat from the earlier ultimatum by declaring war on Germany early in the next morning.
3 Sep 1939 At 0900 hours, British Ambassador in Germany Nevile Henderson delivered the British declaration of war to German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, effective at 1100 hours British Commonwealth nations of New Zealand and Australia followed suit. France would also declare war later on this day, effective at 1700 hours. In the afternoon, Adolf Hitler issued an order to his generals, again stressing that German troops must not attack British and French positions. Finally, Hitler also sent a message to the Soviet Union, asking the Soviets to jointly invade Poland.
3 Sep 1939 At 1115 hours, British Prime Minsiter Neville Chamberlain announced over radio that because Germany had failed to withdraw troops from Poland by 1100 hours, a state of war now existed between the United Kingdom and Germany.
5 Sep 1939 German Army units crossed the Vistula River in Poland. Meanwhile, Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov responded to the German invitation to jointly invade Poland in the positive, but noted that the Soviet forces would need several days to prepare he also warned the Germans not to cross the previously agreed upon line separating German and Soviet spheres of influence.
6 Sep 1939 German troops captured the Upper Silesian industrial area in Poland.
7 Sep 1939 German troops captured Kraków, Poland.
7 Sep 1939 In western Poland, the German 30th Infantry Division crossed the Warta River (German: Warthe) on bridges erected by German engineers.
7 Sep 1939 The city of Łódź, Poland was captured by the German 8th Army after the Łódź Army failed to halt their advance.
8 Sep 1939 Polish defenders at Westerplatte, Danzig surrendered.
8 Sep 1939 German troops neared the suburbs of Warsaw, and the Polish government evacuated to Lublin.
9 Sep 1939 Battle of the Bzura, also known as Battle of Kutno to the Germans, began it was to become the largest battle in the Poland campaign. Elsewhere, German forces captured Łódź and Radom. South of Radom, Stuka dive-bombers of Colonel Gunter Schwarzkopff's St.G.77 finished off the great Polish attempt to cross the Vistula River, crushing the last pockets of resistance in conjunction with tanks "Wherever they went", reported one Stuka pilot after the action, "we came across throngs of Polish troops, against which our 110-lb fragmentation bombs were deadly. After that we went almost down to the deck firing our machine guns. The confusion was indescribable." At Warsaw, German attempts to enter the city were repulsed.
9 Sep 1939 In Moscow, Russia, Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov informed the German ambassador that Soviet forces would be ready to attack Poland within a few days.
10 Sep 1939 German troops made a breakthrough near Kutno and Sandomierz in Poland.
13 Sep 1939 The 60,000 survivors in the Radom Pocket in Poland surrendered.
15 Sep 1939 German troops captured Gdynia, Poland. Meanwhile, Polish troops failed to break out of the Kutno Pocket. At Warsaw, with it surrounded by German troops, the Polish Army was ordered to the Romanian border to hold out until the Allies arrive the Romanian government offered asylum to all Polish civilians who could make it across the border Polish military personnel who crossed the border, however, would be interned. In Berlin, Germany, German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop asked the Soviet Union for a definite date and time when Soviet forces would attack Poland.
16 Sep 1939 Polish troops counterattacked, destroying 22 tanks of Leibstandarte SS "Adolf Hitler" regiment. Elsewhere in Poland, German troops captured Brest-Litovsk (now in Belarus). In Moscow, Russia, Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov proposed that the Soviet Union would enter the war with the reason of protection of Ukrainians and Byelorussians Germany complained that it singled out Germany as the lone aggressor.
17 Sep 1939 In Poland, German troops captured Kutno west of Warsaw. East of Warsaw, Heinz Guderian's XIX Panzerkorps of Army Group North made contact with XXII Panzerkorps of Army Group South, just to the south of Brest-Litovsk virtually the whole Polish Army (or what remained of it) was now trapped within a gigantic double pincer. In Russia, Joseph Stalin declared that the government of Poland no longer existed, thus all treaties between the two states were no longer valid Soviet troops poured across the border to join Germany in the invasion, ostensibly to protect Ukrainian and Byelorussian interests from potential German aggression.
18 Sep 1939 A Soviet-German joint victory parade was held in Brest-Litovsk in Eastern Poland (now in Belarus).
19 Sep 1939 West of Warsaw, Poland, at the bend of the Vistula River, German troops imprisoned 170,000 Polish troops as they surrendered.
20 Sep 1939 German General Johannes Blaskowitz noted in his order of the day that, at the Battle of the Bzura in Poland, also known as Battle of Kutno to the Germans, his troops was fighting "in one of the biggest and most destructive battles of all times." Elsewhere, German troops withdrew to the agreed demarcation line in Poland, with Soviet forces moving in behind them. Finally, also on this day, the remaining Polish garrison in Grodno managed to kill 800 Soviet troops and at least 10 tanks.
21 Sep 1939 60,000 survivors of the Polish Southern Army surrendered at Tomaszov and Zamosz, Poland.
22 Sep 1939 Battle of the Bzura, also known as Battle of Kutno to the Germans, ended in Polish defeat it was the largest battle of the Polish campaign during which more than 18,000 Polish troops and about 8,000 German troops were killed. At Lvov, over 210,000 Poles surrender to the Soviets, but at the Battle of Kodziowce the Soviets suffered heavy casualties. Also on this day, the Soviet NKVD began gathering Polish officers for deportation.
22 Sep 1939 Following the Battle of Bzura, Polish General Tadeusz Kutrzeba arrived in Warsaw, Poland where he was briefly appointed as the Deputy Commander of the Warsaw Army. However, his valiant efforts proved futile. The commander of the Warsaw Army, Juliusz Rómmel, could see the writing on the wall and implored his colleague to begin surrender talks with the Germans. Kutrzeba, later captured by the Germans, spent the rest of the war in various prisoners of war camps until he was liberated by the Americans in Apr 1945.
23 Sep 1939 German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop expressed approval for the Soviet proposal on the partition of Poland. Meanwhile, at Krasnobrod, Poland, three squadrons of the Nowgrodek Cavalry Brigade attacked and surprised the German 8th Infantry Division which had entrenched on a hill. The German made a disorderly retreat to a nearby town, hotly pursued by the Polish cavalry. Despite heavy losses from machine-gun fire the Poles secured the town, capturing the German divisional headquarters including General Rudolf Koch-Erpach and about 100 other German soldiers. In addition forty Polish prisoners were freed. During the action Lieutenant Tadeusz Gerlecki, commanding the second squadron, defeated a German cavalry unit - one of the last battles in military history between opposing cavalry.
25 Sep 1939 Warsaw, Poland suffered heavy Luftwaffe bombing and artillery bombardment as Adolf Hitler arrived to observe the attack. To the east, Soviet troops captured Bialystok, Poland. Meanwhile, Joseph Stalin proposed to the Germans that the Soviet Union would take Lithuania which was previously within the German sphere of influence in exchange, the Soviets would give the portions of Poland near Warsaw which were previously within the Soviet sphere of influence but had already been overrun by German troops.
27 Sep 1939 Warsaw, Poland fell to the Germans after two weeks of siege. Near Grabowiec, Soviets executed 150 Polish policemen.
28 Sep 1939 At Brest-Litovsk, Poland (now Belarus), Germans and Soviets signed the agreement denoting their common border in Poland.
29 Sep 1939 With the formal surrender of Poland, including the last 35,000 besieged troops in Modlin, the Germany and Soviet Union finished dividing up Poland.
6 Oct 1939 The final Polish forces surrendered near Kock and Lublin after fighting both Germans and Soviets.
10 Oct 1939 Adolf Hitler announced the victorious end to the Polish campaign and called on France and England to end hostilities, which was ignored by both governments.
30 Oct 1939 An act was signed in Moscow, Russia which formally annexed occupied Polish territories.
7 Jan 1945 While escorting the Lingayen Gulf attack force off Manila, destroyers USS Shaw, Charles Ausburne, Braine, and Russel detected Japanese escort ship Hinoki at night. Following a barrage of gunfire, Hinoki sank with all hands with no damage to the American ships.
9 Jan 1945 Destroyer USS Shaw entered Lingayen Gulf, Luzon and began anti-submarine patrols and ant-aircraft duties.
31 Jan 1945 Destroyer USS Shaw covered the landings at Nasugbu, Luzon south of Manila.
20 Feb 1945 Destroyer USS Shaw departed San Pedro Bay, Leyte as part of a convoy bound for the Nasugbu, Luzon area.
21 Feb 1945 While destroyer USS Shaw was escorting a convoy from Leyte Gulf to Mindoro, another of the convoy escorts, USS Renshaw, was hit with a torpedo from a Japanese submarine. Renshaw was damaged but not sunk.
25 Feb 1945 Palawan attack force, with USCGC Spencer as flagship and destroyer USS Shaw as screening vessel, conducted a rehearsal landing off Mindoro, Philippines.
26 Feb 1945 Palawan attack force, with USCGC Spencer as flagship and destroyer USS Shaw as screening vessel, departed Mindoro for Puerto Princesa, Palawan.
28 Feb 1945 Palawan attack force, with USCGC Spencer as flagship and destroyer USS Shaw as screening vessel, made landings at Puerto Princesa, Palawan.
4 Mar 1945 Destroyer USS Shaw departed Palawan bound for Leyte Gulf, Philippines escorting a convoy of unloaded transport ships.
23 Mar 1945 Cebu attack force, with USCGC Spencer as flagship and destroyer USS Shaw as screening vessel, conducted a rehearsal landing at Hinunangan Bay, Leyte Gulf, Philippines.
24 Mar 1945 Cebu attack force, with USCGC Spencer as flagship and destroyer USS Shaw as screening vessel, departed Leyte Gulf for Cebu City, Cebu, Philippines.
26 Mar 1945 Cebu attack force, with USCGC Spencer as flagship and destroyer USS Shaw as screening vessel, made landings at Talisay Point, Cebu City, Cebu, Philippines.
28 Mar 1945 Destroyer USS Shaw departed Cebu bound for Leyte Gulf, Philippines escorting a convoy of unloaded transport ships.
2 Apr 1945 Destroyer USS Shaw was detached from her convoy to investigate Japanese shipping off Dauis, Bohol, Philippines but struck an uncharted pinnacle, damaging her port propeller. Shaw headed for Leyte Gulf for repairs.

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Why foreigners don’t feel safe in Poland on Independence Day

For Foreigners

This blog is one I didn’t want to write, but one I feel must be written. It, unfortunately, focusses on a select few that misinterpret what today is about. It by no means reflects my personal opinion of this beautiful country I love or the people that make this land what it is.

I will instead focus on a minority. A minority that screws up Independence Day in Poland for everyone else.

Poland’s Independence Day celebrates the day the country regained its independence. In 1918, after 123 years of being shared amongst Austrian, Russian and Prussian rule, the Polish state was once it’s own.

But in recent years, ‘Independence day’ has become ‘destroy your own country day’.

I feel safe here. I feel just as safe here as I did in Australia. I live 50 meters away from a mosque and I feel safe every single day.

I feel unsafe when there are protesters and multiple police cars surrounding the mosque – as they are right now.

I feel unsafe and threatened on a bus with a few Legia Warszawa fans on game day.

Plac Zbawiciela, or ‘Saviour square’ in Warsaw was home to an art installation. Not some kind of weird, contemporary art, nothing abstract. It was a rainbow made of plastic flowers.

On November 11, 2013, a ‘patriotic’ group decided to burn this rainbow as it was seen as a symbol of gay rights and tolerance.

They felt threatened by a plastic flower rainbow.

These thugs were so threatened by a rainbow, that they had to wear balaclavas to seal their identities while they vandalized government property.

Whilst it was burning, they chanted ‘God, Honour, and Fatherland’.

I’m not sure which God they were referencing, but my understanding is that most Gods practice tolerance, compassion and understanding. This happens in many Polish cities.

During the 15th century, Poland defended Europe and protected Christianity from Eastern and Oriental influence.

Perhaps these patriots feel that a rainbow presents the same threat to the almighty Catholic church as Ghengis Kahn did.

If a rainbow made of flowers gets this response, let that set the tone for how a foreigner gets treated on a day like today.

I am a foreigner. I was not born here.

I want to speak Polish, I want to know, understand and celebrate Polish history, culture and the way of life.

I want to be here. I want to integrate. I believe that most foreigners in Poland want that, too.

On this country’s day of Independence, I want to go the middle of the nation’s capital and celebrate the day.

I want to be free today. I want to be Polish today.

Because I don’t speak Polish.

I am terrified that by saying ‘mówię trochę po polsku’ (I speak a little Polish), I will be met with hostility. It may be the polar opposite, but if recent events are anything to go by, foreigners are not safe in Warsaw today.

I sadly have to admit, that I am lucky that I’m white. I have numerous Latino and Asian friends here in Warsaw that cannot go into the city center at all today.

Early 2016, a Polish professor and his German colleague were beaten up on the tram for speaking German. A Polish professor, beaten up for speaking German. ‘I love my culture so much, I’ll beat up a fellow Pole for not speaking the language’.

I cannot comprehend the amount of aggression that the Middle Eastern communities of Warsaw would be experiencing today.

‘I’ll use a foreign language to tell these ‘foreigners’ that they’re not welcome in my country, where we speak our own language’.

So why can’t I celebrate today in the city center?

Because the middle of Warsaw today will be flooded with flare-waving goons who think the best way to celebrate independence is to drag their county’s name through the mud.

Rest assured, that the world will be watching Warsaw and Poland in general today. In recent years, demonstrators have drawn worldwide attention to themselves for their violent clashes with police.

‘Demonstrations’ where people simply amass in the middle of the road, light flares and then throw rocks at police when they’re asked to disperse.

‘I love and respect my country so much that I’m going to assault a police officer!’

Far-right, or ‘patriot’ groups feel that today is the best day of the year to beat their chest. Yes, every country has nationalists, (my personal favorite is the Australian Nazi Party), and their lack of logic has always astounded me.

Living here, I am exposed to Polish nationalists more than any others – yet I cannot get past their lack of raw, simple logic.

Many of these groups claim that they need to stand up for Poland, that Poland and her way of life is under attack. That multiculturalism is not good.

If that’s the case, perhaps Poles should go back to driving only Syrenka’s and eating only Prince Polo. Because, you know, nothing good comes from another country.

But what does one have to do to not be subjected to violence today?

Is it to speak Polish? Immigrants, especially the Vietnamese in Warsaw, speak fluently.

Is it to be Catholic? There are Catholic Arabs living in the region today.

Is it to be Slavic? Poland itself has only 57% Slavic DNA.

It is fashionable for young people to wear patriotic shirts, with the symbol of anti-Nazi resistance or with the Polish eagle.

More and more young people are interested in “paramilitary” gun clubs, where they learn to handle firearms and shoot.

Is this Poland’s definition of masculinity? One must be able to handle a gun or be skilled in urban warfare for when the foreign invasion comes?

Is physically assaulting foreigners and even other Poles a rite of passage to becoming a man?

‘I love my country so much that I’m going to assault others and damage someone’s property’.

Shop fronts, cars, and other private property were destroyed by these ‘demonstrations’ in recent years. And I cannot help but feel it will repeat this year and get progressively worse.

In my 18 months of living and working here, I’ve met a lot of Poles. A lot of educated people from various socio-economic groups that have traveled and seen the world. Most of these people have told me that these ‘protesters’ people make them ashamed to be Polish.

I have seen many many Poles apologize for the behavior of these ‘patriots’ on days like today. Down to earth and well-educated Poles apologizing for the behavior of others. They’re embarrassed.

Many of my Polish friends say they consider themselves more ‘European’ than Polish.

These Poles feel unsafe to go into the capital – of their own country – on the day of its independence.

All because a group of thugs doesn’t like people that weren’t born here.

To these aggressive thugs, I ask you this.

Why do you feel threatened?

Too many Ukrainians? Vietnamese? Indians? Too many Australians? Or are we a ‘cool’ country? Australians are ok because we’re white and have nice beaches.

Today is not a day where I have to lock the door and not leave the apartment- not at all. I can take the dog for a walk, I can go for a ride on my bike – for all intents and purposes, it is just like any other day.

But it’s unsafe for me to go into the city center.

If Poland is a free country, why is it so unsafe for foreigners – even Poles – to go into the city center?

I know that I am not alone in these opinions. Many other expats have used Facebook groups to check if today is safe.

The comment section is like any other comments section – polarized. Most responses say things like ‘oh it’s fine, just don’t draw attention to yourself’.

But one of these questions was asked by a dark-skinned Muslim.

Now, if Poland is a free country, he should not feel threatened because of his physical appearance. He should not be threatened because of what he chooses to wear.

But he has been warned not to. For his own safety, in the country he wants to live in, he cannot be free today.

And that is the level of democratic, religious and cultural freedom on November 11th in Poland.

But the sheer fact that expats living in Warsaw have to ask if today is safe, is utterly disappointing.

Polish independence day has become like gang warfare. Clannish and fractured. Some poles want nothing to do with today. Others want to be violent for no reason. Others want to peacefully reflect on their country’s achievements.

I can only hope that in the future, there is a way for foreigners to express and celebrate their happiness and gratitude for the independence of the country they live in – Poland.

Author: Phil Forbes

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Ok, Phil, we get it – you’re one of the Good Ones. You’re so above the petty concerns of these hayseeds who probably don’t even drink craft beer or know what kale is. You roll your eyes at their ridiculous opinions and point & laugh at the less photogenic among them (Christ, don’t these people even use moisturisers. ). A trip to the place that trims your hipster beard would do so much good for them but they probably wouldn’t listen anyway, would they? I mean, they’re surely too busy hatefully discussing their hateful hatred of everyone and everything and how they long for the good old days when Poland’s laws were specifically designed to be pro-white.

Er, no, sorry. That was Australia. Oops.

Anyway, isn’t it just awful that these mouth-breathers – who probably don’t even vape or watch Netflix – dare to criticise the sacred idea of immigration without end and “multiculturalism”? I mean, don’t they know about the wonderful contributions of Sudanese refugees to Australian society and all the jobs they’ve created? Sure, those jobs are in prisons and welfare offices, but still. Don’t they know that Sydney will be more than half-Asian within forty years and what a truly wonderful thing it will be when those backwards, embarrassing Bogans finally disappear? Sure, those white Australians and their ancestors built the place, but still.

These people that you’re so “afraid” of have seen the disaster of Western European-style open borders and leftist social policies and don’t want to see the same mistakes repeated in their own country – the nerve! Still, as long as we have wise and morally superior people like yourself to remind us how pathetic we are, there’s still a chance for us. On behalf of a grateful nation, thanks, Phil, for reminding us that for every person with a healthy instinct for self preservation and desire for national self-determination, there’s an arrogant, pretentious, pants-wetting girly leftist ready to start crying and writing pathetic tirades about being “afraid”.

Good one, Ja, I appreciated particularly the ironic tone of your text and I especially approve the last paragraph.

At the same time, I don’t want to totally blame Phil for his idea and his initiative.

I cannot say I am exactly between you, Guys. Just I share both of your opinion, maybe mainly the one of Ja.

What ? How possible would you say ? Well just maybe to give you a short extract of my life to try to make you understand. I have nothing against colored people, and I don’t think JA either.

Many friend of mine could witness that. It’s just that I had a lot of bad experiences in the street, in France, where I come from. As you probably know, there are a lot of different communities which immigrated there, from former colonies.

Since I was 10 years old, without reason, I just several times, be insulted, spitted on clothes, rob attempt, etc, in the street, without special reasons by “colored guys” in the street. Especially in or close to the subway, to train station, dowtown, etc.

For me, it was a victory if my glasses were not broken, and if I could escape without fighting.
But then, there was a turning point when I was 22 years old. 2 “muslims” came to me, to propose me to buy them some hashish. I was smoking some, time to time, but I didn’t know them at all, and one of them was quite agressive. As always, I tried to be diplomatic, to talk and to escape without a fight. But suddenly, I caught one of them with his hand, in my inner’s jacket pocket, trying to reach my wallet.

There was no more time for discussion, but I tried. Big mistake ! Suddenly, I was on the floor, glasses broken. Then, there was no more confusion in my mind, and I finally fought like a man, standing on my feet and punching these 2 bastards. It was my 1st serious fight, and I didn’t know how it will finish. People around started to assist and making kind of human area. More and more “muslims” grew the audience ring. I cannot say I felt great at the moment ! Fortunately, the Police arrived and put an end to this situation.

From this moment, I decided that I won’t be anymore a victim. I had then, ten of these situations. I want to precise again, I am absolutely not the kind of guy to look for trouble. It’s just I can’t stand that some people just start to agress you or agress other people, just for their pleasure, or whatever silly reason.

Le pouvoir des cons, c’est de les laisser faire : Power of Lame, it’s to let them do
If People would be not so weak and help each other in this kind of situation, these guy wouldn’t feel so confident and make mess for fun.

I just want to finish and say : I enjoy now to live in Poland, without need to be prepared to any kind of fight. I like Poland as it is and hope this country won’t change for extreme pluriculturalism, bla bla bla, whatever leftists idealize.

And at the same time, I will continue to meet my Algerian, Moroccan and Cameroonian friends, as always in Warsaw and in Lille.

How could you write this much and make absolutely not a single sense.

What is wrong with you? Has a hipster stole your girl once, or what? I mean I get that you were trying very hard to be funny, but it turned out as usual.

I’ll tell you who you are: you are boys, lost in the modern world, that is too complex for your perception. You have no idea how to act, you are not very good with girls, because you are missing the practice of face-to-face communication with people, since you mostly play computer games. So you are frustrated and you turn into the only model of manhood you know – a wannabe fighter against really, whatever that’s non-abstract. You won’t read scietnifical papers about history, economy, politics to really understand what is going on, because it’s too difficult and not very accessible, so you read reddit, watch simplicized youtube videos and play World of Warcraft.

And then you get to see the world in this simplicized manner: there are us, there are them, they are bad, we are good, they want to hurt us, we have to defend ourselves. Just like in all those simple and easy to digest stimuli that you have surrounded yourself with. Do you really believe that the world is THAT simple? Have you ever been to Australia, have you entered any office building to see how racially diverse it is? Or is it a coincidence that Sweden, with their friendly attitude scores the top places in pretty much all the world rankings of the best places to live? It’s not like Europeans have a genetic monoply on being developed. Europeans paid the visit to most of the world in 19 century, so it’s good manners to pay a visit back, which is happening.

PS. Again, what is wrong about being girly?

Wow almost everything you’ve written involves bias and ad hominem fallacy. Most of what you’ve written are insults and not arguments so it was a waste of time on your part. It is true that racism is everywhere these days(including Poland, Australia, Turkey…etc). But that does not mean he has no right to criticise Poland as an Australian guy or that I have no right to criticise Poland as a Turkish guy. And believe me I criticise my country more than any other country since I’ve lived there for 27 years and I know it’s problems the best. You have every right to protest or criticise the idea of Western European-style open borders, since for you I think it is a way of protecting the economy and the way of life in your country, But when these stuff gets violent or agressive(both physical and pshycologically) people are obviously bothered. Because it gets violent sometimes. There was a Turkish guy in one of these indepedence day events who was beaten and got his passport destroyed. There was a Polish professor who was beaten in a tram for speaking in German. You might not want certain people to be admitted to your country, but physically assulting people who were already admitted or spreading hateful messages to tell people that you hate them and want them to leave or to write these stuff on the walls is kind of an asshole move. Maybe you are not doing these kind of stuff, but there are lots of people who do. And try to put yourself in our shoes. How would you feel if you were in a foreign country where you know there are a lot of people who hate Poles and tell you all kinds of negative stuff like ”Why are you here? Go back to your own country. Are you a terrorist?”…etc. Wouldn’t you feel at least a bit uneasy if you knew some of those people have commited violent assaults to Polish people in the past and if you were standing next to a large group(thousands of people) of them. Oh and it doesn’t help that they write things like ”kill Muslims” if you hail from a country with a Muslim majority. There is nothing wrong about being afraid and there is no need for these excessively macho comments for some reason I see a lot in these Polish forums. We are humans and when we feel threatened, we feel afraid. That is a natural, biological reaction and acting like you wouldn’t feel afraid when you were standing next to a racist crowd who would probably be hostile to you if they knew your nationality, doesn’t make you look more manly. Because people who do not feel fear at situations like these are either psychopaths or people who had brain injuries in the past or both or maybe ignorant people who do not know much about past violent crimes that were commited against foreigners.

Hi Phil.. being an expat in Warsaw for the last 8 years and until last month i know what your text is about…
I was going to comment it drawing your attention to the fact that the “Legia Warszawa” hooligans were just the visible face of the polish racism and xenophobia.. And that the hate is not only addressed towards Muslims or black people… Unfortunately i guess you can reach this same conclusion by reading the previous reply..
Situations such as you mentioned are not isolated ones… are frequent.. if you had a darker skin you would feel it constantly…
Furthermore, those situations occur with the consent of all the persons that observe them without interfering…

Dude, it’s our turf, fought for with plenty of blood, sweat and tears, with millions of people killed and most of the country destroyed. We have the right to decide who we want to live with. Australians, native Europeans and generally nations / ethnic groups behaving according to the western culture are ok and most welcome. Asians are harassed only by single mindless idiots as they have been living next to us since 90’s and cause zero problems. Germans and Russians raise mixed feelings as they were Poland’s notorious occupants for the last 300 years and returning enemies since the beginning of Poland as a country. Arabs and African blacks do not integrate, disrespect local culture, are invasive, abusive, contribute to terrorism and increase crime rates everywhere they appear – the last one is a statistic fact. Plus Germany just flooded Europe with them and tried sending them to Poland by force. Are you really surprised people are pissed at them and cheer celebrating their independence? You should also know Polish isolationism is selective. Have you seen Hungarian flags today? Hungarians were going together with Polish, most welcome and trust me, they have a darker skin tone and their knowledge of Polish language in most of the cases starts and ends on ‘dzień dobry’, ‘Polska’, ‘wódka’ and ‘Polak, Węgier dwa bratanki’. If let’s say Italians, British, Spanish, French or Australians decided to carry their flags alongside Polish ones today, they would be most welcome as well.
One last thing, on which I agree with you – the angry mob devastating others’ properties should be separated from the rest and heavily fined. There should be no room for violence this day.
As for the weeping Arabs and African blacks – my western logic says that if I moved to a country where native citizens don’t respect me or threaten me constantly, I would seriously consider going somewhere else. The problem with Arabs is they lack this kind of thinking, expecting everyone around to meet their standards. It won’t happen in Poland so they may keep weeping and calling us ‘racists’ or ‘fascists’ – we don’t really care anyways adjust or leave.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

May Days and the famous Constitution of 1791

"Welcome, May, beautiful May,
Poland is paradise today. "

So say the words of the May 3rd Mazurka. The lyrics do not refer to the chance of a nine-day weekend (see footnotes), but to the introduction of our first Constitution.

In Poland, May begins with a series of important holidays. May 1st is International Worker's Day, obviously very popular in our socialist years, and still an official day off. On May 2nd, we have Flag Day, when all flags should be up, if they weren't for May 1st already. And on May 3rd, Constitution day. Displays of patriotism which are practically obligatory today were forbidden under socialist rule. Your flag had to be out on May 1st, or you would suffer repercussions, but if you dared to leave it up until May 3rd, you'd find yourself in much bigger trouble…

So, what was this Constitution, why did it bother Russia so much, and why is it still so important?

Manuscript of the Constitution
Let's go back a few centuries. Since 1385, Poland had been a sprawling empire often referred to as the Republic of Two Nations: The Crown and Lithuania. As the name itself suggests, it was a federal union between the two countries, precipitated among other things by a desire to strengthen the nations against the usual suspect: Russia.

The idea wasn't bad, but almost four hundred years later, the union was not faring so well. In 1772, the edges of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth were sliced away and divided between Russia, Prussia, and Austria. That was the first partition.

Partitions were a direct result of the country being weak and unable to perform the reforms necessary to strengthen its military position. Why was this so? Well, the Polish nobility have a history of being a stubborn band of anarchists, and the great number of privileges they enjoyed under the Commonwealth made ruling the country in a unified manner troublesome. Nobles had immunity. Nobles could not be taxed. Nobles could not be controlled. Nobles came and went as they pleased, attending meetings of the Sejm (the Polish version of Parliament) with the pleasant certainty that they had more executive power than the monarchy. The law even allowed them the right to rebel against the king if he should violate any of their privileges!

But worst of all was the deputy right of liberum veto, which allowed any noble in the Sejm to end the current session and nullify all legislations passed. All he had to do was shout out: "Nie pozwalam!" (I do not allow this!)

The veto was not entirely a bad thing in fact, in origin, it had served to curb the powers of the (elective!) monarch and keep noble landowners in control of the country. It was also a crucial tool in the upholding of religious tolerance, a weighty matter in a place as diverse as the Commonwealth, and especially important in contrast with the rest of Europe, where the faith of each country depended on the faith of its monarch. But the Republic could not function properly with every decision at the mercy of whim and veto. With the magnates enjoying their so-called Golden Age of Privileges, reform was all but impossible.

Szlachta- Polish nobility in the 2009 Constitution Day Parade in Warsaw.

So, imagine you are radical political thinkers nobleman Ignacy Potocki and priest Hugo Kołłątaj, and you are sick of seeing your country fall prey to its neighbours while the magnates bicker among themselves. Imagine you have sat down and prepared a lovely new Constitution which decreases the privileges of the nobility and abolishes the liberum veto. How do you possibly get it legislated?

You get crafty and call a Confederate Sejm- a special kind of parliament meeting during which the liberum veto is prohibited and majority vote rules. And you call this meeting in secret, right after Easter, knowing a great number of the deputees most likely to oppose you haven't returned to the capital from their holidays yet.

Snap. May 3rd, 1791, the first codified Constitution in Europe (second in the world after the US) was declared in Poland.

So, what did the Constitution change?

  • It reformed the government, dividing it into legislative, executive and judiciary branches (after Montesquieu's model). It also decreed that ministers could be tried and judged.
  • It improved the rights of the peasants and decreased the privileges of the nobility, doing away with the liberum veto. The Sejm and Senate would now pass legislations by simple majority vote. The voting rights of landless nobles were also taken away, thus making it impossible for wealthier magnates to purchase their votes.
  • It made the peasants and townspeople political equals, and placed peasants who had previously been completely at the whim of their noble masters under the protection of the government. It also declared that refugees and new settlers would not be bound to any landlords.
  • It gave the citizens of royal cities the right to hold posts previously reserved for nobility, such as public offices and military commissions and even seats in the Sejm. It also guaranteed them the right not to be arrested without warrant. These rights could be extended to citizens of private towns.
  • It abolished free elections the throne was now hereditary, with elections occurring only at the end of a dynasty. This was an attempt to decrease foreign influence on the choice of rulers (it was starting to get silly). The instution of pacta conventa - a document each monarch had to sign to pledge his respect for the laws of the Commonwealth- was also preserved.
  • It established Catholicism as the national faith, but preserved the earlier freedom of religion.
  • It transformed the union between Poland and Lithuania into a unitary state called the Republic of Poland, which meant the armies and treasuries would no longer refer to two separate authorities. The Lithuanian deputies were concerned for their rights, many protesting the decision. To appease them, it was decided that Lithuanian deputies would hold a guaranteed proportional number of seats in the new government.

So, in 1792, Russia attacked. Unable to push back, King Stanisław Poniatowski thought to stop the conflict by surrendering and agreeing to hand the reform over to a conservative confederacy mounted under the protection of. none other than Catherine the Great. (and just as a side note, the whole reason he was king in the first place was because Catherine, his former lover, supported his candidacy and staged a coup to get him the throne. The tsarina giveth, the tsarina taketh away. )

The results were disastrous. The Constitution was torn apart, almost all of its reforms scrapped, and many supporters forced into exile. Worst of all, Poland was once again forced under foreign heel and partitioned for a second time, losing over 100,000 square miles of territory to Russia and Prussia. Even the conspiring confederates hadn't predicted this one! The additional documents the creators of the constitution were working on- namely, a 'moral and economical constitution' which was to address the civil rights of all citizens, including the most overlooked peasants and Jews, were never completed.

Though the original Constitution was not a success (even its co-authors ominously called it "the last will and testament of the expiring Country"), May 3rd is now an extremely important national holiday in Poland, celebrated since 1918.

Riders in historical uhlan uniforms on parade for Constitution Day, 2009

Not unusually, we applaud the Constitution for what it stands for rather than what it actually achieved. In most of its decrees it was a revolutionary and progressive attempt at reform and strengthening our position on the map, and the way it was subsequently taken away from us by foreign forces makes it into a powerful symbol of the fight for independence.

Watch the video: Poland Rediscovered: Kraków, Auschwitz, and Warsaw