National Independence Day is celebrated in November, and this year, Poland is celebrating many anniversaries. With that in mind, CR brings you a collage of significant anniversaries, some well-known, some less so; some joyful, some tragic.
One hundred years ago, Józef Piłsudski announced the formation of the Polish Legions in Galicia – the first step towards Poland regaining independence in 1918.
Keep an eye on that mustache; it will be back in 1989.
Piłsudski’s Legions face the invading Red Army and are victorious in the Battle for Warsaw in 1920, which stopped the Bolsheviks from imposing communism in western Europe.
“Not that the West was grateful,” CR author Patrice Dabrowski writes.
But difficult times were ahead. The newly independent state had to sort out six currencies, five regions, four languages, three legal codes, two different railway gauges and 18 political parties. And all as the world plunged into a calamitous financial depression.
The neighborhood could not have been worse.
Master hackers Marian Rejewski, Henryk Zygalski and Jerzy Różycki crack the Enigma code at the University of Poznań; in July 1939 they present their results to British and French intelligence. Not that either country showed much gratitude.
But this August the Global Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers helped correct that injustice with a milestone recognition:
“Polish Cypher Bureau mathematicians . . . broke the German Enigma cypher machine code. They built . . . the first cryptanalytic machine to break Enigma codes. The work was a foundation of British code breaking efforts which, with later American assistance, helped to end World War II.”
1939 – 1945: In Poland
Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (Witkacy): surrealist painter, photographer, author, philosopher and – cultural treasure. When the Russians joined the Germans in their attack on Poland on September 17, 1939, Witkacy lost all hope, and committed suicide the next day.
Bruno Schulz: writer, painter, illustrator and graphic artist. His works portrayed Jewish life in Poland with a mix of fantasy and realism, Jewish orthodoxy and European modernism. A much-loved writer, he was shot in 1942 at close range by a German officer in Drohobych, the small town where he was born.
In 1942 and 1943, Jan Karski, a Home Army courier, brought eyewitness accounts of the ongoing genocide of the Jews to Allied leaders in the West.
Marek Edelman, one of the leaders of the Jewish Fighting Organization in the Warsaw Ghetto, fought in the 1943 Ghetto Uprising and then in the city-wide 1944 Warsaw Uprising. He became a noted cardiologist after the war, and took part in Poland’s Round Table Talks in 1989 as a member of Solidarity.
The Syrenka – the mermaid who symbolizes Warsaw – was designed by Ludwika Nitschowa in 1936.
Her model was Krystyna Krahelska – writer, poet, songwriter and leading Resistance figure in the Home Army. She was killed on the second day of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising.
1939 – 1945: Poles Abroad
“Had it not been for the magnificent material contributed by the Polish squadrons and their unsurpassed gallantry, I hesitate to say that the outcome of the Battle would have been the same.”
—Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, who led Fighter Command, about the 1940 Battle of Britain
In May 1944 and after several attempts by British Commonwealth, US and French troops failed, the Polish II Corps captured Monte Cassino and opened the way to Rome.
Nearing the War’s End: The Warsaw Uprising and Beyond
On August 1, 1944, Poland’s Home Army rose against the German occupation forces. The valor and the tragedy, as well as the hopes and ideals of a young generation, are exemplified by Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński, poet laureate of the Warsaw Uprising who was killed on the fourth day of the Uprising. He was 23.
The Zośka Battalion, which fought in the Warsaw Uprising, comprised very young fighters; many were Scouts before the war.
On the Uprising’s fifth day, Zośka captured a German tank. Their first action: Liberating Jewish prisoners in the heavily fortified Gęsiówka Prison Camp in the middle of the ghetto.
The aftermath: The surviving population was expelled; the remaining ruins after the Uprising were systematically razed.
The Red Army camped out on the other side of the Vistula River till the destruction was complete.
The women who fought in the Warsaw Uprising were sent to Stalag VI-C Oberlangen, the only POW camp in German-occupied Europe for women.
And while Warsaw burned the Polish First Armored Division was liberating France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
1945 – 1989
In 1945, the people of Warsaw began rebuilding their beloved city.
The communist regime, meanwhile, relentlessly persecuted members of the Resistance.
The only person to volunteer for Auschwitz, Polish officer Witold Pilecki spent nearly three years there, gathering and sending out intelligence reports, and forming a resistance group within. He escaped and fought in the Warsaw Uprising. Captured by communist authorities after the war, he was executed in 1948.
Czesław Miłosz defected from communist Poland in 1951. His non-fiction work The Captive Mind, published in 1953, is an indictment of the control over every aspect of life in the communist system.
In the 1970s, the failing economy triggered the quintessentially Polish Solidarity movement: united, inclusive, non-violent and democratic.
And there’s that mustache again! Lech Wałęsa, an electrician in the Gdańsk Shipyard, rose to become Solidarity’s leader.
1979: The first visit of Karol Wojtyła as Pope attracted millions of Poles. The Communist Party ordered Polish TV to only show small groups of people to avoid showing the huge popular attraction of the Pope.
Solidarity, a trade union with 10 million members, included the entire spectrum of society: workers, students, professionals, artists, writers.
In addition to Wałęsa, the leaders included Anna Walentynowicz. Her August 1980 firing from the Gdańsk Shipyard set off waves of strikes in Poland, paralyzing the Baltic coast.
1989: Campaign poster for the first free elections in a formerly Soviet-controlled country.
And the winner is: Tadeusz Mazowiecki, the first non-Communist Prime Minister of Poland since World War II.
1989 and beyond
On March 12, 1999, Poland entered NATO.
In 2004 Poland entered the EU, which graciously gave Poland a 10th anniversary present: the Presidency.
Also in 2004: the Warsaw Uprising Museum was inaugurated – marking the Uprising’s 60th anniversary.
No memorial or commemoration was permitted under the communist regime.
2014: A year of anniversaries
2014 marks the 750th anniversary of the Statute of Kalisz, or the General Charter of Jewish Liberties. Artur Szyk’s beautifully rendered manuscript commemorates the 1264 statute, which detailed the rights and privileges granted to Poland’s Jews by Grand Duke Bolesław the Pious.
The 750th anniversary of the Statute of Kalisz is a wonderful symbolic year for the opening of the stunning new Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews. The museum spans 1,000 years of Jewish history in Poland.
On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising, the presidents of Poland and Germany – Bronisław Komorowski and Joachim Gauck – opened the exhibition “Warsaw Rising” in the Topography of Terror Documentation Centre in Berlin, the site of the former headquarters of the SS, the Gestapo, and offices of Himmler and Göring.
In his address at the opening ceremony, President Gauck said, “Germans showed remorse and the Polish were able to forgive.”
Earlier this year, Germany honored Krystyna Wituska, a young member of the Home Army executed at the Institut für Anatomie gedenkt Opfer der NS-Zeit in Hall/Saale, Germany in 1944.
Irmgard Sinner initiated this project; she is the daughter of the officer, Werner Lueben, who sentenced Wituska to death.
This year marks the 650th anniversary of Jagiellonian University, established by King Casimir III the Great in 1364.
Celebrated in grand style with a work by Jan A. P. Kaczmarek, “UNIVERSA Open Opera” that celebrates Queen Jadwiga, youthful exuberance, and an homage to the idea that reason always prevails over force.
A fitting end to Poland’s year of anniversaries.