The conflict’s balance sheet:
Birth of a New Poland

Even though after the war until 1952 Poland's pre-war name - The Republic of Poland - was used, this was a totally different country than the Poland of September 1939.

Although Poland was part of the victorious Allied coalition, the balance after 6 years of warfare was terrifying. Close to 5.5 million Polish citizens were killed, including 3 million Jews. A small fraction (250-300,000) died on the battlefield, the rest were victims of gas chambers, mass executions, bombardments, hunger or the elements. It is difficult to tally those who although having survived the war, for the rest of their lives carried, or still carry, the psychological or physical effects of the conflict.

A map of Poland displaying borders agreed upon after World War I. Poland stopped existing in this shape after German aggression on September 1, 1939 and Soviet aggression on September 17, 1939. Photo: National Library
A map of Poland displaying borders agreed upon after World War I. Poland stopped existing in this shape after German aggression on September 1, 1939 and Soviet aggression on September 17, 1939. Photo: National Library

A map of Poland displaying postwar borders. Photo: National Library
A map of Poland displaying postwar borders. Photo: National Library

Of Poland’s pre-war border, only the coastline and the southern border remained constant, since the whole country, against the wishes of the nation and their legal government, was moved from the East to the West. To compensate for the loss of the eastern territories “Kresy,” Poland received German lands in the West on the Oder and Lusatian Neisse River, which in a propaganda effort were labeled the “Recovered Lands.” Within these new borders, Poland was smaller by 75,000 km2 than her pre-war territory. Her ethnic makeup was also completely different. On account of the genocide against the Jews, wartime ethnic cleansing and post-war ethnic resettlement, Poland became practically a monolithic state. The war also created divisions between Poles and Germans and Ukrainians, divisions which are still being bridged to this day. The majority of large cities were in ruins, with the capital, which had been turned into a large heap of rubble, the most destroyed of all. Industry, agriculture, infrastructure was also destroyed.

Despite all this, Polish society was optimistic about the future, and spontaneously began to rebuild with the hope that the new Poland would be democratic, just and prosperous. This became possible only a half century later. Paradoxically enough, Poles survived until that time thanks in part to the memory of surviving during wartime, which confirms the statement famously made in December 1918 by Jozef Pilsudski, that “To be defeat and not submit, is victory; to be victorious and rest on your laurels, is defeat.”

Warsaw, May 12, 1946. Parade of the Nationwide Delegates Congress from the Citizen’s Bonus Committee for the Rebuilding of the Nation Photo: Stanislaw Dabrowiecki / Polish Press Agency
Warsaw, May 12, 1946. Parade of the Nationwide Delegates Congress from the Citizen’s Bonus Committee for the Rebuilding of the Nation Photo: Stanislaw Dabrowiecki / Polish Press Agency