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The country of Poland has been one with a history of complex politics and a difficult time retaining independence from foreign invaders. During the 19th century, Poland was controlled by a series of other nations, earning this era of Polish history the moniker of "The Age of Partitions." While the rest of the continent was expanding economically through the industrial revolution and from literature and scientific exploration during the Scientific Revolution, Poland was a perpetual battleground, constantly in flux between authoritarian governments and an attempt to regain autonomy. In a short 100 years, Poland had been occupied by the Russia, Prussia, and Austrian governments. Despite all this political upheaval and a constant fluctuation of power, the Polish people were able to keep a unified national identity.
Fighting against three very strong nations was an impossible task for the Polish nationals. However, that did not stop the people from trying. There were several major uprising of the Polish people against the armed services of the invading governments. According to historian Norman Davies the Polish people tried to ignore the opposition from those who sought to oppress them. "They pretended with all their heart and soul that Russia did not exist" (109). In 1830, the Polish people put up a particularly strong attempt at armed revolution, which was also defeated by the superior Russian army (Davies 68). In the wake of what was then dubbed the Polish-Russian War, the Russians tried to eradicate all traces of Polish identity throughout the nation, theoretically ending national unity and preventing further attempts at revolution (Brief). Among the steps taken by the Russian was the annulment of the Constitution, the closing of both Warsaw University and the University of Wilno, as well as the deportation of potential instigators from the country. The intended result of this disenfranchisement and restriction of rights and privileges was to defeat the spirit of the Polish people. Instead, it led them to be even more resolute in their determinations to overcome their oppressors. The Polish people created slogans and made the symbol of their nation's flag of even more import because it signified a free Poland and a free people.
A joint enemy led to the unification of opposing factions within Poland. For example, the Jewish and Christian populations who had a complicated history in their own right set aside their differences for the time being to work together against the foreign invaders (Davies 68). In the period after the uprising of 1830, the Russian government tightened its stranglehold on the Polish people and many of the artists and writers were exiled or fled to more permissive countries where they could express themselves more freely without fear of reprisal. Other artists and writers were imprisoned or extradited because the oppressor governments realized that it would be through creative endeavors that more unification could occur. Georg Sanford makes the point in his book Poland: The Conquest of History that "writers developed powerful national myths which sustained patriots and which ere inculcated in Polish children" (7). He adds that "The image of Poland as a Christ amongst Nations whose suffering would be rewarded with independence reinforced the older idea that Poland was the bulwark of European civilization against eastern barbarism as well as the Catholic antemurale" (Sanford 7). The following generations would be stronger because of the mythologies of the past and would be less likely to accept control from other nations because of this ideology. That, at least was the intent, to create this impression in the Polish citizenry that their homeland was a kind of Holy Land and the suffering of the Polish at present was laying the foundation for their eventual resurgence and reclamation of individuality.
"A Brief History of Poland." Polonia Today. Anglopol. 1994. Print.
Davies, Norman. God's Playground: a History of Poland. New York: Columbia UP, 1982. Print.
Sanford, George. Poland: The Conquest of History. OPA. 1999. Print.
Short Interwar Period and World War II
The country of Poland was able to achieve independence for only a very short period of time before the terror of the Second World War and the taking over of Poland by Nazi Germany. In Jan Gross's book Neighbors, she gives a detailed account about the town of Jedwabne in Poland and what happened when legalized Anti-Semitism became the norm and human logic and decency was forgotten in the wake of bloodlust. She writes that: "One day, in July 1941, half of the population of a small East European town murdered the other half -- some 1,600 men, women, and children" (7). This was not an overstatement of facts. The Christian citizens of Jedwabne went on a crusade of blood thirst which led to the elimination of the Jewish population from the city. This tragedy was one individual town's experience under the Nazi regime. Jedwabne's non-Jewish population responded to Nazi infiltration with something akin to enthusiasm over the removal of an unwanted presence. This period reflected the change in attitude of the region under Adolf Hitler's influence. In Poland, the perspective on this era was a unique one. All citizens suffered from the oppression of the Germans, Jewish people and non-Jews alike. By the end of the war, Poland was a graveyard and the government and its population were in such disarray that it is nothing short for miraculous that the country still exists today.
In Jedwabne, Poland tensions were high between all members of the citizenry. Under the oppressive Nazi regime, everyone was looking for a scapegoat; someone one whom all the problems of the group could be blamed on. Nazis were already putting much of the blame for the German citizen's problems upon the Jewish population. The people of Jedwabne believed that the Jewish people were allied with the Russian military forces who had gained possession of the town before the Nazi occupation (Gross 10). The Second World War led to the murder of 6,000,000 Jewish people, and nearly 2,000 of them were from Jedwabne. "Before the war broke out, 1,600 Jews lived in Jedwabne, and only seven survived" (16). The violence committed by bandits throughout the town was as malicious as anything performed by the Nazi regime and the SS. According to a witness to the atrocity, the Polish citizens were even more bloodthirsty. When the Nazi officials suggesting leaving alive one Jewish family from each profession, the response was, "We have enough of our own craftsmen, we have to destroy all the Jews, none should stay alive" (18). What Gross first took to be hyperbole turned out to be an accurate depiction of the atrocities committed against Polish Jews by Polish Christians. "Once we realize that what seems inconceivable is precisely what happened, a historian soon discovers that the whole story is very well documented, that witnesses are still alive, and that the memory of this crime has been preserved in Jedwabne through the generations" (22).
The common perception of most uninformed people is that the countries that were taken over by the Nazi regime were naturally opposed to their presence and horrified by their policies. Knowing that not only did the people of Jedwabne willingly murder their Jewish neighbors, they showed themselves capable of committing even more evil than their Nazi counterparts. The Polish people did not sit uselessly by while people they had lived beside for generations were deported on cattle cars and sent to camps to die. No, they took it upon themselves to shoot and stab and torture and burn the Jewish people of Jedwabne alive. In Gross's narrative, besides the individual moments of inhumanitism towards other men described in the package, she explains that of those who were unable to walk to the barn to be burned alive would be tied up or in some other way immobilized by the Christians.
Davies, Norman. God's Playground: a History of Poland. New York: Columbia UP, 1982. Print.
Gross, Jan Tomasz. Neighbors: the Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland.
Princeton: Princeton UP, 2001. Print.
The Polish People's Republic
After the Second World War and the nearly complete eradication of the Polish Jewish population, the country had to rebuild itself, its economy and its government. What Jewish people were able to survive the Holocaust returned to their homeland to find their property had been confiscated, that they bad been deceived by even their closest friends, and were left with nothing else but the body, and there was no guarantee that an individual would be able to survive in a still-particularly harsh climate. Most of Eastern Europe was controlled or in some way monitored and influences by the Soviet Union, arguably the largest political power at the time period. The Polish people were never satisfied living in a Communist regimes and almost from the moment of implementation, conflict arose between the Polish and the Communists. There were a series of volatile and violent uprisings which all ended in the failure of any one entity to gain complete control over…[continue]
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