history Eastern_Europe  POLAND  


Between Germany and Russia

by Denise Yu

 A Compromising Location

by Soshana Williams




by Denise Yu




For thousands of years Polish territory has been threatened by its neighboring countries. Many wars have been fought and many peace treaties signed. However, Poland has never been able to keep at peace with the countries that sandwiches it - Germany and Russia. From the constant threats in the past Poland still fears the two countries would demand more territory. Poland sees the solution to the problem in joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). With NATO on its side, Poland believes that it would be helped in an event of invasion from Russia. Will Russia be offended if NATO admits Poland in the organization?


The Soviet-Polish War 

The Soviet-Polish War took place in 1920 and lasted for less than six months. Thi
 war came about due to the threat that Poland was facing from Russia. They feared that Russia was about to take over some of Poland's territory, "it is in the interest of Poland to root out Russian imperialism and to reduce Russia to her own boundaries" (Korbel 39).1 As a result, Poland had no choice but to attack Russia. Soon after, Britain tried to end this war. It was then that the Curzon Line was created. This line indicated the boarders between Poland on one side and Russia, Ukraine, Belorussia, and Lithuania on the other.


History of Pre-World War II

Before the start of World War II Poland had tried to remain at peace with its surrounding countries. Especially Russia since it was part of it until it declared its independence on December 25, 1916. To resume peace among countries, Poland and Russia signed a treaty of non-aggression on July 25, 1932. Under this treaty each party promised not to perform any act of violence towards each other, "any act of violence attacking the integrity and the in-violability of territory or the political independence" (Shotwell 18).2 Since this treaty, the Russians have kept at good terms with Poland. Unfortunately, on August 31, 1939, Russia's attitude towards Poland changed and claimed that the peace with Poland was forced by France and England (Shotwell 19).3 It was soon after that Russia joined Germany and attacked Poland.


History of World War II

On August 23, 1939 Russia signed a non-aggression pact with Germany. It was this pact that caused to changed Russia's attitude towards Poland. Germany and Russia secretly planned to invade Poland and to divide it in half. In addition, Germany planned to cede Russia the countries of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Bessarabia.
In early 1938, Hitler was already quite powerful and began to demand territories of neighboring countries in order to get more "lebensraum". The invasion of Poland took place on September 1, 1939 and it started the World War II. Since France and Great Britain promised to defend Poland, Great Britain declared war on Germany.
On September 17, 1939 Soviet troops entered the city of Vilna. Within an eighteen day period Poland was conquered by Germany and the Soviet Union. Obviously, Poland was not as strong as the two invading countries. The aid from France was also stopped by Germany. The Polish government officials' only choice was to flee to Romania.


Conditions Under German and Soviet Occupation

After Germany and Soviet Union entered Poland, the cities were ruined. The citizens of Poland were left homeless and starving. Thousands of people were killed during the invasion or because the German soldiers murdered them for amusement. Polish women were taken from their homes and were raped by the German soldiers. The insane were gunned down. Moreover, the Polish culture was destroyed. Many churches, monuments, museums, and libraries were already destroyed during the invasion. And if any still remained standing, they were closed up or demolished by the German and Soviet armies. However, these actions were still not the worse of Hitler. The German soldiers constantly amused themselves by torturing and killing people. The Jews were first forced to wear the Star of David on their chest and later put into concentration camps to suffer and die. Thousands of people were killed each day.


Effects of the Invasion of Poland

It was not until July 30, 1941 that the Soviet Union gave Poland back its rights. The "government of the USSR recognized the Soviet-German treaties of 1939 concerning territorial changes in Poland as having lost their validity, Poland's rights appeared to have been completely restored" (Shotwell 25).4 It was not until after the war that Poland started to restore its cities. However, the tragedy of war was never forgotten by Poles. They continued to despise the Germans and the Russians. Since Poland is located in between these two countries there are possibilities that the nightmare of September 1, 1939 may occur again.


A Lesson Learned

Germany, Poland and Russia learned not to trust each other. For example, the Soviet Union was afraid that Poland would try to conquer it and try to make it a capitalist country. Poland also learned not to trust other countries. It now believes that its membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would prevent such events from occurring again.


North Atlantic Treaty Organization

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was created on April 4, 1949. The United States along with Great Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy, Portugal, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, and Canada signed a treaty that stated that an attack against one country would be an attack against all. It was not until later in 1952 that Greece and Turkey joined. Then, in 1954 the members of NATO came to the conclusion that West Germany was essential in the defense of Europe. Therefore West Germany was admitted to NATO. The members of this treaty joined together because they all faced the Soviet threat (Knorr 5).5 The purpose of this treaty was to administer peace among nations and to aid any country in trouble, "the parties pledge to strengthen their free institutions by promoting conditions of stability and well-being, to eliminate conflict in their international economics policies" (Knorr 5).6 Therefore, with this in mind, Poland finds it beneficial for membership into this treaty.


Benefits for Poland from Membership in NATO

The "west doesn't understand the dangers of leaving the former Warsaw Pact countries alone" (Perlez A5).7 After the Soviet invasion of Poland, many Poles distrust the Russians. They are always afraid that another attack on Poland will be planned. Polish membership in NATO can guarantee protection from the such an attack. Poland expects to be admitted into NATO by 1996. However, Russia is opposing this idea.


Controversy of Admitting Poland in NATO
NATO would like to help Poland, but it does not want to offend Russia and promote "a worrisome perception among Russians that NATO is hiding information as it moves to expand and that NATO's 16 nations see Russia as a country little more powerful than Poland" (Greenhouse A6).8 T
he United States is currently trying to convince Russia that NATO is not anti-Russian. If it can make Russia to believe this it can possibly admit Poland into the organization. Poland already join the "Partnership for Peace" instead of NATO. The Partnership for Peace was designed to show interest in Eastern Europe, but not offend Russia. In this partnership, the Eastern European countries can have military exercises with NATO, but but the receive no security guarantees.


Works Cited

  1. Josef Korbel, Poland Between East and West, 39.

  2. James T. Shotwell, Poland and Russia, 18.

  3. Shotwell, 19.

  4. Shotwell, 25.

  5. Klaus Knorr, NATO: Past, Present, Prospect, 5.

  6. Knorr, 6.

  7. Jane Perlez, "Poles will Press Clinton in NATO Membership," A5.

  8. Steven Greenhouse, "Clinton to Tell Russia that NATO is not Anti-Russian," A6.



  1. Apple, R. W. "The Growth of NATO: Will Moscow Go Along?" New York Times. May 11, 1995. pp. A10.

  2. Cardwell, Ann Su. Poland and Russia. (New York, Sheed and Ward, 1944) pp. 25-27.

  3. Greenhouse, Steven. "Clinton to Tell Yeltsin that NATO is not Anti-Russian." New York Times. May 14, 1995. pp. A6.

  4. Knorr, Klaus. NATO: Past, Present, Prospect. (Headline Series No. 168, 1969). pp. 3-6.

  5. Korbel, Josef. Poland Between East and West. (Princeton, N.J., P.U. Press, 1963). pp.39-49.

  6. Montanis, B. Polish-Soviet Relations in the Light of International Law. (New York, Univ. Publications, 1944) pp.15-16.

  7. Perlez, Jane. "Poles will Press Clinton in NATO Membership." New York Times. July 5, 1994. pp. A5.

  8. Perlez, Jane. "Poland's Premier is Seeking NATO Membership During 1996." New York Times. April 6, 1995, pp. A9.

  9. Shotwell, James T. Poland and Russia (1919-1945). (New York, King's Crown Press, 1945). pp. 17-36.

  10. Sulimirski, Tadeusz. Poland and Germany: Past and Future. (London, West-Slovonic Bulletin, 1942). PP.21-31




Poland: A Compromising Location

by Soshana Williams




Poland, an Eastern European country located between Russia and Germany was once one of the largest and most powerful nations in Europe. German and Russian imperialism, along with their contention for hegemony in Eastern Europe has greatly weakened Poland in more recent times however. Although its superior neighbors have undermined the country, the Polish people have maintained their national pride as evident by their continued resistance to imperialistic control. Both Germany and Russia wanted to destroy Poland’s independence and make the country politically powerless, while Poland wanted to “root out” German and Russian imperialism and restore Polish boundaries and sovereignty.  

The Beginning of the Struggle

            During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Poland was one of the most powerful nations in Eastern Europe. In addition to ethnic Poland, the country's territories included Lithuania, most of Latvia, Belorussia, and the Ukraine.  Furthermore, Poland had a seacoast on both the Black and the Baltic Sea. However, in the eighteenth century, this wonderful state of being begun to change as the country's problems with her neighbors emerged.  A series of conquests led to the annexation of large parts of Poland to Austria, Prussia and Russia in 1772, 1793, and 1795. The greatest bulk of the Polish Empire was incorporated into the Russian Empire under Czarist. The memory of great imperial Poland, coupled with the humiliation of being subject to the Czarist Empire, heightened Polish nationalism in the nineteenth century. Nationalistic groups organized rebellions against the Russian Empire in 1830 and 1863. Unfortunately, both these revolts failed and only led to increased suppression by the czar. In 1831, Polish autonomy was taken away and in 1864, a program of total Russification was ordered by the czar. The use of the Polish language was prohibited in schools and in all other government institutions. (Szymanski 12-13)

World War One and a New Independent Polish State

            World War I began in 1914 with the partitioning powers Germany and Austria on one side and Russia on the other.  The war was mutually devastating for all these nations, and all three Dynasties that partitioned Poland were either greatly weakened or completely dismantled. Consequently, Polish lands that were previously the possession of Austria, Germany, and Russia were made independent in order to uphold the principle of self-determination. This was a huge victory for the Polish people who believed that justice had finally been achieved and that the historic injury done to their country as a result of the partitions would now be corrected.

The Soviet Polish War

            World War I ended with the passage of the Treaty of Versailles. The treaty established frontiers dividing Germany from Poland but failed to establish definitive frontiers in the eastern part of the new Republic.  This created conflict between Russia and Poland since imperialist Russia still wanted to keep the parts of Poland that were annexed in the eighteenth century while the nationalist Polish government was set on reestablishing the 1772 boundaries. Consequently, in 1920, Poland launched an attack on the Ukraine. Poland was successful and Russia was forced to retreat from the country. This war often referred to as the Soviet-Polish campaign took place in 1920 and was settled by the Treaty of Riga in 1921. This treaty finally fixed the eastern frontier between Poland and Russia, but a large number of white Russians and Ukranians were included in the territories Poland had acquired. (Grabski 8)

The German Position     

            In order to provide the newly independent Poland with access to a much-needed seaport on the Baltic, over a million German speaking citizens were integrated into the new state of Poland. Poland had acquired large parts of West Prussia and Posen, the "corridor" along the Vistula to the Baltic Sea.  This separated the German province of East Prussia from the “main body” of the nation and made “overland” transportation to the province extremely difficult. Had this not been done Poland would have been landlocked and in an even worse strategic position. Germany also lost the Baltic port of Danzig (Gdansk) as well as a part of the Upper Silesia, an important industrial region of mixed German-Polish population that contained Germany’s largest coal reserves. Germany was resentful for the Polish acquisition of these territories so Poland became a target for Imperial Germany. (Keylor 83,109)

World War Two

            Polish-Soviet and Polish-German hostility intensified during mid to late 1930s.  Both Germany and the Soviet Union wanted to see Poland wiped off the map.  This common interest led to cooperation between these two imperialist nations.  On August 23, 1939 they secretly signed the Nazi-Soviet Pact which determined the fourth partition of Poland.  Germany then put forth demands for the annexation of the free city of Danzig. Poland refused to oblige the demands made by Hitler.  As a result, on September 1st, 1939, Germany launched an invasion on ethnic Poland and started World War II.  Poland was quickly and easily defeated, especially with the unexpected invasion of eastern Poland on September 17th, 1939 by Soviet forces in accordance with the secret pact that they had made with Natzi Germany.  The Soviets took back the areas of the Ukraine and Belorussia which she had been forced to cede in 1920 and Germany annexed the Polish "corridor" and the Danzig.  The war didn't end this way, however.  Germany was eventually defeated with the help of the Soviet Union, who turned against Germany in the final stages of the war.  The Soviet Union retained the territories it had obtained in 1939, but Poland regained large areas that German territory in the west, including the industrial region of Upper Silesia, the ports of Danzig, and the Vistula, and other areas along the Baltic coastline. (Korbel 39-40, 44)


            Today, Poland is an independent and sovereign nation, but the country has suffered immensely due to the past struggles with its neighbors Germany and the Soviet Union. As a result of the wars, the once great empire has found itself socially, politically, and economically backwards. The wars destroyed a great deal of Poland's culture and history through the demolition of its churches, monuments, museums, libraries, and more importantly, its people. Despite this however, the Polish citizens remain proud of their identity.  Today, with the fall of the Soviet Union and a new more pacified Germany, Poland is concentrating on rebuilding from within while seeking peaceful relations with her neighbors.



1)      Szymanski, Albert pp. 12-13

2)      Grabski, Stanislaw pp. 8

3)      Keylor, William  pp. 83,109

4)      Korbel, Josef pp. 39-40, 44



  1. Grabski, Stanislaw The Polish-Soviet Frontier: London, Keliher, 1943.

  2. Korbel, Josef. Poland Between East and West: Princeton, N.J., P.U. Press,1963.

  3. Keylor, William R. The Twentieth Century World: An International History: 3rd ed.    New York, Oxford, 1996.

  4. Montanis, B. Polish-Soviet Relations in the Light of International Law: New York, University Publications, 1944.

  5. Shotwell, James T. Poland and Russia (1919-1945): New York, King's Crown Press, 1945.

  6. Sulimirski, Tadeusz. Poland and Germany: Past and Future: London,West-Slovonic Bulletin, 1942.

  7. Szymanski, Albert. Class Struggle in Socialist Poland: New York, Praeger Publishers, 1984.




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