Poland vanished from the map 1795 when Russia, Prussia and Austria divided the country among themselves.
In 1915, during the First World War, the Germans expelled the Russians from Poland and promised Poland independence. On November 1918 Germany installed Jozef Pilsudski as Polish head of state and surrendered control of Poland to him. Polish independence was recognised at Versailles in 1919. However, fighting continued in the east and Polish forces siezed parts of Lithuania, Byelorussia and Ukraine from Russia during 1919 and early 1920. A Soviet offensive came close to capturing Warsaw, but in August 1920 Poland was saved by a Polish counteroffensive aided by France and Britain. A peace treaty was then agreed, defining the eastern frontier. In the west, Danzig (Gdansk) had been made a free city and a ‘polish corridor’ now separated East Prussia from the rest of Germany.
In early 1939, after Hitler’s march into Prague, the Poles accepted guarantees of help from Britain and France in the event of an attack from Germany. The expected attack came on 1 September 1939 and started the Second World War. As the German blitzkrieg devastated the west of Poland, the Red Army (by prior agreement with Germany) swarmed into the east. The Polish goverment fled to England.
When Germany attacked Russia in 1941, the eastern part of Poland also fell under German occupation. The Poles and Russians became uneasy allies against a common enemy. Many Poles were recruited into the Soviet armed forces. Soviet liberation of eastern Poland was achieved in January-June 1944, and in December 1944 a communist dominated provisional government was set up. The liberation of Warsaw did not occur until January 1945. The provisional government was recognised by Britain and America in July 1945, in return for the inclusion of the London exiles and the promise of free elections.
The Allies also approved new frontiers that shifted Poland westwards. The Poles gained German territory as far west as the Oder-Neisse rivers, the free city of Gdansk and most of East Prussia, but lost territory in the east. Most Germans in the former German areas fled or were expelled.
The elections of January 1947 were far from free, and resulted in hardline stalinists taking control. Poland signed the Warsaw Pact Treaty in May 1955. Poland’s declining ecomonic situation during the late 1970’s came to a head in July 1980 when widespread strikes and sit-ins saw the emergence of the ‘Solidarity’ Catholic trade union. The Gdansk agreement of 31 August 1980 established workers rights and a relaxation of censorship. Unfortunately, the economic decline accelerated and industrial disputes became commonplace. In a desperate attempt to restore order and avert Soviet military intervention, martial law was declared in December 1981.
After the lifting of martial law in July 1983, political and economic reforms were initiated. Multi-party elections were held in June 1989, which resulted in a Solidarity dominated government. A rapid conversion to a market economy was undertaken which, although painful, showed signs of success from 1993 onwards. Membership of the Warsaw Pact was dissolved in March 1991. Poland became a probationary member of NATO in July 1997 and full member on 12 March 1999.