Second Polish Republic
Commonwealth of Poland
Location and extent of the Second Polish Republic in Europe (circa 1930).
Ukrainian · Yiddish
Belarusian · Russian
Lithuanian · German
|-||Nov 1918 – Dec 1922||Józef Piłsudskia|
|-||Dec 1922||Gabriel Narutowicz|
|-||Dec 1922 – May 1926||Stanisław Wojciechowski|
|-||Jun 1926 – Sep 1939||Ignacy Mościcki|
|-||1918–1919 (first)||Jędrzej Moraczewski|
|-||1936–1939 (last)||Felicjan S. Składkowski|
|Historical era||Interwar period|
|-||End of World War I||11 November 1918|
|-||Invasion by Nazi Germany||1 September 1939|
|-||Invasion by Soviet Union||17 September 1939|
|-||1921||387,000 km² (149,422 sq mi)|
|-||1931||388,634 km² (150,052 sq mi)|
|-||1938||389,720 km² (150,472 sq mi)|
|Density||70.2 /km² (181.9 /sq mi)|
|Density||82.6 /km² (214 /sq mi)|
|Density||89.4 /km² (231.6 /sq mi)|
|Currency||Marka (until 1924)
Złoty (after 1924)
|Today part of|| Poland
|a.||As Chief of State (Naczelnik Państwa).|
|Part of a series on|
The Second Polish Republic, Second Commonwealth of Poland or "interwar Poland" refers to the country of Poland between the First and Second World Wars (1918–1939). Officially known as the Republic of Poland or the Commonwealth of Poland (Polish: Rzeczpospolita Polska), the Polish state was created in 1918, in the aftermath of World War I. When, after several regional conflicts, the borders of the state were fixed in 1922, Poland's neighbours were Czechoslovakia, Germany, the Free City of Danzig, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania and the Soviet Union. It had access to the Baltic Sea via a short strip of coastline either side of the city of Gdynia. Between March and August 1939, Poland also shared a border with the then-Hungarian province of Carpathian Ruthenia. Despite internal and external pressures, it continued to exist until 1939, when Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and the Slovak Republic, marking the beginning of World War II in Europe. The Second Republic was significantly different in territory to the current Polish state, controlling substantially more territory in the east and less in the west.
The Second Republic's land area was 388,634 km2, making it, in October 1938, the sixth largest country in Europe. After the annexation of Zaolzie, this grew to 389,720 km2. According to the 1921 census, the number of inhabitants was 27.2 million. By 1939, just before the outbreak of World War II, this had grown to an estimated 35.1 million. Almost a third of population came from minority groups: 13.9% Ukrainians; 10% Jews; 3.1% Belarusians; 2.3% Germans and 3.4% percent Czechs, Lithuanians and Russians. At the same time, a significant number of ethnic Poles lived outside the country borders, many in the Soviet Union. The Republic endured and expanded despite a variety of difficulties: the aftermath of World War I, including conflicts with Ukraine, with Czechoslovakia, with Lithuania and with Soviet Russia and Ukraine; the Greater Poland and Silesian Uprisings; and increasing hostility from Nazi Germany.
Despite lacking an overseas empire, Poland maintained a slow but steady level of economic development. The cultural hubs of interwar Poland – Warsaw, Kraków, Poznań, Wilno and Lwów – became major European cities and the sites of internationally acclaimed universities and other institutions of higher education. By 1939, the Republic had become "one of Europe's major powers".1 Nevertheless, the Polish economist Witold Gadomski has calculated that the Republic was a much poorer nation than contemporary Poland. According to his estimates, Poland's gross national product in 1929 was between 50 and 60 billion US$s, which compares starkly with an estimate in 2007 of 422 billion dollars. In 2007, Poland's share in international trade was 1.1%, while in 1937, it was 0.8%.2
- 1 History
- 2 Politics and government
- 3 Military
- 4 Economy
- 5 Education and culture
- 6 Demographics
- 7 Administrative division
- 8 Geography
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
Germany gained dominance on the Eastern Front of World War I as the Russians fell back. German and Austro-Hungarian armies seized the Russian-ruled part of what became Poland. Berlin set up a a German puppet state on 5 November 1916, with a governing Council of State and (from 15 October 1917) a Regency Council (Rada Regencyjna Królestwa Polskiego). The Council administered the country under German auspices (see also Mitteleuropa) pending the election of a king. A month before Germany gave up and ended the war on 7 October 1918, the Regency Council dissolved the Council of State and announced its intention to restore Polish independence. With the notable exception of the Marxist-oriented Social Democratic Party of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania (SDKPiL), most political parties supported this move. On 23 October the Council appointed a new government under Józef Świeżyński and began conscription into the Polish Army.3
On 5 November, in Lublin, the first Soviet of Delegates was created. On 6 November the Communists announced the creation of a Republic of Tarnobrzeg. The same day, a Provisional People's Government of the Republic of Poland was created in Lublin under the Socialist, Ignacy Daszyński. On Sunday, 10 November at 7 a.m., Józef Piłsudski, newly freed from 16-month imprisonment by the German authorities at Magdeburg, returned by train to Warsaw. Piłsudski, together with Colonel Kazimierz Sosnkowski, was greeted at Warsaw's rail station by Regent Zdzisław Lubomirski and Colonel Adam Koc. Next day, due to his popularity and support from most political parties, the Regency Council appointed Piłsudski Commander in Chief of the Polish Armed Forces. On 14 November, the Council dissolved itself and transferred all its authority to Piłsudski as Chief of State (Naczelnik Państwa). After consultation with Piłsudski, Daszyński's government dissolved itself and a new government was created under Jędrzej Moraczewski. In 1918, Italy was the first country in Europe to recognise Poland's sovereignty.4
Centers of government that were at that time created in Galicia (formerly Austrian-ruled southern Poland) included National Council of the Principality of Cieszyn (created in November 1918), Republic of Zakopane and Polish Liquidation Committee (created on 28 October). Soon afterward, a conflict broke out in Lwów between forces of the Military Committee of Ukrainians and the Polish irregular units of students and children, known as Lwów Eaglets, who were later supported by the Polish Army (see Battle of Lwów (1918), Battle of Przemyśl (1918)). Meanwhile, in western Poland, another conflict began – see Greater Poland Uprising (1918–1919). In January 1919, Czechoslovakian forces attacked Polish units in the area of Zaolzie (see Polish–Czechoslovak War). Soon afterwards, the Polish–Lithuanian War began, and in August 1919, Polish-speaking residents of Upper Silesia initiated a series of three Silesian Uprisings. The most important military conflict of that period however was the Polish-Soviet War, which ended in a decisive Polish victory.5
The beginning of the Second World War put an end to the Second Polish Republic. The Invasion of Poland began 1 September 1939, one week after the signing of the secret Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. On that day, Poland was attacked by Nazi Germany and Slovakia, and on 17 September, the Soviets attacked eastern Poland. Organized Polish resistance ended on 6 October 1939 after the Battle of Kock, with Germany and the Soviet Union occupying most of the country. The area of Wilno was annexed by Lithuania, and areas along southern border were seized by Slovakia including Górna Orawa and Tatranská Javorina which Poland had annexed from Czechoslovakia in October 1938. Poland did not surrender, but continued fighting as Polish Government in Exile and the Polish Underground State. After signing the German–Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Demarcation, Polish areas occupied by Nazi Germany were either directly annexed to the Third Reich, or became part of the so-called General Government. Soviet Union, after rigged Elections to the People's Assemblies of Western Ukraine and Western Belarus, annexed eastern Poland either to Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic, or Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.
The Polish government in exile operated in Paris and later London, between 1939 and 1990, maintaining that it was the only legal and legitimate representative of the Polish nation. In 1990, the last president in exile, Ryszard Kaczorowski handed the insignia to Lech Wałęsa, signifying continuity between the Second and Third republics.
The Second Polish Republic was a parliamentary democracy from 1919 (see Small Constitution of 1919) to 1926, with the President having limited powers. The Parliament elected him, and he could appoint the Prime Minister as well as the government with the Sejm's (lower house's) approval, but he could only dissolve the Sejm with the Senate's consent. Moreover, his power to pass decrees was limited by the requirement that the Prime Minister and the appropriate other Minister had to verify his decrees with their signatures. Poland was one of the first countries in the world to recognize Women's suffrage. Women in Poland were granted the right to vote on 28 November 1918, with a decree of Józef Piłsudski.7
The major political parties at this time were the National Democrats and other right-wing groups, various Peasant Parties, Christian Democrats, Polish Socialist Party, and political groups of ethnic minorities (German: German Social Democratic Party of Poland, Jewish: General Jewish Labour Bund in Poland, United Jewish Socialist Workers Party, and Ukrainian: Ukrainian National Democratic Alliance). Frequently changing governments (see Polish legislative election, 1919, Polish legislative election, 1922) and other negative publicity which the politicians received (such as accusations of corruption or 1919 Polish coup attempt), made them increasingly unpopular. Major politicians at this time included peasant activist Wincenty Witos (Prime Minister three times) and right-wing Roman Dmowski. Ethnic minorities were represented in the Sejm; e.g. in 1928 – 1930 there was the Ukrainian-Belarusian Club, with 26 Ukrainian and 4 Belarusian members.
After the Polish – Soviet war, Marshal Piłsudski led an intentionally modest life, writing historical books for a living. After he took power by a military coup in May 1926, he emphasized that he wanted to heal the Polish society and politics of excessive partisan politics. His regime, accordingly, was called Sanacja in Polish. The 1928 parliamentary elections were still considered free and fair, although the pro-Piłsudski Nonpartisan Bloc for Cooperation with the Government won them. The following three parliamentary elections (in 1930, 1935 and 1938) were manipulated, with opposition activists being sent to Bereza Kartuska prison (see also Brest trials). As a result, pro-government party Camp of National Unity won huge majorities in them. Piłsudski died just after an authoritarian constitution was approved in the spring of 1935. During the last four years of the Second Polish Republic, the major politicians included President Ignacy Mościcki, Foreign Minister Józef Beck and the Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Army, Edward Rydz-Śmigły. The country was divided into 104 electoral districts, and those politicians who were forced to leave Poland, founded Front Morges in 1936. The government that ruled Second Polish Republic in its final years is frequently referred to as Piłsudski's colonels.8
Poland had a large army, with 283,000 on active duty, in 37 infantry divisions, 11 cavalry brigades, and two armored brigades, plus artillery units. Another 700,000 men served in the reserves.9
The units were poorly equipped and poorly trained. The high command was not well regarded and planning was inadequate and haphazard. The war plans failed as soon as Germany invaded, as 10 divisions were never mobilized and others were sent to the wrong places. The limited defense budget allowed minimal mechanization; most weapons were purchased abroad, and foreign exchange was scarce.10
PZL, the state aviation company, in 1934 developed the PZL P.11, the most modern fighter in Europe. In the late 1930s its successor the PZL P.24 was even better armed and faster, but Poland exported its entire production to earn currency, forcing the use of obsolete PZL P.7 and P-11 fighters. The PZL.37 Łoś was an excellent twin-engine medium bomber; only a few dozen were available when the war began.
In 1939 Poland had 390 combat planes of mediocre quality, against Germany's 1900 late model fighters.11
After regaining her independence Poland was faced with major economic difficulties. In addition to the devastation wrought by World War I, the exploitation of the Polish economy by the German and Russian occupying powers, and the sabotage performed by retreating armies, the new republic was faced with the task of economically unifying disparate economic regions, which had previously been part of different countries.14 Within the borders of the Republic were the remnants of three different economic systems, with five different currencies (the German mark, the Russian ruble, the Austrian crown, the Polish marka and the Ostrubel)14 and with little or no direct infrastructural links. The situation was so bad that neighboring industrial centers as well as major cities lacked direct railroad links, because they had been parts of different nations. For example, there was no direct railroad connection between Warsaw and Kraków until 1934. This situation was described by Melchior Wańkowicz in his book Sztafeta.
On top of this was the massive destruction left after both World War I and the Polish Soviet War. There was also a great economic disparity between the eastern (commonly called Poland B) and western (called Poland A) parts of the country, with the western half, especially areas that had belonged to the German Empire being much more developed and prosperous. Frequent border closures and a customs war with Germany also had negative economic impacts on Poland. In 1924 prime minister and economic minister Władysław Grabski introduced the złoty as a single common currency for Poland (it replaced the Polish marka), which remained a stable currency. The currency helped Poland to bring under control the massive hyperinflation, the only country in Europe which was able to do this without foreign loans or aid.15 Average annual growth rate (GDP per capita) was 5.24% in 1920–29 and 0.34% in 1929–38.12
Hostile relations with neighbours were a major problem for the economy of interbellum Poland. In the year 1937, foreign trade with all neighbours amounted to only 21% of Poland's total. Trade with Lithuania (0% of total) and the Soviet Union (0,8%) was virtually nonexistent. Czechoslovakia accounted for 3,9% of Polish foreign trade, Latvia for 0,3%, Romania for 0,8%, and Germany, Poland's most important neighbour, for 14,3%. By mid-1938, after the Anschluss, Greater Germany was responsible for as much as 23% of Polish foreign trade.
The basis of Poland's gradual recovery after the Great Depression were mass economic development plans (see Four Year Plan), which oversaw the building of three key infrastructural elements. The first was the establishment of the Gdynia seaport, which allowed Poland to completely bypass Gdańsk (which was under heavy German pressure to boycott Polish coal exports). The second was construction of the 500-kilometer rail connection between Upper Silesia and Gdynia, called Polish Coal Trunk-Line, which served freight trains with coal. The third was the creation of a central industrial district, named COP – Central Industrial Region (Centralny Okręg Przemysłowy). Unfortunately, these developments were interrupted and largely destroyed by the German and Soviet invasion and the start of World War II.16 Among other achievements of interbellum Poland there are Stalowa Wola (a brand new city, built in a forest around a steel mill), Mościce (now a district of Tarnów, with a large nitrate factory), and creation of a central bank. There were several trade fairs, with the most popular being Poznań International Fair, Lwów's Targi Wschodnie, and Wilno's Targi Północne. Polish Radio had ten stations (see Radio stations in interwar Poland), with the eleventh one planned to be opened in the autumn of 1939. Furthermore, in 1935 Polish engineers began working on the TV services. By early 1939, experts of the Polish Radio built four TV sets. First movie broadcast by experimental Polish TV was Barbara Radziwiłłówna, and by 1940, regular TV service was scheduled to begin operation.17
Interbellum Poland was also a country with numerous social problems. Unemployment was high, and poverty was widespread, which resulted in several cases of social unrest, such as the 1923 Kraków riot, and 1937 peasant strike in Poland. There were conflicts with national minorities, such as Pacification of Ukrainians in Eastern Galicia (1930), relations with Polish neighbors were sometimes complicated (see Soviet raid on Stołpce, Polish–Czechoslovak border conflicts, 1938 Polish ultimatum to Lithuania). On top of this, there were natural disasters, such as 1934 flood in Poland.
Interbellum Poland was unofficially divided into two parts – better developed "Poland A" in the west, and eastern provinces, the underdeveloped "Poland B". Polish industry was concentrated in the west, mostly in Polish Upper Silesia, and the adjacent Lesser Poland's province of Zagłębie Dąbrowskie, where the bulk of coal mines and steel plants was located. Furthermore, heavy industry plants were located in Częstochowa (Huta Częstochowa, founded in 1896), Ostrowiec Świętokrzyski (Huta Ostrowiec, founded in 1837–1839), Stalowa Wola (brand new industrial city, which was built from scratch in 1937 – 1938), Chrzanów (Fablok, founded in 1919), Jaworzno, Trzebinia (oil refinery, opened in 1895), Łódź (the seat of Polish textile industry), Poznań (H. Cegielski – Poznań), Kraków and Warsaw (Ursus Factory). Further east, in Kresy, industrial centers were scarce, and limited to two major cities of the region – Lwów and Wilno (Elektrit). Besides coal mining, Poland also had deposits of oil in Borysław, Drohobycz, Jasło and Gorlice (see Polmin), potassium salt (TESP), and basalt (Janowa Dolina). Apart from already-existing industrial areas, in the mid-1930s, an ambitious, state-sponsored project of Central Industrial Region was started under Minister Eugeniusz Kwiatkowski. One of characteristic features of Polish economy in the interbellum was gradual nationalization of major plants. This was the case of Ursus Factory (see Państwowe Zakłady Inżynieryjne), and several steelworks, such as Huta Pokój in Ruda Śląska – Nowy Bytom, Huta Królewska in Chorzów – Królewska Huta, Huta Laura in Siemianowice Śląskie, as well as Scheibler and Grohman Works in Łódź.2
According to the 1939 Statistical Yearbook of Poland, total length of railways of Poland (as for 31 December 1937) was 20 118 kilometers. Rail density was 5.2 km. per 100 km2. Railways were very dense in western part of the country, while in the east, especially Polesie, rail was non-existent in some counties. During the interbellum period, Polish government constructed several new lines, mainly in central part of the country (see also Polish State Railroads Summer 1939). Construction of extensive Warszawa Główna railway station was never finished due to the war, and Polish railroads were famous for their punctuality (see Luxtorpeda, Strzała Bałtyku, Latający Wilnianin).
In the interbellum, road network of Poland was dense, but the quality of the roads was very poor – only 7% of all roads was paved and ready for automobile use, and none of the major cities were connected with each other by a good-quality highway. In the mid-1930s, Poland had 340,000 kilometers of roads, but only 58,000 had hard surface (gravel, cobblestone or sett), and 2,500 were modern, with asphalt or concrete surface. In different parts of the country, there were sections of paved roads, which suddenly ended, and were followed by dirt roads.18 Poor condition of roads was the result of both long-lasting foreign dominance, and inadequate funding. On 29 January 1931, Polish Parliament created State Road Fund, whose purpose was to collect money for construction and conservation of roads. The government drafted a 10-year plan, with road priorities: a highway from Wilno, through Warsaw and Cracow, to Zakopane (called Marshall Pilsudski Highway), asphalt highways from Warsaw to Poznań and Łódź, as well as Warsaw ring road. However, the plan turned out to be too ambitious, as there was not enough money in the national budget. In January 1938, Polish Road Congress estimated that Poland should spend on roads three times more money to keep up with Western Europe.
In 1939, before the outbreak of the war, LOT Polish Airlines, which was established in 1929, had its hub at Warsaw Okęcie Airport. At that time LOT maintained several services, both domestic and international. Warsaw had regular domestic connections with Gdynia-Rumia, Danzig-Langfuhr, Katowice-Muchowiec, Kraków-Rakowice-Czyżyny, Lwów-Skniłów, Poznań-Ławica, and Wilno-Porubanek. Furthermore, in cooperation with Air France, LARES, Lufthansa, and Malert, international connections were maintained with Athens, Beirut, Berlin, Bucharest, Budapest, Helsinki, Kaunas, London, Paris, Prague, Riga, Rome, Tallinn, and Zagreb.19
In the Second Polish Republic, the majority of inhabitants lived in the countryside (75% in 1921), and their existence depended on land. Farmers made 65% of the population, while about 1% were landowners. In 1929, agricultural production made 65% of Poland's GNP.20 After 123 years of partitions, regions of the country were very unevenly developed. Lands of former German Empire were most advanced – in Greater Poland and Pomerelia, crops were on Western European level.21 The situation was much worse in former Congress Poland, Kresy, and former Galicia, where agriculture was most backward and primitive, with a large number of small farms, unable to succeed on both domestic and international market. Furthermore, another problem was overpopulation of the countryside, which resulted in chronic unemployment. Living conditions were so bad that in several regions, such as counties inhabited by the Hutsuls, there was permanent starvation.22 Farmers rebelled against the government (see: 1937 peasant strike in Poland), and the situation began to change in the late 1930s, due to construction of several factories for the Central Industrial Region, which gave employment to thousands of countryside residents.
In the 1920s there was a trade war with Germany, involving tariffs and restrictions. After 1933 the trade war ended and new agreements regulated and promoted trade. Germany was Poland's largest trading partner, followed by Britain. In October 1938 Germany granted a credit of Rm 60,000,000 (120,000,000 zloty, or £4,800,000). Germany would deliver factory equipment and machinery in return for Polish timber and agricultural produce. This new trade was to be in addition to the existing German-Polish trade agreements.23
In 1919, the Polish government introduced compulsory education for all children aged 7 to 14, in an effort to limit illiteracy, which was widespread, especially in eastern Poland. The process was slow, but by 1939, 90% of children attended school. In 1921, one-third of citizens of Poland was illiterate (38% in the countryside), by 1931, illiteracy level dropped to 23% overall (27% in the countryside),2 and fell to 18% in 1937.24
In 1932, Minister of Religion and Education Janusz Jędrzejewicz carried out a reform which introduced the following levels of education:
- common school (szkoła powszechna), with three levels – 4 grades + 2 grades + 1 grade,
- middle school (szkoła średnia), with two levels – 4 grades of comprehensive middle school and 2 grades of specified high school (classical, humanistic, natural and mathematical). A graduate of middle school received a small matura, while a graduate of high school received a big matura, which enabled them to seek university-level education.
Before 1918, Poland had three universities: Jagiellonian University, University of Warsaw and Lwów University. Catholic University of Lublin was established in 1918; Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, in 1919; and finally, in 1922, after the annexation of Republic of Central Lithuania, Wilno University became the Republic's sixth university. There were also three technical colleges: the Warsaw University of Technology, Lwów Polytechnic and the AGH University of Science and Technology in Kraków, established in 1919. Warsaw University of Life Sciences was an agricultural institute. By 1939, there were around 50,000 students enrolled in further education.citation needed Women made up 28% of university students, the second highest share in Europe.25
Polish science in the interbellum was renowned for its mathematicians – see Lwów School of Mathematics, Kraków School of Mathematics, and Warsaw School of Mathematics. There were well-known philosophers (see Lwów–Warsaw school of logic), Florian Znaniecki founded Polish sociological studies, Rudolf Weigl invented vaccine against typhus, Bronisław Malinowski was among the most important anthropologists of the 20th century. In Polish literature, the 1920s were marked by the domination of poetry. Polish poets were divided into two groups – the Skamanderites (Jan Lechoń, Julian Tuwim, Antoni Słonimski and Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz) and the Futurists (Anatol Stern, Bruno Jasieński, Aleksander Wat, Julian Przyboś). Apart from well-established novelists (Stefan Żeromski, Władysław Reymont), new names appeared in the interbellum – Zofia Nałkowska, Maria Dąbrowska, Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz, Jan Parandowski, Bruno Schultz, Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, Witold Gombrowicz. Among other notable artists there were sculptor Xawery Dunikowski, painters Julian Fałat, Wojciech Kossak and Jacek Malczewski, composers Karol Szymanowski, Feliks Nowowiejski, and Artur Rubinstein, singer Jan Kiepura. Theatre was very popular in the interbellum, with three main centers in the cities of Warsaw, Wilno and Lwów. Altogether, there were 103 theaters in Poland and a number of other theatrical institutions (including 100 folk theaters). In 1936, different shows were seen by 5 million people, and main figures of Polish theatre of the time were Juliusz Osterwa, Stefan Jaracz, and Leon Schiller. Also, before the outbreak of the war, there were around 1 million radios (see Radio stations in interwar Poland).
Historically, Poland was a nation of many nationalities. This was especially true after independence was regained in the wake of World War I. The census of 1921 allocates 30.8% of the population in the minority.26 This was further exacerbated with the Polish victory in the Polish-Soviet War, and the large territorial gains in the east, made by Poland as a consequence. According to the 1931 Polish Census: 68.9% of the population was Polish, 13.9% were Ukrainians, around 10% Jewish, 3.1% Belarusians, 2.3% Germans and 2.8% – others, including Lithuanians, Czechs and Armenians. Also, there were smaller communities of Russians, and Gypsies. The situation of minorities was a complex subject and changed during the period.27
Poland was also a nation of many religions. In 1921, 16,057,229 Poles (approx. 62.5%) were Roman (Latin) Catholics, 3,031,057 citizens of Poland (approx. 11.8%) were Eastern Rite Catholics (mostly Ukrainian Greek Catholics and Armenian Rite Catholics), 2,815,817 (approx. 10.95%) were Greek Orthodox, 2,771,949 (approx. 10.8%) were Jewish, and 940,232 (approx. 3.7%) were Protestants (mostly Lutheran Evangelical).28 By 1931 Poland had the second largest Jewish population in the world, with one-fifth of all the world's Jews residing within its borders (approx. 3,136,000).26 Urban population of interbellum Poland was rising steadily – in 1921, only 24% of Poles lived in the cities, in the late 1930s, the ratio grew to 30%. In more than a decade, the population of Warsaw grew by 200,000, Łódź by 150,000, and Poznań – by 100,000. This was due not only to internal migration, but also extremely high birth rate.2
|30 September 1921 (census)||27,177,000||75.4%||69.9|
|9 December 1931 (census)||32,348,000||72.6%||82.6|
|31 December 1938 (estimate)||34,849,000||70.0%||89.7|
- Largest cities in early 1939:
- Warsaw – 1,289,000
- Łódź – 672,000
- Lwów – 318,000
- Poznań – 272,000
- Kraków – 259,000
- Wilno – 209,000
- Bydgoszcz – 141,000
- Częstochowa – 138,000
- Katowice – 134,000
- Sosnowiec – 130,000
- Lublin – 122,000
- Gdynia – 120,000
- Chorzów – 110,000
- Białystok – 107,000
The administrative division of the Republic was based on a three-tier system. On the lowest rung were the gminy, local town and village governments akin to districts or parishes. These were then grouped together into powiaty (akin to counties) which, in turn, were grouped as województwa (voivodeships, akin to provinces).
|Polish voivodeships during the interbellum
(data as per 1 April 1937)
in 1,000s km2
|00–19||City of Warsaw||Warsaw||0.14||1,179.5|
|55–59||poleskie||Brześć nad Bugiem||36.7||1,132.2|
On 1 April 1938, the borders of several western and central voivodeships were revised.
The Second Polish Republic was mainly flat, with average elevation of 223 m above sea level (after World War II and its border changes, the average elevation of Poland decreased to 173 m). Only 13% of territory, along the southern border, was higher than 300 m. The highest elevation was Mount Rysy, which rises 2,499 m in the Tatra Range of the Carpathians, 95 km south of Kraków. Between October 1938 and September 1939, the highest elevation was Lodowy Szczyt (known in the Slovakian language as Ľadový štít), which rises 2,627 meters above sea level. The largest lake was Lake Narach.
The country's total area, after annexation of Zaolzie, was 389,720 km2, it extended 903 km from north to south and 894 km from east to west. On 1 January 1938, total length of boundaries was 5,529 km, including:
- 140 kilometers of coastline (out of which 71 kilometers were made by the Hel Peninsula),
- 1412 kilometers with Soviet Union,
- 948 kilometers with Czechoslovakia (until 1938),
- 1912 kilometers with Germany (together with East Prussia),
- 1081 kilometers with other countries (Lithuania, Romania, Latvia, Danzig).
Among major cities of the Second Polish Republic, the warmest yearly average temperature was in Kraków (9.1 °C in 1938) and the coldest in Wilno (7.6 °C in 1938).
- Northernmost point: N55*51'8,45" (N55,852250*); Przeświata River in Somino, located in the Braslaw county of the Wilno Voivodeship
- Southernmost point: N47*43'31,8" (N47,725492*); spring of Manczin River located in the Kosów county of the Stanisławów Voivodeship
- Easternmost point: E28*21'44,3" (E28,362371*); Spasibiorki (near railway to Połock) located in the Dzisna county of the Wilno Voivodeship
- Westernmost point: E15*47'12,4" (E15,786773*); Mukocinek near Warta River and Meszyn Lake located in the Międzychód county of the Poznań Voivodeship
Almost 75% of the territory of interbellum Poland was drained northward into the Baltic Sea by the Vistula (total area of drainage basin of the Vistula within boundaries of the Second Polish Republic was 180,300 km2), the Niemen (51,600 km2), the Odra (46,700 km2) and the Daugava (10,400 km2). The remaining part of the country was drained southward, into the Black Sea, by the rivers that drain into the Dnieper (Pripyat, Horyn and Styr, all together 61,500 km2) as well as Dniester (41,400 km2)
- The End, TIME Magazine, 2 October 1939
- Spłata długu po II RP, by Witold Gadomski
- Richard M. Watt, Bitter Glory: Poland and Its Fate, 1918–1939 (1998)
- Andrzej Garlicki, Józef Piłsudski, 1867–1935 (1995)
- Norman Richard Davies, White Eagle, Red Star: the Polish-Soviet War, 1919–20 (2nd ed. 2003)
- Seidner, Stanley S. (1975). "The Camp of National Unity: An Experiment in Domestic Consolidation". The Polish Review 20 (2–3): 231–236.
- A. Polonsky, Politics in Independent Poland, 1921–1939: The Crisis of Constitutional Government (1972)
- Peter Hetherington, Unvanquished: Joseph Piłsudski, Resurrected Poland, and the Struggle for Eastern Europe (2012); W. Jędrzejewicz, Piłsudski. A Life for Poland (1982)
- David G. Williamson (2011). Poland Betrayed: The Nazi-Soviet Invasions of 1939. Stackpole Books. p. 21.
- Walter M. Drzewieniecki,"The Polish Army on the Eve of World War II," Polish Review (1981) 26#3 pp 54–64 in JSTOR
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