A Brief History of Poland Under Communism: Part 1 – War, Stalin, and the Start of the PRL
At the end of the Second World War, the UK, the USA and the USSR signed a formal agreement at Yalta, defining the borders of Poland, and assigning the nation to the Soviet sphere of post-war Europe. Yet Poland’s path to communist dominance began long before this formal agreement.
In August 1939, Europe was simmering in the heat of pre-war tension. Adolf Hitler’s Germany was poised to strike at Poland, having already annexed the former Czechoslovakia, and Stalin wanted his share of the profits. That month, representatives of the USSR and Germany met to sign the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, effectively deciding how they would share Poland between themselves.
The following month, on September 1, Nazi Germany invaded Poland. Just over two weeks later, the Red Army advanced into eastern Poland, under the pretext of protecting the interests of the USSR. A note from September 17, 1939, to the Polish ambassador in Moscow, adds: “… the Soviet government proposes to take all measures to extricate the Polish people from the unfortunate war into which they were dragged by their unwise leaders, and to enable them to live in peace.”
Determined to wipe out any possible resistance, the Soviets murdered at least 20,000 Polish officers in the forests around Katyń, in 1940 – an act which later found its way into communist history books as a Nazi German atrocity.
Throughout the war, Poland’s underground army faced battles on two fronts. In the west, they were fighting Nazi German occupation, while to the east, their opponents were the Red Army. These soldiers, who continued fighting Soviet occupation after 1945, were vilified by Moscow. They are now remembered with pride in Poland, as the Accursed Soldiers.
Warsaw 1944 saw a last-gasp attempt by Poles to take control of the capital, with the Nazis having all but lost the war, and the Soviets on the bank of the Wisła river. The uprising that summer resulted in the almost complete destruction of Warsaw, as the Red Army waited for the proverb ‘when two fight, the third wins’ to prove itself.
During the course of the war, Stalin had been laying the political foundations for the takeover of Poland. On his orders, the pre-war Polish communist party had been liquidated, and replaced with the Polish Workers Party, in 1942. In 1944, the National Home Council was established, along with the Polish National Committee of Liberation (the Lublin Committee), which gave Soviets control of ‘liberated’ parts of Poland. The nation was then called the Polish Republic.
By the time the war ended, the USSR had de facto control of Poland, with Yalta only confirming this. In the meantime, USSR’s NKVD had been carrying out a campaign of murder, rape and looting, rounding up members of the AK and transporting them to Siberia.
In 1946, the ‘Three Times Yes’ (Trzy Razy Tak) referendum showed overall support for nationalisation of industry, the settlement of Poland’s borders, and the abolition of the senate. However, historians believe that the referendum results were heavily manipulated. The same is true of the election held the following year, in which a rigged vote put the communists in power.
The establishment of the Polish United Workers Party in 1948 formally established a single-party system in Poland and, in 1952, the world was introduced to a new nation – the People’s Republic of Poland. Stalin was now in complete control.