In 2009 we celebrated the 70th anniversary of the origin of the Polish Underground State. So far this organisation has been unique in the world. No other state has functioned in such a form yet. The activities of the Polish Underground State ended in 1945. After the Soviets had entered the territory of Poland many representatives of the Polish Underground State were arrested.
The German and Soviet aggressions against Poland meant two military fronts. The fight was even more difficult because during the first days of Poland’s occupation the aggressors decided to murder all Polish elites. The aggressor from the East transported Poles to the endless territories of Kazakhstan and Siberia. About 2 million Polish people were transported there. Almost 200,000 Poles were sentenced administratively to the Soviet labour camps. Almost 40,000 people were arrested and shot. This gloomy list includes Katyn, Starobielsk and other sites of the Katyn massacre. The aggressor from the West undertook similar actions called ‘AB Action’. One of its elements was to kill representatives of the Polish elites in Palmiry near Warsaw or to kill the Lvov professors in 1941. It was also transportation to work in the German factories and farms as well as to the camps situated in the territories of Germany and Poland. Within the framework of the AB Action the Germans, in collaboration with the Soviets, murdered the Polish families who had been regarded as the elite of the Polish nation in the fields of science, culture and art during the Second Polish Republic. The whole campaign was invented during the meeting in Zakopane in 1940 and it was precisely conducted during the next years. The German occupant killed over 3 million people.
The day before the capitulation of Warsaw, being aware of the defeat and its consequences General Michal Karaszewicz-Tokarzewski, following the order of Marshal Edward Rydz-Smigly, decided to create an underground organisation called Service for Poland’s Victory. It was an underground military formation aiming at liberating Poland from the occupation of both aggressors. The commander was Lieutenant Stefan Rowecki. And it was the Service for Poland’s Victory that was undoubtedly the seed of the great organism – the Polish Underground State. Some two months later it was reorganised into the Union of Armed Struggle and in February 1942 into the Home Army. In Poland the civilian structure the Government Delegate’s Office at Home, i.e. the main administrative organ, was created. In January 1944 the Council of National Unity was formed and it was some kind of the Parliament of the Polish Underground State. ‘The Polish Underground State was built on the meeting of two dynamic realities’, says Prof. Jan Zaryn. ‘On the one hand, on the basis of the home structures and far reaching conspiracy of the Polish society itself and its most vivid groups, there were political parties and military structures. At the same time, there was another system organising the Polish Underground State: commands and decisions of the legal Polish authorities in exile. The Polish government-in exile was created at first in France and then in London, all the time maintaining legal continuity with the Second Polish Republic. Thus the Polish Underground State was not only created at the low level but became part of the Republic of Poland, which was active, though in the underground conditions. Therefore, the Polish Underground State is a phenomenon because it embraces almost every field of life and was being created throughout the whole period of the occupation. It was a dynamic structure, initiated in 1939 and developed in the next years. Its formation lasted throughout the whole period, both in the civilian and military conspiracy, which the war conditions demanded. I mean, for example the Council to Aid Jews ‘Zegota’, created in 1942, following the inspiration of Zofia Kossak-Szczucka.
To maintain the national spirit
Both the military and civilian structures were already created during the first weeks of the occupation, although their intensification varied. Those most dynamic structures included the Union of Armed Struggle that in the beginning had 40,000 sworn officers and soldiers. But there originated other, also populous, military structures, for instance Peasants’ Battalions, the National Military Organisation or the National Armed Forces. There were many smaller units that were incorporated into the structures of the Home Army in the years 1943-44 and they amounted to almost 400,000 soldiers.
The development of the civilian structures of the Polish Underground State was equally important. Some historians claim that it was even more important. The creation of a network of schools in the territories of the two occupations towards the end of September was extremely important. It was already in September 1939 that the Secret Teaching Organisation was formed and began clandestine courses. It organised secondary and university education and supplementary elementary education. Over 15,000 professional teachers and students conducted clandestine courses, risking being arrested every day by the Germans. It is estimated that 1.5 million people completed the underground courses. These included over 230,000 secondary school pupils and almost 10,000 university students. The underground publishing houses played a big role to maintain the national spirit. They published papers and books. The historians and archivists dealing with the history of the occupation calculated that the Secret Military Printing Works, created by the Polish Underground State, alone published over 250,000 periodicals and almost 70,000 brochures during that time. In Poland, occupied by the two aggressors, there were over 1,500 press titles and almost 20 magazines that were continuously published. One of the most important titles was ‘Biuletyn Informacyjny’ [Information Bulletin] and the paper ‘Rzeczpospolita Polska’ [The Republic of Poland], the official title of the Government’s Delegate for Home. The underground theatres played a separate and important role as well since the occupants censored the plays and did not allow the ambitions ones to be staged. That concerned especially the Polish authors such as Mickiewicz, Slowacki and Norwid. The occupants forbade performing Polish music, including the works of Chopin and Moniuszko. Therefore, the underground theatrical plays were staged and concerts were performed almost every day. The underground artistic life was widely developed, also because the actors decided not to perform in the theatres run by the Germans. They gave up their professions and had various jobs. They also joined the civilian and military underground structures. The jurisdiction was an extremely important structure of the Polish Underground State. Through the occupations the Military and Civilian Special Courts performed their duties. They gave sentences in various matters: street thefts and collaboration with the occupants, which meant high treason. The courts used the pre-war codes. Both the professional judges and lawyers of other specialisations conducted lawsuits. Several thousands cases were conducted throughout the occupation. The activities of the Polish Underground State ended in 1945. After the Soviets had entered the territory of Poland many representatives of the Polish Underground State were arrested. Many of them were sentenced, for example during the peculiar case, called the ‘Suit of the Sixteen’, which was contradictory to the international law. Despite the protests launched by the representatives of the Polish Underground State, which had been recognised by the Western governments so far, none of the allied countries intervened in the cases concerning the most outstanding representatives of Poland. The allied countries accepted the next stage of the extermination of the Polish elites. This time it was a ‘peaceful’ stage. Soon those who were connected with the Polish Underground State and living in the territory taken by the Soviets were imprisoned or murdered. The same happened in Poland governed by the communists. Those who managed to survive those terrible years in the country were pushed to the margin of social life until 1989. Many outstanding personalities who lived in the West were deprived of their Polish citizenships. Despite those repressions it was this generation that saved our national spirit. Their merits were that in the extreme conditions of World War II they maintained the idea of independence both in the country and in exile. It is true that in Poland this generation, decimated by the Germans and then by the communists, could exert an increasingly small direct impact. But luckily, it turned out that this ‘patriotic’ relay embraced both the opposition of the 1960s and 1970s, and finally the generation of ‘Solidarnosc’ that referred to the memory of the Polish Underground State. However, one should remember that the Church, her structures and internal dynamics, strongly visible during the communist period, was the link between the generations. Thanks to that, what was identical for that generation – the catalogue of independence values based on the traditional Polish understanding of freedom, sovereignty, tolerance and all that constituted the fundamental mark of our national identity, survived in the national remembrance. And in the transformed conditions it could become a trampoline to independence.