POLAND’S LONG YEAR 1939
MATEUSZ MORAWIECKI, THE PRIME MINISTER OF THE REPUBLIC OF POLAND
The attack of Nazis Germans on Poland on 1 September 1939 and the later Soviet aggression on 17 September meant the second apocalypse for Poland. Poland could not win on its own with the two most powerful armies of the world
The Second World War would have ended as a failure of Hitler in a few months, if it had not been for France and England which opened the western frontier in September 1939. The prevalence in armies divisions over the Reich was unbeatable. This is the opinion of the very generals of Hitler. The price of that neglect was the collapse of France in 1940 and Vichy and the battle about England.
A Polish soldier was fighting not only in September 1939. After the collapse of Poland, the Polish army in the West was reorganized, to which the Second Corpus of gen. Anders joined, consisting of Polish exiles freed from the Soviet captivity on the inhuman land. Narwik, Tobruk, Monte Cassino, Arnhem, Falaise – these some of the places marked with the blood of Polish heroes. The phenomenon on the world scale was the Polish Underground State.
An unusual role in overcoming the Reich was played by the Polish allied military intelligence. It provided the British with about 44 percent of all intelligence information from continental Europe. Those were Polish officers of the military intelligence who played a key role in preparing landing in Africa in 1943 and in Normandy in 1944.
It was the Polish military intelligence which was trying to awaken the conscience of the world in order to fight with the terrible crime of Holocaust.
Polish historic experience connected with the Second World War is different from the Western one. Occupations of France and Poland were incomparable. What was happening in Paris or Bordeaux then did not resemble the Nazis extermination of people on the territory of the General Governorship. 6 million killed Polish citizens, including 3 million citizens of the Jewish origin and the change of borders, which resulted in destroying multi-cultural and multi-ethnical country, became facts. The Polish elite was exterminated in a particular way – the Reich through Intelligenzaktion and AB Action (Ausserorderntliche Befriedungsaktion), the Soviets through murder on Polish officers in Katyń.
Yalta was not a historic necessity, either but a political decision of big powerful countries. Roosevelt give in a place to Stalin. Poland paid a terrible price for defending the world of the West in 1939. There were a lot of options which would have allowed us to avoid the tragic post-war fate of Poland, including the invasion of allies onto the Balkans which was suggested by Churchill, in order to be the first before the Soviet tanks.
The Polish country was rebuilt by the society torn out by the war; it had to face up new totalitarianism, whose purpose was annihilating pre-war Poland. Polish material culture suffered unusually. Poland had never received any reparations for the crime of the Reich. After the war robbery of art works and their destruction by German Nazis, there was a communist agrarian reform which led to the collapse of Polish royal courts, castles and palaces.
After the First World War Polish lands belonged to the most devastated ones in Europe, after the Second World War – war losses of Poland also belonged to the biggest ones. The year 1945 was not a year of freedom, but new captivity. Soldiers of the Polish Underground State went through the hell of Stalin’s repressions. There is nothing more symbolic than the rubbles of Warsaw – the city of two uprisings: in the Warsaw ghetto in 1943 and the uprising of Warsaw in 1944 – in which later there were communist places of torture for heroes of Polish and European freedom.
The year 1939 stopped the development of Poland, a great program of industrialization and building a modern country. Soon after the rebirth of Poland in 1918, an unusually modern packet of electoral and social rights was enacted. Poland was on the way of economic convergences with the West after 123 years of partitions.
Post-war Europe experienced unusual time of prosperity. German Wirtschaftswunder lives in the general awareness the most, France had its Les Trente Gloreuses, but the best examples of economic success are histories of the convergence of Italy and Spain. The question where Polish economy would be if there had not been the Second World War and communism, should be answered clearly: at the western level of development. Poland could not participate in Marshall’s plan or build a post-war model of the social-market country of welfare.
The war put the end to the Lvov school of Mathematics, Warsaw did not become an important European financial centre, and Poland – the centre of computer revolution. Despite the apocalypse of the Second World War, Polish culture managed to be reborn like Phoenix from ashes, and the Polish Film School or the Polish School of Poster gained the world acknowledgment. At the gloomy times of communism, Łódź became the symbol of movie at the world level. Poland became a power of poetry thanks to the genius of such people as Zbigniew Herbert or Stanisław Barańczak.
Despite that, the Polish gene of innovation was still progressing. Jack Tramiel, who experienced Holocaust, as a young boy emigrated to the United States where he became a creator of the power Commodore and Atari. Susan Wojcicki, a granddaughter of Franciszek Wójcicki, engaged in the post-war anti-communist opposition, one of the leaders of the people’s movement, is a chief of YouTube today.
Economic imbalances between the West and the East in today’s Europe are the consequence of a long year 1939. Poland would be a stronger country not only economically but also demographically, and our role in Europe would be much more important. The Polish government on exile in London wanted Poland to be one of the founder-countries of the European communities.
The European project has always be incomplete without Central-Eastern Europe, especially Poland. This second lung of Europe, strongly placed in the tradition of Thomistic realism is a condition necessary to purse sensible policy of the European Union concerning migration or Russian imperialism which is proved by the last years.
For Poland the long year 1939 ended not on 8 May 1945 but in 1989 when the communist system collapsed. Communism led our country in the 80s of the last century to a complete economic collapse which significantly increased a developmental distance between Poland and the world of the West.
Communism collapsed not only because it was an economically ineffective system; it collapsed mainly because it had been defeated by the power of the Polish love to homeland. Thanks to great spiritual support by John Paul II in the 80s, the Polish society created the biggest independent labour movement ‘Solidarity’ in the eastern bloc, which was, in fact, a movement of peace and democracy opposition towards communism.
Polish freedom republic tradition – despite the hecatomb of the Second World War and an attempt of building a new Stalin’s world in the post-war reality under the soviet bottom flasks – finally it won against the two criminal totalitarianisms.
Reflection on the Polish long year 1939 on the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the war would, however, be incomplete without the analysis of the cause for the birth of two totalitarianisms and nearly the collapse of democracy in Europe and without making conclusions for today’s world.
Weimar Germany collapsed not because of hyperinflation or the results of the Versailles Treaty. The party of Adolf Hitler had been a hardly politically significant party till the outbreak of the big crisis. Among historians of economy, today it is generally assumed that the causes of the big crisis was the post-war reconstruction of the gold standard, that is, a monetary system of Europe at that time which was not adjusted to the economic reality and accepted methods of a fight with the crisis.
Mentality of the gold standard enforced using deflation policy, that is, reducing salary and prices in order to bring back competitiveness of economies. As a result, there was economic depression and mass unemployment which resulted in voting for radical parties. John Maynard Keynes in the famous ‘Treaty on monetary reform’ was a warning that devaluation, not deflation is a proper reaction to the new economic reality after the First World War.
It just happened so in Weimer Germany. When the chancellor Heinrich Bruning applied deflation policy, the Nazi Party suddenly became the main political force – it used the support from despaired citizens. It was the chancellor Bruning, a man of the Centre party, who brought about the collapse of young German democracy because of the economic dogmatism and the lack of political imagination.
The collapse of tsarism in Russia and the victory of Bolshevik revolution would have been impossible if tsarist Russia had created inclusive economy which would have distributed the burden of modernization onto all social groups in an even way and enrooted private property in the Russian nation and more democratic parliamentary system. A great success of the Soviets was making Europe dormant in the 30s trough de-information about their plans of democratic conquer of the world. The cruel character of the Soviet regime and the future aggression were perceived with unbelief by higher social classes of Europe.
A big mistake was insufficient effort of the West countries to convince America after the First World War that the common interest of the West was permanent presence of America in the European order of safety.
When we are looking at today’s world and today’s Europe, we see that among the most important lessons of the year 1939 are: taking care of building maximally inclusive systems of democratic capitalism in the world, properly functioning monetary systems, enrooted in real economy, and lack of dogmatism in pursuing economic policy. In terms of foreign policy this is a strong transatlantic ally and realistic evaluation of dangers resulting from aggressive imperialism, in the case of Europe – the Russian one.
Well-functioning democracies, offering welfare to everybody, is the best security of peace in the world and durability of the global democratic order.
The long Polish year 1939 ended not earlier than 30 years ago. Today Poland is a global leader of economic growth and one of the best evidence for success in spreading NATO and European Union. Poland shows that it is possible to match social solidarism with building competitive and innovative economy thanks to creating modern tax system, adjusted to challenges of the 21st century.
Polish history of the 20th century is the history of the victory of Polish love to freedom and democracy under partitioning empires and two cruel totalitarianisms. Poland will always be the guardian of memory of the 20th century. Memory is also commitment.
Józef Szujski, a prominent Polish conservative philosopher, wrote that false history is the master of false policy. Thinking about the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War and the long Polish year 1939, we should remember about his words.