Duke Mieszko I, Poland's first recorded leader, converted to Christianity after marrying Dabrowka of Bohemia. This is formally recognized as the birth of the Polish nation.
By accepting Christianity, Poland became an influential participant in the sphere of Western culture. Poznan became the Episcopal see, or capital city. Mieszko allied himself with the German Emperor Otto I and placed his land under the protection of the pope.
Boleslaw Krzywousty (Boleslaus the Wry-Mouthed) divides Poland among his sons in an apparent attempt to reinforce unity. The division instead caused rivalry, leaving Poland prey to various foreign invaders.
Polish state is reunified.
1333 - 1370
Poland achieves political and cultural unity under the rule of Kazimierz III Wielki (Casimir the Great). The city of Krakow flourishes as capital.
The university is founded at Krakow, one of Europe's first universities.
The Polish crown is passed on to 10-year old Jadwiga. Poland forms an alliance with the pagan Lithuania when young Jadwiga marries Duke Jagiello of Lithuania. Jagiello converts to Christianity and becomes Wladyslaw II Jagiello, ruling from 1386-1434. The union increases Poland's boundaries dramatically and creates an alliance with Lithuania that lasts for 400 years.
During this time there are many wars against various enemies (Teutonic Knights, Tatars, Russia, the Ottoman Empire). However, the country prospers economically, culturally, and spiritually.
The Renaissance comes to Poland. Polish becomes the language in lieu of Latin. Literature, learning, culture, and architecture flourish.
Nicolaus Copernicus (Mikolaj Kopernik) publishes "On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres," proposing that the earth revolves around the sun.
The Polish Parliament, or Sejm, unifies Poland and Lithuania into one state. Royal succession is now based on election by the Sejm, including allowing foreign candidates for consideration. The decision was disastrous for Poland, and during the period of the Royal Republic, only four out of eleven kings were native Poles.
The Sejm guarantees religious equality. Roman Catholics, Jews, Protestants, Orthodox Christians, and Muslims all live together in Poland in peace.
Known as the Deluge, Sweden invades Poland with the help of the Tartars and Cossacks from the East. Poland is virtually destoyed as cities are burned and plundered. A population of 10 million is reduced to 6 million due to the wars, famine, and the bubonic plauge.
This period is the reign of Jan III Sobieski, an excellent military commander. Sobieski's forces have many victories over the Turks.
Poland's three powerful neighbors, Russia, Prussia and Austria, each want to own Poland. This was all but impossible without risking war with each other. They finally settled their dispute by dividing Poland among themselves in a series of agreements called the Three Partitions of Poland.
After the First Partition leads to some reforms, a constitution is passed, called the Constitution of the Third of May. It is the second written document that outlines the responsibilities of the Government (the U.S. Constitution is the first). Catherine the Great of Russia invades Poland to break up the newfound democracy.
During the Second Partition, Russia and Prussia take over half of what was left of Poland.
Tadeusz Kosciuszko, the famous general who helped win the American Revolution, starts a rebellion for Polish independence, but it is not strong enough to defeat the Russians.
The Third Partition divides the rest of Poland. Poland is "officially" non-existent for the next 123 years.
Russia attempts to eradicate Polish culture, making Russian the official language of the Russian partition. Prussia does the same in their portion of Poland, attempting to Germanicize Poles. Under the Austrian partition, Galician Poles are allowed to retain some autonomy.
Poland experiences mass emigration due to poverty. Approximately 4 million out of 22 million Poles emigrate to the United States prior to World War I.
With Poland's three occupying powers at war with each other, Poland becomes the main fighting ground. Because there was no official Polish state, there was no Polish army. Poles were forced into the Russian, German, and Austrian armies and forced to fight against one another. Native Poles now in America join Haller's Army in France to fight for their country.
11 November 1918
Poland becomes independent as WWI comes to an end. The country was devastated by the war. Approximately one million Poles died. All Polish institutions had to be rebuilt as the country once again formed a nation. The official boundaries are not set until 1923.
The Treaty of Versailles gives Poland western Prussia, thus getting access to the Baltic Sea.
During the Polish-Soviet War, Jozef Pilsudski's army defeats the Russians. Poland gains western Ukraine and Belarus.
Pilsudski makes himself dictator of Poland. Despite the dictatorship, the economy stabilized at this time and culture continued to prosper.
Poland signs nonagression pacts with Germany and the Soviet Union. The pacts soon prove to be pointless.
23 August 1939
Germany and the Soviet Union sign a nonagression pact, with Stalin and Hitler planning to divide Poland once again.
Hitler invades Poland on 01 September. On 17 September, the Soviet Union invades eastern Poland. Mass arrests, executions, and exiles begin.
Hitler attacks the Soviet Union, and Poland remains under the Nazi regime for the next three years. Many Poles are deported to labor camps. The Polish intelligentsia are executed, and the Nazis plan to elimate the Polish Jews entirely. Most of Poland's Jewish population, including many non-Jews, die in Nazi death camps set up throughout Poland at Maidanek, Birkenau, and Oswiecim (Auschwitz). The Germans exterminated most of Poland's three million Jews, along with Jews from other occupied countries.
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is the single largest act of defiance, and the most tragically unsuccessful.
1944 - 1945
In 1944, the Warsaw Uprising took place. Russia's Red Army is victorious over the Germans. Russia set up a Communist-dominated government for Poland in Lublin. In February 1945, Russia, United States, and Great Britian meet at the Yalta Conference and agree to leave Poland under Soviet control.
At the war's end, over 6 million Poles were dead, approximately 20% of Poland's pre-war population.
Industrial strikes break out in Poznan in an attempt to gain "bread and freedom" from Soviet rule. In October a reformed government is elected without the stamp of Moscow approval. This unheard of defiance elicits a visit from Khrushchev and results in several armies massing at the Polish border.
1956 - 1970s
Poland experiences some internal independence under Soviet rule, most importantly the Church survives and even flourishes as a counterpoint to Soviet repression. Poland manages to rebuild its war-devastated iron, steel, shipping, and mining industries, buy fails to regain a decent standard of living.
Karol Wojtyla, the Archbishop of Krakow, is elected Pope. Taking the name John Paul II, he is the first non-Italian pope in nearly 500 years.
Strikes and riots ensue as the economy crumbles. At the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk, the government reaches an agreement with the workers. The workers are allowed to organize into an independent trade union, called Solidarnosc, or Solidarity. Strike leader Lech Walesa is elected as the head of Solidarity, and by November 60% of the Polish workforce is organized. Solidarity gradually grows into a srong, non-violent, sociopolitical movement.
In December, Martial Law is declared. Solidarity is suspended.
The government formally dissolves Solidarity. The cost of living rises over 100% during the year.
Martial law is lifted.
In April, Solidarity is re-established.
Prices rise by 250%, with incomes dropping by 40%. In November, the first fully free election is won by Lech Walesa. His rule results in disillusionment as no economic miracles take place, and the political forces fail to stabilize.
Poland's National Assembly adopts a new Constitution.
Today Poland continues to gain international credibility and is a member of NATO.