P is for Poland’s perimeter

Poland 1920-1939

When I was in 10th grade, or maybe earlier, I was taking a world history course. Much to my distress, I discovered that, in the 1790s, Poland disappeared as a free country. It was carved up by Russia, Prussia, and Austria. “At the height of its power, the Commonwealth of Poland included Lithuania, Belarus, and much of Ukraine. It developed a unique form of government in which the nobility elected the king and a single dissenting vote (the liberum veto) stopped any legislation. This system invited foreign intervention and civil war, and made the country vulnerable to more powerful neighbors.”

Due to the intellectual and artistic climate of the early 19th century, which included the great composer Chopin, there was a “growth of Polish demands for self-government.” Armed rebellion, though, was ultimately unsuccessful. The latter part of this period was also a time of a large Polish emigration, largely to the United States.

Now, I grew up in Binghamton, a small upstate New York city with a fairly sizable eastern European population. So not only did I think these imperialistic actions were terribly unfair, I recognized, even then, that the changing boundaries of a country must wreak havoc on anyone trying to do any type of genealogical research.

Poland was reborn as an independent nation after World War I. However, after the second World War, “the allies decided then that the eastern parts of Poland would be passed on to the republics of the Soviet Union. The large cities… were ethnically predominantly or almost exclusively Polish… After 1945 most of the “eastern” Poles were forced to resettle into the present area of Poland and especially into its new western territories which in turn had been cut off from the ‘old’ Germany.”

Here’s a 100-second video showing Poland’s changing borders over the centuries.

ABC Wednesday – Round 12

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19 thoughts on “P is for Poland’s perimeter

  1. Roger, just saw (from the library) “An Unfinished Story,” about the German films of Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto. How they staged elaborate banquets for the “haves” and contrasted it with utter misery of the poor, depicting rich Jews as being insensitive to the plight of their brethren in the faith. Also, Nazi photographers are seen staging pieces, doing retakes, etc.

    Poland has suffered much indiginity, including being the butt of so many jokes. The people of Poland endured, but so many of the population (Jews, gays and lesbians, political prisoners, etc.) were simply laid waste in the camps. Powerful film; I think you would appreciate it, I can’t say “enjoy” it, you know. Binghamton’s Polish community is wonderful – my favorite Friday treat used to be pierogi from St. Michael’s on Clinton.

    Ah, memories. Amy

  2. the history of Poland is amazing. every couple of centuries it seems that it is razed and destroyed and the people always rebuild it. they have seen some of the worst of humanity and they always rebuild themselves. Poland very much is the heart of Europe in that when it goes so does the balance of Europe. the life of Casimir Pulaski is a really interesting one too. (I live and grew up in the suburbs of Chicago–largest Polish population outside of Warsaw–and Pulaski’s birthday is a holiday over here.)

  3. Very interesting post. I’ve thought about how hard it must be for people born in a country with a certain identity to see it change during their lifetime to be part of another country.

  4. It has gone through such tumultuous times. I’ve been reading more this week about the late Maurice Sendak, whose family has links with Poland. I wonder if the country will ever go through a prolonged period of peace.

  5. GREAT post. I think the colonizing of England, Holland, Spain and France – but especially England in the Middle East is STILL wreaking havoc – a problem we are still are dealing with…

  6. My maternal grandparents arrived at Ellis Island from Poland in 1912, shortly before immigration restrictions set in. Grandma was 14, she arrived by herself from the Austrian part of Poland which was kept economically backward, her family saved to send her to a better live. When she arrived in NYC, she looked down at her feet and was disappointed to see plain cobblestones. Back in the village everyone knew that the streets of America were paved with gold. She died in 1984.

    Thanks for the cool video and thanks for talking about Poland. By coincidence this morning I was reading the Wikipedia entry on Tadeusz Kosciusko, hero of the American revolution. His fortifications up north in Bemis Heights in 1777 saved Albany from conquest by the British. He returned to Poland after our Revolution and fought hard for the independence of his country during the partition era. His belief in social equality extended even to the black servant assigned to him in America during the Revolution, he treated the man with respect and as an equal.

  7. My great grandparents had a farm in the former German Poland ! Now it’s Polish of course. My cousin could visit the old farmhouse after the wall fell and Poland is free now. We have a lot of Polish people working in Belgium !

  8. Wow, world history course, that could take up a few lifetimes. I found it fascinating when visiting the Alsace region of France when in the farming areas they spoke a sort of German. Borders sometimes mean nothing.

  9. I have read a number of books that tell of the sufferings of the Polish people during the war, and Charles told of Polish aviators in the RAF who escaped Poland and came to England to join the services there.

  10. I would fall asleep if I take world history course lol. Good for you and thank you for imparting your knowledge to us.

    I am not done with letter P so here I am catching up. Whew.

    Picnic
    Rose, ABC Wednesday Team

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