Happy Independence Day, Poland! Some of those years were pretty hard, some were legendary, some were marked by suffering and some were filled with joy, but through it all, you have always made us proud! See what happened in the 101 years since Poland regained her independence.
Poland regains independence
In 1918, after 123 years of partitions, Poland returned on the map and regained its independence. This was a result of long-standing efforts of the whole Polish nation: armed struggle, political measures and attempts to cultivate Polish culture and tradition. In the photo: the Great National March in Warsaw on 17 November 1918.
A victorious uprising which made it possible to incorporate the Wielkopolska region along with Poznan into Poland after years of the Prussian partition. In the photo: units of the Wielkopolska Army taking an oath.
Battle of Warsaw
The Battle of Warsaw, also called “the Miracle on the Vistula,” took place on 13–25 August 1920 during the Polish-Soviet war. It allowed Poland to keep its independence and prevented the spread of Communism in Western Europe.
Demarcating Polish borders
After World War I ended in 1918, the Polish state was rebuilt. The borders of the Polish territory were delineated from late 1918 until 1922.
Assassination of Gabriel Narutowicz
On 16 December 1922 in Warsaw, in the palace belonging to the Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts, Eligiusz Niewiadomski shot President Gabriel Narutowicz three times with a gun. Narutowicz was Poland’s first president, chosen by the National Assembly, which met with a strong discontent of right-wing circles. The president was assassinated at a critical moment – after Prime Minister Nowak presented President Narutowicz with the resignation of the government, and a new government was not yet appointed. For 24 hours after President Gabriel Narutowicz’s assassination, there was no-one to hold power in Poland. The death of the Polish president stirred great emotions in Poland and abroad.
Gdynia port opens
Under the Versailles Treaty Poland gained access to the Baltic Sea along a 147 kilometre-long coastline, but it had no large port. Gdansk remained a Free City under the protectorate of the League of Nations. During the Polish-Soviet war, Poland found itself in a predicament when weapon trans-shipment was blocked in the Gdansk port, which spurred a decision to build a new sea port as a guarantee of a newly regained sovereignty. The act was adopted in 1922, and a year later a temporary port was opened in the presence of top officials. A dozen or so years later, a small fishing village of Gdynia evolved into one of the most modern ports in Europe, around which a city was built with a population of more than 120,000 people before the outbreak of World War II.
Nobel Prize for Władysław Reymont
In November 1924, Władysław Reymont, a tailor by education, traveller by passion and writer by talent, was awarded by the Swedish Academy the Nobel Prize for Literature over Thomas Mann, Bernard Shaw and Thomas Hardy.
Before moving on to writing novels, such as The Promised Land (1897), Reymont authored numerous short stories, but it was his great, four-volume national epic The Peasants (1904-1909) that won him literary acclaim and the Nobel.
Success of Poland's pavilion at the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts
Poland’s pavilion, an example of fine art déco architecture, as well as works by Polish artists, architects and designers were received with great interest and applause at the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris.
The pavilion was designed by Józef Czajkowski. Its design, a deco tower of (stained) glass and iron, was inspired by the architecture of traditional Polish manor houses, seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Polish churches and the regional art traditions of the Podhale region (Zakopane style).
The May Coup
After more than 120 years of partitions, it was not easy for Poles to find their footing in the country ruled by their own representatives, as evidenced by a series of cabinet crises in early 1920s: from 1918 to 1926 there were 16 government changes! In May 1926, Marshal Józef Piłsudski and his supporters staged an armed coup d’état and started a thirteen year-long Sanacja regime which ended only when Poland was occupied by the Third Reich and the USSR.
The launch of Poland-produced CWS T-1
The first Poland-manufactured car was constructed in the Central Car Works and was named after the company. An estimated 800 cars were manufactured, including 500 passenger cars. Several types of cars were produced, including ambulances and pickup trucks. The main recipients of this beautiful and luxury car were public offices, the army, and individual purchasers. The last batch of cars left the factory in 1931, after the Polish government signed a licence agreement with the Italian Fiat.
Halina Konopacka wins the first Olympic medal for Poland
During the 9th Summer Olympic Games in Amsterdam, Halina Konopacka won the first Olympic gold medal in the history of Polish sports in discus throw. Konopacka was not only an athlete, but also an artist and an eminent personality. In 1939, she helped her husband Ignacy Matuszewski evacuate gold reserves of the Polish Bank.
LOT Polish Airlines launches its activities
LOT Polish Airlines, which operates till today, was launched on 1 January 1929. In the photo: the fleet of our national carrier at a ceremony to inaugurate its London flight connection in 1939.
The purchase of the first three Polish transatlantic ships (Polonia, Kościuszko, Pułaski, previously known as "Princess Dagmar’s jewels")
In 1930, the Polish Transatlantic Ship Association bought Polish transatlantic ships SS “Pułaski,” SS “Polonia” and SS “Kościuszko.” They were the first trio of Polish transatlantic ships.
Hanka Ordonówna’s theatre performances
In early 1930s Hanka Ordonówna was the indisputable queen of the Polish stage. She developed her inimitable style at the time, evolving into a mature artist.
In late 1932, Polish mathematicians Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Różycki and Henryk Zygalski read the first messages sent via the German cipher machine Enigma. Cracking the Enigma code had so far been considered impossible. The Polish scientists succeeded using a mathematical method. During the war various British centres continued work on new, updated versions of the code. Historians believe that breaking the code shortened the war by at least two years.
Gorgonowa case (1932-34)
The case of Rita Gorgonowa who was accused of killing her stepdaughter Lusia Zarembianka was the most sensational trial of the interwar period. The case was followed by crowds of gawkers and reports and gossip from the trial room were eagerly brought to curious readers by press across Poland. Tabloids were quick to pronounce the sentence on the woman who had the backing of feminist circles. The court of first instance sentenced her to death. The Supreme Court repealed the decision, changing the death penalty into a prison sentence. More than eighty years on, many still believe that Gorgonowa was not a murderess, but a victim of collective imagination.
Inauguration of the Central Okęcie Airport
The Central Okęcie Airport was officially opened by the Polish president Ignacy Mościcki on April 29, 1934. The complex included three hangars, exhibition space, garages, a large terminal building and a taxiway. With its construction and inauguration Warsaw received an airport worthy of a European capital.
The Warsaw airport, renamed in 2001 in honour of Fryderyk Chopin, is Poland’s largest and busiest airport, which handles more than a third of all passenger air traffic in Poland. In 2018, it was also the busiest airport in the newer EU member states.
Funeral of Józef Piłsudski
Józef Piłsudski, considered by most as the father and the actual leader of the Second Polish Republic (1918-35), died on May 12, 1935, at Warsaw’s Belweder Palace.
Condolences poured in from international leaders and special ceremonies were held at the Holy See as well as the League of Nations headquarters in Geneva. In Poland, ceremonies, masses and funeral processions were organised, and Piłsudski’s body was put on display for two years at St. Leonard’s Crypt at the Wawel Cathedral.
Józef Piłsudski was the first Chief of State (1918-22) of the newly independent Poland and First Marshal of Poland, and, later, Prime Minister and Inspector-General. After a coup d’état in 1926, he rejected the presidency but remained influential and served as Minister of Military Affairs until 1935.
King of the silver screen Eugeniusz Bodo
Eugeniusz Bodo was – alongside Adolf Dymsza – a great star of prewar cinema. He was famous both as actor, director, screenwriter and film producer. His greatest hits included „Ach śpij kochanie” (“Sleep well my dear”), „Umówiłem się z nią na dziewiątą” (“I am meeting her at nine”) and „Już taki jestem zimny drań” (“I am a cold-hearted bastard”). Adored by women, he was also an unquestioned model of elegance – in 1936 he won one of the most desired titles in interwar Poland – the king of style. He died of hunger and exhaustion in 1943 in a Soviet forced-labour camp in Kotlasa, 900 km north-east of Moscow.
Construction of COP starts
One of the largest economic initiatives of the interwar period – the Central Industrial District (Polish: COP - Centralny Okręg Przemysłowy) – focused on the development of heavy and arms industry. It also sought to reduce unemployment in areas affected by economic crises. In 1937-1939, 60% of all state’s investment expenditure was earmarked for COP growth. Some of the factories set up then are still in operation, among them the steel mill and power plant in Stalowa Wola or the tire factory in Debica.
National Museum opens in Warsaw
In 1938, the building housing the National Museum in Warsaw was opened to the public. It was located at Aleje Jerozolimskie, close to the Poniatowski Bridge. A modernist building designed by Tadeusz Tołwiński and Antoni Dygat continues to be one of the capital’s landmarks. In the photo: the museum’s building after its opening.
German Reich attacks Poland – outbreak of World War II
On 1 September 1939, German invasion of Poland started World War II. The Polish Army mounted armed resistance, waiting for the allies to react. On 3 September 1939 France and Great Britain declared war on the German Reich, but failed to engage in real warfare. Poland’s tragic fate was sealed on 17 September 1939, when the Soviet Union invaded it from the east. The photo of Germans dismantling a Polish border barrier has since been a symbol of the German aggression, even though in reality it was a show put up on 14 September 1939 at the border between Poland and the Free City of Gdansk for the purposes of German propaganda.
The Katyn Massacre was committed in spring 1940 by the NKVD which shot at least 21,768 Polish nationals (including more than 10,000 military and police officers). The crime was perpetrated following a decision of the USSR’s supreme authorities of 5 March 1940 (the so-called Katyn decision).
The Anders Army, as the Polish Army organized in the territory of the Soviet Union was commonly called, was commanded by General Władysław Anders. It was created thanks to a favourable power structure which was formed after the German attack against the USSR in June 1941. Under Polish-Soviet arrangements set out in the Sikorski-Majski Deal of 30 July 1941, Poles who had been captured and illegally imprisoned by the Soviets in the years 1939-1941, were supposed to be released. On 14 August, the deal was supplemented by a military agreement which envisaged the creation of the Polish Army in the USSR.
Underground resistance and small sabotage
During World War II in German-occupied Poland, Poles engaged in underground resistance which consisted of, among others, organised sabotage actions. The Home Army alone carried out more than 25,000 such operations. Sabotage actions staged by Polish underground resistance against the Germans targeted rail infrastructure, bridges and supply depots, but saboteurs were also responsible for built-in flaws in parts for aircraft engines and other machinery.
As for small sabotage operations, they involved acts such as distributing anti-German leaflets, breaking windows in German shops, hanging Polish flags on tram lines, painting German-mocking slogans on building walls and disrupting German propaganda campaigns.
Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
In 1943, an uprising broke out at the Warsaw Ghetto. It was an act of armed resistance to oppose the German plan to transport the remaining Jewish ghetto population to Majdanek and Treblinka concentration camps.
The 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was carried out by units of Jewish fighters armed with pistols, grenades and a few automatic weapons and rifles, and, in the vast majority, by civilians (ca. 50,000-60,000). Those who survived the uprising were deported to concentration and force-labour camps, and the ghetto was completely destroyed.
The Jews knew that they were bound to lose but they chose to die fighting rather than passively accept certain death.
The Warsaw Uprising broke out on August 1, 1944. It was the biggest freedom surge in the history of WW2 as almost 50,000 Home Army insurgents rose up against the German forces occupying the capital since 1939.
After 63 days of fierce fighting, Poles – out of arms, supplies, food and water – were forced to surrender. Their two-month bid for freedom left the city in ruins and took between 160,000 and 200,000 Polish lives.
The city literally bled out while the Soviet Red Army, stationed on the east bank of the Vistula, made no attempt to help the insurgents, and the promises of Allied support proved empty.
Every years, at 5 pm on August 1, alarm sirens sound throughout Warsaw and the city comes to a stop. In a minute of silence Varsovians pay tribute to those who gave their lives in the 1944 heroic battle for Warsaw.
End of World War II
The Second World War, which started on September 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland, lasted 2 077 days and consumed the lives of some 60 million people across the world.
Germany’s total and unconditional surrender in Europe was signed on May 7 and 8 and effective on May 8. On July 11, Allied leaders met in Potsdam to decide the fate of Germany and the post-war makeup of the continent.
The USSR was occupying Central and Eastern Europe with Red Army troops effectively controlling the Baltic states, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania.
The notion that Poland was the first victim of the war and the first victim of the peace, and that the country was cynically abandoned to the Soviet sphere of influence at the Potsdam and Yalta conferences was, and still is, common among Poles.
War-destroyed Poland was forced to accept a puppet Communist government installed by Stalin. The shooting stopped but Poland, stripped of her pre-war independence, went from German occupation to Soviet control that lasted almost 50 years.
Underground struggle of Cursed Soldiers
Parliamentary elections held in 1947 according to the decisions of the Yalta Conference were rigged. Some soldiers from the independence-oriented underground movement decided to mount armed resistance against the new authorities. They wanted the Yalta decisions to be respected as regards the organization of truly free and democratic elections in Poland. It is estimated that in the years to come, as many as 200,000 people were active in various clandestine organizations in postwar Poland. Many of them were imprisoned, tortured and murdered. The majority left hiding in February 1947, but some had to continue undercover using false names until the end of communist Poland. The last “Invincible” Józef Franczak aka “Laluś” was shot in a raid in the autumn of 1963.
Trial and execution of Rudolf Hoess
Rudolf Hoess was the commander of the German Nazi extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau and one of the most wanted criminals of World War II. His trial started in March 1947 in a room of the Polish Teachers’ Union in Warsaw’s Powisle district. It was the only room large enough to house 500 people. Most of the audience were former concentration camp prisoners. Rudolf Hoess was found guilty and sentenced to death. The sentence was carried out in the former camp on 16 April. It was the last public execution in Poland.
Creation of Mazowsze Ensemble
The National Folk Song and Dance Ensemble Mazowsze was created on 8 November 1949. It was founded by composer Tadeusz Sygietyński and the famous prewar actress Mira Zimińska. Its repertoire is based on Polish folklore and old folk traditions. Mazowsze has performed in Poland and across the world for 70 years.
Socialist Realism becomes Poland’s official doctrine
Socialist Realism was an art doctrine introduced in early 1930s in the Soviet Union and after World War II in other states behind the Iron Curtain, including Poland in 1949. Socialist Realism was meant to counter the Western “bourgeois” art and promote the principles of communist ideology. It encompassed all fields of art: literature, film, music, painting, sculpture, and architecture. In the photo: a view of Warsaw’s MDM housing estate from the years 1953-1956. MDM was a flagship example of the use of Socialist Realism’s principles in architecture.
Establishing of Radio Free Europe
Two years later, on 3 May 1952, the Polish section of Radio Free Europe that operated from Munich started regular broadcasts of programmes in Polish. The head of the section was Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, the courier and emissary of the Home Army Headquarters and the Polish Government in Exile.
Building the Nowa Huta district
In 1951 Nowa Huta was incorporated into Krakow as the city’s youngest district. The design of the district drew on the grand baroque urban planning. Five avenues-axes radiated from the Central Square (including Avenue of Roses where the statue of Vladimir I. Lenin was erected in 1973, and pulled down in 1989). The square was surrounded by four quarters of residential blocks and housing estates.
First TVP public broadcast
The inaugural programme in the post-war history of Polish television was aired on October 25, 1952, at 7 pm. The signal was broadcast by the Experimental Television Station of the National Telecommunications Institute from a tiny studio at Ratuszowa Street in Warsaw. It was a 30-minute transmission consisting of performances by actors from the theatre and cinema.
The above date is considered a symbolic beginning of TVP (Polish Television), even though pioneering research into the technology as well as first experimental television broadcasts were made in Warsaw as early as 1938 and 1939.
Execution of General Fieldorf Nil
Brigadier general Emil August Fieldorf, better known under his nom de querre Nil, was the deputy commander-in-Chief of the Home Army, Poland’s largest and best-organised resistance movement answerable to its government in exile.
General Fieldorf was detained by the NKVD at the end of the war. He passed under an assumed name and thus survived internment in the Soviet Union. Shortly after his return, in 1950, a sham offer of amnesty to Home Army survivors induced him to reveal his true identity. He was arrested on trumped up charges, subjected to physical and psychological torture and convicted in a show trial.
On February 24, 1953, Fieldorf was hanged at Warsaw’s Mokotów Prison by the Polish Communist government as a “fascist-Hitlerite criminal”. He was posthumously rehabilitated by Poland’s post-Communist government and awarded the highest order, the Order of the White Eagle, for his merits.
Up until Stalin’s death, many Home Army veterans were arrested, tortured and murdered as traitors by the communist regime determined to crush any potential opposition.
The first colour feature film in the history of Polish cinematography, Adventure at Mariensztat
The first colour feature film in the history of Polish cinematography, Adventure at Mariensztat, premiered on January 25, 1954. Set in post-war Warsaw, it was a propaganda production – directed by Leonard Buczkowski and written by Ludwik Starski – which combined the grit of social realism with a romantic comedy.
Mariensztat, similarly to most parts of Warsaw, was razed to the ground during the war. Reconstruction work began in 1948 and Mariensztat soon became a model housing project under Poland’s communist authorities and the first part of the city to be completed in the ongoing reconstruction.
The film tells the story of Hanka Ruczajówna, who moves to Warsaw from a small village in pursuit of a hoped-for romance and becomes a bricklayer in an all-female brigade. The film documents the post-war enthusiasm that accompanied the effort to rebuild Warsaw as well as women’s emancipation through work.
The Fifth World Festival of Youth and Students in Warsaw
The Fifth World Festival of Youth and Students (WFYS) was held in Warsaw over two weeks between 31 July and 15 August 1955. For the first time since the end of the war, Warsaw hosted an international event of this scale: the 1955 edition of WFYS was attended by more than 30,000 young participants from 114 countries, both capitalist and socialist.
The motto of the festival was “For Peace and Friendship – Against the Aggressive Imperialist Pacts” and special emphasis was placed on the danger of nuclear annihilation, on the rising concept of peaceful coexistence within the socialist bloc as well as on strong criticism of the Western powers reluctantly letting go of their colonial grip.
The festival events were set in the centre of Warsaw, which was slowly rising from its ashes. For Varsovians, WFYS provided a unique opportunity to meet people from the other side of the Iron Curtain and to admire their brightly coloured clothes and relaxed lifestyles. The festival is believed to have contributed greatly to the events of October 1956.
In June 1956 Poznań was a stage of workers’ protests that soon turned into riots. To suppress them, the authorities used the army. Ten thousand soldiers, almost 360 tanks, and over 30 field guns were deployed in Poznan, the capital of the Wielkopolska region. Officers of the militia and the Security Office also took part in street fights with the protesters.
The government’s actions led to a bloody pacification in which 79 people died and over 600 were injured. When the protests were brought to an end, hundreds of people were arrested, and Prime Minister Józef Cyrankiewicz said in a radio address to the nation: “Every inciter or madman who dares to raise their hand against the people’s power shall rest assured that the government will cut off the hand in the interest of the working class...”
Passenger Automobile Factory FSO in Warsaw’s district of Zeran launched the series production of the Syrena
Called the queen of Polish roads, the Syrena boasts a unique place in the history of Poland’s automotive industry for it was the only post-war vehicle that was entirely Poland-manufactured. Originally supposed to be a popular car, the Syrena was presented two years before its production began – during the World Festival of Youth and Students – and it cost half the price of the Warszawa, the previous car produced by FSO. Until 1983, when the last “Syrenka” left the production line, over half a million of the cars hit the Polish roads.
First Jazz Jamboree Festival
Jazz Jamboree is one of the most famous jazz festivals in Europe. The first edition, called ‘Jazz 58,’ was held in September 1958 in Stodola, a student’s club in Warsaw. From the fourth edition on, the festival has been called Jazz Jamboree, a phrase coined by Leopold Tyrmand, a writer. The greatest jazz stars have taken part in the festival, including Miles Davis and Ray Charles, as well as world-famous Polish musicians such as Leszek Możdżer or Urszula Dudziak and Michał Urbaniak. In the photo: Krzysztof Komeda’s and Jan Ptaszyn Wróblewski’s band performing in 1958.
Coronation insignia returned to Poland
In 1959 the Polish coronation insignia were brought back from Canada. Taken out of Poland in 1939, they included Szczerbiec, the coronation sword of Polish kings that was forged at the turn of the 12th and 13th century. In the photo: Szczerbiec after its return to Poland, on display in the Royal Treasury at the Wawel Castle.
Première of Aleksander Ford’s film Krzyżacy (Knights of the Teutonic Order)
Following the official state celebrations of the 550th anniversary of the battle of Grunwald, the film première was held on 17 July 1960 in the Polonia cinema in Olsztyn. It was attended by representatives of state and party authorities as well as foreign guests. Krzyżacy was the first full-length movie in the Polish cinematography to be shot on the Eastman Kodak film that had been purchased especially for this very purpose; it also used Technicolor system and panoramic shots. So far the film has been seen by 30 million people.
Poland’s 30 millionth citizen was born
A baby girl born in Sosnowiec on 31 July 1961 was Poland’s 30 millionth citizen. Her father was a miner in the Milowice coal mine. Top representatives of state authorities came to the hospital to visit the child and her mother and to offer them some presents.
Phenomenon of Moda Polska
Moda Polska was a state-owned company established in 1958, and one of the most recognizable brands in the history of Polish fashion. For many women, it continued to be an inspiration and a beacon of style for the next forty years.
It came to be after years of wartime hardship when women were forced to swap fancy outfits for more practical ones, and lean post-war years when they were expected to adopt the aesthetics of social realism, which meant dressing plainly, modestly and practically as any model female worker should.
It was in these conditions that the idea of the “revival of the Polish woman” was conceived in the mind of Jadwiga Grabowska, the first manager and art director of Moda Polska. Grabowska’s main purpose was to show Polish women trends from Paris and, more importantly, to make fashionable but affordable ready-to-wear clothes sold across Poland in a chain of stores.
Moda Polska survived until 1998. Though the company went bankrupt, its memory and rich legacy live on.
First National Polish Song Festival in Opole
Opole is widely known as the capital of Polish pop music. The town has earned its title thanks to the National Polish Song Festival, which is the most important Polish singing contest and Poland’s first talent show. Back in the 1960s, the main idea behind the festival was to revive Polish popular music and entertainment culture.
The first Opole Festival, inaugurated on June 19, 1963 at the Opole Millennium Amphitheater, hosted 102 artists including Ewa Demarczyk and Bogdan Łazuka. The formula of the Festival was open allowing for songs, cabarets, folk and military tunes to be presented.
Since 1963, more than 50 festivals have taken place in the same spot, and the event was cancelled only once, in 1982, due to martial law. All of Poland’s music stars have performed at the Opole Festival at some point in their careers, and many of them saw their popularity sky-rocket right after.
First Olympic gold medal for Irena Szewińska
Irena Szewińska was a Polish sprinter and long jumper. Her athletic accomplishments and numerous Olympic appearances made her one of Poland’s, and the world’s, foremost athletes of her generation.
In 1964, at only 18, she competed in her first Olympic Games in Tokyo, where she took two silver medals (long jump and 200 metres) and won her first Olympic gold in the 400-metre relay.
Szewińska participated in five Olympic Games and won seven Olympic medals, three of them gold, tying an Olympic women’s record. She broke six world records and is the only athlete to have held a world record in the 100 metres, 200 metres and the 400 metres at one point. She won 10 medals in Europeans Championships, twenty-six national titles and set 38 national records.
Letter of the Polish Bishops to the German Bishops
On November 18, 1965, Polish Roman Catholic bishops sent a pastoral letter to their German counterparts inviting them to the celebrations marking the 1000th anniversary of Poland’s baptism in 966.
But the letter is so important for the post-war history of the Church in Poland and in German for a different reason. In it, the Polish bishops – led by Cardinal Primate Stefan Wyszyński and Cardinal Bolesław Kominek – wrote: “We extend to you who are sitting here on the benches of the [Second Vatican] Council, which is coming to an end, our hands and we grant you forgiveness and ask for it.”
The letter was an attempt by the Polish bishops to look back at the history of Poland and Germany, and especially the plight of the Polish and the German peoples during and after World War II, to draw a moral account and, most importantly, to stretch out hands in a gesture of peace and reconciliation.
The millennium anniversary of the baptism of Poland / the millennium of the Polish State
Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński initiated religious celebrations marking the millennium of Poland’s baptism. Most of the celebrations were held in the Jasna Gora Monastery in Czestochowa. The communist authorities did not allow Pope Paul VI to come to Poland and take part in the events. Instead, they used this important anniversary for propaganda activities – organizing nationwide celebrations of the millennium of the Polish State. These included an educational programme called “One thousand schools for one thousand years.” As a result of the programme, in 1959-1972 Poland built 1,500 modern educational institutions.
The Rolling Stones’ concert in Warsaw
The rumour has it that after the USSR authorities called off The Rolling Stones’ concert in Moscow, the members of the band came up with the idea to perform in Warsaw instead. The concert was held on 13 April 1967 and brought together 5,000 music lovers in Warsaw’s Congress Hall that was designed to house 2,500 spectators. During the concert riots broke out outside the Palace of Culture and Science. There were other problems, too – Congress Hall, at that time the biggest and most modern music hall in Poland, lacked the necessary equipment for the band’s performance, and the money the musicians received was enough only to pay for their stay in Poland. However, The Rolling Stones’ first concert on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain certainly went down in history.
In March 1968 a political crisis took place during which students held mass demonstrations in Warsaw and other cities across the country. The protests broke out after the communist authorities took off the famous Polish play “Dziady” (Forefathers’ Eve) directed by Kazimierz Dejmka. In a broader context, the demonstrations were students’ response to censorship, stifling freedom of expression, and the authorities’ anti-Semitic sentiment. As a result of the events of March 1968, many representatives of Polish academia lost their jobs and a dozen or so thousands of people of Jewish descent left Poland.
Leonid Teliga’s solo voyage around the world
1969 saw the end of Leopold Teliga’s two-year voyage during which he single-handedly circumnavigated the Earth in his wooden yacht SY Opty. An officer in the Polish Army of the Second Republic of Poland and the Polish Armed Forces, Teliga used to work as a journalist and writer. During the memorable voyage he suffered from cancer, a battle he lost two years after returning to Poland. In the photo: the Opty yacht in which Leonid Teliga circumnavigated the Earth, purchased by Higher Maritime School.
In December 1970 nationwide workmen’s protests took place that were brutally suppressed by the communist militia and army. On 14-22 December 1970 demonstrations, protests, strikes, rallies, and riots were organized mainly in Gdynia, Gdansk, Szczecin, and Elblag. The immediate cause behind the strikes and demonstrations was the rise in the retail price of meat, meat products, and other foodstuffs.
Purchase of licence to produce Fiat 126
The production of “maluch” (the toddler) in Poland was the result of an industrial and licence cooperation agreement that was signed on 29 October 1971 between the Polish authorities and Fiat. According to the provisions of the agreement, the licence was not purchased for foreign currency – it was paid off in Poland-manufactured engines and gearboxes for Type 126 that was produced in Italy.
Poland’s first Olympic gold medal in winter sports
Wojciech Fortuna won Poland’s only Olympic medal during the 1972 winter Olympics in Sapporo, winning the large hill ski jumping competition. It was the first gold medal that was won by a Polish sportsman in the Winter Olympic Games.
First non-working Saturday
During the communist period the working week was six day long. The first non-working Saturday was 21 July 1973, a day before the National Day of the Rebirth of Poland. The last of the 21 demands put forward by workers in August 1980 was to introduce free Saturdays. In the Gdansk accords the authorities agreed to make all Saturdays non-working days, though the demand was not met until the end of the communist period.
Bronze for Poland in the FIFA World Cup
The 1974 World Cup in Munich was memorable for Poland as the tournament that put Poland on the world football map: Poles took third place after a 1-0 win against defending champion Brazil, and Grzegorz Lato claimed the coveted “Golden Boot”.
After five straight wins, including against Argentina and Italy, Poland was one game away from the final but lost to host (and champion) West Germany 1-0. In the match for the third place against Brazil, Lato's goal took his tournament tally to seven making him the top scorer of the Championship.
Szurkowski’s fourth Peace Race victory
The 13-stage 28th edition of the Peace Race, an multiple stage bicycle race held annually in Czechoslovakia, East Germany and Poland, ran from Berlin through Prague to Warsaw (1,930 kilometres) between May 8 and 22, 1975. It brought Ryszard Szurkowski his fourth victory in the event, which he also won back in 1970, 1971 and 1973.
Szurkowski is a famed Polish road bicycle racer, who – apart from his successes in the “Tour the France of the Eastern Bloc” – also won Poland two Olympic silver medals in team time trial (Munich, 1972, Montreal, 1976).
Establishment of the Workers’ Defence Committee
The Workers’ Defence Committee (Polish: Komitet Obrony Robotników KOR) was the answer to the repressions meted out against participants of the June 1976 protests in Ursus, Radom, and Plock. Its purpose was to offer protesters financial, legal and medical help. The organisation was comprised of people from different backgrounds who enjoyed great esteem. In September 1976, 14 signatories announced the so-called Appeal to the society and Polish communist authorities in which they called for solidarity and mutual help as well as demanded to reinstate dismissed workers, victims of post-June repressions. Numerous citizens’ initiatives sprang up to accompany KOR: underground publications, the Flying University, independent publishing houses and organisations. By the end of the committee’s activity, it brought together about 3,000 collaborators. KOR was disbanded during the First Congress of the Solidarity Independent Self-Governing Trade Union in summer 1981.
Stanisław Pyjas’ murder
When Stanisław Pyjas, a student of Polish philology and philosophy who collaborated with KOR died in unclear circumstances, the city of Krakow where he studied and the whole Poland were shocked. According to the official report, the cause of Pyjas’ death was injuries resulting from a fall down the stairs. However, marks of beating indicated that he fell victim to the communist Security Service that had already kept him under surveillance. The murder was to prevent a rally that Pyjas had planned to organize during Juwenalia (students’ celebrations). The Security Service kept a close watch on Pyjas’ funeral. During a Black March in May, the Student Committee of Solidarity was founded, which demanded that the circumstances of Pyjas’ death be clarified and perpetrators be punished. As a result, over 50 people were arrested, including Jacek Kuroń and Antoni Macierewicz.
Mirosław Hermaszewski’s space flight
In 1978 Mirosław Hermaszewski was the first (and to this day the only) Pole to make a journey into space. The Polish cosmonaut, together with his Soviet counterpart Piotr Klimuk, flew aboard the Soviet Soyuz 30 spacecraft. The spacecraft took off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome (in present-day Kazakhstan) on an eight-day mission, during which the cosmonauts circled the globe 126 times.
Pope John Paul II’s first pilgrimage to Poland
One year after his elevation to the papal throne, John Paul II set out on a pilgrimage to Poland. The Pope’s visit to a country of the Eastern bloc was a turning point and at the same time an impetus for Poles’ aspirations for freedom. It was during this visit that John Paul II said the words that became a symbol of the struggle against the communist regime: “Let your Spirit descend. Let your Spirit descend and renew the face of the earth.”
Strikes along Poland’s coast and the birth of Solidarity
In mid-August 1980 a new tide of strikes swept the Polish coast where the memory of the authorities’ bloody suppression of the December 1970 protests was still alive. The wave of strikes in August 1980 gave rise to the birth of the Solidarity Independent Self-Governing Trade Union – the first legal trade union organization in communist countries that was independent of the authorities. On 31 August 1980 the Gdansk accords were signed by the government commission and the Inter-factory Strike Committee. The agreement and the birth of Solidarity marked the beginning of historic changes of 1989 – the overthrow of the communist regime and the end of the Yalta system.
Martial law in Poland
On 13 December 1981 the authorities introduced martial law in the whole Polish territory, following the resolution of the Council of State of 12 December 1981. The official reason behind the decision was the deteriorating economic situation in Poland which led to supply shortages in shops across the country. However, the real purpose of martial law was to stem social unrest and to quell the emerging democratic movement.
Everyday life under martial law
Dead phones, most newspapers unavailable, no petrol to buy, closed cinemas, theatres, libraries, and schools. Movement restrictions, curfew, a ban on strikes, and armoured carriers in the streets. The worst restrictions were lifted over time but the rough reality remained with the nearly bare shop shelves. Even the rationing system was not enough and queues formed for all items that were supplied in limited quantities by the authorities: coffee, butter or washing powder. What eased the situation slightly were parcels sent from Germany and distributed in churches and workplaces for Christmas. At the same time an alternative market was growing, while the select few could afford shopping at Pewex, or hard currency shops. Whereas ordinary shops were nearly always understocked or offered domestic, coarse and rationed goods, you could have genuine chocolate, coffee or LEGO sets at Pewex shops in exchange for vouchers or currency.
Lech Wałęsa awarded Nobel Peace Prize
On 5 October 1983, the Nobel Committee announced its decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize to the leader of the Solidarity trade union. The citation said that Lech Wałęsa’s activities were characterized by a determination to solve his country’s problems through negotiation and cooperation without resorting to violence. The prize on behalf of Lech Wałęsa was received by his wife, Danuta.
Assassination of Father Jerzy Popiełuszko
Father Jerzy Popiełuszko was a Catholic priest and a committed anti-communist in communist Poland. In 1981, he joined the workers’ strike in Warsaw, and was since associated with the workers and trade unionists.
He became chaplain to the Solidarity movement and a beacon of hope to millions of Poles. In the darkest days of martial law, thousands of people would come from all over Poland to hear him speak and his sermons were broadcast by Radio Free Europe making him and his uncompromising stance against the communist regime famous in Poland and beyond.
The secret police made several attempts to silence him. On October 19, 1984, he was kidnapped by three officers and brutally murdered. More than 250,000 people attended his funeral on November 3, 1984. In 2010, he was beatified and declared a martyr.
First human heart transplant in Poland
The first-ever successful human-to-human heart transplant operation in Poland was performed on November 5, 1985, by Professor Zbigniew Religa and his team at the Regional Centre of Cardiology in Zabrze (now known as the Silesian Centre for Heart Diseases).
Despite tempting jb opportunities in the United States, Professor Religa returned to Poland and built the foundations of modern Polish cardiology - from heart transplant to the artificial human heart. Parallel to his work as a cardiac surgeon, he pursued a career in politics - first as a senator, later as a presidential candidate, and in 2005-2007 as Poland's Health Minister.
Aftermath of Chernobyl power plant disaster
Before the Chernobyl reactor accident, nobody in Poland, or elsewhere, thought about procedures to protect the population in the event of this type of accident. But as soon as 28 April the Radioactive Contamination Measurement Services came up with a plan that foresaw administering large doses of iodine to the public in order to prevent the body’s ability to absorb radioactive substances. As there was a shortage of iodine pills, on the very next day a Government Commission decided to make use of Lugol’s iodine — a solution of potassium iodide with iodine in water — and to administer it to children and young people throughout the country. Designed to block the intake of radioactive isotopes, this dose was taken by a total of 8.5 million people. It was the first ever preventive campaign on such a scale known in medicine and pulled off at such short notice, and at the same time one of the few cases when Poland’s communist authorities, in order to protect their citizens, took a decision that ran counter to the official position of the Soviet Union.
Successes of Jerzy Kukuczka
Jerzy Kukuczka was one of the most talented climbers in history, and the second man to conquer the crown of the Himalayas. His brilliant Himalayan career started with a successful Lhotse expedition in 1979, followed by: Mt Everest, on a new route, in 1980; Makalu, on a new route, the following year; Broad Peak (1982), Gasherbrum I and II, on new routes (1983), Broad Peak again (1984); the winter ascents of Dhaulagiri and Cho Oyu (1985); Nanga Parbat, on a new route (1985), the winter ascent of Kanchenjunga (1986); K2, on a new route (1986); Manaslu, on a new route (1986); and the winter ascent of Annapurna (1987). Kukuczka scaled his last eight-thousander peak, Shisha Pangma, also opening a new route in 1987. He died two years later, falling off Lhotse at 8,300 m during an attempt on the famous, then unclimbed, southern wall.
Premiere of A Short Film About Killing
A Short Film About Killing directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski premiered in March 1988. Like other works by Kieślowski, the film has become a symbol of the late communist era and at the same time a symbol of Poland’s filmmaking excellence worldwide. A Short Film About Killing was entered in the Cannes Festival, receiving critical acclaim. The photo shows a shot from the film.
Elections of 4 June
On 4 June 1989, the communist bloc’s first partially free parliamentary elections were held, leading to the overthrow of communism. They were preceded by a heated election campaign. The poster “At High Noon” by Tomasz Sarnecki, intended to mobilise the voters, became the elections’ icon. Like never before, the anti-communist opposition joined their forces, enjoying overwhelming support, not only of the 10 million members of the Solidarity trade union, but also of the vast majority of the public.
Polish-German border is set
The Polish-German border was ultimately confirmed by the treaty of 14 November 1990. Signed by the Republic of Poland and the Federal Republic of Germany, the treaty recognised the Odra (Oder) and Nysa Łużycka (Lusatian Neisse) rivers as the line of the western border. This was the greatest foreign policy success of Poland’s first non-communist government.
Premiere of the musical Metro
The musical Metro premiered at the Dramatyczny Theatre in Warsaw on 30 January 1991. Metro, a Polish musical scored by Janusz Stokłosa and directed by Janusz Józefowicz, tells a story of a group of young artists who are looking for happiness in life. The musical was a hit with a generation that was coming of age during the period of political transition and proved to be a springboard for many future artistic careers on the Polish stage.
Premiere of the film Psy
Psy (Pigs) — a Polish crime film directed by Władysław Pasikowski was the greatest box office success of the 1990s. Quotes from this cult film have entered everyday language. The plot is about a conflict between two friends, former Security Service officers, who part their ways after one of them joins mafia.
Soviet troops leave Poland
Soviet troops were stationed in Poland since the end of the Second World War, for almost 50 years. Negotiations on the withdrawal of the Soviet army from Poland were opened in December 1990. First troops left Poland in April 1991, and the process continued until the end of 1993.
Górniak’s performance at the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest
Poland’s entry in the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin was “To nie ja” sung by Edyta Górniak, who was the first-ever Polish artist to participate. Dressed in a short white dress, Górniak gave a powerful performance, which was met with a very enthusiastic response from the audience and the jury alike.
“To nie ja” received 166 points giving Górniak the second place of 25, which was and still is Poland’s best showing in the Eurovision contest.
For Edyta Górniak, her performance at the Eurovision Song Contest and the song she sung proved to be a career breakthrough – “To nie ja” was the biggest hit of 1994 in Poland, and Górniak’s ticket to stardom.
Redenomination of the Polish zloty
The liberalisation of economic controls during the early 1990s caused the Polish zloty to lose much of its value, and in 1995, the National Bank of Poland decided to drop four zeroes from Poland’s national currency, and to take the banknotes from the old zloty out of circulation replacing them with new coins and banknotes.
Thus, on January 1, 1995, 10,000 old zloty became 1 new zloty. The original exchange rate was posted at 1 USD : 2.434 PLN. For a time, both the old and the new banknotes were in circulation, which, of course, is no longer the case.
Nobel Prize for Wisława Szymborska
In 1996, Wisława Szymborska was the first Polish woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. The news reached her working on a poem at a Creative Work Centre in Zakopane. The poem was allegedly finished only three years later and the news of the prize would change the life of the artist for ever to such an extent that her friends began calling the fact the “Stockholm tragedy”, stressing the loss of privacy, a value she cherished so much, that came together with the prize. Critics and fans of Szymborska’s poetry note her exceptional sense of humour and sincerity.
The great flood
The summer of 1997 brought great rainfalls, a high tide on many rivers, and the flooding of hundreds of villages and towns, including Wroclaw, Opole, Nysa, Klodzko, and Raciborz. The high tide, which also engulfed areas in Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Austria, took a heavy toll on humans and livestock and inflicted multi-million losses. The death toll in Poland was 56, while the material losses were put at USD 3.5 million.
The concordat is introduced
In 1998, a concordat between the Holy See and the Republic of Poland went into life. The concordat guaranteed both parties full respect for their rights, in accordance with the principles of the Second Vatican Council. The faithful most often associate it with the concordat marriage. After the concordat was introduced, marriages entered into in the Catholic church are recognised by the state.
Poland enters NATO
On 12 March 1999, Poland became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). It was a landmark event which strengthened the Third Polish Republic’s political and military position. The photo shows the ceremonies which took place in front of the NATO headquarters on the day Poland acceded to the Alliance.
Andrzej Wajda receives Oscar for lifetime achievement
On 26 March 2000, the eminent Polish filmmaker Andrzej Wajda received an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement. “Ladies and Gentlemen...,” he started off in English after receiving the statuette, “I will speak in Polish because I want to say what I think and feel and I have always thought and felt in Polish. I accept this great honour not only as a personal tribute, but also as a tribute to all of Polish cinema.”
Adam Małysz’s success spree
Adam Małysz’s victory in Innsbruck in January 2001 took the Polish ski-jumper to the top of the podium after a nearly four-year break. He also became the first Pole to win the Four Hills Tournament. His victories triggered a real Małysz-mania that swept across the country for years.
The first edition of the Open Air (Open’er) Festival
Open’er is currently the largest and most spectacular music festival in Poland, dating back to 2002. The first edition under this name took place in the Warsaw Stegny racing track with Chemical Brothers as its main attraction. Next year the event moved to Gdynia, its current location. Every year the main stage hosts stars such as Pearl Jam, Depeche Mode, Prince or Coldplay. Open’er is also a chance to catch recent musical trends and listen to landmark debuts. For years, the organisers have been expanding the programme to include theatre performances, magicians and movies.
Shooting in Magdalenka
In the early 2000s, the rivalry of two criminal groups operating from Wolomin and Pruszkow, which had lasted for over a decade, started to fade. Their place was taken by the “Mutants gang” whose ruthlessness made them enemy no. 1 for the Polish police. The police operation in Magdalenka near Warsaw, an intended apprehension of two of the gang members, turned out to be one of the grimmest days of the Polish police and a breakthrough in the struggle against the mafia. The assault cost two policemen their lives and 17 were wounded. In the aftermath, the antiterrorist teams structure was modernised and police officers across Europe learned their lesson from the Magdalenka example.
Poland in the EU
On May 1, 2004, Poland joined the European Union. Together with nine other new Member States, it became a full-fledged member of the European community.
Membership of the European Union accelerated the development of the Polish economy making Poland one of the fastest developing economies of all Member States. Opening up to new markets, passport-free travel, new roads and infrastructure, elimination of trade barriers, social exchanges, research cooperation, Erasmus scholarships and investment in culture: the list of benefits brought by Poland’s EU membership is long and impressive.
The support for EU membership in Poland has traditionally been high, and among the highest across all Member States. In 2018, it reached a record high with 92% of the Polish population wanting to remain in the EU (CBOS).
Blechacz takes it all at the 15th International Chopin Competition
Rafał Blechacz is a Polish classical pianist, who, in October 2005, won all five prizes at the 15th International Chopin Competition in Warsaw, a feat that no other pianist had achieved before him.
According to ABC News, one of the judges, Professor Piotr Paleczny, said that Blechacz "so outclassed the remaining finalists that no second prize could actually be awarded".
First F-16s landed in Poland
“There can only be one winner of the multirole aircraft tender for the Polish army. The winner is F-16,” said the then Minister of National Defence as he announced the end of the procurement procedure. First multirole aircrafts landed in Krzesiny near Poznan in November 2006. Selected future fighter pilots were first sent to an English course at San Antonio military facilities in Texas and then to the Tucson Air National Guard Base. Some of them came from the US as certified instructors to train other pilots at home.
Premiere of the first “Wiedźmin” [The Witcher] game
Inspired by Andrzej Sapkowski's prose and made by CD PROJECT RED, the Witcher is beyond doubt a Polish bestselling game. The first part premiered in 2007 and was welcomed by both players and critics all over the world, which translated into a commercial success. An impressive 33 million copies of all three parts sold until 2017!
Poland joins the Schengen Agreement
The Schengen Agreement started to apply for Poland in 2008. In practice this meant the waiving of border checks between Poland and Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and the freedom of movement across the Schengen Area.
Abolishment of obligatory military service
Obligatory military service for men over 18 was abolished in 2009. In the picture: soldiers of the Warsaw Garrison Security Regiment – some of the last conscripts, leaving for the reserve in 2009.
Smolensk air disaster
Polish aircraft Tu-154 crashed in Smolensk on Saturday, 10 April 2010. 96 passenger perished including President Lech Kaczyński, his wife Maria Kaczyńska and other members of the Polish delegation which was making its way to ceremonies commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre.
Polish presidency of the EU
On 1 July 2011 Poland took the chair of the EU Council and presided over the body for six months. Poland’s priorities included enlargement policy (e.g. signing an accession treaty with Croatia) and the neighbourhood policy (e.g. Eastern Partnership). A promotional symbol and a giveaway of Polish presidency were spinning tops – toys turned from wood and painted to remind traditional regional dress.
The 2012 European Football Championship was co-organised by Poland and Ukraine under the slogan “Together we are creating future”. In the opening match at the National Stadium, the Polish team tied with Greece. Other matches were played in the cities of Gdansk, Wroclaw and Poznan. In the Championship final, Spain beat Italy 4-0 at the Olympic Stadium in Kyiv on 1 July.
World’s first life-saving face transplantation by Polish doctors
Polish doctors from the Institute of Oncology in Gliwice performed a successful face transplantation on a patient who had suffered a serious work accident. The operation was the world’s first attempt of face transplantation to remove threat to a patient’s life. The unprecedented procedure took 27 hours to complete and three years to prepare.
Canonisation of Pope John Paul II
The canonisation of Pope John Paul II was held on April 27, 2014. The decision to canonize had been made by Pope Francis based on the miraculous recovery of a French nun, Marie Simon-Pierre Normand, as well as on evidence of the Polish Pope John Paul II’s virtues.
The Canonisation Mass, celebrated by Pope Francis in Saint Peter's Square, was attended by delegations from over a hundred countries and international organisations, and at least 500,000 people.
Oscar for “Ida”
Paweł Pawlikowski’s film “Ida” was the first-ever Polish motion picture that received an Oscar in the Best Foreign Language Film category.
The story of eighteen year-old Anna, an orphan raised in a convent who decides to become a nun but – shortly before taking her vows – is prompted by the Sister Superior to confront her past, and her journey of self-discovery and transformation has moved the international audiences. The picture has drawn over a million viewers in Poland and abroad.
Before “Ida” was nominated for an American Academy Award, it had been showered with awards at a number of European and international film festivals, winning over 100 prizes, including a Goya Award and a BAFTA
World Youth Day in Krakow
In July, young Catholics from all over the world headed for Krakow to join in prayer and meet Pope Francis. The final Mass celebrated by the Holy Father at the Campus Misericordiae in Brzegi was attended by 1.5-3m faithful of different nationalities. Pope Francis also visited the shrine of Jasna Gora and the former German death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Beginning of NATO military presence in Poland
2017 was a landmark time as the allied forces started to be stationed in Poland following decisions made during the NATO Summit in Warsaw one year before. The key decision was strengthening of the eastern flank, which resulted in the establishment of the Multinational Division North East to coordinate the four eFP (enhanced Forward Presence) battlegroups, one of which is located near Orzysz. US troops were deployed to Zagan, Swietoszow, Skwierzyna, Boleslawiec and Powidz. A ballistic missile defence base in Redzikowo is still under construction.
100th anniversary of Poland’s independence
On 11 November 2018, Poland celebrated the centenary of regaining its independence. The President and the Prime Minister attended the White-and-Red March “For You, Poland” alongside 250,000 citizens. 300,000 people attended the Independence Festival in Warsaw and 40,000 viewers saw the occasional concert at the National Stadium live and 7m watched its TV coverage. Local celebrations were held across the country as part of the special “The Independent” project. Polish national anthem was sung simultaneously in nearly 1000 places in Poland and around the globe.
The Nobel Prize for Literature goes to Olga Tokarczuk
Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk was awarded the literary Nobel Prize for “narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life”. She is the author of 17 books – novels, collections of stories, essays and screenplays.