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The Polish government-in-exile ("Government of the Republic of Poland in Exile") was the government of Polandmarker after the country had been occupied by Germany and the Soviet Union at the start of World War II (September and October 1939). Thereafter, for the remainder of the war, it commanded Polish armed forces operating outside Poland.

Though largely unrecognized and without effective power after the end of World War II, it remained in existence until the end of Communist rule in Poland in 1990, when it formally passed on its responsibilities to the new government.



On September 17, 1939, the President of the Polish Republicmarker, Ignacy Mościcki, who was then in the small town of Kutymarker near the southern Polish border, issued a proclamation about his plan to transfer power and appointing Władysław Raczkiewicz, the Speaker of the Senate, as his successor. This was done in accordance with Article 24 of the Constitution of the Republic of Poland, adopted in April 1935, which provided as follows:

It was not until 29th or 30th September 1939 that Mościcki resigned. Raczkiewicz, who was already in Paris, immediately took his constitutional oath at the Polish Embassy and became President of the Republic of Poland. He then appointed General Władysław Sikorski to be Prime Minister and following Edward Rydz-Śmigły being relieved by the President was also made Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Armed Forces.

Most of the Polish Navy escaped to Britain, and tens of thousands of Polish soldiers and airmen escaped through Hungarymarker and Romaniamarker or across the Baltic Seamarker to continue the fight in Francemarker. Many Poles subsequently took part in Allied operations in Norwaymarker (Narvikmarker)The Poles on the Battlefronts of the Second World War Bellona 2005 Page 29, Francemarker, the Battle of Britain, the Battle of the Atlantic, North Africa (notably TobrukmarkerThe Poles on the Battlefronts of the Second World War Bellona 2005 Page 37), Italymarker (notably at Cassinomarker and Anconamarker), Arnhem, Wilhelmshavenmarker and elsewhere beside other Allied forces. Even after the fall of Poland, and before the Soviet Union's entry into the war, Poland remained the third strongest Allied belligerent, after France and Britain. (Other Polish military units, formed in the Soviet Unionmarker after Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, fought alongside and under the command of the Soviets.)

Wartime history

The Polish Government in Exile, based first in Paris, then Angersmarker and then in Londonmarker, was recognized by all the Allied governments. Politically, it was a coalition of the Polish Peasant Party, the Polish Socialist Party, the Labour Party and the National Democratic Party, although these parties maintained only a vestigial existence in the circumstances of exile.

When Germany attacked the Soviet Unionmarker in 1941, the Polish Government in Exile established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, despite Stalin's role in the earlier dismemberment of Poland. Hundreds of thousands of Polish soldiers who had been taken prisoner by the Soviets in eastern Poland in 1939, and many civilian Polish prisoners and deportees, were released and allowed to form military units ("Anders' Army"); they were evacuated to Iranmarker and the Middle East, where they were desperately needed by the Britishmarker, hard pressed by Rommel's Afrika Korps. These Polish units formed the basis for the Polish II Corps, led by General Władysław Anders, which together with other, earlier-created Polish units fought alongside the Allies.

In April 1943 the Germans announced that they had discovered at Katyn Woodmarker, near Smolenskmarker, Russiamarker, mass graves of 10,000 Polish officers (The German investigation later found 4,443 bodies) who had been taken prisoner in 1939 and murdered by the Soviets. The Germans invited the International Red Cross to visit the site, and the graves were confirmed to contain the corpses of Polish officers who had been killed with Soviet weapons. The Soviet government said that the Germans had fabricated the discovery. The other Allied governments, for diplomatic reasons, formally accepted this; the Polish Government in Exile refused to do so.

Stalin then severed relations with the Polish Government in Exile. Since it was clear that it would be the Soviet Union, not the western Allies, who would liberate Poland from the Germans, this breach had fateful consequences for Poland. In an unfortunate coincidence, Sikorski, widely regarded as the most capable of the Polish exile leaders, was killed in an air crash at Gibraltarmarker in July 1943. He was succeeded as head of the Polish Government in Exile by Stanisław Mikołajczyk.

During 1943 and 1944 the Allied leaders, particularly Winston Churchill, tried to bring about a resumption of talks between Stalin and the Polish Government in Exile. But these efforts broke down over several matters. One was the Katyń massacre (and others at Kalinin and Kharkivmarker). Another was Poland's postwar borders. Stalin insisted that the territories annexed by the Soviets in 1939, which had millions of Poles in addition to Ukrainianmarker and Belarusianmarker populations "Among the population of Eastern territories were circa 38% Poles, 37 % Ukrainians, 14,5 % Belarusians, 8,4 % Jewish, 0,9 % Russians and 0,6 % Germans"
, also in Wrocławskie Studia Wschodnie, Wrocław, 1997., should remain in Soviet hands, and that Poland should be compensated with lands to be annexed from Germany.
Mikołajczyk, however, refused to compromise on the question of Poland's sovereignty over her prewar eastern territories. A third matter was Mikołajczyk's insistence that Stalin not set up a Communist government in postwar Poland.

Postwar history

Mikołajczyk and his colleagues in the Polish government-in-exile insisted on making a stand in the defense of Poland's pre-1939 eastern border (the Curzon Line and Kresy region) as a basis for the future Polish-Soviet border. However, this was a position that could not be defended in practice Stalin was in occupation of the territory in question. The government-in-exile's refusal to accept the proposed new Polish borders infuriated the Allies, particularly Churchill, making them less inclined to oppose Stalin on issues of how Poland's postwar government would be structured. In the end, the exiles lost on both issues: Stalin annexed the eastern territories, and took control of the new Polish government. However, Poland preserved its status as an independent state, despite the arguments of some influential Communists, such as Wanda Wasilewska, in favor of Poland becoming a republic of the Soviet Union.

In November 1944, despite his mistrust of the Soviets, Mikołajczyk resigned to return to Poland and take office in the new government established under the auspices of the Soviet occupation authorities. Many Polish exiles opposed this action, believing that this government was a façade for the establishment of Communist rule in Poland, a view that was later proven correct; after losing an election which was later shown to have been fraudulent, Mikołajczyk left Poland again in 1947.

Meanwhile the Polish Government in Exile had maintained its existence but France on 29 June 1945, then United Statesmarker and the United Kingdommarker on July 5, 1945 withdrew their recognition. The Polish Armed Forces in exile were disbanded in 1945, and most of their members, unable to safely return to Communist Poland, settled in other countries. The London Poles had to vacate the Polish embassy on Portland Place and were left only with the president's private residence at 43 Eaton Place. The Government in Exile became largely symbolic of continued resistance to foreign occupation of Poland, while retaining some important archives from prewar Poland. The Republic of Irelandmarker, Spainmarker and the Vatican Citymarker (until 1979) were the last countries to recognize the Government in Exile, though the Vatican through Secretary of State Domenico Tardini had withdrawn diplomatic privileges from the envoy of the Polish pre-war government in 1959.

In 1954, political differences led to a split in the ranks of the Government in Exile. One group, claiming to represent 80% of 500,000 anti-Communist Poles exiled since the war, was opposed to President August Zaleski's continuation in office when his seven-year term expired. It formed a Council of National Unity in July 1954, and set up a Council of Three to exercise the functions of head of state, comprising Tomasz Arciszewski, General Władysław Anders, and Edward Raczyński. Only after Zaleski's death in 1972 did the two factions reunite.

Some supporters of the Government in Exile eventually returned to Poland, such as Prime Minister Hugon Hanke in 1955 and his predecessor Stanisław Mackiewicz in 1956. The Soviet installed government in Warsaw actively campaigned for the return of the exiles, promising decent and dignified employment in communist Polish administration and forgiveness of past transgressions.

Despite these setbacks, the Government in Exile continued in existence. When Soviet rule over Poland came to an end in 1989, there was still a president and a cabinet of eight meeting every two weeks in London, commanding the loyalty of many of about 150,000 Polish veterans and their descendants living in Britain, including 35,000 in London alone.

In December 1990, when Lech Wałęsa became the first post-Communist president of Poland, he received the symbols of the Polish Republic (the presidential banner, the presidential and state seals, the presidential sashes, and the original text of the 1935 Constitution) from the last president of the Government in Exile, Ryszard Kaczorowski. In 1992, military medals and other decorations awarded by the Government in Exile were officially recognized in Poland.

Government and politics


# President Picture Took office Left office Notes
1 Władysław Raczkiewicz 30 September 1939 6 June 1947 Died in office
2 August Zaleski 9 June 1947 8 April 1972 Died in office, longest-serving President
3 Stanisław Ostrowski 9 April 1972 24 March 1979
4 Edward Raczyński 8 April 1979 8 April 1986
5 Kazimierz Sabbat 8 April 1986 19 July 1989 Died in office
6 Ryszard Kaczorowski 19 July 1989 22 December 1990 Resigned after the election of Lech Wałęsa

Prime ministers

L.p. Portrait Name Entered office Left office
1. Władysław Sikorski

(2nd term)
30 September 1939

20 July 1940
18 July 1940

4 July 1943
2. Stanisław Mikołajczyk 14 July 1943 24 November 1944
3. Tomasz Arciszewski 29 November 1944 2 July 1947
4. Tadeusz Bór-Komorowski 2 July 1947 10 February 1949
5. Tadeusz Tomaszewski 7 April 1949 25 September 1950
6. Roman Odzierzyński 25 December 1950 8 December 1953
7. Jerzy Hryniewski

(actually Mikołaj Dolanowski)
18 January 1954 13 May 1954
8. Stanisław Cat-Mackiewicz 8 June 1954 21 June 1955
9. Hugon Hanke 8 August 1955 10 September 1955
10. Antoni Pająk 10 September 1955 14 June 1965
11. Aleksander Zawisza 25 June 1965 9 June 1970
12. Zygmunt Muchniewski 20 July 1970 13 July 1972
13. Alfred Urbański 18 July 1972 15 July 1976
14. Kazimierz Sabbat 5 August 1976 8 April 1986
15. Edward Szczepanik 8 April 1986 22 December 1990

Armed forces

See also

External links


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