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Polish population as of 1918
Second Polish Republic, Physical 1939
Second Polish Republic 1922–1939

The Second Polish Republic, Second Commonwealth of Poland or interwar Poland refers to Polandmarker between the two world wars; from the creation of an independent Polish state in the aftermath of World War I, to the invasion of Poland in 1939 by Nazi Germany, the Soviet Unionmarker, and the Slovak Republic, which marked the beginning of World War II.

When the borders of the state were fixed in 1922 after several regional conflicts, the Republic bordered Czechoslovakiamarker, Germanymarker, Free City of Danzigmarker, Lithuaniamarker, Latviamarker, Romaniamarker, and the Soviet Unionmarker, plus a tiny strip of the coastline of the Baltic Seamarker, around the city of Gdyniamarker. Furthermore, in the period March 1939 – August 1939, Poland bordered then-Hungarianmarker Carpathian Rutheniamarker. It had an area of 388 634 km² (sixth largest in Europe, in the fall of 1938, after the annexation of Zaolzie, the area grew to 389,720 km².), and 27.2 million inhabitants according to the 1921 census. In 1939, just before the outbreak of World War II, it had an estimated 35.1 million inhabitants. Almost a third of these were of minority groups: 13.9% Ukrainiansmarker; 3.1% Belarusiansmarker; 8.6% Jews; 2.3% Germans; and 3.4% percent Czechs, Lithuanians and Russians).

The Second Polish Republic is often associated with times of great adversity, of troubles and of triumph. Having to deal with the economic difficulties and destruction of World War I, followed by the Soviet invasion during the Polish Soviet War, and then increasingly hostile neighbors such as Nazi Germany, the Republic managed not only to endure, but to expand. Lacking an overseas empire (see: Maritime and Colonial League), Poland nevertheless maintained a level of economic development and prosperity comparable to that of the West. The cultural hubs of Warsawmarker, Krakówmarker, Poznańmarker, Wilnomarker and Lwówmarker raised themselves to the level of major European cities. They were also the sites of internationally acclaimed universities and other institutions of higher education. By 1939 the Republic was becoming a major world player in politics and economics.


Timeline (1918–1939)

The beginnings

Occupied by German and Austro-Hungarian armies in the summer of 1915, the formerly Russian-ruled part of what was considered Poland was proposed to become a German puppet state by the occupying powers on November 5, 1916, with a governing Council of State and (from October 15, 1917) a Regency Council (Rada Regencyjna Królestwa Polskiego) to administer the country under German auspices (see also Mitteleuropa) pending the election of a king.

Shortly before the end of World War I, on October 7, 1918, the Regency Council dissolved the Council of State and announced its intention to restore Polish independence. With the notable exception of the Marxist-oriented Social Democratic Party of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania (SDKPiL), most political parties supported this move. On October 23 the Council appointed a new government under Józef Swierzynski and began conscription into the Polish Army.On November 5, in Lublinmarker, the first Soviet of Delegates was created. On November 6 the Communists announced the creation of a Republic of Tarnobrzeg. The same day, a Provisional People's Government of the Republic of Poland was created under the Socialist, Ignacy Daszynski.

On November 10, Józef Piłsudski, newly freed from imprisonment by the German authorities at Magdeburgmarker, returned to Warsaw. Next day, due to his popularity and support from most political parties, the Regency Council appointed Piłsudski Commander in Chief of the Polish Armed Forces. On November 14 the Council dissolved itself and transferred all its authority to Piłsudski as Chief of State (Naczelnik Państwa).

Centers of government that were created in Galicia (formerly Austrian-ruled southern Poland) included a National Council of the Principality of Cieszyn (created in November 1918) and a Polish Liquidation Committee (created on October 28). Soon afterward, conflict broke out in Lwówmarker between forces of the Military Committee of Ukrainians and the Polish irregular units of students and children, known as Lwów Eaglets, who were later supported by the Polish Army.

After consultation with Pilsudski, Daszynski's government dissolved itself and a new government was created under Jędrzej Moraczewski.

World War II

The beginning of the Second World War put an end to the Second Polish Republic. The "Invasion of Poland" campaign began 1 September 1939, one week after the signing of the secret Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and ended 6 October 1939, with Germany and the Soviet Union occupying the entirety of Poland (with the exception of the area of Wilnomarker, which was annexed by Lithuania). Poland did not surrender, but continued as Polish Government in Exile and the Polish Underground State.

Politics and government

Chief of State


Prime ministers


Industry areas and communication routes in Poland before the start of WWII.
After regaining her independence Poland was faced with major economic difficulties. Within the borders of the Republic were the remnants of three different economic systems, with three different currencies and with little or no direct infrastructural links. The situation was so bad that neighboring industrial centers as well as major cities lacked direct railroad links, because they had been parts of different occupying nations. For example, in the 1920s there was no direct railroad connection between Warsaw and Kraków, the line was not completed until 1934.

On top of this was the massive destruction left after both World War I and the Polish Soviet War. There was also a great economic disparity between the eastern (commonly called Poland B) and western (called Poland A) parts of the country, with the western half, especially areas that had belonged to the German Empiremarker being much more developed and prosperous. Frequent border closures and tariff wars (especially with Nazi Germany) also had negative economic impacts on Poland.

Despite these problems Poland managed in the interwar period to achieve a state of economic prosperity on par with Western Europe. In 1924 prime minister and economic minister Władysław Grabski introduced the złoty as a single common currency for Poland, which remained one of the most stable currencies of Central Europe. The currency helped Poland to bring under control the massive hyperinflation, the only country in Europe which was able to do this without foreign loans or aid (see also Polish marka).

The basis of Poland's relative prosperity were the mass economic development plans which oversaw the building of three key infrastructural elements. The first was the establishment of the Gdyniamarker seaport, which allowed Poland to completely bypass Gdańskmarker (which was under heavy German pressure to boycott Polish coal exports). The second was construction of the 500-kilometer rail connection between Upper Silesia and Gdynia, called Polish Coal Trunk-Line, which served freight trains with coal. The third was the creation of a central industrial district, named the COP – Central Industrial Region (Centralny Okręg Przemysłowy). Unfortunately, these developments were interrupted and largely destroyed by the German and Soviet invasion and the start of World War II.

Interbellum Poland was also the country with numerous social problems. Unemployment was high, and poverty was widespread, which resulted in several cases of social unrest, such as 1923 Kraków riot, and 1937 peasant strike in Poland.


According to the 1939 Statistical Yearbook of Poland, total length of railroads of Poland (as for December 31, 1937) was 20 118 kilometers. Rail density was 5.2 km. per 100 km2. Railroads were very dense in western part of the country, and in the east, especially Polesie, rail was non-existent in some counties. During the interbellum period, Polish government constructed several new lines, mainly in central part of the country (see also Polish State Railroads Summer 1939).


Poland, linguistic 1937
Polish voivodeships 1922–1939
Administrative map of Poland from 1930
Poland was historically a nation of many nationalities, with large Jewish and Ukrainian minorities. This was especially true after she regained her independence in the wake of World War I, in 1918. The census of 1921 allocates 30.8% of the population in the minority. This was further exacerbated with the Polish victory in the Polish-Soviet War, and the large territorial gains made by Poland as a consequence. According to the 1931 Polish Census (as cited by Norman Davies), 68.9% of the population was Polish, 13.9% were Ukrainians, 8.6% Jews, 3.1% Belarusians, 2.3% Germans and 2.8% - others, including Lithuanians, Czechs and Armenians. Also, there were smaller communities of Russians, and Gypsies. The situation of minorities was a very touchy subject. The government oppressed them, and such events, as Pacification of Ukrainians in Eastern Galicia , echoed across the world.

Poland was also a nation of many religions. In 1921 16,057,229 Poles (approx. 62.5%) were Roman Catholics, 3,031,057 citizens of Poland (approx. 11.8%) were Eastern Rite Catholics (mostly Ukrainian Greek Catholics and Armenian Rite Catholics), 2,815,817 (approx. 10.95%) were Greek Orthodox, 2,771,949 (approx. 10.8%) were Jewish, and 940,232 (approx. 3.7%) were Protestants (mostly Lutheran Evangelical). By 1931 Polandmarker had the second largest Jewish population in the world, with one-fifth of all the world's Jews residing within Poland's borders (approx. 3,136,000).


Date Population Percentage of

rural population
Population density

(per km²)
30 September 1921 27,177,000 75,4% 69,9
9 December 1931 32,348,000 72,6% 82,6
31 December 1938 (estimate) 34,849,000 70% 89,7

Largest cities in early 1939:
  1. Warsawmarker – 1,289,000
  2. Łódźmarker – 672,000
  3. Lwówmarker – 318,000
  4. Poznańmarker – 272,000
  5. Krakówmarker – 259,000
  6. Wilnomarker – 209,000
  7. Bydgoszczmarker – 141,000
  8. Częstochowamarker – 138,000
  9. Katowicemarker – 134,000
  10. Sosnowiecmarker – 130,000
  11. Lublinmarker – 122,000
  12. Gdyniamarker – 120,000
  13. Chorzówmarker – 110,000
  14. Białystokmarker – 107,000

Administrative division

The Administrative division of Second Polish Republic was based on the three tier system. On the lowest rung were the gminy, which were little more than local town and village governments. These were then grouped together into powiaty which were then arranged into wojewodstwa.
Polish voivodeships in the interbellum

(data as per April 1, 1937)
car plates

(since 1937)

Separate city
Capital Area

in 1,000 km² (1930)

in 1,000 (1931)
00–19 City of Warsaw Warsaw 0.14 1,179.5
85–89 warszawskie Warsaw 31.7 2,460.9
20–24 białostockiemarker Białystokmarker 26.0 1,263.3
25–29 kieleckie Kielcemarker 22.2 2,671.0
30–34 krakowskie Krakówmarker 17.6 2,300.1
35–39 lubelskie Lublinmarker 26.6 2,116.2
40–44 lwowskie Lwówmarker 28.4 3,126.3
45–49 łódzkie Łódźmarker 20.4 2,650.1
50–54 nowogródzkie Nowogródekmarker 23.0 1,057.2
55–59 poleskie Brześć nad Bugiemmarker 36.7 1,132.2
60–64 pomorskie Toruńmarker 25.7 1,884.4
65–69 poznańskiemarker Poznańmarker 28.1 2,339.6
70–74 stanisławowskie Stanisławów 16.9 1,480.3
75–79 śląskiemarker Katowicemarker 5.1 1,533.5
80–84 tarnopolskie Tarnopolmarker 16.5 1,600.4
90–94 wileńskie Wilnomarker 29.0 1,276.0
95–99 wołyńskie Łuckmarker 35.7 2,085.6

On April 1, 1938, borders of several western and central Voivodeships changed considerably. For more information, see Territorial changes of Polish Voivodeships on April 1, 1938.

Geography of the Second Polish Republic

Second Polish Republic was mainly flat, with average elevation of 223 meters above sea level (after World War II and its border changes, the average elevation of Poland decreased to 173 meters). Only 13% of territory, along the southern border, was higher than 300 meters. The highest elevation was Mount Rysymarker, which rises 2,499 meters in the Tatra Range of the Carpathians, 95 kilometers south of Krakówmarker. Between October 1938 and September 1939, the highest elevation was Lodowy Szczyt (known in the Slovakian language as Ľadový štít), which rises 2,627 meters above sea level. The biggest lake was Lake Narachmarker.

Country's total area, after annexation of Zaolzie, was 389,720 km²., it extended 903 kilometers from north to south and 894 kilometers from east to west. On January 1, 1938, total length of boundaries was 5 529 km., including:
  • 140 kilometers of coastline (out of which 71 kilometers were made by the Hel Peninsulamarker),
  • 1412 kilometers with Soviet Union,
  • 948 kilometers with Czechoslovakia (until 1938),
  • 1912 kilometers with Germany (together with East Prussia),
  • 1081 kilometers with other countries (Lithuania, Romania, Latvia, Danzig).

Among major cities of the Second Polish Republic, the warmest yearly average temperature was in Kraków (9.1 C in 1938) and the coldest in Wilno (7.6 C in 1938).

Extreme points

  • Northernmost point: N55*51'8,45" (N55,852250*); Przeświata River in Somino, located in the Braslawmarker county of the Wilno Voivodeship
  • Southernmost point: N47*43'31,8" (N47,725492*); spring of Manczin River located in the Kosów county of the Stanisławów Voivodeship
  • Easternmost point: E28*21'44,3" (E28,362371*); Spasibiorki (near railway to Połock) located in the Dzisnamarker county of the Wilno Voivodeship
  • Westernmost point: E15*47'12,4" (E15,786773*); Mukocinek near Warta River and Meszyn Lake located in the Międzychódmarker county of the Poznań Voivodeship


Almost 75% of the territory of interbellum Poland was drained northward into the Baltic Sea by the Vistula (total area of drainage basin of the Vistula within boundaries of the Second Polish Republic was 180 300 km².), the Niemenmarker (51 600 km².), the Odra (46 700 km².) and the Daugava (10 400 km².). The remaining part of the country was drained southward, into the Black Seamarker, by the rivers that drain into the Dnieper (Pripyat, Horyn and Styr, all together 61 500 km².) as well as Dniestermarker (41 400 km².)

See also


  1. The End, TIME Magazine, October 2, 1939
  2. Atlas Historii Polski, Demart Sp, 2004, ISBN 83-89239-89-2
  3. Joseph Marcus, Social and Political History of the Jews in Poland, 1919–1939, Mouton Publishing, 1983, ISBN 90-279-3239-5, Google Books, p. 17
  4. Norman Davies, God's Playground, Columbia University Press, 2005, ISBN 0-231-12819-3, Google Print, p.299
  5. Powszechny Spis Ludnosci r. 1921

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