The twenty seventh of September 1939 saw the birth of the Polish Underground State. It was formed the day before the surrender of Warsaw, the Polish capital, following Poland’s invasion by Germany on the first September 1939 and the Soviet Union later in the month.
The Polish Underground State comprised a number of organisations both military and civilian, bound together by their common loyalty to the Government of the Polish Republic in Exile which continued initially in France, until the fall of France, and then London, England.
The Underground State operated in Poland during the Second World War and maintained communications with the Government in Exile by radio communications and hundreds, perhaps thousands of couriers who carried secret messages.
The Underground State fought for Poland to become a democratic independent state with guarantees in place to ensure equality for minorities and freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom to carry out political activity.
During its strongest period the Underground State controlled one of the largest resistance groups to the Nazi regime. The Underground State was unique in that it developed under its civilian wing, educational and social service departments, a propaganda ministry
together with a parliament and judiciary.
The military wing developed into the Polish Home Army or the AK and was of particular significance during the Warsaw Uprising which began on 1stAugust 1944 and continued until 2ndOctober 1944. Despite extraordinary efforts by the Home Army and civilian population the uprising failed, arguably principally as a result of political expediency between the principal Allied Powers. The Soviet Union sought control of Poland after the defeat of Germany. Soviet troops waited on the outskirts of Warsaw but did not go to the assistance of the Home Army.
(Poland had broken of diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union in April 1943 after the discovery of the Katyn massacre. The Katyn Massacre took place in 1940 and was the murder of an estimated 22 000 Polish soldiers, policemen, clergy, officials etc by Soviet troops).
The Polish Government in Exile was not invited to attend either the Tehran Conference in 1943 or the Yalta Conference in February 1945 where Western Allies and the Soviets discussed their vision of post war Europe and the fate of Poland. The Soviet Union introduced their own puppet organisation for the government of Poland following the Tehran Conference and members of the Underground State found themselves persecuted by this communist organisation after the failure of the Warsaw Uprising.
Faced with persecution and unwilling to initiate civil war in Poland the Polish Underground State disbanded on the 19thJanuary 1945.
Much of the history of the Underground State was suppressed whilst Poland was under Soviet control but since the fall of communism, Polish historians have been able to research the history of the movement. There are now statues to the Underground State in Poland and the 27th September has been named Day of the Polish Underground State.
The flag of the Polish Underground State comprised the letter P on a boathook imposed centrally on the Polish flag, the emblem of the state was the Polish eagle and the anthem “Poland is not yet Lost.”
The Polish Codebreaking Team, inspiration for my novel The Cypher Bureau were loyal to the Polish Government in Exile.
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For my blog, with 2018 the centenary of Poland’s Independence and the year of publication of my novel The Cypher Bureau, inspired by the life of Marian Rejewski, it seemed appropriate to devote some blogging time to famous Polish people or significant Polish achievements.
As a starting point I googled the top ten most famous Poles to see where my hero figured. Marian Rejewski, as the first person to solve the secret of Enigma, the coding device used by Germany during the Second World War would surely be featured. He wasn’t!
Famous Poles listed include Pope Jean Paul II, Marie Curie nee Sklodowska, (first woman to win a Nobel Prize in Physics and first person to win the award twice), Frederic Chopin (composer), Lech Walesa, (founder of Solidarity and Polish Prime Minister), David Ben-Gurion (first Prime Minister of Israel), Roman Polanski, although he was born in Paris (film maker), Helena Rubenstein (entrepreneur).
Surely Marian Rejewski, accredited as the greatest cryptologist of all time, deserves his place. He and his colleagues Jerzy Rozycki and Henryk Zygalski were awarded posthumously in 2014 the prestigious milestone award by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers for an achievement which has changed the world.
How did solving the Enigma code save thousands of lives? Solving Enigma meant that the Allies could read secret Nazi messages during World War II. This ability was particularly important during the Battle of the Atlantic. Britain in pre-war years had imported seventy-five percent of its food. During the war Nazi U-Boats hunted in wolf packs for shipping convoys which they then proceeded to sink ruthlessly. In Britain, a demoralised population under threat of starvation were “digging for victory.” In the summer/autumn of 1940 after the loss of significant material at Dunkirk, many considered the war lost and urged for a peace settlement with Germany. Ability to read Nazi instructions to U-Boats meant that the British bound convoys could avoid the wolf packs and get food to Britain. Without the secret of Enigma the war could have been considerably extended or lost altogether.
Rejewski first solved the code in 1932, an outstanding achievement. Between 1932 and 1939 the Polish codebreakers were reading encrypted messages from Germany. In July 1939 they passed their code breaking secret to their British and French counterparts who at that time had given up completely on breaking the code and had concluded, like the Germans that it was invincible.
When the British discovered the code could be broken they decided, following the example of the Polish Cypher Bureau, to recruit mathematicians for code-breaking instead of drawing from linguists and classicists as had been the practise. Alan Turing, as a brilliant mathematician was recruited to Bletchley Park as a result of the Polish successes and his work and that of the Bletchley team was built on the information which the Polish team had provided. The Polish contribution has been credited with saving the Bletchley Park team two years’ work-a vital contribution at the time.
‘Before Poland fell, you gave the Allies Enigma, the Nazis’ secret coding machine. Breaking the unbreakable Axis code saved tens of thousands of Allied lives, of American lives and for this you have the enduring gratitude of the American people. And ultimately Enigma and freedom fighters played a major role in winning the Second World War.
President George H. Bush 1989 speech at Solidarity Workers Monument Gdansk
If you think Marian Rejewski deserves to make the top ten famous Poles please like and share.
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