Poland, having ceased to exist for 123 years as a result of occupation by German, Austrian and Russian Empires, emerged from the First World War as a country reborn, fresh with ideals. Woman were granted the vote in 1918 and the future looked bright. However, Poland’s newly found freedom was soon overshadowed by German and Soviet interest in regaining what they regarded as their ‘lost territories.’ Sandwiched between Germany and Russia, Poland was only too aware of her vulnerable position. The Polish Cypher Bureau intensified efforts to break the Enigma code, the code Germany began using in 1926 to send confidential messages. The Poles needed to know what their German neighbours were up to, this desperation was a factor in the Poles being first to crack the Enigma code in 1932. As Germany became increasingly clear about her expansionist plans the 11thof November was chosen as National Independence Day in 1937 and was declared a national day of holiday and celebration. This date was chosen as it was the day in 1918 that Marshal Josef Pilsudski assumed control of Poland thereby restoring Polish independence and sovereignty. The holiday was celebrated only twice before World War II. By the 6thOctober 1939 Poland was under brutal Nazi and Soviet control. After the war, the communist authorities of the People's Republic removed Independence Day from the calendar. Poland, disappeared behind the Iron Curtain and was not invited to attend the Allied Victory Parade in London on 6thOctober 1946 despite the decisive roles in the victory which had been played by the Poles. The Cypher Bureau and broken Enigma and experienced Polish pilots played a pivotal role in the Battle of Britain. Poland endured many years of oppression. Finally, the eyes of the world turned to Poland’s plight on 16thOctober 1978, when the Archbishop of Krackow was appointed Pope and took the name of John Paul II. On 14thAugust 1980 Lech Walesa was appointed leader of the Solidarity party. During the 1980s, in many cities, including Warsaw, informal marches and celebrations were held, with the outlawed Solidarity Movementsupporters participating in the celebrations of National Independence Day. Typically, these marches were brutally dispersed with many participants arrested and tortured by the secret police. When Poland emerged from Soviet control in 1989, the original holiday finally was restored.
National Independence Day corresponds to Remembrance Day, Armistice Day, and Veterans Day. These holidays and Polish Independence Day are related because they all arose following World War I. In other countries, the holidays were established as a result of grief and horror at the enormous human cost of the war, and they mark the sacrifices of those who fought. The Polish holiday is simultaneously a celebration of the independence of a Polish state and a commemoration of those who fought for it.
2018 sees the centenary year and it is being celebrated worldwide. The holiday has a lesser uptake than expected in Poland, perhaps because many Polish residents do not feel that Poland has been truly independent for one hundred years. For many Poles a true sense of freedom may only have arrived with Poland’s entry into the European Union on First May 2004.
Author The Cypher Bureau (How the Poles cracked Enigma)