The Polish Second Republic
In September 1939, the Second Republic, the first independent Polish state to appear after the partitions of the late eighteenth century, was destroyed and occupied by the Germans and the Russians. In its brief existence, 1918–1939, the Second Republic was burdened with the task of rebuilding a long-disappeared country. Although it made handsome economic progress, it remained poor. Once the exemplar of multinational cooperation, Poland was riven by increasing nationalistic rivalries, dangerous to a country with such a large minority population. Józef Pilsudski was the principal architect of national independence, but even his iconic presence could not assure in a stable democracy. As economic despair visited Europe by the 1930s, and as repressive regimes multiplied and the geopolitical situation worsened drastically, Poland faced unavoidable destruction. There was nothing Poland could do to save itself. For all its shortcomings and failures, Poland was a victim of developments beyond its control. The Second Republic was doomed. Yet without these two decades, Poland may well have faded from history. Ironically, it was a historic victory.