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Poland's Holocaust
By: Tadeusz Piotrowski
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POLAND - GENERAL INFORMATION

Poland (Polish: Polska), officially the Republic of Poland (Polish: Rzeczpospolita Polska), is a country in Central Europe. Poland is bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north.

The total area of Poland is 312,679 km˛ (120,728 sq mi),[1] making it the 69th largest country in the world and 7th in Europe. Poland's population, concentrated mainly in urban areas, is over 38.5 million people which makes it the 33rd most populous country in the world.[2] The first Polish state was baptized in 966, within territory similar to the present boundaries of Poland. Poland became a kingdom in 1025, and in 1569 it cemented a long association with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania by uniting to form the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Commonwealth collapsed in 1795.

Poland regained its independence in 1918 after World War I but lost it again in World War II, occupied by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Poland lost over six million citizens in World War II, and emerged several years later as a communist country within the Eastern Bloc under the control of the Soviet Union. In 1989 communist rule was overthrown and Poland became what is constitutionally known as the "Third Polish Republic". Poland is a unitary state made up of sixteen voivodeships (Polish: województwo). Poland is also a member of the European Union, NATO and OECD.

See Photos of Polish Countryside

Poland’s territory extends across several geographical regions. In the northwest is the Baltic seacoast, which extends from the Bay of Pomerania to the Gulf of Gdansk. This coast is marked by several spits, coastal lakes (former bays that have been cut off from the sea), and dunes. The largely straight coastline is indented by the Szczecin Lagoon, the Bay of Puck, and the Vistula Lagoon. The center and parts of the north lie within the Northern European Lowlands. Rising gently above these lowlands is a geographical region comprising the four hilly districts of moraines and moraine-dammed lakes formed during and after the Pleistocene ice age. These lake districts are the Pomeranian Lake District, the Greater Polish Lake District, the Kashubian Lake District, and the Masurian Lake District. The Masurian Lake District is the largest of the four and covers much of northeastern Poland. The lake districts form part of the Baltic Ridge, a series of moraine belts along the southern shore of the Baltic Sea. South of the Northern European Lowlands lie the regions of Silesia and Masovia, which are marked by broad ice-age river valleys. Farther south lies the Polish mountain region, including the Sudetes, the Cracow-Czestochowa Upland, the Swietokrzyskie Mountains, and the Carpathian Mountains, including the Beskids. The highest part of the Carpathians is the Tatra Mountains, along Poland’s southern border.

Climate

The climate is mostly temperate throughout the country. The climate is oceanic in the north and west and becomes gradually warmer and continental as one moves south and east. Summers are generally warm, with average temperatures between 20 °C (68 °F) and 27 °C (80,6 °F). Winters are cold, with average temperatures around 3 °C (37,4 °F) in the northwest and –8 °C (17,6 °F) in the northeast. Precipitation falls throughout the year, although, especially in the east; winter is drier than summer. The warmest region in Poland is Lesser Poland located in Southern Poland where temperatures in the summer average between 23 °C (73,4 °F) and 30 °C (86 °F) but can go as high as 32 °C (89,6 °F) to 38 °C (100,4 °F) on some days in the warmest month of the year July. The warmest city in Poland is Tarnów. The city is located in Lesser Poland; it is the hottest place in Poland all year round. The average temperatures being 30 °C (86 °F) in the summer and 4 °C (39,2 °F) in the winter. Tarnów also has the longest summer in Poland spreading from mid May to mid September. Also it has the shortest winter in Poland which often lasts from January to March, less than the regular three-month winter. The coldest region of Poland is in the Northeast in the Podlachian Voivodeship near the border of Belarus. The climate is efficient due to cold fronts which come from Scandinavia and Siberia. The average temperature in the winter in Podlachian ranges from -15 °C (5 °F) to -4 °C ( 24,8 °F).

Demographics

Poland, with 38.5 million inhabitants, has the eighth-largest population in Europe and the sixth-largest in the European Union. It has a population density of 122 inhabitants per square kilometer (328 per square mile). Poland historically contained many languages, cultures and religions on its soil. The country had a particularly large Jewish population prior to the Second World War, when the Nazi Holocaust caused Poland's Jewish population, estimated at 3 million before the war, to drop to just 300,000. The outcome of the war, particularly the westward shift of Poland's borders to the area between the Curzon line and the Oder-Neisse line, coupled with post-war expulsion of minorities, gave Poland an appearance of homogeneity. Today 36,983,700 people, or 96.74% of the population considers itself Polish (Census 2002), 471,500 (1.23%) declared another nationality. 774,900 people (2.03%) did not declare any nationality. Nationalites or ethnic groups in Poland are Silesians, Germans (most in the former Opole Voivodeship), Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Russians, Jews and Belarusians. The Polish language, a member of the West Slavic branch of the Slavic languages, functions as the official language of Poland. English and German are the most common second languages studied and spoken. In recent years, Poland's population has decreased because of an increase in emigration and a sharp drop in the birth rate. In 2006, the census office estimated the total population of Poland at 38,536,869, a slight rise on the 2002 figure of 38,230,080. Since Poland's accession to the European Union, a significant number of Polish immigrants have moved to work in Western European countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany and Ireland. Some organisations state people have left primarily due to high unemployment (10.5%) and better opportunities for work abroad. In April 2007, the Polish population of the United Kingdom had risen to approximately 300,000 and estimates predict about 65,000 Polish people living in Ireland. Polish minorities are still present in neighbouring countries of Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania, as well as in other countries (see Poles for population numbers). Altogether, the number of ethnic Poles living abroad is estimated to be around 20 million. The largest number of Poles outside of the country can be found in the United States.

Urban Areas

The largest metropolitan areas in Poland are the Upper Silesian Coal Basin centred on Katowice (3.5 million inhabitants); the capital, Warsaw (3 million); Lódz (1.3 million); Kraków (1.3 million); the “Tricity” of Gdansk-Sopot-Gdynia in the Vistula delta (1.1 million); Poznan (0.9 million); Wroclaw (0.9 million); and Szczecin (0.9 million). For an overview of Polish cities, see List of cities in Poland. Ethnicity and religion In terms of ethnicity Poland has been a homogeneous state since the end of World War II. This is a major departure from much of Polish history. Due to the Holocaust and the flight and expulsion of German and Ukrainian populations, Poland has become almost uniformly Catholic. About 97% of the population belongs to the Roman Catholic Church, with 58% as practising Catholics according to 2005 survey by the Centre for Public Opinion Research.[3] Though rates of religious observance are currently lower than they have been in the past, Poland remains one of the most devoutly religious countries in Europe. Religious minorities include Polish Orthodox (1.3% or about 509,500), Jehovah’s Witnesses (0.3% or about 123,034), Eastern Catholics (0.2%), Lutherans (0.2%), and smaller minorities of Mariavites, Polish Catholics, Pentecostals, Seventh-Day Adventists, Jews, Muslims (including the Tatars of Bialystok) and various Protestants (about 86,880 in the largest Evangelical-Augsburg Church, plus about as many in smaller churches). Resulting from the socio-political emancipation of the county, freedom of religion has become guaranteed by the 1989 statute of the Polish constitution,[4] allowing for the emergence of additional denominations.[5] However, due to pressure from the Polish Episcopate, exposition of doctrine has entered public education system as well, drawing criticism from the popular media, as unconstitutional.[6][7] According to 2007 survey, 72% of respondents were not against the fostering of catechism in public schools; nevertheless, the alternative courses in ethics have become available only in one percent of the entire public educational system.[8] Poles (including Silesians and Kashubians) make up an overwhelming 99.3% majority of the Polish population. According to the 2002 census, the remainder of the population is made up of small minorities of Germans (152,897), Belarusians (c. 49,000), and Ukrainians (c. 30,000), as well as Tatars, Lithuanians, Roma, Lemkos, Russians, Karaites, Slovaks, and Czechs. Among foreign citizens, the Vietnamese are the largest ethnic group, followed by Greeks, and Armenians.

Natural Resources

Poland has substantial mineral and agricultural resources. It has the world's fifth-largest proven reserves of hard and brown coal in addition to deposits of copper, sulphur, zinc, lead and silver, as well as magnesium and rock salt. All of these contribute significantly to Poland's exports. There are also potentially useful deposits of chalk, kaolin, clays, and potash, as well as natural gas.

The main agricultural crops are wheat and other cereals, potatoes, sugar-beets and fodder crops. The livestock sector comprises three million beef and dairy cattle and 19 million pigs. Total arable land is 18,7 million hectares. In addition 8.9 million hectares are afforested making sawn timber an important resource.

Poland is in the central European time zone and is thus one hour ahead of Standard GMT in the winter months and two hours ahead between April and October.

Population and Language

The population of Poland, currently 38.5 million people, is experiencing slow growth at the rate of about 100,000 people a year and is expected to reach 39.5 million by the year 2000. Approximetly 62% of the population live in cities. In the 1970's there was a net migration of two million people from the country to the towns. This dropped to 1.3 million people in the 1980's and declined further to 100.000 a year in the 1990's. The cities are mostly small or medium-sized. Some 43 cities have population over 100.000 inhabitants.

Warsaw is Poland's capital and its largest city, with a population of 1.7 million people. The five other largest towns are £ód¿, Kraków, Wroclaw, Poznan and Gdansk. Sopot - Gdynia accounted for 209.000 people in 1970's and for 250.000 in 1980's, but dropped in population same 15.000 people a year in the 1990's.

The population of Polish communities abroad is estimated at 12 mlllion with the largest existing in the United States (5.6 mln), CIS (2,5 mln), France (1 mln), Germany (0.8 mln), Canada (mln), Brazil (0.2mn), Australia 90.15) and the UK (0.14 ).

Demographic trends in Poland are broadly similar to those in Western Europe in that the country is currently experiencing a decrease in the proportion of the working population from 59.3% in 1980 to 57,6% in 1992. The number of children under 18 years of age increased from 10.3 million to 11.9 % of the population in the 1980's, to 13.1% in 1991.

From an ethnic point of view, Poland is one of the most homogeneous countries in Europe, with over 98% of the population being of Polish origin. The overwhelming majority of Poles are Roman Catholic and the remainder are mainly members of Eastern Orthodox Church or Protestant.

Reflective of the geographic position of Poland and aside from the official language of Polish, German and Russian are the most frequently spoken foreign languages. Many business and professional people also understand English or French.



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