The Museum of Polish Independence is housed in one of the many palaces of Warsaw: the Przebendowski Palace reconstructed after the destruction of WW2, and used first as the training centre of the Central Trade Unions Council and then from 1955 for the Lenin Museum. In its 19th century decline it housed an exhibition of wax figures, a servants’ employment agency, an inn, a beer house, a cafe and pastry shop, and a furniture store. I know this because I now own “The book of Warsaw palaces” by Tadeusz Jaroszewski, thanks to my friend Annette, a gift-giver of great finesse.
Poland has a long history of takeover and partition. When I first began reading Polish history I came across a series of maps that showed Poland expanding and contracting as neighbouring powers encroached and receded, until it was hard to decide exactly what it meant to say, for example, that Copernicus was Polish. There were inevitable and unsuccessful revolts and uprisings against the invaders.
Here’s a potted timeline from the late 18th century until the early 1920s, the skeleton of which I owe to “Eyewitness travel: Poland”: the meagre flesh is courtesy of Wikipedia.
1772: First partition of Poland. This divided Poland between Prussia, Austria and Russia to keep the balance of power between the three of them in order and ended the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (another story)
1791: Constitution of 3rd May. This replaced the anarchy fostered by some of the country’s magnates with a more democratic constitutional monarchy. It introduced elements of political equality between townspeople and nobility, and placed the peasants under the protection of the government, mitigating the worst abuses of serfdom.
1793: Second partition of Poland. An arrangement between Russia and Prussia that annexed 307000 km2
1795: Third partition of Poland. After a rebellion led by Kosciuszko Austria, Prussia and Russia decided to wipe Poland off the map.
1807: Grand Duchy of Warsaw established. This is where Napoleon enters the Polish picture. He defeats the Prussians and takes land back from them to create the Duchy.
1815: Dissolution of Grand Duchy of Warsaw. Napoleon is defeated, and the land divided again between Prussia and Russia.
1831: November Insurrection. An armed rebellion in the heartland of partitioned Poland against the Russian Empire.
1846: Peasants’ Uprising
1848: Uprising in Greater Poland. Polish people mounted a military insurrection against the Prussians, part of a great wave of revolutions all over Europe during the Spring of Nations period, aimed at creating independent nation states.
1863: January Insurrection. Against Russian rule this time.
1915: Russian troops leave Warsaw
1918: Poland liberated from Germans
1919-21: Uprisings in Silesia, territory that remained in German hands after the war, as inhabitants fought to join the Second Polish Republic.
Here is a symbolic image of an independent Poland – Polonia, 1920 – in the brief period before the invasion of Germany, the takeover by Russia, and the reemergence of independence in 1989.