Few countries, if any, have had their borders redrawn so many times and so thoroughly. Few nations, if any, have been entombed for more than a century, subjugated and humiliated, and resurrected. I intend to tell you a story about how immigration and diversity annihilated a nation’s statehood and almost obliterated a nation. I will tell you a story of Poland, a story of a nation that accepted and accommodated huge numbers of Germans, Jews and Russians (Ukrainians), which fact gradually and unavoidably led to the nation’s obliteration from political maps.
[Since generally Slavica non leguntur [Slavic languages are not widely read], I assume the Western reader knows nothing or next to nothing about Central Europe, about such countries as Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Hungary, Romania or Bulgaria, which is why I make oversimplifications and approximations to show a broad picture.]
Take a look at the present-day political map of Europe and find Poland. Yes, it is this area between the Oder River to the West and the Bug (/book/) River to the East, between the Baltic Sea to the north and the Sudeten/Western Carpathian Mountains to the south. This territory roughly falls into six big parts (names are Latinized or Anglicized, as usually accepted in English historical publications):
The Baltic Sea
Pomorze = Pomerania, Prusowie = Masuria (later Prussia), Wielkopolska = Greater Poland, Mazowsze = Mazovia, Śląsk = Silesia, Małopolska = Lesser Poland
Scroll the site down to the very end and see how Polish territory kept changing dramatically and notice that the geographical shape of present-day Poland overlaps to a very large degree with the initial shape a thousand years ago.
More than a thousand years ago the Polish state emerged as if from nowhere into history: the year was 966, the year of the nation’s Christian baptism, with only two or three dates known from German or Czech annals that recorded events connected with Poland prior to 966. Within the first three or four centuries of its existence, Poland – now a principality, now a kingdom, now split into a few principalities as political circumstances allowed – occupied the areas of Pomerania, Greater Poland, Lesser Poland, Silesia and Lesser Poland, roughly overlapping with today’s state area, experiencing constant but relatively slight border changes. The only area not occupied by the Slavic tribes was that of Masuria, which was inhabited by Old Prussians (not to be confused with German Prussians that most of us are familiar with [see below]), a people ethnically and linguistically related to neighbouring Lithuanians. To the east, medieval Poland bordered on Rus’ (again, now one big principality, now several principalities). No Belarus or Ukraine as political entities were known at that time. Just as it is today, the Western Carpathian Mountains separated Poland from what today is known as Slovakia, while across the Sudeten Mountains Poland was bordered by Czechia (in medieval annals and chronicles as well as in present-day historical literature referred to as Bohemia). Thus, medieval neighbours of Poland were – apart from Old Prussians – the same as they are today, with one exception: there was no Germany, no German principality or kingdom across the Oder: these territories (approximately the area of the former German Democratic Republic) were occupied by Western Slavs, who still survive in very small numbers in East Germany in the area around Dresden and Leipzig (toponyms of Slavic origin!)) and are known as Sorbs (think of Serbs in the Balkans!) and Lusatians. Today, names of towns and villages along with names of streets in this area are given in German and simultaneously Sorbian or Lusatian.
Survey names of towns and villages in a detailed map of East Germany: you will discover Slavic-sounding toponyms. Many of them end in -ow (compare Kraków, anglicized Cracow, Poland’s second largest city), and their strangeness to the German ear is marked by the fact that in German pronunciation their final w is silent. A rather well-known neighbourhood in Berlin that goes by the name of Pankow is pronounced PAHN-kaw. The same is true of German surnames of Slavic origin ending in -ow.
Also, German names in -witz correspond to the Slavic/Polish toponymic ending -ice /eetzeh/, and they are commonly found in East Germany.
Now the linguistic icing on the cake: Germany’s capital city is a Slavic name par excellence! Without resorting to complicated linguistic analysis, consider this simple observation: unlike other “truly” German toponyms, the name Berlin is stressed on the last syllable (not only in German, but also in English). Why? Because Slavs would stress the penultimate syllable irrespective of the form of the word. First German settlers, colonisers or conquerors would hear the name Berlin mostly in grammatical cases other than the nominative because we usually say phrases like I live in Berlin, I go to Berlin, I left Berlin etc. rather than This is Berlin. These other grammatical cases (Slavic languages are highly inflectional; if you know Latin, you get the idea) added a syllable to the name Berlin and the added syllable drew the stress from BER- to -LIN because stress always falls on the last-but-one syllable. The German settlers, colonisers or conquerors would adopt the toponym, without however adopting its grammatical endings as they meant nothing to them, and so Berlin ended up being pronounced as ber-LIN. It goes for all other Germanized names in Eastern Germany, like for instance Schwerin, a large port on the Baltic Sea.
Excuse this longish aside. It was intended to impress upon the reader how big the ethnic changes can be throughout centuries. By way of comparison, names of numerous villages and towns in England retell roughly the history of the many peoples that settled there; consider the Spanish names in southern United States or the toponyms of Indian origin in all of the United States.
The territories west of the Oder did not belong to medieval Poland, but they were certainly no part of medieval Germany, either. They might have become part of Poland due to ethnic closeness, but they did not; rather, western and northern parts of Poland became Germany. How did it come about?
The Slavic territories West of the Oder were successively conquered and colonised by the Germans, to which end Germans even created special administrative units whose task it was to carry out the process. Medieval Poland tried – weakly – to compete for influence over these territories but was compelled to give up. Westernmost Slavs were slowly but surely subjugated, nationally deracinated or ethnically cleansed. At this juncture the reader will not be surprised to know that there is an appreciable Slavic genetic component among present-day Germans.
Let us consider now Poland proper. Within three centuries from the inception of Polish statehood, Silesia and Pomerania (see the graph above) became German along with Masuria (which was originally inhabited by Old Prussians). You might think such huge ethnic changes must have taken place as a result of a war or – still better – a series of wars. How otherwise do you lose territory? Nothing of the sort happened. In the 12th century, Poland disintegrated into a few principalities, which was the usual phenomenon in medieval feudal Europe (think about the complicated interdependencies between kings, princes, dukes and barons of France and England). Silesian and Pomeranian princes, either greedy for profit or compelled by circumstances, began to voluntarily import German settlers; they also began marrying mainly German princesses. It is of some interest to survey the list of names of Silesian princes: such common Slavic names as Mieszko /MYESH-kaw/, Bolesław /baw-LESS-wahf/, Kazimierz /kah-ZEE-myesh/or Władysław /vwah-DISS-wahf/ were replaced by Heinrich and Konrad. Sure enough, German wives to those Heinrichs and Konrads raised generations of new Heinrichs and Konrads and imbued them with German culture. The trickling German settlement metastasized throughout Silesia or Pomerania – slowly, very slowly – and yet after three or so centuries both provinces eventually lost their Slavic/Polish identity. The name of Silesia’s capital city of Wrocław /VRAWTS-wahf/ was Germanized into Breslau (compare letter with letter and sound with sound in the two language versions of the toponym), while the Baltic port of Szczecin /SHCHEH-chin/ became Stettin (with the stress on the last syllable! just as Berlin). That’s it. Wave after wave after another wave of immigration and the area was lost to Poland for centuries, till 1945. No war was waged over those territories and, indeed, none was needed. Demographics decided all.
Another medieval Polish prince, the one who ruled over Mazovia (see graph above), had trouble with Old Prussians who would make military inroads into his territory. Since the prince was incapable of fending off the threat for himself, on the advice of one of those German princesses married to a Silesian prince, he invited and settled on a piece of his own territory (1226) the Teutonic Knights to do the job for him. Prior to this event the Teutonic Knights or the Teutonic Order known formally as the Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem had been in trouble. Established in the Holy Land (c. 1190) for the fight against Muslims, when eventually the Christian states had been vanquished by the Muslims, they needed to relocate to Europe and search for land. At first, the Order was invited by a Hungarian monarch to fight the peoples which made inroads into Hungary from the east. The Hungarian monarch was not slow to notice that the Teutonic Order was more after grabbing Hungarian land than defending Hungary against aliens, so he expelled them in no time before they became too strong. (It must run in Hungarian blood to sense the threat immigrants pose: think of Viktor Orban.) The Polish prince proved to be a dupe: he had the Order settle down on his territory – in today’s parlance, he helped the poor immigrants who had been expelled from both the Holy Land and Hungary – and trusted them beyond measure.
The first unit of the Teutonic Knights was made up of… seven (7) men. They built a wooden! castle and called it Vogelsang (=Birdsong). How nice! How innocuous! It took the German knights (with ever growing numbers of them) fifty years to entirely destroy Old Prussians and to establish in Masuria a state of their own, now threatening not only the part of Poland called Mazovia, whose ruler had invited them, but also the whole rest of Poland. When the Polish kingdom was recreated out of Lesser Poland, Greater Poland and the eastern part of Pomerania (the western part of Pomerania and Silesia had dropped off, Germanized as described above), the Teutonic Order conquered the eastern part of Pomerania and held it for over a century and a half. Thus, within three-four centuries Poland lost two component provinces due to immigration to which her rulers had consented.
Another aside. Whenever the European Union presses Poland into accepting immigrants, there is some opposition to it among the ruling circles. If some of them are about to cave in to the EU demands, they keep arguing that they are willing to accommodate a limited number of immigrants providing they are Christians. It only shows for the umpteenth time that history teaches us nothing. The Teutonic Order, Germans in general, Russians and Ukrainians were all Christian and still, and despite that, they all posed the greatest existential threat to Poland throughout centuries.
Consider far-reaching consequences of the ethnic changes taking place on Polish territory not only for Poland, but also for Europe and – dare I say it – for the world. Take a look at the map. Yes, you see a German state in Masuria, a German state in Pomerania and a German state in Silesia. Combine them mentally and – if you are knowledgeable about history – you will recognize the geographic contours of the Prussian state of the 18th and 19th centuries, the state that later united the whole of Germany. The Polish Corridor i.e. the strip of land connecting Poland with the Baltic Sea with its port of Gdańsk/Danzig was a constant bone of contention between German Prussia and later the Third Reich on the one hand, and Poland on the other. It was a matter of either–or. Either Poland has access to the sea, which means that the German state is split, or German territory is integral, which means that Poland is cut off from the sea. That was the primary cause of the partitions of Poland (of which later), that was the cause of the beginning of the Second World War.
In the inter-war period of 1918–1939, Poland had a significant German minority, and Germany had a significant Polish minority. That fact was used by the Third Reich to pressure Warsaw into submissive cooperation with Berlin or else. Obviously, Poland was accused of suppressing the minorities, a trump card always used by interfering powers. In 1945, the old Polish territories were reclaimed (thanks to the Red Army) and the province of East Prussia also known as Masuria was incorporated into Poland. The incorporation of Silesia, Pomerania and Masuria was accompanied with the expulsion of the entire German population. The result? Absolutely no ethnic problems with the German minority ever since because it was… non-existent.
To sum up: German immigrants, invited by Polish rulers, Germanized some of the Polish territories and also established a German state in a place separated from Germany proper by a strip of land belonging to Poland. Those Germanized Polish territories plus the area once inhabited by Old Prussians gave rise to the Prussian state. The state was the most militaristic of the German states: after all, it originated from the Teutonic Order, an order of professional soldiers. Without German Prussia, without the Polish Corridor, Poland would not have been annihilated (of which later), Germany would have been significantly smaller and weaker, and – who knows? – World War One and World War Two might not have happened, at least in the form we know from history.
In the 13th and 14th centuries large influxes of Jews began to settle in medieval Poland with the connivance of Polish princes. Wherever in Europe Jews were not welcome, they found their way to Poland. Medieval princes would invite them en masse with one of the kings having a Jewish lover who is supposed to have acted upon him for the benefit of her compatriots. Jews soon started to play a big role in Polish history, which is corroborated by the fact that towards the end of the 12th century there must have already been well-established Jewish bankers as many of the coins issued at that time bore legends in Hebraic, which was quite a unique phenomenon in the Europe of that time. The Jewish diaspora on Polish lands was constantly on the increase and it received a number of privileges from consecutive rulers, allowing them much autonomy. In the centuries to come, Jews would create their own communities and – with the permission from the Crown – they would have their own parliament! that existed for approximately three centuries: it was this parliament rather than the parliament of the kingdom that decided about the level of taxation and the Jewish parliament levied taxes on Jewish communities.
What did Jews do for a living? Apart from residing in their own little towns and villages – kind of ghettos or no-go zones of that time – and dealing in trade, typically they acted as intermediaries between the aristocracy and the peasantry. Their favourite professions was running inns and tax farming, which alienated them from Polish and later Russian (of which more below) subjects of the kingdom. When an enemy penetrated the country, they kept neutral at best: after all, they were an alien body and remained indifferent to whether they were ruled by Poles or Swedes or Germans or Russians. This, too, did not ingratiate them with the Polish nation.
The number of Jews grew constantly, which had its consequences in later centuries down to the 2oth century. After Poland had been partitioned by its neighbours – Prussia, Russia and Austria (1772–1795) – the huge Jewish community found itself in the various states as large minorities. Russia’s ruling elites soon found out that the influence of the Jewish communities on the Russian peasantry was destructive: the Jews – as said above – ran inns, and enriched themselves selling alcohol to the peasantry and giving loans. Many peasants hooked on alcohol would pledge their not-yet grown crops to receive money. Hence the idea of the government to limit Jewish influence by confining them to the area in which they could live and run their businesses, known as the Pale of Settlement. Jews would come to resent this restriction, and some of them would later go to great lengths to undermine Russian statehood which they perceived as hostile toward them. Now the Pale of Settlement was a huge chunk of territory, stretching from the Baltic to the Black Seas: it was not a ghetto in any sense of the word. But there you have it.
Jews constituted a nation within a nation, in Poland, a state within a state, and lived separately from the rest of society. There were at that time many German immigrants who settled in towns: these, as a rule, would have been Polonized within two or three generations. It was hardly the case with the Jews, most of whom did not speak Polish at all or spoke it badly. This separation was very much due to their faith – one of the surest factors anywhere, if treated seriously, counteracting the forces of assimilation.
No wonder then that when in the second half of 18th century there erupted a Jewish sectarian movement headed by Jacob Frank, who advocated the adoption of Catholicism and reconciliation with the Christian majority, the Polish gentry and of course clergy were more than positively excited. As a result, Jews who decided to convert to Catholicism were automatically recognized as part of the gentry! This was an act of ethnic aberration on the part of the Polish nobility, who regarded their own peasantry – their ethnic kith and kin – as little more than cattle, but adored Jews the moment the latter turned Christian! This phenomenon also demonstrates the power of any ideology or religion. Since that time, Jews have worked their way into the Polish middle class, later becoming doctors and lawyers and scholars who were referred to as assimilated or Polonized Jews.
One of the honorifics assigned to Austrian emperors was that of King of Jerusalem. Emperor Joseph II Habsburg, after southern parts of Poland had been joined to his monarchy, made a tour of the new lands and was so shocked at seeing so many Jews there that he is reputed to have said: Now I understand why I bear the title of the King of Jerusalem! The same monarch seeing the pernicious influence of the Jews on the peasantry forced them administratively to give up on the buying-and-selling business and tried to make them till the soil. Correspondingly, twenty thousand Jewish families were granted plots of land across that part of Poland that had been incorporated into the Habsburg monarchy. Within a few years almost all of the Jewish families sold their property and reverted to trade, money lending and running village inns. Talk of the ethnic deep-wired characteristics!
When Poland regained its independence in 1918 after 123 years of political non-existence, its Jewish minority made up 3 million against the overall number of 35 million citizens. To put it into perspective: the 1938 Munich Agreement tore away the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia because it was inhabited by 3 million Germans. True, unlike in Czechoslovakia, where the Sudeten Germans (descendants of German colonists from the Middle Ages invited there by Czech monarchs[!] to boost the Czech economy) lived compactly in Sudetenland with but few Czechs among them, Jews in Poland were scattered around the country, living both in towns and in small settlements, of which those that were majority Jewish bore the generic Yiddish/German denomination of Stettl (German for little town or Städlein).
In the years 1918–1939 nothing much changed. Many Jews did not speak Polish or spoke it badly, they continued to constitute a state within a state though officially all citizens were endowed with the same rights and obligations. Their community split into those who either had been assimilated or wanted assimilation and those who felt little or no loyalty toward the Polish state. Resentment born of the feeling of alienation and – as they called it and continue to call it – Polish antisemitism induced many of the Jews to work against the Polish state within national Jewish organizations or as majority members of a political structure ironically called the Communist Party of Poland.
There was constant tension between the Polish and Jewish nations. Jews were satisfied with owning most of the property while leaving to Poles the trappings of sovereignty, which found its expression in the saying addressed by Jews to Poles: yours are the (names of the) streets, ours are neighbourhoods (i.e. the possession of real estate). In pre-war newspapers, ads were frequently posted by Polish entrepreneurs to the tune of informing the Polish reader that: The shop/bakery/barber’s/depot etc. located at Street X is owned by a Jew. Nothing more, nothing less. The conscious Polish patriot understood the message.
At this juncture one might ask why Jews possessed property/real estate and Poles did not. Part of the answer lies in Polish patriotism. After each national uprising, Russians would confiscate the property of the insurrectionists and sell it to either Russians or wealthy Jews.
World War Two saw two dramatic developments in Polish-Jewish relations. In 1939, it was not only Germany that invaded Poland (September 1), but also Soviet Russia (September 17). Jews in the Western parts of the country naively welcomed the aggressor: after all, when Germans had occupied Polish territories during World War One, they had not done any harm to the local Jews. Jews in the eastern part of Poland welcomed with enthusiasm the Red Army, soon were given administrative posts and were active in identifying and persecuting Polish patriots. The divide between the two nations could not be bigger.
In German-occupied Poland, Jews began to be isolated in ghettos and generally persecuted, with some Poles remaining indifferent to the fact, and with others – including some of the ardent pre-war anti-Semites – trying to extend to them a helping hand. The latter act was extremely dangerous, as in occupied Poland and only in occupied Poland such an act was punishable by the physical extermination of the whole family.
As the Red Army rolled over Poland in 1945, it was accompanied by a small Polish army, formed from the Polish citizens that inhabited pre-war eastern Poland or citizens who had been deported by the Soviets into Russia or Kazakhstan and had the luck to survive the labour camps. A large number of the officers, and especially political officers in this Polish army was made up of Polish Jews, usually former members of the above-mentioned Communist Party of Poland. They were Stalin’s pawns who together with Polish communists would rule post-war Poland. Naturally, they were bitterly anti-Catholic and anti-Polish, hunting down the Polish resistance movement that existed a few years after the war and that had hopelessly tried to combat communists. It was then that the term Judeo-Communism was formed in the consciousness of the Polish nation: people were aware that they were governed by the conglomeration of Polish and Jewish communists. The latter occupied positions especially in the government and the secret police.
Just as in Soviet Russia, so too, in Poland the party members of Polish ethnicity attempted to free themselves of Jewish preponderance. The first success was reported in 1956 (the year of the Budapest Uprising), on the wave of the post-Stalinist thaw; the second attempt was made in 1968 (the year of student riots in France), when Jews were purged from most of higher state or party positions, with many of them leaving communist Poland and ending up miraculously occupying influential positions in the non-communist West, and in an act of revenge painting a gloomy picture of Poland, the Polish nation, and Polishness ever since. To this day, Jewish newspapers in Poland keep reminding of the year 1968 in an attempt to shame the Polish nation for its alleged unparalleled anti-Semitism. Politically and nationally conscious Poles keep reminding themselves of the joke that made the rounds in 1968: A school headmaster encounters a student on the school playground at the time when the student was supposed to participate in classes, so he asks the boy: Johnny, why are you not in class? Johnny answers: You see, sir, the teacher expelled me from class, but I don’t understand the teacher’s logic. I let out a fart, and the teacher told me to leave. Now I am enjoying fresh air while they are sitting in the stinky classroom.
Roughly, east of the River Bug /book there extended vast territories inhabited by eastern Slavs collectively known as Rus’. At that time and many centuries thereafter there was no such notion as Ukraine. Kievan Rus’ stretched from almost the Black Sea to almost the Baltic Sea. In due time, as everywhere in medieval Europe, it split into a number of rivalling principalities, and in the 13th century it was partially overridden by Tartars, who subjugated most of it. The Tartars neither changed the social structure nor the Christian religion of Rus’; they were satisfied with levying an annual tribute and deciding which of the princes was to occupy the senior position among other princes.
Much though it may come as a surprise, Lithuania – the country that on today’s political maps looks like a teeny-weeny speck of territory – by means of conquest or dynastic marriages extended its leverage over much of the weakened Rus’, including Smolensk and Kiev. At that time the Polish reunited kingdom (which comprised only two of the five original provinces. i.e., Greater Poland and Lesser Poland) also took advantage of the weakened Rus’ and incorporated a small chunk of it, centered around the town of Lvov, which might be viewed as an attempt to compensate territorially for the provinces lost to Germans. As towards the end of the 14th century Poland and Lithuania felt threatened by the Teutonic Order (see above), their elites came up with an idea of forming a political union. The Lithuanian grand duke became simultaneously a Polish king, and later successfully led the combined Polish-Lithuanian (or rather, Russian) troops against the Teutonic Knights, while his successors on the throne subjugated the Order and incorporated a part of its territory into the Polish Crown: the Order was secularised, made dependent on Poland, and so began the history of modern (German) Prussia.
The union between Poland and Lithuania or between the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was later renewed and strengthened a few times, eventually taking on the form of the body politic known in history as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which extended from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, from almost the River Oder to almost Moscow. At its territorial peak it covered an area of one million square kilometers. Ethnically or demographically it was a sight to behold!
Though it was called the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, in the mid-17th century Poles made up 40% of the whole population of 11 million, while the name Lithuanian did not reflect reality at all: almost all the remaining millions of people were Russians: present-day Belorusians and Ukrainians. The elites of the latter usually underwent Polonization and conversion to Catholicism, while the lower classes remained Russian and Orthodox Christian. Naturally, religious tolerance was the prime political requirement for such a structure to survive. How could 40 or so percent of Polish Catholics wage war against at least 50% of Orthodox Christians? That this society also comprised Protestants goes without saying: they too – and the Jews – enjoyed tolerance. The principle of tolerance led to the principle of personal freedom (true, at that time limited to the gentry), which in turn rendered royal or central authority weak. Add to it the magnates – something like present-day billionaires – with their private armies and income, both surpassing those of the state and you have the whole picture.
So long as the neighbours were relatively weak, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth – a political giant with feet of clay – continued to function and even operated relatively successfully on the international arena. The moment, however, there rose a European superpower while the Commonwealth experienced a crisis, it was prone to collapsing and disintegration. Sweden was such a European power (think of the Thirty Years’ War), whose troops regularly marched across Germany, the Baltic Seaboard and, in mid-17th century, across almost the whole of Poland. As could be expected, Polish protestants or German protestants domiciled in Poland were more than happy to either oblige the Swedes or at least refrain from putting up a fight. Encouraged by the collapse of the state, neighbouring Russia, an emerging political player, moved westwards. Russian/Ukrainian minorities (where the word minority is a misnomer) rose up and were naturally supported by Muscovy. Magnates cared more about preserving their property than laying down their lives for their country and many of them betrayed their king.
Poland barely survived this first frontal assault, and it never regained its previous might. She lost some of the territories (among others, Poland released its control over German Prussia), while the many acts of treason committed by ethnic and religious minorities turned Catholic Poles against their Protestant co-citizens, against Jews and Orthodox Christians. This in turn resulted in prosecutions for those who helped the neighbouring states – Protestant Prussia and Orthodox Russia – which were more than happy to seize the opportunity of exploiting internal religious tensions in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Then, at the end of the 18th century – just at the time of the French Revolution and American War of Independence – the three neighbours of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth – Prussia (which by now comprised East Prussia, West Pomerania and Silesia along with Brandenburg), Russia and Austria – acting in cahoots, dismembered the state and incorporated its parts into their countries. There was a Poland no more. The nation ceased to exist. The nation?
Enrichment by diversity
That’s how this word is understood in the English-speaking world: you draw a border line, you give a name to the enclosed territory and, lo and behold, you have created a nation. Yet, such artificial structures are by no means nations. At the time when we had two Germanies, did we have two German nations? Did they miraculously merge to create a new one after East Germany had been swallowed by West Germany? That the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was not a nation in the true ethnic sense of the word is easy to prove. The whole of the 19th, i.e., the period when Poland ceased to exist politically, was marked by numerous uprisings against the occupying countries: two against Russia, two against Prussia and one against Austria. Insurrectionists operated almost exclusively on territories that were ethnically majority Polish. No attempts at involving Russian speaking communities in the uprising against Russia were even remotely successful. There was no loyalty to the once glorious Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth on the part of – to use today’s terms – Ukrainians or Belorusians, let alone Jews or Germans. Polish intellectuals and political activists stubbornly daydreamed about recreating Poland in her previous borders, with millions of Belorusians and Ukrainians, and stubbornly refused to see reality: Belorusians and Ukrainians did not wish to be part of Poland. Jews, naturally, were indifferent whether they were under the rule of a Polish king or a Russian tsar or a German kaiser: none of them was one of their own.
That was the proof of the pudding: a nation is a community that is related by blood, common ancestry, the resultant language, faith and culture. Other ethnicities within the same country are at best good-weather friends. A German, a Ukrainian, a Jew could be proud of being a subject of the Polish-Lithuanian Kingdom so long as it benefited him, so long as the Kingdom was powerful. The moment it became weak or collapsed…
The respective powers that dismembered the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth accepted large numbers of Poles and Jews with precisely the same problems that the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had had with its minorities. Take Poles in Russia in the cross-hairs. At first they did not have any autonomy. Then came the Napoleonic Wars. As could be expected, Poles pinned a great hope on the French Emperor.: they joined the ranks of his armies and fought under his command in diverse places such as Spain and Russia. In order to placate the Poles after the Napoleonic Wars had come to an end, Austria, Prussia and Russia decided to re-create a makeshift Poland: there emerged the Grand Duchy of Posen (territory of Greater Poland) under Prussian rule, the Republic of Cracow (semi-independent but for all practical purposes under Austrian rule), and the Kingdom of Poland (Mazovia) with a very small territory, under Russian rule. Of the three entities, the Kingdom of Poland enjoyed almost full sovereignty: it had its small army and its own currency, it had a parliament and preserved the national language along with the national symbols of statehood. It could not pursue foreign policy and Russia’s tsar was at the same time the Polish king. It was precisely in this part of Poland that the first and the biggest uprising broke out, crushed after ten months of intense fighting, with the resultant significant reduction of the autonomy.
Poles under Russian rule coalesced haphazardly with Russian society, but only up to a point. Many studied in Petersburg, Moscow or Kiev, and some made a career in the Russian army. Assimilation and integration to the hilt, one might say. No. Some of the Poles would clandestinely do political work, getting involved in anti-Russian conspiracy and prepared the nation for yet another uprising. When it broke out within thirty two years of the previous one, it was headed by high-ranking Polish officers of the… Russian army who, if caught, were shot or hanged as traitors. One of them – Zygmunt Sierakowski (shyeh-rah-KAW-vskee) was an officer of the General Staff (!) in St Petersburg: he had been tasked with the preparation of a new penal code for the Russian army and sent for that purpose to visit with the corresponding military institutions in Prussia, France and England (what enormous trust was put in him!); when the 1863–64 insurrection broke out, he joined. Romuald Traugutt, the longest dictator of the 1863–64 uprising, had been a colonel in the Russian army, fighting with distinction against the French and the English during the Crimean War!
Now, obviously not all Poles conspired against the Russian state. Some remained loyal, some were paralyzed by fear, some did not believe in the success of an insurrection. However, Russians could never figure out who was about to betray them and when. They wanted Poles (and other nationalities) to assimilate or integrate; hence, they did not prevent the alien element from joining the highest ranks of the army or administration. Yet, even those seemingly loyal Poles would have quickly reversed course if an uprising had succeeded.
The same goes for Jews, the inheritance that Russia received from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Their very large numbers and their roles as money lenders, traders and owners of village inns, put the Russian authorities on guard. They recognised especially the deleterious impact that Jews had on the peasantry (selling alcoholic beverages and giving loans), which led the authorities to the establishment of the Pale of Settlement. This caused a lot of resentment among Jews and their later strong participation in the revolutionary movement. Assimilation or integration failed completely: the three probably most feared names of the Bolshevik Revolution were those of Joseph Stalin (Georgian), Leo Trotsky (Jewish) and Felix Dzerzhinsky (Polish). Though they and company saved the empire, they destroyed Russianness and Orthodox Christianity to a very great extent.
Poland after 1945 became nationally and religiously monolithic: White, Polish, and Catholic – a thorn in the flesh of the Western liberals. Sadly, lately millions of Ukrainians have made their way to Poland, with the majority of the Polish nation being entirely oblivious to its past and supporting the immigration, especially to spite hated Russians. I have the gut feeling that the same stories will repeat themselves:  numerous Ukrainian uprisings during the time of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth,  terrorist attacks in inter-war Poland, peaking in the assassination of the Polish minister of internal affairs in 1935 by a Ukrainian terrorist, and  the Volhynia massacre of 1943 (i.e., mass killings of Poles by Ukrainians). All these events were characterized by enormous bloodbaths, savagery and ruthlessness.
 German mass immigration into Silesia and Pomerania occurring at the invitation of Polish rulers brought about the total Germanization of these territories and their gradual estrangement from Poland. Absolutely no war was needed for those territories to be lost and there was none. One might think about the southern states of the United States in this respect with their ever increasing Spanish-speaking population.
 The territorial and demographic compensation when Poland joined vast eastern territories to its ethnic core was a kind of accepting a huge influx of immigrants (by way of shifting borders eastward) and resulted in a bizarre composition of the otherwise Polish (and Lithuanian) state in which aliens – i.e. the Russian speaking population – were the majority. This led to frequent and bloody internal upheavals and the intervention of the neighbours who acted in the interests of their ethnic kith and kin. Once these Russian territories had been lopped off from Poland, they never returned under her rule and no national uprising ever took place there. No assimilation or integration worked.
 A large Jewish minority was at best indifferent to the fate of their adopted homeland and one should not even wonder why this might be. Why should they?
 The huge Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth disappeared from political maps of Europe within less than 25 years (1772–1795), and remained politically subjugated for 123 years, while small, tiny German or Italian states continued to exist and enjoyed sovereignty by virtue of the ethnic coherence of each.
 The then billionaires – i.e., magnates, owners of land, villages and small towns – driven by greed made successivePolish monarchs expand state territory in order for the former to gain new land and labour. That this weakened the ethnic and religious cohesiveness of the state did not bother them in the least.
 Ethnic and religious diversity entailed excessive tolerance, which in turn entailed excessive liberalism – to use the modern term – and excessive freedom of an individual, which in the long run wreaked havoc with the state structure and brought about its disintegration. Of the three neighbouring European powers that partitioned Poland, two – Prussia and Russia – were ethnically relatively homogeneous, and so they have survived in one form or another till this day (Imperial Germany, Weimar Germany, the Third Reich, East/West Germany, Federal Germany; Imperial Russia, Soviet Russia, the Russian Federation); the multinational third power – the Habsburg Monarchy – lived for a time and inevitably disintegrated at the end of World War One. The current European Union is a recreation of the Habsburg monarchy on a grander scale (27 nations as opposed to 10), and so its fate is similarly sealed.
 Assimilation or integration works up to a point under favorable circumstances and if it is enforced. Then, unavoidably, the ethnic differences come to the fore. To take one example from the text above: both Russians within the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth remained Russian and eventually left the Commonwealth, and Poles within the Russian Empire remained Polish and worked towards the destruction of Russia.