Few countries suffered as much as Poland during the Second World War. Historically a country that had undergone numerous border changes, losses of territory (3 forced partitions in 23 years in the late 1700s!) and caught between two countries with strong ideologues of such differences that an alliance between them would seem absurd if it wasn’t for the conniving geopolitical machinations of German and Russian foreign policies. When German forces invaded on the 1st September 1939, kick-starting the Second World War, Polish forces made a valiant effort to defend their country only for Soviet forces to invade from the east two weeks later. For the Poles there was to be five years of brutal occupation. Here’s a map showing German occupation of Central and Eastern Europe in 1942. Poland has been swallowed up by the Greater German Reich and the front-line is in Soviet territory with further advances to come before the horrors of Stalingrad and the turning of the war.
Grossdeutsches Reich und angrenzende gebiete, 1942. C1:5 (595)
The reason for this in a map blog? We’ve just started working on some material that’s been at the library for a while, the majority of which are maps of Poland which look at some point to have been removed from an atlas. There’s very little information on the majority of the maps, but some have been published by the Polish Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Shipping, based in London and part of the Polish Government in Exile while others come from the Światowy Związek Polaków z Zagranicy (World Union of Poles from Abroad), an organization set up in the mid 1930s to ensure Poles abroad still felt part of and could help and support the Polish Government. As quite a few of the maps are similar it’s fair to assume that the majority come from these sources. So far so good but the range of themes of the maps is surprising.
As well as maps of contemporary borders and population there are maps covering such diverse subjects as air routes between the wars by Polish Airways, maps on historical borders and territory, maps on the German occupation and maps giving information on industry, agriculture and architecture.
Why the range? It’s hard to be sure but the answer may lie in the fight that the Polish Government had to be recognized in the face of Soviet opposition and British and American Governments willing to give into Stalin’s demands as the cost of keeping the Soviets fighting the Germans before a Second Front could be opened in Western Europe. By creating maps showing changing borders the Government in Exile were hoping to show a legitimate reason for being the rightful possessors of not only a country based on pre-war boundaries but also the legitimate Government to run the country after the defeat of Germany. Take these maps, showing numerous Polish boundaries between 1001 and 1939, thus establishing a long history of a Poland being centred around the immediate pre-war state.
[Polish boundaries and territory changes, 1001 – 1939], 1945? C31 (561)
Polish frontiers in the course of history, C1:4 (204) 1940?
In an unusually colourful example the second map portrays a Poland that throughout history has grown and been a dominant part of East Europe. Turning the map over reveals it’s actually part of a postcard including defiant text on the role of Poland in Europe, ‘the first country to oppose Hitler’s “New Europe” and goes on to highlight Poland’s perilous situation at the start of the war, ‘the geographical position was, and is, incomparably difficult and dangerous…the map shows how unjust were the Polish frontiers after the last war. This fault is the reason for Poland’s position today. Only a powerful Poland can secure European equilibrium. Our deepest faith will ever be Poland must rise again!’ A postcard is an ideal medium to spread the message included, both in the map and text, a pre-digital age version of a tweet.
Here’s another example, one that combines the current situation in Poland and German aggression with a sense of historical Poland. This map is published by the Min. Informacja i Dokumentacja w Londynie.
Map of Eastern Poland, Baltic countries and the western part of U.S.S.R. showing German occupation and historic boundaries of Poland, 1943. C1:4 (201)
By creating maps showing such diverse themes shown in this blog the Government were promoting Polish culture, industry and tradition, and leading on from this a Polish identity, putting forward a strong argument for the continuing existence of Poland against Soviet aggression.
Polish airways in 1935, c1945. C1 (1128)
[Poland imposed over British Isles], C31 (562) 1943
To finish, a map that imposes over a map of the British Isles the outline of Poland according to 1938 boundaries. We have a few maps in the collection here at the Bodleian that does this (an earlier blog featured one of New Zealand). By imposing a country over another like this the cartographer hopes to draw comparisons between the two, in size and in, it’s imagined, a sense of both being long-established nations with traditions and histories, of a country that deserves to be treated equally.