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Poland, which is officially named the Republic of Poland, is a central European sovereign state. The capital is Warsaw. Poland is bordered on the northeast by Lithuania and Belarus, on the east by Ukraine, on the southwest by Slovakia and the Czech Republic, and on the west by Germany. The Baltic Sea is northwest of the country. Polish is the official language. Nearly 88% of the country is Roman Catholic.

The first documented ruler, Mieszko I, accepted Christianity in 966 when he was baptized in a baptism ceremony which would be called the Baptism of Poland, considered by historians to be the beginning of Polish statehood. However, while the rulers accepted Christ, the regular people remained with their traditional religion, Slavic paganism, so the transition was the move from a Slavic pagan society to a Christian one was a rocky ride.

In 1032 or thereabouts, after almost four centuries of Christianization, the pagans in Poland had had enough. Although it is dubbed the "Pagan Rebellion," it was not over just a pagan reaction against Christianity. It was also an uprising against landowners and feudalism. There was also a little bit of a struggle between the king and a section of nobility. So, it was both a political and pagan revolution.

The rebellion went on for five years, and by the time it was over, the Polish countryside was in ruins, the Roman Catholic Church lost numerous churches and the treasures within them, and numerous priests were killed. The kingdom was in chaos. Historians mark this as the end of the earliest period of Polish history.

One of the many heroic eras of Poland was during World War II, in fact, it was the very beginning of that war, in 1939.

Fast forward 104 years to September 1, 1939 to Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland from the north, south, and west. On the 17th of September, the Soviet Red Army joined in with an invasion of their own, invading from the east. Germany had deployed 1,200 planed. Land fighting was unceasing. The bombardment was overwhelming. On September 28, the Poles surrendered, and the next day, more than 140,000 Polish soldiers were taken as prisoners of war. 18,000 Warsaw residents had died in the siege, 40% of the buildings were severely damaged and unusable, and 10% were utterly destroyed.

The invasion went on October 6, when both armies gained full control of the country. Germany annexed western Poland, and the Soviets divvied their portion of Poland between their territories: Belarus and Ukraine. And while they were both busy, a collective of underground resistance groups founded the Polish Underground State throughout what used to be their country.

In early November, two Polish soldiers founded the Secret Polish Army (Tajna Armia Polska or TAP), and their missions were throughout the major cities of central Poland. By 1940, there were more than 8,000 men in TAP. They were loyal to the government-in-exile.

At one point in 1940, Witold Pilecki, a cofounder of the Home Army, hatched a plan to go into Auschwitz concentration camp, gather intelligence about the camp, and organize prisoners there into an offshoot resistance organization. The Home Army approved of the plan and gave him an ID card, after which he went out during what he knew was a street roundup in Warsaw. He was caught by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz. He was very successful in his organizing the prisoners' underground group, called ZOW. He wrote Witold's Report, which was the first comprehensive Allied intel report on Auschwitz and about the Holocaust, keeping the Allies abreast of the goings-on in Poland. He escaped in 1943, after two and a half years, just in time to take part in the Warsaw Uprising. He was later arrested and executed for espionage in 1948. He remains one of Poland's most recognized heroes.

But not all resistance heroes are celebrated. Many of them were just courageous people dedicated to their country and countrymen. They carried out sabotage missions in occupied Poland. The youth resistance organization AK Wawer, drew graffiti reminding people of the Water Massacre, in which the Nazis executed 107 Poles. Their rendition of an anchor became the symbol of the resistance in Poland.

In June of 1942. four Poles escaped from Auschwitz wearing SS uniforms, complete with rifles. They stole a Steyr 220 automobile belonging to Rudolf Hess, and drove right out the main gate. They had with them a smuggled report from Witold Pilecki with detailed information about the Holocaust. They were never captured.

The Underground destroyed German outposts, liberated those they could from Auscwitz, organized and fought in uprisings, damaged trains, sabotaged all manner of weapons and factories, and executed assassinations of Nazi officials who had been sentenced by the Special Courts of the Polish Underground for crimes they had committed against Polish citizens.



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