If Only…

Another Time, Another Warsaw
Another Time, Another Warsaw

… the Second World War would have never taken place. What would have happened? What would Poland be like now? I came across an interesting article by Piotr Gursztyn in Dziennik who probably fancies himself as a writer of alternate history. In it, he paints an interesting picture of a Poland untouched by war but ravaged by a host of other problems. The post below is based loosely on this article. The year is 2009. To the left of Poland we find the German Third Reich, to the right of Poland we find the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Europe is not a happy place, constant bickering, skirmishes and trans-border terrorism is the norm.

Złoczów, Eastern Poland
Złoczów, Eastern Poland

Chamberlain’s words “peace in our time” could not be further from the truth. Thankfully, the 1930s and 40s passed without incident, although Germany managed to take most of Czechia as well as Danzig. The USSR put pressure on Poland to relinquish its eastern territories to the Ukrainian SSR but their territorial demands were not met, although Poland was forced into a more conciliatory stance regarding the Kresy turning itself into a federative republic and the Lwów, Stanisławów and Tarnopol Provinces into Autonomous Provinces (together with the already Autonomous Province of Silesia).

Kaunas, Capital of Lithuania
Kaunas, Capital of Lithuania

Poland’s third largest city is Lwów, its sixth largest city is Wilno. The Jan Kazimierz University of Lwów is Poland’s most prestigious university pushing the University of  Warsaw and the Jagiellonian University of Kraków into second and third place respectively. Poland’s holiday-makers keep away from the Baltic Coast and the gigantic port in sprawling Gdynia. Poles prefer to travel to the Wilno Lakes (the Mazurian Lakelands are in Germany) or to the wildlands of Czarnohora near the Romanian border.

Stettin, Foreign City
Stettin, Foreign City

International scholars flock to Warsaw, Lwów and Wilno for conferences in mathematics, logic and philosophy which Poland excels in, as well as to make use of the wonderful libraries, archives and academic know-how housed in these three centres of excellence. Poland is one of Europe’s largest countries with a population of 61 million, however, it is a country divided, with little love lost between Poles, Jews, Ukrainians, Belarusians and Germans. Poland is a state where only 60% of the population is Polish.

Königsberg, Prussian Capital
Königsberg, Prussian Capital

Foreign politicians and commentators speak of a ‘powerful Poland’ and ‘Polish pride’, ‘Polish strength’ and ‘Polish power’ yet they also talk of ‘Polish arrogance’, ‘Polish regional hegemony’ and the ‘Polish patchwork’. Patchwork? Poland is a country marked by huge differences. East and west are economically worlds apart. Poland’s successive nationalist governments have done little to help incorporate the minorities. Jews, Ukrainians and Belarusians belong to very different social groups. Poland forever seems to be on the verge of social collapse. The Ukrainian terrorism of the 1950s has subsided, the anti-Jewish violence of the 1960s has stopped but without a long-term vision, the future for Poland does not look bright.

22 thoughts on “If Only…

  1. Oups ! Your journalist didn’t think of impact of international (and recurring) campaigns against minorities difficulties beginning in the sixties and until the nineties … that helped even in South African changes …

  2. Like I said, it’s alternate history (or historical fiction, if you prefer). The good thing about it is that it opens up discussions – like your own point. 🙂

  3. it’s hard to imagine such a world… ww2 was the single most defining event of the last century and its consequences are still visible, its legacy is still remembered. what makes answering this question even harder, and a world without WWII even a bigger abstraction is the fact that one does not know if in such a world would be hitler? or would … Read Morethere be A hitler? and what about the build-up of pre-war tensions and the warmongering tendencies which preceded WWII and made it merely a matter of time. if not, would there be another big event which would bring us to the brink of global war and later on would bring us as a collective of earth’s peoples back together providing us with a moment of clarity, a long look at the mirror and a reflection upon ourselves which would later on give foundation to our unity possibly even as a planet-nation in a future we cannot even conceive yet. but on a more practical note i would have to bet that without the WWII, provided the war tendencies would be …like they were, during the cold war the world would no doubt be entangled in a global conflict. and maybe, just maybe, the cuban crisis would not end that happily making the war i am talking about a nuclear one which would ravage our planet making large portions of it inhabitable. the death toll, when one factors in the potential and bound-to-… Read Moreoccur cancer illnesses would surely be higher than that of WWII (impossible as it may seem). the price would have been steeper. and Poland? i think that without NATO and the EU, trapped between hitler on one side and stalin on the other, despite its success in 1920, would again be robbed of its independence fighting the lonely fight with the rest of Europe watching and standing idly by. because without WWII Poland would never get the chance to be a part of such a big and trustworthy alliance like NATO and later on – the EU.
    but maaan, Warsaw would definitely be beautiful. to still have Lwów and Wilno in our borders has been always a dream of mine.
    about Dziennik’s alternative reality – i see to big problems. one is the already mentioned social divide which could make Poland the second Yugoslavia. second is the fact that without Silesia (Poland’s pre WWII borders did not encompass Silesia, no?) and with the rural Kresy and the rest of the Eastern territories we’ve lost to the USSR we would find it very much harder to progress economically.

  4. Thanks for the comment. Very interesting. There are SO many things to factor in which makes historical fiction all the more… fictional. Yes, without WWII a bigger conflict would have probably had to happen. Europe was heading for chaos what with all the nationalists in power. Perhaps, WWII (or a ‘big’ war) had to happen to bring peace. Perhaps not…
    Who knows?

  5. Depends what you mean – where would the cut-off point be for ‘no WW2’. Would the aftermath of WW1 be treated differently with Germany less harshly dealt with? Or would the appeasement process cease sooner and decisive action taken which would have stopped Mr Hitler in his tracks? So, a smaller war to stop a massive one…
    …or would this just have delayed the inevitable with tensions arising in any case and reaching a critical mass.
    All the subsidiary questions re ‘progress’ – when would the jet engine be used commercially. Nuclear capabilities – when and where would these appear…
    Good question – it’ll put me off work all day!

  6. Jed-man! Nice to hear from you. 🙂
    Referring to the above article, methinks that all would continue as our own version of history up to September 1939 but a period of détente in Central Europe would allow things to fizzle out, which of course would not mean there wouldn’t be any conflict because, at the time, conflict was nigh on inevitable. But things could have gone differently. Germany could have carved up more of Czechoslovakia and taken Gdańsk, England and France could have come down harder on Herr Hitler.

    There was a computer simulation done a few years ago on the most likely outcome of the war. I think you’ll find it in “Critical Mass”. According to the simulation, Europe would have split into two camps in 1939: Germany, Poland, England on one side, the USSR on the other. Bizarre, eh?

  7. Powerful groups in the US and the UK, including Charles Lindbergh, Henry Ford, and Edward the Something would have been all to happy to join forces with the Nazis in order to rid the world of Jews and Communists.

    For a very interesting piece of ‘alternative history’ read Philip Roth’s novel “The Plot Against America.” Spookily plausible.

  8. … not yet read Critical Mass ! so don’t know what the assumptions and the logic of his thought … on the top of my head, provided that several deep opinion trends were interacting in the France of the late 30′(german hatred shared among secular and religious, deeply rooted in rural area and as well in industrial ones, a bunch of romantic revolutionary, socialists and rad-socialists not fond of Staline, a bunch of prosoviet communists and a better Hitler than the Front Populaire (popular front) component), a voluntary alliance with USSR was unlikely, due to combination of religious component and non pro-soviet left wing. Due to the above mentionned deeply rooted anti-germanism, same for a franco-german alliance.

  9. … not a physicist, but my question is how does Ball affects less or more importance to one trend or another. For the French case, if one decides that the importance of pro-soviet communists (or better Hitler than Front Populaire trend) was the highest, the computer would probably have concluded to an alliance with USSR (or Germany)… It depends all on the way the simulation is fed and the way data are processed … and I’m a (bloody damned) curious and a hair-splitter ! (;-D No offense !

  10. I’ve to admit that I’m not one of those people who keep thinking ‘what would’ve happened if something else had happened’ etc. Maybe it’s just that I’m totally down-to-Earth, and, instead of ruminating on the past, I prefer planning the future…However, much to may surprise, I find this article interesting. It enables me to imagine how Polish culture would look like and how different it would be from what we have now. I’ve got the feeling we would be much more Eastern than Western… 🙂

  11. I also read the topic with interest, as it makes us think of the people, who gave us freedom and who successfully fought to save such Poland as we can see and experience now. Having read just the very beginning, I started wondering whether the war was needed. Before, I had always thought that all wars are not neccesary, that they all were useless and helpless and that they happened only because of some stupid and heartless identities, who weren’t able to feel any compasion and didn’t know what emphaty was. But, if there are such people, there also must be some conflicts. If there had been no brave people who wanted to defend their nations, the world would have probably been just the place of evil and suffering, caused by those bad identities. Thanks to people, who devoted their lifes to fight for Poland, we can live in such conditions and not others. Although every war brought unimaginable suffering and tragedies and we might think it was not needed at all, but on the other hand, if it didn’t happen, how would our life look like? Probably not better.

  12. Ania we would probably speak German and work in their factories. That is what usually happens to conquered nations. Sad truth is that Russia and Germany managed to keep post-war weakened Poland under their economical and political influence. This is were we are now, without political and economical autonomy(for now it is only an illusion of autonomy). I am afraid active resistance during the war hasn’t changed the course of history. Poland has been sold out:( As you see our current government only proves that ambitious, geopolitically and geoeconomically conscious political stronghold in Poland is just an beautiful dream.. for now.

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