Paris (1939–1940) Angers (1940) London (1940–1990)
Władysław Raczkiewicz (first)
Ryszard Kaczorowski (last)
The Polish government-in-exile, formally known as the Government of the Republic of Poland in exile (Polish: Rząd Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej na uchodźstwie), was the government in exile of Poland formed in the aftermath of the Invasion of Poland of September 1939, and the subsequent occupation of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, which brought to an end the Second Polish Republic.
Despite the occupation of Poland by hostile powers, the government-in-exile exerted considerable influence in Poland during World War II through the structures of the Polish Underground State and its military arm, the Armia Krajowa (Home Army) resistance. Abroad, under the authority of the government-in-exile, Polish military units that had escaped the occupation fought under their own commanders as part of Allied forces in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.
After the war, as the Polish territory came under the control of the People's Republic of Poland, a Soviet satellite state, the government-in-exile remained in existence, though largely unrecognized and without effective power. Only after the end of Communist rule in Poland did the government-in-exile formally pass on its responsibilities to the new government of the Third Polish Republic in December 1990.
The government-in-exile was based in France during 1939 and 1940, first in Paris and then in Angers. From 1940, following the Fall of France, the government moved to London, and remained in the United Kingdom until its dissolution in 1990.
On 17 September 1939, the President of the Polish Republic, Ignacy Mościcki, who was then in the small town of Kuty (now Ukraine) near the southern Polish border, issued a proclamation about his plan to transfer power and appointing Władysław Raczkiewicz, the Marshal of the Senate, as his successor. This was done in accordance with Article 24 of the Constitution of the Republic of Poland, adopted in April 1935, which provided as follows:
In event of war, the term of the President's office shall be prolonged until three months after the conclusion of peace; the President of the Republic shall then, by a special act promulgated in the Official Gazette, appoint his successor, in case the office falls vacant before the conclusion of peace. Should the President's successor assume office, the term of his office shall expire at the end of three months after the conclusion of peace.
It was not until 29th or 30th September 1939 that Mościcki resigned. Raczkiewicz, who was already in Paris, immediately took his constitutional oath at the Polish Embassy and became President of the Republic of Poland. He then appointed General Władysław Sikorski to be Prime Minister and, following Edward Rydz-Śmigły's stepping down, made Sikorski Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Armed Forces.
Most of the Polish Navy escaped to Britain, and tens of thousands of Polish soldiers and airmen escaped through Hungary and Romania or across the Baltic Sea to continue the fight in France. Many Poles subsequently took part in Allied operations in Norway (Narvik), France, the Battle of Britain, the Battle of the Atlantic, North Africa (notably Tobruk), Italy (notably at Cassino and Ancona), Arnhem, Wilhelmshaven and elsewhere beside other Allied forces. Polish citizens held captive in Soviet camps were released under the Sikorski–Mayski Agreement to form military units that would fight Nazi Germany under Allied command. Berling's Army formed in the Soviet Union in 1944 fought alongside and under the command of the Soviets. Even after the fall of Poland, Poland remained the third strongest Allied belligerent, after France and Britain.
The Polish government in exile, based first in Paris, then in Angers, France, where Władysław Raczkiewicz lived at the Château de Pignerolle near Angers from 2 December 1939 until June 1940. Escaping from France the government relocated to London, it was recognized by all the Allied governments. Politically, it was a coalition of the Polish Peasant Party, the Polish Socialist Party, the Labour Party and the National Party, although these parties maintained only a vestigial existence in the circumstances of war.
When Germany launched a war against the USSR in 1941, the Polish government in exile established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union against Hitlerism, but also in order to help Poles persecuted by the NKVD. On 12 August 1941 the Kremlin signed a one-time amnesty, extending to thousands of Polish soldiers who had been taken prisoner in 1939 by the Red Army in eastern Poland, including many Polish civilian prisoners and deportees entrapped in Siberia. The amnesty allowed the Poles to create eight military divisions known as the Anders Army. They were evacuated to Iran and the Middle East, where they were desperately needed by the British, hard pressed by Rommel's Afrika Korps. These Polish units formed the basis for the Polish II Corps, led by General Władysław Anders, which together with other, earlier-created Polish units fought alongside the Allies.
During the war, especially from 1942 on, the Polish government in exile provided the Allies with some of the earliest and most accurate accounts of the ongoing Holocaust of European Jews and, through its representatives, like the Foreign Minister Count Edward Raczyński and the courier of the Polish Underground movement, Jan Karski, called for action, without success, to stop it. The note the Foreign Minister, Count Edward Raczynski, sent on 10 December 1942 to the Governments of the United Nations was the first official denunciation by any Government of the mass extermination and of the nazi aim of total extermination of the Jewish population. It was also the first official document singling out the sufferings of European Jews as Jews and not only as citizens of their respective countries of origin. The note of 10 december 1942 and the Polish Governmnent efforts triggered the Declaration of the Allied Nations of 17 December 1942.
In April 1943, the Germans announced that they had discovered at Katyn Wood, near Smolensk, Russia, mass graves of 10,000 Polish officers (the German investigation later found 4,443 bodies) who had been taken prisoner in 1939 and murdered by the Soviets. The Soviet government said that the Germans had fabricated the discovery. The other Allied governments, for diplomatic reasons, formally accepted this; the Polish government in exile refused to do so.
Stalin then severed relations with the Polish government in exile. Since it was clear that it would be the Soviet Union, not the western Allies, who would liberate Poland from the Germans, this breach had fateful consequences for Poland. In an unfortunate coincidence, Sikorski, widely regarded as the most capable of the Polish exile leaders, was killed in an air crash at Gibraltar in July 1943. He was succeeded as head of the Polish government in exile by Stanisław Mikołajczyk.
During 1943 and 1944, the Allied leaders, particularly Winston Churchill, tried to bring about a resumption of talks between Stalin and the Polish government in exile. But these efforts broke down over several matters. One was the Katyń massacre (and others at Kalinin and Kharkiv). Another was Poland's postwar borders. Stalin insisted that the territories annexed by the Soviets in 1939, which had millions of Poles in addition to Ukrainian and Belarusian populations, should remain in Soviet hands, and that Poland should be compensated with lands to be annexed from Germany. Mikołajczyk, however, refused to compromise on the question of Poland's sovereignty over her prewar eastern territories. A third matter was Mikołajczyk's insistence that Stalin not set up a Communist government in postwar Poland.
Mikołajczyk and his colleagues in the Polish government-in-exile insisted on making a stand in the defense of Poland's pre-1939 eastern border (retaining its Kresy region) as a basis for the future Polish-Soviet border. However, this was a position that could not be defended in practice – Stalin was in occupation of the territory in question. The government-in-exile's refusal to accept the proposed new Polish borders infuriated the Allies, particularly Churchill, making them less inclined to oppose Stalin on issues of how Poland's postwar government would be structured. In the end, the exiles lost on both issues: Stalin annexed the eastern territories, and was able to impose the communist-dominated Provisional Government of the Republic of Poland as the legitimate authority of Poland. However, Poland preserved its status as an independent state, despite the arguments of some influential Communists, such as Wanda Wasilewska, in favor of Poland becoming a republic of the Soviet Union.
In November 1944, despite his mistrust of the Soviets, Mikołajczyk resigned to return to Poland and take office in the Provisional Government of National Unity, a new government established under the auspices of the Soviet occupation authorities comprising his faction and much of the old Provisional Government. Many Polish exiles opposed this action, believing that this government was a façade for the establishment of Communist rule in Poland. This view was later proven correct in 1947, when the Communist-dominated Democratic Bloc won a blatantly rigged election. The Communist-dominated bloc was credited with over 80 percent of the vote, a result that was only obtained through large-scale fraud. The opposition claimed it would have won in a landslide (as much as 80 percent, by some estimates) had the election been honest. Mikołajczyk, who would have likely become prime minister had the election been truly free, feared for his life and fled Poland in April 1947, this time never to return.
Meanwhile, the Polish government in exile had maintained its existence, but France on 29 June 1945, then the United States and United Kingdom on 5 July 1945 withdrew their recognition. The Polish Armed Forces in exile were disbanded in 1945, and most of their members, unable to safely return to Communist Poland, settled in other countries. The London Poles had to vacate the Polish embassy on Portland Place and were left only with the president's private residence at 43 Eaton Place. The government in exile became largely symbolic of continued resistance to foreign occupation of Poland, while retaining some important archives from prewar Poland. The Republic of Ireland, Francoist Spain and the Vatican City (until 1979) were the last countries to recognize the government in exile, though the Vatican – through Secretary of State Domenico Tardini – had withdrawn diplomatic privileges from the envoy of the Polish pre-war government in 1959.
In 1954, political differences led to a split in the ranks of the government in exile. One group, claiming to represent 80% of 500,000 anti-Communist Poles exiled since the war, was opposed to President August Zaleski's continuation in office when his seven-year term expired. It formed a Council of National Unity in July 1954, and set up a Council of Three to exercise the functions of head of state, comprising Tomasz Arciszewski, General Władysław Anders, and Edward Raczyński. Only after Zaleski's death in 1972 did the two factions reunite.
Some supporters of the government in exile eventually returned to Poland, such as Prime Minister Hugon Hanke in 1955 and his predecessor Stanisław Mackiewicz in 1956. The Soviet-installed government in Warsaw campaigned for the return of the exiles, promising decent and dignified employment in communist Polish administration and forgiveness of past transgressions.
Despite these setbacks, the government in exile continued in existence. When Soviet influence over Poland came to an end in 1989, there was still a president and a cabinet of eight meeting every two weeks in London, commanding the loyalty of about 150,000 Polish veterans and their descendants living in Britain, including 35,000 in London alone.
In December 1990, when Lech Wałęsa became the first post-Communist president of Poland since the war, he received the symbols of the Polish Republic (the presidential banner, the presidential and state seals, the presidential sashes, and the original text of the 1935 Constitution) from the last president of the government in exile, Ryszard Kaczorowski. In 1992, military medals and other decorations awarded by the government in exile were officially recognized in Poland.