Polish support was sought by both the Allies and the Central Powers in World War I. The Allies announced as one of their war aims the re-establishment of an independent Polish state. The Germans, occupying the country with the Austrians after driving out the Russian armies, set up a Polish Government on 5 November 1916 in an effort to gain the favor of the nationalists. The Allied offer had a greater appeal to the Poles, and the Polish National Committee in Paris, the strongest exile group, under Ignace Paderewski, identified itself with the Allies.
The new Polish state commenced its existence in the midst of ruin and poverty following World War I. Its territory had been the scene of heavy fighting between the Central Powers and the Russians in the opening stages of World War I, and the German and Austrian occupation forces had systematically exploited the country in the several years that followed. The end of the war found Poland’s factories destroyed or idle, its livestock decimated, and the nation’s economy in a state of chaos.
But in the intervening years between world wars, Poland recovered, at least somewhat. At the same time, however, Adolph Hitler — Austrian by birth and an enlisted soldier during World War I, rose to power in Germany. More than anything else, Hitler’s rise was attributed to the conditions imposed on Germany following the first World War — reparations, drastic limitations in military capabilities, and a general neutering of German patriotism.
Hitler’s National Socialist regime quickly assumed complete control over Germany’s national life and future. A dictatorship was created and opposition suppressed. An extensive armaments program, expansion of the small armed force permitted the Reich under the treaty, and public construction work brought Germany a measure of economic recovery and improved the country’s military posture. Germany soon regained a semblance of the position it had held as a European power before its defeat in 1918.
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