September 1, 1939 is a date we all know and remember because it marked the beginning of World War II. Nazi Germany attacked Poland by land, sea and air. What not everyone remembers is that a few days later, on September 17 of the same year, the Soviet Union invaded the country from the east. Poland was the victim of the secret agreement reached by Hitler and Stalin with the intent to make it disappear for the second time in its history and divide it between the two powers.

The heroic resistance of the Polish patriots defending their independence and territory from their voracious neighbors was short-lived. And the non-aggression pact signed by the chancellors of Germany and the Soviet Union on August 23, 1939 - known as the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact – became pure paper with the German attack and invasion of Soviet soil in the so-called Operation Barbarossa, which began on Sunday, June 22, 1941.

Germany ended up ruling Poland until the liberation in 1945 by the Red Army. What remained for history were the images of Hitler parading through the streets of Warsaw. And then the horror, the greatest horror in living memory, in the concentration and extermination camps opened by the Germans.

Although Poland was reborn as a state in 1945, it came under the Soviet sphere of influence in the division of Europe agreed at Yalta between February 4 and 11, 1945. It took 44 years before Poland became an independent country again with the fall of the Berlin Wall, but the deep resentment against Germans and Russians will remain for many more years. Cultivating memory is the best education for the new generations, and the Polish state has done this very well with national monuments, memorial plaques in the streets and spectacular museums that are visited every day by students accompanied by their teachers.

In addition to the Auschwitz and Birkenau camps near Krakow, which overwhelm and break the soul, the city of Gdansk is home to the World War II Museum opened in 2017, as well as the museum of the Solidarność movement inaugurated in 2014. In 2004, commemorating its 60 years, the Warsaw Uprising was honored with its own museum in the capital. All of them are of breathtaking beauty, historical richness and drama. They allow for the revision of those years of suffering and bravery and help to understand the national character of that country.

Warsaw was razed to the ground and millions of human beings - elderly women, men and children - gassed, shot, starved and then incinerated in death camps. The Poles will never forget the millions of victims, nor will they forget those who directed the extermination: the regime of Nazi Germany.

There were two uprisings in the capital against the German occupation: in 1941, when the Jewish majority in the ghetto took up arms in a maximum act of heroism that led to its total destruction, and in 1944, when the main resistance front of Poland, known as AK (Armia Krajowa) or Home Army, formed by patriots without distinction of ideology or religion, tried to recover the territory and independence before the German defeat in Soviet territory and the rapid advance of the Red Army to the west.

Those were 63 days of fighting, destruction and death in which the Soviet Union watched without giving support to the Polish patriotic forces, while the western allies denied military aid in order not to antagonize Stalin. 65% of the city was destroyed, thousands killed, shot, murdered, including children, and thousands of women raped by German soldiers. The AK was unable to liberate its country, which would have given him the strength to maintain independence. However, this did not happen. The roots of Polish nationalism have their origin in episodes like the ones described above, where the Poles had to face, all by themselves, two powerful enemies who showed no mercy to their people.

Poland has an area of 312,690 km2 and a population of almost 40 million inhabitants. Its per capita income amounted to 15,656 dollars in 2020, with a public debt of 57.40% of its GDP. Its trade balance, that same year, reached a surplus of 12,028 million euros - equivalent to 2.3% of GDP - corresponding to exports of € 236,841.7 and imports of €224,813.7, ranking 21st in the world in terms of GDP. Poland formalized its accession to NATO in 1999 and is a full member of the European Union (EU) since May 1, 2004, as well as an important ally of the United States.

Due to the size of its population, Poland has a high number of votes and representation in EU bodies. It shows a strong presence in Europe as a result of its tragic history, the influence of the Catholic Church and the conservative and authoritarian stance of its government. Of particular relevance was the election of Karol Wojtyla as Pope John Paul II, who ruled the church between 1978 and 2005, the date of his death. The church became one of the bulwarks to affirm its national identity in the years of real socialism, channeling political protest from the workers' movements that began early on against the one-party system and crystallized with the formation of the Gdansk shipyard workers' union, Solidarność, whose leader Lech Walesa first won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983, to then occupy the presidency of the republic between 1990 and 1995.

Pope Wojtyla, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and former U.S. President Ronald Reagan composed the troika that was able to do what had seemed impossible: the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Warsaw Pact and the disintegration of the Soviet Union and other socialist countries in Europe. Today Poland, together with Hungary, is questioned within the European Union (EU) for their ultra-conservative policies and the growing authoritarianism of their rulers.

The Polish case is strongly influenced by the Kaczynski twins, Lech and Jaroslav, both conservatives and leaders of the Law and Justice party. The former succeeded Lech Walesa in 2005 and governed until his death in 2010 in a plane crash on Russian territory when he was on his way to participate in a tribute to the victims of Katyn, murdered by order of Stalin. Investigations totally ruled out Moscow's involvement in the event. His brother Jaroslav was prime minister from 2006-07, while his twin was president of the country. He failed to succeed him when he lost the second electoral round in 2010.

However today, despite not holding any political office, he is the most influential figure in political decisions. Declaredly conservative on value issues such as abortion, homosexual marriage, or euthanasia, he is a critic of EU policies.

The current head of government Mateusz Morawiecki, also from the Law and Justice party, has an outstanding professional resume and has held government positions including deputy prime minister, minister of economic development and minister of finance. However, it is an open secret that the government is being managed from the shadows because of Kuczynski's influence. His divergences with EU policies are becoming more and more serious as a result of his attempt to impose Polish law over EU law - which is contrary to European law - and has led the EU to threatening Poland with cutting off economic aid or punishing it with fines in the millions of dollars. Even more serious is that the country jeopardizes the efforts made at building the super legal structure of 27 countries.

For the more liberal governments of the EU, Poland has become an uncomfortable and provocative partner that threatens stability but cannot be abandoned. Towards the Hungarian government headed by Viktor Orban, Poland shows great affinity on value issues and shares its criticism of Brussels, which they accuse of seeking to monopolize power. In addition, they are united by their resolute rejection of immigration. The Polish parliament has just approved the construction of a wall on its eastern border with Belarus, 100 kilometers long, at a cost of just over 400 million dollars.

It is clear that the authorities, with significant support from the population, do not want multiculturalism, as is the case in large Western cities. They seek to maintain a "homogeneous" society, a position that seems to be shared by other Eastern European countries where people are also unwilling to open their borders to immigrants from Afghanistan, Africa or the Maghreb.

It is curious that Poland, with millions of emigrants in the United States, Germany and other countries, does not want to open the country in a controlled manner to those who need it. It is an issue that will continue to put political tension on the EU agenda. The Poles themselves know very well that there is no possibility of leaving - as did the UK - the common house which has brought them so many political and economic benefits.

The success and popular support of the current Polish government, along with correctly reading the national identity feelings of the voters, is due to the economic policies: timely and generous aid delivered especially in the rural sectors. The new generations are the ones who will drive a future change in the country. The religious fervor no longer exists, as will be demonstrated by the latest census, which is currently underway and whose first results seem to show a move away from the Catholic Church and value conservatism.

Ultimately, Polish society and the new voters will indicate the political course, strongly influenced by what is happening in neighboring countries, the challenges of climate change, and the advantages of being an important partner within the EU.