The early 1500s brought in the Renaissance and, despite the smaller size of the
kingdom, became one of Poland's most prosperous times.
The country became a destination for scholars and businessmen and had more Jews
within its boundaries than the rest of Europe combined by
1600. Also during this time, in 1569 the capital was moved to Warsaw, which marked
the beginning of instability and decline, first signified by the
Swedish invasion in 1655, then in the late 1700s the country was partitioned
by their three neighbors, Russia, Prussia, and
Austria. Each part of Poland progressed according to their occupier. The
lands under the rule of the Austrians were free to trade and continue a fairly Polish
lifestyle, while at the other extreme, the Russians forced the Russian language
and repressive economic laws on their Polish territories.
World War I's eastern front was almost entirely fought on Polish
soil as the war pitted the Russians against the
Germans and Austrians, whose land met in what was
formerly Poland. The Poles were recruited into armies and forced to fight, but it
seems only the Poles in the Austrian-controlled region liked their occupier enough
to actually fight for them. As the war came to a conclusion, Polish lobbyists in
the U.S.A. convinced the winning allies
to recreate a Polish state in 1918.
The interwar period consisted of trying to become politically and economically stable,
but as this was still a distant reality, Poland found itself
in between the Soviet Union and Germany, who were ready
to invade. In 1939 Germany invaded Poland and World War II began. Poland found
itself being "cleansed" of its people; both the Jews and the intellectuals
who the Germans viewed as a threat. Nearly every Jew in Poland was killed in death
camps and many more ethnic Poles were killed there as well, while the Soviets shipped
still additional Poles to their Gulag, many of which is in addition to the losses
on the battlefields, which in total cost the lives of six million people, or nearly
20% of Poland's population.