Wladyslaw Gomulka was born in Krosno, Poland, in 1905. He joined the Communist Party and became a local trade union leader.
Poland was invaded by the German Army in September 1939. During the Second World War Gomulka was active in the resistance against the Germans and took part in the fighting in Warsaw. In 1943 he became general secretary of the outlawed Communist Party.
In June 1944 the Red Army launched a new offensive in Poland. The offensive was carried out on four fronts and the German forces were unable to stop the sweeping Soviet advance.
In February, 1945, Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt held a conference in Yalta in the Crimea. With Soviet troops in most of Eastern Europe, Stalin was in a strong negotiating position. Roosevelt and Churchill tried hard to restrict post-war influence in this area but the only concession they could obtain was a promise that free elections would be held in these countries.
Poland was the main debating point. Stalin explained that throughout history Poland had either attacked Russia or had been used as a corridor through which other hostile countries invaded her. Only a strong, pro-Communist government in Poland would be able to guarantee the security of the Soviet Union. As a result of the conference the Allies withdrew their recognition for the Polish government-in-exile.
Joseph Stalin established a communist dominated coalition in Poland in 1945. Gomulka became vice-president in the new government. However, Gomulka resisted attempts to impose a Stalinist government on Poland. He was dismissed from office in 1948 when he gave his support to Josip Tito in Yugoslavia. He was arrested three years later and would have been executed but for Stalin's death in 1953.
During the 20th Party Congress in February, 1956, Nikita Khrushchev launched an attack on the rule of Joseph Stalin. He condemned the Great Purge and accused Stalin of abusing his power. He announced a change in policy and gave orders for the Soviet Union's political prisoners to be released.
Krushchev's de-Stalinzation policy encouraged people living in Eastern Europe to believe that he was willing to give them more independence from the Soviet Union. In June 1956 there was a massive anti-government and anti-Soviet demonstration in Poznan. The marchers, protesting against poor living standards, low wages and high taxes, were dispersed by Soviet tanks.
Nikita Khrushchev visited Poland and in October 1956 agreed that Gomulka should be given the post of first secretary of the Communist Party. Gomulka was told that as long as the Polish government supported the Soviet Union in foreign affairs they could develop their own domestic policies.
Gomulka liberalized the communist system in Poland. Only 10 per cent of farmland was collectivized and the country traded extensively with capitalist countries in Western Europe.
In 1970 Poland experienced an economic crisis. After riots took place Gomulka resigned from office and was replaced by Edward Gierek.