Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Underground education in Poland during World War II
After the Polish defeat in the Polish Defence War of 1939 and the subsequent German occupation of most of Polish territory, Poland was divided onto the areas directly incorporated into the Reich and the General Gouvernment. Despite administrative divisions, on all of Polish territory all education for non-Germans was abolished. According to Nazi racial theories the Slavs needed no higher education and the only schools that remained opened were trade schools and courses for factory workers. German racist theories assumed that no education of Poles was needed and the whole nation was to be turned into uneducated serfs of the German race. Education in Polish was banned and punished with death.
All institutions of higher education were closed. Their equipment and most of the laboratories were taken to Germany and divided among the German universities while the buildings were turned into offices and military barracks.
However, many professors organized the so-called "Secret Universities" all around the country. Those who survived the A-B Action and were not sent to concentration camps actively started to give lectures to small groups in private apartments. The attendants were constantly risking deconspiration and death. However, the net of underground faculties spread rapidly and by 1944 there were more than 300 lecturers and 3 500 students at various courses on the Warsaw University alone.
The main universities included the University of Lwów , Warsaw University, Stefan Batory University in Wilno and Jagiellonian University in Kraków. Also, a new University of Western Lands (Uniwersytet Ziem Zachodnich) was created in Warsaw, with branches in Kielce, Jędrzejów , Częstochowa and Milanówek . The latter university was composed mostly of the professors of Adam Mickiewicz University of Poznań and included 17 different units, among them the faculty of medicine and surgery.
Almost 10 000 students received masters degree at the secret universities and several hundred others received doctorates. Secret printing houses that sprung up across Poland shortly after the war started, provided the facilities of secret learning with handbooks and scripts.
Also, the professors organized a net of secret high schools, trade schools and special courses of forbidden subjects: Polish language, History of Poland and Geography. A special case were the secret talmudic schools organized in Ghettos. Until 1944 there were more than a million of secret high school students in Poland. In addition, at least 18 000 students passed their final school exams and received their certificates. This led to a bizarre situation when students of formally non-existent colleges entered formally non-existent universities. Most of certificates were issued on pre-war forms with the dates forged to indicate either 1938 or 1939 and were later accepted by post-war Polish universities.
Also, there was a net of secret military colleges in most major cities. Until 1944 most of Armia Krajowa regiments had their military schools for NCOs while the regional headquarters organized officer courses and special training. Also the Szare Szeregi opened its own NCO school in Warsaw nick-named Agricola .
The purposes of the secret learning were to prepare new cadres for the post-war reconstruction of Poland and to counter the German threat of extermination of all the Polish inteligentsia.
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