Historical Context

Poland in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries
The combination of a series of wars in the seventeenth century and corrupt Polish rulers in the eighteenth century left Poland in a shattered state. At the end of the eighteenth century, the Polish king’s close alliance with Russia left Poland virtually ruled by the Russians. In 1772, the Polish government was so weak that Prussia, Russia, and Austria agreed to annex portions of Poland, launching a series of partitions of the country that continued through the early nineteenth century and essentially wiped the nation off the map until just after World War I.

During the 1790s, Napoleon Bonaparte of France recruited thousands of Poles for his effort to capture land belonging to Austria, Russia, and Prussia, assuring them that he would restore their nation in exchange for their services. This never came about, and in 1815 the country was partitioned once again. A large part of what was once Poland went to the Russians, and it is in a small village in this region that Henne and her neighbors lived.

From 1815 until 1917, various Russian kings, or tsars, ruled Poland. This period was marked by a succession of revolutions and uprisings within Poland against the tsar. Typically, tsarist rule in Poland was harsh and repressive; for example, after the unsuccessful January Uprising of 1863, the Russians responded by shutting down the universities and schools and outlawing the speaking of Polish in public places. While serfdom was abolished in Russia by 1861, this abolition did not extend to her Polish territories.

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(The entire section is 655 words.)