The Polish Underground State was a an exceptional phenomenon. Not only did it battle with German occupying forces, it also ensured the normal functions of the state. Nowhere else in occupied Europe did such extensive structures of a secret administration ensue.
After the September defeat in 1939, the Polish government operating in the West (first in Paris and later in London) was represented in Poland by underground authorities and enjoyed the support of society as a whole.
On 26 February 1940 a Political Understanding Committee (Polityczny Komitet Porozumiewawczy) was set up at the Association of Armed Struggle (Związek Walki Zbrojnej). It was created by representatives of the most important political parties: the Polish Socialist Party (PPS), People's Party (SL), National Party (SN), and starting in July 1940 the Labour Party (SP) as well. Popularly called the "Big Four", it became a secret parliament.
A Government Delegate's Office at Home was set up (starting in December 1940), headed by Cyryl Ratajski. Specific departments of the Delegate's Office corresponded to ministries.
The Delegate's Office possessed its own press that included the biweekly "Rzeczpospolita Polska". It also directed considerable work associated with underground cultural life.
Special Military Courts carried out death sentences on traitors and spies. There were also Judicial Panels at the Civil Combat Command Office (Kierownictwo Walki Cywilnej), that imposed punishments for lesser offences. Women who hung around Germans had their hair cut off. Several actors, playing in German propaganda films, were sentenced to infamy. The Department of Justice at the Delegate's Office worked out a code of civil morality, containing norms that Poles who were subject to the occupation should be guided by.
The Civil Combat Command Office , headed by Stefan Korboński, called on civilians to ignore official directives of the occupant, avoid any contacts with Germans, evade forced labour in the Reich, boycott the cinema and conduct "small sabotage" campaigns (tear down propaganda posters, write patriotic slogans on walls, put up posters, etc.).
Given the closure of universities and secondary schools by the Germans, the organisation of underground teaching began on a wide scale. At the beginning of 1941, a Department of Education and Culture was formed at the Government Delegate's Office. Also in 1940, lectures began in the confines of the underground University of Warsaw. The lectures, just like secondary school level classes, took place in secret with a dozen or so listeners. Other Warsaw universities followed this scheme. The Technical University, School of Commerce, School of Agriculture, State Institute of Theatre and the Polish Free University. The Secret University of the Western Territories was also active in the city during the war. It was created by professors and students of Poznań University, transported out of their home city.
In terms of education, Krakow found itself in a difficult situation, where in November 1939 the Germans arrested Jagiellonian University professors, transporting them to the concentration camp in Sachsenshausen. Nevertheless, Jagiellonian University began underground activity in 1942. At the initiative of Cardinal Adam Stefan Sapieha, an underground seminary was set up, which Karol Wojtyła attended, later Pope John Paul II.
Secret academic lectures were also conducted in Vilnius and Lviv , during the time when both these cities were already under German occupation.
In the summer of 1942, the seriously ailing Cyryl Ratajski resigned from the Delegate at Home position. His heretofore associate, Jan Piekałkiewicz, was appointed in his place. Unfortunately, for a short period. On 19 February 1943 he was arrested and tormented by the Gestapo. He died in June 1943 at Pawiak. Jan Stanisław Jankowski, appointed to serve as Delegate in April 1943, took over Piekałkiewicz's post. He served at this position until the end of the German occupation.
The Head of the Polish Underground State was deceitfully arrested in March 1945 by the NKVD and transported to the Lubyanka prison in Moscow. Among those arrested was the Government Delegate Jan Stanisław Jankowski and the last commander of the Home Army, Gen. Leopold Okulicki.
In June 1945 during a show trial in Moscow, 16 abducted leaders of the Polish Underground were sentenced to prison (three of the accused were acquitted). Gen. Okulicki (sentenced to 10 years) was murdered in the Moscow prison on 24 December 1946. Jan Stanisław Jankowski died in a heavy prison in Vladimir on the Klyazma River on 13 March 1953. Stanisław Jasiukowicz (head of the National Party) died in a prison hospital in Moscow on 22 October 1946. Stanisław Pużak (head of the PPS) after being released from prison and returning to Poland, was rearrested and sentenced by the Polish communist authorities. He died in the prison in Rawicz on 13 April 1950.