Poland „First to Fight” – A History of a Poster and The Artist

“Poland – first to fight!” – This was the slogan that inspired Polish soldiers in 1939 as they fought on various fronts during World War II. Many of these soldiers were forgotten, did not survive to see victory, or were oppressed by the communists after the war. In this article, I will discuss the background of the poster and the artist behind it, Marek Zulawski.

First to Fight Poster Created in 1939/1940 by Marek Żuławski

The Historical Context of the Poster

Outside of Poland, the country’s contribution to the Allied victory in World War II is often overlooked. Polish pilots who fought in the Battle of Britain, as well as Polish cryptologists who broke the Enigma ciphers, are not given the credit they deserve. General Stanislaw Sosabowski is unfairly blamed for the defeat at Arnhem, and Rotmistrz Witold Pilecki, who was oppressed by the communist regime, is relatively unknown.

The poster is meant to symbolize Poland’s and Poles’ efforts on the frontlines during the war. The design was meant to show that Poles played a crucial role in the Allied victory over the Third Reich.

Marek Zulawski reminded everyone of who was first to fight. Poles.

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It was Poles who were awarded the most number of the Order of the Righteous Among the Nations. Poles fought on every front, yet Winston Churchill told General Anders in 1945, “We have enough troops today, we don’t need your help. You can take your divisions! We’ll make it without them.”

Marek Zuławski – The Artist Behind the Poster and His Background

Marek Zulawski was born in Rome on April 13, 1908. His father was a doctor of Roman studies and his mother was a French literature interpreter. Zulawski had two brothers: Julius, a poet, novelist, and translator, and Lawrence, a musicologist, composer, and mountaineer.

Zulawski spent his childhood in the mountains in Zakopane. From 1920 to 1926, he lived in Torun with his mother, who managed a guesthouse that was often visited by literary and artistic figures such as Witkacy, Stanisław Przybyszewski, Józef Wittlin, Juliusz Osterwa, and Tymon Niesiołowski. Niesiołowski gave Zulawski drawing lessons.

After graduating high school, Zulawski studied law at Warsaw University and art painting at the Academy of Fine Arts. In 1935, he went to Paris on a scholarship and then moved to London, where he settled. In 1937, he had his first solo exhibition at London’s Leger Gallery. During the war, he worked for the Polish department of BBC radio and continued to work with them as an art critic. Zulawski was active in the visual arts community in London, helping to found the Association of Polish Artists in Great Britain and being a member of several art associations.

The Design and Symbolism of the Poster

Posters have always played an important role in soldiers’ lives. Their clear and attractive graphic design spoke to the viewer through its composition. Thanks to its symbolism and frequent use of metaphors, the poster gained a wide audience.

The poster “Poland – First to Fight” refers to the most important events in the country’s history – World War II and the defense against Nazi Germany’s invasion in 1939. Marek Zulawski created the poster around 1940. In the foreground, it shows a battered Polish flag flying in the wind. The flag has been damaged by the hardships of war, with bullet holes and tears.

The flag is placed on a metal mast. At the top of the mast is the Polish emblem – an eagle with a crown on its head. The white and red flag and eagle have been Poland’s national symbols since the 18th century. If you would like to find out more about polish flag and our national symbols, check my other article I wrote.

In the background of the poster, there is a stormy sky. The approaching clouds could symbolize the difficult times and the tragedy that the Poles fighting for freedom would face. However, the flag still stands tall, flying with dignity in the wind. This shows that Poland is still fighting, and the soldiers have not surrendered. They will resist the enemy. This is the message that Marek Zulawski conveyed through the poster he painted in London.

The Impact and Legacy of the Poster

The poster has played an important historical role in recent years. There have been exhibitions of military posters, and this one has been particularly significant. The poster exhibition was organized by the Central Military Library.

Another example of First to Fight Poster

A large collection of paintings by Marek Zulawski can be seen in the Modern Art Gallery of the District Museum in Bydgoszcz. These works come from the collection of Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun.

Marek Zulawski’s artwork also honors many other historical events. The poster has even been depicted in wall paintings. The Polish National Memorial Institute wanted to remind people that Poland was the first to fight the invaders during World War II. Banners with a white and red flag, torn and perforated by bullets, were displayed. Unfortunately, there was an spelling error in one of these wall paintings.

Marek Zulawski’s artwork on the wall – spelling error in word „Fight”

The wall painting featured the logo and name of the Polish National Memorial Institute. The main slogan was a reference to the exhibition “First to Fight: Poles on the Frontlines of World War II.” The exhibition showed the struggles of the soldiers of the Polish Army and the Polish Armed Forces in Western Europe. The exhibition was unveiled in 2016, and an English-language version was released in early 2018.

Contemporary Relevance of the Poland First to Fight Message in Today’s World

The message of the Poland First to Fight poster is still relevant today. The war in Ukraine has sparked a strong sense of empathy in Poles, which is something we can be proud of. We want to help and offer our support to those fighting in Ukraine and to refugees seeking safety in Poland.

In addition to donating goods, Poles have also offered immigrants jobs, housing, and a sense of security for their children. These actions show the kindness and generosity of the Polish people, who have not waited for government programs or European Union funding, but have instead donated from their own resources. These actions reflect the values and spirit of the Poland First to Fight poster, which continues to inspire and motivate people today.

Click Play and list to the funny but so true, for many Poles, the history of WWII


The Poland First to Fight poster is a well-known piece of art that has become a symbol of Polish national pride and determination. The poster was created during World War II and was meant to encourage and inspire Polish people to resist against Nazi occupation. The artist behind the poster was Marek Żuławski, a Polish artist and illustrator who was active during the war. The message of the poster, “Poland First to Fight,” has been embraced as a symbol of their bravery and resilience. Despite being created over 82 years ago, the Poland First to Fight poster remains relevant today and continues to inspire and motivate people not only in Poland but also around the world.