Disappearing from the map of Europe for over a hundred years forced Poles to rethink the basis of their identity. Each of the three powers ruled their ill-gotten lands differently, but in attempting to achieve the same end -- eradicate Polish culture -- they ensured failure because what was once a state now became a people.
Erased, but not forgotten
Initially, Poles tried to physically regain their sovereignty - one uprising of in 1793 was led by Tadeusz Kosciuszko who also fought for American independence. But the many uprisings failed, and the one bright spark lit by Napoleon went out with his own flame.
Eventually, Poles yielded on the surface, and while many emigrated, others dug in and began channeling their frustrated desires into a new area of expression: the arts. During the Partitions, some of Poland's greatest literature gave masked voice to their barely-hidden longings, wrapping up dangerous political wishes in subtle symbolism. Adam Mickiewicz's work became legendary while Henryk Sienkiewicz's Quo Vadis sparked imaginations everywhere.