Architects of the Restored Republic

On the outbreak of war the Poles found themselves conscripted into the armies of Germany, Austria and Russia, and forced to fight each other in a war that was not theirs. Although many Poles sympathised with France and Britain they found it hard to fight with them on the Russian side. They also had little sympathy with the Germans. Pilsudski considered Russia as the greater enemy and formed Polish Legions to fight for Austria but independently. Other Galician Poles went to fight against the Italians when they entered the war in 1915, thus preventing any clash of conscience.

Almost all the fighting on the Eastern Front took place on Polish soil.

Pilsudski, Josef (b. Zulow, Lithuania, 1867. d. Warsaw, 1935), was raised on his Lithuanian family estate and educated at Wilno University where he was exposed to Polish nationalist ideas. He was determined to bring about Polish independence by direct action (specifically against Russia) rather than rely on support from others. He joined the organisation of Young Poles and, after the assassination attempt on Alexander III, was arrested and exiled to Siberia (1887-1892). On returning to Poland he joined the Wilno branch of the Polish Socialist Party (PPS) founded in 1892, and became the first editor of the underground newspaper "Robotnik" ("The Worker"). He also continued to work in the underground, was arrested by the Russians (1900), escaped from prison and fled to London. In Japan, during the Russo-Japanese War (1905), Pilsudski advocated the establishment of anti-Russian Polish Legions made up of prisoners-of-war held by the Japanese but faced opposition from his arch-rival, Dmowski. The Japanese did not pursue the idea beyond discussions due to their decisive victories in Manchuria. Moving to Austrian Poland (1905) he founded a paramilitary organisation, "Zwiazek Walki Czynnej" ("Union for Armed Struggle") with the aim of creating the nucleus of a future Polish army and carrying out guerrilla action and raising funds through a series of robberies (the most successful being the mail-train raid at Bezdany, 1908). With the threat of war, Pilsudski's underground "Riflemen's Clubs" were formed into Polish Legions training in the Carpathians (with Austrian support) and soon spawned a whole series of similar groups such as the student organisations "Zarzewie" ("Embers") and the Nationalist "Sokol" ("Falcon"). At the outbreak of WW1 these Polish Legions fought independently under Austrian command, siding with the Central Powers in bitter opposition to Russia. On 6 August 1914 he attempted an independent invasion of Russian Poland with ill-equipped troops and occupied Kielce "in the name of free and independent Poland". During the fighting that followed, in which the Austrian armies were being defeated, the Legions fought in some heavy rearguard actions and with distinction at Limanowa and Lowczowek (22 - 25 December 1914). The Legions played an important role in the offensives of 1915, most notably at Rokitno (13 June 1915). The Central Powers were slow to show any positive moves towards Polish independence after the fall of Warsaw and so Pilsudski resigned his command of the Legions at the height of the action in September 1916. Largely as a result of his actions, the Central Powers recognised an independent Russian Poland (November 1916) and appointed Pilsudski head of the military commission there. When Tsarist Russia collapsed during the Russian Revolution in 1917 the main reason for fighting for Austria and Germany ceased to exist and the Legions refused to swear allegiance to Germany and Pilsudski was imprisoned at Magdeberg Castle; in his own words, addressed to the German Governor of Warsaw, "If I were to go along with you, Germany would gain one man, whilst I would lose a nation." When all three partitioning powers collapsed at the end of WW1, Pilsudski established Poland as an independent state. His principal aim, in the immediate post-war period when Eastern Europe was in a political vacuum and Poland was involved in an unofficial war with the Soviets (1919 - 20), was to create a "Federation" of friendly states in the former Polish Commonwealth where the Poles were an ethnic minority and which would act as a check to Russian ambitions; key to his plan was an independent Ukraine. The Ukrainians had recently been occupied by the Soviets and their leader, Semen Petlura (1877 - 1926) had sought refuge in Poland. Pilsudski entered into a pact with Petlura whereby Eastern Galicia was ceded to Poland and Polish troops marched on Kiev to restore Ukrainian independence (April 1920). As Chief of State, Pilsudski defeated five Soviet armies when they rolled back the Polish advance and, in turn, invaded (May 1920); the battle of Warsaw (13 - 25 August 1920) in which, as a result of a strategic blunder on the part of the Soviets and a successful outflanking manoeuvre on the part of Pilsudski (the "eighteenth decisive battle of the world"), crushed the Soviet forces and saved Europe from a Red Army conquest. With his "Federation" policy in ruins, Pilsudski organised a surprise attack against Lithuania (October 1920) and acquired certain disputed areas including his own city of Wilno (and by so doing earned the enmity of the new Lithuanian Republic). Pilsudski had now left the PPS; "I rode in the tramcar called Socialism but I got off at the stop called Independence." Marshal Pilsudski retired from politics in 1922 but kept an eye on events; he once said, "To be defeated and not to yield is victory. To win and to rest on laurels is defeat." The assassination of the first elected President of the newly reconstituted Poland, Narutowicz, by a nationalist fanatic a few days after taking office (16 December 1922) had a profound effect on Pilsudski and changed his character; he became more withdrawn and disillusioned by politics. Never a politician himself, having learnt his trade in the underground, it is hardly surprising that, in May 1926, when he felt that the rise of fascism and the Right was making the political situation very unstable, he staged a coup d'etat; he marched on Warsaw and demanded the resignation of the government - President Wojciechowski refused to be pressurised by the military and called out the army. There followed three days fighting after which the government was forced to resign. Whilst there were some cases of opposition politicians and journalists being attacked by unidentified assailants the only savage reprisal was the disappearance of General Wlodzimierz Zagorski (b. 1882; d. 1926?), one of Pilsudski's personal opponents from the days of the Legions and later Chief of the Air Force. Although offered the Presidency, Pilsudski declined to serve suggesting Moscicki instead. Pilsudski preferred to stay in the background - the real power in Poland, taking supreme command of the Armed Forces and amending the Constitution. This became known as the "Sanacja" (Purification or Regeneration) regime and became less democratic over the years. In 1927 Walery Slawek organised the "Non-Partisan Block for Co-operation with the Government" (BBWR) in order to manage the 1928 elections but, failing to get an overall majority (getting only 122 of the 444 seats in the Sejm), Pilsudski lost confidence in proper methods. The Sejm was dissolved and Pilsudski's political opponents were imprisoned in the citadel at Brzesc under brutal conditions; Poland had became a dictatorship. Pilsudski died of cancer (12 May 1935).

"He gave Poland freedom, boundaries, power and respect..."

President Moscicki, funeral oration, 18 May 1935.

Despite his apparent attacks on democracy (in reality he was opposed to the growth of factions in the Seym - a legislative body - that would make the government of the country impossible), Pilsudski is venerated by the Poles for his contributions to the establishment of the state and his victory over the Soviet Union. His tomb is in the crypt of Wawel Cathedral, his heart is buried (in Wilno's Rossa Cemetery) amongst the soldiers killed fighting for Wilno in April 1919, and a mound has been constructed in his honour in Krakow.

Roman Dmowski, founder of the right-wing Nationalist League, had foreseen that Germany was the real enemy and gone to France where the "Bayonne Legion" was already fighting alongside the French Army. He and Paderewski formed a Polish Army which consisted of volunteers from the United States, Canada and Brazil together with Poles who had been conscripted into the German and Austrian armies and had become POWs. This Army became known as "Haller's Army" after its commander who had escaped from Russia to France.

Dmowski, Roman (b. 1864; d. 1939), founded the Polish National Democratic Party (Endecja) in 1893 and, in 1903, headed Polish representatives in the Duma (the Russian Parliament). His militant nationalism preached that the only true Pole was an ethnic Pole and encouraged anti-Ukrainian and anti-Jewish feelings; it can be said that Dmowski's views sounded the death-knell of the old Rzeczpospolita, its multi-ethnic "nationalism" and its tolerance. His right-wing National League ran clandestine educational programmes for the peasants aimed at bringing Polish culture to the masses; these efforts were boosted by the school strikes of 1904 - 7. During the Russo-Japanese War (1905), whilst Pilsudski was advocating the establishment of anti-Russian Polish Legions made up of prisoners-of-war held by the Japanese, Dmowski, fearing that a Japanese foray into Polish affairs would force the abandonment of constitutional reform, suggested that his party would do everything in its power to prevent anti-Russian activity in Poland. The Japanese did not pursue the idea further due to their decisive victories in Manchuria. At the outbreak of WW1, Dmowski who believed that Germany, and not Russia, was the real enemy, went to France where the "Bayonne Legion" was already fighting alongside the French Army. He and Paderewski formed a Polish Army which consisted of volunteers from the United States, Canada and Brazil together with Poles who had been conscripted into the German and Austrian armies and had become PoWs. This Army became known as "Haller's Army" after its commander who had escaped from Russia to France. In 1916 he headed the Polish National Committee and, after WW1, was leader of the Paris committee recognised as the temporary government of Poland, and signed the Treaty of Versailles, (1919). Naturally, Dmowski was greatly disappointed when it was Pilsudski who managed to take control in Poland. He became minister of foreign affairs in 1923, opposed Pilsudski and retired from politics shortly afterwards.

Paderewski, Ignacy Jan (b. Kurylowka, Podolia, 1860. d. New York,1941), the Polish pianist and statesman, began to play the piano at the age of three. He studied at Warsaw (later becoming professor in the Conservatoire there in 1878), Berlin (1883) and Vienna (under Leschetizky, 1885) where he made his professional debut in 1887. He became a virtuoso and appeared successfully in Europe and (after 1891) America, establishing himself as an interpreter of Chopin, Liszt, Rubinstein and Schumann. Paderewski gave over 1500 concerts in the US alone and was the first to perform in the newly built Carnegie Hall, New York. He married Baroness de Rosen (1889). Paderewski became director of the Warsaw Conservatoire in 1909 and composed an opera, "Manru", a symphony in B minor, and several other orchestral and piano pieces. A patriot, Paderewski was so impressed by the "Panorama Raclawicka" (1894) that he commissioned Jan Styka to produce a large-scale work (93 feet by 178 feet wide) based on a crucifixion theme, "Golgotha" , which was obtained by Dr. Hubert Eaton for Forest Lawn Park, Glendale, California, in 1944. In 1910, on the 500th anniversary of the Polish victory over the Teutonic Knights at Grunwald, Paderewski presented a memorial, the "Pomnik Grunwaldski" by Marian Konieczny, which was unveiled in Plac Matejko, Krakow. During WW1 he promoted the Polish cause with vigour and raised funds for Polish relief through his concerts in the US. Particularly significant was his winning the sympathy of Colonel House, the intimate adviser to President Wilson, with the result that, on 22 January 1917, President Wilson historically declared in the Senate:

"No peace can last...which does not recognise and accept that governments derive all their just powers from the consent of the governed, and that no right anywhere exists to hand peoples about from sovereignty to sovereignty as if they were property. I take it for granted... that statesmen everywhere are agreed that there should be a united, independent and autonomous Poland."

In summer 1917 a Polish National Committee, consisting of representatives from all three parts of the country, was set up (initially at Lausanne but then, for the rest of the war, in Paris) and eventually recognised as the official Polish organisation by the Western Powers; Paderewski was recognised as its agent in the US. Paderewski represented Poland at Versailles at the end of WW1 and became the first Premier and minister of foreign affairs of a reconstituted Poland (17 January 1919 - 27 November 1919). At the Peace Conference he was involved in a long and bitter struggle with, in particular, Lloyd George (who showed great distrust in Poland's strength, capacity and goodwill) and the other major powers over the issues of Galicia, Danzig, Silesia and the status of minorities. When Paderewski addressed the League of Nations in Geneva (1920) he spoke for more than an hour without notes in French and then repeated it in English; he was the only speaker who did not use an interpreter. Paderewski abandoned his political career in 1921, retiring to Morges in Switzerland. In 1936, along with Wincenty Witos, Jozef Haller and Wladyslaw Sikorski he became a founding member of the Morges Front, named after his home where they met, determined to rebuild a respectable centre-right opposition. He died in New York whilst on one of his visits campaigning for the Polish cause during WW2. His funeral mass in St. Patrick's Cathedral was attended by around 40,000 people (of whom 35,000 listened outside). He was buried at Arlington Cemetery, Washington DC, until his body could be transported for reburial in a free Poland. In July 1992 Paderewski's remains were interned in the crypt in St. John's Cathedral, Warsaw; his heart is encased in a bronze sculpture at the church of the Black Madonna in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.

On March 17th, 1921, a modern, democratic constitution was voted in. The task that lay ahead was difficult; the country was ruined economically and, after a hundred and twenty years of foreign rule, there was no tradition of civil service. Despite all her problems Poland was able to rebuild her economy; by 1939 she was the 8th largest steel producer in the world and had developed her mining, textiles and chemical industries. Poland had been awarded limited access to the sea by the Peace of Versailles (the "Polish Corridor") but her chief port, Gdansk (Danzig) was made a free city (put under Polish protection) and so, in 1924, a new port, Gdynia, was built which, by 1938, became the busiest port in the Baltic. There were continual disputes with the Germans because access to the sea had split Germany into two and because they wanted Danzig under their control. There problems increased when Adolf Hitler took power in Germany.

Smigly-Rydz, Edward (b. 1886; d. 1941),a general and Marshal of Poland (the first son of a peasant to rise to such a high rank), served in Pilsudski's Polish Legions (1914 - 17) and later succeeded Pilsudski (1935) in becoming Inspector General of the Polish Army. During WW1, Smigly-Rydz commanded the underground Polska Organizacja Wojskowa (POW; the Polish Military Organisation). During the Polish-Soviet War (1919 - 20) he played a significant role, particularly after the capture of Wilno. The Northern front was complex, being an area of operations for Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian armies as well as 3 Russian White armies, 3 Soviet armies and the German Baltikum Army. The Poles, in conflict with Lithuania over Wilno, suspicious of German intentions and having common cause with the Latvians, launched an offensive against Dunaburg (Dvinsk) led by Smigly-Rydz. His forces dashed across the frozen Dvina (3 January 1920) in temperatures of minus 25°C, stormed the citadel and cut off the Soviet lines of retreat in an operation which effectively ended the campaign of 1919. During the invasion of the Ukraine (April 1920) Smigly-Rydz commanded the 3rd Army in the centre of the line. His attack group included a large armoured force which gained maximum surprise on its drive into Zhitomir and played an important role in the capture of Kiev. During the chaos of the Soviet counteroffensive led by Budyonny (June 1920) he organised a successful rearguard action which saved the 3rd Army and, again, during the Soviet advance in Galicia (July 1920), Smigly-Rydz controlled the situation by setting up an effective system of defence using garrisons in strategic towns supported by large mobile forces in the rear. Smigly-Rydz's forces, centred on the Wieprz, formed the main attack force under Pilsudski's command during the Battle of Warsaw (13 - 25 August 1920). The Polish counterattack from the Wieprz (16 August) was the most significant event in the battle. He became Marshal of Poland and the most powerful man in the country during the "Government of the Colonels" (1936 - 39). On the ninth anniversary of the May Coup (1926), Colonel Adam Koc (b. 1891; d. 1969) formed the Oboz Zjednoczenia Narodowego (the Camp of National Unification, OZoN) in an attempt by the "Sanacja" regime to regain some influence on Polish society which had begun to turn to the political groups around it; the National Democrats, Peasant's Party, and the Socialists. A quasi-military organisation, by which the Polish Army could extend its influence beyond the military sphere, it attracted right-wing elements and it's highly nationalistic attitude led to the brutal putting down of peasant strikes and protests, the pursuit of Ukrainian separatists and (though mild in comparison with other parts of Central and Eastern Europe) anti-Semitic tendencies which, in April 1936, led to the passing of an inconvenient law limiting shehitah (ritual slaughter) to Jewish localities. With its fear of the non-Catholic minorities shared by the Catholic Church there was a genuine move towards some sort of alignment of interests but this was brought to a halt by the outbreak of WW2. In time it became a mere propaganda auxiliary to the army; Smigly-Rydz was one of its leading personalities. After the German invasion and occupation, in 1939, he took refuge in Rumania where he was interned. On 15 December 1941 a "teacher", Adam Zawisza, was buried in Powazki Cemetery, Warsaw. In reality this was Smigly-Rydz who had escaped (from internment in Rumania) to Hungary (December 1940) and thence to Warsaw where he had tried to establish an underground organisation but his overtures had been rejected by the commander of the underground army (Armia Krajowa). He died of a heart attack in Warsaw. Once, fearing a choice between submission to Russia or to Germany he said:

"Germany will destroy our body, Russia will destroy our Soul."

quoted in A. Bromke, Poland's Politics: Idealism versus Realism, Cambridge, Mass., 1967

In 1939, under constant threat from Germany, Poland entered into a full military alliance with Britain and France. In August, Germany and Russia signed a secret agreement concerning the future of Poland.