After the Uprising

The memory of the Greater Poland Uprising during the inter-war years, the period of the People’s Republic of Poland and the 3rd Republic of Poland

Paweł Anders

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The Greater Poland Uprising - one of the most important events in the history of the region - left a number of remarkable traces. Some of them, like the graves of the fallen, came into existence perforce. Others were created to commemorate this fragment of our history –  the uprising per se and the individual events, distinguished people, etc. The greatest number of plaques and monuments related to the uprising can be found on battlefields, however, they were also erected in other towns - where patriotic traditions were vivid, where the Uprising was considered an important element of our history and where the participants of those events came from.

The tombs of the fallen were the first places to remind people of the insurgent battles. These victims gave their lives for freedom, and the living citizens perfectly understood the significance of the event, the purposefulness of its publicity and its use for building patriotism. Therefore the funerals of the fallen insurgents had, more often than not, the characteristics of a demonstration and many people took part in them. The first symbolic insurgent burial was the funeral of Antoni Andrzejewski and Franciszek Ratajczak in the Górczyn Cemetery on 1 January 1919 – the first victims of the fighting in Poznań – attended by officials, seven priests and a crowd of Poznań inhabitants, in an honorary place between the main gate and the mortuary. During the first anniversary of the outbreak of the uprising, at the place where nine bullets were fired at Ratajczak, a commemorative plaque appeared; at the very beginning it was made of wood (right above it, there was a plaque which resembled A. Andrzejewski), but in 1928, it was replaced by a cast-iron plaque. In the year 1923, Rycerska Street which ran in this place was renamed Ratajczaka Street.

It is symptomatic that the bodies of victims, in the vast majority of cases, were transported to their town of residence and buried in local cemeteries. Even the ashes of the fallen behind the pre-war state border - before the Nazis came to power in Germany - were exhumed and transferred to their homeland: in 1928 eight fallen were moved from Kargowa to Wielichowo and in 1931, four fallen from Sulechów to Zbąszyń. This was not possible in the case of Międzyrzecz, where the grave of six insurgents is still located in an old cemetery, away from their homeland.

The tombs of the fallen were generally located in honourable locations in the central point of the cemetery (Krotoszyn, Opatów near Kępno), on the main avenue (Mogilno, Rozdrażew), sometimes along its axis (Ostrzeszów, Żnin), and even right next to the church (or chapel or mortuary, as in Rosk or Kruszwica). Two mausoleums for heroes were built: Feliks Pięta in Bukowiec near Nowy Tomyśl and Franciszek Sowiński in Krotoszyn. These tombs are well tended, renovated and upgraded; they contribute to keeping the memory of local heroes alive.

An exception among the insurgent tombs is the grave of three fallen near the Pławiska settlement in the Notecka Forest; they came from Grzebienisko and Oporowo near Ostroróg, and died in a skirmish in June 1919 and were buried at the place of the clash. A cemetery for 58 participants in the battles for the Obra River line was founded in the year 1924 in Nowa Wieś Zbąska (with a monument erected three years later). A very spacious quarter of fallen insurgents is also located on the slope of the Poznań Citadel - in total, 391 graves of victims of fighting in the years 1918-1920 are located there.

The uprising participants who died at a later time, were generally buried in family tombs. At present these burials are traced and marked in a uniform manner. On certain occasions, through the efforts made by veteran associations, special quarters are provided as the places of eternal rest for those who fought for the incorporation of Greater Poland into the territories of the reborn Polish state. Such places can be found in Bojanowo, Krotoszyn, Leszno, Ostrów Wlkp., Poniec, Środa Wlkp. and at the Junikowo Cemetary in Poznań. A small quarter for participants of the Greater Poland Uprising is located even in Gorzów Wlkp. – the city where insurgents started to develop the Regained Territories a quarter of a century later.

Also two specific tokens from the period of insurgent fights are preserved - spent German shell casings with accurate dates. They were found in the wall of a tenement house at 41 Dworcowa Street in Inowrocław (6 January) and in the tower of the church in Sulmierzyce (12 February 1919).

The structure, unveiled on 14 May 1922, at the entrance to the parish church in Opalenica, is regarded as the first monument devoted to the Uprising – it is not placed on the tomb of the fallen but rather stands as an independent monument. It has not been preserved to the present day, and a concrete element with a relevant inscription has been placed there instead. In the neighbourhood of this place, there is another monument which was unveiled in the year 2004.

In Poznań, the ashes of five insurgents were moved to the tomb of the first fallen insurgents in 1923, and in May of the following year, a monument designed by Stanisław Jagmin was erected - much bigger than the present one (after the previous monument had been destroyed by the Nazis, the current one was erected as late as in 1968).

The monuments and graves were usually created by amateur stone-cutters and sculptors. The works of good artists were a rarity, for instance, the monuments in Koźmin (by Władysław Marcinkowski from the year 1929, reproduced in 1985), the monument in the insurgent quarter in Środa Wielkopolska (from the year 1935, sculpted by Edward Haupt) and the monument in Buk (by Marcin Rożek, from the year 1927). A non-standard form of commemoration is the stained glass window, from the year 1924, in the parish church in Inowrocław, designed by painter Henryk Jackowski-Nostitz: at its bottom, there is a group composition with the following inscription: „Pamięci oswobodzicieli Inowrocławia w 1919” [To the Memory of the liberators of Inowrocław in 1919].

Also, trees in the most prestigious locations of cities were planted during the anniversaries of the Greater Poland Uprising with the aim of preserving the memory of the heroes. For instance in Skalmierzyce near Kalisz, in front of a building which was a centre of Polish life during the Prussian partition, a commemorative oak was planted during the first anniversary of the regaining of independence. In Kłecko, in 1929, on the street leading to the cemetery, in which nine fallen insurgents are buried, nine lindens were planted (not all of them have been preserved till our times).

The “first victims” of the Uprising occupy a special place among the commemorated persons. Franciszek Ratajczak is a symbolic figure for the entire Uprising. In the southern part of Greater Poland, Jan Mertka was such a person. Other dead insurgents are symbols of the uprising for given areas, their memory is honoured, for instance, with plaques or names of streets. Here, it is possible to mention: Michał Rajewicz in Budzyń, Józef Raczkowski in Chodzież, Stanisław Kuczmerowicz in Czempiń, Walerian Daniel in Janowiec Wlkp., Franciszek Masztalerz in Kościan, Franciszek Sowiński in Krotoszyn, Stefan Wittmann in Lwówek, Marian Suwalski in Margonin, Jan Kaus in Mogilno, Piotr Mocek in Mosina, Feliks Łabędzki in Mrocza, Franciszek Sójka in Odolanów, Antoni Kozak in Opalenica, Stanisław Kotkowiak in Pogorzela, Jan Drożdżyński in Poniec, Wincenty Ciastowicz in Skoki, Piotr Zieleziński in Sulmierzyce, Antoni Przybylski in Wolsztyn and Władysław Lewandowski in Żnin. In Rawicz, such a figure was Stanisław Mikołajewicz who stood in defence of the Polish population and died of his wounds in the camp for the interned in Żagań.

Owing to the efforts of local circles, even before World War II, about 40 monuments, 25 commemorative plaques and 60 cemetery graves were erected. The insurgent monuments erected in the vein of the inter-war years (reproduced after partial or total destruction during the Nazi occupation) can be seen in Bieździadowo, Jankowo Zaleśne, Lisewo Kościelne, Margonin, Paterek and Wysoka. The tombs of the fallen, with magnificent graves, are preserved, for instance, in cemeteries in Buk, Ceradz Kościelny, Czerniejewo, Kwilcz, Lubasz, Magnuszewicw, Parzynów, Pleszew and Solec Kujawski.

A symbolic element of the erasure of the foreign rule was the erection of insurgent monuments at places of demolished monuments that glorified the Prussian army, as e.g. in Koźmin or Szamotuły. On the other hand, the sparing Greater Poland inhabitants did not intend to destroy everything which had previously existed - therefore the monument-column in Zduny is only a slightly reworked former German monument.

During the inter-war years, the Greater Poland insurgents were not treated separately among the victims, that is, all those who died fighting for the borders of the Republic of Poland in the years 1918-1922 were remembered. In this way, the great value, which in itself was the integration of all parts of the country which were under the influence of the partitioning superpowers for many years, was recognised; on the other hand, many Poles took part in several stages of the formation of independent Poland (the disarmament of the Germans in the Kingdom of Poland, the Greater Poland Uprising, the Silesian Uprisings, the Polish-Bolshevik war and the occupation of Vilnius). Therefore, the monuments unveiled in 1925 in Szamocin and five years later in Chodzież are monuments to Freedom. On the other hand, the Poznań monument on Ludgarda Street, dated 1927, honours the soldiers of the 15th Poznań Uhlan Regiment, which was the first insurgent cavalry unit, which at a later time fought in the Polish-Bolshevik war.

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