After the Uprising

The fate of the Greater Poland insurgents during World War II

Bogumił Rudawski

Select Pages

September 1939 marked the beginning of the German occupation in Greater Poland. In pursuance of a decree issued by Adolf Hitler on 8 October 1939, the whole pre-war Poznań province, including a large part of the Łódź province and part of the Pomeranian and Warsaw provinces was directly incorporated into the German Reich as the Reichsgau Wartheland. According to German intentions, this district, treated as a “testing ground“ for national socialism, was supposed to become an exemplary district of the Reich. This assumption was the foundation of the Germanisation policy of the Reichsgau Wartheland, implemented for ideological and racist considerations. Poles, categorised as an inferior human race, were the subjects of the dominant race, that is, the Germans. For this reason they became the victims of a brutal policy of extermination and furthermore, a broad spectrum of various discrimination practices, which were to exclude Poles from any forms of political and social life, was envisaged in relation to them. The Greater Poland insurgents, among whom there were many people who had made outstanding contributions to the development of independent Poland, were indicated as targets of the anti-Polish policy of the German authorities. 

The fates of insurgents during the war were varied but often tragic. Many of them were killed by the occupation authorities, both the Germans and the Soviet ones, becoming victims of targeted extermination operations. Others resisted, engaging themselves in conspiratorial work. Still others fought on different fronts of the war. However, the extermination policy targeted at insurgents is particularly instilled in the collective memory. They died simply because of the mere fact of their participation in the Greater Poland Uprising and because - and this must be emphasised particularly- of their subsequent activity in the political, social and economic life of inter-war Poland. On many occasions, the insurgent past was an additional cruel burden, which somewhat “complemented” the qualifications of insurgents as “enemies” of the German state. The cruel paradox of the situation was that there were many true patriots among the participants of insurgent battles, who participated in the reconstruction of the Polish statehood after the year 1918 with real involvement. The same sense of patriotic obligation compelled them to active resistance against the German invaders. 

Obviously, it is impossible to discuss here in detail the fates of all of the insurgents in the years 1939-1945. Particular stories of selected persons will be characterised as, on the one hand they are supposed to be a biographical exemplification of the entire insurgent generation, and on the other hand, they should serve as a description of the ruthlessness and cruelty of the occupying authorities.

The wave of terror which encompassed the entire region of Greater Poland in September 1939 resulted from different causes, and the executions carried out on the participants of the Greater Poland Uprising were an element of the wider anti-Polish policy of the German authorities and were also an act of vengeance. One of the most important objectives of the Germans after invading the territory of the Republic of Poland was to break the resistance of the Polish society through the physical annihilation of all those who could organise such resistance. These persons, regarded as the “leadership element” and “hostile anti-German elements” had to be rendered harmless in order to prevent the occurrence of any units of pro-Polish activity. For this reason, a number of preventive actions were organised during the first months of the occupation, as part of which, executions of the “Polish intelligentsia, noblemen, clergy and generally all elements which could be considered carriers of the national resistance” took place, as was expressed by Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the security police and SS Security Service (SD). The terms used in documents by the German authorities: ”intelligentsia”, ”leading classes”, ”radical Polish elements”, ”leadership circles”, ”partisans” etc. were quite imprecise and at the same time inclusive enough to associate all Poles arbitrarily regarded as posing a danger to them. Above all, members of political and social organisations, characterised by significant patriotic and professional activity were qualified into the “leadership circles”. Thus, the activists of the Polish Western Union, Polish Gymnastic Society “Sokół”, Riflemen Association, National Party and members of the Union of Greater Poland Insurgents and Union of Silesian Insurgents became victims of the German terror. Clergymen, teachers, officials, attorneys, land-owners and entrepreneurs were all murdered. There is no doubt that these activities were homicidal by their nature. The future victims were identified by the local German people. They were also included in special warrants with which the Germans who invaded Poland were provided. The local German population, from among which a part was recruited by the paramilitary Selbstschutz units, was particularly dangerous, as it was familiar with the social and political reality in which the Poles functioned. 

Select Pages