Behind the Scenes of the Greater Poland Uprising

Ignacy Jan Paderewski and Poznań in december 1918

Marek Rezler

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Ignacy Jan Paderewski, a great patriot and exquisite musician and pianist, visited Poznań as early as in 1890 to give a performance in the (now non-existent) Jean Lambert hall in Piekary, and two days later in the Polish Theatre. The next time that he came to Poznań was on 29 October 1901, when he played in the J. Lambert hall, and on 12 December of the same year - in the Polish Theatre.

The most famous visit paid by Ignacy Paderewski in Poznań was related to the events which preceded the outbreak of the Greater Poland Uprising. In the political turmoil which was felt in the capital city of the reborn state, a commonly respected artist and patriot guaranteed the mitigation of emotions and was a person who stood above party ambitions and emotions. Most probably, it was the British minister of foreign affairs, Arthur Balfour who talked Paderewski into this trip during a conversation conducted in London in the middle of December 1918. In order to avoid travelling through the territory of Germany, initially, a trip by car through Austria and Czechoslovakia was considered, however, in the end, the British agreed to a sea trip to Gdańsk from whence the artist would go to Warsaw by train. However, before that, he held a meeting between 14-16 December 1918 with the Polish National Committee in Paris, where the artist's mission gained full support. On 22 December, Paderewski with his wife and Major Zygmunt Iwanowski of the Polish Army in France boarded the English HMS cruiser “Concord” in Harwich. Next day in Copenhagen, they were joined by officers of the British military mission: Colonel Harry Wade, Commander Henry B. Rawlings and Lieutenant Roy G. Langford and the future secretary of the artist Sylwin Strakacz. From the very beginning, the assumption was made that the artist would stop in Poznań during his trip to Warsaw, to discuss the current political situation and matters related to the circumstances of the incorporation of the territories of the Prussian partition into the reborn Republic of Poland after the signing of the peace treaty.

Paderewski arrived in Gdańsk in the morning on 25 December. There, he met representatives of the Commissariat of the Supreme People’s Council: Wojciech Korfanty, Stefan Łaszewski and Józef Wybicki.

The news of Paderwski’s pending arrival in Poland reached Poznań as early as 21 December via telegraph from Lausanne and was published in the ”Kurier Poznański”, electrifying the Polish independence circles in the city. When, several days later it became clear that the artist would drive through Poznań and stop in the capital city of Greater Poland, the above-mentioned circles signalled the necessity to defend the master from the unpredictable behaviour of the German population and their army. Troops of the People's Guard were brought into the city from the surrounding towns, and a general feverish excitement was felt. The Germans, seeing what was happening, tried to prevent Paderewski from leaving the train at any cost, then the political talks (as was often practiced at that time) would be conducted in a wagon, at the railway station. The artist himself, being completely unacquainted with the situation in Poznań, was festively welcomed by the local Polish people at the consecutive stations between Gdańsk and Poznań. In Rogoźno, at about 11:00, a German captain, Andersch, who represented the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, got on the train and communicated the demand to Paderewski to not stop in Poznań. This declaration was widely rejected. In this situation the Germans switched off the street lights in the city to hinder the demonstrations. As a result of this, for the following two days, Poznań was lit only from the windows of houses and shop windows. However, the Poles who welcomed Paderewski had torches and various types of lanterns with them.

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