Behind the Scenes of the Greater Poland Uprising

Ignacy Jan Paderewski and Poznań in december 1918

Marek Rezler

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On Thursday 26 December 1918, at 9:10 p.m. the train with the artist and accompanying officers of the allied mission reached the emperor's railway station. The enthusiasm of the crowd gathered on Dworcowa Street reached its peak; even then, representatives of the German authorities tried, ineffectively, to prevent the artist from leaving the train. After official greetings in the building of the former emperor’s railway station, the guests were brought in horse carriages to the building of the “Bazar” hotel, passing Dworcowa Street, Św. Marcin Street and Wilhelmowskie Avenue [Marcinkowskiego Street] through the enthusiastic crowds made up of the Polish inhabitants of the city. The new arrivals were escorted by the Honorary People's Guard and rank and file members of the People's Guard and Sokół organisation. As Paderewski arrived at his destination, he made a speech to the gathered crowd, from the windows over the entrance to the hotel and then a second one - in the hall, for journalists and official guests, which was published next day in the Polish-language Poznań press. He did not call for fighting, he tried to tone down the sentiments and expressed his joy about the independence regained by Poland. In the hall of the hotel, the artist was welcomed by the mayor of Poznań, Jarogniew Drwęski, and, on behalf of the Supreme People’s Council - Bolesław Krysiewicz. The artist occupied an apartment in the corner of the hotel on the first (in fact second) floor of the hotel, from the side of Wilhelmowskie Avenue and Nowa Street (Paderewskiego Street).

The position in which I. J. Paderewski found himself at that time was awkward. As a genuine patriot and a great promoter of Polish affairs coming via Warsaw, and above all as a representative of the Polish government (though at that time it was not confirmed that he would become the prime minister and minister of foreign affairs), he had to adapt to the rules applicable in diplomacy. Any violent events in Greater Poland, which could be associated with him, would incriminate the Warsaw authorities and would be treated at the peace conference as a fait accompli without consent from the allied Entente powers. The Polish cause at the conference (which, as a matter of fact was supported only by France) was losing more and more of its support and any complication of the situation in Greater Poland could make the situation even worse. In this situation, all the circumstances indicated that the artist had taken the diplomatic decision to fall ill. It is mentioned in the artist’s memoirs that even during his trip on the English ship, I.J. Paderewski had caught a really bad cold, which made it easier to find an excuse which would satisfy questions raised about the artist’s failure to appear in public in Poznań from the evening of 16 December 1918.

Paderewski consequently observed this decision at noon on 27 December, when the demonstration of several thousand school children (not only German ones) marched in front of the ”Bazar” Hotel. The artist’s spouse met the children, while he himself, still lying in bed, received only a small delegation which consisted of several people. However, the illness did not prevent him from participating in political talks with representatives of the Commissariat of the Supreme People’s Council and from preparations for a special banquet on the same day in the afternoon and evening.

On 27 December 1918, at 4:00 p.m., on the premises of the Poznań zoological garden on Zwierzyniecka Street, a rally of German nationalists began. They decided to organise a demonstrative march to the city centre whose aim was to neutralise the impression left after the demonstration of the Polish people in the evening on the previous day. This action was fully rational, considering that in Poznań, which at that time was inhabited by 165000 people, the Polish population represented only half of this figure while the remaining 50% were Germans and Jews who usually favoured them.

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