Behind the Scenes of the Greater Poland Uprising

Ignacy Jan Paderewski and Poznań in december 1918

Marek Rezler

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It must be emphasised that contrary to the popular concerns of Polish national circles, Paderewski was not exposed to any danger. The artist was well respected and his patriotic, but not inflammatory speeches were received with understanding. Among the German school children who participated in the march at noon on 27 December, curiosity prevailed, the same could be said of the Polish children - but there was a certain patriotic undertone to it. The German circles, on the other hand, reacted allergically to the presence of the English officers who accompanied the master, above all, to the Entente flags which appeared in the windows of houses in Poznań. The Germans had been accustomed to the Polish flags since the assembly of the Partition Sejm of Poznań at the beginning of December. But American flags, and especially English and French ones were true “stumbling blocks” in a situation when just a couple of weeks before, Poles and Germans had fought side by side against the armies of the Entente states. The hanging of these flags was treated as evidence of disloyalty and treason.

Between 5:00 and 5:30 p.m. the German march reached the area of the “Bazar” Hotel and stood before a cordon formed by a Poznań People’s Guard unit. Then someone in the crowd fired a shot - it is not known who and at whom; with all the general tension this was the spark that led to an explosion. A general tumult and shooting began, and only after some time did it start to take an organised form which allowed the parties to the conflict to be distinguished. The artist and the persons who accompanied him, who were preparing for participation in the banquet organised in their honour, were moved to rooms located deeper inside the hotel, and not without reason, as later on, a number of holes from machine gun bullets were discovered in the windows of the apartment. However, no one was hurt. At about 6.00 p.m. Roder Blankertz - a representative of the Executive Division of the Worker and Soldier Council arrived at the hotel with a proposal for the Poles to lay down their weapons, and Commander Rawlings tried to conduct negotiations in the General Command of the V Corps on Solna Street with regards to possible protection for I. J. Paderewski and the representatives of the British mission; both actions ended in failure. At that time, the artist remained on the sidelines.

From that moment on, I. J. Paderewski, carefully protected until his departure from Poznań, did not leave the hotel, but conducted talks with politicians from Poznań on the spot. Neither did he get involved in any activities of the Commissariat of the Supreme People’s Council nor Central Command, which was fully compliant with the officially adopted neutral attitude in relation to the insurgent events. Scenes which can sometimes be found in quasi-documentary films, presenting the artist in the company of Polish soldiers and talking to Major Stanisław Taczak are just an invention of the author of the script.

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