Behind the Scenes of the Greater Poland Uprising

The Independence Organisations in the Poznań Region at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.

Janusz Karwat

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From 1912, physical education and civil defence sections were formed. Practical activities were started and its members were encouraged to voluntarily join the German army to hold the posts of military instructors. The first military departments of ”Zet” were established in Berlin, Dresden, Heidelberg, Leipzig, Munich and in Italy. Before the outbreak of the war, military training was conducted in 11 German universities and about 130-150 Polish students, i.e. about 22% of the Poles studying in Germany underwent this training. German instructions and handbooks brought from Cracow as well as maps and weapons delivered by the members who had completed the one-year military service were all used for training purposes. The infantry soldier training programme was implemented including elements of platoon tactics. In Munich and Berlin, rifle groups were also joined by Polish workers. The positions of instructors were held by Kazimierz Glabisz, Bohdan Hulewicz, Józef Górski, Stanisław Krzeczyński, Tadeusz Lechnicki and Stanisław Marcinkowski to name a few.

”Zet” also supported the activities of the gymnasium youth. In 1874 in the Grand Duchy of Poznań, there were 19 secondary schools (13 gymnasiums, 2 progymnasiums and 4 Realschule1). The first secret unions of the Polish gymnasium youth were established in the 1830s including the “Marianie” (Ostrów, Poznań, Trzemeszno, Śrem and Wągrowiec). As patriotic sentiments grew, on 19 February 1861, the National Society was set up and consisted of the following divisions: ”Krakus” in Leszno, ”Zawisza” in Ostrów, ”Kościuszko” in Poznań and ”Zan” in Trzemeszno. After the discovery of the existence of the National Society and the ensuing court trial in 1863, the gymnasium youths were sentenced to lenient penalties (up to one month of imprisonment). For participation in the January Uprising in the years 1863/1864, 38 pupils from Poznań and 19 from Trzemeszno were expelled from their schools. Soon the philomath movement reactivated itself in almost all gymnasiums of the province. At the end of the 19th century, philomath circles were formed in Berlin, Hildesheim and Westphalia (Gelsenkirchen, Hamborn, Recklinghausen). Before World War I, girls’ circles were established in Gniezno, Inowrocław, Ostrów and Poznań. The network of secret societies also covered Gdańsk Pomerania (14 circles) and Silesia (14 circles) with approximately 15000 Polish students in 1914.

On the initiative of ”Zet”, a congress of gymnasium delegates from Greater Poland was held in July 1898 in Poznań. During the congress, the “Czerwona Róża” [Red Rose] union was formed. This union took over the leading role in relation to all the philomath circles in Germany. In 1901, an unmasking took place and during trials in Toruń (1902) and Gniezno (1903), 88 pupils were accused of aspirations to rebuild the Polish state. 53 gymnasium students were sentenced and expelled from schools. After these events, the gymnasium circles submitted themselves to a countrywide organisation called ”Przyszłość” [Future], abbreviated to PET. Drawing on the example of the Gniezno circle, all the circles were given a unified name in the year 1903 – the Tomasz Zan Society (TZS). There were 3 levels of initiation in the organisational structure of the Tomasz Zan Society: ”Promieniści” [Radiants], ”Philaretes” and ”Philomaths”. The accepted statutes touched upon the issues of functional duties, the principles of conspiracy and the content of the oath. In Germany, 6 Tomasz Zan Society districts led by permanent commissars delegated by the academic “Zet” were designated. The circles also benefited from local patronage and cooperated with Polish physicians, priests, lawyers and land-owners. From the year 1906 during the summer holidays, courses for circle boards were organised in Poznań and Cracow. In 1906, there were 56 active Tomasz Zan Society circles with 537 members (52% among Polish pupils). Over 3900 names of members of philomath circles of the Prussian partition are known from the years 1860-1919. More than 2300 names are associated with the region of Poznań, 1200 - Gdańsk Pomerania, over 300 - Silesia and about 100 names - Westphalia-Rhineland. After the members of the Tomasz Zan Society started their studies, they still continued their illegal activities in ”Zet”.

The work of the Tomasz Zan Society circles focused on two areas: education and teaching (self-education). Self-education comprised the learning of Polish, history, the geography of the Polish territories and political-economic issues considered from the perspective of the Polish nation and in the aspect of the regaining of independence. The programme was completed during a 2.5-year period, in four sections, twice a week, in groups consisting of 3-6 people, under the supervision of higher ranking members. The action of the distribution of books from Galicia was managed by Zofia Sokolnicka. The “Filaret” [Philarete] monthly was published (Priest Nikodem Cieszyński). In Ostrów, the members of the Tomasz Zan Society founded a sports club under the name ”Venetia”. With the help of the ”Zet” and the Poznań ”Straż”, [Guard] four-week trips to Galicia were organised. There, the participants could become familiar with the idea of the scouting movement and issues related to paramilitary training. In the years 1905-1914, 215 pupils from the Poznań region and 162 pupils from Pomerania and Silesia took part in these organised trips.

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