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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In 1912, scout groups were formed as part of the Tomasz Zan Society circles. When the leader of the Poznań-based TZS circles - Wiktor Jakubowski - was in Cracow, he conducted talks on 27 July with the command of the Cracow district of Polish Rifle Squads (cadet Michał Żymierski). In September 1912, the Cracow instructors (Karol Popiel, Zygmunt Karwacki and M. Żymierski) conducted a series of instruction meetings in the circles. Soon first rifle squads were organised in Poznań (S. Dabiński), Wschowa (Bronisław Piniecki), Leszno (Stanisław Jórga), Ostrów (Kazimierz Glabisz), Wągrowiec (Jan Knach), Gniezno and Inowrocław. The military work was supervised by Adam Rose and S. Dabiński. In January 1914, Zygmunt Karwacki concluded a detailed contract with the Tomasz Zan Society on behalf of the Polish Rifle Squads. An inspection of Poznań District VI conducted in June 1914 showed that regular military training was held by 160 members of the Polish Rifle Squads. More than half of them implemented the cadet school programme after completion of the recruit school training. All squads were in possession of weapons and instructions supplied by Lesser Poland. On 15 July 1914, the Poznań-Pomerania company which consisted of 120 people was sent to Cracow for manoeuvres organised by the Polish Rifle Squads. Jerzy Stam was appointed as the commandant of the Polish Rifle Squads (PRS) in the Prussian Partition. After the outbreak of the First World War, the course was interrupted and under the advice of Bernard Chrzanowski, its participants returned to their homes.

In Autumn 1914, the members of the Poznań PRS formed the Secret Independence Organisation with Z. Dalski and Henryk Bukowski as its leaders. It consisted of 70 members. The leading positions were held by: Wiktor Dega, Czesław Ganke, Józef Łakiński, Józef Skrzydlewski, Franciszek Wojtasiak and Janusz Zeyland. The Secret Independence Organisation was characterised by high internal cohesion and did not maintain any contacts with any political groups. As a result of the conscription of some its members to the army and misunderstandings within the leadership, in spring 1916, it was dissolved.

Organisations of an ethical nature, referred to as “rebirth” organisations were an excellent introduction into independence work. These included the Teetotaller societies; “Wyzwolenie” [Liberation] „Jutrzenka” [Dawn] and ”Świt’ [Daybreak]. The oldest of these initiatives was “Eleusis” founded in 1902 by Wincenty Lutosławski. This was an all-Polish organisation which brought together students in Galicia, gymnasium pupils in Greater Poland and Pomerania and young workers in Silesia and Westphalia. According to Eleusis, moral rebirth and internal liberation gave a guarantee of the regaining of independence. The national rebirth was supposed to take place by building a strong moral formation able to make sacrifices. The starting point in working on oneself was to practice the quadruple restraint from alcohol, tobacco, debauchery and gambling. The spirituality of Eleusis was based on combining Christian elements with the “national revelation” of Polish Messianism. As a result of systematic practical exercises, the sphere of religious life was strongly linked to patriotic feelings.

In the Prussian partition, Eleusis supported the activities of the National League and was of a clandestine nature. The effect of the activities of the Cracow emissaries (Tadeusz Strumiłło, Jerzy Grodyński and Zygmunt Podgórski) was the founding of the first Eleusis circles in gymnasiums in Greater Poland (1905). The circle in Gniezno was managed by Józef Kostrzewski (pseudonym: ”Wielki Eleutryk”), in Poznań - Bogusław Zielewicz, in Ostrów - Leon Sokołowski and Jan Jachowski, in Śrem - Stanisław Janicki, in Leszno - Bohdan Hulewicz, and in Pleszew - Ludwik Bociański. Elusis members exerted a strong influence on the development of the Greater Poland scouting movement. In the Poznań Province, in 1914 there were 80-100 members of ”Eleusis” including girls. The ideas of the organisation were popularised in such magazines as ”Świt” and ”Filaret”. In those magazines, the members of the Tomasz Zan Society, who imitated the German dormitory societies were stigmatised by their names. This led to the expulsion of the Eleusis members from the Tomasz Zan Society. The discovery led to the expulsion of Eleusis members from a gymnasium in Gniezno (J. Kostrzewski, Kazimierz Łuczewski and Tadeusz Korzeniowski).

The Eleusis movement in the Poznań region, in view of the necessity of secrecy and high ethical requirements, could not be a mass movement as was the case in Galicia, where it was legal. The spiritual formation of young people, who soon became leaders of independence work and the Greater Poland Uprising was built into the ranks of the Eleusis organisation. However, it turned out that independence came earlier than the moral rebirth that the young neo-philomaths had imagined.

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