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

Select Pages

Tones of independence also appeared among young carpenters, merchants and workers. The youth had already experienced the school strikes in the years 1901-1903 and 1906-1907. Meanwhile, underground, not numerous but disciplined, groups of working youth were being established. The attitude of some of them was very radical, e.g. the military-reconnaissance organisation founded in 1908 by Jan Kąkolewski - ”Orzeł Biały” [White Eagle], which brought together the youth from Poznań city centre, the Jeżyce district and Główna Street. Militia groups with code names such as ”Wolni Strzelcy” [Free Riflemen], ”Czarna Ręka” [Black Hand] and ”Sokół” [Falcon] gathered military and police information, getting ready for sabotage operations.

In the face of a ban on the work of the youth falcon circles, the Association of Games and Fun ”Zorza” ["The Dawn”], which was managed by Józef Paczkowski, Andrzej Pokrywka and Antoni Wysocki, was set up in 1911. After the scout course organised by ”Sokół” [Falcon], the society was transformed in 1913 into a scout troop which bore the same name.

In 1903, the working youth established the Self-Educated Polish Youth Society ”Iskra” [”Spark”]. On its initiative, the organisation called “Ogniwo” [Link] was founded in 1910 for young merchants and bankers (Seweryn Krzyżaniak and Stanisław Szulc). In 1912, ”Brzask” [Dawn] was set up (Stanisław Maćkowiak). These organisations cooperated with the Polish Gymnastic Society ”Sokół” [“Falcon”] and co-formed the first scout groups. On 10 July 1913, a patriotic demonstration was organised in front of the monument of Adam Mickiewicz. As a consequence of police intervention, riots took place and 38 participants were arrested. After a trial they were all punished with imprisonment. In 1902 the board of the union was arrested and sentenced to fines and short-term imprisonment.

A significant influence on the development of the Greater Poland independence movement before World War I was also exerted by inspiration from the Lesser Poland region. The majority of organisations were ideologically inspired by the National League. Based on source data, it can be concluded that 800-900 people were members of youth conspiracy organisations before the outbreak of the war. About 400 of them took part in preliminary military training. Galicia, and above all Cracow, influenced the Poznań region educationally. The numerous and regular trips of the Poznań school youth to Cracow shaped the sense of the ideological community. Their organisers skilfully combined tradition and religious content with elements of political and paramilitary activities.

An important moment to start practical military activity was the Grunwald Congress organised in the year 1910 in Cracow. Over 400 delegates from the Poznań region took part in it. The appearance of youth independence organisations was strongly criticised at that time by the older generation which was not prepared to accept such activities.

The outbreak of the war, owing to the conscription of many Poles to the army, caused decay in the organisational life in many areas. The work of ”Sokół” practically ceased, the more active, though not always prudent scouts organised the so called “tens”, a form of militia. In October 1914, the first military “ten” under the name ”Sęp” [Vulture] was organised by Bohdan Szeffer. After three months it was detected by the police. Blame for this was put on a very busy but undisciplined scout - an individualist - Stanisław Nogaj. Other “tens” were organised by Józef Jęczkowiak and Alfons Radomski – carpenters from the Old Town and Józef Nowak (workers from the Wilda district).

Similar militia groups were organised among the members of the Self-Educated Polish Youth Society which had operated in Poznań since 1903. The society brought together the youth which represented the circles of carpenters and workers. At that time, it was managed by Zenon Kosidowski. It was getting ready for sabotage-intelligence operations at the rear of the German army, if the Russian armies were to arrive in Poznań. The militia groups, altogether, consisted of no more than 50-60 members.

The militia conspirators “Sęp” [Vulture] led by Stanisław Nogaj set up the Sports Club - “Unia” [Union] (8 May 1915), bringing together 36 scouts from the “Piast” troop. Soon the club submitted to Z. Kosidowski. In March 1916, 200 members worked in 16 circles of the “Union”. A similar system was started by the clubs established by the team of the “Dawn” troop. The Stefan Czarnecki and Leszek Czarny group members formed the Sport Club “Czarni” on 27 June 1915, under the supervision of Henryk Linke, while the scouts from the Leszek Biały group formed the Vistula club (Andrzej Pokrywka and A. Wysocki).

Select Pages