Behind the Scenes of the Greater Poland Uprising

What events led to the outbreak of the Greater Poland Uprising in December 1918?

Marek Rezler

Select Pages

As a natural consequence, it gave hope to the Polish soldiers who started to realise that there was a possibility for Poland to be reborn. The soldiers did not put too much effort in the service and the Polish language was commonly used in conversations among Polish soldiers, who were yearning for the bloody war to finally end. A support system for deserters and soldiers who feigned illness was organised. They were provided with fake documents, and those who were under the biggest threat were sent to the Kingdom of Poland, where they became runners, exchanging messages with other conspirators. Despite the ban, deserters escaped with weapons, which were extremely valuable. Conspirators from scouts’ circles soon started to gather weapons in secret warehouses. 

At the time, the scouts were the most active organisers of conspiratorial and national work. During the war, from the end of 1916 in particular, they became famous for their propaganda campaigns and patriotic demonstrations; the most spectacular one, commemorating the 100th anniversary of Tadeusz Kościuszko’s death, was held in October 1917, under the statue of Adam Mickiewicz in Poznań.

At that time, the youth from secondary schools was also establishing its own secret organisations. In 1915, the Polish Youth Association “Kościuszko”, based on the structure of “Zet”, was founded at the Auguste Victoria Gymnasium (in 1919 renamed the Karol Marcinkowski Gymnasium School). Its scope soon covered other secondary schools in the city. Meanwhile, the secret Youth’s Folk Education Society, “Sowa”, which included the so-called “ambulance”, that prepared its members for courier service, property protection and sanitary protection, was linked to the Tomasz Zan Society 

Before the Uprising

The autumn of 1917 was crucial for the organisation of Polish conspiratorial activities in the region of Poznań. Work started on creating an association, the core focus of which would be to prepare an armed uprising. After consultations held with the activists of the Polish Military Organisation in Warsaw, the decision was made to establish a similar association in Poznań. As a result, on 15 February 1918, the first group of members of the secret Polish Military Organisation of the Prussian Partition (PMOPP) was sworn in. It was a cadre organisation, which in 1918 was composed of no more than 70 members. In the late autumn of 1918, there were eleven secret storage houses for weapons, ammunition and military equipment in the capital of the region. On 20 October, the internal decision was made to focus directly on military training.

Finally, the time came for the determination of the details regarding the structures of the conspiratorial Polish administration in the Prussian Partition. Every community, even the smallest, has its elites. In Greater Poland, at the end of the 19th century, the elites included people representing administration, the landed gentry, the clergy and medicine and education - educated people recognised within the community, with whom the better situated representatives of handicraft and commerce were willing to cooperate. In a large city, the group also included industrialists (if they were available), university professors and people representing the world of the arts, culture and law. The elite had an immense impact on the environment it lived and worked in. Its most eminent representatives, if they wanted to pursue higher, also patriotic goals, easily became political and national leaders in a specific city, this was true of both Polish and German leaders. Priests, doctors, pharmacists, landowners, office clerks – people representing these professions usually enjoyed great esteem, and their opinion was of importance in the community. The representatives of the local elites held meetings, had the possibility to contact the “wider world”, and frequently pursued goals considerably exceeding affairs related to their family, their closest environment or their town. If, to all this, we add the patriotic traditions cultivated in families and the vision of a free Poland, it becomes clear why the political leaders of the Polish pro-independence movement originated from these circles. This is where local, field “shadow cabinets” started to form in 1918. During unofficial meetings, in secret discussions, the process of distributing tasks and functions in a specific area, in the case of a breakdown of the German administration or power, started.

The strategy of the German authorities towards the Polish communities resembled the way subordinate native peoples were treated by colonists. It was assumed that when the offices were fully germanised, Polish was removed from school and the Poles were banned from occupying key positions in local bodies, the Germans would retain their power for longer. It was expected that the Poles, deprived of leaders and administrative guides and suddenly left alone, would become powerless – that the very awareness of their situation should take the drive for any changes away from them. However, the Polish side was able to introduce its representatives to leading positions in administration and regional bodies. These representatives had received education from... the Germans, for example in the Berlin parliament. It was similar in the army, where the Germans thought that preventing Poles from being promoted to higher ranks or positions would make it impossible for them to organise and carry out an armed uprising. They did not expect that non-commissioned officers and officers, up to the rank of a captain, would be able to organise effective military action. These assumptions, concerning both the civil authorities and the army, proved that the Germans heavily underestimated the organisational capabilities and flexibility of the Polish leadership groups in Greater Poland.  

In the summer of 1918, the Inter-Party Citizens’ Committee, which had so far been functioning underground, was transformed into the Central Citizens’ Committee (CCC) with its counterparts in poviats and larger towns. The seven-member executive division of the Committee was led by Priest Stanisław Adamski. The journalist Adam Poszwiński became the organisation’s Secretary. In October, a group of Polish parliamentarians with Władysław Seyda, Wojciech Korfanty and Priest Antoni Stychel postulated at the Reich parliament that the territories of the Prussian Partition should be annexed to the reborn Poland.

In mid-October 1918, during a session attended by representatives of the Citizens’ Committees of the largest towns in the region, a temporary Polish Civil Guard Headquarters was established, with Julian Lange as its leader. Units of the formation started secret military training. On 11 November 1918, an official decision on the forming of units of the Civil Guard (Bürgerwehr), based on parity, was made. The Guard’s task was to maintain order within its territory. The Poles used this opportunity to establish another military formation. On 27 November, the Commissariat of the Supreme People’s Council took the lead and changed the name of the Civil Guard in Greater Poland to the People’s Guard, which marginalised a share of the communities of German and Jewish origin.

The outbreak of the revolution in Germany on 28 October 1918 meant that events developed faster. On 11 November, an armistice was signed in Compiègne, which marked the end of the fighting on the Western Front.  

From 11 November 1918, a network of worker and soldier councils (WSC), of revolutionary and nationalist nature, was formed in Poznań and in other towns. On the same day, the Central Citizens’ Committee revealed itself and took a new name: the Temporary Supreme People’s Council, with Doctor Czesław Meissner as its leader. Two days after its establishment, the executive division of the organisation, i.e. the Commissariat of the SPC, was formed. It had three members: Priest Stanisław Adamski, Wojciech Korfanty and Adam Poszwiński.  

The operational scheme of the temporary Supreme People’s Council was drawn up by Priest Stanisław Adamski, an activist who applied a commercial company management system to the rules of the central Polish authority in the Partition territory. 

The next stage of this activity was a session of the Partition Sejm of Poznań on 3-5 December 1918. This session was attended by delegates from Pomerania, Greater Poland and Upper Silesia. This session of the Parliament, held in a solemn and patriotic atmosphere and treated as a feast of the Polish community in the Partition territory, went smoothly. First and foremost, the Supreme People’s Council, composed of 80 members, was formed, with Doctor Bolesław Krysiewicz as its leader. The composition of the Commissariat was extended to 6 people; each of the commissionaires, regardless of their scope of obligations, represented individual partition districts. Two sub-commissariats of the SPC, in Gdańsk and in Bytom, were also established. Poznań became a political centre representing all of the territories of the Prussian Partition. 

Select Pages