Behind the Scenes of the Greater Poland Uprising

Political aspects of the Greater Poland Uprising 1918-1919

Michał Polak

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Historians, while evaluating the factors which contributed to the success of the Greater Poland Uprising, often emphasise its political aspects. The defeat of the imperial house of Germany and the armistice in Compiègne, as well as the revolution and violent fighting related to it, surprised the German politicians and triggered a change in the configuration caused by the threat of the Bolshevik revolution. At the same time, they were unable to determine whether the reborn Polish state would manage to stop the Bolsheviks from marching west. Also, the failure of Germany evoked the expectations of the Polish community in Greater Poland, Pomerania and Silesia, however, it did not change the formal-legal situation of these territories. Polish postulates were not included in the ceasefire conditions whose details were discussed during the Paris talks in the period between 2 and 4 November 1918.

Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the supreme commander of the French armies, pressed for the introduction of a provision into the treaty, regarding an obligation by Germany to evacuate “all Polish territories, including the territories of former Poland which were in its possession before the first partition in the year 1772”. Decisions were taken at that time, that arrangements regarding the future of Polish territories of the Prussian partition were supposed to be made no sooner than during the peace conference. Talks regarding the signing of the armistice, and later on, the peace treaty with the Germans clearly manifested two stances: the British and the French. The U.S., in turn, acted as mediator. In fact, the Poles could only count on one ally - France and its military forces. The French were aware of the bridging position of Poland in Central Europe and its possible importance in a post-war anti-German alliance. Thus, for these reasons the French politicians and military officials did everything to weaken post-war Germany as much as possible in case of a future conflict.

In November 1918, power in Poland was taken by Józef Piłsudski who appointed the government of Jędrzej Moraczewski. In this situation, Poland was represented in Paris by Roman Dmowski’s Polish National Committee and, in the country, by a government headed by Jędrzej Moraczewski. One of the elements of French policy was to suggest to Roman Dmowski and the Polish National Committee in Paris the creation of fait accompli by bringing about the outbreak of an uprising comprising all partitions. Dmowski was promised that he would receive military support in the event of the landing of the perfectly organised and equipped “Blue Army”, commanded by General J. Haller. Unfortunately, the strong objection of British diplomacy on the one hand, and probably the poor state of the Polish military preparations within the territory of the partition made this plan unrealistic. Additionally the Polish National Committee, in view of its ties with France, was unacceptable to Great Britain. Being afraid of the French influence in Warsaw, Prime Minister Arthur Balfour decided to grant support to Ignacy Paderewski who arrived in Liverpool by ship on 23 November 1918. The exquisite virtuoso and champion of the Polish cause was an alternative to Roman Dmowski. Instead of the “Blue Army”, an allied delegation including Ignacy Paderewski arrived in Gdańsk. He travelled to Warsaw to take the post of prime minister. The British mission was headed by Colonel Harry Herschel Wade, a British military attaché in Copenhagen.

It was possible to change the route of Paderewski’s trip to Warsaw and redirect the British mission in such a way as to travel through Poznań. On 26 December at 11.00 Ignacy Paderewski and Wojciech Korfanty, together with the British mission, travelled through Piła to Poznań by train. Although the Germans, first by means of a telegram and then directly in Rogoźno, tried to make the mission travel directly to Warsaw, the uncompromising attitudes of I. J. Paderewski and Colonel H. Wade negated this intention. Luckily, the train reached the capital city of Greater Poland and its passengers met with the enthusiastic reception of the Poznań inhabitants. 

The above-mentioned aspect of the Polish-French relations from November and December 1918 was clearly visible during the international conference at the Royal Castle in Warsaw, attended by French historians who represented, above all, the Paris Sorbonne. Incidentally, a thorough investigation of the files collected by French intelligence may be a source of very interesting information on this issue.

Researchers who deal with the Uprising agree that, though its outbreak in Poznań did not really surprise the leaders of the Poznań centre, it surely frustrated the plans of its decision-making centre - the Commissariat of the Supreme People’s Council, which was composed of the following persons: Priest Stanisław Adamski, Wojciech Korfanty and Adam Poszwiński. The Commissariat of the Supreme People’s Council had planned to win the best possible conditions for the Prussian partition during the treaty negotiations. After the outbreak of the Uprising, the Commissariat of the Supreme People’s Council did not take over power in the Poznań region immediately. For some days, the Poznań politicians made attempts at reaching an agreement with the Germans, however, at the same time, assuming that these negotiations would end in a fiasco they had prepared themselves to take over the power in the territories of the partition, at least in Greater Poland which was engulfed by the Uprising. For these reasons, efforts were focused on the establishment of Central Command and the insurgent military forces.

The Commissariat of the Supreme People's Council was organisationally and personally prepared, both for activities at a local level and also in terms of external policy, that is, diplomatic activities. The commissars had presented their objectives as early as 14 November 1918, in an appeal to the general Polish society on the territories of the former Prussian partition. At that time, the assembly of the Partition Sejm of Poznań and elections to the national parliament (Sejm) and poviat, municipal and communal people’s councils were announced. The Partition Sejm of Poznań took place on 3-5 December 1918. By resolution of the Parliament, the Supreme People's Council was acknowledged as the legal authority in the Prussian partition. The Supreme People’s Council was elected “As our superior authority until the moment that control is taken over our districts by the Polish Government”. On top of this, the so far temporary composition of the Commissariat of the Supreme People's Council was approved. Polish political postulates were formulated, declaring that the range of the Commissariat's authority would cover the entire Prussian partition. As well as this, a further three members were also elected – Stefan Łaszewski as the representative of Pomerania, Józef Rymer from Silesia and Władysław Seyda. As Zdzisław Grot emphasised, the Commissariat intended to struggle for independence based on the favourable decisions of the Entente states. Despite this, the formation of military forces was not neglected, that is, in the form of the Citizen's Guard as recognised by the Worker and Soldier Council. It was then renamed the People’s Guard on 27 November 1918. It is also necessary to emphasise the establishment of the Guard and Security Service which was dominated by Poles. This was possible owing to the brilliant ploys undertaken by Bohdan Hulewicz and Mieczysław Paluch. The independence work of Wincenty Wierzejewski, as the founder of the Polish Military Organisation of the Prussian partition and the organiser of the scout campaign during the period under consideration, should not be forgotten either.

Irrespective of the intentions of the Polish politicians in the former Prussian partition, the Uprising in Poznań and Greater Poland broke out at a very good moment. Berlin was not able to suppress the Poznań rebellion as it did not have enough forces and capacity at its disposal. However, the German politicians faced the looming loss of Greater Poland as the granary of Germany and the loss of Silesia with its resources and industry. In order to get an idea of the situation in Poznań, the German authorities sent a delegation headed by Eugen Ernst and consisting of a group of officials joined by German commanders in Poznań. The Poles were represented by commissars – Priest Stanisław Adamski and Wojciech Korfanty. There were also representatives of the Executive Division of the Worker and Soldier Council, representatives of people’s councils - German and Jewish ones - and representatives of the Police Headquarters. The talks were held on 30 December in the so-called new town hall in Poznań.

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