Behind the Scenes of the Greater Poland Uprising

Political aspects of the Greater Poland Uprising 1918-1919

Michał Polak

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Both parties accused each other of provoking the events and of nationalist inclinations. During the talks, it was decided that the German 6th Grenadier Regiment would be allowed to leave Poznań without support weapons, that is, only with weapons for their personal protection. Also interned officials and generals were released. On 1 January 1919, the German delegation returned to Berlin. Major Stanisław Taczak became the temporary chief commander of the Uprising and Jan Maciaszek became the Poznań commandant based on appointment by the Commissariat of the Supreme People’s Council. On 8 January, the post of chief commander of the Uprising was offered to General Józef Dowbor-Muśnicki, but Major Taczak continued performing his duties until 16 January. 

For the reasons mentioned above, the resolution on taking over the power in the liberated territories was adopted as late as on 3 January 1919, and on 8 January 1919, the Greater Poland Commissariat of the Supreme People’s Council, by its appeal to the society announced that the Supreme People’s Council had taken power in Greater Poland. In the opinion of an expert on this issue, Professor Zbigniew Dworecki, the people’s councils undertook diverse administrative activities, among other things, the state and local government administration, and partially the judiciary, were taken over and necessary personal changes in offices were made, laws and regulations were issued for the legal, administrative and economic separation of the liberated territory of Greater Poland, the Greater Poland Army was established and last, but not least, the documentation for settlements with Germany was prepared, which facilitated the work of the Liquidation Commission.

Activists of the Supreme People’s Council and its board, both before and after 8 January 1919, demonstrated high political and administrative activity, gradually breaking the ties which bound the Commissariat to the Berlin centre. By the end of February, the worker and soldier councils were liquidated, which was followed by a winding-up of people's councils and their leaders while commandants of security guards were proposed high official posts. As has been noticed by Henryk Lisiak, the Commissariat also took over the legislative and executive functions and established three sub-commissariats: for Silesia, Pomerania and the Netze district. Also, four divisions started to operate: the National Economy Division (Juliusz Trzciński), the Organisation and Propaganda Division (Priest Józef Prądzyński), the above-mentioned Policy and Army Division (Leon Pluciński) and the Administration and Judiciary Division (Wacław Wyczyński).

The political activity in the organisational structure of the Commissariat was the responsibility of Division III – Policy and Army, which was subordinated directly to one of the most active and most capable commissars – Wojciech Korfanty. The head of the Division was Leon Pluciński, who had three departments under his control: 1. Policy, 2. Refugees, 3. Wartime losses registration

On the other hand, the Warsaw Office of the Commissariat of the Supreme People’s Council, which was subordinated to the Central Division, was headed by W. Kręglewski. Also, an office whose task was to prepare materials for the Polish delegation at the peace conference in Paris was established.

When the Commissariat of the Supreme People's Council addressed a request to the Chief of State to appoint a commander for the Uprising, Józef Piłsudski recommended General J. Dowbor-Muśnicki. Without delving too much into the motives of the Chief of State, and being aware of the sceptical attitude of the general to the bottom-up character of the Uprising, it is worth noticing, that overall, General Dowbor-Muśnicki proved himself to be the commander who was to transform the poorly integrated, though quite valiant insurgent troops into a regular Greater Poland Army. He also managed to successfully coordinate, in stages, the integration of the Greater Poland units into the Polish Army

At the end of January 1919, the Germans concentrated large forces on the Greater Poland Front and prepared an offensive aimed at the suppression of the Uprising. Both parties demonstrated their obstinacy and will to fight. At the beginning of February, the insurgent army switched to defence, fighting to maintain the territorial acquisitions from January. The course of battles was dramatic and the respective smaller and bigger towns were passed to and fro. However, in general, the Poles maintained the status quo, while the Germans were not able to make any significant breaches into the territories under Polish control. Yet still the Germans were getting ready for another offensive. 

In the meantime, the members of the Commissariat, from the middle of January, being aware of the threat of German offensives, and being concerned with the proper perception of the Greater Poland Uprising by the Entente states, at least from the Polish point of view, were involved in an intense exchange of telegrams with the Polish politicians of the Polish National Committee in Paris. There were hopes that a truce could be called, securing in this way the current military achievements of insurgent armies. In several telegrams to the Polish National Committee, which were quite alarming in tone, the commissars argued that the situation of the Poznań region was difficult in the face of expected German operations. Prof. Stanisław Sierpowski was right to observe that the main indication which justified the interest of the French in the fate of Greater Poland was the risk of the outbreak of war in the east, to which the Polish politicians pointed. Unfortunately, any adjustment of the terms of the armistice, including the considerations of the Poznań region, were not given due attention in January. The German politicians, in their telegrams to the Entente governments, built a falsified picture of events in Greater Poland. For instance, Ulrich Brockdorff-Rantzau, in his letter to the English government dated 15 January 1919, called the Polish Uprising a “rebellion, a crime against the Homeland and high treason”, and the goals of the insurgents were nothing more than: “the untamed wantonness of Polish imperialism”, stating that: “the German government perceives the current situation as an immense danger which threatens permanent peace in the world”. In response to the statements of the German minister of foreign affairs, which were full of confabulations, on 21 January 1919, the Commissariat of the Supreme People's Council sent a lengthy letter to the allied governments, in which, point by point, the German arguments were dismissed, discussing widely the lies, half-truths and manipulations.

Next day, the issue of the Greater Poland uprising came to light during the meeting of the Supreme Council of the Principal Allied and Associated Powers. In this discussion, whose participants were, among others: Marshal Ferdinand Foch, Prime Minister Georges Clemencau, Prime Minister David Lloyd George, minister Arthur Balfour, Italian minister Sydney Sornino and U.S President Woodrow Wilson, attention was paid to the fact that the Polish struggles for independence in Greater Poland and other territories of the Prussian partition, demonstrate, on the one hand, a lack of trust in the peace conference, and on the other hand, in the opinion of the gathered participants, they destabilise the concept of the struggle of the reborn Poland with the Bolsheviks. As can be seen, the politicians of the Polish National Committee in Paris, acting in consultation with the Commissariat of the Supreme People’s Council, had a very difficult task to win over the Council of Ten for recognition of the achievements of the Greater Poland Uprising. The future of Greater Poland was uncertain and its fate was not yet sealed. One effect of the meetings held on 22 and 24 January 1919 was the appointment of the inter-allied mission sent to Poland under the leadership of Joseph Noulens, a French politician and diplomat, which was to be of a military and political nature. The main objective of the delegation was to prepare a report on the situation in Poland for the needs of the peace conference. On the other hand, the missions currently present in the Polish territories – the British one headed by Colonel H. Wade and the French one headed by General Berthelemy – were supposed to form a new extended mission. Its aim was to prevent the escalation of the Polish-German conflict.

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