Behind the Scenes of the Greater Poland Uprising

Political aspects of the Greater Poland Uprising 1918-1919

Michał Polak

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The German government, in its note to the Entente states of 10 February and in a speech delivered by minister Brockdorff-Rantzau in the National Assembly of 14 February, strongly opposed the presence of the allied mission on its territory and also rejected the allied ban on using force against the Poles. The inter-allied mission arrived in Warsaw in February, and its delegation also undertook observation activity in Greater Poland. 

Before the end of the peace conference in Paris, the last political act of the Greater Poland-German war involved the tough negotiations in Trier, Germany, which were held on 14 - 16 February – on the eve of the expiration of the armistice between the Entente states and the German Reich. The Germans were represented by Minister Erzberger and Kurt von Hammerstein – head of the German armistice commission, and the Entente states by Marshal Foch and General Maxime Weygand – head of the general staff of allied armies. The current version of the armistice treaty was complemented by the provision that the Germans must stop any offensive operations against the Poles. Obviously the Germans expressed their protestations, which at times sounded dramatic, claiming that the Poles demonstrated nationalist zeal and were involved in acts of rebellion or unlawful attacks on the legitimate Prussian troops in Greater Poland. On 15 February, the Council of Ten became familiar with the whole matter, being aware of the true purpose of the offensive conducted by the Germans. This issue was actively commented upon by, among others, Prime Minister Ignacy Paderewski. 

As a result of the talks in Trier, the armistice between the Entente states and Germany was prolonged with the aid of the Polish National Committee and the Polish government, on 16 February 1919. At the same time the Greater Poland Army was recognised as an allied army.

Pursuant to the armistice signed in Trier, the Germans were to refrain from any military activity. It included an arrangement that “(...) the Germans should immediately stop any offensive operations against the Poles in the Poznań region and in all other districts”. 

The treaty delimited a demarcation line, the range of which covered the areas occupied as a result of insurgent battles: “To this end, German armies must not trespass the following line: the former border of East Prussia and West Prussia with Russia up to Dąbrowa Biskupia, then, starting from this point, west of Dąbrowa Biskupia, west of Nowa Wieś Wielkia, south of Brzoza, north of Szubin, north of Kcynia, south of Szamocin, south of Chodzież, north of Czarnków, west of Miały, west of Międzychód, west of Zbąszyń, west of Wolsztyn, north of Leszno, north of Rawicz, south of Krotoszyn, west of Odolanów, west of Ostrzeszów, north of Wieruszów, and from the Silesian border”.

The situation in Greater Poland was still tense, and the German armies did not leave the territories granted to Poland. In the second half of February 1919, the Germans also perpetrated a number of provocations, attacking towns located in the Polish zone, and the Poles did not accept this without any reaction. During the following months, the Germans prepared a strategic plan for an attack on the Poznań region. The French members of the Inter-Allied Commission reacted to this situation. After months of negotiations and problems with transport, an agreement was reached on the transportation of the Polish Army, commanded by General J. Haller, from France to Poland. This happened in April 1919, and the arrival of almost as many as 70000 well armed and equipped soldiers was to play an extremely important role in the fight for the borders of the reborn Poland. 

Also the continually developing Greater Poland Army got involved in the fight for the borders of the Republic of Poland. At the request of the government in Warsaw, General Dowbor-Muśnicki agreed to send troops to the besieged Lviv. In the face of increasing tensions between Poland and Germany in Greater Poland, in May 1919, the Greater Poland Army was placed under the command of Józef Piłsudski, who ordered a strategic war alert. In June, front-line clashes again intensified, and on 2 June, the Commissariat announced a state of emergency. The positive culmination of the hardships of the entire Greater Poland society and the political leaders in Poznań, Warsaw and France was the signing of the peace treaty by the Germans on 28 June 1919. 

In political terms, the Greater Poland Uprising must be evaluated positively. Sceptics would surely point to the fact that the majority of the indisputably Polish territories of Greater Poland would have been granted back to Poland one way or another and the casualties and destruction could have been avoided. However, it was still an act of the will of the Greater Poland general society to start fighting with the hated German invader. At the same time, this was in keeping with the then popular slogan of the self-determination of nations. The Greater Poland Uprising made the western superpowers clearly aware of the gravity and drama of the situation in the Poznań region, and at the same time, it made them sensitive to the Polish expectations regarding other territories in the Prussian partition. However, the Uprising could not have succeeded, if it were not for certain circumstances, such as the weakening of Germany by the lost Great War, the abdication of Emperor William II, and finally the outbreak of the communist revolution of the Spartacus Group. Furthermore, the fate of Greater Poland and other territories depended, to a great extent, on the decision of two powerful allies - France and England, which were in competition with each other. It is difficult not to draw the conclusion that the success of the Polish cause became a defining argument in the European policy of the above-mentioned superpowers.

From the point of view of the relations between Poznań and Warsaw, the Uprising clearly demonstrated the strength of the Greater Poland general society to the government in Warsaw. Despite misunderstandings which occurred at that time, as well as different opinions on the policy of the Polish government towards the Greater Poland inhabitants, it is worth noticing that the attitude of the Temporary Chief of State towards this region was not negative. Marek Rezler Ph.D. rightly noticed that, despite his declarations on not engaging in the regaining of the territories of the Prussian partition (during a conversation with Count Harry Kessler in the Magdeburg fortress) Józef Piłsudski, on several occasions in the following weeks and months, during official political talks with Germans, stood up for the Poznań region, going even as far as to terminate political relations with Berlin (15 December 1918). Nevertheless, neither did Piłsudski manage to earn the confidence of National Democracy activists nor the Greater Poland general society, in which the stereotype of the lack of help from Warsaw and the Chief of State was effectively instigated by local political activists. 

Despite this, it is worth emphasising that during the formation of the Greater Poland Army, its integration with the Polish Army, the fighting on various fronts for the borders and in official contacts with Warsaw, Greater Poland appeared not just as a paragon of lawfulness and reliability but also of an independent outlook on the political form of the reborn Poland.



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