Behind the Scenes of the Greater Poland Uprising

The participation of the Catholic clergy in the Greater Poland Uprising and in the preservation of the Polish national identity during the period of partitions (1793-1918)

Priest Dariusz Śmierzchalski-Wachocz

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Because the Church in Poznań remained Polish, not only could it play the role of the centre of national awareness, but it was also a visible symbol of the survival of the compact and organised Polish society. Obviously the Church could not be entrusted with such a task by any German bishops, hence, in other districts of the partition, the church authorities limited themselves to leaving the Polish language to Poles in pastoral services. Polish priests were together with their Polish believers. These two groups provided each other with mutual support. This was their strength and, at the same time, the implementation of the idea of a “Catholic Pole”. This also had an effect on the economic and social sphere. In general Poles got married maintaining the principles of the Catholic faith and fighting against the various methods of Germanisation. 

Obviously, there was some significance to the work in the national field, performed by priests active in the German environment and their efforts similarly deserve to be especially highlighted, even though their results were frequently much less prominent than in the cases of the Poznań clergymen. Also there should be no grudge against the German priests who did not involve themselves in the activities of the Polish movement. However, a few of them did approve of, and actively supported, the Germanisation programme of the government. 

3. The Participation of the clergy in political life

In the political life of Greater Poland in the 19th century, the conservative landed gentry was a dominant force. Political differences which concerned society were suppressed by the pressure of Germanisation. However, it did not eliminate them completely. In the third quarter of the 19th century, the following trends competed with each other - ultramontane and liberal. According to the more conservative, ultramontane trend represented by Ledóchowski, there was a certain space for the achievement of a certain compromise with the government for the price of subordination of national matters to the Church. During the Kulturkampf, both groups found themselves in opposition to the occupant.

The activity of the clergy made its mark from the middle of the 1860s. This was the time, when the first priest-parliament members became part of the Polish representation of the Prussian partition, that is, the so called Polish Circle in the Prussian parliament, next to burghers and peasants. As time passed by, the clergymen started to be perceived as a serious and influential group there, especially due to the fact that the number of priest-parliament members increased during the consecutive terms of the parliament. For several years, the leader of the Polish Circle and a prominent figure in the parliament's chamber was the parish priest of Września - Florian Stablewski - the subsequent Gniezno and Poznań archbishop. Also, one of the most influential figures in the Prussian parliament was Priest Piotr Wawrzyniak. In the years 1848-1918, there were as many as 48 parliament members who represented the clergy. For many years, Polish society in the Prussian partition could observe and positively evaluate the prominent social activist, parish priest of Grodzisk Wlkp. and member of the Reich’s Parliament, Tadeusz Styczyński. He emphasised in his speeches, on many occasions, that the establishment of the Kingdom of Poland is a partial fulfilment of Polish postulates. Equally strong emotions among the Greater Poland patriots were elicited by the speeches delivered by Priest Antoni Stychla in the German parliament. Those speeches, which demonstrated great civil courage were often agreed upon with other Greater Poland activists. Here, it is necessary to mention the following priests: Adamski, Kłos, Lisiecki and Dymek. The following priests also cooperated with the activists from Greater Poland: Wolszlegier, a prominent priest from the Chełm diocese and founder of strong centres of Polish identity in the region of Pomerania, similar activities were also performed by Priest Bolt. Priest Józef Kłos, an editor of “Przewodnik Katolicki”, as well as a parliament member and treasurer of the Parliamentary Circle in Berlin, participated actively in the political life of Greater Poland. He made his name as an excellent speaker and defender of the Polish language. 

Another key person in the group of the Polish clergy was Priest Canon Stanisław Adamski, one of the main advisers to Archbishop Edmund Dalbor. He was very involved in the activities of social, economic and cultural associations. He was the patron of the Union of Earning and Economic Associations, the greatest financial power in the Prussian partition, which had a huge amount of money capital at its disposal along with appropriately educated collaborators and specialists in many spheres of life. The management of the Union made it possible for Priest Adamski to exert some influence on improvements of the food supply for people during the wartime. In this important period for Greater Poland, he exerted such an important influence on public life that after the outbreak of the Uprising in the year 1918, the German press acclaimed Priest Adamski as the uncrowned king of Polish society on the territory of the Prussian partition. He managed to accomplish his goal of convening the Partition Sejm of Poznań on 3-5 December, that is, a congress of elected delegates of Polish society from the entire Reich. This was an undoubtedly huge success for the Polish patriotic centres. This political representation was composed of 75 Polish clergymen who represented many poviats, also Warmia, Masuria, Silesia and Western Pomerania. Priest Adamski led the Polish delegation who arrived in Berlin for talks with the German delegation, but in the course of the discussions, he demanded the consideration of the postulates of the Polish population. His proposals were as follows: “to not limit the civic freedoms and control of offices in all places inhabited by Poles, to Polonise schools to the greatest possible extent; to remove the Heimatschutz.”. This was undoubtedly a demand for the complete autonomy of the Prussian partition. By playing politics aimed at gaining time for the strengthening of the Polish administration, he sent a letter to Ignacy Jan Paderewski with a request for his arrival to Poznań, to manifest the ties between Greater Poland and the reborn Polish state as the prime minister of the future government. No wonder then, that when the Uprising broke out, he supported the military effort of the general society wholeheartedly.

4. The participation of clergy in the Greater Poland Uprising

The active participation of the clergy from the Gniezno Archdiocese in the Greater Poland Uprising is a fact that is worth observing. Although data regarding the participation of the clergy in the Uprising cover only several dozen parishes, in reality, there was no parish within the Poznań archdiocese which would not join this independence action. At the end of the year 1918, when the uprising broke out, numerous clergymen from two archdioceses: the Gniezno archdiocese with 270 priests, and the Poznań archdiocese with 564 priests, clearly marked their support for the regaining of independence on these territories and their incorporation into the reborn Poland. The Uprising found support particularly among the younger and middle-aged generation of priests. As they often originated “from the masses”, were familiar with Polish tradition and owed their education to scholarships received from the Karol Marcinkowski’s Scientific Help Society and the archbishop boarding schools established by Archbishop Florian Stablewski and they had already resisted Germanisation before. It was often the conspiracies in gymnasiums and the experience acquired at the Tomasz Zan Society and the People's Libraries Society which were the true schools of resistance for them. Priest-social activists shared their acquired experience in Youth Societies. Based on the Learning Youth Society, Younger Youth Society, or the scout groups popping up even in the year 1912, Priest Walerian Adamski established the “Youth Emergency”. It played an important role during the Uprising as the auxiliary military service in communication, sanitary and rescue units.

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