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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Significant support for independence efforts was also granted by Primate Archbishop Edmund Dalbor. He took part in the welcoming of Ignacy Jan Paderewski, then received the oath from the commander-in-chief of the insurgent armies, General Józef Dowbor-Muśnicki and also blessed the insurgent standards. When instructing the clergy to take part in the activities of the Polish Red Cross and the scouting movement, to organise help for the Polish soldiers of the former German Army returning from the front, to care for fugitives from areas threatened with war, to join people's councils and also to cooperate with the Supreme People’s Council, he issued a number of proclamations regarding the collection of donations for the new Polish authorities. He himself also got involved in charity support. Archbishop Dalbor took special care of priests who were forced to leave their parishes and intervened on many occasions in the international arena in matters related to persecuted priests. 

Priests took an active part in secret organisations that prepared the Uprising and organised demonstrations and people’s councils; they were their members and often also leaders. They collected weapons, money, medicines, encouraged the faithful to participate in the uprising, called Polish soldiers to switch sides and join the insurgent army, sometimes, they themselves organised the insurgent units, and even, in several cases, commanded them, and last but not least they held the functions of insurgent chaplains. In the Strzelin poviat alone, at the moment of the outbreak of the Greater Poland Uprising, there were 15 parishes organised and strongly linked to the Secret Citizen’s Committee in Poznań on the initiative of clergymen. The most prominent participants of the Greater Poland Uprising were: in the Poznań district - Priest Mateusz Zabłocki, the Witkowo district – Priest Tadeusz Skarbek - Malczewski, the Inowrocław district – Priest Prelate Antoni Laubitz, the Pakość district – priest and parliament member Józef Kurzawski, and in the Szubin district – Priest Ludwik Sołtysiński. The clergy, in general, were characterised by generosity, civil courage and a highly patriotic attitude.

The military chaplaincy was also organised among the units which fought in the Greater Poland Uprising. The first priests started to work as early as during the first days of the Uprising. In the middle of January 1919, as part of the quartermaster department, the Chaplaincy Division II, with the Armed Forces Chaplain in the former Prussian Partition as its head, was established. This position was then renamed as the General Dean of Polish Armies in the Prussian Partition. Priest Tadeusz Dykier was appointed first General Dean, soon after he was replaced by Priest Józef Prądzyński. His subordinates included district deans, division and garrison parish priests, chaplains of regiments, hospitals and military plants. Archbishop Dalbor officially appointed several chaplains, including Józef Prądzyński, Szczepan Janosik, Stanisław Małecki, Józef Piotrowicz, Walenty Trzebiński, Józef Wierlt and Mieczysław Strahl. 

Some priests fulfilled the duties of military chaplains without being officially appointed, but with permission from the bishop. One of the prominent independence and insurgent activists was Priest Mateusz Zabłocki from Gniezno. He took an active part in the battles of Zdziechowa, Mączniki and Szubin – there he took upon himself the role of a liaison delivering the orders of the command on the most dangerous frontline section. This is what Wojciech Jedlina-Jacobson had to say about him in his memoirs: “The figure of priest Zabłocki, our staff chaplain really got stuck in my memory, a very likeable person on the entire front, and this, as a result of his great commitment and immense personal courage”. During negotiations with the Germans, Priest Zabłocki was deceitfully arrested and sentenced to death from which he was saved by one of the Evangelical pastors. The collaborators of priest Zabłocki were as follows: Priest Zygmunt Wierzbicki from Kłecko in the Gniezno poviat and priests Józef Tomiak and Wincenty Teodor Taczak.

The chief chaplain of the insurgent units led by General Dowbor-Muśnicki was Priest Zygmunt Dykiert, previously the chief of the People's Council in Piła, who left his parish in fear for his life and went to Greater Poland. Among the chaplains in the Szubin poviat, Priest Antoni Ludwiczak and Priest Bolesław Kaźmierski who cooperated with him were the most outstanding figures. They organised the Polish elementary education and raised awareness among the Polish people. Priest Ludwiczak also proposed the displacement of the Germans who had settled in the entire poviat as a result of the activities of the Settlement Commission. He also encouraged other priests to work in the military chaplaincy: Ludwik Reszelski, Wincenty Miśkiewicz, Jan Kąkolewski, Ludwik Sołtysiński, Teofil Kłos, Maksymilian Arndt and Mieczysław Buławski. Priest Ignacy Czechowski also cooperated with the Polish resistance movement. He was a parish priest from Chodzież, and initiator of numerous organisations which gathered Poles from the surrounding poviats. These were: the Society of Polish Industrialists, the Catholic Association of Polish Workers and the Association of the Polish Youth (males). Separately from the German association, he brought into existence an independent Polish Association of Working Women headed by his sister Kazimiera Czechowska. To popularise education among the Polish youth, he established a division of the Karol Marcinkowski Scientific Help Society in Chodzież and enlivened the activities of the People's Libraries Society. The crowning glory of his social activities was the foundation of the People’s Bank where he became its first director. He was also the chairperson of the insurgent People's Council in Chodzież and the initiator of organisation of defence in the region of the Noteć River. Priest Kazimierz Stachowiak participated in armed resistance in the poviat of Chodzież and during the defence, he tried to make every effort to prevent the insurgents from retreating and he also organised the defence of the Budzyń frontline section which was at risk. A collaborator of his was Priest Mikołaj Świrski, the initiator of the establishment of an insurgent unit in Czarnków, which subsequently joined the units of the Northern Front. On 8 January 1919, together with a small group of insurgents, he took part in a bloody battle with prevailing German forces. He was accompanied by Priest Witold Paulus, who took care of the insurgents and supplied them with weapons, ammunitions and medicine under life-threatening conditions. 

The insurgent chaplains were often helped by local parish priests. Priest Paweł Steinmetz from Osieczna in the Leszno poviat reactivated a Sokół [Falcon] group in his parish in December 1918 and prepared the youth for participation in the uprising, providing support to it as an insurgent chaplain. It is also worth remembering the figure of Priest Alfons Graszyński, a parish priest and an organiser of a troop in Gościeszyn, he was also the leader of the armed movement in the Wolsztyn poviat. In the middle of December 1918, he set up a unit, consisting of Polish men, former soldiers of the Prussian army, for the purpose of defending Gościeszyn against the Germans. He made a speech at the meeting of the Worker and Soldier Council in Wolsztyn on 31 December 1918, during which, with full determination, he proclaimed the defence of Gościeszyn by insurgent units. His personal attitude caused the German delegates to abandon their intention to introduce their own military crews into several towns of the Wolsztyn poviat. He brought the necessary weapons from Poznań. This troop manned Gościeszyn and Rostarzewo and participated in the capture of Rakoniewice. The insurgents also fought for the liberation of Wolsztyn on 5 January 1919. During this period Priest Graszyński demonstrated inexhaustible vitality and military-organisational abilities. 

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