MARSHAL JOZEF PILSUDSKI
|"Comrades, I took the red tram of socialism to the stop
named Independence, but that's where I got off..."
Jozef Pilsudski figured prominently in Polish history as the one man
responsible for restoring Polish independence after 123 years of partition
by Russia, Prussia, and Austria. Early in his youth, and like his father,
Pilsudski participated in student demonstrations against the Soviet attempt
at Russification of the Polish people. He was of noble Lithuanian heritage.
On March 22, 1887, he was arrested and falsely charged for plotting the assassination of Tsar Alexander III, and
was sentenced to fifteen years hard labor in Siberia, but he served only five years. It was his brother Bronislaw
who was connected with the conspiracy. While in prison Jozef Pilsudski participated in a prisoner revolt, for which he
and the other prisoners were brutally beaten. When the Soviets removed privileges, Pilsudski went on a hunger
strike. The authorities sentenced him to another six months imprisonment, in which he served his first night outside
in 40 degree below zero temperature. It led to an illness that almost killed him and which plagued him with health
problems all his life.
In 1893, a year after his release, Pilsudski joined the Polish Socialist Party (PPS), but sided with its more radical
proponents. The following year he became editor and chief writer of the socialist newspaper he founded, Robotnik
(The Writer). In 1895 he became the leader of the PPS.
Pilsudski founded the Bojowki (Combat Team), an armed resistance movement which took part in numerous
demonstrations, bombings and assassinations of Soviet authorities. In retaliation the Soviet Cossack Cavalry
trampled over the demonstrators. (Oct. 28, 1904)
During the Russian Revolution, Pilsudski had enormous influence on events taking place in Congress Poland.
He ordered a general strike involving over 400,000 workers. It lasted for 2 months, until the Russians put a stop to
it. Pilsudski was instrumental in organizing the Lodz uprising in June 1905, the June Days as it came to be known. It
turned out to be a struggle between factions loyal to Pilsudski (PPS), and those loyal to Roman Dmowski, and the
New Democratic Party (the Endek). But the workers ignored Pilsudski's appeal for an uprising, because he had
called for a boycott to the elections for the first Duma. Pilsudski believed that the most effective means of restoring
independence to Poland was only through the combined ideologies of socialism and nationalism.
When the Russians discovered Robotnik's printing press, Pilsudski was arrested and detained in prison in the
Warsaw Citadel. He faked mental illness in order to be transferred to a mental hospital in St. Petersberg and with the
help of his comrades fled to Galicia.
Pilsudski began to plan for Poland's uprising but was unable to obtain assistance from the Japanese, who were
already embroiled in a war with Russia (1904-1905). It was during this time that he met Roman Dmowski, who was
also planning a revolution but whose opinions were drastically opposed to Pilsudskis'. They remained enemies for
life. It caused considerable tension among party affiliates and lead to a split between two factions - the Old Faction (
or Revolution Faction) loyal to Pilsudski, and the Young Faction ( or Moderate Faction of the Left Wing) loyal to
Dmowski. Dmowski was committed to cooperation with the Russian revolutionaries first, and he believed that the
socialist state would lead to Polish independence later on. Pilsudski's vision was the opposite - Polish independence
had to be secured first.
By 1909 Pilsudski's faction would again rise in prominence and he would remain as the most important leader until
World War I. In anticipation of war, Pilsudski, using the support of the Austrian authorities, established a military
school in Krakow for the training of Bojowki, Polish insurgents, whose membership grew steadily. Pilsudski was
associated with Wladyslaw Sikorski, Marian Kukiel, and Kazimierz Sosnkowski in the organization of combat teams.
Its purpose was to train officers for the future Polish Army.
As Commander-in-chief of Zwiazek Strzelecki, Pilsudski, with Austria's permission, established several military forces
under the guise of "sporting clubs" and "riflemens' associations". By 1914, its membership swelled to 12,000 men.
After the outbreak of World War I, Pilsudski sent a small unit of men into Russian Poland with the aim of instigating a
large scale uprising. It failed miserably. After his alliance with Austria and the creation of the Polish Legion, he led
numerous battles to victory. Pilsudski's plan was to fight against Russia on the side of the Central Powers (the
Austrian, Hungarian and German Empires), and later these powers alliance itself with France, Britain, and the U.S.
In November 1916, the Central Powers created the Kingdom of Poland and proclaimed its independence. As a result,
Polish troops were obliged to fight alongside German forces in order to defeat the Russians. Although he was not
opposed to this plan, Pilsudski was not willing to swear allegiance to Germany or Austria. His refusal to do so
worsened relations with the Central Powers. In July 1917, Pilsudski forbade his troops from taking an oath of
allegiance to the Central Powers, and was arrested and imprisoned at Majdeburg. His troops were incorporated into
the Austro-Hungarian Army.
On November 1918, Pilsudski and Sosnkowski were released, and headed for Warsaw. On November 11, Pilsudski
was appointed Commander-in-Chief of Polish forces, by the Regency Council. On that day, Pilsudski proclaimed an
independent Polish State. After the evacuation of German troops from Poland, Pilsudski became the Provisional
Chief of State in a socialist government. Though he introduced many reforms - the 8 hour work day, free education,
the women's vote, he believed that he had to operate above party politics.
Poland after World War I was in ruins, destroyed by war and looting. The greatest challenge to Pilsudski was in
unifying Poland's internal structure. The former occupiers, Germany, Austria, and Russia had left behind a system
of diverging and multifarious institutions. There were 9 different legal systems, 5 currencies, 66 types of railway
systems, with 165 different models of locomotives, and numerous other problems to resolve. The remaining problem
was the existence of two separate Polish governments - Pilsudski's, in Warsaw, and Dmowski's in Paris. Both rivals
met to discuss the establishment of a single government.
Ignacy Jan Paderewski, the world famous pianist and composer became Poland's first Prime Minister, and Foreign
Minister. He was instrumental in persuading Pilsudski and Dmowski to join forces and establish a single government,
and thereby avoid civil war. Pilsudski's vision for Poland was a return to the pre-war Polish-Lithuanian federation,
including Belarus, and the Ukraine. It was to be named Miedzymorze (Between the Seas). Poland would have
regained its territory from the Baltic to the Black Sea, but the Polish-Soviet War of 1919-1921 put an end to such
Though the Bolsheviks and the White Russians were both enemies of the new Polish state, Pilsudski had no
recourse but to choose the lesser of two evils - he chose the Bolsheviks. By so doing, he inadvertently saved the
Bolshevik government by having refused to attack the Russian government. The Polish-Ukrainian War that followed
served to clarify just who the real enemy was - it was the Bolsheviks. In April 1922, Pilsudski became Marshall, and
signed the Polish-Ukrainian treaty establishing an independent Ukrainian alliance with Poland. As a result, the
Ukrainian leader, Symon Petliura ceded eastern Galicia, a decision for which he was virulently
denounced by the Ukrainian people.
The Polish-Ukrainian armies fought successfully against the Russians. On May 7, with little effort they captured
Kiev. The Russians then launched a successful counter-offensive against the Ukraine, and advanced into Poland.
The National Democrats (Endeks) severely criticized Pilsudski for the Bolshevik victories, and demanded his
resignation. Though Pilsudski tendered his resignation it was refused by Prime Minister Wincenty Witos. In the
weeks that ensured, Pilsudski was able to halt the Soviet advance at the Battle of Warsaw, in August 1920, a
battle which came to be known as the Miracle at Wisla (Vistula). His strategy was considered unconventional
and risky. It involved spearheading an offensive to separate the Soviet troops from its Reserves, and to disorganize
its mobilization. A copy of the plan accidentally fell into Soviet hands but was disregarded as a ruse. The Soviet
error in judgement led to their defeat, a humiliating one at that, in the Battle of Warsaw.
On December 9, 1922 Gabriel Narutowicz became the first President of the Second Polish Republic. Five days
after the inauguration, he was assassinated by a right-wing anti-semetic painter, Eligiusz Niewiadomski. Pilsudski
resigned his post as Chief of General Staff, blaming Witos for the President's death.
In his absence, Poland's economy reached crisis proportions as hyperinflation and underemployment skyrocketed.
At the urging of his allies and supporters, Pilsudski returned to politics and shortly thereafter resigned once again.
He demanded the resignation of Witos Cabinet. When the Endecja formed a new government on May 12, 1926,
Pilsudski returned to power in a military coup. President Stanislaw Wojciechowski and Prime Minister Witos stepped
down. Pilsudski was offered the office of the Presidency, but he turned it down, aware of its limited powers. He
chose to hold the offices of Minister of Military Affairs and Chairman of the Council of War. For the next 10 years,
Pilsudski's Sanacja government put an end to parliamentary government. He declared that the coup was intended to
be a "revolution without revolutionary consequences." From 1928 the Sanacja was represented by the Bezpartyjny
Blok Wspolpracy z Rzadem, which had popular support. In 1935 the Polish Constitution was adopted and was
tailored to Pilsudskis' specifications, providing for a strong presidential office.
Pilsudski's regimes gave Poland much needed stability in a country fragmented by numerous ethnic minorities -
they comprised a third of the population of Poland. The policy of the Second Polish Republic reflected Pilsudski's
position of "state assimilation" rather than "ethnic assimilation". Citizens were to be judged entirely on the degree of
their loyalty to the State. Many Polish Jews viewed Pilsudski favorably, as their position had improved with the
appointment of Kazmierz Bartel to the Cabinet. However, with the rise of terrorism of the Organization of Ukrainian
Nationalists, and the Great Depression, the situation of Polands' minorities worsened. Minorities began to criticize
Pilsudski's policies, in particular calling into question Pilsudski's Lithuanian-Polish
background in order to discredit him.
On 1930 he sent opposition leaders to prison at Bereza Kartuska, a compound he established for detaining political
prisoners. In foreign policy, Pilsudski sought alliances with the western powers in order to maintain Poland's
independence. He disapproved of the French and British appeasement of the USSR, but sought to maintain good
relations with the latter. With this aim in mind, the Polish government signed a Non-Aggression pact with the Soviets
in 1932, and with the Germans in 1934. These pacts were entered into for no other reason than to elevate Poland's
position in the eyes of its allies and neighbors. Pilsudski was well aware of the vicarious nature of these agreements
and remarked, " Having these pacts, we are straddling two stools. This cannot last long. We have to know from
which stoool we will tumble first and when that will be."
Among Pilsudskis' foreign policies, the most important one dealt with the rumor that Poland had proposed a
"preventive war" to the French government after Hitlers rise to power in 1933. France refused to comply. They
had already constructed the Maginot Line which gave every indication that in the event of a war with Germany,
the French intended to maintain a strictly defensive position. Poland would be on its own.
After years of poor health, on May 12, 1935, Pilsudski died of liver cancer at Warsaw Belvedere Palace. His
funeral became a national tribute to a man who did more than anyone else for the restoration of Poland's
independence. Pilsudski's body rests in St. Leonard's crypt at Krakow Wawel Cathedral. His brain was donated
to science, and his heart was interred in his mother's grave at Vilnius' Rossa Cemetery.
Sixty years after Pilsudski's death and following the collapse of communist rule in Poland, the Sejm issued a
statement on May 12, 1995: " Jozef Pilsudski will remain in our nations memory, the founder of its dependence, and
the victorious leader who fended off a foreign assault that threatened the whole of Europe and its civilization. Jozef
Pilsudski served his country well and has entered our history forever."
At Pilsudski's funeral in 1935, President Moscicki, expressed moving words for a man whose charismatic leadership
restored Poland's independence:
"He was the King of our Hearts and the Sovereign of our Will. During a half
century of his lifes' travails, he captured heart after heart, soul after soul,
until he had drawn the whole of Poland within the purple of his royal spirit...
He gave Poland Freedom, Boundaries, Power, and Respect."
|P O L I S H
G R E A T N E S S