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Map of the historic region of Greater Poland--the region's borders are outlined in red
After the Third Partition of Poland in 1795, the Polish nation had ceased to exist as an independent state. From 1795 through the beginning of World War I, several unsuccessful uprisings to regain independence took place. The Great Poland Uprising of 1806 was followed by the creation of the Duchy of Warsaw, which lasted for eight years before it was partitioned again between Prussia and Russia. Under German rule, Poles faced systematic discrimination and oppression. The Poles living in the region of Greater Poland were subjected to Germanisation and land confiscations to make way for German colonization.
At the end of World War I, US President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points and the idea of national self-determination were met with opposition from European powers standing to lose influence or territory, such as Germany, which dominated Greater Poland. German politicians had signed an armistice leading to a ceasefire on 11 November 1918. Also, Germany had signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with the BolshevikRussia to settle the territorial boundaries of the eastern frontiers. That treaty took into consideration of a future Polish state and so from then until the Treaty of Versailles was fully ratified in January 1920, many territorial and sovereignty issues remained unresolved.
Wilson's proposal for an independent Poland initially did not set borders that could be universally accepted. Most of Poland that was partitioned and annexed to Prussia in the late 18th-century was still part of Greater Germany at the close of World War I, the rest of the Kingdom of Poland being in Austria-Hungary. The portion in Germany included the region of Greater Poland, of which Pozna? (Posen) was a major industrial city and its capital. The majority of the population was Polish (more than 60%) and hoped to be within the borders of the new Polish state.
Soldiers and workers assembling to elect a council in Pozna?, 10 November 1918
Polish soldiers in trenches on the Polish-German front, January 1919
In late 1918, Poles hoping for a sovereign Poland started serious preparations for an uprising after Wilhelm II's abdication on 9 November 1918, which marked the end of the German Empire. The monarchy was replaced by the Weimar Republic.
The uprising broke out on 27 December 1918 in Pozna?, after a patriotic speech by Ignacy Paderewski, the famous pianist, who would become the Polish prime minister in 1919.
The insurrectionist forces consisted of members of the Polish Military Organization, who formed the Stra? Obywatelska (Citizen's Guard), later renamed as Stra? Ludowa (People's Guard), which included many volunteers, who were mainly veterans of World War I. The first contingent to reach the Bazar Hotel, from where the uprising was initiated, was a 100-strong force from wildecka kompania Stra?y Ludowej (Wilda's People's Guard) led by Antoni Wysocki. The ruling body was the Naczelna Rada Ludowa (Supreme People's Council). Initially, the members of the council, including Captain Stanis?aw Taczak and General Józef Dowbor-Mu?nicki were against the uprising, but they changed their minds in support of the insurrection on 9 January 1919.
The timing was advantageous for the insurrectionists since between late 1918 and early 1919, internal conflict had weakened Germany, and many of its soldiers and sailors engaged in mutinous actions against the state. Demoralized by the signing of the armistice on 11 November 1918, the new German government was further embroiled in subduing the German Revolution.
By 15 January 1919, Poles had taken control of most of the province, and they engaged in heavy fighting with the regular German army and irregular units such as the Grenzschutz. Fighting continued until the renewal of the truce between the Entente and Germany on 16 February. The truce also affected the front line in Greater Poland, but despite the ceasefire, skirmishes continued until the final signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 28 June 1919.
Many of the Greater Poland insurrectionists later took part in the Silesian Uprisings against German rule, which started in late 1919 and ended in 1921.
Soldiers of the Greater Poland Army during the winter of 1919/20
The uprising had a significant effect on the decisions in Versailles that granted Poland not only the area won by the insurrectionists but also the lands of the Polish Corridor, which were also part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth before the First Partition of Poland in 1772 and connected Poland to the Baltic Sea. Some of the major cities included Bydgoszcz (Bromberg), Leszno (Lissa) and Rawicz (Rawitsch). The riots initiated by the minority Germans later influenced the decision to have popular votes in Silesia, where the public was allowed to vote whether it wanted to be part of Poland or Germany.
Germany's territorial losses following the Treaty of Versailles incited German revanchism, and created unresolved problems such as the status of the independent Free City of Danzig and of the Polish Corridor between East Prussia and the rest of Germany. Attending to these issues was part of Adolf Hitler's political platform. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Poland refused several German proposals for popular referendums, population transfers, highway projects and customs union reforms for fear of an eventual land grab from Germany.
Armistice signed, ending the hostilities of World War I.
The Citizens' Guard (Stra? Obywatelska), renamed a few days later to the People's Guard (Stra? Ludowa), comes out from the underground. The mayor of Pozna? (Posen), Ernst Wilms, is removed from office. German military authorities give permission for functioning of the People's Guard to keep peace in the Province of Posen.
Commission of the High People's Council calls citizens of German portion of Poland to keep calm in spite of the revolution.
"Assassination on City Hall": dominated by Germans, the Execution Department of Worker's and Soldier's Council proceeded to Pozna?'s City Hall, an armed group of Poles forces it to change four of the German delegates with Polish ones: Bohdan Hulewicz, Mieczys?aw Paluch, Henryk ?niegocki and Zygmunt Wiza. Poles thus gain control over the headquarters of Pozna? Garrison and 5th Corps.
17 November 1918: the Commission of the NRL calls for a one-time collection of money called a "national tax".
18 November 1918: elections to Poviat's People's Councils and members of the partition's Sejm (1399 MPs).
20 November 1918: the Polish government in Warsaw publishes przyczenie Wielkopolski b?dzie jednym z pierwszych naszych zada? (the joining of Greater Poland will be one of our first tasks).
3 December 1918: The Partition Sejm of Pozna? begins its official proceedings in the "Apollo" Cinema. MPs represent all lands of the Prussian Partition and Polish economic emigration, mainly from Westfalen.
5 December 1918: the end of the Partition Sejm, which declared its desire for unification with the other partitions in a renewed Poland, and the NRL officially elected its members.
The Commission of the NRL takes all civil and military authority without declaring territorial range of that power. It also promotes General Józef Dowbor-Mu?nicki to commander-in-chief of the uprising forces.
The Poles recapture Chodzie? Battle of Chodzie? and Czarnków. They also win the Battle of ?lesin and capture Sieraków.
9 January 1919
The NRL officially announces that it takes control over Greater Poland. Beginning of polonisation of administration, most former anti-Polish officials being fired. In powiats, German landrats are subordinated to Polish starostas, which latw take all their power.
17 January 1919: Men born in 1897, 1898, and 1899 are called up and drafted into Great Polish Army.
20 January 1919: the transfer of money to banks of Germany on the other side of the front line is forbidden.
21 January 1919
NRL creates oath of soldiers of Great Polish Army.
Evidence of false information about Polish attacks on German civilians published by authorities in Berlin, suggesting behaviour like that the Germans, is sent to Paris. Meanw, the NRL appeals to Allies asking for a military mission, suggesting the possibility of the Great Polish Army fighting against Bolsheviks. Many articles about the situation in Greater Poland appear in Western newspapers.
22 January 1919
Northern front: Poles are forced to leave Potulice.
Southern front: Poles win the Battle of Robaczysko.
Joseph Noules is nominated by Supreme Council of Allied Countries as chief of Allied mission in Poland.
23 January 1919: Poles defend Miejska Górka after heavy fighting.
All communication between Greater Poland and Germany is broken.
Decree cancels Prussian prohibition of Polish language in schools.
26 January 1919: Great Polish Army soldiers, commanded by Dowbór-Mu?nicki, give an oath on Wilhelm Platz, renamed on Plac Wolno?ci (Freedom Square), in Pozna?.
28 January 1919: German offensive ("Butteroffensive") in area of Bydgoszcz and Nak?o. In the Battle of Rynarzewo, the Germans capture Szubin.
29 January 1919: Roman Dmowski gives a speech in front of Supreme Council of Allied Countries in which he asserts Polish rights to the Prussian Partition and accuses the Germans of two-faced policies.
2 February 1919: Polish-German talks start in Berlin.
3 February 1919: The Poles stop a German offensive on the northern front. Their counterattack forces a German withdrawal to northern bank of the Note? River. The Poles recapture Rynarzewo and win the Battle of Kcynia.
4 February 1919
Poles recapture Szubin. Heavy fighting on the southern front near Rawicz.
Talks between the Polish government in Warsaw abd Commission of the NRL begin on the representation of Greater Poland in the Sejm Ustawodawczy.
5 February 1919: Failure of talks in Berlin, with Germans demanding the demobilisation of the Great Polish Army, Polish recognition of German claims to Greater Poland and the payment by the Poles for all damage made during the uprising. However, the Triple Entente remarks that both sides are ready for peace talks.
6 February 1919: end of talks about representation of the Prussian Partition in Sejm Ustawodawczy. Since Cuiavia, Silesia and Pomerania are still officially part of Germany, to avoid international repercussions, the Polish government and the NRL decide to cancel the planned election of 126 MPs, giving temporary right of representation of the Prussian Partition to 16 MPs of Reichstag.
7 February 1919
Heavy fighting in Kolno, which is captured many times by both sides.
Talks start on extending the ceasefire that ended World War I. The German delegation is against extending it for Greater Poland, but France forces it through.
The German headquarters is moved to Kolberg, as a part of preparations to use all forces against Greater Poland.
16 February 1919: The extension of the Allied-German ceasefire in Trier is signed, which also refers to Greater Poland. The Polish army is referred to as Allied forces.
Between ceasefire and reunification
Monument to the Greater Poland Uprising and its soldiers in Pobiedziska
18 February 1919: In spite of the ceasefire, there is fighting near Rynarzewo. The Poles capture the armoured train.
9 February 1919: A volunteer company of Great Polish soldiers moves to Lesser Poland to fight against the Ukrainians.
20 March 1919: The Ostmarkenzulage, a special allowance for German officials working in the eastern provinces to stimulate the German colonization of the Prussian Partition, is canceled.
23 March 1919: The Poles win a landslide in elections to the city council of Pozna?.
24 March 1919: The Commission of the NRL asks the Polish government in Warsaw to create separate administration of the former Prussian Partition, as it is far more developed than the rest of the country. Ignacy Paderewski forces the government to leave all power in hands of the NRL until the final recognition of Polish-German border, with later autonomy there (only Upper Silesia would obtain it). The NRL mobilises men born in 1891, 1892, 1893, 1894 and 1901.
5 April 1919: The Sejm Ustawodawczy announces byelections in the former Province of Posen for next 42 MPs.
9 April 1919: The Commission of the NRL decrees an eight-hour workday in industry and trade.
10 April 1919: The Commission of the NRL decrees the removal of signs in German language from offices and train stations the changing of all streets names into Polish. The punishment for breaking the law is two years of prison and 10,000 Polish marks.
16 April 1919: The NRL decides that 3 May is the national holiday.
The rising threat of a German offensive induces the Commission of the NRL to introduce a state of emergency in all lands under its jurisdiction. In a belt of 20 km from the front line, it introduces martial law. A few days later, the NRL announces capital punishment for acting against the Great Polish Army or for the German army.
9 July 1919: Farther than 20 km from the front, end of state of emergency.
10 July 1919: proceedings of the Polish government with Commission of the NRL on further policy in the former Prussian Partition (By?y Zabór Pruski). Creation of the Ministry of the Former Prussian Partition (Ministerstwo By?ej Dzielnicy Pruskiej).
1 August 1919: Sejm Ustawodawczy votes on a resolution on the "Temporary Organisation of Government in the former Prussian Partition" (O tymczasowej organizacji zarz?du by?ej dzielnicy pruskiej), creating the Ministry of the Former Prussian Partition and a plan of gradual unification of Greater Poland with the rest of the country.
12 August 1919: W?adys?aw Seyda becomes the first minister of the Former Prussian Partition.
19 August 1919: The NRL is dissolved.
28 August 1919: The headquarters of the Polish Army decides that the Greater Polish Army will join the Polish Army and that its headquarters will be transferred to the headquarters of the Seventh Corps.
6 November 1919: The Commission of the NRL is dissolved.
10 January 1920: Ratification of Treaty of Versailles, which has Polish forces in Greater Poland take control over small amounts of Greater Poland's territories given to Poland that are resisting German control and Eastern Pomerania.
13 January 1920: The headquarters of the Greater Poland front orders preparations for implementing the treaty.
17 January 1920: beginning of the occupation of the remaining German-held territories assigned to Poland by the treaty.
8 March 1920: The Greater Poland front is dissolved.
24 March 2005: the last surviving Polish fighter in the uprising, Lieutenant Jan Rzepa, dies at the age of 106.
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^The Immigrant Threat: The Integration of Old and New Migrants in Western Europe since 1850 (Studies of World Migrations) Leo Lucassen, p.61, University of Illinois Press, 2005
^"Historia 1871-1939" Anna Radziwi, Wojciech Roszkowski Warsaw 1998
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