Greater Poland Uprising 1919

As World War I was drawing to a close and the armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, Western Europe erupted in euphoria of victory and Eastern Europe erupted in chaos. The signing and the defeat of Germany did not solve many issues of frontiers in Eastern Europe and with many nationalities hoping for a creation or recreation of an independent national state, there was still a lot of work to be done.

Provinz Posen in the German Empire by shadowfox
Provinz Posen in the German Empire by shadowfox

Poles in Greater Poland seized the opportunity and staged a successful uprising in the Province of Poznań (ger. Provinz Posen) in Greater Poland. The uprising started on December 27, 1918 and ended on February 16, 1919 when the Entente powers renewed the truce which affected the Greater Poland region.

Let’s go back in time a little, Polish politicians had been working on recreation of the Polish state since the end of the 18th century. In fact, they never stopped. Ignacy Paderewski, a world-renowned pianist turned statesman was instrumental in stirring up pro-Polish sentiment in the United States and Western Europe during World War I. The Blue Army is just one example of that sentiment. Another is the support of President Woodrow Wilson.

The thirteenth of Wilson’s fourteen points stated that: “An independent Polish state should be erected which should include the territories inhabited by indisputably Polish populations, which should be assured a free and secure access to the sea, and whose political and economic independence and territorial integrity should be guaranteed by international covenant.“ As romantic and idealistic the sentiment was, it was also just as ambiguous.

Fighting in the streets.
Fighting in the streets.

On December 25, Paderewski returned to Poland and visited a number of towns and cities to tremendous ovation and euphoria. We should not underestimate his stature: being a world citizen and one of the most popular and successful pianists of his time in Western Europe and the United States he had many influential friends (including the aforementioned President Wilson). Being a fervent patriot, he used his international influence to further the Polish cause. His presence in Greater Poland was seen as dangerous by the Germans since the region had a major Polish population. When the pianist arrived in Poznań, he was received at a banquet at Hotel Bazar and was met by children waving banners, people singing patriotic songs, parades and a general state of excitement. On December 27, the Germans organized a parade of their own, and the soldiers of the 6th Prussian Grenadier Regiment were breaking into private houses to rip up and stomp the Polish, French, and American flags the Poles displayed. The soldiers also reportedly defaced the building of the Supreme People’s Council. By 5:00pm, the situation was getting out of control and shots were fired. The uprising began.

Some things require more detail. The partitions of Poland which took place at the end of the 18th century ended the experiment that was the Commonwealth of Both Nations. Poland ceased to exist as an independent state and was absorbed by the three partitioning powers. Political life and hope of independence did not stop in any form however, and its most extreme examples were the suicidally ambitious insurrections in 1794, 1830, 1861 and 1905. (It is interesting to note that the Greater Poland Uprising of 1806 was successful, like its 1919 counterpart, as it helped create the Duchy of Warsaw under the patronage of Napoleon.)

Members of the Supreme People's Council
Members of the Supreme People’s Council

The political life of the nation never faltered and World War I offered new hope as the partitioning powers were, for the first time, on opposing sides of a conflict. In 1916, the Interparty Committee opened as an underground (read, illegal) organization which advocated peaceful takeover of the Poznań region. After the armistice, it was renamed the Supreme People’s Council (the one attacked by the German soldiers). The peaceful approach did not work and the Council took leadership over the nascent uprising that started before the new year.

Paramilitary organizations were a dime a dozen in the partitioned lands and (this is not much of an exaggeration), it was thought that the only pursuit a Pole should concern him or herself with at the time, was preparing for an uprising. Because you just never knew when the chance would present itself. One such organization was the People’s Guard, but there was a whole underground network which also included the Polish Military Organization and the Guard and Security Service among others. The second was actually a German organization which was made up of Poles and Germans in which Poles worked secretly to prepare for an uprising and learned infrastructure. Because, you know, Poles never make anything simple.

Franciszek Jach
Franciszek Jach

An interesting anecdote tells the story of how the uprising got its first plane. When Paul Pohl, German pilot, was ordered to take the Albatros D.III plane to Berlin from Poznań, he was reluctant to do so because of the chaos going on in Berlin. Pohl’s friend and fellow pilot, a Pole by the name of Franciszek Jach told Pohl to take the plane to Jach’s family farm in the country and he would receive…. kiełbasa. Having already tasted the homemade goodness, Pohl and Jach flew the plane north where they landed in the field and local peasant helped push the plane into a large barn (oh, the great early days of flying). The insurgents then proceeded to “inform” Pohl that they will take over the plane. Seeing the hopelessness of the situation, Pohl did not put up a resistance but did receive the promised kiełbasa and was taken to the train station from where he went to Berlin.

Franciszek Jach and his brother spent the night painting the Polish Air Force checkerboard on the plane and spent the next day flying over the region. They were the first Polish pilots in the Greater Poland Uprising. The insurgents later attacked and took control of the Ławica airport in Poznań which allowed them to bomb the city of Frankfurt. And by that we mean they dropped 36 bombs (oh, the great early days of flying).

Statue commemorating the uprising. Photo by Radomil.
Statue commemorating the uprising. Photo by Radomil.

The insurgents took advantage of the demoralized German military that recently lost the war and by mid-January, they took control over most of the Provinz Posen. When the armistice was renewed in February to include the Greater Poland region, Poles were in charge of the province. When the Treaty of Versailles was signed later that year, Poland weas granted the lands won by insurgents as well as some areas of Pomerania, the cities of Bydgoszcz, Leszno, and Rawicz, not all of which had predominantly Polish populations. Many of the insurgents later fought in the Silesian uprisings of 1919-21.

Winter 2014 Newsletter

Our new newsletter is available for your viewing pleasure on our website. For those of you who receive the printed edition, it was sent to the printers and should be mailed out within a couple of weeks. In the meantime, you can enjoy the digital edition in the NEWS & EVENTS / NEWSLETTER & MAILING LIST tab on our website, or simply by clicking on the image below.


Thank You and Top 10 Reasons to Support the Polish Center

Thank you!
Thank you!
Thanks to your generous donations, we have raised over $600 on Valley Gives Day, which is almost 3 times as much as we raised last year! This money help us in the running of the Center!

Here’s the complete list of the Top 10 Reasons to Support the Polish Center, 8 of which you may have already seen on our Facebook page but with less detail.

1. Digital Archives:
The archives are a new project that we started in the spring of 2014. A large portion of the current online archives are the papers of Felix Furtek donated by his grandson Rob Strycharz throughout the year. The online exhibits also include a collection of World War I postcards of Polish American volunteers in the Blue Army. The most recent addition is a 3d model of the Pulaski decanter that sits in our reception hall. With additional funds, we hope to further expand the archives and create more 3d models that are fun, interactive and educational.

2. Lectures and films:
We were able to co-organize a talk and film by Mr. Felix Molski along with the Irish Cultural Center. Mr. Molski talked about Paul Edmund Strzelecki, who, among his other exploits, explored New South Wales in Australia naming the continent’s highest peak after Tadeusz Kościuszko and saved 150,000 Irish children from starvation during the Potato Famine. We hope to bring more interesting and educational talks and films to the Polish Center.

3. Foster cooperation:
Classes from Elms College as well as local public schools came for a tour of the Polish Center and learned about the Polish community in Chicopee, Polish immigration to the US and general Polish history. In recent months, representatives of Elms College, Westfield State University, Krosno State College (Poland) and Polish Center were discussing further cooperation between the institutions. We want to improve and expand on our involvement with the local community.

4. Library:
The Polish Center houses a library of over 4,000 books which, despite not being our main area of acquisition, expands at an exponential rate. We are cataloging these books as they come in and are working on the materials we acquired before we had a comprehensive cataloging plan in place. Funds will help us implement an online library system where users will be able to browse and check out our books. Additionally, we will be able to digitize books not currently found on Google books or similar sites.

5. Community Service Award
During our annual Krakus Festival, we award the Community Service Award to members of our community who have selflessly donated their time and energy to support causes that foster the spirit of friendship and cooperation. Recent winners included Teresa Struziak Sherman and Congressman Richard Neal.

6. Exhibits:
We create new exhibits with the funds and donations we acquire. Thanks to a generous gift, we were able to build the Polish Cottage which receives high praise from everyone that visits it. Its atmosphere is truly impressive with the smell of Polish mushrooms and the light from the stove.
We are also currently working on expanding the Polish Americans in the Armed Forces Gallery thanks to another generous gift, and we will display World War I military medals and uniforms among other artifacts.

7. Trip to Poland:
This coming summer, we will once again organize a trip to Poland which will explore the well-known tourist attractions and lesser-known gems of Polish history and culture. Staś always organizes a great tour and everyone that attends has an incredible time, learns a lot about Poland and its history, and enjoys seeing the strongest post-communist economy in Europe.

8. Publications:
The Polish Center currently sends out a newsletter, an e-newsletter and we publish blog posts. The newsletters are concerned with the running of the Polish Center, what we’ve been up to and what we plan on doing. The blog posts also provide you with the opportunity to learn about Polish history and culture. Donations help offset the cost of printing our newsletter and sending it to your doorstep.

9. Genealogy classes:
The Polish Center, along with the Polish Genealogical Society of Massachusetts sponsored genealogy classes at the Chicopee Public Library where people were able to learn the basics of genealogical research and started looking up for family records and putting their family histories together. Talk of family histories is also seen among people taking tours of the Center.

10. Staś:
The efforts of many people and the financial backing of an even greater number is needed to run the Polish Center. However, it is Staś’s vision and perseverance that created the Center and his inspiration leads us to new and exciting projects. His leadership brings the best of all of us who donate our time, and his personality inspires any that meet him.

Archives highlight: Pulaski decanter

Over the last 6 months or so, we have been expanding our online archives by collections and exhibits, and we are always looking for ways to improve it. Recently, we decided to create a three-dimensional model of an artifact from our exhibit. As you may know, the Polish Center places a lot of value on developing a collection of physical artifacts of everyday people to preserve a history that is not often preserved. As Staś always says: “The Polish Museum of America may have Paderewski’s piano, but we have babcia’s pierogi board.” (I should add that we have a lot of other cool things, but babcia and her stuff is important.)

Recently, thanks to a monetary donation, we started working on improving and expanding our Polish-Americans in the Armed Forces Gallery. Part of the gallery will focus on Polish Americans who volunteered to serve in the Blue Army, or Haller’s Army, equipped by the French and who fought on the Western and Eastern Front of World War I before taking part in the Polish-Soviet War. Following World War I, these volunteers created veterans organizations to foster fraternity developed during the war. One of those organizations was the Polish Legion of American Veterans (PLAV).

To skip forward to 1976, the PLAV decided to celebrate the bicentennial of American independence by creating a decanter featuring General Kazimierz (Casimir) Pułaski (Pulaski) on a horse. Both of the horse’s front legs are up, telling us that the rider died in battle (Pulaski indeed died of wounds sustained in the battle of Savannah, Georgia). The decanter was given to the members of PLAV as well as important public figures, such as President Gerald Ford.

Pulaski decanter
Pulaski decanter

Forwarding again to Fall of 2014, with the help of Matthew Young, I had the pleasure of creating an exhibit highlighting the decanter and include a short bio of General Pulaski and a historical sketch of the PLAV. Eric Basile, our lead developer contacted a college friend of his, Desiree Fernandes, who was very kind to create a three-dimensional model of the decanter for your viewing pleasure.

The model, as it is now, allows for a much better experience by allowing you to view and rotate it to see it from all angles. It is quite fun and I encourage you to try it. We hope to be able to do more models in the future as time and resources allow. You can see the exhibit here.