Born: December 5, 1887, Zulow, Russian partition of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth(presently Lithuania)
Died: May 12, 1935, Warsaw, Poland
Father: Jozef Wincenty Pilsudski came from an old and well known family in the region. Mother, Maria Billewicz came from an equally well known and quite wealthy family. One of twelve children. Knew French , German and a little English. 1882: forms with his brothers a self-education group “Spojnia”. <
Higher education.Interest in Socialism. June 1885: graduates from the high school; starts medicine at Kharkov for few months. 1885 Becomes interested in Polish Socialism. Back in Wilno ; studying Marx’s ‘Das Capital’ and Polish Socialist publications. 1886: member of the “Terrorist Faction of National Will” together with Lenin’s brother. March 13, 1887, five of the conspirators arrested. Jozef sentenced to 5 years in Siberia.
Deported to Siberia.October 1887 arrives to Irkutsk (Siberia). December 1887 arrives to Kirensk spending there next thirty months. July1890: because of poor health transfered to warmer Tunka . July 1,
Returns to Wilno.1892 arrives in Wilno October 1893: joins Workers Committee of Polish Socialist Party (Polska Partia Socjalistyczna – PPS). Writes articles for the underground “Robotnik” (The Worker).
Marriage with Maria Juskiewicz.Arrest and escape.July 15, 1899, marries a political activist, Maria Juskiewicz in the Evangelic-Augsburg Confession Church at Paproc Duza in the province of Lomza. Autumn of 1899: moves to Lodz and set up the printing press at 19 Wschodnia Street. February 22, 1900, he and his wife are arrested. Held in Pavilion 10. May 14, 1901, spirited out of the hospital. Sick and weakly, Pilsudski spends the winter of 1904-05 in Cracow . October 15, 1905, Pilsudski entrusted by the PPS Central Committee the organization of fighting cadres.
Formation of Revolutionary Fraction.Finally Pilsudski and the “old” comrades forms the Polish Socialist Party Revolutionary Faction immediately joined by the vast majority of Combat Organization members. They retain control of Robotnik and Pilsudski devotes himself entirely to building the Combat Organization.
Meeting Aleksandra Szczerbinska .Since May 1906 Pilsudski had known Aleksandra Szczerbinska (Comrade Ola), a determined and energetic activist. She was fifteen years younger that Pilsudski. Maria Pilsudska would not agree to a divorce. The situation lasted until her death in 1921. November 1912: Polish Galician Groups meets to form a Commission of Confederated Independence Parties (TKSSN) aiming at “active struggle in Poland aimed at regaining freedom and the independence of the Polish nation”. Pilsudski confirmed as Commander- in-Chief and Sosnkowski as Chief of Staff. 1913 resigns as Commandant of the Rifle Association 1914 Pilsudski is convinced that there would be a war between Austria and Russia over the Balkans. July 28, 1914, Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia and World War I is unleashed.
Formation of National Government. July 30, 1914, Pilsudski orders mobilization and announces the formation of a National Government claiming that it had been formed in Warsaw and had nominated him as Commander-in-Chief. August 6, 1914. The first cadre company set out towards Miechow-Kielce August 14, Pilsudski enters Kielce with 400 riflemen. Polish members of the Austrian Parliament and other Polish politicians secure the agreement for a Supreme National Committee and the creation of Polish Legions to be armed by the Austrians and to take an oath to the Austrian crown. Pilsudski forced to accept this decision.
First Brigade. Officers and soldiers of The First Brigade wear distinctive badges and address each other as ‘citizen’. Nominations proposed by Pilsudski are to be ratified by the Austrians. The First Brigade pays no attention to any of this and ignores Austrian decisions only listening to Pilsudski. Behind Russian lines Pilsudski forms the Polish Military Organization (Polska Organizacja Wojskowa – POW). Autumn of 1914 Pilsudski leads his men through a corridor between the Austrian and Russian Armies to Cracow. November 15, 1914, Pilsudski named Brigadier General by the Austrian High Command. The First Brigade crosses the Nida River and engages in a series of actions culminating in fierce fighting near Konary towards the end of 1915. The roots of the split between Pilsudski and Sikorski lie in this period. Pilsudski believes that the Military Department of the NKN headed by Sikorski is far too submissive to the Austrians. February 1916 Pilsudski returns to the Catholic faith. February 1, 1916, an unofficial Council of Colonels, backed by Pilsudski, comes into existence opposing the pro-Austrian sympathies of the higher command. July 1916 the First Brigade suffers heavy losses at Kostiuchnowka losing 30 officers and 500 men. This was the last Legion battle commanded by Pilsudski who resigns on July 28th .
Wilson calls for independent Poland.January 1917 U.S. President Woodrow Wilson calls publicly for an independent Poland. Pilsudski writes to Smigly “for the first time today since the outbreak of this world war we hear publicly in our cities from the mouths of representatives of the great powers words forgotten outside Poland: Poland’s Independence, Polish Government, Polish Army…” December 9, 1916, Germans create a Provisional Council of State (Tymczasowa Rada Stanu – TRS) with 25 members selected by the occupying powers. Initially Pilsudski agrees to join the TRS. Pilsudski predicts both revolution in Russia and American entry into the war. July 2, 1916, Pilsudski resigns from TRS.
Arrested, sent to Magdeburg.July 14, 1916, many senior Polish officers are arrested in Warsaw and on July 22 Pilsudski and Sosnkowski are arrested. August 22, 1916, Pilsudski arrives at Magdeburg where he is joined by Sosnkowski in September. November 8, 1918, Pilsudski and Sosnkowski are taken to Berlin and on November 9 escorted to the railway station. In Warsaw the POW starts to disarm Germans.
Provisional government; Daszynski Prime Minister.In the Lublin area the POW disarms the Germans in early November and Colonel Rydz-Smigly forms a left provisional republican-democratic government with Ignacy Daszynski as Prime Minister and himself as Minister of War. On the night of November 22 Pilsudski makes an agreement with the German Military Council to secure the evacuation of some 80,000 German soldiers. November 11, 1918.
Pilsudski Commander-in-Chief.The Regency Council appoints Pilsudski Commander-in-Chief of Polish forces and asks him to form a Government. On November 13.Pilsudski becomes the dictator of Poland and remains so until February 20, 1919, when he hands power to the Sejm. November 13 Pilsudski asks Daszynski to form a Government. When, due to National Democrat hostility he fails, the task then falls to Jedrzej Moraczewski. Effectively Poland now has two Governments! Firstly, there is the actual Government in Warsaw headed by Pilsudski. Secondly, in Paris the Polish National Committee headed by Roman Dmowski is seen to be a de facto Polish Government which, in the form of Haller’s troops, has a larger army than Pilsudski! It takes until the middle of January 1919 to resolve the issue. Obviously the outcome was not seriously in doubt. Pilsudski was in Poland and Dmowski was not. However, Pilsudski was rightly concerned that any prolonged dispute would damage the international standing of the new state. Pilsudski needs troops but for the National Committee in France control of Haller’s units is their one and only strong card in negotiating with Pilsudski in Warsaw. Compromise takes the form of a more broadly based Government in Warsaw under Paderewski who arrives in Warsaw on January 1, 1919. On the night of 4 – 5 January there is a budged rightist coup to overthrow the Moraczewski government. It is quickly suppressed by the Chief of the General Staff, Szeptycki. Pilsudski is careful to be extremely lenient with the conspirators merely chiding them gently.
Paderewski's government.January 16, 1919, the Government resigns and Paderewski forms the administration. January 26, 1919, elections take place. An approximate split: 34% the right, 30% the center, 30% the left. National Minorities take 3.5% while independents account for just over 1% of the new Sejm. The Sejm produces a resolution, known as “The Little Constitution” setting briefly the terms under which Pilsudski should act, crucial in legitimizing the situation in Warsaw and thus securing international recognition for the new Polish state.
,b>Invasion of Wilno.April 19, 1919, Polish Cavalry enters Wilno. For Pilsudski this is one of the great highlights of his life as his beloved Wilno becomes, once again, a part of Poland. On the night of April 19 – 20 Haller crosses into Poland from Germany and on April 29 Pilsudski, newly returned from Wilno, meets Haller in Warsaw. Haller brings with him 50,000 men but in order to get them back to Poland the Poles are forced to promise Lloyd George that these troops would not be deployed against Ukrainians. By July 2 Haller’s forces are incorporated into the regular Polish army as are Dowbor-Musnicki’s forces in the Poznan region. Meanwhile Paderewski’s position as premier is increasingly undermined by the right, worried at his cooperation with Pilsudski in the settlement of the eastern borders. Bolshevik Russia was reeling in the Summer of 1919 from the advance of “White” Russian forces of Admiral Kolchak in Siberia and General Denikin in the South. The West was desperately hoping for a “White” victory and urged the Poles to support them but Pilsudski, correctly as it turned out, did not believe that they could win. Indeed in the July and August of 1919 there were even talks between the Poles and the Soviets. Pilsudski was looking increasingly towards developing a loosely knit federation of states – Polish led – and separating Poland from Bolshevik Russia. Pilsudski knew that war with the Bolsheviks was inevitable and viewed Lenin, although not Trotsky, as a serious military menace.
Pilsudski - First Marshal of Poland.March 19, 1920, Pilsudski is asked to accept the title First Marshal of Poland. April 21, 1920, The Poles reach an agreement to recognize a Ukrainian Peoples’ Republic to be led by Semen Petlura. Polish – Ukrainian borders were agreed.
Poles attack the Bolsheviks. April 25, 1920, Polish forces struck in the south. Pilsudski commanded himself while the main operational force was under Rydz-Smigly. May 7 Polish cavalry units enter Kiev. May 14 Mikhail Tukhachevski launches a counter attack. In the south Pilsudski had underrated the red cavalry forces under Semion Budienny and orders a withdrawal from Kiev.
Bolshevik counter offensive.On July 4 Tukhachevski launches a massive and well-prepared offensive. The Polish retreat is out of control. Wilno falls. July 24th a Government of National Unity headed by Peasant Party leader Wincenty Witos emerged. Pilsudski envisaged Polish forces around Modlin and Warsaw as a defensive force repulsing the main Bolshevik forces and also defending Warsaw. August 13 Tukhachevski’s Soviet forces were at Radzymin just 15 kilometers from Warsaw and attacking Sikorski on the Wkra River.
Polish counter offensive.Pilsudski's genius.Pilsudski’s counter offensive was launched at dawn on August 16. August 18 Polish forces were in the rear of Tukhachevski’s four armies. The collapsing Soviet Armies having lost contact with their Headquarters and each other and finding the Poles in their rear and on their flank in substantial and aggressive force retreated in total disorder in a desperate attempt to avoid total encirclement and destruction. 25,000 Bolshevik soldiers were dead or wounded; 66,000 were already prisoners in Polish hands; 231 canons and 1,000 machine guns had been captured by the Poles. Desperate to avoid giving credit to Pilsudski the rightist press in Warsaw attributed victory to Haller, Sikorski, Weygand and indeed to divine intervention! However, Lord d’Abernon, chief of the allied military mission in Poland, wrote of Pilsudski that ”Victory was achieved primarily owing to the strategic genius of one man and owing to his execution of a maneuver so dangerous that it required not only talent, but also heroism.” Poland was now under pressure to accept the Curzon Line as its eastern border. This had been accepted by Prime Minister Grabski following allied deliberations at Spa. Pilsudski turned to the Council of National Defense (ROP) for advice but his own view was clear “There are two solutions: to march forward until the complete annihilation of the enemy… …or to stop at the illusory eastern border and make peace as soon as possible.” ROP endorsed Pilsudski’s evaluation of the situation so giving him a free hand to advance. September 19 Pilsudski issues orders for what was to become the Battle on the Niemen regarded by him as a model well planned and executed action. Grabski’s promises to the allies at Spa, statements by Foreign Minister Sapieha, and pledges of neutralization of the Wilno region by Paderewski all made a direct seizure by the Polish Army impossible. On October 1st Pilsudski instead approached General Zeligowski – himself from that region – proposing a “rebellion” by troops from the Wilno area. Zeligowski was made to understand that he would be on his own and that, under pressure, even Pilsudski himself might disavow him. Despite grave doubts Zeligowski agreed. While Zeligowski and his officers still pleaded for a direct formal order Sikorski, now commanding 3rd Army, backed Pilsudski. On October 8 the Western Allies were startled to learn that rebellious units of the Polish Army were marching on Wilno. A day later in Wilno Zeligowski proclaimed a Central Lithuanian state. While the allies protested furiously Pilsudski argued that he would not interfere with the will of the Wilno population.
Treaty of Riga.The treaty was signed at Riga on 12 October and came into force on 18 October. Pilsudski was horrified not simply at a loss of territory but by the recognition of Soviet Ukraine as a party to the negotiations – thus betraying his Ukrainian allies and so undermining any hope of federative alliances to the east. November 14, 1920, Pilsudski, leader of a safe and secure Polish state, received his Marshal’s baton at a formal ceremony in Warsaw. January 7, 1921, Pilsudski establishes The Full War Council (Pelna Rada Wojenna) as an advisory body to be chaired by the President of the Republic.
Constitution adopted. March 1921 a new Constitution modeled mainly on the French 1875 Constitution was adopted. Pilsudski had no interest in wealth or possessions. Various attempts were made by well wishers to provide adequate accommodation for him but always he diverted these monies to funds for war veterans and orphans. Eventually a Soldiers’ Committee insisted on funding the building of a small permanent home on the land at Sulejowek. From its completion in 1923 he spent much time there developing an interests in flowers and trees. He lived there permanently from 1923 until the 1926 coup.
Marriage to Aleksandra.August 1921: his first wife Maria died. He married Aleksandra in October 1921 having already returned to the Catholic Church in 1916. September 1921: a Ukrainian nationalist attempted to assassinate Pilsudski during a visit to Lwow. All three shots missed. In January 1922 the Wilno region elected an “adjudicating Sejm” which in turn determined that Central Lithuania become fully absorbed into the Republic of Poland. The Allies could only protest. Pilsudski, who had engineered the outcome, was delighted!
Sikorski's government. Within hours of the assassination a new Government had been formed headed by General Wladyslaw Sikorski as Premier. Pilsudski became Chief of Staff while Sosnkowski remained Minister of War.
Wojciechowski President.December 20: Parliament elected the leftist Stanislaw Wojciechowski as President. Although the Sikorski government had worked well it fell prey to a combined attack from the People’s Party Piast, of Witos, and the right; once the two sides had hammered together an accord on land reform – the issue which had previously divided them.
Witos' government; Pilsudski withdraws.Wincenty Witos formed a new government which included General Szeptycki as Minister of War. Pilsudski would have nothing to do with a government which included the very rightists whom he believed to have provoked the murder of Narutowicz only six months previously. Resigning as Chief of the General Staff he moved to his home at Sulejowek. Pilsudski’s attacks were specifically directed at the National Democrats whom he blamed for the death of Narutowicz. With other political groups, of left, center and right he believed he could co-operate as circumstances demanded. For a time he rested at Sulejowek but increasingly he relied upon writing and lectures as his main source of income. Every opportunity was used to argue his case against the political corruption of the National Democrats. By the Autumn the economic situation was deteriorating as the government lost control of the value of the currency. Strikes ensued and there were even outbreaks of bombing. About a hundred people died when communists blew up the powder storage depot at the Warsaw citadel. The Witos government moved right when Korfanty joined as Vice-Premier and Roman Dmowski became Foreign Minister.
Grabski's government.On December 19 a new government was formed by Wladyslaw Grabski who deftly managed to secure support in the Sejm on an issue by issue basis for the next two years. His first War Minister – General Sosnkowski – wanted to reinstate Pilsudski at the Head of the Inner War Council and as Chief of the General Staff. When Grabski blocked this, Sosnkowski resigned his post. The reinstatement of Pilsudski was also opposed by President Wojciechowski, leading to a clear parting of the ways between the two men. Sikorski, now Minister of War, proposed that the Inspector General be subordinated to the War Minister while the Chief of the General Staff would prepare operational plans at the behest of both the Inspector General and the War Minister. A clearly furious Pilsudski wrote to Sikorski a very rude letter. This marked an important stage in the deterioration of the relationship between Pilsudski and Sikorski. The socialist (PPS) Ignacy Daszynski while like others noting the increasing coarseness and vulgarity of Pilsudski’s declarations also noted that Pilsudski had been so shabbily treated that it was not possible to expect him to continue to deploy any sort of politeness towards his political foes. In a particularly abusive and ill conceived address in 1925 Pilsudski not only attacked the Sejm, Sikorski and Szeptycki but alleged that documents in the General Staff archives concerning the Polish-Soviet war had been falsified. Sikorski as Minister of War launched a Commission under General Skierski to investigate the complaints. Skierski did indeed conclude that the files had not been falsified. However, he also said that the records did not adequately reflect Pilsudski’s contribution and that was a severe slur on the Marshal which justified his complaints - ”They tried to strip from him the glory of his achievements and fame. That was a moral injury for the army.” By the fall of 1925 an economic downturn made the situation increasingly difficult for the Grabski Government. On November 13 Grabski resigned. On November 15 some 1,000 Officers, including several Generals, arrived at Sulejowek allegedly to pay homage to Pilsudski on the seventh anniversary of his release from Magdeburg. In an address, loaded with political significance, General Orlicz-Dreszer proclaimed:- ”Then you gave us glory, so long unknown to Poland, covering our standards with the laurel leaves of victory… …We want you to believe that our fervent wish is that you do not remain absent during this crisis, orphaning not only us, your loyal soldiers, but also Poland. These are not the usual ceremonial compliments; we want you to know that besides our grateful hearts we bring you our sure, battletested swords.” With a deteriorating economic and political situation the government fell on May 5,1926. After a period of growing political confusion Witos succeeded in doing a deal with the right to effectively restore the Government, which had toppled Sikorski in 1923. On May 10 Witos became Prime Minister with General Juliusz Malczewski in charge of the Army. The left were vehement in their opposition and Pilsudski openly denounced the new administration. In Warsaw demonstrations broke out and orchestras in bars found themselves responding to vocal and sometimes violent demands to play “The First Brigade.” On May 12, at 7.00 am Pilsudski left Sulejowek for Rembertow with the 7th Uhlan Regiment. He planned to see the President, broker a deal and return for dinner at 3.00pm. When he arrived at the Belvedere Palace at 10.00am he discovered that the President was away at Spala. Returning to Rembertow he ordered the march on Warsaw. The President returned at 11.00am and joined the cabinet at the Namiestnik Palace where the mood was belligerent and totally uncompromising. A communiqué was issued explaining that a few units had disobeyed orders. A state of emergency was imposed in Warsaw. There was a call for troops to return to order.
The coup.The left - PPS, PSL Liberation, and the Peasant Party - responded by calling upon Witos to resign. The President decided to meet Pilsudski on the Poniatowski bridge. There was no time for the detailed discussion between the two men upon which Pilsudski had been intent that morning. Instead there was a short and frosty exchange. Wojciechowski took Pilsudski off guard by saying that he, the President, was defending the honor of the Army and that any grievances which Pilsudski felt should be investigated by legal means. The Government proclamations must be obeyed. Pilsudski, realizing that he could not get the President to see his own point of view, argued that legal means were closed to him. As the President returned to his car he called our ”Soldiers, do your duty!” Pilsudski lingered, talked to Porwit commanding the Government troops, and said to the soldiers ”Will you let me pass, children?” to which they answered ”We will not.” An officer issued the order ”Load!” Pilsudski’s military demonstration had failed. The Government would not compromise and it was now far too late for Pilsudski to back down. Both sides had simultaneously painted themselves into a corner. Pilsudski could no longer avoid attempting to launch an unplanned coup d’etat. Pilsudski was deeply shocked and totally unprepared as to what to do next. He collapsed onto a bed at the Headquarters of the 36th Infantry but not before he had ordered their Colonel to Kierbedz (Slasko-Dabrowski) Bridge. Government troops opened fire at approximately 6.00pm when the 36th suffered eleven fatalities and twenty eight seriously wounded General Orlicz-Dreszer was now effectively commanding Pilsudskis’ forces with General Burhardt-Buczacki (?) as Chief-of-Staff. Meanwhile General Tadeusz Rozwadowski commanded Government forces with Colonel Wladyslaw Anders as his Chief-of-Staff. General Rozwadowski now ordered the commander of the 30th Infantry to attack ”the mutineers” at the City Command on the morning of the 13th ”and try to lay their hands on the leaders of the movement without regard to sparing their lives.” On Government orders Air Force commander General Zagorski launched bombing raids on Warsaw causing civilian casualties. For many senior officers the pressure of divided loyalties was intolerable. Sosnkowski, although devoted to Pilsudski had not been warned of Pilsudski’s move, and wounded himself seriously in attempting suicide. The commander of the 7th Infantry committed suicide when ordered to lead his Regiment against the Government. A general strike in support of Pilsudski was called for the 14th and by 2.30pm that day pro-Pilsudski units had taken the Airport. Feeling suddenly threatened the Government moved later that afternoon from the Belvedere Palace to Wilanow a few miles further out of the city. At Wilanow military advisers urged the Government to continue the struggle from Poznan but faced with the certain prospect of full- scale civil war if they did so the President and the Government eventually decided upon resignation. Rataj, the Marshal of the Sejm, informed Pilsudski of the news, accepted the resignations in person, and, as acting Head of State ordered a cease-fire. 379 Poles had died and 920 had been wounded.
Bartel's government.An interim Government headed by Kazimierz Bartel with Pilsudski as Minister of War was quickly established. Pilsudski’s wife’s comments that Pilsudski “never regained his earlier composure” is significant and revealing. Pilsudski had already changed under the shock of the assassination of Narutowicz four years earlier. Now he was further prone to an impulsiveness of language. Pilsudski did not engage in violent recriminations against those who had opposed him despite the fact that they had encompassed his possible death in their plans to seize the City Command. The few arrests were relatively brief. For many junior officers opposing him careers only temporarily stalled a little before returning to their natural course – Colonel Wladyslaw Anders being a case in point. General Zagorski, commander of the Air Force, who had been under investigation for corruption or at least incompetence in the period before the coup, was imprisoned in Wilno in May 1926 for dropping bombs on the people of Warsaw. Released on August 7, 1927, he disappeared without trace. It was and still is generally assumed that he was murdered. On May 31 the National Assembly elected Pilsudski President by a substantial majority. To public amazement and to the total consternation of his political supporters (particularly the PPS who had been instrumental in securing the invaluable rail strike) Pilsudski rejected the proffered Presidency out of hand.
Moscicki President.After hasty discussions Ignacy Moscicki, a distinguished Professor at the Lwow Polytechnic was duly named and elected on June 1. Bartel was formally re-installed as Premier with Pilsudski as War Minister and Inspector General of the Army and General Tadeusz Piskor as Chief of the General Staff. A budgetary crisis in the Autumn of 1926 led to the fall of the Bartel Government and the creation of an administration in October 1926 personally headed by Pilsudski who was careful to pull in Conservatives as well as Leftists – so isolating the National Democrats. More importantly the Sejm rejected Government measures to restrict press freedom but the Government did not object to the rejection – suggesting perhaps that they were simply firing a warning shot about excessive gossip and libel in the press. An issue which had profoundly irritated Pilsudski. Meanwhile Pilsudski’s inclusion of Conservatives in the Government led inevitably to the Left increasingly drifting towards opposition. Pilsudski was concerned by ongoing difficulties with the Lithuania of Woldemaras, which considered itself technically, if not actively, at war with Poland, and also with relations with the Soviet Union. Pilsudski struggled with economic issues but eventually concluded negotiations on an American “stabilization” loan of 62 million dollars and 2 million pounds. As conflict between Sejm and Government continued Pilsudski began to look for a more consistent basis for political support.
BBWR created.The outcome was the creation of a Non-Party Bloc for Cooperation with the Government (BBWR) led by Pilsudski’s long term associate Walery Slawek. On November 28 Moscicki called an election for March 1928. With a 78.3% turnout for the Sejm the BBWR took 130 seats out of 444 and 46 out of the 111 Senate seats. Despite the leading position of BBWR the result fell far short of their expectations and left them dependent upon coalition arrangements in the Sejm. The BBWR had the benefit of some eight million zloty purloined from the exchequer for its electoral purposes. When the new Sejm met on March 27 there was uproar and anti-Pilsudski demonstrations. Police removed objecting Deputies who were immediately released and allowed to take their seats. The stress of these events may have contributed to the minor stroke suffered by Pilsudski on April 17 leading to a partial loss of the use of his right arm. The illness was kept a well guarded secret. Despite a good recovery Pilsudski decided that he could not retain the Premiership and so on July 27 Bartel once again resumed the task. Pilsudski spent the summer of 1928 resting. Early in 1929 there was a thawing in Polish-Soviet relations which was widely welcomed in Poland. Trade and cultural relations improved. However, Pilsudski was well aware that for the time being the Soviet Union represented the greatest actual threat to Poland.
Centrolew formed.In the Sejm Leftist groups were forming a new united front – the so called Centrolew – in opposition to the Government. Walery Slawek, one of Pilsudski’s most loyal supporters, now formed a further short-lived administration amidst growing political chaos. In August Pilsudski resumed the Premiership. In June Centrolew organized public demonstrations in Krakow calling for the removal of the dictator Pilsudski and the resignation of the President. Further protests were planned for the autumn. At this stage the opposition wanted to provoke a general election in which they felt sure they could gain seats. At the end of August the President duly announced November Elections but events did not unfold as the opposition expected. With the dissolution of the Sejm their Deputies lost their Parliamentary immunity.
Arrest of opposition leaders. On September 9 there were eighteen arrests including Wicenty Witos and other prominent opposition leaders on the Left. They were imprisoned at Brzesc and treated with considerable brutality. More arrests, including Korfanty, followed. They were held for some three months. A year later they faced accusations in Court of preparing a coup. Witos was sentenced to three years in prison. Others received lesser sentences. The “Brzesc affair” was a disgrace which greatly damaged Poland’s reputation abroad. Pilsudski believed that the potential crisis in the country was so great that severe action was justified.
1930 elections.On November 16, 1930, BBWR took 247 of the Sejm seats, The left and center 102, the National Party 62 and the minorities 33. In the Senate BBWR took 76 of the 111 seats while the right took 11, the left 9, the center 7, and the minorities 7. Pilsudski had the decision he wanted. The BBWR had, however, made use of every available Government mechanism and agency in order to secure the outcome. Walery Slawek again became Prime Minister leading another loyal pro-Pilsudski administration. Henceforth Pilsudski devoted himself almost exclusively to the Army and to Foreign Affairs. Pilsudski was increasingly pre-occupied by war games to improve Army efficiency and by the state of the Officer corps. He involved himself directly in all important promotions and appointments. Day to day military administration was in the hands of General Skladkowski. Pilsudski, who probably realized that his health was now slipping away from him, invited an old friend Artur Sliwinski to visit him. Sliwinski was horrified by the Marshal’s appearance. Pilsudski was clearly giving thought to his place in Polish history. With Sliwinski and others he pondered on both the recent past and the future for Poland. In terms of Foreign Policy Pilsudski was worried by German hostility to the development of a Polish port at Gdynia and by German attempts to reopen border issues. For the time being however the Soviet Union remained the greater threat to Poland. Pilsudski was well aware that French military guarantees would only (supposedly) result in direct aid in the event of German aggression against Poland. In the event of Russian aggression Poland could only look to direct assistance from a weak Rumania. He was constantly concerned to strengthen Poland’s position. As Poland could not be seen to attack Russia - and so lose international support – Poland was deprived of the advantage of a pre-emptive strike – a favorite Pilsudski strategy - in any future war. Any war would therefore be initially defensive only gradually switching to the offensive. Cavalry and transport would be crucial elements. In June 1932 a Polish-Soviet non-aggression pact greatly eased the situation. As Hitler’s military build up only began to gather momentum in 1935 in the last months of Pilsudski’s life he never really had to calculate a response to a real German military threat. Pilsudski was however deeply concerned at the emergence of Hitlerism in Germany. Disputes over the free port of Gdansk (Danzig) were ongoing. The Poles had retained the right to formally welcome foreign ships visiting the port. The Gdansk Senate was now stalling renewal of the requisite agreement. Pilsudski determined to use the planned visit of three British Destroyers for a show of strength and they were duly welcomed in Gdansk by the Polish Destroyer Wicher – which had instructions to open fire on the nearest government building if the local German authorities intervened. The incident terrified The League of Nations but successfully secured the renewed agreement sought by Poland. Pilsudski noted carefully that at this stage the Germans would always back down in the face of confrontation.
Beck becomes Foreign Minister.In November 1932 Jozef Beck succeeded Zaleski as Foreign Minister. This was accomplished without resentment. Zaleski had been an excellent and highly respected Foreign Minister but Pilsudski wanted a new man for what he foresaw to be more difficult times. Pilsudski and Beck were increasingly concerned by Hitler’s demands for the “return” of the so-called Polish Corridor to (between Germany proper and East Prussia) to Germany.
The idea of a preemptive strike.Pilsudski seems to have to have considered a pre-emptive strike against Hitler but abandoned the idea in the light of lack of French enthusiasm. Pilsudski was also worried by the Italian dictator’s Mussolini attempts to create a “Pact of Four” (Italy, Germany, France and Britain) with the power to reopen border issues across Europe. In March 1933 Pilsudski developed serious influenza. His temper was particularly explosive at this time. He was highly frustrated that his poor health made it difficult for him to take decisions at what he perceived as a time of international danger to Poland. After three weeks he recovered and set about a major Military Review at Wilno as a display of power to impress Germany. While trying to secure guarantees from Hitler there is also evidence that Pilsudski was still flirting with the idea of a pre-emptive strike. Pilsudski told a trusted officer:- ”It is Germany’s dream to achieve cooperation with Russia, as it was in the times of Bismarck. The achievement of such cooperation would be our downfall. We cannot allow it to happen. Despite the huge differences between the systems and cultures of Germany and Russia, this danger must be constantly watched. Stranger alliances have existed in the World. How to work against it? Depending on the given circumstances: either by frightening the weaker one or by a successive relaxation of tensions. The game will be difficult, given the paralysis of will and short-sightedness of the West and the failure of my federative plans.” In May 1933 Moscicki was re-elected President and Janusz Jedrzewjewicz assumed the Premiership. In the Summer Pilsudski rested near Wilno and conducted War Games assisted by Rydz-Smigly. Pilsudski was now working on details for a massive Cavalry Review at Krakow to mark the 250th anniversary of the relief of Vienna by Jan III Sobieski. The massive ceremony was held on October 6, 1933.
Non-aggression pact with Germany. A ten-year non-aggression declaration was signed between Poland and Germany in Berlin on January 26, 1934. Pilsudski had no love for Hitler but with little confidence in any sort of French or British support he was anxious to secure non-aggression agreements wherever he could. After the death of Narutowicz, Pilsudski had clearly identified Rydz-Smigly as his eventual successor to lead the Army. His confidence in Rydz-Smigly seems to have subsequently diminished. The reasons for this reservation about Rydz-Smigly are unclear but Pilsudski may have been antagonized by the emergence of something of a political clique around Rydz-Smigly. Pilsudski never approved of ”making politics in uniform”. In April 1935 a new Constitution, largely the work of Walery Slawek, was adopted. The new Constitution greatly strengthened the role of the President. It also gave the President the power to name his own successor and Premiers in times of war. It was upon this clause which the wartime Government-in-exile was to proclaim its legitimacy. In 1934 Pilsudski, knowing that time was now short, organized a conference of key political collaborators at the Belvedere to review Poland’s international position. This was followed by a similar conference of army inspectors to review the situation of the army. In May 1934 Leon Kozlowski became Premier. The assassination of Interior Minister Pieracki by a Ukrainian nationalist in July 1934 affected Pilsudski deeply. He had been very close to Pieracki. The use of random internments in response to the assassination created an unfavorable image of Poland abroad. Mortally ill Pilsudski could still manage spurts of energy and activity in the course of a steady overall decline. He was terrified about the fate of Poland after his death. Indeed a few years before his death he told his daughter, Wanda, ”Within ten years you will have war. I shall be gone by then and you will lose that war.” On April 25 Pilsudski was diagnosed as suffering from incurable cancer of the liver. The diagnosis remained secret. Pilsudski was anxious to give Beck one final briefing on the future direction of Polish Foreign Policy. He defined the nature of the potential dangers from both Germany and Russia and emphasized the need to maintain the French alliance at all cost – and to somehow draw Great Britain into that alliance.
Death of Pilasudski.Jozef Klemens Pilsudski died at 8.45pm on May 12, 1935. The Government declared a six-week period of mourning. For two days Pilsudski lay in state at the Belvedere and on 15th his body was moved to St John’s Cathedral. The street lights were draped with crepe, church bells tolled and muffled drum rolls sounded. The casket was placed on a high catafalque. Hundreds of thousands of Poles passed by the casket to pay their respects. On Friday 17th May Cardinal Krakowski celebrated a pontifical mass. The coffin now placed atop a gun carriage was pulled in procession through the street of Warsaw to Mokotow where the Army marched before the coffin of their commander. Leading the Parade General Orlicz-Dreszer stopped in front of the casket and saluted it three times with his sword in silent report to his dead commander. The parade ended with the National Anthem and a 101 gun salute. The casket was mounted on a railroad car platform for transport to Krakow. The illuminated casket passed through a countryside illuminated by huge bonfires built alongside the track by the vast crowds who gathered to bid farewell to Pilsudski. In Krakow the procession approached the Wawel to the tolling of the Zygmunt Bell. On the steps of the Cathedral President Moscicki bade farewell to the Marshal. The Generals carried the casket into the Cathedral. Cardinal Sapieha celebrated the mass. The coffin was then carried into St.Leonard’s Crypt, Rydz-Smigly and Sosnkowki among the Generals bearing the casket on their shoulders, to the sound of the Zygmunt Bell and 101 gun salute. The band played “Poland Has Not Yet Perished” (Polish National Anthem) and “The First Brigade”. In 1937 the casket was moved to the renovated crypt of “The Silver Bells”. Also in 1937 on the Sowiniec hill in Cracow a 38m high Jozef Pilsudski Memorial Earth Mound was erected with the help of thousands upon thousands of people each of which brought a symbolic pail of dirt [I was also there with my father RS].
Abbreviated with the permission from the author, Mike Oborski, Honorary Consul of Poland in Kidderminster (serving the West Midlands of the United Kingdom) from his site
Polski Slownik Biograficzny: audios and videos (in Polish)
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