In just four years, the Great War “changed the skin of the world.” Previously thought impossible — Poland’s independence — became reality after 123 years of partitions. 11 November, 11.11, marks National Independence Day. What do you need to know about it? Here are 11 facts about 11.11
- 10 November
In the morning of 10 November, Commandant Józef Piłsudski gets off a special train from Berlin arriving at the Vilnius Station in Warsaw. He is returning home after 16 months’ prison in the Magdeburg Fortress. The legend of the fight for Polish independence was welcomed at the platform by representatives of the Regency Council (the supreme body of the Kingdom of Poland established by German and Austro-Hungarian authorities in 1917), the commandant in chief of the Polish Military Organisation, and officers. This very day, delegations from various communities were queuing to see Commandant Piłsudski. Just before his lunch, Piłsudski received as many as 23 of them. In the afternoon, the commandant paid a visit to his life partner Aleksandra Szczerbińska and for the first time saw their 9-month old daughter Wanda. The Regency Council held a meeting at 4:30 p.m. in the Archbishops’ Palace at Miodowa street in Warsaw, which made a decision to hand power to Piłsudski over the forming army and entrust him with the mission of forming a government.
- 11 November
The decision was announced the following day, after a stormy night during which the commandant received representatives of the German Soldiers’ Council, which was in command of the German garrison in Warsaw. Under the agreement, the army was to give up their equipment, including weapons and ammunition, in exchange for guaranteed safe return. Throughout the night, Polish troops and scouts spontaneously took to demilitarising the Germans.
Interestingly, no further ground-breaking events happened in Poland on this day. Piłsudski assumed the function of commander-in-chief of the Polish army on the next day, and announced universal voluntary enlistment into the army, to which 100,000 volunteers responded within a month. The Regency Council was officially disbanded on 14 November — it was also then when the commandant asked Jędrzej Moraczewski to form a government. On 22 November, the latter issued a decree on the supreme representation authority of the Republic of Poland, under which Piłsudski became provisional Chief of State.
Why 11 November then? The date was originally celebrated by the legionnaires, particularly from the pro-French faction, who were part of the commander-in-chief’s innermost circle. The choice of date was decided by the fact that an armistice was signed on that day in Compiègne, ultimately sealing Germany’s defeat. A number of countries, including France and the Commonwealth, celebrate the date to this day.
- Józef Piłsudski
Freedom fighter, martyr of the national cause, Siberian exile, prisoner of the Tsar and the Chancellor, co-founder of the Polish Socialist Party, commandant of the Legions… A legend who was and continues to be the symbol of Poland rising from the ashes. Released in November 1918, he returned home, where from 1922 he was the Chief of State and the supreme commander of the Polish army, among others during the Polish-Soviet war. In May 1926, Piłsudski led an armed coup d’état and took power in Poland, which he ruled until his death in 1935.
He also went down in Poland’s history as a sharp-witted commentator who never spared his adversaries neither harsh words nor his quips.
Here are some of the Marshall’s witticisms:
On means to an end:
“It’s no use banging your head against a brick wall but if other methods have failed you should give this one a try.”
“To be defeated and not submit is victory; to be victorious and rest on one’s laurels is defeat.”
- Fathers of Independence
Restoring the state after 123 years of captivity was not only a breakthrough but a challenge which various circles sought to address. Today, six “Independence Fathers” are regarded as the leaders of this process: Ignacy Daszyński, Roman Dmowski, Wojciech Korfanty, Ignacy Paderewski, Józef Piłsudski, and Wincenty Witos. Representing diverse political views and social and religious backgrounds, they were able to rally around the common cause.
- The cable
On 16 November, the commander-in-chief of the Polish army signed a cable that notified “the Governments and nations of belligerent and neutral states of the establishment of the Independent Polish State, incorporating all united territories of Poland.” It was broadcast a few days later from the WAR radio station at the Warsaw Citadel, retaken from the Germans. It is worth mentioning that “Poland” was an unfamiliar notion for many — Poland had been just missing from most world maps for 123 years. The telegram was sent to the authorities in France, the USA, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, and Italy.
Later on, the radio station played a very important role during the Battle of Warsaw in 1920. It beamed fragments of the Bible in Morse to jam radio communications of the Red Army.
- Point 13
On 8 January 1918, US President Thomas Woodrow Wilson in his address to Congress outlined a peace programme that laid the foundations for establishing a lasting and just world order after the Allies’ victory in the First World War. The programme went down in history as Wilson’s 14 points and formed the basis for the armistice signed on 11 November 1918 in Compiègne, which ended WWI hostilities. Point 13 provided for the establishment of an independent Polish state with free access to the sea. In accordance with the plan’s tenets, the restored, politically and economically independent Polish Republic should be erected in “the territories inhabited by indisputably Polish populations,” and its territorial integrity “should be guaranteed by international covenant.”
In 1918, the victorious states unanimously supported the need for the existence of an independent Polish state.
Photo source: Wikipedia