In 1795, Poland ceased to exist as an independent state and its territory was divided among Prussia, Russia and Austria. Afterwards legal and underground groups started to emerge on the Polish lands. They included nationalist, socialist and agrarian organisations, which – despite ideological differences – shared the conviction about the need to reconstruct an independent Polish state. For dozens of years, those movements worked arduously in many fields (culture, education, economy) to ensure the survival of the nation and the preservation of its identity. At the same time, many Poles linked their hopes for regaining independence with the outbreak of a European war, in which the occupants would fight against one another.
In 1908, the secret Union of Active Struggle was created, and two years later – upon the consent of the Austrian secret service – legal paramilitary organisations were founded: “Strzelec” (Rifleman) in Kraków and Riflemen’s Association in Lwów soon to be joined by new ones, including Polish Rifle Squads (Polskie Druzyny Strzeleckie).
The war broke out in August 1914. Germany and Austria-Hungary joined their forces in the fight against Russia, allied with France and the United Kingdom. As early as in 1914 different Polish paramilitary organisations active in the territory of Austria-Hungary merged to create the Polish Legions (Legiony Polskie), which fought against Russia on the side of the Central Powers. The commanders were Józef Piłsudski and Józef Haller.
In the spring of 1915, the offensive of Germany and Austria-Hungary led to removing Russians from the Polish lands. On 5 November 1916, Germany and Austria-Hungary proclaimed the creation of the Kingdom of Poland on the Polish lands taken away from Russia. The newly created state was to be strictly dependent on the Central Powers in political and military terms. Most soldiers of the Polish Legions refused to swear an oath of loyalty to Germany and Austria-Hungary and engaged in underground activity in the Polish Military Organisation (Polska Organizacja Wojskowa). Józef Piłsudski was detained and Józef Haller got across to France, where he started creating a Polish army fighting at the side of the Entente. In October 1918, the Regency Council (Rada Regencyjna), which was the highest authority of the Kingdom of Poland appointed by the Central Powers, declared full independence of the state. On 10 November, when the Central Powers were defeated, Józef Piłsudski returned to Warsaw and took over the authority from the Regency Council as the Chief of State (Naczelnik Państwa). Poland was proclaimed a republic. The governments appointed by the Chief of State (first headed by Jędrzej Moraczewski and then by Ignacy Paderewski) had a huge task in front of them: from building the army to getting control of the political and economic chaos.
In 1919, the first election to the Legislative Sejm (Sejm Ustawodawczy) of the independent Poland was organised. The electoral law, introduced by virtue of the decree of 28 November 1918, awarded the right to vote to all citizens aged 21 or more, regardless of their nationality, education, amount of taxes paid or sex. For the first time women were allowed to vote. Electing 524 deputies, as provided for in the electoral law, proved to be impossible in practice. On 26 January the election was held only in those areas which were under the control of Warsaw – in the majority of former Kingdom of Poland territory and in the western part of Galicia. The Eastern Galicia, Cieszyn Silesia, Upper Silesia, Poznan Region and Pomerania were initially represented by deputies elected from those territories to the parliaments in Vienna and Berlin. Following subsequent elections (March 1919 – Suwałki Region, June 1919 – Greater Poland and Podlachia; May 1920 – Pomerania; March 1922 – Central Lithuania), the Legislative Sejm reached the highest number of deputies ever: 432.
Numerous problems were connected with the choice of the seat of the newly elected parliament. Finally, the building of the Alexander-Marinsky Institute girlsʼs school at Wiejska Street was chosen. After many alterations and reconstruction from the destruction suffered during the Second World War, the Sejm proceedings have been held at this location until the present day.
It should be emphasised that for the first three years after the official end of the First World War Poland fought against almost all of its neighbours to determine the new borders. Fights were conducted against Germans in Greater Poland and Upper Silesia, against Ukrainians in Eastern Galicia and against Lithuanians over the Vilnius Region. The attack of the Bolshevik Russia was repulsed in August 1920 on the outskirts of Warsaw. The last fights ceased in 1921 and the process of establishing an independent Polish state was symbolically completed by the adoption of its constitution on 17 March 1921.
The purpose of this presentation is to illustrate the time of breakthrough – the Polish history of 1914–21 – with exhibits from the collection of the Museum Division of the Sejm Library: posters, placards, medals, badges, photographs and documents, which serve as tokens of memory illustrating the process of forming an independent Polish state.
prepared by: Michał Barcikowski and Błażej Popławski
The Polish Rifle Squads was an independence organisation created upon the consent of the Austrian authorities in 1911. The Squads recruited members from among Poles living in the Polish territory annexed by Austria. When the Austrian-Russian war broke out, the Riflemen’s Associations and Rifle Squads, united under the command of Józef Piłsudski, were mobilised and merged to create the 1st Brigade of the Polish Legions.
The creation of the Kingdom of Poland was proclaimed on 5 November 1916 by Germany and Austria-Hungary on the Polish lands taken away from Russia as a result of the offensive of the Central Powers in the spring of 1915. The Provisional Council of State operated as an advisory and cooperative body, preparing the ground for the future state institutions. In October 1917 the Provisional Council of State was dissolved and its powers were transferred to the Regency Council.
The postcard presents: 1. Wacław Niemojowski, Council President and Crown Marshal; 2. Józef Mikułowski-Pomorski, Deputy Crown Marshal; Head of the Department of Religious Denominations and Public Enlightenment; 3. Włodzimierz Kunowski, Head of the Labour Department; 4. Stanisław Bukowiecki, Head of the Justice Department; 5. Wojciech Rostworowski, Head of the Political Affairs Department.
The Regency Council was appointed by way of rescripts of the German and Austrian-Hungarian occupation authorities, on the basis of a patent concerning state authority in the Kingdom of Poland issued by those authorities on 12 September 1917. The Council assumed office on 27 October of that year. After Poland declared independence, the Regency Council dissolved itself and handed over the entire superior power to Józef Piłsudski.
The obverse side of the medal presents representatives of the four estates of the Kingdom (clergy, nobles, workers and peasants) bowing in front of Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Poland. The reverse of the medal shows members of the Regency Council: Count Józef Ostrowski (first on the left), Archbishop Aleksander Kakowski, Warsaw Metropolitan and Primate of the Kingdom of Poland (second from the left) and Prince Zdzisław Lubomirski.
In his youth, Piłsudski was a member of the Polish Socialist Party (Polska Partia Socjalistyczna). In the face of the impending war, he began to form Polish paramilitary organisations in Austria-Hungary, which were to fight against Russia in the future war. Following the outbreak of the war, he commanded the 1st Brigade of the Polish Legions, which fought alongside the Central Powers. After the creation of the puppet Kingdom of Poland, he forsook his allegiance to the Central Powers and engaged in underground activity. Detained by the authorities, he was released in November 1918. His return to Warsaw is regarded as the symbolic beginning of the reborn Polish statehood. 11 November was established as the National Independence Day.
Piłsudski assumed the post of Chief of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Polish army. He served this function during the historic Polish victory over the Bolsheviks in the Battle of Warsaw in August 1920. In 1923, disappointed with the shape of the reborn state, he withdrew from politics, and in May 1926 carried out a military coup. He ruled the country until his death in May 1935.
Following the capitulation of the Central Powers on 11 November 1918, members of the underground Polish Military Organisation disarmed the German troops stationed in Warsaw to almost no resistance. The photograph depicts i.a. Polish guards in front of state buildings in Warsaw.
The Provincial Sejm represented Poles who lived on lands which remained within the German territory. During the three-day session (3–5 December), deputies expressed the will to form a united Polish state with access to the sea.
On 16 January 1919, the world-famous pianist and independence activist was appointed Prime Minister by the Chief of State Józef Piłsudski, replacing Jędrzej Moraczewski.
In the picture from the left: Józef Piłsudski, Ignacy Jan Paderewski and Jędrzej Moraczewski as pillars supporting a building with the inscription “Poland”. Inscription at the bottom: “P.P.P. – Poland, Piłsudski, Paderewski”.
In the drawing: heads of the four world powers construct a statue symbolising Poland, from the left: Prime Minister of France Georges Clemenceau, Prime Minister of Italy Vittorio Orlando, President of the United States Woodrow Wilson and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom David Lloyd George. The latter takes away the head with the inscription “Gdańsk”, which refers to the British PM’s objection to granting Poland this Baltic port.
The photograph presents participants of the conference, including representatives of Poland: Prime Minister Ignacy Jan Paderewski and Roman Dmowski, national democrat and founder of the Polish National Committee in Paris (1917–1919). During the peace conference, both politicians sought to ensure the best possible demarcation of the western Polish border.
Elections to the Legislative Sejm followed the five-adjective electoral law: they were equal, universal, direct, proportional and conducted by secret ballot. Poland was among the first European states to grant voting rights to women.
The Legislative Sejm debated between 1919 and 1922 and its main achievement was the adoption of the constitution on 17 March 1921.
Obverse side depicting Prime Minister Ignacy Jan Paderewski.
Reverse side with the image of the White Eagle and the inscription: “In 1919, the year of the resurrection of the Polish Sejm”.
Obverse side depicting the Chief of State Józef Piłsudski.
Reverse side with the inscription: “To commemorate the summoning of the Legislative Sejm 9 February 1919”
A one-masted vessel with a sail and backstays (the state) is floating on the base (stormy sea waves); above it there is an oak wreath (allegory of victory), on which there rests a crowned eagle with outstretched wings (national emblem).
Beneath the eagle, on the book’s spine, there is an inscription: “1919 – Lex – 1922” surrounded by badges: “Legislative Sejm of the Republic of Poland”.
From the left: Moszek Ela Halpern, Nojach Pryłucki, Abraham Hersz Cwi Perlmutter, Salomon Weinzieher, Izaak Grünbaum, Ozjasz Thon, Jerzy Rosenblatt, Izaak Ignacy Schipper.
Inscription: “Save the children. CWC Orphanage. Nationwide fundraiser of the Central Welfare Council, 7–15 September 1919, under the patronage of the Marshal of the Sejm S. W. Trąmpczyński and the First Lady H. M. Paderewska”.
The Volunteer Army was established to aid the regular army in the fight against the Bolshevik Russia’s offensive of 1920. It was led by gen. Józef Haller: commander of the 2nd Brigade of the Polish Legions and the Polish 2nd Corps in Russia during the First World War; commander-in-chief of the Polish Army in France in 1918–19; member of the Council of National Defence (Rada Obrony Państwa).
Following the Russian defeat on the outskirts of Warsaw and the Polish counter-offensive from Wieprz River, a peace treaty demarcating the eastern border of Poland was signed in Riga. The poster depicts gen. Józef Haller. The inscription underneath reads: “Enter the army – defend the Motherland”.
It earlier housed a Russian school for noblewomen. The building was rebuilt several times. It was destroyed during the Second World War.
The Constitution introduced a democratic republic with a parliamentary-cabinet system of government. It was based on the sovereignty of the nation, the separation of powers and guaranteed the fundamental civil rights.
Obverse side: A peasant and worker pay tribute to Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Poland.
Reverse side: Inscription reading: “To commemorate the enactment of the 17 March 1921 Constitution” placed between fasces lictoriae (the symbol of highest authority in Republican Rome) and above the Decalogue tables.
“In the name of Almighty God!
We, the Polish Nation, grateful to Providence for setting us free from a servitude of a century and a half; remembering gratefully the courage and perseverance of the self-sacrificing struggle of generations which have unceasingly devoted their best efforts to the cause of independence; taking up the glorious tradition of the memorable Constitution of May 3; having in mind the weal of our whole, united, and independent mother-country, and desiring to establish her independent existence, power, safety, and social order on the eternal principles of right and liberty; desirous also of ensuring the development of all her moral and material forces for the good of the whole of renascent humanity, and of securing equality to all citizens of the Republic, and respect, due rights, and the special protection of the state to labour;-do enact and establish in the Legislative Sejm of the Republic of Poland this Constitutional Law”.