How Poland regained independence in 1918 (in ten minutes)

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In 1914, WW1 started and by the end of 1916 almost all of what had been Russian Poland was captured by the Germans and Austrians. The Kaiser’s government wanted to annex a large part of this land but at the same time aware of the need for troops after the horrendous losses of the war, believed that by getting Poles on their side they could get extra help. Whereas Russia was on the brink of revolution, I don’t think that this was fully appreciated at the time. So at a meeting in Pszczyna in October 1916 the German and Austrian governments agreed to move forward with the creation of a Polish state. At the time, the Germans ruled from Warsaw and Austrians from Lublin.\nAlthough parts of what could be termed the Polish leadership did not want a deal with the Central Powers, Kaiser Wilhelm I and Chancellor Theodore von Bethmann-Hollweg met with a Polish delegation and a deal was trashed out. On 5 November 1916, the German military governor, Colonel General Hans von Beseler promised that a Polish state would be created, without specifying any future Polish ruler or how it would be ruled and where the borders may be. However he had the Royal Castle in Warsaw decked out with Polish flags for the first time since 1831. The Austrian Governor-General Kuk issued a similar proclamation at Lublin. Here we have a picture of the German and Austrian military leadership in Lublin in December 1916 – and if you recognise where the photograph was taken, write it down below! \nSurprise, surprise, as soon as this was done, the German military government went on a recruitment campaign. Who wants to join the Polish Army as part of the Central Powers?\nOn 14 January 1917, a provisional government, consisting of fifteen members chosen by the German and ten by the Austrian authorities. These people were nobles – the sort of people the aristocrats in Germany and Austria could identify with. They had a limited amount of local authority but what authority they did have included the courts and the education system. \nOnly eight days later, on 22 January 1917 US President Woodrow Wilson announced his fourteen points, one of which was the independence of Poland. Of course this did not mean much until the US actually entered the war.\nWhereas the office corps of the new Polish army started to come together in December 1916, it hit problems with recruitment. Poles from the pre war borders of Austria had to join the army of the dual monarchy. They were then asked to take an oath of alliance which emphasized the alliance with Germany and Austria. A number refused to take the oath, among them the head of the new army, Józef Piłsudski and his second in command Kazimierz Sosnkowski who as a result were arrested and imprisoned in Germany. Those troops that did take the oath were sent to the eastern front in August 1917.\nIn September 1917 a Regency Council was formed and took over as a provisional government on 15 October 1917 – once more with people that the aristocrats could relate to which included the archbishop of Warsaw and Józef Ostrowski who was a major landowner and who had been the leading Polish member of parliament in the Russian Duma.[1]\nWhereas the German military was still effectively in control, even the German Reichstag called in March 1918 for the establishment of a full civil administration in Poland, Lithania and Lativa. However the German parliament did not have the power to grant such things.\nAlthough Russia was defeated and the Treaty of Brest Litovsk signed, Germany collapsed in 1918 on the western front. German sought a deal based on the fourteen points which the new German Chancellor, Prince Max of Baden, accepted on 3 October 1918. On 6 October 1918, the German military government completely handed over administration to Polish civil servants, so effectively the following day Poles were in charge. On 23 October 1918 the German military government transferred the command over Polish forces to the Regency Council. \nMeanwhile in Lublin, a Provisional Polish People’s Republic was declared in Lublin. The name sounds somewhat communist, however I don’t think its leader Ignacy Daszynski shared the ideals of those in Moscow. The Warsaw government requested the release of Piłsudski who arrived in Warsaw on 10 November 1918 and the following day Germany signed the armistice, ending the war. The leadership of Piłsudski was acceptable to both the Regency government and Daszynski. Piłsudski was named as head of the army and at the same time the Germans began to withdraw their armed forces, the Warsaw and Poznań garrisons being disarmed on this day. Later the Second Polish Republic chose this day as being the day of effective independence

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