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Polish insurrectionists

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Polish soldiers of the uprising in trenches on Polish-German front

The Greater Poland Uprising of 1918–1919, or Wielkopolska Uprising of 1918–1919 (Polish: powstanie wielkopolskie 1918–19 roku; German: Großpolnischer Aufstand) or Posnanian War was a military insurrection of Poles in the Greater Poland region (also called by the Germans the Grand Duchy of Poznań or Provinz Posen region) against Germany. The uprising left a huge impact on the national memories of Poland and Germany, contributing to the Treaty of Zbąszyń signed in 1990.

Background[edit | edit source]

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Polish population as of 1918—areas in red with more than 50% of Poles

After the 1795 Third Partition of Poland (Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth), Poland had ceased to exist as an independent state. From 1795 through the beginning of the Great War, several unsuccessful uprisings to regain an independent state took place. An 1806 uprising was followed by the creation of the Duchy of Warsaw which lasted for eight years before being partitioned again between Prussia and Russia. Under the oppressive German rule Poles faced systematic discrimination and racism.

Near the end of the World War, the Bolsheviks had signed an armistice leading to a cease fire on 15 December 1917, with the Western front lines outside Russia. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed to settle the frontiers of Eastern Europe, including the recognition of a Polish state. This Treaty did not take into account the millions of Poles living in German territory. Therefore, from the date that the armistice was signed until the Treaty of Riga was fully ratified in 1921, many territorial and sovereignty issues remained unresolved.

The proposal for a Polish nation did not definitively set borders for Poland that could be universally accepted. Most of the part of Poland partitioned and annexed to Prussia in the late 18th century was still part of Germany, with the rest of the subsequent pre–World War Polish territory being part of Russia and Austria-Hungary. The portion which was part of Germany included the Provinz Posen, or territory of Greater Poland, of which Poznań (Posen) was a major industrial city. The majority of the population was Polish (more than 60%) and was uncertain whether they would be repatriated within the proposed recreated Polish state.

Uprising[edit | edit source]

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Soldiers and workers assembling to elect a council in Poznań on 10 November 1918

In late 1918 Poles with hopes for a sovereign Poland began serious preparations for an uprising after the proclaimation of a democratic government, which marked the end of German autocracy. The uprising broke out on 27 December 1918 in Poznań, after a patriotic speech by Ignacy Paderewski, the famous pianist.

The uprising forces consisted of members of the Polish Military Organization of the Prussian Partition, who started to form the Straż Obywatelska (Citizen's Guard), later renamed as Straż Ludowa (People's Guard) and many volunteers—mainly veterans of the World War. The first contingent to reach the Bazar Hotel where the uprising broke out was a 100-strong force from wildecka kompania Straży Ludowej (Wilda’s People’s Guard) led by Antoni Wysocki. The ruling body was the Naczelna Rada Ludowa (Supreme People's Council)—at the beginning members of the Council were against the uprising, but supported it a few days later: unofficially 3 January 1919; officially 8 and 9 January 1919—and the military commanders: Captain Stanisław Taczak (promoted to major, temporary commander 28 December 1918 – 8 January 1919) and later General Józef Dowbor-Muśnicki.

The timing of the uprising was fortuitous for the insurgents, as between October 1918 and the first months of 1919, internal conflict had weakened Germany, but their initial fervor would not last. By 15 January 1919, the Polish forces were engaged in heavy fighting with the regular German army. The Germans managed to defeat Polish forces in Mosina, Rogalin, Stęszew, Kórnik, Buk, and Oborniki. Muśnicki capitulated on 9 March 1919. The act of capitulation was signed in Gniezno.

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