The Paris Peace Conference and successive uprisings
Roman Dmowski was born into an extremely poor but noble family, similar to Józef Piłsudski. His father worked as a paver. Many biographers consider that this background, which accustomed him to hard, systematic work, shaped Dmowski’s positivist style of politics, which contrasted with that of Piłsudski, a typical romantic swept up by emotions. Dmowski’s mind worked like a computer. Although initially it seemed that he would become a scientist (he wrote his Master’s thesis on ciliates), politics became his destiny. Founding the National Democratic political movement, he wrote: “The nation is the necessary content of the moral state and the state the necessary political form of the nation.”
After Poland’s independence was restored in 1918, Dmowski was sent to the Paris Peace Conference with Prime Minister Jan Paderewski. He made a strong impression; US President Woodrow Wilson and French Premier Georges Clémenceau were amazed by his fluency in switching from English to French, and the way historical facts and figures on the population of the former Prussian Partition’s ethnic composition rolled off his tongue for hours. Despite resistance from the British delegation led by David Lloyd George – the rather repugnant British Premier who stated in 1939 “Poland deserves its fate” and did not want a strong Polish state to be established as it would naturally become France’s ally – Dmowski negotiated a beneficial western border for Poland (he estimated his success at 90%). The eastern border would have to be won in battle, rather than at a table of diplomats, but Piłsudski would take care of that.
Earlier, travelling to Warsaw, Paderewski had stopped in Poznań on 27 December 1918, where the city’s inhabitants greeted him with enthusiasm. He made a fiery speech, sparking riots that conflagrated into the Wielkopolska uprising. Despite having surrendered, the Germans still considered the ‘Grand Duchy of Posen’ to be theirs. Fighting broke out; the Poles kept winning. Clashes took place at lighting speed. On 8 January 1919, General Józef Dowbór-Muśnicki was appointed military and civilian leader. After a series of battles and skirmishes, in which towns went back and forth between German and Polish hands, the Germans gradually withdrew. At the Treaty of Paris, concluded on 28 June 1919, the Allies ultimately granted Poland the region of Wielkopolska (Greater Poland), except for a few scraps of territory containing majority German populations. In this way, Wielkopolska’s brave inhabitants joined Poland. Usually, our national uprisings ended tragically. This time, it was the opposite; a total victory.
Things went somewhat differently in Upper Silesia, but still ended in victory. Referring to Polish activist Wojciech Korfanty, known as the “Germanophobe”, the great publicist Stanisław Stroński wrote: “Thanks to him, his bold flourish, his eagle’s eye and eagle’s claws, Polish Upper Silesia was an issue during the Great War and its aftermath.” The Allies gave the Germans Upper Silesia. The Silesian Poles could not accept this, which led to two brief uprisings, in August 1919 and August 1920. Neither brought results beyond certain concessions by the Germans. Korfanty partially extinguished these spontaneous bursts, waiting for a more fortuitous moment. This came late on 2 May 1921. He wrote: “I alone issued the call-to-arms for the third uprising on the eve of the Ambassadors’ Council conference, where we were only going to receive Pszczyna and part of Rybnik district (…). With insufficient funds, insufficient provisions, despite pressure from the Polish government to end the uprising immediately, I managed to sustain it for several months.”
The Third Silesian Uprising was a success; a partial one territorially (around one-third of the contested lands were incorporated into Poland) and a full one in terms of infrastructure, as the lands housed roughly three-quarters of Upper Silesia’s coal mines and half of its metallurgical plants. This was very important at the time, as a country’s heavy industry determined its economic power. It also mattered for a sense of national belonging. Korfanty wrote: “Upper Silesia is Poland’s Alsace. These Alsatians of ours will be good Poles if Poland gives them peace, rule of law and prosperity (…). Rape, threats or harassment will have the opposite effect, merely delaying Silesia’s nationalisation and its bonding with the motherland.”
Thus the reborn country’s west was at peace. But clouds from the east – not black but red – had already been gathering over Poland; a signal for it to fight the final battle of the First World War, before rising from its ashes.