150th anniversary of the birth of Józef Piłsudski

Józef Piłsudski, the architect of independence in 1918 and one of the most outstanding statesmen in Polish history, was born on December 5th 1867 in Zułów, in the Vilnius region. His achievements and political concepts have been a source of inspiration and heated disputes for politicians, publicists and historians in Poland.

The rebirth of the Polish Republic in 1918 was the result of the efforts of several generations of Poles - outstanding individuals and their political circles. Modern Polish consciousness was restored by the movement of national democrats, whose leader Roman Dmowski successfully defended the Polish cause at the Peace Congress in Versailles. He was accompanied by Ignacy Jan Paderewski, a great Polish pianist and composer who, like no other, had created a positive image of Poles in Western Europe and in America. At the time, the modern Polish army was created in France by the "blue general" Józef Haller, and in the country effective political efforts were undertaken by Władysław Studnicki, obtaining a declaration on the rebirth of Poland submitted by the monarchs of Austria-Hungary and Germany. Their contribution to Poland's independence is indisputable, as is the contribution of many others similar to them, bearing arms for Poland but also working during the partitions to preserve Polish national consciousness and links to culture and economics. However it is Józef Piłsudski, the creator of the legions and the first head of state, who is regarded as the true father of the reborn Republic of Poland. On December 5th, we celebrate the 150th anniversary of his birth.

Pilsudski szabla.JPG Pilsudski came from a landowning family, in which independence traditions were cultivated, mainly related to the anti-Russian January Uprising of 1863, when the Poles tried once again to regain their lost independence. After graduating from high school in Vilnius in 1885, he was admitted to study medicine at the University of Kharkov, from which he was expelled for participating in student riots. In March 1887 he was arrested on charges of involvement in a plot to overthrow Tsar Alexander III and was subsequently deported to Siberia for five years.

In 1893, the Polish Socialist Party (PPS) was formed in Warsaw - Piłsudski, who had returned from exile a year earlier, joined the ranks of its Lithuanian branch, becoming the editor-in-chief of the Robotnik magazine published by the PPS. As one of the party's leaders, he was arrested again by the Russian authorities and was imprisoned in the infamous Warsaw Citadel.

When he got out of prison he did not give up further political activities. At the outbreak of the Great War, he commanded troops with which he entered the territory partitioned by Russia. He created the Polish Legions and personally commanded the First Brigade. In 1917 the Austria-Hungary leadership demanded that the members of the Legions take an oath of loyalty to the Emperor. When he refused, along with the majority of his brothers in arms, Pilsudski was arrested and imprisoned in a fortress in Magdeburg, where he was kept until November 1918.

After the defeat of Germany, Pilsudski was released from prison and he came to Warsaw, where the Regency Council, the erstwhile highest state body in the territory of the former Polish Kingdom occupied by the so-called Central Powers, entrusted him with the supreme command of the Polish troops and the mission of creating a national government in the liberated state. On November 22, 1918, he received the official function of the Temporary Head of State - he held this function until December 1922, when the first president of the Republic of Poland, Gabriel Narutowicz, was elected. Pilsudski himself helped defend Poland's regained independence. In the years 1919-1921, Piłsudski was involved in the defence of Poland's regained independence - he fought against the Bolsheviks and was one of the leaders of the victorious Battle of Warsaw.

In 1923 he withdrew from active political life, devoting himself to writing, authoring books including 1920 (1924) and My First Battles (1925). However, in May 1926, upon disagreeing with the direction of political developments, he led troops loyal to him into Warsaw and after three days of fighting effectively forced the resignation of the regime.

Following the so-called May Coup he became the minister of military affairs in the new government, later he also held the office of prime minister twice - in the years 1926-1928 and 1930.

In foreign policy, Pilsudski sought to maintain good relations with Western Europe, in particular with Germany, with which he signed the Polish-German agreement on non-violence in 1934.

The death of Józef Piłsudski on May 12, 1935, surprised the entire nation, and his funeral became an enormous national event paying homage to the father of independent Poland. He was buried in a crypt under the Tower of Silver Bells in the Wawel, next to kings and the most outstanding Poles, and his heart – in accordance with the testament he left behind – was placed in a silver urn and transported to Vilnius, where it is buried in his mother’s grave in the Rasos cemetery.