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Template:Polpol Jozef Pilsudski (Polish: J髗ef Piłsudski, pronounced: Missing image

['juzef piw'sutski], December 5, 1867May 12, 1935) was a Polish revolutionary and statesman, field marshall, first chief of state (1918-1922) and dictator (1926-1935) of renascent Poland, and founder of her armed forces.



Piłsudski's early life

Born in the village of Zuł體 (Zalavas, in today's Lithuania) into an impoverished Polish szlachta (noble) family, he attended school in Wilno. In 1885 he studied medicine at Kharkiv, in Ukraine, but was suspended in 1886 as politically suspect. In March 1887 he was arrested by Tsarist authorities on a false charge of plotting to assassinate Tsar Alexander III and was exiled for five years to eastern Siberia. His elder brother, Bronisław Piłsudski, who had been friends with friends of Vladimir Lenin's brother, was similarly sentenced to hard labor (katorga) in eastern Siberia, for fifteen years.

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Piłsudski, schoolboy.

J髗ef, after his release in 1892, joined the Polish Socialist Party. He began publishing an underground socialist newspaper, Robotnik (The Worker). In February 1900 he was imprisoned in the Warsaw Citadel but, after feigning mental illness, in May 1901 managed to escape from a mental hospital in St. Petersburg, Russia.

On the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War (19041905) Piłsudski traveled to Japan, where he unsuccessfully attempted to obtain that country's assistance for an insurrection in Poland. He offered to supply Japan with intelligence in support of her war with Russia and proposed a plan (never implemented) to create a legion from Poles, conscripted into the Russian army, who had been captured by Japan. He also suggested a "Promethean" project (named for the Greek titan Prometheus, who had been tortured by Zeus while chained to a rock in the Caucasus) directed at breaking up the Russian empire into its ethnic constituents — a goal that he later continued to pursue and that would be partly achieved only in 1991 with the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

First World War

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Piłsudski in military uniform.

Piłsudski anticipated a coming European war and the need to organize the nucleus of a future Polish army that could help win Poland's independence from the three empires that had partitioned her out of political existence in the late 18th century. With the aid of funds that he had personally "expropriated" from a Russian mail train in a raid at Bezdany near Vilnius in April 1908, that same year he formed a secret military organization. Two years later, with help from the Austrian military authorities, he converted the organization into a legal "Riflemen's Association" which trained Polish military officers.

At a meeting in Paris in 1914, Piłsudski presciently declared that in the imminent war, for Poland to regain her independence, Russia must be beaten by the Central Powers (Austria-Hungary and German Empire), and the Central Powers must in their turn be beaten by France, Britain and the United States.

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Piłsudski and his staff in Kielce, 1914

Upon the outbreak of World War I, and into 1917, Brigadier General Piłsudski's Polish Legion fought with distinction against Russia at the side of the Central Powers. On November 5, 1916, the latter proclaimed the "independence" of Poland, hoping that as a result Polish troops would be sent to the eastern front against Russia, relieving German forces to bolster the western front. Piłsudski, however, then serving as minister of war in the newly created Polish Regency government, opposed the demand that the Polish units swear loyalty to Germany and Austria. Consequently in July 1917 he was arrested and imprisoned at Magdeburg, Germany.

On November 8, 1918, Piłsudski and his comrade, Colonel Kazimierz Sosnkowski, were released and soon — like Vladimir Lenin before them — placed on a private train, bound for their national capital. On November 11 Piłsudski was appointed Commander in Chief, and on November 14 Chief of State (Naczelnik Panstwa), of a renascent Polish state.

Polish-Soviet War

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Piłsudski in Poznań.

Piłsudski aspired to create a federation (to be called Międzymorze--"Tween-Seas," stretching once again from the Baltic to the Black Sea) of Poland with Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine, in emulation of the pre-partition Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth that had served its constituent populations well for four centuries. The Commonwealth had given mutual protection to its constituent peoples against the Teutonic Order, the Mongols, the Russians, the Turks, the Swedes and other predatory neighbors until the partitions of the late 18th century. Piłsudski's plan was, however, to be dashed by the outcome of the Polish-Soviet War of 1919-1921.

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In April 1920, Marshal Piłsudski (as his rank had been since that March) signed an alliance with Ukraine's Symon Petliura, to conduct joint war against Soviet Russia. The Polish and Ukrainian armies, under Piłsudski's command, launched a successful offensive against the Russian forces in Ukraine. By May 7, having done remarkably little fighting, they had captured Kiev (Ukranian, Kyiv).

The Soviets launched their own offensive from Belarus and counter-attacked in Ukraine, advancing into Poland in a drive toward Germany in order to consolidate the communist revolution underway there. It was Piłsudski's risky, unconventional strategy at the Battle of Warsaw (August 1920) that would halt the Soviet advance.

Piłsudski's plan was for Polish forces to withdraw across the Vistula River and defend the bridgeheads at Warsaw and the Wieprz River, while some 25% of available divisions concentrated to the south for a strategic counteroffensive.

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Piłsudski as Marshal of Poland.

Next Piłsudski's plan required that two armies under General J髗ef Haller, facing Soviet frontal attack on Warsaw from the east, hold their entrenched positions at all costs. At the same time, an army under General Władysław Sikorski would strike north from behind Warsaw, thus cutting off the Soviet forces attempting to envelope Warsaw from that direction. The most important role, however, was assigned to a relatively small (approximately 20,000-man), newly assembled "Reserve Army" (known also as the "Strike Group" — Grupa Uderzeniowa), commanded personally by Piłsudski, comprising the most determined, battle-hardened Polish units. Their task was to spearhead a lightning northern offensive, from the Vistula-Wieprz River triangle south of Warsaw, through a weak spot identified by Polish intelligence between the Soviet Western and Southwestern Fronts. That offensive would separate the Soviet Western Front from its reserves and disorganize its movements. Eventually, the gap between Sikorski's army and the "Strike Group" would close near the East Prussian border, resulting in the destruction of the encircled Soviet forces.

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Piłsudski at work.

Piłsudski's plan was strongly criticized at the time, and only the desperate situation of the Polish forces persuaded other army commanders to go along with it. Although based on fairly reliable information provided by Polish intelligence and intercepted Soviet radio communications, the plan was termed "amateurish" by many high-ranking army officers and military experts, who were quick to point out Piłsudski's lack of a formal military education. Furthermore, when a copy of the plan accidentally fell into Soviet hands, it was thought to be a ruse and ignored. Only days later, the Soviets would pay dearly for their mistake.

The Marshal's Polish detractors, however, chose to ironically call his subsequent victory "the Miracle at the Wisła [i.e., Vistula River]," and sought to ascribe the winning strategy to General Maxime Weygand of the French military mission to Poland. Later, a junior member of that mission, Charles de Gaulle, would adopt some lessons from Piłsudski's career, for his own strikingly similar one.

The Treaty of Riga (1921), closing the Polish-Soviet War, gave the bulk of Belarus and Ukraine to Russia and so marked an end to Piłsudski's federalist dream.

Rise to Power: the Benevolent Dictator

After the Polish constitution adopted in March 1921 (March Constitution) severely limited the powers of the presidency in the new democratic Second Polish Republic, Piłsudski refused to run for the office. In December 1922 he turned over his powers to his friend, the newly elected president, Gabriel Narutowicz. Two days later, Narutowicz was shot to death by a mentally deranged, right-wing, antisemitic painter and art critic who had originally wanted to kill Piłsudski. When a right-wing government subsequently came to power, in May 1923 Piłsudski disgustedly resigned as chief of the general staff and went into retirement outside Warsaw.

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Marshal J髗ef Piłsudski on his favorite horse Kasztanka (the mare, "Chestnut"), painted by Wojciech Kossak.

Three years later, in May 1926, he returned to power in a military coup d'etat (the May Coup), aided by socialist railwaymen who sidetracked government troop transports. He initiated Sanacja government (1926-1939) — conducted at times by authoritarian means — directed at restoring moral "health" to public life. Although till his death in 1935 he played a preponderant role in Poland's government, his formal offices — apart from two stints as prime minister in 1926-28 and 1930 — were for the most part limited to those of minister of defense and inspector-general of the armed forces. The adoption of a new Polish constitution in April 1935, tailored by Piłsudski's supporters to his specifications — providing for a strong presidency — came too late for Piłsudski to seek that office; but the April Constitution would serve Poland to the outbreak of World War II and would carry its Government in Exile through to the end of the war and beyond.

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Piłsudski on the cover of TIME magazine, June 7, 1926.

Piłsudski, as de Gaulle was later to do in France, sought to maintain his country's independence on the international scene. When Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany in January 1933, Piłsudski sounded out Poland's ally, France, regarding the possibility of joint military action against Germany, which had been openly rearming in violation of the Versailles Treaty. When France declined, Piłsudski was compelled to sign a nonaggression pact with Germany in January 1934. (He had already done so with the Soviet Union in 1932.) He was acutely aware of the shakiness of the nonaggression pacts, remarking sarcastically: "The question remains, which of the stools will we fall off first." Ably assisted by his protege, Minister of Foreign Affairs Jozef Beck, he sought support for Poland in alliances with western powers--France and Britain--and with friendly, if less powerful, neighbors: Romania and Hungary.

Hitler repeatedly suggested a German-Polish alliance against the Soviets, but Piłsudski ignored the proposal. He sought time for Poland to prepare to fight when the necessity arose.

Piłsudski was interested less in the trappings than in the reality of power, to be exercised for the security and welfare of his imperiled country. He made a point of drawing no financial profit from public office. As to the socialism that had helped him to power, he famously remarked that he "had taken the red streetcar as far as the stop called Independence and gotten off."

Pilsudski had given Poland something akin to what Henryk Sienkiewicz's pan Zagłoba had mused about: a Polish Oliver Cromwell. As such, the Marshal had inevitably drawn both intense loyalty and intense vilification.

By 1935 Piłsudski had, unbeknown to the public, been for several years in declining health. So much the greater was the shock at the passing of the man about whom Joseph Conrad had said: "He was the only great man to emerge on the scene during the [First World] war."



"To be defeated and not submit, that is victory; to be victorious and rest on one's laurels, that is defeat."

See also

External links


Preceded by:
Regency Council
Head of State
Succeeded by:
Gabriel Narutowicz
Preceded by:
Kazimierz Bartel
Prime Minister of Poland
Succeeded by:
Kazimierz Bartel
Preceded by:
Walery Slawek
Prime Minister of Poland
Succeeded by:
Walery Slawek

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Template:Marshals of Polandcs:J髗ef Piłsudski de:Józef Piłsudski es:Józef Piłsudski fr:Józef Piłsudski nl:Jozef Pilsudski pl:J贸zef_Pi艂sudski ro:J髗ef Piłsudski ru:Пилсудский, Юзеф he:יוזף פילסודסקי zh:毕苏斯基


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