Józef Klemens Piłsudski (born in 1867 – died in 1935)
Honary Citizen of Warsaw since 1918
Head of State of Poland in the years 1918-1922, Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Army since 11 November 1918, the First Marshal of Poland from 1920, two-time Prime Minister of Poland (1926-1928 and 1930). Independence activist, politician, statesman. He is one of the greatest figures in the history of Poland.
He descended from an indigent landowning family with old independence traditions. In 1886 he started medical studies in Kharkiv, where he led revolutionary and independence activities among the students.
In 1887 he was arrested and sent to Siberia, where he stayed until 1892. After returning he joined the forming Polish Socialist Party and in 1893 he became a member of the Central Workers Committee and editor-in-chief of Robotnik (The Worker). In the years 1905-1908 he led the Combat Organisation of the PSP, which performed many successful actions against the Russian partitioners.
In 1914 he took command of the 1st Legion Regiment, later renamed as the 1st Legion’s Brigade, which participated in a number of battles at the Galician Front. In November 1916 he was appointed the Chief of the Military Committee of the Provisional Council of State.
At the same time, in October 1914, Piłsudski initiated the establishment of the Polish Military Organisation, a secret military association acting in all the annexed territories, of which he became the chief commanding officer.
On 16 January 1917 he subordinated the Polish Military Organisation to the Provisional Council of State. Due to the movement towards the victory he anticipated earlier for the side of the Triple Entente (the alliance between Great Britain, France and Russia), he brought the so-called Oath crisis, advising the Polish soldiers not to swear an oath of allegiance to the Germans. For the refusal to swear the oath, ca. 3500 soldiers from Galicia were transferred to the Austro-Hungarian Army and sent to Italy. Also, the mass arrests of independence activists started. Piłsudski himself was arrested on 22 July 1917 and as a result he landed in Magdeburg. After the stay in Magdeburg prison he returned to Warsaw in November 1918, where the Regency Council handed over military authority to him. On 22 November 1918 he was appointed to the office of the Provisional Chief of State and in January 1919 elected by the Legislative Sejm as the Head of State. Aiming to restore the Polish State he waged war with Bolshevik Russia 1919-1920, ending with the Peace of Riga, in Poland’s favour. In the time of war he became known to be a superb strategist, preparing the plan and commanding the successful Battle of Warsaw, which was decisive in the outcome of the war.
In March 1920 he was appointed Marshal; until December 1922 he held the office of the Chief of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Army.
In 1926, after President S. Wojciechowski declined the proposal of forming the government he staged a coup d’etat (the May Coup). In the years 1926-1928 and 1930 he was the Prime Minister twice. Under the banner of fighting for “unbridled parliamentary democracy” and “party favouritism” he fought the opposition. The April Constitution of 1935, prepared under the influence of the political forces concentrated around him, significantly extended the powers of the President and the Government. He aimed to create a system of state security through the conclusion of mutual non-aggression pacts with USSR and Germany.
In the interwar period around the person of the Marshal a peculiar cult was built. It consisted of ascribing to Piłsudski the characteristics of an outstanding commander, exceptional strategist and politician, and most of all, of a visionary.
Already during the time of his activity in the PSP and fighting in the Legions he gained huge popularity and the name of a great man. After the regaining of independence the popularity of Piłsudski grew, especially in relation to the success in the Polish-Bolshevik war and the incompetence of the subsequent governments. By his supporters he was then considered to be the only person in Poland who was able to lead Poland out of the political and economic crisis. After the May Coup in 1926 and the introduction of authoritarian rule the cult of Piłsudski became the official ideology of the State, the spreading of which grew even stronger after his death in 1935. The portraits of Piłsudski were then hanging on the walls of institutions and state offices. The Marshal was the main subject of many literary works - he appeared in paintings, was the honorary member of countless organisations, the honorary citizen of dozens of towns. The cult of Piłsudski was an important element in the patriotic education of children and young people in schools. During the German occupation and the period of PRL the cult of Piłsudski was combatted by the authorities, but such activity only served its reinforcement. After the fall of Communism in Poland in 1989, Marshal Piłsudski was recognised as one of the most prominent figures in the history of the country. He is the patron of many streets, squares and schools. After 1989 several monuments of His were erected. The Marshal was the holder of a significant number of decorations and distinctions proving His Greatness.