Historical story

Piłsudski's legions are rubbish. Józef Piłsudski was not their commander, creator or even originator at all

If Piłsudski turned out to be a real master in something, it was in the art of propaganda. His acolytes successfully persuaded the Poles that he had regained independence for Poland on his own. It could not be otherwise, because it was Piłsudski who created the famous Polish Legions. At least in this fairy tale version of history.

Józef Piłsudski has always been an incorrigible dreamer. He made daring plans, detached from reality, often absurd in their abstraction. His tendency to create a dream reality was well remembered by the marshal's widow - Aleksandra Piłsudska née Szczerbińska. In her memoirs, issued at the end of her life, she reported one of her first "dates" with Piłsudski.

It was 1906. He was then an insignificant revolutionist who was gradually removed from influence in the already weakened socialist movement. She - would soon become a silent and discreet lover whose existence was hidden from Joseph's first wife.

During the walk that they took in the meantime to prepare for the attack on the bank in Kiev, the almost forty-year-old lover told the twenty-four-year-old sympathy about ... what he intends to introduce in Poland, once he has driven away the invaders and seized power in the country. He was nobody, but he already knew that he would open a University of Technology in Łódź, and that in Vilnius he would resume the operation of the University that had been liquidated by the Russians ...

Piłsudski and Szczerbińska during their stay in Zakopane in 1916. Ten years earlier, Józef told her what he would do when he took power in independent Poland.

Alexandra remembered with surprise how many of his dreams had come true. However, she did not mention the other side of the coin. So the fact that the dreamer Piłsudski rarely achieved what he saw. He was rocking in the clouds, often losing any contact with the ground. He spread great visions not only to the women he liked, but also to the Austrian intelligence, politicians, and finally to competing activists fighting for Poland.

At about the time when he pretended to be a prophet by his future wife, he was fond of other interlocutors by claiming that he commanded hundreds of thousands of militants and agents. In fact, there were at most a few hundred people behind him. Exaggeration, the tendency to fantasize and set himself up as the providential man of the nation was simply in his blood.

Dreams about the Polish army

Right before the outbreak of World War I, the political situation was somewhat different. However, Piłsudski's character has not changed one iota.

In 1912, the Union of Active Fighting, which was dependent on him, joined Galicia - that is, in this one partition, where Poles were granted relative freedom of association - to create a network of shooting circles and associations. These were paramilitary organizations to which mainly patriotic youth were drawn. In the period of stress, when you could already feel that the war was coming, the young Poles did not even need to be encouraged to train in the use of weapons and tactics of combat. It was more difficult… actually to achieve this goal.

The circles only loosely cooperated with each other, not all of them shared Piłsudski's socialist views, and in addition - they had almost no funds at their disposal. They had no personnel, no weapons, or even their own uniforms. On the eve of the outbreak of the war, they had a total of some twelve thousand members. Of these, however, only a hundred and a few dozen people were collected, who could actually be armed and immediately sent to combat. Józef Piłsudski was well aware of the misery of the forces subordinated to him. Even so, he was washing the eyes of everyone, including… himself.

He persuaded the Austrians to sanction the activities of the shooters and agree to send them to the Russian partition as an outpost of the imperial and royal army. In return, he guaranteed that his people would carry out extensive subversive and intelligence activities. Even these promises could not be fulfilled with a handful of novices at your side. Meanwhile, the dreamer Piłsudski aimed much, much higher. Secretly by the invader, he planned overnight to turn the shooters into ... the Polish Army.

Piłsudski planned that, at the forefront of the shooters, he would race with the Prussians for who would enter Warsaw first. The photo shows Józef Piłsudski and Kazimierz Sosnkowski at the head of the column of members of the Riflemen's Association during exercises (1913).

He said that he was going to race "with the Prussians to Warsaw". In a few days he wanted to take the territory of the former Kingdom of Poland, enter the capital, trigger a national uprising and create a new government independent of anyone. His people had even begun to distribute the proclamation of this imaginary office ... And meanwhile, the boisterous visions have crumbled like a house of cards.

Reality hit

The first unit sent to Kielce on August 6, 1914, i.e. the famous First Cadre Campaign, was received by Poles indifferently, or even hostile. The peasants locked the farms to shooters, treated them like an enemy army at the service of the Germans. “People fled from the areas they passed to their own people, to the Russian army. Grand mansions are ruthlessly hostile, and there is a superstitious fear in the villages. (…) Windows and doors of houses boarded up, ”reported Józef Piłsudski himself.

The takeover of Kielce took place in a gloomy atmosphere. The Riflemen were quickly pushed out of the city, and the main success could only be the fact that the retreat took place without loss of lives. After only a few days, the Austrian authorities, seeing absolutely no effects of Piłsudski's actions, began to eliminate Polish troops, and thus regarded only as a common move (or even cannon fodder) intended to delay the enemy's moves.

On August 12, 1914, Kompania Kadrowa entered Kielce. However, she had to withdraw quickly in front of the advancing Russians.

"Rifle units remained a small group, in fact meaningless, but they caused trouble to the local military authorities" - explained Andrzej Garlicki on the pages of Józef Piłsudski's biography. Andrzej Chwalba comments on the situation even more sharply in his new book "Polish Legions 1914-1918" . He emphasizes that the actions of the shooters were condemned even in the Polish press, and that the Austrian authorities almost immediately recognized them as a "rowdy and troublemaking formation".

The defeat of Piłsudski's politics was complete. Already a few days after the commencement of the campaign, he received an order to immediately liquidate personnel campaigns. And it is worth emphasizing that the future Chief of State had the idea of ​​"shooting himself in the head" if it turned out that he would actually be forced to do so.

Real Legion Makers

At this point, the stick was no longer in his hands. The future of Polish participation in the war on the side of the central states depended not on Piłsudski, but on Polish politicians. Especially from a group of loyalists with a strong influence in Vienna, and often holding important positions in the Austrian system of power.

Leon Biliński was at that time the Minister of the Treasury of Austria-Hungary, and it was he - a man who can even be attributed to some responsibility for the outbreak of World War I - who initiated talks about the further fate of rifle units. On August 10, at Biliński's call, Juliusz Leo, an influential conservative politician and the president of Krakow, came to Vienna. There was also Michał Bobrzyński - until recently the governor of Galicia, in 1914 appointed as a life member of the Austrian House of Lords.

All these were politicians sincerely devoted to the Habsburg monarchy and seeing the future of Poland in a close alliance with Austria. The best:as part of the triple kingdom of Austro-Hungarian-Polish, under the scepter of the Serene Lord.

They immediately started talks with Austrian staff members, with the Minister of Foreign Affairs Leopold Berchtold and with important politicians connected with the government. It was in the course of these discussions that the idea emerged to establish a new formation based on rifle units:Polish Legions.

It was not Józef Piłsudski, but the Austro-Hungarian Minister of the Treasury, Leon Biliński, who initiated the talks that resulted in the formation of the Polish Legions.

As Andrzej Chwalba explains in his new publication devoted to this issue :

To this day, we don't know who was the author of the Legions idea. It seems that it matured during the debates, so it is impossible to indicate the only one. Certainly, Biliński, Bobrzyński and Leo were among the initiators (...). However, Piłsudski was certainly not among them.

The drowning legions are catching themselves

The project was not only not consulted with Józef Piłsudski, but was even created in opposition to his actions. It was about taking the riflemen's activity into account, about subordinating them to the political line of the government and Polish loyalists.

Andrzej Chwalba emphasizes that the idea of ​​the legions "was a contradiction of Piłsudski's independence program. His men were reluctant to use the term "legionnaire", and he agreed to the project of the new formation only because he had no other option. In a situation where the castles he placed on the sand had crumbled, he had a choice - as he himself had suggested - only suicide or submission. This is what he had thought about suicide many years earlier but this time it would amount to complete surrender. He had to choose the option that at least had a chance to save face.

Józef Piłsudski never became the commander of the Polish Legions. He headed only the 1st Brigade.

Importantly, no one seriously thought about putting Piłsudski at the head of the legions. Karol Trzaska-Durski, a retired Austrian army general, became the commander of the Legion Command. Piłsudski was prevented from being promoted, arguing that he had no military education. In fact, his career was not of interest to the Austrians, nor the Polish loyalists. “Both were afraid of his independence program, leadership aspirations, and social radicalism. (...) Even among friends (...) there were opinions that the Legions should be commanded by professional officers, not ambitious politicians "- writes Andrzej Chwalba.

Piłsudski never became the commander of the Legions. He only commanded their first brigade. It was only years later that, as Leszek Jaśkiewicz put it, "succumbed to the myth-creating pressure of Piłsudski's legend". He became the Commander and creator of the Legions for one reason that, of all the missed and crazy dreams he supported everyone he came into contact with, he managed to make one of the most important things come true. As a result of a strange twist of fate it was he who in November 1918 became the only possible candidate for the leader of the reborn Polish state.

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