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Józef Piłsudski

The Poznań Town Hall is the greatest On 11 November 1918 an armistice was signed between the Allies and Germany in the Compiègne forest north of Paris. Fighting on the Western fronts ceased and Europeans began celebrating the end of the four-yearlong hecatomb.

The results of World War I tore down the old order in Europe, and strengthened the dreams of Poles, Czechs or Ukrainians of their own statehood. The Polish efforts to regain independence lasted throughout the 19th century. They intensified in 1914-1918, even though Poles could not agree on the tactics to be adopted in the light of the conflict devastating the world.

At the time of the Compiègne armistice, Polish territories remained under the control of Germany and Austria-Hungary. From October 1918, the already visible weakening of this control had been used for the establishment of regional centers of Polish independent rule. However, the developments in the territories of the German Kingdom of Poland, established in 1916, were the most important. The Regency Council, which ruled the state at the appointment of the Central Powers, tried to act as the representative of the whole nation, but it did not possess sufficient pan-national recognition as a Polish sovereign authority. In early November 1918, the Provisional People’s Government of the Republic of Poland formed in Lublin by the political Left tried to abolish the Regency Council. They, however, failed to secure the support of the right wing, led by Roman Dmowski. The internal conflicts undermined Polish potential on the international scene. The situation was further clouded by the Polish- Ukrainian fighting over Lwów and Eastern Galicia (from 1 November), as well as uncertainty about the potential reaction by the German soldiers occupying areas in the east reaching up to the Black Sea coast.

The turning point was the arrival of Józef Piłsudski in Warsaw on 10 November 1918. Piłsudski – who had just been released from German custody – during the war had gained the reputation of a freedom fighter standing above all political divisions. As such he was able to establish cooperation with different political forces. As the Provisional Head of the State, he quickly proceeded to form the structures of the Polish statehood, which was recognized by the Western powers, as a result of Dmowski’s diplomatic efforts. Piłsudski also facilitated the return of the German soldiers to the Reich, so no foreign militaries remained in the territories of the reborn Polish state, and finally he led to the organization of free elections. Poland was reborn as a democratic parliamentary republic. Although the creation of the Polish state lasted for many months after, the November of 1918 made history as the symbolic beginning of that process.

Andrzej Chojnowski