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200th Anniversary of the Death of Tadeusz Kościuszko

Tadeusz Kościuszko died on 15 October 1817 in the Swiss town of Solothurn. He was a Polish and American General, an honorary citizen of the French Republic, an American national hero distinguished for his service in the United States’ struggle for independence, a participant of the Polish- Russian war of 1792 in defence of the Constitution of May 3, and the leader of the Kościuszko Uprising of 1794 whose aim was to rescue and resurrect the dying Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. He was a genuine republican and a philanthropist. He saw slavery as a disgrace to mankind, and he believed that the serfdom of the peasants was the greatest evil of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The news of Kościuszko’s death instantly spread across the whole of Europe and North America. Funeral ceremonies were held in Switzerland, France, Germany and the United States. General La Fayette said in Paris that “Kościuszko belongs to the entire world, and his virtues belong to all mankind.” In Paris, Kościuszko was commemorated with a medal from a series depicting famous statesmen.

The death of the leader was mourned most intensely in the territories of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which were torn apart by the partitioning powers. Prayers for Kościuszko were held in Warsaw, Vilnius and Cracow, not only in Roman Catholic churches, but also in Protestant churches, synagogues and mosques of the Lithuanian Tatars. Cracow soon claimed the body of Poland’s last defender in the name of the Polish people, and Kościuszko was buried in the tomb of Polish kings at Wawel Cathedral during a special ceremony. Later, the Polish people erected a huge symbolic grave, known as the Kościuszko Mound, overlooking the former capital. Kościuszko’s death reinvigorated the patriotic sentiments of Poles. He became an inspiration for many generations in the tireless struggle to regain national independence. His name was a slogan used in the Polish battles for independence, in the positivist programmes of organic and grassroots work. Kościuszko’s legacy is a priceless component of the spiritual heritage of Polish people.

After Poland regained independence, the heart of Tadeusz Kościuszko returned to Warsaw. The United States and Poland honoured him with a number of monuments. Across the world there are many sites devoted to his memory, among others, Mount Kościuszko in Australia, Kościuszko Island in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Alaska, and towns in the United States bearing his name. The anniversaries associated with Kościuszko were celebrated in Poland and especially among the Polish diaspora across the world in the years 1894, 1917, 1946 and 1967. The General Conference of UNESCO granted its patronage over the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the death of Tadeusz Kościuszko, while the Sejm and the Senate of the Republic of Poland proclaimed 2017 as the year of Tadeusz Kościuszko.

Mieczysław Rokosz
President of the Committee of the Kościuszko Mound in Cracow