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Wojciech Korfanty

Wojciech Korfanty (1873–1939) – politician, leader of the second and third Silesian Uprisings. Wojciech Korfanty was born into a religious miners’ family in Siemianowice Śląskie. He attended a people’s school, and then a middle school, where he set up an underground self-study club. This was the reason why in 1895 he was expelled from school. Korfanty studied philosophy, law and economics at the University of Breslau. He graduated in Berlin in 1901. It was there that he got to know the leaders of the National League. From 1901 he worked as editor-in-chief of the daily “Górnoślązak” (The Upper Silesian) and he also contributed to “Dziennik Berliński” (The Berlin Journal). He was convicted to four months’ imprisonment (in the Wronki Prison) for his anti-German articles, which won him popularity. He joined the clandestine National League and stood for election to the Reichstag in 1903. In the Parliament of the Reich, he joined the Polish Club, which previously consisted only of deputies from Greater Poland and Pomerania. The speeches he made in the Parliament of the Reich revealed his outstanding rhetorical talent. In the following year he also became a member of the Landtag, the Prussian national parliament. In January 1917, he made the famous statement: “As a nation, we are Poles, not Polish-speaking Prussians”. In a Reichstag address on 25 October 1918, he demanded that the lands of the Prussian partition be included in the resurgent Poland. Subsequently, together with other members of the Polish Club he left the parliament considering it an authority of a foreign state. On 11 November 1918, he became a member of the Supreme People’s Council (Naczelna Rada Ludowa) in Poznań, which marked the beginning of Polish administration in the region. After the outbreak of the Greater Poland Uprising, Korfanty, as a representative of the Council, led the diplomatic negotiations as a result of which the Convention of Trier was signed on 16 February 1919, according a significant area of the Prussian Partition to the resurgent Poland. These arrangements were confirmed by the Treaty of Versailles on 28 June 1919. However, Poland was not allotted, among others, the territory of Upper Silesia, the future of which was to be decided in a plebiscite. From December 1919, Korfanty headed the Polish Plebiscite Committee and, when the 2nd Silesian Uprising broke out during the campaign (in August 1920), he became its leader. In March 1921, despite the intensive campaign run by Korfanty, the plebiscite turned out to be a defeat for the Poles. He then came up with the proposal of dividing Silesia (along the so-called Korfanty line), as a result of which Poland would be allotted the more industrialised part of the region. Korfanty made the decision to call a general strike and start a third uprising. On 3 May 1921, he proclaimed himself its dictator. In the course of a week, the Poles reached the Korfanty line and the main fighting took place on 20-21 May for St. Anne’s Mountain. At the same time, Korfanty initiated negotiations, with his efforts leading to the end of the fighting and a division of the disputed territory in Poland’s favour. Eventually, in October 1921 Poland was allotted the most industrialised part of Upper Silesia with the capital in Katowice.

Between 1919–1922, Korfanty served as the leader of the Popular National Union (National Democrats) in the Legislative Sejm, and in the subsequent Sejm (1922–1928) he became the leader of the Christian Democracy. He opposed the May 1926 coup of Józef Piłsudski. In September 1930, he was arrested and imprisoned in the Brest Fortress. After being released, he emigrated to Czechoslovakia. In 1937, he actively participated in emigration groupings – as a co-founder of the Morges Front and the leader of the Christian democratic Labour Party. After much effort, he returned to Poland in April 1939. Despite strong protests, he was arrested by the Sanation government. After being diagnosed with cancer, he was released and died soon afterwards on 17 August 1939. His funeral turned into a huge patriotic demonstration.

prof. Jan Żaryn