polish independence

At the very corner of this old map is a country I long for. It is the country of apples, hills, lazy rivers, sour wine, and love. Unfortunately a huge spider has spun its web over it, and with sticky saliva has closed the toll gates of dreams” wrote the Polish writer, Zbigniew Herbert. Today, this country is free, independent and stronger than ever! HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY POLAND!

A True Renaissance Man: Concert Pianist, Composer, And Statesman

Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860 to 1941) was a famous concert pianist and composer. He wrote a piano concerto in 1888 – at just 18 – an opera in 1901, and a symphony in 1907. His international fame opened doors for him in diplomatic circles, which Paderewski took advantage of to push for Polish independence. Paderewski played an important role in meeting with President Woodrow Wilson, and obtaining the explicit inclusion of an independent Poland as point 13 in Wilson’s WWI peace terms, called the Fourteen Points. But the story doesn’t end here! Paderewski was appointed Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs in January of 1919 for the newly-independent Poland. He represented Poland at the Paris Peace Conference that year, and signed the Treaty of Versailles. He lost many political supporters, however, and resigned from both roles before the end of 1919! Paderewski retired entirely from politics in 1922.

He returned to the world where he first found fame, doing concerts as a pianist. Paderewski’s first performance upon his return to music filled Madison Square Garden. He continued to perform through the 1920s and 1930s, taught some particularly talented young pianists, and even appeared in a film presenting his talent on the silver screen! His wife gone, Paderewski consented to do the film reluctantly – he was mostly retired from public life by the late 1930s.

But World War II was coming and it would sweep Paderewski back into public life. After the Polish Defensive War of 1939 Paderewski returned to politics, once again fighting for Polish independence. In 1940 he became the head of the National Council of Poland, a Polish parliament in exile in London. The eighty-year-old artist also restarted his Polish Relief Fund and gave several concerts (most notably in the United States) to gather money for it. While on tour, Paderewski fell ill with pneumonia. He died in New York City at the age of 80. He never got to see Poland liberated from the Germans, but he also never saw it immediately taken over by the Soviet Union. It would be another thirty-five years before Poland was once again independent.

Greta Garbo, as Countess Marie Walewska, reads in Conquest, 1937. Photograph by Clarence Sinclair Bull.

Marie, a Polish countess, is dispatched by her country to meet with Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (Charles Boyer). Marie has been encouraged to press for Polish independence by whatever means possible–and though no one comes out and says as much, it is understood that she will offer herself sexually to the promiscuous Napoleon.

November 17, 1916 - Germany Promises Polish Jews Equal Rights

Pictured - Rabbis in Warsaw, 1916.

The Central Powers announced the creation of an independent Polish state on November 5, hoping to garner Polish fervor in support of the war.  The Teutonic emperor’s promises, however, proved to be somewhat vague; there would be a Polish state centered on Warsaw, but it would be a client of Germany. Moreover, what powers and rights it would have were unclear.

Poles welcomed the announcement but demanded more. Germany promised an independent army first. Others were willing to go further. On November 17, the German commander of Warsaw declared equality of the Jewish religion in Poland. He did so with the backing of the German-Jewish Komitee fûr den Osten (KfdO), an organization formed to defend the rights of Eastern European Jews. the KdfO wanted to create a Jewish community recognized not only as a religious one, but a national one, with its own deputies in Parliament, schools, and language. In Warsaw they promised a Jewish corporation with its own religious leaders and full religious equality.

The KdfO was a sincere promoter of German rights, but many others, including the German and Austrian government, the Poles, and Austrian Zionists, were taken aback and annoyed at its promises. The Germans believed it was promising too much, the Poles had no desire for independent Jewish communities, and the Zionists did not trust the Poles. The promises, like most of those made to the Polish state, fizzled out.


Polish nationalists mark Independence Day with a massive anti-migrant, anti-EU march

Up to 50,000 were on the march through Warsaw on Wednesday, November 11, with an anti-migrant, anti-EU message as they marked Independence Day dating back to the First World War. The march was organized by several far-right organizations under the slogan “Poland for Poles. Poles for Poland.”

Multiple anti-EU banners were present and at one point, demonstrators trampled and burned a European Union flag. “Yesterday it was Moscow, today it’s Brussels which takes away our freedom,” chanted a group of protesters.

Poland’s outgoing centrist government has agreed to accept the EU policy and welcome about 7,000 refugees from Syria and Eritrea, a plan that is so unpopular with many Poles. Multiple banners read “Not Welcome” and “Stop Islamisation”.

I wish more people outside of Poland actually used Maria Skłodowska-Curie’s full name, when writing about her, instead of simply shortening it to Maria Curie. I know that “Skłodowska” may be hard to pronounce for some people, but during her life she specifically used both of her surnames - the one she was born with and the one she took after her marriage. It was probably a sign of her strong Polish idenity that she hold on throughout her life, even after she moved to France for good. She was always a patriot in time, when our country was not even on the map anymore and she even named the first element she discovered - polonium, in order to bring national attension to Polish fight for independence.