Silesian Uprising

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Social and political situation in Upper Silesia before Silesian Uprisings

On 11th November 1918 in Compiegne near Paris the Armistice between the Allies and the German Supreme Army Command was signed. The Great War that had lasted for four years brought significant social, political and economic changes in whole Europe including Germany. The Emperor abdicated, and Germany became a republic that was struggling with strikes, revolutionary movements and the problems with newly established borders. The habitants of Great Poland demanded to return to pre-partition boundaries and to become the part of the reborn Republic of Poland. The Germans were shocked when a deputy Wojciech Korfanty gave his speech in Reichstag, in which he held that Poland should regain its territories together with regions lost in the 13th century. In order to calm down the unease in Silesia they brought the infantry unit that was later on transformed into Reichswehr brigade (Grenzschutz). Their task was to keep peace between the three partitions. Wisła, Olza and Brynica were since that moment the Polish-German border. German army had to deal with diminishing number of soldiers and low morale whereas on the Polish side stationed Polish Army together with voluntary corps. They were well trained and had no problems the Germans had.

Economic situation was also far from stable. After working class movements and strikes in Królewska Huta in January 1919, where a number of people were shot, in many towns martial law was introduced. In effect of all those events the government established a special directive according to which every activity that aimed at transferring Upper Silesia to Poland was considered high treason. In March 1919 in Zabrze, Radzionków and Siemianowice more strikes took place. The German troops intervened again. At night from 7th to 8th June 1919 so called Oleskie Uprising broke out. However, without any help from the Polish Army it was quickly suppressed.

First Silesian Uprising

Upper Silesia was still bothered by the wave of strikes. However, what seemed most appalling was the fact that Poles were fired from steelworks and mines, and in their place the members of paramilitary unit of Freikorps were hired. There was great tension in the Polish Military Organization of Upper Silesia. The High Command of POW was located in Strumień and Alfons Zgrzebniok was its leader. In Bytom on the other hand functioned the Main Executive Committee, which was formally terminated but still led by an informal leader – Józef Grzegorzek. He had close ties with Piłsudski’s followers, and was influential among other sergeants, who put forward his nomination for the chief commandant, and demanded from him to start the uprising. Zgrzebniok was in Warsaw at that time and Grzegorzek was summoned to Strumień to be convinced to postpone plans concerning the revolt. Meanwhile Germans started their own military action. They arrested Grzegorzek, who had the organization’s documents on him. When this information got to Piotrowice, a group of refugees with Maksymilian Iksal decided to start the uprising immediately. They appointed the date – it was 17th August. After 2 o’clock Insurgents passed Olza and attacked Gołkowice and the train station in Gdów. The uprising soon spread on districts of Pszczyna, Rybnik, Katowice and everywhere people in majority spoke Polish. The fights continued in Janów, Mysłowice, Giszowiec, Orzegów, Chrapczów, Bobrek, Łagiewniki, Bielszowice and Biskupice. Mikołów and Pszczyna could not be taken over though. After first success German Grenzschuz sent for reinforcements. All insurgents using hand weapon were not able to withstand machine guns, artillery, armored trains and planes. Alfons Zgrzebniok commanded to stop fights on 24th September 1919. There were two reasons for that: the Polish divisions were badly located and German authorities started repercussions. A several thousand Insurgents had to flee from them to the Polish side. They came back from the temporary camps after 1st October 1919, when the Polish-German treaty was signed. It said that Polish Insurgents were not to be punished by the German authorities in any way. It became clear that the future of Upper Silesia should be decided by the plebiscite.

Second Silesian Uprising

In January 1920 Treaty of Versailles took effect in Upper Silesia. The regulations that were established for the plebiscite territory here were executed. Reichswehr left the area and the Allies’ Army took their place to supervise it so that peace resolutions could be implemented. The presence of Allies allowed Polish organization structures to rebuilt themselves. Plebiscite Commissioner, Korfanty, though unauthorized, took over. Alfons Zgrzebniok was still an army commander. The Germans also prepared for the Plebiscite. They were supported by allegedly unbiased police (Sicherhietspolizei or Sipo). This organization openly supported the German side before plebiscite by dispersing a rally in Opole, attacking Plebiscite Commission in Bytom, and lynching a Polish doctor Andrzej Mielęcki in Katowice.

To show their power and prove the bias of Sipo the authorities decided to start the uprising at night on 19th – 20th August 1920. The revolt broke out simultaneously in the following districts: pszczyński, rybnicki, katowicki, lubliniecki, tarnogórski, toszecko-gliwicki, and zabrski. The battles continued also along the line Opole-Krasiejów-Dobrodzień, and in Racibórz, and Koźle. The Insurgents took over most of the economically strategic territories without big cities which were stations for troops of Sipo and the Allies. Moreover, the Polish workers organized a strike which helped to paralyze the region. Hated German police was finally disarmed and partly chased away. It was the end of Sipo as Allies Commission gave permission to disband it. This way Polish Military Organizations could demonstrate their power and do away with the German control over the plebiscite area.

The Plebiscite

The Plebiscite took place on 20th March 1921. Its outcome was to settle whether Upper Silesia would belong to Poland or Germany. The poll was supervised by the Commission of Allies, who together with Polish-German plebiscite police (Apo) guaranteed it would run properly. There were 1 221 247 people entitled to vote, who turned twenty before 1st Jan 1921. The voters were divided into four categories, which gave them right to vote. Wojciech Korfanty led the plebiscite representing the Republic of Poland. Headquarters of the Polish Plebiscite Commitee was situated in the Lomnitz Hotel in Bytom. Its main task was to organize the poll and prepare propaganda actions. On the German side there was Plebiszitkommissariat fur Deutschland with Kurt Urbanek as its leader. They resided in Zentrall Hotel in Katowice. Both sides did a lot to involve society in the Plebiscite. They raised money, organized campaigns and assist commissions. The machine of campaign publicity was pulled out. Thousands of brochures, posters, cards, stamps and calendars were printed. There were even propaganda films and vinyl records with patriotic songs. Religion, regional and social issues were related to in order to discredit the opponent. What was used on a great scale was caricature, which is compelling evidence that both sides were involved in agitation war.

In the end there were 1 190 637 voters. 479 365 (40,3%) voted for Poland and 707 393 (59,4%) voted for Germany.

Third Silesian Uprising

The Plebiscite did not satisfy either side. Poland was given 25% of the plebiscite region, excluding heavy industry though. On 30th 1921 Korfanty met army leaders and together they decided to go forward with the 3rd Silesian Uprising at night on 2nd/ 3rd May. The Uprising started with blowing up nine railroad bridges, which were used by Germans for the transport of reinforcement to the plebiscite region. There were 39 000 insurgents at the beginning. This number rose to 45 000 as the uprising continued. The forces were divided into three operation groups: East, North and South. Most important battles took place in Katowice, Królewska Huta, Zabrze and Gliwice. Allies’ forces had to intervene very often. In a week time the insurgents took over the whole plebiscite region. Germans had to activate self-defense forces near Racibórz. Volunteer Forces from Poland came to Kluczbork, however, they were forced to withdraw. The most important battle of this phase was the battle of Kędzierzyn and the fights for the port on Odra river named Przystań Kozielska. On 10th May Korfanty announced ceasefire. Meanwhile, Germans after the first shock started to mobilize their military forces. “The Self-defense of Upper Silesia” was led by general Karl Hofer.

After mobilization near Krapkowice and Kluczbork the general attacked Saint Anne Mountain to break the uprising front and to join fighting German police in most of the towns. The offensive was launched at night on 20th May 1921. After fierce fights Germans took over the hill, which gave them great opportunity to attack further in the region of heavy industry. The most bloody battles took place near Lichynia, Leśnica, Zalesie, Januszkowice, Krasowa and Łąki Kozielskie. Although insurgents tried to withstand the attacks until 24th June, they did not manage to win over Saint Anne Mountain again and take over the initiative at the front. At the same time Germans continued fights to open the way to Tarnowskie Góry. There was a very bloody battle in Ząbkowice. Street fights were led in Olesno. On 4th June Germans attacked Kędzierzyn. The town was passed from one side to the other to be finally won over by Germans. The fights ended only after the announcement of ceasefire on 21st June 1921. The strength of German attack could be felt by the insurgents fighting on south near Olza and Odra rivers and Wodzisław Śląski. However, Poles managed to withstand it. The ceasefire stabilized the situation on the front. Korfany made a good decision. He realized that overwhelming power of Germans could be destroying for the Uprising. Some of the leaders from the group East did not support him and protested by making Karol Grzesik their new leader on 3rd June. The next day Korfanty with his faithful troops stopped this mutiny. Its leaders were arrested. On 25th June Korfanty signed the truce in Błotnica Strzelecka. Both armies withdrew from the plebiscite region and stayed out between 28th June and 5th July 1921. Although the whole military action ended with a draw, thanks to them the strategic region with heavy industry was to be back to Poland. After many debates and interpolations from the League of Nations the decision was a new Polish-German border on the territory of Upper Silesia should be re-established, which was in the end even more profitable for Poland than previously proposed solutions.

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