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Greater Poland Uprising (1918–19)

Polish insurrectionists
Polish soldiers of the uprising in trenches on Polish-German front

The Greater Poland Uprising of 1918–1919, or Wielkopolska Uprising of 1918–1919 (Polish: powstanie wielkopolskie 1918–19 roku; German: Großpolnischer Aufstand) or Posnanian War was a military insurrection of Poles in the Greater Poland region (also called by the Germans the Grand Duchy of Poznań or Provinz Posen region) against Germany. The uprising had a significant effect on the Treaty of Versailles, which granted a reconstituted Poland the area won by the Polish insurgents plus some additional territory, most of which had been part of Poland before the partitions.


  • Background 1
  • The uprising 2
  • Reaction 3
  • Timeline of uprising 4
    • Events before 4.1
    • Uprising 4.2
    • Between ceasefire and reunification 4.3
    • Epilogue 4.4
  • References 5
  • Bibliography 6
  • External links 7


Polish population as of 1918—areas in red with more than 50% of Poles[1]

After the 1795 Third Partition of Poland (Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth), Poland had ceased to exist as an independent state. From 1795 through the beginning of the Great or First World War, several unsuccessful uprisings to regain an independent state took place. An 1806 uprising was followed by the creation of the Duchy of Warsaw which lasted for eight years before being partitioned again between Prussia and Russia. Under the oppressive German rule Poles faced systematic discrimination and racism.[2][3][4]

At the end of World War I, US President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points met with opposition from European nations standing to lose power or territory. German politicians had signed an armistice leading to a cease fire on 11 November 1918, with the Western and former Eastern front lines outside of Germany. Germany had signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Bolshevik Russia to settle the eastern frontiers. This Treaty did not take into account the millions of Poles living in what had been their territory which was in the middle. Therefore, from the date that the armistice was signed until the Treaty of Versailles was fully ratified in January 1920, many territorial and sovereignty issues remained unresolved.

Wilson's proposal for an independent Poland did not definitively set borders for Poland that could be universally accepted. Most of the part of Poland partitioned and annexed to Prussia in the late 18th century was still part of Germany at the close of World War I, with the rest of the subsequent post–World War I Polish territory being part of Russia and of Austria-Hungary. The portion which was part of Germany included the Provinz Posen, or territory of Greater Poland, of which Poznań (Posen) was a major industrial city. The majority of the population was Polish (more than 60%)[5] and was uncertain whether they would be repatriated within the proposed recreated Polish state.

The uprising

Soldiers and workers assembling to elect a council in Poznań on 10 November 1918

In late 1918 Poles with hopes for a sovereign Poland began serious preparations for an uprising after Kaiser Wilhelm's abdication on 9 November 1918, which marked the end of the German monarchy, which would be replaced by the Weimar Republic.

The uprising broke out on 27 December 1918 in Poznań, after a patriotic speech by Ignacy Paderewski, Polish prime minister at that time, and a famous pianist.

The uprising forces consisted of members of the Prussian Partition, who started to form the Straż Obywatelska (Citizen's Guard), later renamed as Straż Ludowa (People's Guard) and many volunteers—mainly veterans of World War I. The first contingent to reach the Bazar Hotel where the uprising broke out was a 100-strong force from wildecka kompania Straży Ludowej (Wilda’s People’s Guard) led by Antoni Wysocki. The ruling body was the Naczelna Rada Ludowa (Supreme People's Council)—at the beginning members of the Council were against the uprising, but supported it a few days later: unofficially 3 January 1919; officially 8 and 9 January 1919—and the military commanders: Captain Stanisław Taczak (promoted to major, temporary commander 28 December 1918 – 8 January 1919) and later General Józef Dowbor-Muśnicki.

The timing of the uprising was fortuitous for the insurgents, as between October 1918 and the first months of 1919, internal conflict had weakened Germany, with soldiers and sailors engaged in mutinous actions against the monarchy and the officer corps. Demoralized by the signing of an armistice on 11 November 1918, the new German government was further embroiled in subduing the German Revolution.

By 15 January 1919, the Polish forces took control of most of the Province of Posen, and engaged in heavy fighting with the regular German army and the forces of the Grenzschutz, up until the renewal of the truce between the Entente and Germany on 16 February, which affected the Wielkopolska or Posen Province part of the front line. Skirmishes continued, however, until the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 28 June 1919.

The Greater Poland Uprising is one of the two most successful Polish uprisings: the other was the Great Poland Uprising of 1806 which was ended by the entry of Napoleon's army.

Many of the Wielkopolska insurgents also took part in the 1919–1921 uprisings in Silesia.


The Prussian province of Posen. Polish-speaking areas are shown in yellow.

The uprising had a significant effect on the Versailles decisions, which granted Poland not only the area won by the insurgents, but a portion of the Province of Pomerania, as well as a few cities which lay beyond the demarcation line: Bydgoszcz, Leszno (then respectively Bromberg and Lissa), as well as Rawicz (the Polish Corridor). Some of them were predominantly German, others predominantly Polish. The riots also influenced the decision to have popular votes in Silesia, where the public was allowed to vote whether it wanted to be part of the German or Polish state.

Germany's territorial losses following the Treaty of Versailles incited German revanchism,[6] and created problems such that the status of the independent Free City of Danzig and the Polish Corridor between East Prussia and the rest of Germany became an issue in German politics. Attending to the issues was part of Adolf Hitler's political platform, obviously with a strong bias towards Germany. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Poland refused several German proposals for popular referendums, population transfers, highway projects and customs union reform.

Timeline of uprising

Events before

  • January 1916: creation of Secret Inter-Party Citizen's Committee (pl. Tajny Międzypartyjny Komitet Obywatelski) formed by members of the German Reichstag of Polish nationality.
  • July 1918: network of local Citizens' Committees is created on area of Prussian Partition.
  • 11 October 1918: Polish organizations in the German Empire publicize common documents in which they declare the will to create independent Polish state; in effect, revolution.
  • 9 November 1918: beginning of the Poznań garrison, Jarocin and Inowrocław.
  • 10 November 1918: events of the so-called Republika Ostrowska.
  • 11 November 1918
    • Armistice signed, ending hostilities of World War I.
    • The Citizens' Guard (Straż Obywatelska), renamed a few days later to The People's Guard (Straż Ludowa) comes out from the underground. The Mayor of Poznań (Posen) Ernst Wilms is removed from office. German military authorities give permission for functioning of the People's Guard to keep peace in the Province of Posen.
  • 12 November 1918
  • 13 November 1918
    • Commission of the High People's Council calls citizens of German portion of Poland to keep calm in spite of the revolution.
    • "Assassination on City Hall": as it was dominated by Germans, the Execution Department of Worker's and Soldier's Council proceeded to Poznań's City Hall, an armed group of Poles forced them to change four of the German Delegates with Poles: Bohdan Hulewicz, Mieczysław Paluch, Henryk Śniegocki and Zygmunt Wiza. Due to this event, Poles gain control over the headquarters of Poznań Garrison and 5th Corps.
  • 17 November 1918: Commission of NRL calls for a one-time collection of money called a "national tax".
  • 18 November 1918: elections to Poviat's People's Councils and members of the Partition's Sejm (1399 MPs).
  • 20 November 1918: in exposé of the Polish government in Warsaw: przyłączenie Wielkopolski będzie jednym z pierwszych naszych zadań (the joining of Greater Poland will be one of our first tasks).
  • 3 December 1918: The Partition Sejm of Poznań began official proceedings, in building of the "Apollo" Cinema. MPs were representing all lands of the Prussian Partition and Polish economic emigration, mainly from Westfalen.
  • 5 December 1918: end of the Partition Sejm, which declared it's wanting of unification with the other partitions in a renationalized Poland and with NRL officially electing its members.
  • 6 December 1918: first meeting of the NRL elected. Bolesław Krysiewicz becomes a Speaker. Election of executive body—Commission of NRL formed by representatives of: Greater Poland - Stanisław Adamski and Władysław Seyda; Upper Silesia: Wojciech Korfanty and Józef Rymer; Eastern Pomerania: Stefan Łaszewski; Kuyavia: Adam Poszwiński.
  • 11 December 1918: Polish language and teaching of religion in Polish returns to schools.
  • 15 December 1918: Polish government in Warsaw breaks diplomatic relations with Germany.


A monument commemorating Polish soldiers who fought in the uprising
  • 27 December 1918: evening: uprising starts with shooting in front of Poznań's Police Headquarters. Fighting also start in other towns: Szamotuły, Środa Wielkopolska, Pniewy, Opalenica, Buk, Trzemeszno, Września and Gniezno are captured. Poles in Poznań capture the main train station, Main Post Office and part of city fortifications.
  • 28 December 1918
    • Poles in Poznań capture Cytadela (a main stronghold), Fort Grolmann and an armory on ul. Wielkie Garbary
    • Commission of NRL promotes Captain Stanisław Taczak to temporary Commander-in-Chief of the uprising (he is also promoted to rank of major).
  • 29 December 1918: Poles capture Grodzisk Wielkopolski, Kłecko, Kórnik, Wielichowo, Gostyń, Witkowo and other towns.
  • 30 December 1918
    • Failure of peace talks between the insurgents and the German authorities, the latter refusing to take the responsibility for hostilities of 27 December.
    • In Poznań Poles force German 6th Regiment of Grenadiers from their barracks. After talks, Regiment leaves the city with their weapons.
    • Poles capture of Wronki, Wągrowiec, Gołańcz. Polish soldiers stop German offensive against Gniezno near Zdziechowa.
  • 31 December 1918
  • 1 January 1919
  • 3 January 1919: to avoid anarchy in Greater Poland, the Committee of NRL decides to take over control of spontaneous uprising, but also decides that this decision should be kept secret.
  • 4 January 1919: Commission of NRL decrees new President of the Province of Poznań, Wojciech Trąmpczyński. German authorities call for boycott of new President.
  • 5 January 1919: Czarnków, Jutrosin, Kruszwica, Nakło, Nowy Tomyśl, Miejska Górka, Rawicz, Strzelno and Wolsztyn are captured by the Poles.
  • 6 January 1919
  • 7 January 1919
    • Poles divide captured lands into seven Military Districts (Okręg Wojskowy).
    • Germans recapture Chodzież and Czarnków.
  • 8 January 1919
    • Commission of NRL takes all civil and military authority without declaring territorial range of this power. It also promotes General Józef Dowbor-Muśnicki to commander-in-chief of uprising forces.
    • Poles recapture Chodzież (Battle of Chodzież) and Czarnków. They also win Battle of Ślesin and capture Sieraków.
  • 9 January 1919
    • NRL officially announces taking control over Greater Poland. Beginning of polonisation of administration, most former anti-Polish officials are fired. In Poviats, German landrats are subordinated to Polish starostas, which in future takes all their power.
    • Poles lose Nakło.
    • Polish airmen bomb military airfield in Frankfurt (Oder)
  • 10 January 1919: fights on southern front near Kąkolewo, Leszno and Rydzyna. Poles capture Sarnowa.
  • 11 January 1919: Germans recapture Sarnowa and win in Battle of Zbąszyń; Polish victory in Battle of Szubin and capture Łabiszyn, Złotniki and Żnin.
  • 12 January 1919: fights near Leszno and Lipno.
  • 13 January 1919: Germans recapture Szamocin.
  • 14 January 1919: Commission of NRL appeals to Roman Dmowski for help on negotiation of ceasefire.
  • 15 January 1919: failed attempt to recapture Szamocin by Poles.
  • 16 January 1919
    • First number of Tygodnik Urzędowy Naczelnej Rady Ludowej with laws of NRL is published.
    • In central Polish government of Ignacy Paderewski are two politicians of Greater Poland: Józef Englich - minister of treasury and Kazimierz Hącia - minister of industry and trade.
  • 17 January 1919: Men born in years 1897, 1898, and 1899 are called up and drafted into Great Polish Army.
  • 20 January 1919: transfer of money to banks of the German Reich on other side of front line is forbidden.
  • 21 January 1919
    • NRL creates oath of soldiers of Great Polish Army.
    • Evidence of false information about Polish attacks on German civilians published by authorities in Berlin, suggesting behavior like that of Germans themselves, is sent to Paris. Contemporaneously, NRL appeals to Allies asking for a military mission, suggesting the possibility of the Great Polish Army fighting against Bolsheviks. Many articles about the situation in Greater Poland appear in Western newspapers.
  • 22 January 1919
    • Northern front: Poles are forced to leave Potulice.
    • Southern front: Poles win Battle of Robaczysko.
    • Joseph Noules is nominated by Highest Council of Allied Countries as chief of Allied mission in Poland.
  • 23 January 1919: Poles defend Miejska Górka after heavy fighting.
  • 25 January 1919
    • Poles capture Babimost and Kargowa.
    • All communication between Greater Poland and Reich is broken.
    • Decree canceled Prussian prohibition of Polish language in schools.
  • 26 January 1919: Soldiers of Great Polish Army with commander Gen. J. Dowbór-Muśnicki give oath on Wilhelm Platz, renamed on Plac Wolności (Freedom Square) in Poznań.
  • 28 January 1919: German offensive in area of Bydgoszcz and Nakło. Battle of Rynarzewo. Germans capture Szubin.
  • 29 January 1919: Roman Dmowski gives speech in front of Highest Council of Allied Countries in which he asserts Polish rights to the Prussian Partition, and accusing Germans of two-faced policies.
  • 2 February 1919: beginning of Polish-German talks in Berlin.
  • 3 February 1919: Poles stop German offensive on northern front. Their counterattack forces German withdrawal to northern bank of Noteć river. Poles recapture Rynarzewo and win Battle of Kcynia.
  • 4 February 1919
    • Poles recapture Szubin; heavy fighting on southern front near Rawicz.
    • Beginning of talks between Polish government in Warsaw with Commission of NRL about representation of Greater Poland in Sejm Ustawodawczy.
  • 5 February 1919: Failure of talks in Berlin. German conditions were: demobilisation of Great Polish Army, recognition by Poland of German claims to Greater Poland and payment by Polish side for all damage made during uprising. In spite of this, Entente still remarks that both sides are ready for peace talks.
  • 6 February 1919: end of talks about representation of Prussian Partition in Sejm Ustawodawczy. With regard to fact that Greater Poland, Cuiavia, Silesia and Pomerania are still officially part of Reich, to avoid international repercussions, Polish government and NRL decide to resign from planned election of 126 MPs, giving temporary right of representation of Prussian Partition to 16 MPs of Reichstag.
  • 7 February 1919
    • Heavy fighting in Kolno, which was captured many times by both sides.
    • Commission of NRL promotes 122 former NCOs of German Army to rank of Second Lieutenant.
    • Chief of state Józef Piłsudski signs decree officially allowing 16 MPs from Prussian Partition to participate in Sejm Ustawodawczy.
  • 9 February 1919: Poles stop German offensive near Trzciel.
  • 10 February 1919: Poles stop German attack near Rawicz.
  • 11 February 1919: Commission of NRL dissolves all town councils, giving 25 March as date of elections of new self-governments.
  • 12 February 1919: Germans use armoured train to capture Kargowa and Babimost, but their offensive is stopped near Kopanica.
  • 14 February 1919
    • Beginning of talks about prolongation of ceasefire after World War I. German delegation is against extending it for Greater Poland, but France forces them to allow this condition.
    • German Main Headquarters is moved to Kolberg as a part of preparation for using all forces against Greater Poland.
  • 16 February 1919: prolongation of Allied-German ceasefire in Trier is signed, which also referred to front in Greater Poland. Contemporary Greater Poland Army is recognized as Allied Forces.

Between ceasefire and reunification

Monument of Polish soldiers in Pobiedziska
  • 18 February 1919: In spite of ceasefire, there is fighting near Rynarzewo. Poles capture armoured train.
  • 9 February 1919: Volunteer company of Great Polish soldiers moves to Lesser Poland to fight against Ukrainians.
  • 20 March 1919: Ostmarkenzulage—special allowance for German officials working in eastern provinces, which aimed to stimulate German colonization of Prussian Partition, is canceled.
  • 23 March 1919: Poles win landslide in election of City Council of Poznań.
  • 24 March 1919: Commission of NRL ask Polish Government in Warsaw to create separate administration of ex-Prussian Partition, as it is far more developed than rest of the country. Ignacy Paderewski forces government to leave all power in hands of NRL in those lands till final recognition of Polish-German border, and in future creation of autonomy of those lands (after all only Upper Silesia received it). NRL mobilises men born in 1891, 1892, 1893, 1894 and 1901.
  • 5 April 1919: Sejm Ustawodawczy announces by-elections in ex-Province of Posen for next 42 MPs.
  • 9 April 1919: Commission of NRL decrees 8-hour workday in industry and trade.
  • 10 April 1919: Commission of NRL decrees removing all signs in German language from offices and train stations, and changes all streets names into Polish. Punishment for breaking this law was two years of prison and 10,000 Polish marks.
  • 16 April 1919: NRL decides that 3 May will be national holiday.
  • 7 May 1919: Wszechnica Piastowska is opened.
  • 15 May 1919: Polish language becomes only official language. German language is only auxiliary, but a lack of Polish speaking officials means German is still used in judiciary till 1920.
  • 25 May 1919: Army of Great Poland is subjugated to Headquarters of Polish Army, but keeps its separate organisation.
  • 30 May 1919: People's Guard is transformed to Home Defence (Obrona Krajowa).
  • 1 June 1919: by-elections of MPs to Sejm Ustawodawczy.
  • 6 June 1919
    • Skirmishing near Bydgoszcz (Bromberg).
    • Rising threat of German offensive induces Commission of NRL to introduce state of emergency in all lands under its jurisdiction, and in a belt of 20 km from the front line it introduces martial law. A few days later, NRL announces penalty of death for acting against Great Polish Army or in interest of German Army.
  • 18 June 1919: Skirminshing near Rynarzewo.
  • 28 June 1919: Treaty of Versailles gives almost all of Great Poland to Poland.
  • 1 July 1919
    • Commission of NRL removes customs border with ex-Kingdom of Poland.
    • Artillery fire at front.
  • 9 July 1919: outside of 20 km belt near front, state of emergency is canceled.
  • 10 July 1919: proceedings of Polish Government with whole Commission of NRL about further policy in Former Prussian Partition (Były Zabór Pruski). Decision taken about creation of Ministry of Former Prussian Partition (Ministerstwo Byłej Dzielnicy Pruskiej).
  • 1 August 1919: Sejm Ustawodawczy votes on resolution about "Temporary organisation of government in former Prussian Partition" (O tymczasowej organizacji zarządu byłej dzielnicy pruskiej), creating Ministry of Former Prussian Partition and plan of gradual unification of Great Poland with rest of country.
  • 12 August 1919: Władysław Seyda becomes first Minister of Former Prussian Partition.
  • 19 August 1919: NRL is dissolved.
  • 28 August 1919: Headquarters of Polish Army issues daily order No. 216 in which Great Polish Army is amalgamated with Polish Army, and its Headquarters are transformed to Headquarters of 7th Corps.
  • 6 November 1919: Commission of NRL is dissolved.
  • 10 January 1920: ratification of Treaty of Versailles, according to which Polish forces in Great Poland should take control over small pieces of Great Poland's territories given to Poland that are resisting under German control and Eastern Pomerania.
  • 13 January 1920: Headquarters of Great Poland front issues orders for preparation of implementation of Treaty of Versailles.
  • 17 January 1920: beginning of occupation of remaining German held territories assigned to Poland under Versailles treaty.
  • 8 March 1920: Great Poland front dissolved.


  • 24 March 2005: the last surviving Polish fighter in the uprising, Lieutenant Jan Rzepa, died at the age of 106.


  1. ^ Geograficzno-Statystyczny Atlas Polski. Lwów 1921, wyd. 2, plate 11.
  2. ^ Racisms Made in Germany edited by Wulf D. Hund, Wulf Dietmar Hund, Christian Koller, Moshe Zimmermann LIT Verlag Münster 2011 page 20, 21
  3. ^ The Ideology of Kokugo: Nationalizing Language in Modern Japan, Lee Yeounsuk page 161 University of Hawaii Press 2009
  4. ^ The Immigrant Threat: The Integration of Old and New Migrants in Western Europe since 1850 (Studies of World Migrations) Leo Lucassen page 61 University of Illinois Press page 2005
  5. ^ "Historia 1871–1939" Anna Radziwiłł, Wojciech Roszkowski Warsaw 1998
  6. ^


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  • S.Kubiak, Niemcy a Wielkopolska 1918–1919, Poznań 1969
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  • Janusz Pajewski, Rodział XXII. Powstanie Wielkopolskie, [in:] J.Pajewski, Odbudowa państwa polskiego 1914–1918, Warszawa 1985,
  • Janusz Pajewski, Znaczenia Powstania Wielkopolskiego dla odbudowy Państwa Polskiego w 1918 r., Zeszyty Naukowe UAM, Historia 1970, t.10
  • S.Rybka, Zerwane pęta. Wspomnienia z dni rewolucji niemieckiej i powstania polskiego 1918-1919, Poznań 1919
  • A.Rzepecki, Powstanie grudniowe w Wielkopolsce. 27 XII 1918, Poznań 1919
  • Z.Wieliczka, Wielkopolska w Prusy w dobie powstania 1918/1919, Poznań 1932
  • Z.Wroniak, Paderewski w Poznaniu, Kronika Miasta Poznania 1959, nr 4
  • H.Zieliński, Rola powstania wielkopolskiego oraz powstań śląskich w walce o zjednoczenie ziem zachodnich z Polską; (1918–1921), [in:] Droga przez Półwiecze.
  • Dietrich Vogt: Der großpolnische Aufstand 1918/1919: Bericht, Erinnerungen, Dokumente. Marburg 1980 (J.-G.-Herder-Institut) ISBN 3-87969-147-9
  • Richard Blanke, Orphans of Versailles. The Germans in Western Poland 1918-1939, Lexington, KY.,1993 (presents somehow pro-German vision of the events)

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