Military Review

1916 year. Poland on the eve of independence

Germany and Austria, in an effort to "squeeze out" Poland from the Russians, rather quickly went towards serious liberalization of the occupation regime. But this could hardly have prompted the Poles themselves, who still claimed only autonomy, to fight for complete independence. In an effort to play on the mistakes that Russians made one after another in pre-war Poland, the German occupation authorities opened a Polish university in February 1916 in Warsaw, which they did not hesitate to report to the press. Russian Foreign Minister Sazonov had no choice but to answer in the State Duma. In his speech from 22 / 9 February 1916, he stated:

“From the very beginning of the war, Russia clearly marked on its banner the union of dismembered Poland. This goal, foreshadowed from the height of the throne, proclaimed by the commander-in-chief, close to the heart of all Russian society and sympathetically met by our allies — this goal remains unchanged for us now.
What is the attitude of Germany to the realization of this cherished dream of the entire Polish people? As soon as she and Austria-Hungary succeeded in entering the Kingdom of Poland, they immediately hurried to divide this part of Polish lands, which had been hitherto united, and, in order to somewhat smooth the impression of this new assault on the main subject of all Polish aspirations, they found it appropriate to satisfy some of the side wishes of the Polish population. The opening of the mentioned university is one of such events, but one should not forget that the volume of the proclaimed Polish autonomy head from this very rostrum, by the highest order, naturally also includes the national Polish school of all degrees, not excluding the highest; therefore, one can hardly expect that, because of the lentil soup offered to him by the Germans, the Polish people will abandon their best covenants, close their eyes to the new German enslavement being prepared and forget their brothers in Poznan, where under the rule of the hackists, for the sake of German colonization, everything is stubbornly Polish ”(1).

1916 year. Poland on the eve of independence

As soon as Sazonov’s speech appeared in the allied press, Izvolsky hurried to inform Petersburg about the quite correct reaction of French newspapers to the speech of the foreign minister in the Duma, but could not help but note that a number of radical publications were still influenced by the most active part of Polish émigrés. They considered the promise of “autonomy” insufficient, demanding Poland’s “independence”. The Russian envoy, paying tribute to the efforts of the French Foreign Ministry to “restrain” the discussion of this issue, acknowledged that in recent weeks, “propaganda in favor of the idea of“ independent Poland ”has not only not weakened, but has increased markedly” (2).

The ambassador reported that censorship bans on this matter are easily treated, among other things, with the use of Swiss newspapers, and warned that by the time the war ended Russia might face a “strong French public opinion movement that could cause very serious misunderstandings between us and our ally” . The ambassador recalled the background to the issue and, at the beginning of the war, his recognition from the French side was a purely domestic matter - Russian, which, in Izvolsky’s opinion, was associated with enthusiasm among Poles for the appeal of the supreme commander.

However, then the situation changed dramatically - Germany and Austria-Hungary, as an experienced diplomat was forced to admit, not only occupied Poland, but also occupied a better position in the Polish question, forcing the Russians to go beyond simple autonomy. In addition, the very real prospect of a military conscription in the territory of the former Kingdom of Poland itself gave the Polish question an international character.

“Gradually assimilating the simple formula of“ independent Poland, ”the French ... obviously do not stop at whether such independence is possible in practice and whether it will turn, first of all, to the benefit of Germany. It is very likely that if they were promptly and thoroughly explained that “independent Poland” could become an economic and military instrument in German hands in the shortest possible time, this would greatly change their view of this matter. But this requires a systematic and skillful impact on the French press, with the cost of significant funds ... If at the beginning of the war ... almost the entire population of all three parts of Poland loudly expressed their sympathies for Russia and put their trustworthy on the success of the Russian weapons, now, under the influence of accomplished events and experienced disappointments, these feelings have largely changed. Germany not only gives the population of Russian Poland some of the most valuable benefits to it in the field of language and public education, but also promises the restoration of an independent Polish state ”(3).

Further, Izvolsky informed the Foreign Ministry about conversations with representatives of the realist party, who, recognizing the continued need to preserve Poland’s dynastic, economic and military ties with Russia, sought not only for the national unity of the motherland, but for “national independence”. Referring to the note of R. Dmovskiy, the ambassador in Paris noted that realists have no doubt that the time has come to influence Russia through her allies, although they imagine even a “separate” Polish state with the monarch from the Russian ruling house connected with Russia customs Union, but with a separate army, which in the event of war comes at the disposal of the Russian commander in chief.

The diplomat warned the Foreign Ministry that in Parisian government circles “they are beginning to worry much about the news of Germany’s intentions to declare Poland’s independence in order to recruit recruits in occupied Polish districts.” Izvolsky expressed the conviction that Russian diplomacy should “preoccupy in advance that local public opinion should not take the wrong path; otherwise, at a decisive moment, we can easily find ourselves in the present, so important issue, in dangerous disarray with our main ally ”(4).

Nevertheless, Izvolsky and Sazonov, who are completely loyal in the Polish question, continue to leave to interact with the same allies in any form. Indicative of the reaction of Russian diplomacy to the French proposal to hold in response to the German preparations some kind of demonstration of the unity of the allies in an effort to resolve the problem of Polish autonomy. Even the tonality in which Izvolsky reports to St. Petersburg about this attracts attention:

“For some time now, the French government has been very concerned about Germany’s efforts through various measures and promises to draw Poles to their side in order to recruit recruits in the occupied Polish regions. Kambon spoke to me several times about the need to counteract these efforts yesterday, allegedly on his own behalf, in fact, undoubtedly, at the request of Briand, he asked me how, in my opinion, the imperial government would have reacted to the idea of ​​a collective demonstration of the allies in confirmation of the sex we had promised cambers of unification and autonomy. I strongly expressed Cambon that such a thought is absolutely unacceptable for us, because Russian public opinion will never agree to transfer the Polish question to international soil. I added that, by giving France complete freedom to resolve, at its own discretion, the question of Alsace and Lorraine, for our part, we have the right to expect that we will be given the same freedom in the Polish question. To Cambon’s remark that it was possible to find a declaration formula in which, along with Poland, Alsace and Lorraine would be mentioned, I replied that I was deeply convinced that we could not agree to such a formulation of the question ”(5).

French Prime Minister Aristide Briand

However, the ambassador himself hastened to reassure the Foreign Ministry, citing the telegram from the French Prime Minister he had received from Cambon addressed to the Ambassador to St. Petersburg Maurice Palaeologus, where Aristide Briand immediately ruled out mention of a collective demonstration of the allies

"You told me about the intentions of the tsar and the Russian government regarding Poland. The French government knows and appreciates the liberal intentions of the Russian emperor and the declarations made on his behalf at the very beginning of the war. With the skillful propaganda of the Germans and the latest activities by which they try to win over Polish public opinion and restore recruitment to our troops, we have no doubt that the Russian government will be able to take measures on its part and make declarations capable of sow the fears of the Polish people and preserve their loyalty to Russia. We can only rely on the fact that our ally will act with the wisdom and liberalism required by the situation "(6).

After some time, the pressure of the occupation regime in the Polish lands was still somewhat weakened, and not without a reason. Long-lasting secret Austro-German negotiations began on the Polish issue, about which Russian diplomats quickly became aware. The first reports of this kind came, as might be expected, from Switzerland, where numerous Polish émigrés, for all their diversity of political views, did not cease active contacts both with each other and with representatives of both warring factions. Here is an excerpt from not the first, but extremely indicative telegram No. 7 of the envoy in Bern Bacheraht (obviously - V.R.) to Comrade Foreign Minister Neratov 18 / 5 in January 1916:

“Erasmus Pilz, one of the eminent participants in the Polish correspondence established in Lausanne, is a neutral destination and is more favorable to us. Pilz said he was in Paris and was received by some French politicians. The main purpose of the Pilz trip was to inform the French circles with Polish moods and to inform them of the fact that in his opinion should inevitably happen soon, namely: the declaration of the Kingdom of Poland by the Germans as autonomous under the head of Austria-Hungary. The purpose of this, according to Pilz, is to call 800 000 for Poles who are still able to carry weapons under the banner of the army against us. Pilz considers this project possible; at the same time, he told me that he personally is an unconditional supporter of Russia and thinks that without us no one can and should not solve the Polish question, and therefore he looks at this new test with fear, the next one for his fatherland, and finds it necessary to prevent it. It is difficult here to check, of course, how Pilz is right under the assumption that the Germans will succeed in this project, but that they are courting our Poles according to the news received here - undoubtedly ”(7).

Less than two weeks later, Baheraht telegraphed (from 31 January / 13 February 1916 d) Sazonov that he was visited by much more reputable Polish representatives - Roman Dmovsky and Prince Konstantin Broel-Plyatter. After a series of meetings with the German and Austrian Poles, they only confirmed Pilz’s correctness - the Central Powers are ready to give the Kingdom wide autonomy or “half independence” for the sake of a new military set. Moreover, “generally push the Poles away from us.”

Referring to Dmovsky's confession, Izvolsky wrote:

“The mass of the Polish population is completely negative about the flirting of Germany, but there is a danger that the project of the Germans may succeed. Hunger, partly caused by the German events, can force the population to accept all German plans, provided they promise (improve) their financial situation. Dmovsky came to the conclusion that Polish leaders, convinced that the salvation of Poland is possible only with the help of Russia, it is difficult to fight against those Polish elements who work in favor of the German plan, since Russia, after the occupation of Poland by the Germans, is not yet to give hope to the Poles that we are not abandoning the idea of ​​uniting ethnographic Poland. Dmovsky thinks that in the interests of quadruple consent it would be to use for immediate military purposes the feelings that feed the majority of Poles towards Russia and its allies. But only Russia can give the Poles the opportunity to fight the German attacks, and for this, according to Dmovsky, he and his associates think that Russia should declare world wide, that it is fighting not only against the Germans as its enemies, but as enemies of the whole Slavs " (8).

The reporter Svatkovsky, already mentioned above, very promptly informed the Russian Foreign Ministry that a survey was conducted in the Kingdom of Poland, which showed that the entire population of both parts of the Kingdom was strongly on the side of Russia. Based on the survey, the Austrian and German governments abandoned the military recruitment. But, as it turned out later - not forever.

The Polish public figures, returning from Europe "very inspired", expanded their campaign work - the French ambassador to St. Petersburg, Maurice Palaeologus, fell within the scope of their actions.

Maurice Paleologue, French Ambassador in Petersburg

A diplomat who, under other conditions, could well become a key figure in resolving the Polish problem, Paleolog already invited 12 on April 1916 to Polish emissaries for breakfast. The fact that the French were loyal to the autonomy of Poland was not convincing - Paleologue only assured them that Nicholas II "was still liberal in attitude towards Poland." Vladislav Velepolsky, in response to these assurances, Paleologue remarked:

- I am completely calm about the intentions of the emperor and Sazonov. But Sazonov may not disappear tomorrow from the political arena today. And in this case, what are we guaranteed against the weakness of the emperor?

The prince Konstantin Broel-Plyatter mentioned above, at the same time, considered that “Sazonov must take the solution of the Polish question into his own hands and make it international. The French ambassador resolutely rebelled against this thought. According to him, “the proposal to make the Polish question international would cause an outburst of indignation in Russian nationalist circles and would nullify the sympathies that we conquered in other segments of Russian society. Sazonov would also strongly oppose this. And the Stunner gang would have raised a cry against the Western democratic state, which is using an alliance with Russia to interfere in its internal affairs. ”

Maurice Palaeologus reminded the Polish representatives how the French government treats Poland, but made them understand that "his assistance will be the more valid, the less visible it will be, the less official it will be." The ambassador at the same time reminded that "even if only their personal statements (not one of them, not even Stürmer, did not dare to object to the emperor's intentions towards Poland with me) as private opinions, create something of a moral obligation that allows the French government in the final decision to act with exceptional authority ”(9).

The fact that we are talking about the prospect of recreating the "Kingdom of Poland" was made deliberate regular leaks to the press, and on both sides of the front. But immediately after the occupation of the “Kingdom”, that is, long before the beginning of 1916, and actually before the war, the Russian press and without outside help very closely followed the “Polish theme” - in German and Austrian newspapers. Just after the Austro-German invasion, they were added to those publications that during the war years continued to appear in the occupied Polish territories. So, 21 of October (3 of November) “Russian Gazette” referring to “Leipziger Neueste Nachrichten” (of 1 of November) reported that the chancellor’s trip to the main apartment was directly connected with the final decision of the Polish question.

October 23 was already informed about the long meetings of the Polish Kolo in Vienna 17 and October 18, as well as the fact that General Bezleler received the Polish delegation led by Prince Radziwill. Then the same delegation visited Berlin and Vienna.

General Bezaler (in the top row - third from right) among the representatives of the German military elite. In front of the table is Kaiser Wilhelm II

Then it became known that 17 of October at the reception at the Austrian Foreign Minister Burian was attended by the rector of the Warsaw University Brudzinsky, the city mayor (obviously the burgomaster) Khmelevsky, the representative of the Jewish society Lichtstein, and also a former member of the Russian State Duma Lemnitsky. They were not consulted with them, but in fact they were confronted with the fact that they had already taken a decision to proclaim the Kingdom.

In the meantime, the Russian autocracy persistently viewed the “Polish question” as a purely internal one and was in no hurry to put into practice what the grand princely “Proclamation” proclaimed. This is evident even from the quoted words of General Brusilov, as well as from other numerous sources. However, it was “The Appeal” that served as the starting point for further bureaucratic creativity, directed towards the whitening of the very awkward efforts of the tsarist bureaucracy to resolve the Polish problem. But in the course of the whole war, even if a small, but always decisive part of the very bureaucracy, nullifies everything, even timid attempts to implement the noble ideas of the Appeal.

In the end, somewhere around the time of the formation of the “Kingdom”, even to the permanently loyal Endeks, it became clear that the tsarist government not only did not start implementing the promised self-government, but also did not take any measures to destroy the inveterate legal restrictions of the Polish people. The great powers still did not consider the Polish nationalists as equal partners.

And yet, was there a chance to use the “Appeal”, for the ideas of which many Russian soldiers and officers shed their blood wholeheartedly, for the real reconciliation of the Poles and Russians? There was, but those who could realize it, clearly did not want to.


1. International relations in the era of imperialism. Documents from the archives of the royal and provisional governments 1878-1917. M.1938 (MOEI), series III, volume X, p.398.
2. MOEI, series III, volume X, p. 398-401.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. MOEI, series III, volume X, p. 411-412.
6. Ibid., P.412-413.
7. MOEI, series III, volume X, p. 23.
8. MOEI, series III, volume X, p. 198-199.
9. M. Paleolog, Tsarist Russia on the eve of the Revolution. M.1991, p.291.
Articles from this series:
Poles! Entente can sleep peacefully?
The Poles are changing the front. Eve of World War I, the main enemy is Germany
August 1914. Did the Russians know about Poland "from sea to sea"?
1914 Polish legions
Russian Poland: autonomy, as it was said
1915 year. "And let the Poles choose between us and the Germans"

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  1. Adjutant
    Adjutant 1 December 2018 06: 14
    Beautiful photos. Loved the German military elite
    1. Albatroz
      Albatroz 1 December 2018 07: 14
      And what year, a photo with the German elite?
  2. Olgovich
    Olgovich 1 December 2018 08: 25
    In the end, somewhere around the time of the formation of the “Kingdom”, it became clear even to the invariably loyal endecs that the tsarist government had not only not begun to implement the promised self-government, but had not taken any measures to the destruction of the long-standing legal restrictions of the Polish people. The Great Power still did not consider Polish nationalists to be equal partners.

    What are these "old legal restrictions" of the Polish people?
    The Poles enjoyed ALL rights of subjects of Russia.
    But they were satisfied with their independence only, and within the boundaries of 1772, they perceived any autonomy only as a step towards it.
    "How many wolves do not feed ...."
    Already the Bolsheviks and its independence recognized and solemnly rejected all sections of Poland, but what did they get?
    So it was the great power owners who were right.
    Divided Poland, like divided Germany, is the guarantee of peace in Europe and for Russia, historically, is the best solution.
    1. Black joe
      Black joe 1 December 2018 17: 19
      Divided Poland, like divided Germany, is the guarantee of peace in Europe and for Russia, historically, is the best solution.

      But you are right. We need a symbiosis of 1815 and 1945. Then there will certainly be peace and order hi