Sculptor Gustaw Zemła, architect Wojciech Zabłocki, Katowice, Poland (Photo: Gosia Sachse vel. Głowacka, 07.04.2018)
The Silesian Insurgents’ Monument (Polish: Pomnik Powstańców Śląskich) in Katowice, southern Poland, is a monument to those who took part in the three Silesian Uprisings of 1919, 1920 and 1921, which aimed to make the region of Upper Silesia part of the newly independent Polish state. The monument was unveiled on 1 September 1967, and was designed by sculptor Gustaw Zemła and architect Wojciech Zabłocki. The wings symbolize the three uprisings, and the names of places where battles were fought are etched on the vertical slopes. The monument was funded by the people of Warsaw for Upper Silesia.
The Silesian Uprisings (German: Aufstände in Oberschlesien; Polish: Powstania śląskie) were a series of three armed uprisings in Upper Silesia from 1919 to 1921 in which Poles and Polish Silesians sought to break away from Germany and join the new Polish Republic, founded after World War I. The rebellions have subsequently been commemorated as an example of Polish nationalism in modern Poland.
Much of Silesia had belonged to the Polish Crown in medieval times, but it passed to the Kings of Bohemia in the 14th century, then to the Austrian Habsburgs. Frederick the Great of Prussia seized Silesia from Maria Theresa of Austria in 1742 in the War of Austrian Succession, after which it became a part of Prussia and in 1871 the German Empire. Although the province had by now become overwhelmingly German speaking, a large Polish minority remained in Upper Silesia.
Upper Silesia was bountiful in mineral resources and heavy industry, with mines and iron and steel mills. The Silesian mines were responsible for almost a quarter of Germany’s annual output of coal, 81 percent of its zinc and 34 percent of its lead. After World War I, during the negotiations of the Treaty of Versailles, the German government claimed that, without Upper Silesia, it would not be able to fulfill its obligations with regard to reparations to the Allies.
First uprising (1919)
On 15 August 1919, German border guards (Grenzschutz) massacred ten Silesian civilians in a labour dispute at the Mysłowice mine (Myslowitzer Grube). The massacre sparked protests from the Silesian Polish miners, including a general strike of about 140,000 workers, and caused the First Silesian Uprising against German control of Upper Silesia. The miners demanded the local government and police become ethnically mixed to include both Germans and Poles.
About 21,000 Germans soldiers of the Weimar Republic‘s Provisional National Army (Vorläufige Reichsheer), with about 40,000 troops held in reserve, quickly put down the uprising. The army’s reaction was harsh; and about 2,500 Poles were either hanged or executed by firing squad for their parts in the violence. Some 9,000 ethnic Poles sought refuge in the Second Polish Republic, taking along their family members. This came to an end when Allied forces were brought in to restore order, and the refugees were allowed to return later that year.
The Second Silesian Uprising (Polish: Drugie powstanie śląskie) was the second of three uprisings.
In February 1920, an Allied Plebiscite Commission was sent to Upper Silesia. It was composed of the representatives of the Allied forces, mostly from France, with smaller contingents from United Kingdom and Italy. Soon, however, it became apparent that the Allied forces were too few to maintain order; further, the Commission was torn apart by lack of consensus: the British and Italians favoured the Germans, while the French supported the Poles. Those forces failed to prevent continuing unrest.
In August 1920, a German newspaper in Upper Silesia printed what later turned out to be a false announcement of the fall of Warsaw to the Red Army in the Polish–Soviet War. Pro-German activists spontaneously organised a march to celebrate what they assumed would be the end of independent Poland. The volatile situation quickly degenerated into violence as pro-German demonstrators began looting Polish shops; the violence continued even after it had become clear that Warsaw had not fallen.
The violence eventually led on August 19 to a Polish uprising, which quickly took control of government offices in the districts of Kattowitz (Katowice), Pless (Pszczyna), Beuthen (Bytom). Between August 20 and 25, the rebellion spread to Königshütte (Chorzów), Tarnowitz (Tarnowskie Góry), Rybnik, Lublinitz (Lubliniec) and Gross Strehlitz (Strzelce Opolskie). The Allied Commission declared its intention to restore order but internal differences kept anything from being done. British representatives held the French responsible for the easy spread of the uprising through the eastern region.
The uprising was slowly brought to an end in September by a combination of allied military operations and negotiations between the parties. The Poles obtained the disbanding of the Sipo police and the creation of a new police (Abstimmungspolizei) for the area which would be 50% Polish. Poles were also admitted to the local administration. The Polish Military Organisation in Upper Silesia was supposed to be disbanded, though in practice this did not happen.
It began in the aftermath of a plebiscite that yielded mixed results. The British and French governments could not reach a consensus on the interpretation of the plebiscite. The primary problem was the disposition of the “Industrial Triangle” east of the Oder river, whose triangle ends were marked by the cities of Beuthen (Bytom), Gleiwitz (Gliwice) and Kattowitz (Katowice), all three of which were mostly inhabited by ethnic Germans. The French wanted to weaken Germany, and thus supported Polish claims on the territory; the British and the Italians disagreed, in part because the German government declared that a loss of the Silesian industries would render Germany incapable of paying the demanded war reparations.
In late April 1921, rumours spread that the British position would prevail. This caused the local Polish activists to organize another uprising. The insurrection was to begin in early in May. Having learned from previous failures, the Third Uprising was carefully planned and organized under the leadership of Wojciech Korfanty. It started on May 2–3, 1921, with the destruction of German rail bridges (see “Wawelberg Group“) in order to slow down the movement of German reinforcements. A particular concern was to prevent a recurrence of violent acts against Polish civilians by members of the Freikorps, demobilised Imperial German army units that had refused to disband. These paramilitary units existed throughout Germany and usually acted independently from both the provisional official army and the leadership of the fledgling German Republic.
The Inter-Allied Commission, in which General Henri Le Rond was the most influential person, waited rather long before taking any steps to end the violence. The French troops generally favored the insurrection. In some cases, British and Italian contingents actively cooperated with Germans. UK Prime Minister Lloyd George‘s speech in the British Parliament, strongly disapproving of the insurrection, aroused the hopes of some Germans. But the Entente appeared to have no troops ready and available for dispatch. The only action the ‘Inter-Allied Military Control Commission’ and the French government made was demanding immediate prohibition of the recruiting of German volunteers from outside Upper Silesia, and this was promptly made public.
After the initial success of the insurgents in taking over a large portion of Upper Silesia, the German Grenzschutz several times resisted the attacks of Wojciech Korfanty‘s Polish troops, in some cases with the cooperation of British and Italian troops. An attempt on the part of the British troops to take steps against the Polish forces was prevented by General Jules Gratier, the French commander-in-chief of the Allied troops. Eventually, the insurgents kept most of territory they had won, including the local industrial district. They proved that they could mobilize large amounts of local support, while the German forces based outside Silesia were barred from taking an active part in the conflict.
Twelve days after the outbreak of the insurrection, Korfanty offered to take his troops behind a line of demarcation (the “Korfanty Line”), conditional on the released territory not being re-occupied by German forces, but by Allied troops. It was not, however, until July 1 that the British troops arrived in Upper Silesia and began to advance in company with those of the other Allies towards the former frontier. Simultaneously with this advance the Inter-Allied Commission pronounced a general amnesty for the illegal actions committed during the insurrection, with the exception of acts of revenge and cruelty. The German Grenzschutz was withdrawn and disbanded.
August is the month of the uprisings: in 1944 the Warsaw Uprising, and 25 years earlier the First and Second Silesian Uprisings. Today we so often forget what ideals our ancestors fought for. We forget that they fought for freedom for all Poles and it did not matter what their skin colour, religion or sexual orientation was or was not. At that time, it was man who was important. What about today? Why today we listen so willingly to speeches full of hatred to imaginary enemy (like LGTB), why we have such short memory and do not remember (or do not want to remember) how fascism was born? Do we really want war? Do we want young boys and girls to die in the best time of their lives? Think about it before you let the others to get you into this self-destructive machine.