Magazine Poland

On this Day, in 1918: the Greater Poland Uprising broke out against German rule

On December 27, 1918, after a patriotic speech by the famous composer Ignacy Paderewski, an uprising broke out in Poznań against the German occupation of the Greater Poland region, which was still part of Greater Germany at the close of World War I and hoped to join the new Polish republic.

After more than a century of Partitions between the Russian Empire in the east, the Kingdom of Prussia in the west and the Habsburg Monarchy in the south, Poland regained its independence at the end of World War I when the three partitioning powers were fatally weakened by war and revolutions.

But until the Treaty of Versailles formally established Poland as a sovereign state in June 1919, many territorial and sovereignty issues remained unresolved. Critically, most of Poland that was annexed by Prussia, which included the region of Greater Poland and its capital Poznań, was still part of Greater Germany at the close of World War I.

After Wilhelm II’s abdication and the proclamation of the Weimar Republic, Poles living in German-controlled territory started serious preparations for an uprising. And with the fate of Greater Poland still undecided, Polish pianist and composer Ignacy Paderewski, who had become a spokesman for Polish independence during the war, visited Poznań and gave a speech inciting the inhabitants to take up arms against Germany.

Demoralized by the signing of the armistice, the new German government was weakened by the German Revolution, and by the end of January 1919, the insurrectionists, which consisted mainly of veterans of World War I and members of the underground Polish Military Organization, controlled most of Greater Poland. Fighting continued until the final signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919, which formally awarded the area won by the insurrectionists to the new Polish Republic.

Paderewski, who had been appointed Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs by Chief of State Józef Piłsudski, was part of the Polish delegation at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. He signed the Treaty of Versailles, which also awarded to the new state parts of the province of Upper Silesia, as well as the lands of the so-called Polish Corridor, which were part of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth before the First Partition of Poland and connected Poland to the Baltic Sea. The sovereignty of part of southern East Prussia was to be decided via plebiscite.

But Germany’s territorial losses following the Treaty of Versailles incited German revanchism and created unresolved problems such as the status of the independent Free City of Danzig and of the Polish Corridor between East Prussia and the rest of Germany. Attending to these issues became part of Adolf Hitler’s political platform…

The last surviving Polish fighter in the Greater Poland Uprising, Lieutenant Jan Rzepa, died at the age of 106 in 2005.

Find out more about Central European history in our new On this Day series.