Yoseph Pilsudskiy

Yoseph Pilsudskiy

Polish Marshal
Date of Birth: 05.12.1867
Country: Poland

Biography of Józef Piłsudski

Józef Piłsudski was born on December 5, 1867, in Żułów, Lithuania, which was then part of the Russian Empire and the Kingdom of Poland under the rule of Alexander II. He was particularly close to his older brother Bronisław, who later became a renowned ethnographer. Bronisław studied in St. Petersburg, where he became involved with Russian revolutionaries, and Józef assisted him in his clandestine activities. Józef completed his education at a gymnasium in 1885 and decided to pursue a career in medicine. He spent his only year as a medical student in Kharkiv, and on March 22, 1887, he was arrested.

Bronisław Piłsudski was an active participant in the conspiracy and organization known as the "People's Will," along with Alexander Ulyanov and several others. He was sentenced to death but later had his sentence commuted to 15 years of hard labor. As a minor, Józef witnessed his brother's trial and was administratively exiled for "state crimes" to Eastern Siberia, specifically Kirensk, Tunka, and the regions of Pribaikalye and Irkutsk. While in Siberia, Józef worked as a tutor, read extensively, and hunted.

In June 1892, Piłsudski returned to Vilnius and began making new friends who were interested in socialist literature. He joined the Polish Socialist Party in 1893 and became a member of its Central Committee in 1894. Soon after, he became the leader of the party. Piłsudski focused on the party's finances and publishing activities, with particular attention to the newspaper "Robotnik." He personally edited the first 37 issues of the newspaper. His involvement with the printing press led to his arrest in February 1900 in Łódź. Piłsudski faced the prospect of another 10-year exile but feigned insanity and spent five months in a mental asylum in St. Petersburg until he successfully escaped.

After recovering his health, Piłsudski returned to party work in London for safety reasons. During the 1905-1907 revolution, his interests began to shift, and he distanced himself from socialism. Piłsudski became passionate about creating semi-military anti-Russian organizations in Galicia, and in 1910, the Riflemen's Association was established.

In 1915, German forces occupied the Kingdom of Poland, dividing it into Austrian and German parts. The crisis of the occupation system led the governors in Warsaw and Lublin to issue proclamations on November 5, 1916, declaring the creation of a Polish state. Until the king was elected, a Regency Council was established. The German authorities did Piłsudski a favor by imprisoning him in the fortress of Magdeburg in the summer of 1917. His refusal to take an oath of loyalty to the military alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary resulted in the disbandment of his legions.

Under German occupation and their collaborators, Poland was in turmoil. In January 1918, the German government sent Count G. Kessler to Magdeburg to assure Piłsudski that the Poles would not go to war with Germany over Poznań and Pomerania and that Bolshevism was a common enemy of Poland and Germany. Several months later, Piłsudski claimed that he could create an army capable of suppressing the revolution. It was crucial to bring Piłsudski to Berlin and then to Warsaw. On either November 9th or 10th, as Piłsudski claims, he was in the capital, and on November 11, 1918, the Regency Council handed power over to him. Thus, the leader of the state and the commander-in-chief of the Polish army was born.

By the summer of 1919, Piłsudski had established solid positions. He declared his commitment to democracy and the rule of law. On November 16, 1918, as the Commander-in-Chief, he announced the establishment of the Polish state with his signature. In April 1919, Piłsudski personally led the operation to capture Vilnius from Lithuania. He also initiated a quiet offensive towards Ukraine and Belarus, effectively against the Soviet Union.

The success of the Soviet government in Ukraine worried Piłsudski. He decided to intervene directly in the neighboring civil war. Despite England's opposition to war, Piłsudski, with the support of France, launched an offensive in Ukraine. Polish forces broke through the front lines and captured Kyiv on May 7th but soon retreated. Ukrainian peasants did not welcome the return of Polish landlords. In the summer of 1920, the Red Army approached Polish lands.

Desiring personal distinction, Piłsudski issued an order in June 1920 to grant himself the title of First Marshal of Poland, despite opposition from the Sejm. On November 14, 1920, he accepted the marshal's baton from soldier Jan Wężyk. In March 1921, the Sejm passed a constitution stipulating that the head of state would be subordinate to the Sejm and could not simultaneously be the commander-in-chief of the army.

As a result of the new power dynamics, Piłsudski found no place in the state and the army. He refused the position of Chief of the General Staff and proudly declared that he had given everything to Poland and now wanted to enjoy family life. He "retired" to his estate in Sulejówek, a suburb of Warsaw, which was gifted to him by the army.

As a recluse in Sulejówek, Piłsudski actively involved himself in military reform projects, particularly the creation of the highest command structure. Eventually, Piłsudski succeeded in appointing his most loyal supporter, General L. Żeligowski, as Minister of War on December 27, 1925. Żeligowski concentrated loyal divisions near Warsaw in Rembertów for maneuvers. Piłsudski's covert actions were reported by The Times on May 28, 1926, claiming that England supported and financed the activities of the Piłsudski faction through their ambassador in Warsaw.

On May 12, 1926, Piłsudski, still with a "leftist" reputation, began his march from Rembertów to Warsaw. His well-executed conspiracy prevented any government forces from reaching the capital. The three-day civil war, "as cruel as any other," costing 1,300 lives, ended with Piłsudski's victory.

Piłsudski became an unrestricted dictator. He served as Prime Minister in 1926-1928 and 1930, during periods of challenging political campaigns, such as the 1930 elections. He consistently held the positions of Minister of War and Inspector General of the Armed Forces, which gave him real power and complete control over foreign policy.

In 1928, Piłsudski suffered a stroke that paralyzed the right side of his body, and his arm never fully recovered. Additionally, his liver disease began to cause constant suffering. The rise of Hitler to power worried Piłsudski. During the years of the global economic crisis, Piłsudski and his circle realized that Poland was highly interested in the Eastern market. Piłsudski had to approach the Soviet Union for protection. Despite Piłsudski's previous statements about Russia, during his rule, relations between the two neighboring countries improved significantly for the first time in the interwar period.

The peak of Polish-Soviet relations was reached in 1932-1934. In 1932, a non-aggression pact was signed between the two countries, and Soviet ambassador V. Antonov-Ovseenko arrived in Warsaw. In January 1934, to secure himself, Poland signed a pact with Germany on non-violence. The Polish side believed that it had balanced its relations with Germany, but the pact only postponed the resolution of Germany's territorial claims against Poland. Poland refused to participate in the Eastern Pact and did not respond to inquiries about Soviet assistance against aggression, despite Piłsudski personally believing that the pact with Germany would last for four years, until 1938, when "complications" would arise.

In May 1935, Piłsudski's health noticeably deteriorated. His entourage understood the hopelessness of his condition: terminal cancer of the liver, coma. However, on the evening of May 10th, when he briefly regained consciousness, Piłsudski tried to explain: "Laval... I must... Russia." These were Piłsudski's last words. On May 12th, he passed away.