Greater Poland Uprising (1918–19)

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 (German: Grand Duchy of Poznań or Provinz Posen) against German rule. The uprising had a significant effect on the Treaty of Versailles, which granted a reconstituted Second Polish Republic the area won by the Polish insurrectionists. The region was part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth before the Second Partition of Poland in 1793 when it was taken over the German Kingdom of Prussia.


Map of the historic region of Greater Poland—the region's borders are outlined in red

After the Third Partition of Poland in 1795, the Polish nation had ceased to exist as an independent state. From 1795 through the beginning of World War I, several unsuccessful uprisings to regain independence took place. A 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 oppression.[1][2][3] The Poles living in the region of Greater Poland were subjected to Germanisation and land confiscations to make way for German colonization.

At the end of World War I, United States President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points and the idea of national self-determination were met with opposition from European powers standing to lose influence or territory—this included Germany and its domination of Greater Poland. German politicians had signed an armistice leading to a ceasefire on 11 November 1918. Also, Germany had signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with the Bolshevik Russia to settle the territorial boundaries of the eastern frontiers. The Brest-Litovsk treaty did not take into consideration a future Polish state, therefore from the date that the armistice was signed until the Treaty of Versailles was fully ratified in January 1920, many of the territorial and sovereignty issues remained unresolved.

Wilson's proposal for an independent Poland initially did not set borders that could be universally accepted. Most of Poland that was partitioned and annexed to Prussia in the late 18th-century was still part of greater 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 region of Greater Poland, of which Poznań (Posen) was a major industrial city and its capital. The majority of the population was Polish (more than 60%)[4] and hoped that they would be repatriated within the borders of the new Polish state.


Soldiers and workers assembling to elect a council in Poznań, 10 November 1918
Polish soldiers in trenches on the Polish-German front, January 1919

In late 1918, Poles with hopes for a sovereign Poland started serious preparations for an uprising after Kaiser Wilhelm's abdication on 9 November 1918, which marked the end of the German monarchy and empire, 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, the famous pianist, who would become the Polish prime minister in 1919.

The insurrectionist forces consisted of members of the Polish Military Organization, who formed the Straż Obywatelska (Citizen's Guard), later renamed as Straż Ludowa (People's Guard), which included many volunteers, who were mainly veterans of World War I. The first contingent to reach the Bazar Hotel, from where the uprising was initiated, 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). Initially, the members of the Council, including Captain Stanisław Taczak and General Józef Dowbor-Muśnicki were against an uprising, but changed their minds in support of the insurrection on 9 January 1919.

The timing of the uprising was advantageous for the insurrectionists, as between late 1918 and early 1919, internal conflict had weakened Germany, and many of the soldiers and sailors engaged in mutinous actions against the German state. 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 Poles took control of most of the province, and engaged in heavy fighting with the regular German army and irregular units such as the Grenzschutz. The fighting continued up until the renewal of truce between the Entente and Germany on 16 February. The truce also affected the front line in Greater Poland, but despite the ceasefire, skirmishes continued until the final 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 that ended with the entry of Napoleon's army on the side of the Poles fighting against Prussia.

Many of the Greater Poland insurrectionists later took part in the Silesian Uprisings against German rule, which started in late 1919 and ended in 1921.


Soldiers of the Greater Poland Army during the winter of 1919/20

The uprising had a significant effect on the decisions in Versailles that granted Poland not only the area won by the insurrectionists, but the lands of the Polish Corridor, which were also part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth before the First Partition of Poland in 1772, thus connecting the country to the Baltic Sea. Some of the major cities included Bydgoszcz (Bromberg), Leszno (Lissa), as well as Rawicz (Rawitsch). The riots initiated by the minority German population later influenced the decision to have popular votes in Silesia, where the public was allowed to vote whether it wanted to be part of Poland or Germany.

Germany's territorial losses following the Treaty of Versailles incited German revanchism,[5] and created unresolved problems such that the status of the independent Free City of Danzig and the Polish Corridor between East Prussia and the rest of Germany. Attending to these issues was part of Adolf Hitler's political platform. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Poland refused several German proposals for popular referendums, population transfers, highway projects and customs union reforms, fearing an eventual land grab from Germany.

Timeline of uprising

Events before

Map of the Prussian province of Posen—Polish-speaking areas are shown in yellow


Monument commemorating Polish soldiers who fought in the Greater Poland Uprising of 1919

Between ceasefire and reunification

Monument to the Greater Poland Uprising and its soldiers in Pobiedziska



  1. Racisms Made in Germany edited by Wulf D. Hund, Wulf Dietmar Hund, Christian Koller, Moshe Zimmermann LIT Verlag Münster 2011 page 20, 21
  2. The Ideology of Kokugo: Nationalizing Language in Modern Japan, Lee Yeounsuk page 161 University of Hawaii Press 2009
  3. 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
  4. "Historia 1871–1939" Anna Radziwiłł, Wojciech Roszkowski Warsaw 1998
  5. Boemeke, Manfred F.; Feldman, Gerald D.; Gläser, Elisabeth, eds. (1998). The Treaty of Versailles: A Reassessment After 75 Years. Publications of the German Historical Institute. Cambridge University Press. p. 220. ISBN 0521621321.


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