The story behind

Return of Bydgoszcz to the Motherland

The end of the 18th century was a particularly difficult time for Poland. Due to incorrectly led politics, internal weakness of the country, and the growing power of neighbors, in 1795 it disappeared from the maps of Europe for 123 years. Hope for the restoration of the state was brought by World War I, in which the invaders took the opposite side. For Bydgoszcz, which already in 1772 became a part of Prussia, a defeat of Germany on the west front was a chance for a return to Poland.

            In October 1918, a year before the signing the treaty that ended the Great War, Bydgoszcz activists, with Dr. Jan Biziel and attorney Melchior Wierzbicki at the helm, formed the Secret Citizens’ Committee, which purpose was to fight for membership of the city in the Polish state. Towards their disadvantage worked a significant demographic disproportion, Bydgoszcz was mostly populated by the Germans. The committee was soon transformed into Polish People’s Council, in which significant power formed workers. The organization used legal methods based on prudent, and consistent with law, actions. Moreover, 9 delegates were chosen in Bydgoszcz to take part in the District Parliament in Poznań, which took place between December 3rd and 5th, 1918 in the cinema “Apollo”.

            Polish independence actions provoked, of course, a definite reaction from the German circles, which already in November set up their organizations. A squad of voluntary Heimatschutz, transformed later into Grenzschutz, was created, as well as the German People’s Council. In December by the initiative of HKT (German Eastern Marches Society) activist George Cleinow the German Union in Netze District was established. The organization fought to leave provinces of Pomerania and Greater Poland in the borders of the German state and led many anti polish actions on those lands.

            Huge impact on the formation of the Polish borders after World War I had the Greater Poland Uprising, which began on December 27th, 1918, a day after a patriotic speech of Ignacy Jan Paderewski in Poznań. Insurrection in its range covered also other cities, including those located near Bydgoszcz, i.e. Nakło, Ślesin, Mrocza, Szubin or Rynarzewo. Due to the fights, Germans lost Poznań, hence Bydgoszcz became their most important political and military center in the region, ruling over which they wanted to keep. However, the German citizens of the city presented two political attitudes. First was hostile towards Poles and promoted military fight with insurgents, the second one also opposed the uprising, however openly talked about a need for peace talks. In Bydgoszcz, nevertheless, a state of siege has been declared according to which residents could not leave their houses after 8 pm.

            The uprising authorities assumed that due to the significant military superiority of Germans, citizens of Bydgoszcz will not engage fights in the city. Anti polish actions got worse. On January 9th, 1919, in the underground passage of the railway station, German marines, and railwaymen beat a priest, Jan Filipiak as well as an apothecary Władysław Kurzaja. Despite strong anti polish actions, a conspiracy worked in the city transferring volunteers willing to fight in the Greater Poland Uprising. The following women from Bydgoszcz were in charge of that: Apolonia Ziółkowska, Stefania Tuchołkowa, and Wincentyna Teskowa. In addition to that, in a tenement house on Długa 12 street, Dr. Jan Biziel was helping wounded insurgents. A wave of German repercussions intensified after the arrest of polish activists: Konstanty Lewandowicz, Jan Szumiński, Jan Teska, and Bronisław Felczykowski. Polish workers organized a strike in their defense which ended with success, Poles were released. On February 16th, 1919 in Trewir, a truce ending the Greater Poland Uprising was declared, in which it was decided that participants of the Paris Peace Conference will decide about Bydgoszcz nationality.

            On June 28th, 1919 in Versailles the major treaty ending World War I was signed, deciding about Poznań province nationality. Those lands, together with located in there Bydgoszcz, were granted to Poland. The most important issue in the city became to maintain peace, although already on June 29th a skirmish between Poles and Germans took place in the city square. To regulate the matter and ease moods the Supreme People’s Council made an appeal in which they guaranteed equal rights in the area of civil liberties to all citizens of Bydgoszcz.

            Pending the entrance of Polish troops a political life bloomed. Parties presenting different trends emerged: The National Workers Party, The National People’s Party, and The Polish Socialist Party. In October, Jan Maciaszek became a polish deputy to yet German town hall.

            It was anticipated that the army will arrive in a tree or four weeks from the signing of the treaty. Therefore the German authorities started quickly removing valuable monuments. The monument of Frederick II from the Old City Square and the monument of Wilhelm I from the Freedom Square. It was a challenge for Poles to receive such a huge number of troops. To provide them with suitable conditions The Red Cross Society began collecting food supplies and asked Polish families to prepare lodgings for soldiers.

            Hope for the quick arrival of the army turned out to be deceptive. According to the treaty signed on November 25th, 1919 the Polish army could enter the city not earlier than 7 days from ratification of the treaty by the German side, which happened on January 10th, 1920. Citizens of Bydgoszcz began preparations for the welcome celebrations. Two commissions established especially for that were entrusted with supervision over it. Houses and streets were richly decorated, in the barracks, lodgings and feeding were prepared, and in the building of the officer’s casino, supplies to arrange military tavern were collected. The city was supposed to be overtaken by the army of the Greater Poland Front of the general Józef Dowbor-Muśnicki and the Forces of the Pomerania Front of the general Józef Haller.

            A day before the entry of the Polish army, in the meeting room of town hall, a celebration of seizure of the power by Poles took place. Hugo Wolff, a then mayor of the city and Polish representative Jan Maciaszek took the floor. In their speeches, both of them pointed out the necessity of keeping peaceful relations between Poles and Germans, based on equality in political and social life. A symbolic handing over the city keys and electing Jan Maciaszek for the mayor of Bydgoszcz took place.

            On January 20th at 10:40 in the Old City Square first troops appeared, welcomed enthusiastically by Poles. Around noon a battalion of sappers under the command of Witold Butler and the cavalry of the 16th Regiment of Greater Poland Uhlans arrived at the city center, the main troops arrived around 1 pm. Soldiers were welcomed with an official speech and sounds of patriotic songs. That date is accepted as an official return of Bydgoszcz to Poland after almost 150 years of presence within the borders of the German state, though Józef Dowbor-Muśnicki himself reached the city only on January 22nd. That day was very ceremonial as well. A military defilade marched off from the Old City Square through the Mostowa and Gdańska street up to the hotel pod Orłem and ended with the speech of the military front commander.

            Together with the entry of the Polish Army to Bydgoszcz, a new stage of Polish membership in the history of the city began, lasting till 1939. Due to the outflow of the German population, the demographic structures of the city changed definitely and the new, already Polish authorities, as well as citizens, had to face numerous problems related to the postwar functioning of Bydgoszcz and building a Polish administration in the city.

Prepared by: Michalina Grzonkowska