Primary Documents - Ignace Paderewski on the Paris Peace Conference, May 1919

Ignace Paderewski With Germany defeated in November 1918 the path was cleared for a newly constructed Polish republic to be established with Allied backing; this was duly declared on 10 February 1919.

This was however by no means the end of uncertainty for Poland, with the ultimate makeup of Europe yet to be agreed at the Paris Peace Conference, and with military disagreements with Russia, the Ukraine and Czechoslovakia rumbling on.

Click here to read the statement issued by the Polish Regency Council - established by the country's wartime German occupiers - on 11 November 1918 (the date of the armistice) which announced that General Josef Pilsudski, newly freed from German incarceration, was to be appointed to military command of Poland's Army.  Click here to read a subsequent decree, issued three days later, in which the Regency Council formally announced its own dissolution in favour of Pilsudski pending assembly elections.  Click here to read a statement issued by Pilsudski on the same day in which he outlined his immediate plans.

Click here to read an interview conducted with Pilsudski by a French newspaper in February 1919.  Click here to read the text of the U.S. government's formal recognition of the Polish government, by now politically led by Ignace Paderewski (with Pilsudski's blessing while the latter oversaw military matters).  Click here to read an address issued by Paderewski in May 1919 in which he summarised events to date at the Paris Peace Conference.  Click here to read a statement issued by Paderewski in September 1919 in which he expressed his support for Polish entry into the League of Nations.

Click here to read a statement issued by Herbert Hoover - head of the U.S. reconstruction organisation in Europe - dated August 1919 in which he documented his reservations with regard to the speed with which Poland's economic infrastructure could be rebuilt.

Address by Ignace Paderewski, May 1919

The Polish nation is today living through solemn moments.

I suppose that in its eventual history there was never a time more solemn, more fateful than the present.  The fate of our country is at stake; powerful people holding in their hands the destiny of the world, are building a framework for our independent existence, are deciding the frontiers of our State, and soon will pronounce a final sentence, from which, no doubt for long years, there will be no appeal, perhaps for many generations.

Violent bursts of hope and of joy and anxiety are strongly shaking our national spirit.  From every side, from every corner of our former commonwealth, people are coming here to Warsaw and going there to Paris, in frock coats and smock frocks, in old-fashioned country dress, in mountaineer costume, and they cry aloud and implore that their distant provinces should be united to the Polish state.  The Polish eagle does not seem to be a bird of prey, since people are gathering themselves under its wings.

What will Poland be like?  What will be her frontiers?  Will they give us everything we should have?

These are the questions that every Pole is asking.  I am here to answer, as far as I am able, all these questions.  I have taken part in the work of the Polish Delegation to the Peace Conference, and I am here to report on this work to the Seym, and I ask for attention.

I will begin with what has been done.  The Conference has only dealt as yet with one of their defeated adversaries, the Germans.  Conditions have been dictated to them, though they are not yet signed, which give us considerable advantages on the west frontier.

We are not all satisfied with our frontier.  I admit freely that I belong to the unsatisfied ones; but have we really a right to complain?  The Conference tried to decide justly according to the rule on ethnographical and national majority as regards all territorial questions.

They applied this rule to our territory, and we have obtained considerable advantages from it on the west.  But not everything was decided according to this principle.  Thus, for example, our Polish population in the Sycowski and Namyzlowski district and in some parts of the locality of Posen has distinctly been wronged.  The Polish Peace Delegation will do their best to have this remedied.

The press has already published the chief points of the Peace Treaty.  I will, however, remark in passing that by this Treaty we are to receive more than 5,000,000 of population.

This territory may yet be increased if the plebiscite in other districts formerly Polish has results favourable to us.  The Peace Conference has not yet given us Warmia, Prussian Masuria, part of the Malborg district, also the Stzumsan, Kwidzynsan, and Suski districts, through which passes the railway line from Gdansk (Danzig) to Warsaw by way of the Miava.

The Peace Conference has given us the Keszybski coast, the Silesian mines, and the unlimited use of the port of Gdansk, also complete control over our Vistula, and a protectorate over the town of Gdansk under almost the same conditions as we had it in the most glorious days of our Commonwealth.

These conditions are different only in so far as present-day life is different from the life of that time.  The area of the free town has been considerably increased.  In the course of 126 years of Prussian oppression and systematic Germanization many Poles have forgotten their native tongue, and there are many real Germans settled in Gdansk.

However, the former will soon remember Polish, and the others will soon learn it.  Gradually Gdansk will tend to become what we wish it to become, if we show seriousness and commonsense, enterprise, and political understanding.  All Polish State property is returned to Poland absolutely, without any burdens or expenses.

On the whole, I consider that Poland may be grateful for the verdict.  If we are not obliged to shed more of our blood, I say that this is a great and fine gift from God.

For about two weeks the affairs of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy have been under consideration.  Naturally, our affairs there are extremely important.

Already the matter has been eagerly discussed, and has been the subject of passionate and violent interpellations in this House, and of certain painful reproaches.  Fortunately, this affair has taken a good turn.  Our dispute with the Bohemians was not settled offhand.  Time has calmed passion, and today, without renouncing our rights, we are quietly considering these matters, and the Bohemians are doing the same.

The Peace Conference wishes that we should settle our quarrel with the Bohemians in a conciliatory manner among ourselves.  Mr. Lansing expressed this wish in the name of the American delegation.  I have had many conferences with Mr. Benes, the Bohemian Minister for Foreign Affairs, and with the most important representatives of Silesia, and I am glad to say that in my opinion the matter is on the right road.

If Parliament honours me with its confidence, I shall see President Masaryk in Prague tomorrow or the day after to settle the preliminaries of the agreement with him.  I want to have the conference on our territory in Silesia, with the co-operation of delegates of the Polish Government, representatives of the General Military Staff, members of the National Council, also specialists, engineers, and lawyers.

Yesterday I had the following reply to a question addressed to Mr. Masaryk, which I translate: "Thank you for your kind telegram.  I shall be very happy to welcome you on a day to be named by yourself, only please give me immediate information as to the day of your arrival.  I agree to the plan of a conference, and I expect we shall he able to lay a firm foundation for it.  With most sincere good feeling for you and your people." (Signed) "Masaryk."

I come to other affairs.  True to the national spirit we shall never wage a war of conquest or gain.  We sacrifice our lives in defence of the lives and property of our countrymen, and in the conviction that our great sacrifice will insure the preservation of order and will protect Europe from the threatened ruin of the world's civilization.

In defending the borders of our former Commonwealth, the life and property of the inhabitants, without discrimination between religion or language, we are at the same time protecting the west from the invasion of the east.  We are doing the same as our ancestors did 700 years ago.

We are not seeking new glory for the Polish arms.  We are not boasting of our victories; but we cannot shut our eyes to the chivalrous virtue and civic merits of our incomparable soldiers.

We express our admiration and gratitude to the commanding chief for the liberation of Lida, Swiencian, and Oilno from the Bolshevik hordes, for the liberation of Sambor, Drohobycz, Boryslav, Strye, Izolkiew, Brody, and Zloczow from the demoralized, merciless, and cruel Ukrainian troops.  We express our warmest thanks and highest recognition to our heroic, brave, and devoted army.

The foreign press and different political parties abroad sometimes accuse Poland of having an imperialistic policy.  One of our most prominent Deputies eloquently stated a few days ago that there is a general prejudice abroad against Poland, and, at the same time, said that the responsibility for this falls upon certain classes of our community.

I do not go so far.  I cannot blame any party for this.  I must, however, remark that this prejudice actually exists, and is even spreading.  The reproach of imperialism was made against us very long ago by the very three Empires that robbed us and divided us.

Today this reproach is made by just those people who are stretching out their greedy hands for Polish territory and its wealth.  Though it is much easier to break down a hundred fortresses and reduce a thousand towns to dust than to overcome one prejudice, I consider that the moment.is come for a great, powerful, and distinct voice, the voice of the Polish people, to make a declaration in this House which will confute all these unfounded foreign reproaches.

We never conducted a war of conquest, and we have no intention of doing so.  We do not want what belongs to others; we do not want to conquer anybody else's territory.  Poland does not deny the right of Lithuania and Ukrainia to be independent, nor the right of the White Ruthenian people to individual development, Poland is ready to help them heartily and effectively.

Food always follows the Polish soldier.  We are sharing with the border peoples the supplies we get from America.  In order to establish autonomy in these border countries, without prejudice to the future declarations of the Conference, we should immediately institute a plebiscite in these northeast territories.  Let all the local populations declare their will freely and boldly.  The result of the plebiscite will greatly facilitate the work of the Paris Conference.

I come to still more pressing matters.  As you know, we have recognized the authority and dignity of the Peace Conference, as all other civilized nations have done, and we wait for its verdict.

Up to the present its verdicts have been favourable to us.  We voted here an alliance with the Entente, that is, with France, England, and Italy, who are continually sending us the help which is absolutely necessary to us in present circumstances.

We have very much to be grateful for from America and its President.  Without the powerful support of President Wilson, whose heart the best friend of the Polish cause, Colonel House, was able to win for us, Poland would no doubt have remained an internal question for Germany and Russia, at best confined within those frontiers which were assigned to her by the Germans in the Act of November 5, 1916.

America is giving us food, America is giving us clothes, boots, linen, and munitions of war, and other supplies, on very easy terms, and with long credit.

Just before my departure from Paris, I received a letter from Mr. Hoover, promising Poland effective financial and economic help.  That is the beginning of a very important help for us.  Yesterday I learned that 2,000 tons of cotton would arrive at Gdansk in a few days, and that the Ministry of Finance in Washington were considering the question of granting Poland a considerable loan.

Gentlemen, the Peace Conference, and especially England and America, with President Wilson at the head, while recognizing the necessity of our defending ourselves against the Bolsheviki, does not wish for further war on any front.  Mr. Wilson expressed this wish repeatedly and very firmly.

Could a Polish Prime Minister, director of the Polish Government, a man upon whose shoulders falls the really dreadful responsibility for the fate of his people in the near future, could such a man wave aside such demands?  I did as my conscience prompted me.  I acted as my love for my country and my honour as a Pole demanded.  I said that I would do all I could to satisfy these demands, and I have kept my word.

An armistice was demanded.  I agreed in principle to that.  It was demanded that Haller's army should not fight against the Ukrainians.  It was withdrawn from the Ukraine front, and finally it was required that the offensive should be stopped.

Although the Ukrainians in their telegram of May 11th asked for the cessation of hostilities, on the 12th, at noon, they attacked us treacherously near Ustrzyk, bombarding the town of Sanok from aeroplanes.

In the face of this criminal attack no force could stop the elemental impulse of our young soldiers.  Like a whirlwind they threw themselves upon the enemy, and with lightning swiftness took Sambor, Drohobycz, Boryslav, Strye, Izolkiew, Sokl, Brody, and Zloczow, being joyfully greeted everywhere as saviours by the Polish and Ukrainian population.

Today our soldiers are probably approaching Stanislavow.  But from Podwoloczysk and from Husiatyn a strong Soviet army has entered unhappy Galicia, or rather, Ruthenia.  Haller's army will probably be obliged to fight on the Ukraine front, but not against the Ukrainians, only against the Bolsheviki, and perhaps it is fighting today.

On May 14th I broke off by telegraph all negotiations for an armistice as I considered that after the way the Ukrainians had behaved themselves an armistice was absolutely impossible.  The oppression, violence, cruelty, and crimes committed by them are without parallel.

Wounded soldiers were buried alive in a wood near Lwow.  Yesterday news came which brought mourning to our ministerial colleague, Linde.  His wife's sister was murdered in Kolomia.

Gentlemen, l am far from blaming the Ukrainian people for such crimes.  It was not they who made such an army.  Other people made it for them.

But speaking of the Ukrainians, I must state that people who do such monstrous deeds cannot be treated as an army.  Thus our Polish expedition into East Galicia is not a war, but a punitive expedition against bandits from whose oppression both the Polish and the Ruthenian population must be set free before law and order can be set up on this immemorially Polish territory.

Law and order will quickly be introduced there by every possible means.  We are, at least for the moment, strong there, but we shall not abuse this strength.  None of us think of retaliation or revenge, nor would Polish sentiment ever permit such a thing.

There should be liberty, equality, and justice for everybody.  And in this spirit and with this wish I ask the honourable Seym to vote in favour of autonomy for East Galicia, and at the same time I ask for powers for the Polish Government to open peace negotiations with any Government in Ukrainia that shows moral strength and inspires confidence.

I have finished.

Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. VII, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923

A Greyback was a British Army shirt.

- Did you know?

Primary Docs