Vocal Virtue

“We’ll hold our land,
our Father’s land
We’ll keep alive our tongue
We, Polish Nation, gallant race
Renown in poem and song
We’ll keep our Precious holy sod
Do help us now, O God
Do help us now, O God!”

  The above words are sometimes sung  by  Poles  who gather for special historical commemorations. they are rarely heard today but are, to say the least, inspiring. The title of the song is the “Hymn of 1910.”

  You’ve probably never heard of this patriotic hymn, so I’ve decided that this week’s column will allow you to peer into the past in order to understand  how  Vocal Virtue originated. . . .

  From the time of the three partitions in the late 1700’s until 1918, Poland ceased to exist as a republic and was controlled by foreign powers. Counter-movements to regain Polish freedom took place in the major Uprisings of 1830 and 1863. As you must know, all efforts failed.

  Then, around 1904, a serious conflict arose between the three powers which occupied Poland — Germany, Austria and Russia. These three found themselves in two hostile camps. One side was Germany (allied with Austria) which planned an expansion to the east, and on the other side was Russia, menaced by these German plans and ready to make an alliance with France and England.

  This conflict stirred Polish hopes once more. The Poles thought they could take advantage of a possible war  between its enemies. But, wonders never cease.  As is the case with our people, two different philosophies  supported by two separate factions of Poles also arose to divide Poland up.

  One faction was of the opinion that the German policy of expansion was most dangerous and an attempt should be made to unify the various parts of Poland (including those occupied by Austria). They felt there should be autonomy within the Russian empire since Russia was already weakened by its own revolutionary trends and would be easy to conquer in the future. This was the program of  the National Democratic, or All-Polish Party, led by Roman Dmowski, a Polish governmental head at the time.

  The second faction felt Russia was the main enemy of Poland because it occupies the central and largest part of Poland. Therefore, the first aim of any war should be the liberation of these Polish provinces from Russian domination. This program was adopted by the Socialists under the leadership of Josef Pilsudski and some other parties in Galicia where Pilsudski had taken refuge.

  Due to this split, Pilsudski, who haphazardly put together a small band of forces early in 1905 that began to flounder, decided to formally organize the group. he called it the ‘Union for Active Struggle.’ Its purpose was to train soldiers and officers in accordance with military discipline, so as to create a skeleton organization for a Polish Army capable of a successful national insurrection. Students and peasants, farm laborers and bank clerks, pooled their resources to buy a few old revolvers, obsolete rifles and books on military tactics. Pilsudski lectured to them and drilled them. he taught them all he knew, both from books and from his expertise in military science. They gathered secretly and drilled in backyards and orchards, in meadows and vacant lots……

  The “army” eventually grew from a few hundred to a few thousand. From a handful of boys that played at soldiers, there developed well-drilled companies that went through  regulation  military exercises and invoked both admiration and uneasiness; admiration from those who earlier criticized the group and uneasiness on the part of the Austrian police authorities. The upshot was that Pilsudski was given the choice of disbanding or reorganizing the Union. In 1910, The Union for Active Struggle was reorganized into ‘The Union of Riflemen’s Clubs.’ It became a legal organization to which Austria gave its approval.

  Pilsudski expanded his work until he had established what amounted to a staff college in miniature. His inspiration led to the composition of the “Hymn of 1910” connotating the spirit that overwhelmed its members. To no one’s surprise, this spirit reached Austrian Poles to organize their own Riflemen’s Companies. Eventually, these two (rival) Riflemen’s organizations composed their political differences and merged into the Polish legions under Pilsudski’s command.

  When World War I broke out, Pilsudski’s Legions took part in numerous battles against Russia and showed their heroism on many occasions. The Dmowski Democrats who looked for Russian support in achieving independence from Germany watched an internal Russian Revolution result in Russia recognizing the Polish right of self-determination. As the Great War went on, the empires which had partitioned Poland all collapsed in turn.

  Dmowski and Paderewski won the support of France in 1917 and the declarative support of the U.S. in January 1918 when President Wilson’s famous “Fourteen Points” included as Point 13 the reconstruction of an independent Poland “with an outlet in the sea and an international guarantee of its independence and integrity.”

  On November 10, 1918, with Russia weak and Austria backing out, Pilsudski arrived in Warsaw and the Germans were disarmed and expelled. it was on this day that Warsaw was liberated and Poland made its final move toward a free and independent status.

  From Warsaw this movement spread to Russian Poland and the other areas occupied by German and Austrian soldiers. Uprisings in Galicia and Lwow created some strife among Poles but in January 1919 the Poles put it all together with Dmowski, Paderewski and Pilsudski in political agreement.

  On June 28, 1919, Dmowski and Paderewski signed the Treaty of Versailles on behalf of Poland. Through the Treaty, Poland recovered the major part of her lands under German rule. Other areas such as  upper Silesia and Gdansk remained unsettled.

. . . . See You Soon, God Be Willing. . . .