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Flexible Fatherlands: “Patriotism” among Polish-speaking German Citizens during World War I

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 March 2020

James Bjork*
Affiliation:
Kings College London

Abstract

This article examines the experiences of Polish-speaking subjects of the German Empire during World War I. Fighting for wartime empires tended to be retrospectively defined as involuntary service to a “foreign” cause. But the author of this article argues that it was very difficult to distinguish ostensibly passive “compliance” from ostensibly active “patriotism.” The apparent tensions between a German imperial agenda and Polish nationalism also proved to be highly navigable in practice, with German war aims often seen as not only reconcilable with but even conducive to the Polish national cause. Drawing on a recent wave of relevant historiography in English, German, and Polish, and incorporating further analysis of individual testimonies, the article explores the various ways in which “non-German” contributors to the German war effort tried to make sense of their awkward wartime biographies.

Dieser Beitrag untersucht die Erfahrungen polnischsprechender Angehöriger des Deutschen Reichs während des Ersten Weltkriegs. Das Kämpfen in den Diensten von Imperien zu Kriegszeiten ist retrospektiv oft als unfreiwillige Leistung für eine „fremde“ Sache definiert worden. Der Autor des vorliegenden Artikels argumentiert jedoch, dass scheinbar passive „Befolgung“ nur schwer von scheinbar aktivem „Patriotismus“ unterschieden werden konnte. Die sichtbaren Spannungen zwischen den deutschen imperialen Vorstellungen und dem polnischen Nationalismus erwiesen sich in der Praxis als gut navigierbar – und die deutschen Kriegsziele mit der Sache der polnischen Nation nicht bloß vereinbar, sondern ihr sogar dienlich. Aufbauend auf einer Fülle jüngst veröffentlichter relevanter Geschichtsschreibung auf Englisch, Deutsch und Polnisch sowie unter Einbeziehung weiterer Analysen einzelner Zeitzeugenaussagen untersucht der Beitrag die verschiedenen Arten und Weisen, in denen „nicht-deutsche“ Beitragende zu den deutschen Kriegsanstrengungen ihre heiklen Kriegsbiographien einzuordnen versuchten.

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Article
Copyright
Copyright © Central European History Society of the American Historical Association, 2020

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Footnotes

A paper that formed the germ of this article was presented at a conference on “Patriotic Cultures during the First World War” in St. Petersburg, Russia, in June 2014. An article based on that paper was subsequently included in a Russian-language edited volume: “V poiskakh patriotizma sredi pol'skoyazychnykh germanskikh poddannykh, 1914–1918,” in Kultury patriotizma v period Pervoy mirovoy voyny (Sankt-Peterburg, 2018). This article is a substantially revised version of that contribution.

References

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2 The military engagements inscribed on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier mostly involved the Polish Legions, who fought alongside Austro-Hungarian forces. But the list also includes some actions by Polish units that fought alongside Russian imperial forces in the early years of the war, as well as some engagements in 1918, following the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, involving Polish corps organized from a mix of former legionnaires and troops from the former Russian imperial army that fought against German forces.

3 The peak strength of the Polish Legions (at the beginning of 1917) was 21,000, with 12,600 involved in actual fighting. An additional 18,000 soldiers were recruited to Polish units fighting alongside the Russian army. Eichenberg, Julia, Kämpfen für Frieden und Fürsorge. Polnische Veteranen des Ersten Weltkriegs und ihre internationalen Kontakte, 1918–1939 (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2011), 2930Google Scholar.

4 Gawryczeswki, Andrzej, Ludność Polski w XX wieku (Warsaw: Polska Akademia Nauk, 2005), 411Google Scholar. The total figure cited here—3,375,800—included 779,500 serving in the Germany army, 1,195,800 serving in the Russian army, and 1,401,500 serving in the Austro-Hungarian army. These numbers are based on the total population of the territory of Poland circa 1922. They would therefore include a large proportion of inhabitants, especially in former Russian and Austro-Hungarian territory, who were not primarily Polish-speaking. They would also exclude a smaller number of Polish-speakers from areas such as western Upper Silesia and Masuria that did not become part of interwar Poland. In ethnolinguistic terms, then, there may have been more Polish-speaking soldiers in the German army than in either of the other two imperial armies.

5 For a recent account of Imperial Germany as a nationalizing empire, see Berger, Stefan, “Building the Nation Among Visions of German Empire,” in Nationalizing Empires, in Berger, Stefan and Miller, Alexei (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2015), 247308, esp. 253–54 on germanizationGoogle Scholar.

6 Perhaps the most famous normative distinction between patriotism and nationalism was put forward by George Orwell in his essay “Notes on Nationalism” (1945). For Orwell, nationalism did not necessarily have anything to do with nations but simply denoted a “desire for power” on behalf of any group. Patriotism, in turn, was defined as any form of loyalty or identification that remained “defensive” and avoided such aggressive overreach.

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8 For example, see Cole, Laurence, Military Culture and Popular Patriotism in Late Imperial Austria (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and Unowsky, Daniel, The Pomp and Politics of Patriotism: Imperial Celebrations in Habsburg Austria, 1848–1916 (Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 2006)Google Scholar.

9 In her recent book, Stockdale defines patriotism as “love of and loyalty to one's patria—that is, traditional, state-based patriotism.” Stockdale, Melissa, Mobilizing the Russian Nation: Patriotism and Citizenship in the First World War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 10CrossRefGoogle Scholar. She devotes a section to the ways in which Polish-speakers were “rehabilitated, honoured, and embraced” as essentially loyal Russian subjects/citizens during the war (170).

10 For a wide-ranging discussion of varieties of patriotism in the British context, see Monger, David, Patriotism and Propaganda in First World War Britain (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2012)Google Scholar. Monger examines identification with the broader British empire (especially the Dominions) alongside identification with other Allied powers (especially the United States and France) under the term supranational patriotism (92–93).

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12 Edward Ross Dickinson offers a useful overview of recent debates about “empire” in German historiography in The German Empire: An Empire?History Workshop Journal 66, no. 1 (2008): 129–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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18 Verhey, The Spirit of 1914.

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21 Kaczmarek, Ryszard, Polacy w armii Kazera (Warsaw: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2014), 50Google Scholar, citing Stergar, Rok, “Die Bevölkerung der slowenischen Länder und die Allgemeine Wehrpflicht,” in Glanz-Gewalt-Gehorsam. Militär und Gesellschaft in der Habsburgermonarchie (1800 bis 1918), ed. Cole, Laurence, Hämmerle, Christa, and Scheutz, Martin (Essen: Klartext, 2011), 144Google Scholar.

22 Watson, “Fighting for Another Fatherland,” 1156–57. Prewar policy is discussed on page 1143. It seems that the policy was never applied to troops from East Prussia (Masuria).

23 Of the 712,000 German soldiers in Allied captivity at the end of the war, only 4.9 percent were identified as Poles, somewhat lower than the presumptive percentage of Polish-speakers in the German army. Among German soldiers captured in the summer of 1918, the percentage was especially low (2.8 percent), suggesting to Watson a striking rise in compliance over the course of the war. A sample calculation from a single village in the Posen region, however, produced a percentage of prisoners of war roughly twice the average for the army as a whole. Figures from Watson, “Fighting for Another Fatherland,” 1160, 1164, and 1161 (respectively).

24 In addition to comments already noted about near universal compliance with mobilization in the summer of 1914, Watson notes that Otto von Hindenburg insisted on the “outstanding” performance of Polish-speaking troops on the eastern front: Watson, “Fighting for Another Fatherland,” 1147–48. Many reports by officers drew a sharp distinction between soldiers from Alsace-Lorraine and Polish-speaking soldiers, with the former deemed disloyal, the latter reliable: Watson, “Fighting for Another Fatherland,” 1154–55.

25 Mention of desertion in a letter to a Roman Catholic priest, for example, was interpreted by higher-ranking officers as indicative of general incitement to treason by the clergy: Watson, “Fighting for Another Fatherland,” 1148–49.

26 Jahr, Christoph, Gewöhnliche Soldaten. Desertion und Deserteure im deutschen und britischen Heer 1914–1918 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1998)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Jahr refers to treatment of Polish, Danish, and Alsatian soldiers as “very similar” to treatment of Jews (263). On the Jewish census, see Grady, Tim, The German-Jewish Soldiers of the First World War in History and Memory (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2011), 3335Google Scholar. On broader anxieties about Jews prevalent among German military authorities, see Crim, Brian E., “‘Our Most Serious Enemy’: The Specter of Judeo-Bolshevism in the German Military Community, 1914-1923,” Central European History 44, no. 4 (2011): 624–41CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

27 Ziemann concluded that “only soldiers from national minorities frequently did so [defected] together in larger groups or in quick succession.” Ziemann, Benjamin, Violence and the German Soldier in the Great War, trans. Evans, Andrew (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017), 94Google Scholar.

28 Ziemann, War Experience in Rural Germany 1914–1923, 102.

29 Watson, “Fighting for Another Fatherland,” 1139 (first quote), 1163 (second quote).

30 Paul Orlinski, “Brief an den ‘Oberschlesier,’ ” Der Oberschlesier, October 17, 1919.

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33 Ulrich, W marszu i w bitwie, 149.

34 Quoted in Kaczmarek, Polacy w armii Kazera, 218–19.

35 Kaczmarek notes that the hundredth anniversary of the 1813 campaigns against Napoleon seem to have resonated among Polish-speaking German subjects, contributing to greater identification with the German military and a “fascination with German power.” See Kaczmarek, Polacy w armii Kazera, 51–53.

36 By 1912, veterans’ groups enrolled 82,388 members in the district of Oppeln—one out of every five men of voting age. Michalkiewicz, Stanisław, ed., Historia Śląska, vol. 3, part 2 (Wrocław: Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich, 1984), 301Google Scholar. This was roughly the same rate of membership as in Prussia as a whole. See Rohkrämer, Thomas, Der Militarismus der “kleinen Leute”: Die Kriegervereine im Deutschen Kaiserreich, 1871–1914 (Munich: Oldenbourg, 1990), 271–73CrossRefGoogle Scholar. It is interesting and worth noting that there seem to have been a vastly greater number of Polish-speakers in German/Prussian veterans’ groups than in equivalent Austrian/Habsburg veterans’ groups. Shortly before the outbreak of the war, there were only 3,200 Polish-speaking veterans in the Österreichische Militär-Veteran Reichbsund (ÖMVR), only a small percent of the total membership. Cole, Military Culture and Popular Patriotism in Late Imperial Austria, 300.

37 Bjork, James, Neither German nor Pole: Catholicism and National Indifference in a Central European Borderland, (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2008), 95CrossRefGoogle Scholar. On the importance of veterans associations in cultivating a sense of German state patriotism, see Watson, Alexander, Enduring the Great War: Combat, Morale and Collapse in the German and British Armies, 1914–1918 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 46CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

38 Bjork, Neither German nor Pole, 137.

39 Watson, “Fighting for Another Fatherland,” 1145.

40 On language policy in the eastern borderlands, see Kulczycki, John J., School Strikes in Prussian Poland, 1901–1907 (Boulder, CO: East European Monographs, 1981)Google Scholar; Hagen, William W., Germans, Poles, and Jews: The Nationality Conflict in the Prussian East, 1770–1914 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980)Google Scholar; and Bjork, Neither German nor Pole, esp. 61–62.

41 Kaczmarek, Polacy w armii Kazera, 218.

42 Letter of February 14, 1915, in Józef Iwicki, Z myśla o Niepodleglej . . . Listy Polaka, żolnierza armii niemieckiej, z okopów i wojny światowej (1914–1918), ed. Adolf Juzwenko (Wrocław: Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich, 1978), 42–43.

43 Bożek, Pamiętniki, 54.

44 Iwicki, Z myśla o Niepodleglej, 42–43.

45 Małłek, Z Mazur do Verdun, 234.

46 Cited in Kaczmarek, Polacy w armii Kazera, 221–22.

47 Kaczmarek, Polacy w armii Kazera, 219.

48 On linguistic germanization in Upper Silesia, see Bjork, Neither German nor Pole, 89–98; for Masuria, see Kossert, Andreas, Preußen, Deutsche oder Polen? Die Masuren im Spannungsfeld des ethnischen Nationalismus 1870–1956 (Wiesbaden: Harassowitz, 2001), 5562Google Scholar.

49 Amit, Aviv, Regional Language Policies in France during World War II (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2014), quotes from 23CrossRefGoogle Scholar. On language policy in the run-up to the war, see also classic, Eugen Weber'sPeasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976)Google Scholar.

50 Kaczmarek, Polacy w armii Kazera, 300, citing an anecdote in the memoirs of Jan Mazurkiewicz about Polish-speaking soldiers in the Russian army coordinating their surrender with Polish-speaking counterparts on the German side.

51 An example of one such list can be found in Archiwum Państwowe w Opolu, Regierungsbezirk Oppeln, Sygnatura 116, Oberpräsident Schlesiens to Regierungspräsident Oppeln, April 3, 1913. See also Czapliński, Adam Napieralski, 1861–1928, 181.

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55 For a more extended analysis of the views and strategy of the conciliationists, see Bjork, James, “A Polish Mitteleuropa? Upper Silesia's Concilationists and the Prospect of German Victory,” Nationalities Papers 29, no. 3 (2001): 477–92CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

56 “Wojna,” Kurjer Poznański, August 4, 1914. See also “W przededniu katastrophy wojennej,” Kurjer Poznański, August 1, 1914.

57 “Piąta lista strat,” Kurjer Poznański, August 22, 1914.

58 “Powołanym pod broń,” Katolik, August 5, 1914.

59 “Czesc poległym,” Katolik, August 15, 1914.

60 “Zeichnet die vierte Kriegsanleihe!” advertisement in Kurjer Poznański, March 2, 1916.

61 “Zakupujcie trzecią pożyczkę wojenną,” Katolik, September 4, 1915.

62 “Piąta pożyczka wojenna Rzeszy,” Katolik, September 5, 1916.

63 Gazeta Grudziądzka, March 4, 1916. Full-page advertisement on page 4. News story, “Pożyczka wojenna i wynagrodzenia,” 3. Trying to evaluate the relative uptake of subscriptions to war loans across different regions and demographic groups would be a worthwhile research project if surviving sources are detailed enough to facilitate it. An older study by Konrad Roesler concluded that “all circles of the population” participated in war loans almost until the end of the war. Roesler, Konrad, Die Finanzpolitik des Deutschen Reiches im Ersten Weltkrieg (Berlin: Duncker and Humbolt, 1967), 166CrossRefGoogle Scholar, quoted in Gross, Stephen, “Confidence and Gold: German War Finance 1914-1918,” Central European History 42, no. 2 (2009): 244CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

64 “Polacy a wojna,” Kurjer Poznański, September 12, 1916.

65 On Erzberger's role in directing the Zentralstelle für Auslandsdienst, which coordinated propaganda abroad within the Foreign Office, see Richter, Ludwig, “Military and Civil Intelligence Services in Germany from World War I to the End of the Weimar Republic,” in Secret Intelligence in the Twentieth Century, ed. Bungert, Heike, Heitman, Jan G., and Wala, Michael (Southgate, England: Frank Cass, 2003), 45Google Scholar.

66 Czapliński, Adam Napieralski, 1861–1928, 181–87. On Kulerski's approach to conciliationism, see Krzemiński, Tomasz, Polityk dwóch epok: Wiktor Kulerski (1865–1935) (Torun: Towarzystwo Naukowe w Toruniu, 2008), 131–36Google Scholar.

67 Czapliński, Adam Napieralski, 1861–1928, 192–97.

68 Czapliński, Adam Napieralski, 1861–1928, 195.

69 From a memoir quoted by Szramek, Emil, “Ś. P. Adam Napieralski,” Roczniki Towarzystwa Przyjaciól Nauk na Sląsku 2 (1930): 327Google Scholar.

70 Czapliński, Adam Napieralski, 1861–1928, 195–97.

71 Roberta, and Blobaum, Donata, “A Different Kind of Home Front: War, Gender and Propaganda in Warsaw 1914–1918,” in World War I and Propaganda, ed. Paddock, Troy R. E. (Leiden: Brill, 2014), 247–70Google Scholar.

72 “Rezultaty,” Godzina Polski, December 31, 1915.

73 Grosfeld, Leon, Polityka państw centralnych wobec sprawy polskiej w latach pierwszej wojny światowej (Warsaw: Państwowe Wydanictwo Naukowe, 1962), 156–87Google Scholar.

74 “Wnioski,” Godzina Polski, January 12, 1916.

75 von Hagen, Mark, “The Entangled Eastern Front in the First World War,” in The Empire and Nationalism at War, ed. Lohr, Eric, Tolz, Vera, Semyonov, Alexander, and von Hagen, Mark (Bloomington, IN: University of Indiana Press, 2014), 26Google Scholar. See also Hagen's, vonWar in a European Borderland: Occupations and Occupation Plans in Galicia and Ukraine, 1914–1918 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2007)Google Scholar.

76 “Godzina Polski,” Gazeta Grudziądzka, January 13, 1916. Gazeta Grudziądzka reproduced the entire text of the article from Godzina Polski, along with its own, somewhat more sceptical editorial gloss.

77 “W rocznicę oswobodzenia Warszawy,” Katolik, August 8, 1916.

78 “Polska powstaje!” Katolik, November 7, 1916.

79 An excellent summary of the exploitative nature of the German occupation can be found in Watson, Alexander, Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary at War, 1914–1918 (London: Penguin, 2014), 407–14Google Scholar.

80 Marian Orzechowski, for example, uses the term państewka (statelet) to refer to German plans to create a Polish entity out of the territories of the Russian partition, “Działalność polityczna Wojciecha Korfantego w latach i wojny światowej,” 580.

81 Chu, Winson, Kauffman, Jesse, and Meng, Michael, “A Sonderweg through Eastern Europe? The Varieties of German Rule in Poland during the World Wars,” German History 31, no. 3 (2013): 318–44, quotes from 323 and 328CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

82 Bjork, “A Polish Mitteleuropa? Upper Silesia's Concilationists and the Prospect of German Victory,” 482–85.

83 Szramek, Emil, “Ks. Jan Kapica: Życiorys a zarazem fragment z Historji Górnego Śląska,” Roczniki Towarzystwa Przyjaciół Nauk na Śląsku 3 (1931): 54Google Scholar.

84 Blobaum and Blobaum, “A Different Kind of Home Front,” 263–64.

85 Borodziej, Włodzimierz and Górny, Maciej, Nasza Wojna I: Imperia, 1912–1916, (Warsaw: WAB, 2015), 280–81Google Scholar.

86 One article, for example, included extended quotations from Center politician Julius Bachem on the folly of trying to denationalize Prussia's Polish population. “With regard to nationality,” Bachem argued, “the heterogeneity of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy offers an edifying example.” “W sprawie porozumienia Polaków z Niemców,” Katolik, February 10, 1916.

87 “Wobec wolnej Polski,” Katolik, November 14, 1916.

88 “Z powodu uchwały o paragrafu językowym,” Katolik, September 2, 1915. “Parlament niemiecki uchwała zmianę prawa o stowarzyszeniach, mianowicie też zniesienie paragrafu, zakazującego używania mowy polskiej na publicznych zebraniach,” Gazeta Grudziądzka, September 2, 1915.

89 “Zmiana ustawa o stowarzyszeniach,” Katolik, June 3, 1916.

90 “Nauka religii w języku polskim,” Katolik, June 28, 1917.

91 “Fiasco” from Father Kapica's characterization of the policy in “Ks. Jan,” Schlesische Volkszeitung, 56–57.

92 Kaczmarek, Polacy w armii Kazera, 299–300.

93 Kaczmarek, Polacy w armii Kazera, 304–05. Sienkiewicz's death on November 15, 1916—eerily proximate to the establishment of the Kingdom of Poland—no doubt further spurred consciousness of and references to his work.

94 Kaczmarek, Polacy w armii Kazera, 301–02.

95 Kaczmarek, Polacy w armii Kazera, 299.

96 The published edition of Iwicki's letters helpfully includes a glossary of all of the (many) newspapers mentioned by the author in his correspondence. Iwicki, Z myśla o Niepodleglej, 301–03.

97 Letter from Iwicki to his mother, November 27, 1916, Kaczmarek, Polacy w armii Kazera, 168–69.

98 Kornatowski, Wiktor and Malczewski, Kazimierz, eds., Wspomnienia Opolan (Warsaw: PAX, 1960). 231Google Scholar.

99 Czapliński, Adam Napieralski, 1861–1928, 214–16. Korfanty had led an earlier revolt, in 1903, against Napieralski's moderate leadership of the Polish movement in Upper Silesia. Napieralski had been able to recover his dominant influence in the region in the years before the war, even purchasing the newspapers that Korfanty had used to promote his cause. For the details of this long-term rivalry, see Bjork, Neither German nor Pole, chapters 2 and 3.

100 Kaczmarek, Polacy w armii Kazera, 358–59; Eichenberg, Kämpfen für Frieden und Fürsorge, 64.

101 Cited in Mendel, Edward, Polacy na Górnym Śląsku w latach I wojny światowej: położenie i postawa (Katowice: Wydawnictwo Śląsk, 1971), 103Google Scholar.

102 Veterans of the imperial armies received benefits in the range of 50 to 75 percent of the earnings of civil servants, while Polish veterans received benefits in the range of 60 to 80 percent. Eichenberg, Kämpfen für Frieden und Fürsorge, 145–47; on the role of the Upper Silesian plebiscite in shaping policy on veterans’ benefits, see pages 138–39.

103 Jan Karkoszka, a native of Nowy Bytom and veteran of both the German army and the Polish uprisings, was a leader in both Polish veterans’ organizations and international veterans’ organizations. Eichenberg, Kämpfen für Frieden und Fürsorge, 121–22.

104 Wojciechowski, Jakub, Życiorys własny robotnika (Poznań: Wydawnictwo Poznańskie, 1930), anecdote on 300Google Scholar.

105 Wojciechowski, Życiorys własny robotnika, 358.

106 Wojciechowski, Życiorys własny robotnika, 388–89.

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