Jósef Klemens Pilsudski

Robert Pearce introduces the man who has been called ‘the George Washington of Poland’.

Poland’s great national hero, Jósef Pilsudski, was born in the right place at the right time.

The place of his birth was Zulowa, north of Vilna (‘Wilmo’ in Polish, now Vilnius in Lithuania), in Russian Poland. Poland had been partitioned in 1792-95 between Prussia, Austria and Russia, but notions of Polish nationality had been kept alive, first by Napoleon Bonaparte’s (unfulfilled) promises of future independence and then by romantic memories of Polish exploits in his Grande Armée on battlefields all over Europe. Over the next decades, however, the Polish minorities in Austria-Hungary seemed too backward and in Germany too wealthy and culturally too German to spearhead Polish reunification. If there was hope for a reconstituted Polish homeland, it lay with the Russian Poles. 

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