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August 3, 1914

Józef Piłsudski’s address to troops of the Riflemen’s Association and the Polish Rifle Squads

Historical context

The Republic of Poland lost its independence in the 18th century as a result of 3 partitions of its territory conducted by its neighbors —Russia, Prussia, and Austria —in 1772, 1792 (only Russia and Prussia), and 1795. The 3rd partition whiped Poland off the map. Throughout the 19th century Poles made numerous attempts to reinstate their homeland’s independence, fighting for it on Napoleon’s side, staging uprisings, and conducting diplomatic campaigns. None of those actions suceeded, however, as the three enemy empires solidarily combated the Polish pro-independence efforts. The situation did not change until the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, when 2 beligerent military blocs formed in Europe: the Triple Alliance (Italy, Austria-Hungary, and Germany) and the Triple Entente (Great Britain, France, and Russia). As Poland’s opressors found themselves on opposite sides, it is no wonder that they began seeking Poland’s support in the upcoming war. Poles enjoyed the most freedom in Galicia, Austria. In that region, which had been autonomous since the 1860s, Poles developed their culture and science and also held the highest political positions. Permitted to establish paramilitary organizations to conduct military training, Galician Poles eagerly used that opportunity, with the Rifleman and the Riflemen's Associations active in that sphere. Other organizations of that kind included Bartosz Squads (Drużyny Bartoszowe) and the Polish Rifle Squads (Polskie Drużyny Strzeleckie). As those formations could not, however, openly promote Polish independence, the pro-independence structures were formed in the underground, with the most important of them being the Union of Armed Combat (Związek Walki Czynnej) controlled by Józef Piłsudski.

 

When the war broke out Piłsudski ordered mobilization of the Rifleman, the Riflemen’s Associations, and the Polish Rifle Squads. He called that new joint organization the First Cadre Company (Pierwsza Kompania Kadrowa), assuming that it would become the cadre of the future Polish Army. Piłsudski became the commander of that 144-man-strong detachment. On 6 August 1914 the First Cadre Company crossed the Austrian-Russian border and entered the Polish territories appropriated by Russia in the 18th century. Piłsudski intended to spark off a general anti-Russian uprising. His plan failed though as the uprising did not break out and the Company was liquidated. In autumn Józef Piłsudski became the commander of Brigade I of the Polish Legions — another military formation organised within the Austro-Hungarian Army. The Legions fought against Russia until 1917, when they were reorganized. Piłsudski was imprisoned by the Germans. Released in November 1918, he became the Chief of State in reborn Poland.

Document text

Przemówienie Józefa Piłsudskiego do złączonych w kompanię kadrową oddziałów Związków i Drużyn Strzeleckich 3 sierpnia 1914 r. w  «Oleandrach» w Krakowie.
 
Odtąd nie ma ani Strzelców, ani Drużyniaków. Wszyscy, co tu jesteście zebrani, jesteście żołnierzami polskimi. Znoszę wszelkie odznaki specjalnych grup. Jedynym waszym znakiem jest odtąd orzeł biały. Dopóki jednak nowy znaczek nie zostanie wam rozdany, rozkazuję, abyście zamienili ze sobą wasze dawne oznaki, jako symbol zupełnej zgody i braterstwa, jakie muszą wśród żołnierzy polskich panować. Niech Strzelcy przypną do czapek blachy Drużyniaków, a oddadzą im swoje orzełki. Wkrótce może pójdziecie na pola bitew, gdzie, mam nadzieję, zniknie najlżejszy nawet cień różnicy między wami.

 

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 Żołnierze!... Spotkał was ten zaszczyt niezmierny, że pierwsi pójdziecie do Królestwa i przestąpicie granicę rosyjskiego zaboru, jako czołowa kolumna wojska polskiego, idącego walczyć za oswobodzenie ojczyzny. Wszyscy jesteście równi wobec ofiar, jakie ponieść macie. Wszyscy jesteście żołnierzami. Nie naznaczam szarż, każę tylko doświadczeńszym wśród was pełnić funkcje dowódców. Szarże uzyskacie w bitwach. Każdy z was może zostać oficerem, jak również każdy oficer może znów zejść do szeregowców, czego oby nie było... Patrzę na was, jako na kadry, z których rozwinąć się ma przyszła armia polska, i pozdrawiam was, jako pierwszą kadrową kompanię.
 
Pisma zbiorowe Józefa Piłsudskiego, t. IV,  Instytut Józefa Piłsudskiego, Warszawa 1937.
Józef Piłsudski's speech given to the detachments of the Riflemen’s Association and Rifle Squads merged into the First Cadre Company on 3 August 1914 in Oleandry in Cracow.
 
From now on there shall be no Associations or Squads. All of you gathered here are Polish soldiers.I invalidate all badges of these special groups. Your only emblem from now on shall be the white eagle. Until you receive your new badges, however, I order you to exchange your old ones among yourselves as a symbol of full concord and brotherhood, which should prevail among Polish soldiers. Let members of Riflemen’s Association pin onto their caps the badges worn by Rifle Squads mambers. Let the latter give their eagles to the former. You might go to battlefields in the near future, where, I hope, even the slightest differences between you shall vanish.
 

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Soldiers!... You have this great honor of being the first to enter the Kingdom and cross the border of the Russian partition as the avantgarde column of the Polish Army marching to fight for our homeland’s independence. All of you are equal towards the sacrifice you shall make. All of you are soldiers. I do not give ranks. I only order the more experienced ones to serve as commanders. You shall attain your ranks in battle. Any of you can become an officer. And any officer can be demoted to a private, which I hope will not happen… I look at you as the cadres from which the future Polish Army shall sprout, and I greet you as the First Cadre Company.

 

Translated © by Jerzy Giebułtowski

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