JERZY GUTKOWSKI: Freemasons and the Polish independence
Jerzy Gutkowski Worshipful Master of Lodge nr 2 “Walerian Łukasiński” Past Grand Archivist of the National Grand Lodge of Poland It so happens that the important & positive events in the history of every nation have multiple mid- wives & even more fathers. The story of the fall of the Polish State at the end of the 18th century and of its rebirth in the year 1918 are the best illustration of this. As of yet no-one has claimed the responsbility for the partition & fall of the Polish Republic, though the arguments about the merits earned at her rebirth are continuing to this very day. Looking through history textbooks in search of the information on the Freemasons’ contributions to the Republic’s rebirth, one usually does so in vain for all mention of pro-Independence activists’ membership in the Craft is omitted & covered with the vail of shame. That’s why I humbly address You to say a few words of those Our Brethren who lie in moss-covered graves and whose merits were nearly forgotten once all the participants & witnesses of those events from a century ago, departed this world. The struggle for the independence of Poland from the three partitioning powers, lasted for the whole of the 19th century. The Uprisings of 1830-1831 and of 1863 were ruthlessly quenched & brought about severe punishment on those who were captured & forced emigration on those who eluded capture. France was the main destination for Polish migrants. The country was a hub for migrants from many countries and also a birthplace of Polish, Czech, Balkan & Serbian independence movements. Many of our migrant compatriots – both escapees & those who left the annexed lands legally – joined the French masonic lodges. The Poles initiated into the Parisian lodge “Les Renovateurs” established first “underground” lodges in the parts of Poland occupied by Russia. Nearly 90 years after the liquidation of the Polish Freemasonry by Tsar Alexander I, on June 10, 1909, the lights of the Wyzwolenie (Emancipation) lodge were lit. At the same time, the first underground lodges in Russia were revived, which alluded to the Decembrist tradition. Although the Russians were not admitted to the Warsaw Lodge, there were Poles in the lodges of St. Petersburg and Moscow who played a significant role there, especially during the First World War. The very names of the Warsaw lodges “Wyzwolenie” (Emancipation) and “Odrodzenie” (Rebirth) were indicative of their pro-independence spirit. This is confirmed by memoirs from that period, where we find information that the National Freemasonry of Walerian Łukasiński was supposed to be the model of the reborn freemasonry. The outbreak of the World War in 1914 led to a dramatic situation in the European Freemasonry. The Freemasons faced the dilemma of loyalty to their brethren or loyalty to their homeland. The Poles, incorporated into the army of the partitioning powers of Russia, Austria-Hungary and Prussia, found themselves in the trenches facing each other. To encourage the subjects to fight, these states made statements promising autonomy or even the reconstruction of Poland, of course under their scepter. For the societies and governments of the allied states, it was also not clear what role the rifle brigades of Józef Piłsudski, which, with the blessing of Austria, entered the boundaries of “allied” Russia in autumn 1914, did play. The Polish Masons, expecting support in the West for the idea of regaining independence, had to clarify this situation. In September 1914, two Freemasons, Artur Śliwicki and Stanisław Patek, went on a trip from Warsaw whch was still occupied by the Russians. They got through the front to Kielce to meet with the commandant Józef Piłsudski. After several days of deliberation, Śliwicki returned with Piłsudski’s orders to Warsaw, and Patek went on a journey further west. He described this journey in his memoirs published in 1938. Through Krakow, Vienna and Innsbruck he went to Switzerland, where he met with Dr. Antoni Natanson and together they went on to France. In Paris, they were joined by “good old friend of ours” George Bienaime, with whom they went to Bordeaux to meet with the leader of the French opposition Georges Clemenceau. This meeting has influenced the future decisions regarding the resurgent Poland. Clemenceau encouraged Patek in his efforts to gather support for his country’s independence and advised him not to contact the French authorities, who were loyal to Russia, but to go directly to London. French Freemasonry, both GLDF and GODF, declared their support for Polish independence aspirations from the end of the 19th century. An example of this is the activity of the committee for building the monument of Adam Mickiewicz, in the authorities of which were included distinguished Freemasons: Charles Richet, physiologist, (Nobel laureate from 1913), member of the Cosmos lodge, politicians Andre Lebey, Leon Bourgois and writer Gustave Hervé. The design of the monument was entrusted to the sculptor Antoine Bourdelle, a student of Auguste Rodin. One of the first sketches showed Trzy Polski (Three Polands – symbolizing Poland under the Threefold Partition) on the pedestal of the future monument . The manifesto issued by the committee clearly spoke about the need to revive the independent Poland. From that moment on, the French press published articles on the “Polish question”. Polish themes were also the subject of many lodge meetings. The French Freemason who was strongly involved in the efforts to promote Poland’s independence was the aforementioned Dr. George Bienaime, author of many brochures and articles devoted to the history of Poland. Few people know that in half a year before the famous 14 points of President Wilson, in June 1917, the congress of French jurisdictions and Freemasons of the Allied states presented the principles of the post-war order: 1. Return of Alsace and Lorraine to France; 2. Reconstruction of a Polish state united from three partitions; 3. Establishment of the independent Czech Republic; 4. Freedom and self-governance for the nations of the former Austrian Empire. The next stage of the journey of Patek and Dr. Antoni Natanson on behalf of Polish interests was London. At the initiative of Polish Freemasons, the Polish Information Committee, whose aim was to explain the Polish issues to British society was established there in 1914. At the head of the committee stood August Zaleski, in a free Poland Minister of Foreign Affairs in 11 cabinets. The Committee was financed by Polish Freemasons (among others: A. Lednicki and H. Gliwic). The envoys from Warsaw met first with an outstanding bacteriologist, a Freemason, Dr. Ludwik Rajchman, through whom they met with one of the secretaries from the Foreign Office. The next day they received a message that they could see Sir Edward Grey a member of the Apollo lodge [L. 357] in Oxford, the then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. At this meeting Patek laid out the purpose of his trip, and the interlocutor assured him that “England will not only support the independence of Poland but will strive for it.” Two events in the spring of 1917 increased the hopes of Poles of regaining their free homeland. The first was the February revolution in Russia and the fall of tsarism. The resulting Provisional Government dominated by the Constitutional Democratic Party unequivocally declared the creation of an independent Poland. At this point, one has to recall the figure of the eminent Freemason Aleksander Lednicki. Born in 1866 in his family estate near Minsk in a Polish landowning family, he studied at the Faculty of Law of the Moscow University, expelled for participation in demonstrations, completed his education in Jarosław. After returning to Moscow and marrying Maria Odlanicka – Poczobutt Kriwonosow he had a great career as a lawyer. Using his fortune he initiated or supported charitable, educational and political campaigns. In 1904, he founded the Progressive Democratic Party with Aleksander Świętochowski, and a year later, in his house, the founding congress of the Constitutional Democratic Party (so-called Cadets) took place, on behalf of which he was sent to the Duma in 1906. During the First World War he was the head of the Polish Aid Society for Victims of the War and Independence Association. After the February coup of 1917, the Provisional Government, consisting largely of Lednicki’s friends, and after consulting him, published a declaration on 30 March on granting full independence to the Polish State. Lednicki stood at the head of the Liquidation Commission for the Kingdom of Poland, whose aim was the disestablishment of the Russian administration and the return of property removed by the Russians from Polish lands. An important moment of pro-independence activities in Russia was the establishment in the spring of 1917 of the Polish Democratic Committee, at the helm of which stood several significant Freemasons: the chairman was A. Lednicki’s close associate Aleksander Więckowski, head of the representation department for contacts with the Russians and national minorities was General Aleksander Babiański, head of the press department – Hipolit Gliwic. Let us recall here one more important figure – Józef Ziabicki, an industrialist, founder of an outpost in neutral Stockholm which serve as a meeting point for representatives of various Polish independence organizations. When Elihu Root, the head of the American mission of goodwill, arrived in Republican Russia in April 1917, Aleksander Lednicki presented him with a memorandum containing expectations for the future of Poland. As it seems, this memorandum on the one hand, and the actions of Ignacy Paderewski on the other, influenced the clear and unambiguous declaration of President Wilson on the need to rebuild Poland with access to the sea. The Bolshevik Revolution changed the political situation and accelerated the departure of most Polish patriotic activists from Russia. The hope of regaining independence was becoming more and more real. The USA’s accession to the war on the part of the Entente and the overthrow of tsardom in Russia seemed to realize the dreams of several generations of Poles. The question of the geographic and political shape of the future Poland was asked. Many politicians and organizations began to fight for the monopoly of the national representation, especially for the countries winning in the war. Conservative politicians did not accept that Lithuanians, Belorussians and Ukrainians are also aspiring for independence, that peasants expect agricultural reform and that workers want decent working conditions. Poland was not yet recreated but the internal conflict was already smoldering. From the perspective of 100 years, it is evident how important it was to promote Masonic values and to bring to life the calls for liberty, equality and fraternity by respecting other nations with their aspirations, religions and culture. Finally came the longed-for day of November 11, 1918. The day of the end of the war and at the same time the symbolic day of the rebirth of Poland. Peace negotiations in Paris have begun to establish a new European order and to guarantee peace. The Polish delegation sent to Paris was politically diverse. It was headed by Roman Dmowski, a politician with nationalistic views, reluctant to Freemasonry and giving expression to it. This attitude met with a clear reserve from the French friends of the Polish cause. Unfortunately, discussions about anti-Semitism in Poland began in the press. Stanisław Patek in his memoirs writes quite enigmatically about his participation in a public discussion organized on the Masonic forum on this subject. On March 13, 1919, a joint meeting of four Parisian Lodges took place, at which Dr. Seweryn Kutner (a member of the Geneva lodge Fraternite) presented a lecture on the subject of “The Jewish Question in Poland”. Present at the meeting Patek, presented as a Worshipful Master of one of the Warsaw Lodges , made historical remarks on the presence of the Jewish minority in Poland and eased the sharp discussion, which, as he writes in his memoirs, gave political effects. The Paris Lodges Fraternite des Peuples, Avant Garde Maconique, Cosmos and Les Renovateurs were the platform for meetings and exchanges of views. Stanisław Patek delivered papers on the expectations of Poland at the lodge meetings as well as at open (white) meetings. For example, let us mention a solemn meeting of March 29, 1919, of the Fraternite des Peuples lodge where presented as the Worshipful Master of the “Odrodzenie” (“Rebirth”) lodge, and a lawyer from Warsaw, he delivered a lecture entitled “Reparations for Poland and the Peace Conference”. The aforementioned journey of the Warsaw Freemasons to Paris and London in the autumn of 1914 borne fruit at the peace negotiations in Versailles in 1919. Patek went there first in the group of political activists (mainly Freemasons) sent by the head of State Józef Piłsudski next to the state delegation with Prime Minister Ignacy Paderewski. Soon, he was officially nominated as a member of the delegation and often replaced ailing Dmowski as a leader. The acquaintance with G. Clemenceau has been renewed. It was as a result of talks between Patek and Clemenceau that the question of Western Galicia which was considered closed with a result negative for Poland was reopened and the polish Republic had been granted that territory. As he wrote in his memoirs, “Paderewski and Dmowski signed the treaty of Versailles on behalf of Poland, and I signed its ratification” (he was the minister of foreign affairs in Skulski’s government). In the reborn Republic of Poland, the Freemasons played important roles in administration, the judiciary, diplomacy, and education. On December the 6th 1922, our brother from the “Wolność Przywrócona” (“Liberty Restored”) lodge, Gabriel Narutowicz was elected as the first president of the Republic of Poland. He was assassinated only a week later at the steps of the Zachęta National Gallery. The political right could not suffer a man faithful to the values of the Freemasonry as a Head of State. Dear Brethren, as you can see, the subject is extensive. One should also say about the participation of Freemasons in the emergence of the authorities of the new state and their participation in the defensive war of 1920, about the birth of the Grand National Lodge, but these are topics for other lectures. Thank you for your attention.