Piłsudski, Jozef

Piłsudski, Jozef
   Polish nationalist, soldier, and political leader, Jozef Piłsudski was born into a Polish szlachta (lower nobility) family that had been actively involved in the 1863 Polish Rebellion. His education took place during the height of the Russification efforts. His teachers’ “system was to crush as much as possible the independence and personal dignity of their pupils,” he later said of his schooling. In 1887, he was arrested by the Russian police and exiled to Siberia for five years on a charge, almost certainly false, of participating in an assassination attempt on the tsar. He was again arrested in 1900, but escaped after feigning mental illness and went into exile in Austria. In 1905, during the Russo-Japanese War, he went to Japan where he unsuccessfully tried to convince the Japanese to raise an anti-Russian army from the Polish conscripts it had captured.
   Back in Austrian Poland after the war, he founded a military organization called Bojawa, or “Fighting Organization.” Piłsudski rejected traditional terrorist activities, such as assassination of imperial officials, which he felt were not only ineffective but led to reprisals against civilians. Instead, his organization confined itself to rescuing Polish nationals condemned to death and to robbing banks and mail trains. By 1910, Piłsudski had also organized a “Riflemen’s Association,” which was tolerated by the Austrians as training for reservists. When World War I broke out, this force became the Polish Legion and fought as part of the Austrian army. In the last years of the war, Piłsudski was arrested by the Germans; in the chaos of the last days of the war, he was released and sent to Warsaw, the Polish capital. There he was named commander-in-chief of the newly forming nation. From that point, he essentially led Poland, although usually unofficially, without a formal position, until his death in 1935.
   See also <>; <>.
    Jedrzejewicz, Wacław. Piłsudski, A Life for Poland. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1882;
    Pilsudska, Alexandra. Piłsudski: A Biography. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1941.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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