|GENERAL WLADYSLAW EUGENIUSZ SIKORSKI
Gdy Sloneczko wyzej.
When the sun is higher, Sikorski is nearer.
These words exemplify the collective aspirations and dreams of the Polish people, in
the man who championed the cause of Polish independence. Wladyslaw Eugenius
Sikorski is remembered as one of the most respected and most successful Polish
Prime Ministers in exile. His struggle for Poland's independence began in 1907 when
Poland was still partitioned by the three great powers; Russia, Germany (Prussia),
and Austria. Sikorski joined the underground Polish Socialist Party, and organized
the "Combat Association ", one of many secret resistance movements aimed at
launching an uprising against the Russian Empire.
When World War II broke out Sikorski became Chief of the Military Department in the Polish Committee. Later, as
as Commissioner of the Polish Legions in Krakow ( an army created by Jozef Pilsudski ), he officiated over
recruitment. Pilsudski and Sikorski were eventually interned at Magdeburg, by the Austro-Hungarian army
for their refusal to swear an oath of allegiance to the Austro-Hungarian emperor. Sikorski served with distinction
in World War I, and in the new Polish army during the Polish-Soviet War (1919-1921), particularly in the Battle
In the Second Polish Republic, Sikorski held the position of Prime Minister (1922-1923), and Minister of Military
Affairs (1923-1924). He was popular among the Polish people for the reforms he instituted, and for improving
Poland's foreign policy initiatives. Sikorski was a democrat, and a staunch supporter of the Sejm (Parliament).
During Pilsudski's coup d'etat in May 1926, Sikorski remained neutral but soon joined the ranks of those who
were opposed to Pilsudski's harsh regime. In 1928, Pilsudski dismissed Sikorski from public service. Since then,
and in the years leading up to World War II, Sikorski resided in Paris, and spent much of his time writing on the
subject of the future of warfare. In his most prominent work, entitled " War in the Future: Its possibilities and
charachter and associated questions of national defence ", Sikorski was the first to introduce the concept of the
Blitzkreig theory. In 1938, as the political situation in Europe was rapidly deteriorating, Sikorski returned to Poland
to serve his country.
When Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, Sikorski escaped to France, travelling through Rumania
and joined President Raczkiewicz, and Stanislaw Mikolajczyk in Paris, to form the Polish government-in-exile. Tens
of thousands of Polish armed forces, and navy, also escaped to France. Many soldiers went by ship, train, or car
and some even made the perilous journey on foot, or skied across the Carpathian mountains. They were not
refugees, but combattants with one goal in mind - to remobilize and fight for Poland's freedom. The Polish armed
forces regrouped in France and French-mandated Syria. More troops were arriving every day having escaped from
occupied Romania. At that time Poland was the third most powerful ally, showing a military strength of more than
80,000 troops in France alone.
When Marshall Henri Petain capitulated, the armistice he signed stipulated that France was to prevent the
evacuation of Polish troops. The French Commander-in-Chief General Maxine Weygard ordered to Poles to lay
down their weapons. Prime Minister Sikorski refused to capitulate. Within days, he had flown to England and met
with Prime Minister Churchill. On August 5, 1940, they signed a Military Agreement, by which Britain pledged to help
Poland evacuate its' forces from France, and consolidate their armies under the command of the British Eighth Army.
Churchill assured Sikorski, "Tell your army in France that we are their comrades in life and in death. We shall
conquer together or we shall die together.” On Sikorski's command, the Polish military started heading for ports in
southern France, and waited for British and Polish ships to arrive. Polish pilots headed for the airfields but French
authorities had guards posted on the tarmac forbidding the Poles to board the planes. About 75% of the Polish Air
Force was able to make it to England. Of the ground troops, approximately 20,000 troops were able to escape. The
remainder, who had fought for France before she capitulated, were captured by the Nazis, and interned in
concentration camps. England, already home to the exiled governments of five Nazi-occupied countries, now
welcomed a sixth - Poland.
When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, it changed the balance of power. The Soviets were
suddenly transformed from the enemy, to that of ally of the West. At the urgings of the British government, Sikorski
began negotiations with Ivan Maisky to re-open diplomatic relations between Poland and Russia, and signed the
Sikorski-Maisky agreement. (Russia subsequently nullified the Ribbentrop-Molotov agreement) made with Germany
in August 1939.) According to the Polish-Soviet agreement, Stalin promised to release tens of thousands of Polish
prisoners from Soviet camps. Of the 1.5 million Poles that were deported to the gulag by the Soviets in 1939, only
about 100,000 were released. These men were to become the II Polish Corps, under the command of General
Wladyslaw Anders. Despite Stalin' s agreement to release the Polish prisoners, he ordered his NKVD agents to
prevent as many Polish refugees as possible from reaching the army checkpoints.
Many Poles were ordered off transports in the middle of nowhere, and left stranded as their transports left without
them. Thousands of Poles died in the bitter sub-zero temperatures. Thousands more walked the distance and died
from starvation and exhaustion. Having reached the sanctuary of the army checkpoint the refugees faced more
difficulties under the Soviets. Stalin agreed only to provide enough food rations for about 26,000 refugees - there
were over 100,000 military and civilians. The situation was critical and promised to get worse. General Anders
negotiated for an immediate evacuation of troops from Russian soil, and from there they recouped in the Middle East,
to recover and commence training.
It was apparent to General Anders that over 15,000 Polish officers had not reported for duty, and their whereabouts
were unaccounted for. In the spring of 1943, the German army discovered mass graves in the forests of Katyn where
the bodies of the Polish soldiers were buried. The Germans accused the Russians of having committed the atrocity,
but the Russians denied any responsibility. Sikorski did not tolerate these denials, and on April 16 called for an
investigation by the International Red Cross. On April 26, the Soviets broke off diplomatic relations with Poland,
accusing the Sikorski government of having colluded with the Germans. It was clear that Stalin had his sights on
Poland. In the words of Ambassador Maisky to Churchill, Poland was "a country of 20 millions next door to a country
with 200 millions." It was enough to intimidate Churchill, and he did all he could to apply pressure on Sikorski to give
in to Stalins' demands. Sikorski never gave in, asserting that it was not his mandate to cede any part of Poland's
territory without the consent of the Polish people.
On July 4, 1943, at Gibraltor, Sikorski's plane crashed into the sea seconds after take-off. He was killed together with
his daughter, and several members of the military staff. The sole survivor was the pilot, Eduard Prchal, who Sikorski
had personally selected. Prchal was known for never wearing a life preserver. But this time he did.
A British Court of inquiry investigated the crash of Sikorski's plane and concluded that it was only an accident. But
theories had began to circulate that the crash was caused by sabotage by the Soviets and, or the British. Sikorski's
briefcase was salvaged from the wreckage but was never restored to Polish authorities. Strangely, six weeks before
the crash, an anonymous telephone call was made to the Polish government-in-exile in London, informing them that
Sikorski had died in a plane crash. On two previous occasions, Sikorski's plane had to make an emergency landing
due to mechanical trouble - one in Montreal on November 30,1942. Sabotage was also suspected. With Sikorski out
of the way, the Allies were able to proceed at improving relations with Stalin without further ado. Sikorski's successor,
Stanislaw Mikolajczyk did not have the authority nor influence to challenge Stalin's claims on Poland's eastern
territory. (See Curzon Line)
Stalin called Mikolajczyk's government, an "illegal and self-styled authority" and Churchill lambasted Mikolajczyk in an
effort to force his cooperation. In a final coup de grace, Stalin introduced the Committee of National Liberation in
Poland and promptly recognized it as the only legitimate authority in Poland. Britain, the US and the entire Westen
world obediently followed suit, and recognized the puppet government, revoking recognition of the legitimate Polish
government-in-exile in London. There was nothing left for Mikolajczyk to do but resign.
Postscript: Lech Walesa became the President of Poland in December 1990. After 45 years of Soviet
oppression, Poland was finally free. Walesa officially recognized the legitimacy of the Polish
government-in-exile during World War II, and re-stablished the continuity of the Republic of Poland.
In 2003, the Sejm commemorated the 60th Anniversary of Sikorski's death by declaring 2003 as the
Year of Sikorski.
|P O L I S H
G R E A T N E S S