Presidential Palace marks Founding Father’s birthday

Marshal Józef Piłsudski was born on December 5, 1867. Photo: Wikimedia/ Centralne Archiwum Wojskowe

On Wednesday the Presidential Palace in Warsaw commemorated the birthday of Marshal Józef Piłsudski.

A large illumination brightened the facade of the Presidential Palace in Warsaw to celebrate the 151st birthday of Marshal Józef Piłsudski, the so-called ‘Father of Polish Independence’.

Józef Piłsudski was born on December 5, 1867 in today’s Lithuania. The territory, a former part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, had been under Russian occupation since 1795. Piłsudski was a worker’s activist and one of the leaders of the Polish Socialist Party (PPS).

Piłsudski’s life

At the outbreak of World War I, Piłsudski led a small military unit, the First Cadre Company, comprising Polish soldiers serving within the structures of the Austrian army. Soon afterward he officially established the Polish Legions, taking personal command of their First Brigade, which he would lead successfully into several victorious battles. For his effort towards Polish independence and refusing to swear an oath to the Austrian authorities, Piłsudski was arrested and spent the final months of the war in prison.

In November 1918, he was officially appointed as the Chief of State of the newly reborn Poland. He then led Poland against the military invasion of Russia in 1920 and strived to establish its Eastern borders.

Despite retiring from his duties in 1923, he returned to power in a coup d’etat in 1926, organised to restore order in a state falling into political chaos. During the coup, 215 soldiers and 164 civilians were killed. He then led the so-called ‘Sanation regime’, at times employing authoritarian methods and suppressing the opposition.

Piłsudski died of liver cancer in May 1935 at the Belweder Palace in Warsaw. In the aftermath, ceremonies, masses and a large-scale funeral were held in Poland.

Some of Piłsudski's political moves remain controversial, such as the May 1926 coup d'état, the suppression of opposition, the establishment of the Bereza Kartuska detention camp for his opponents, and the failure to formulate a coherent policy towards the country’s minorities.

In spite of that, Piłsudski continues to be viewed by most Poles as a crucial figure in the efforts required to restore independence after 123 years of occupation and then in providing the basis for the construction of a peaceful state.