The end of WWI on November 11, 1918, is recognised as the day when Poland regained its independence, the world learnt that Poles had thrown off the occupiers’ yoke on November 16, when the Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Army Józef Piłsudski dispatched a letter to the states of the world.
The Polish Republic disappeared from the map of Europe in 1795 as a result of its territory being annexed by its three neighbours: Russia, Prussia and Austria. Many generations of Poles had tried to resurrect the state since then, but the situation only changed during WWI, when the partitioners found themselves in opposing military camps.
From the first days of the war, Poles started forming military groups aimed at regaining their country’s independence. Józef Piłsudski was especially active in building the Polish military force. The activities were also buttressed by a diplomatic campaign that resulted in the statement of principles for peace outlined by President Thomas Woodrow Wilson in January 1918. One of the Fourteen Points announced the erection of an independent Polish State.
On 11 November 1918, an armistice was signed on the Western Front, which virtually ended the war. Józef Piłsudski returned to Warsaw from a German prison a day earlier. Thanks to his unquestionable authority, most of the Polish pro-independence centres submitted to his will. Piłsudski took command of the emerging Polish Army on November 11 – the day that went down in history as the day Poland regained independence.
On 16 November Józef Piłsudski notified the states of the world, both those which fought in WWI as well as the neutral states, about the creation of the independent Polish State. The note was dispatched in the nick of time as preparations for the peace conference ending the war were already underway. The presence of Polish State representatives at the conference was indispensable to ensure that the borders of the reborn state would be drawn in a way that benefited Poland.
To the President of the United States,
Her Majesty’s Government,
The Government of the French Republic,
The Government of the Kingdom of Italy,
The Government of the Empire of Japan,
The Government of the German Republic
and Governments of all belligerent and neutral States
As the Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Army, I hereby notify belligerent and neutral governments and nations of the existence of an Independent Polish State within all the territories of the united Poland. The political situation in Poland and the yoke of the occupation have so far made it impossible for the Polish nation to speak freely about their fate. Thanks to the changes caused by the great victories of the allied armies, the restoration of Poland’s independence and sovereignty has now become a fact.
The Polish State is formed upon the will of the whole nation and based on democratic foundations. The Polish Government will replace the rule of violence that hung over the country for a hundred and forty years with a system built on order and justice. Relying on the Polish Army under my command, I believe that no foreign army will from now on enter Poland before we express our formal stance on the case. I am convinced that the powerful Western democracies will offer help and brotherly support to the reborn and independent Republic of Poland.
In the name of the Minister of External Affairs Filipowicz
Warsaw, 16 November 1918