Tuesday marks the 80th anniversary of the death of Ignacy Jan Paderewski, pianist and composer, activist for the reconstruction of independent Poland, Prime Minister and chairman of the National Council of the Republic of Poland, considered one of the fathers of Polish independence.
He was born on November 18, 1860 in Kuryłówka in the Russian partition, in the family of an administrator of land estates. The traditions of the struggle for independence were very vivid in the Paderewski family. The ancestors of the future Prime Minister fought in the uprisings of 1830 and 1863.
Even in his early childhood, Ignacy Jan showed great musical talent. In 1872, he began studies at the Music Institute in Warsaw, and later in Berlin and Vienna. In March 1888 he played a concert at the Salle Érard in Paris, which launched his international career as a pianist.
He became famous for the first time in Polish social life thanks to the foundation of the Grunwald Monument in Krakow unveiled on the 500th anniversary of the Polish victory over the Teutonic Knights.
At the outbreak of World War I, he fully engaged in patriotic activities. In April 1915 he went to the USA to collect funds for the functioning of the General Committee for Aid to Polish Victims of War, which he founded together with Henryk Sienkiewicz, Polish Nobel Prize winner.
Thanks to the support of Edward House, friend and close adviser to US President Thomas Woodrow Wilson, Paderewski met with the President on two occasions, who recognised the need to "rebuild the independence of the Polish State." The recruitment of Poles in the USA for the Polish Army created in France also began.
On August 28, 1917, Paderewski became a member of the Polish National Committee in Paris, recognised by the Allied states as the only official representation of reborn Poland.
In 1918, Paderewski came to Poznań, Western Poland. His visit caused a great patriotic demonstration, contributing to the outbreak of the Greater Poland Uprising.
On January 16, 1919, Paderewski was appointed by Józef Piłsudski as the President of the Council of Ministers and simultaneously the minister of foreign affairs and the Polish delegate to the Peace Conference in Paris.
Paderewski focused on foreign policy, especially on obtaining borders favourable to Poland during the Paris Peace Conference. His government also played a great role in organising Polish state administration in the area of the three partitions. On June 28, 1919, on behalf of Poland, he signed the Treaty of Versailles. Together with Roman Dmowski, he is considered the most important Polish politician who influenced its shape.
In the fall of 1919, Paderewski's government was subjected to increasing criticism. The disastrous economic situation and unresolved external conflicts fell short of what was expected by society a few months earlier. On December 9, 1919, he resigned as Prime Minister and temporarily withdrew from political life.
After the outbreak of WWII, he assumed the chairmanship of the National Council of the Republic of Poland established in France in December 1939, and the following year he left for the United States, seeking help for Poland again.
He died on June 29, 1941 in New York. He was buried at the Arlington Military Cemetery in Washington. In 1992, his ashes were brought to Poland and deposited in the Cathedral of St. John in Warsaw.
Ignacy Paderewski was decorated with, among other things, The Great Ribbon of the Order of the White Eagle, the Great Ribbon of the Order of Polonia Restituta and the posthumous Cross of the Order of Virtuti Militari.