The history of Przemyśl - part II.


The outbreak of World War I converted the town into one of the focal points of the conflict, Przemyśl having found itself in the critical area of the combat between the Austrians and Russians. Przemyśl was a fortress, which was besieged three times during World War I and was surrendered only once, in 1915, because of the scarcity of food supplies. The object of the fortress was that of controlling the most accessible passages along the Carpathian passes and other roads leading towards central Hungary. It was in Przemyśl that the Austrian Army General Headquarters was stationed in August 1914. Following the efforts by Władysław Sikorski (later army general and Prime Minister), on 19th August 1914 a decision was taken in Przemyśl to establish Polish Legions: the Eastern Legion in Lwów and the Western Legion in Cracow. The allegiance crisis that the Legions went through in 1916 and their dissolution in Przemyśl at the turn of August and September 1917 put an end to this stage of the armed struggle for independence. As a result, the 1st and 3rd Brigades were dismissed while the Legion Headquarters together with the 2nd Brigade were transformed into the Polski Korpus Posiłkowy (Polish Auxiliary Corps). That triggered off the trend towards forming conspiracy organisations, such as Polska Organizacja Wojskowa “Wolność” (Polish Military Organisation “Freedom”), Związek Gimnazjalny Młodzieży Niepodległościowej (Association of Secondary-School Independence Youth) and Polskie Kadry Wojskowe (Polish Military Personnel). Foreign rule in the town was overthrown on 1st November 1918 and replaced with a local government consisting of the representatives of the Polish, Ukrainian and Jewish populations. On the same day, Polish Regency Council appointed General Stanisław Puchalski, who was staying in Przemyśl at that time, Chief Commander of the Polish Army in Galicia and Silesia, while Colonel Władysław Sikorski became his Chief of Staff. On the night from 3 to 4 November 1918 Ukrainians broke the agreement they had signed before, staged a coup d’etat, captured the part of the town east of the San river, disarmed Polish units and arrested General Puchalski.

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Polish defenders of Przemyśl in 1918 in front of the railway bridge in the Zasanie quarter -  photograph owned by the Instytut Kresów Wschodnich w Przemyślu.

Thanks to the heroic attitude of the young people who managed to fight back the overwhelming force of the enemy, the other side of the town remained in Polish hands. Colonel Sikorski, who was staying in the town centre at that time, successfully avoided being arrested and, dressed up as a railwayman, crossed the river and reached the Zasanie quarter. Here, he appointed Lieutenant Kozubski commandant of Przemyśl and left for Cracow to organise a relief for the town. Since neither of the forces in Przemyśl was capable of defeating the other, everyone was expecting help from outside. This relief came from Cracow on 10 November. Dubbed “Grupa San”, the unit was commanded by Major Julian Stachiewicz and its members included: Lieutenant Władysław Bortnowski, Captain Edmund Knoll Kownacki and Platoon leader Henryk Dobrzański (later known as Major “Hubal”). On 11 November Major Stachiewicz sent an ultimatum to the Ukrainians demanding that they should leave the town. As the ultimatum was left unanswered, on 11th and 12th November the reborn Polish Army fought its first victorious battle here. On 13th November 1918 Colonel Sikorski arrived here in the aeroplane flown by Lieutenant Bogusz, in order to organise a relief for Lwów, which was being besieged. Near Przemyśl, the aircraft got into artillery fire and had to land in flames on the fields near Jarosław. This seems to have been the first aeroplane crash that put the life of the future Prime Minister in danger. On that day, the conqueror of the town, Major Stachiewicz was sent back to Cracow and was replaced by Lieutenant Colonel Michał Karaszewicz-Tokarzewski, at whose command a relief for then being besieged Lwów set off on 18th November. In this way Lwów and the eastern Little Poland again found themselves within the borders of Poland. On 19th November Przemyśl became the headquarters of the Eastern Army Group commanded by General Bolesław Roja. The defence and assault on Przemyśl were successful partly due to the commitment of the young people. The war went on and combat continued in the foreground of Przemyśl. On 13th December 1918 a counter-attack was carried out against the Ukrainian troops at Niżankowice; the Polish troops included units consisting of secondary-school students. One of these units, the 10th Infantry Regiment, suffered heavy losses: 12 students from Przemyśl were killed in battle. To commemorate the death of the young people who were killed in defence of Przemyśl, Lwów and other parts of the country, the local community founded a monument to the Eaglets of Przemyśl , which was unveiled in Plac Konstytucji in 1938. The inscription on the monument read: “To the Eaglets of Przemyśl, killed in the struggle for the Homeland in the years 1918-1921”.

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On the left: Przemyśl, Plac Konstytucji: Founded and erected by the local community, the monument to the Eaglets of Przemyśl, destroyed by Ukrainian nationalists in the summer of 1940 - photograph from a private collection.

On the right: reconstructed in 1994 and moved to a different place, the monument to the Eaglets of Przemyśl - photograph P.J.

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“Star of Przemyśl”: badge registered with the General Headquarters of the Polish Army and with the Ministry of Defence, conferred for the participation in the fights for Przemyśl from 1st November 1918 to 16th May 1919 - photograph from J. Odziemkowski “Leksykon bitew polskich 1914-1921”.

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Certificate for the “Star of Przemyśl” badge, made out to Platoon Leader Leon Grabowski - photograph from J. Odziemkowski “Leksykon Bitew polskich 1914-1921”

The population of Przemyśl of the 1920’s and 1930’s was quite heterogeneous, as it was composed of the representatives of various races, nationalities and religious denominations. According to the records of the Bureau of Population Studies, the town occupied the area of 16,5 km² and its population amounted to 62 272, these including:

39 430 Roman Catholics (63,3%)

18 376 Jews (29,5%)

4 391 Greek Catholics (7,0%)

85 representatives of other denominations (0,2%).

At that time Przemyśl was the seat of military, administrative and church authorities. The town lodged the headquarters of the 10th Corps of Polish Army, which controlled the area of 37 983 km² , i.e. 9,6% of the country’s territory with a population of 3 401 thousand.

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View of ulica Kazimierza Wielkiego and ulica Ratuszowa in the late 1930’s - photograph from M. Dalecki: “Przemyśl w latach 1918-1939".

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View of the road bridge across the San river in Przemyśl in 1932 - photograph from  M. Dalecki: “Przemyśl w latach 1918-1939”.




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