Lucjan Żeligowski

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Lucjan Żeligowski
General, Nominee, WWI participant
Warszawa, Powązki Military Cemetery

Lucjan Żeligowski (1865–1947), was a Polish general, politician, military commander and veteran of World War I, the Polish-Soviet War and World War II. He is mostly remembered for his role in Żeligowski's Mutiny and as head of a short-lived Republic of Central Lithuania.

Lucjan Żeligowski was born October 17, 1865, in Oszmiana, in the Russian Empire (modern Ashmiany in Belarus) to Polish parents Gustaw Żeligowski and Władysława Żeligowska née Traczewska. Before the Partitions of Poland in the late 18th century the town was part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. After graduating from military officers' school in Riga during 1885, Żeligowski joined the Russian Army, where he served at various staff and command posts. Married to Tatiana Pietrowna, he had two children.

He fought in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. During the First World War he served as a lieutenant colonel and commanding officer of a Russian rifle regiment.

Fighting against the Bolsheviks

After the February Revolution of 1917, Żeligowski became one of the organizers of the Polish Army in Russia. Initially commander of an infantry regiment in the ranks of the Polish 1st Corps, he was quickly promoted and given command over a brigade. In 1918 he started the creation of a Polish unit in the area of Kuban, which eventually became the 4th Polish Rifle Division. As part of the Polish Army, his unit fought alongside the Denikin's Whites in the Russian Civil War. In October of the same year he became the Commander in Chief of all the Polish units fighting in Russia.

After the outbreak of the Polish-Bolshevik War and the defeat of Denikin, Żeligowski's unit was ordered to retreat to Romanian Bessarabia, where it took part in defence of the border against Bolshevik raids. Finally, in April 1919, the division was withdrawn to Poland, where it was incorporated into the Polish Army and renamed to Polish 10th Infantry Division.

During the war against the Bolshevist Russia, Żeligowski, a personal friend of Polish C-i-C Józef Piłsudski, was quickly promoted to general and given the command over an operational group of his name, composed of his 10th division and additional units, mostly of partisan origin. As such, he soon became the commanding officer of the entire Lithuanian-Belarusian Front, operating in the area of Polesie and the Pinsk Marshes. During the Battle of Warsaw his unit was attached to the 3rd Polish Army and took part in the pursuit of fleeing Red forces and the Battle of the Niemen.

Republic of Central Lithuania

In October 1920, Żeligowski, a native of historical lands of Lithuania, was chosen to command the 1st Lithuanian-Belarusian Infantry Division, composed mainly of P.O.W. members, volunteers and partisans from the territory of modern Belarus and Lithuania. On October 8, 1920, after a staged coup, he defected with his unit and took control over the city of Wilno (modern Vilnius, Lithuania) and its area. The coup, named after him, would be remembered as the defining moments of his life. On October 12 he proclaimed independence of the said area as Republic of Central Lithuania, with Wilno as its capital. Initially a de facto military dictator, after the parliamentary elections he passed his powers to the newly elected parliament, which in turn decided to submit the area to Poland.

Later life

After the annexation of Central Lithuania to Poland, Żeligowski continued his service in the Polish Army. Promoted to three-star general in 1923, he served as an army inspector, or a commander of a military district of Warsaw. In 1925 he also became the Polish Minister of Military Affairs. Ousted by Piłsudski's coup d'état (the May Coup), he was soon returned to the post. He retired the following year and settled in his family manor in Andrzejewo near Wilno.

In 1930 he published a book containing his memoirs of the Polish-Bolshevik War named War of 1920: Memories and thoughts (Wojna w roku 1920. Wspomnienia i rozważania). He also wrote numerous articles on the conflicts of early 20th century for a variety of Polish newspapers. In 1935 he was elected a member of parliament and remained in the Sejm until 1939.

World War II

During the Invasion of Poland in 1939, Żeligowski volunteered for the Polish Army, but was not accepted due to his old age (he was 74 at that time) and poor health. Nevertheless, he served as an advisor to the command of the Polish southern front. After the Polish defeat, he evaded being captured by the Germans and the Soviets and managed to reach France, where he joined the Polish Government in Exile. An active member of the Polish National Council, an advisory body, he escaped to London after the French defeat in 1940.

After the end of Second World War he declared he would return to Poland, but he suddenly died on July 9, 1947, in London. His body was returned to Poland, and Żeligowski was buried in the Powązki Military Cemetery in Warsaw. He is an honorary citizen of Warsaw.

Honours and awards

  • Commander's Cross of the Virtuti Militari, also awarded the Silver Cross
  • Grand Cross of the Polonia Restituta
  • Cross of Independence with Swords (25 February 1932)
  • Cross of Valour - four times
  • Merit Forces Central Lithuania
  • Commemorative Medal for War 1918-1921
  • Decade's Regained Independence Medal
  • Order of St. George IV class (Russian Empire)
  • Order of St. Vladimir with Swords class IV (Russian Empire)
  • Order of St. Anna, class II and III (Russian Empire)
  • Order of St. Stanislaus, II class (Russian Empire)
  • Commander's Cross of the Legion of Honour (France)
  • Croix de guerre (France)
  • Golden Laurel of the Polish Academy of Literature

Published works

  • Lucjan Żeligowski, Wojna w roku 1920: Wspomnienia I Rozwazania, Warszawa: Wydawn. Ministerstwa * Obrony Narodowej, 1990.
  • Lucjan Żeligowski,O ideę słowiańską. London: F. Mildner & Sons, 1941.
  • Lucjan Żeligowski, Zapomniane prawdy. London: F. Mildner & Sons, 1941.



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        Relation nameRelation typeBirth DateDeath dateDescription

        06.10.1920 | Żeligowski's Mutiny

        Żeligowski's Mutiny (Polish: bunt Żeligowskiego also żeligiada, Lithuanian: Želigovskio maištas) was a Polish military operation led by General Lucjan Żeligowski in October 1920, which resulted in the creation of the Republic of Central Lithuania. Polish Chief of State Józef Piłsudski had surreptitiously ordered Żeligowski to carry out the operation, and revealed the truth several years later. This operation paved the way for the Polish annexation of Vilnius, and the Vilnius Region, two years later.

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        07.10.1920 | Suwałki Agreement

        The Suwałki Agreement, Treaty of Suvalkai, or Suwalki Treaty (Polish: Umowa suwalska, Lithuanian: Suvalkų sutartis) was an agreement signed in the town of Suwałki between Poland and Lithuania on October 7, 1920. It was registered in the League of Nations Treaty Series on January 19, 1922. Both countries had re-established their independence in the aftermath of World War I and did not have well-defined borders. They waged the Polish–Lithuanian War over territorial disputes in the Suwałki and Vilnius Regions. At the end of September 1920, Polish forces defeated the Soviets at the Battle of the Niemen River, thus militarily securing the Suwałki Region and opening the possibility of an assault on the city of Vilnius (Wilno). Polish Chief of State, Józef Piłsudski, had planned to take over the city since mid-September in a false flag operation known as Żeligowski's Mutiny.

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        20.11.1925 | Utworzono rząd Aleksandra Skrzyńskiego

        Rząd Aleksandra Skrzyńskiego – rząd koalicyjny utworzony przez Aleksandra Skrzyńskiego 20 listopada 1925 roku. W skład rządu weszli politycy z ZLN, ChD, NPR, PSL "Piast" i PPS. Rząd działał do 5 maja 1926 roku. Upadł w rezultacie wycofania się (20 kwietnia 1926) z koalicji PPS, nie mogącej się pogodzić z przedstawionym przez Jerzego Zdziechowskiego planem ratowania budżetu kosztem mas pracujących.

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        20.11.1925 | Powstał rząd Aleksandra Skrzyńskiego

        Rząd Aleksandra Skrzyńskiego – rząd koalicyjny utworzony przez Aleksandra Skrzyńskiego 20 listopada 1925 roku. W skład rządu weszli politycy z ZLN, ChD, NPR, PSL „Piast” i PPS. Rząd działał do 5 maja 1926 roku. Upadł w rezultacie wycofania się (20 kwietnia 1926) z koalicji PPS, niemogącej się pogodzić z przedstawionym przez Jerzego Zdziechowskiego planem ratowania budżetu kosztem mas pracujących.

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