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5.0 out of 5 stars A 50th Anniversary Reflection on the January 1863 Insurrection Against the Harsh Tsarist Russian Rule, January 19, 2013
This review is from: Walka o Wolnosc w Roku 1863 (Polish Edition) (Paperback)
THE FIGHT FOR FREEDOM IN THE YEAR 1863 is the title of this Polish-language book. (Review based on original 1913 edition). Author Franciszek Gawronski wrote it to commemorate the 50th anniversary (1913) of this uprising. I write this review in commemoration of the 150th anniversary (2013). It tells us much more than about the Insurrection itself.

The Russian-Polish relationship had gone far beyond that of conqueror-conquered. The respective societies could hardly have been more divergent. The differences between Russia's Eastern Orthodoxy and Poland's Roman Catholicism went beyond religious differences. Eastern Orthodoxy, at least in the eyes of Poles, was characterized by blind outward ritual largely devoid of intellectual understanding and spiritual depth. Women were separated from men during worship, and otherwise relegated to Turkish-style harems. (p. 16).

At the time of the Partitions, Poland enjoyed a flourishing culture that linked her with Europe. This contrasted with the Russian Byzantine-Asiatic one. (pp. 126-127). At the time of the Partitions, the Russian Empress Catherine the Great, a German, was ruling over an empire that, at least in the eyes of Poles, was backwards--an essentially dark place slow to be educated, and barbaric in conduct. (pp. 14-15).

Apart from the natural resentment of being ruled by others, Poles, owing to their individualistic-oriented western thinking, found Russian autocracy particularly odious. Although the author does not use the term Turanian civilization to describe Russia (e. g, as by Feliks Koneczny), he makes it obvious why this was so. The office of the tsar was modeled after that of the Tatar khan. His authority was absolute. The peoples of his empire were his rabs (slaves). All concepts of law, of right and wrong, of justice etc., were embodied in the tsar. He was the lord of life and death. (p. 15). Not surprisingly, the thought of political reform was almost nonexistent. The Russians were controlled by the following notion: In the sky there is God, and on earth there is the tsar. (p. 25).

Russian imperial rule over Poland was oppressive from the start, and the Russians immediately began to impose Russian directives and Russian ways upon the Poles. What they could not transform to their liking, they tried to destroy. For instance, the Russian authorities closed the Polish high-level schools at such places as Krzemieniec (Kremenets), Winnica (Vinnitsa), Bar, and Uman. They deported unwelcome Poles to Siberia. (p. 20).

Russian "concessions", such as the short-lived Congress Poland around Warsaw, encompassed only a small area of former Poland. (p. 19). In addition, Wielkopolski, the local Polish sub-ruler, was autocratic towards fellow Poles, servile to the Russians, and opposed to Polish independentist efforts. (p. 39, 47, 54).

The Poles suffered greatly. Gawronski brings up Poland as the "Jesus Christ of Nations", as exemplified by Mickiewicz, Krasinski, Slowacki, Goszczynski, etc. Gawronski mentions Poland only as persecuted and martyred by her enemies. (p. 20). There certainly is no connotation, as sometimes alleged, of Poland as the "Jesus Christ of Nations", being faultless, or somehow superior to other peoples.

The stage was thus set for the insurrections against Russian rule. Gawronski compares them to the struggles of the Greeks, and the Italian Garibaldi. (p. 122). Only certain geographic regions of the former Polish Commonwealth rose up in revolt in 1863. The Ukrainians generally did not, because the Ukrainians were impressed by Russian power. (p. 99).

The many photos and paintings in this book alone make it worthwhile. One of the photos shows Rabbi Meisels (Meiseles), who rallied the support of Warsaw Jews for the Insurrection. (p. 32, 40-41). One shows the 1861 massacre of Warsaw Polish civilians by Russians (p. 33). This was one of the triggers of the Insurrection. Many paintings show the important battles, and one (p. 115) shows Polish guerrilla action in the form of the ripping up of railway tracks of the Warsaw-Vienna line. One painting (p. 132) shows the "hangman" Murawjew (Muraviev), who was later sent by the "liberal" and "westernizing" Tsar Alexander II (p. 24) to wreak savage collective reprisal atrocities against the Poles. (e. g, p. 125). These included the hanging of hostages, and systematic burning of Polish villages, in revenge for supporting the Insurrection--much as eventually done by the Germans during WWII.

One painting, POSWIECENIE KOS PRZED BITWA (THE BLESSING OF SCYTHES BEFORE THE COMBAT)(p. 67) is instructive in many ways. It shows the shortage of firearms among the Polish insurgents. It also illuminates another time when instruments of killing were sanctified for an entirely different purpose. During the Ukrainian fascist-separatist OUN-UPA genocide of Poles (1942-1947), certain Ukrainian priests blessed the knives, axes, etc., of the Ukrainian murderers. Some commentators consider these accounts farfetched. The Polish priests' 1863 blessing of the scythes, though strictly for combat against the Russian forces, and certainly not the murder of civilians, proves that they are not.

Author Gawronski concludes his book by pointing that the defeat of the January Insurrection did not end Poland's drive for independence and freedom. (p. 145). He held out hope that it would still happen. He could not have known that this would be a reality only a few years later (1918).
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Walka o Wolnosc w Roku 1863  (Polish Edition)
Walka o Wolnosc w Roku 1863 (Polish Edition) by Franciszek Gawroski (Paperback - October 13, 2010)
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