The political 'wild one'. Korfanty aroused the aggression of opponents

With his characteristic charismatic style, he condemned the rule of Piłsudski's "Sanation". President Ignacy Mościcki even said that Wojciech Korfanty had never loved Poland. Very strong words. All the more appalling as he had come to defend Poland in the coming war with Germany - PhD Mirosław Węcki, historian from the Katowice branch of the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN).

TVP WEEKLY: The Sejm has declared 2023 as the Year of Wojciech Korfanty - 20 April marks the 150th anniversary of his birth. Who was Wojciech Korfanty? Was he one of the fathers of independence, a man who joined Silesia to Poland, or perhaps an anti-cleric and a tax evader, as such accusations have also appeared against him in the media?

The terms you quoted were largely spread by those who were averse to Korfantý. They were elements of the political propaganda of his time, propagated by politicians who fought him, and there was no shortage of such figures. To the question of who Korfanty was I will answer you differently.

You are very welcome.

Treating him as an exclusively Silesian politician is wrong. Of course, he is primarily associated with the annexation of Upper Silesia to the Republic and with the Silesian Uprisings. Which is interesting in that he was not a supporter of armed struggle. He was also one of the politicians who led the victorious Greater Poland Uprising. He affected Upper Silesia, Greater Poland and, at one point, Gdansk Pomerania. It may be a cliché, but Upper Silesia was not part of the Prussian partition. This area fell away from Poland back in the 14th century. From the 18th century, it was part of Prussia. So we are dealing with a man who had much greater and wider merits than as the leader of the camp fighting for the incorporation of Upper Silesia into the Polish Republic.

SIGN UP TO OUR PAGE Why was he such a complex figure, as a person and as a politician?

This was due to his character traits. As a politician, for that is, after all, what interests us most, he was very self-confident. He did not shy away from violent plays, at least in the rhetorical sphere. His extraordinary political prowess in various spheres of action meant that he was regarded as a dangerous rival by his opponents, mainly from the Sanacja camp. That is why harsh legal and propaganda measures were used against him. And Korfanty, as a political 'wild one', attracted the resentment and aggression of his political opponents.
Katowice International Airport in Pyrzowice is named after Wojciech Korfanty. The hall features a large portrait photograph of the patron, and a special display case on the right presents a watch that once belonged to this politician, one of the fathers of Polish independence. Photo: PAP/Hanna Bardo
Can it be said of him that he made ideological and political volitions? First he was associated with the National Democrats, then with the Christian Democrats.

This was linked to his ideological and political advancement. But also due to the fact that he made enemies in the political circles in which he was active. He was an apodictic figure, so changes in political milieu could often be forced by the current state of personal relations prevailing in a given camp.

What was the reason for the reluctance of the authorities of the Second Republic towards Wojciech Korfanty after 1926? It is well known that he had exposed himself by putting on trial officers of the Polish Military Organisation (POW), including Lieutenant Michał Grażyński, for opposing the decision of the dictator of the Third Silesian Uprising to stop fighting the Germans at the decisive moment of the uprising. But was this reluctance solely due to this?

This was an element of personal reluctance towards him on the part of the Silesian insurgent circles associated with the Piłsudski camp. Many of them, already during the uprisings, were clearly gravitating towards that camp. But there were more reasons for this. Korfanty, as a politician of Christian democracy, belonged to the camp opposing Sanation. The May coup d'état of Józef Piłsudski was aimed at these circles, among others, in order to deprive them of power. Korfanty advocated the continuation of firm resistance to the Sanacja authorities. He made no secret of the fact that he regarded the May Coup as an unconstitutional and undemocratic seizure of power. The Sanation's revenge came swiftly: he was deprived of all posts in Upper Silesian industry and later arrested.

And yet he did not stop criticising the authorities.

With his characteristic charismatic style, he denounced the Sanation government, whether in the pages of the press he published, above all in the daily 'Polonia', or at the Silesian Sejm. IPN in Katowice is now publishing the second volume of his speeches at the Silesian Sejm in 1930-1935. We have previously published appearances from 1922-1929. In his statements, one can hear a sharp narrative, usually very accurate. These speeches did not please the ruling camp.

Is that why the authorities in 1938 did not allow him to come from exile to attend his son's funeral?

This is meanness and extremely petty behaviour. But this situation also shows what emotions were aroused among the sanators. The figure of Voivode Michał Grażyński obviously stands out in the foreground. But even among the highest circles of power Korfanty could not count on indulgent treatment at such a dramatic moment for him.

He became a symbol of "Sanation Poland". He was punished for other people's mistakes

The grim shadow of 17 September, when he and others crossed the bridge over the border Cheremosh River, hung over him for the rest of his life.

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What sense did it make for the Polish authorities to arrest in the spring of 1939 an activist of merit for the country, then already 66 years old?

He was still treated as a dangerous, ruthless enemy. At the time, one of the leading Sanation politicians wondered: what is going on that everyone is defending Korfanty? President Ignacy Mościcki even said that Wojciech Korfanty had never loved Poland. Very strong words. All the more shocking because he had come to defend Poland in the coming war with Germany.

Was he poisoned in prison or did he die a natural death?

I don't think such a step has been decided. It is more like a rumour. What purpose would the Sanation authorities have achieved with this? If it had come to light, it would have caused an incredible scandal. When his health deteriorated, he was released so that he would not die in prison. For that would have been very unfavourable to the authorities. He died in a Warsaw hospital in August 1939. He was a very sickly man, he had cancer. He smoked 80 cigarettes a day.

"Korfanty" - under this title the IPN has published a historical comic book dedicated to the figure we are discussing. An interesting idea to remember this politician.

It is worth reaching for this publication, as it tells the story of this figure in an attractive form, especially for young people. It tells the story of a politician who influenced the shape of the Second Republic's borders.

Is Korfanty present in pop culture?

He appeared above all in the films of Kazimierz Kutz. Also in the comic book you mentioned. In Silesia, he is a figure present in the public consciousness.

–Interviewed by Tomasz Plaskota
–Translated by Tomasz Krzyżanowski

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

PhD Mirosław Węcki - born in 1978, historian, employee of the University of Silesia and the Branch Historical Research Office of the Institute of National Remembrance in Katowice. Author and editor of books, among others:
(with Sebastian Rosenbaum) 'Upper Silesia is a great thing. Speeches in the Silesian Sejm of the first term (1922- 1929)". - a publication containing addresses by Wojciech Korfanty;
(with Maciej Fic) "The Silesian Uprisings and the Upper Silesian plebiscite in the public space. Cinematography - music - literature - journalism';
(with Grzegorz Bębnik and Sebastian Rosenbaum) of the album 'Wojciech Korfanty 1873-1939'.
Main photo: Municipal voucher of Silesian Bielszowice from 1921. Reproduction: Piotr Mecik / Forum
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