Monument to the participants of the Polish Uprisings of 1830 and 1863, in the Kraków's Rakowicki Cemetery.
Since the time of the Partitions until World War I (during 123 years
of captivity) successive generations of Poles launched attempts to
regain independence, but it was hard to rely upon rebuilding Poland
without a favorable international situation. Russia, Prussia and
Austria pursued a common policy aimed at retaining the spoils of war
and tried to avoid conflicts among themselves.
The November Uprising broke out in Warsaw on November 29, 1830. An independent government was called into being, and the Polish-Russian war followed. The well-trained and armed Polish army held out till September, 1831, but was not able to win that war in view of the enormous human and economic resources of Russia. The defeat sent some 10,000 uprising leaders and participants into exile. They went, primarily, to France.
The January Uprising broke out spontaneously thirty years later, on January 22, 1863. The situation was completely different, the Polish Army no longer existed, and the insurrectionists, severely outnumbered and poorly armed, were forced to resort to guerrilla warfare tactics. It is estimated that some 200,000 men went through the ranks of the guerrilla units during eighteen months of struggle, with some 30,000 guerrillas fighting at one time. The Russian Army, thwarting the uprising, numbered 340,000 soldiers at its peak. The last "dictator" of the uprising, Romuald Traugutt, was arrested and hanged, together with four of his aides, on August 5, 1864, amid the prayers of the despairing people of Warsaw. A similar fate befell other leaders and guerrillas. The uprising collapsed, reprisals followed and the state of war lingered on until the outbreak of World War I.
Although the Polish cause lacked serious political support on the
diplomatic arena, many foreign volunteers embarked on a risky journey
to join the Polish forces.
More than a thousand men came to fight on the Polish side from fraternal Hungary, hundreds got through from Italy and France. There were also Czechs, Slovaks and Germans who volunteered to the Polish units.
Just to mention a few names that are still remembered:
- Count Albert "Otto" Esterházy - a Hungarian noble, commander of the Hungarian Hussars in the
Uprising. Deadly wounded in the course of the Battle of Mełchów on
30th September 1863, he died the following day.
- Francesco Nullo, a close friend and confidant of Giuseppe Garibaldi, who had gathered several dozen Italian and French volunteers, including famous 'Red Shirts' and lead an expedition to join the Polish insurgents. He was killed on 5th May 1863, in the Battle of Krzykawka, near Kraków.
- Andrij Potebnia (Андрій Потебня), Ukrainian volunteer, ex-officer of the Russian army, killed on 5th March 1863, in the skirmish of Skała, near Kraków.
- Léon Young de Blankenheim, French volunteer, who commanded the unit consisted of youth from the city of Poznań. He was killed on 29th April 1863, in the Battle of Brdów.
- François de Rochebrune, who formed in Kraków and led the unit that came to be known as the Zouaves of Death, the elite of the insurgent army. De Rochebrune survived the Urpising. Seven years later, he took part in the Franco-Prussian war in the rank of colonel where he insisted on fighting in his Zouave of Death uniform at the head of a unit he called Les Gaulois. He was killed by a sniper shot near Saint-Cloud in November 1870.