Kazimierz Sosnkowski

An outstanding commander, politician, an intellectual and an artist; Sosnkowski was a very special man in Poland’s twentieth century history. A lover of art, literature and philosophy, a linguist who knew Latin, Greek, English, French, German, Italian and Russian, Sosnkowski was truly a renaissance man.

He was born in Warsaw on November 19, 1885. In February 1908, at a meeting of the Polish Socialist Party in Lwow he met Jozef Pilsudski. From that day they became collaborators and friends. In June of that year he was appointed commander of the military arm of the Polish Socialist Party for the Warsaw region, which he led against the Russians in the famous “Bloody Wednesday” action on September 15, 1906. In the summer of 1908, he founded the Armed Struggle Command. Pilsudski was the originator of the idea but it was Sosnkowski who founded and commanded it. In the Riflemen’s Association founded in 1910, Sosnkowski became Pilsudski’s closest collaborator, his deputy and chief of staff.

On August 2, 1914, he dispatched a cavalry patrol and four days later, he and Pilsudski led the First Cadre Company into the Kingdom of Poland, a province of Russia. He took part in all the battles of the First Polish Legion, sometimes deputizing for Pilsudski, as in the Lowczowek Battle in December 1914. Arrested with Jozef Pilsudski by the Germans on the 22 of July 1917, he shared the same cell with him in Magdeburg from September 1918, until they returned to Warsaw on November 10, 1918. 

On November 16, 1918, Sosnkowski became the commander of the Warsaw Military District, and in March of the following year the Deputy Minister of Defense. When the northern front was threatened by the first Tuchaczewski offensive in May of 1920, Sosnkowski took the command of the Reserve Army and defeated and pushed back the Soviet Army. In August of that year, at a critical time of the struggle, he became the Minister of Defense. His contribution to the creation of Poland’s armed forces and the victory in 1920 cannot be overestimated. In the interwar period he served as Minister of Defense, the Commander of the Poznan Military District, and as Inspector General of the “Polesie” Army. In the 1930s, he acted as deputy Inspector General of the Armed Forces when Pilsudski was away from Poland. After the outbreak of World War II, when Germany attacked Poland on September 1, 1939, Sosnkowski waited for a posting to a fighting command. It came on September 10, when he became commander of the yet-to-be-formed Southern Front. He did win a major battle near Lwow but was unable to break into the besieged city to defend it.

Sosnkowski escaped to the West where he held various posts in the Polish Government in Exile in England; including the minister in charge of liaison with the occupied homeland. After the death of General Sikorski, Sosnkowski became Commander in Chief of Polish Armed Forces in the West. Their active engagements in 1944 included the Italian campaign (capture of Monte Cassino), the invasion of France (victory at Falaise), and the parachute landing at Arnhem. Because of his criticism of the Allies for failure to adequately support the Warsaw Uprising in the summer and fall of 1944, and for their growing abandonment of Poland to the Soviets, Sosnkowski was dismissed from his command. He left for Canada where he lived until October 11, 1969. He was the spiritual leader of the Polish World War II émigré community in postwar North America.

A great friend of the Pilsudski Institute in New York and, after Aleksandra Pilsudski, its first honorary Member, he left a major archive to the Institute.

 

Jerzy Kirszak

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