Małopolska. Independence began here

Portrait of Józef Piłsudski
It was from Oleandry in Krakow, that on 6 August 1914, under the command of Józef Piłsudski, the First Cadre Company set off, triggering a national uprising in the Russian partition which was to bring Poland independence after 123 years of captivity. Let us go to the places where Poles began their struggle for freedom.

To say that Polish independence was born here in Małopolska is a bit too much. But only a little bit. It was here, in Krakow, Tarnów and Zakopane, that the first places Austrian soldiers on Polish soil were disarmed and the new Polish national authorities were established. It was here that the detachments of the PPS Fighting Organisation concentrated their headquarters, here that the most active teams of the Riflemen’s Union turned into future soldiers during training, here that great meetings of people dreaming of a free Poland were held, here that organisations that served as substitutes for clandestine parliaments were set up, here that institutions to raise money for the creation of armed forces were created, and finally, it was here, from Krakow’s Oleandry, that Józef Piłsudski set off at the head of the First Brigade of the Legions in August 1914 and crossed the border of the Russian partition in Michałowice to begin his great epic. It was here that the most important battles of the first phase of the war, in which the Legions participated, took place: at Krzywopłoty, the participants of which are buried in the cemetery in BydlinMarcinkowice, and Łowczówek


Małopolska and Krakow on the trail of independence are important places. The first phase of the legionnaires’ battles also took place in Małopolska. We invite you on a great historical journey to the places on the Independence Trail. You will find the Trail of the Eastern Front of World War I guidebook and a special map helpful in this quest.

School of Independence

July 1913. Stróża. A small village in the Island Beskids, not far from Dobra. Several dozen men gathered in the local manor house and a nearby barn. They came here from all the Polish lands torn between the partitioners. They came from Germany, France, and Switzerland.

It was here that an officer’s course for the future cadres of the army that was to fight for a free Poland began. This is where the cadres of the Polish Legions, two later marshals, two generals of arms, twelve major generals, fourteen brigadier generals, and six colonels of the Second Republic gained their officer skills. The independence cadre. Among them were governors, ministers and prime ministers. Among them was Józef Piłsudski. Each of them received a tin Parasol badge, designed by Kazimierz Przerwa-Tetmajer, which they wore as their highest distinction.

In the Second Polish Republic, this place was memorialised. A special plaque was dedicated in 1933 in the manor house where the school was established, a special plaque was founded in 1933, and legionary meetings were held here. Under communist rule, the site was condemned to oblivion. The plaque was ordered to be removed, smashed, and thrown into the river. However, someone collected it, carefully preserved it, and in 1980 it was handed over to the Krakow Józef Piłsudski Society. In 1989, the plaque was returned to the school. In December 2017, an unusual monument was unveiled by President Andrzej Duda in front of the school in Stróża. It is a large photograph, embedded in a sheet of glass. Pictured are 30 young men, participants of the officers’ school. They stand in a double row in the manor garden, looking into the camera lens. In a year’s time they would already be at the front line of World War I, already in the partitioned territories, raising Polish hopes for independence. The installation stands exactly where these boys stood 105 years ago... For more than a month they gained knowledge here, conquered the surrounding hills, practised attacks and defences. It is an extraordinary place. You should definitely take a look. The manor house where they were accommodated still exists today.

During their stay in Stróża, Józef Piłsudski and Kazimierz Sosnkowski lived in a simple peasant cottage situated next to the manor where the riflemen were accommodated. The cottage still exists today. Interestingly, in a year’s time, the Riflemen, as the Legions, would return to this area and fight a skirmish with the Russians at Mogielica (the highest mountain of the Island Beskids).

However, few people realise that Krakow was the place where the future Head of State most often lived before 1914.

Piłsudski in Krakow

Born in 1867, Piłsudski, after a five-year Siberian exile, initially lived in Vilnius and Warsaw, where he continued his underground activities. However, in the Russian partition, this stay was becoming too dangerous, and Comrade Wiktor (Piłsudski’s conspiratorial pseudonym) increasingly often came to Krakow, which, together with Zakopane, became his main base of operations. The Austrian partition was a completely different reality. It is true that agents of the okhrana, the tsarist political police, reached the territory, but they did not cooperate with the Austrian police. At that time, Poles enjoyed almost complete freedom in the Austrian partition; they could use Polish national symbols and the Polish language, schools were taught in Polish, and Poles held the highest offices in the administration. At the beginning of the second decade of the 20th century, the Austrians even allowed the formation of Polish paramilitary units, hoping that in the event of war they would be used to fight the Russians. However, Piłsudski was already thinking about starting an uprising in the Russian partition and regaining the state in cooperation with the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

It was in Krakow that the PPS Fighting Organisation (OB PPS), headed by Piłsudski, was founded in 1905. According to today’s criteria, these were terrorist units which, in the Russian partition attacked, among others, tsarist officials and looted money intended for conspiratorial activities. Training sessions of the OB PPS were held in town houses on Karmelicka Street (Ukraina boarding house), Ariańska 6 and in the flat of the well-known Krakow scientist Professor Odon Bujwid on Lubicz Street. The fighters conducted field exercises in Tyniec, among other places. 

Krakow was also one of the main logistical bases for the PPS Revolutionary Faction, the Union of Active Struggle and the Riflemen’s Association, which were to concretise and direct the armed plans for regaining independence.

Piłsudski lived, among other places, on Podzamcze Street, at numbers 14, 16, 18 and 24 Topolowa Street, and at numbers 25 and 31 Szlak Street.

Krakow also became a place of concentration for units of the Riflemen’s Association and the Polish Riflemen’s Squads, from which the First Cadre Company was formed, the so-called Kadrówka, which gave rise to the First Brigade of the Polish Legions. On 6 August 1914, the legionnaires set off from Oleandry (today’s Oleandry Street), where the summer theatre buildings were located, towards the border of the Russian partition. They crossed the border in Michałowice, where a monument commemorating this event still stands today.

Independence began in the Małopolska region

Returning briefly to Piłsudski. He himself was forever associated with Krakow. After his death in 1935, in an atmosphere of widespread veneration, his remains were transported by rail from Warsaw to Krakow. Here, in a magnificent procession, on a cannon carriage, his body was transported to Wawel, where he was initially buried in the crypt of St Stanislaus. It was later moved to the crypt under the Tower of the Silver Bells. It rests here to this day.

Józef Piłsudski, commonly referred to as Grandfather, enjoyed enormous public respect despite his authoritarian moves, including the coup d’état in 1926. Proof of this is, among other things, the creation in 1934–1937 of a mound bearing his name, built by hundreds of thousands of volunteers, from veterans of the January Uprising to school children. The Józef Pilsudski Mound is today a favourite walking place of Krakow inhabitants.

In 1918, it was Małopolska’s towns that were the first to disarm Austrian garrisons and take power into Polish hands. Tarnów and Zakopane almost simultaneously – on 31 October. In Zakopane, the Zakopane Republic was headed by Stefan Żeromski, and the Polish troops were commanded by the creator of the TOPR rescue service, Mariusz Zaruski. It was in Krakow that the Polish Liquidation Commission, which was to take over the Austrian Partition, was established on 28 October, and on 30 and 31 October, Antoni Stawarz, at the head of Polish soldiers, disarmed the invaders’ sentries, setting the city free. ‘Poland is rising’, he was to announce on the last day of October in Krakow’s Main Square.

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Propozycja szlaków pieszych w Małopolsce