Died in Exile, June 6th, 1947 By MAJOR TUFTON BEAMISH, M.C., M.P.
SEVEN years ago, on June 21st, 1940, His Majesty King George VI drove to Victoria Station to greet the President of Poland, M. Wladyslaw Raczkiewicz, on his arrival in Great Britain. It was during the dark days following the capitulation of France. The Poles had refused to surrender their arms, and had decided to continue the fight beside the last of their Allies whose country had not been invaded. The President and the Government of Poland were immediately offered hospitality on British soil, and arrived here with the 27,000 troops remaining out of some 83,000 who had fought during the French campaign. They were preceded by the Polish Navy and Air Force, which had been trained in Britain from December, 1939, onwards, and were to play so important a part in the defence of the United Kingdom during the days to come. M. Raczkiewicz and his compatriots were received with open arms as representatives of our first Ally to fight for freedom. Poland, in the words of the late President Roosevelt, was then the inspiration of all nations, the symbol of the indomitable spirit of resistance in defence of a just cause.
M. Raczkiewicz, the bearer of the highest office in the Polish Republic, carried his great duties and responsibilities with a high dignity and great courage. His personal qualities, his upbringing, and his former activities fully qualified him for his office. The grandson of a Polish patriot, who fought against the Russian oppressors in the Polish national rising of 1863 and who was in consequence deported to Russia, Wladyslaw Raczkiewicz was born in the Caucasus in 1885. Following the example of his father he went into the legal profession. His studies at the University of St. Petersburg were, however, interrupted by the notorious Russian secret police, the Ochrana, which arrested him on account of his Polish patriotic activities. Later on he was released, in view of his youth, and was allowed to finish his studies at the University of Dorpat. He then settled in Minsk as a barrister. Mobilized in the Russian Army in 1914, he took part in the war against the Germans. In 1917, immediately after the outbreak of the Russian revolution, he joined the First Polish Army Corps formed on Russian soil, which was commanded by General Dowbor-Musnicki. During the Polish-Soviet war of 1918-1920, M. Raczkiewicz took part in the administration of the Polish Eastern Territories, which always remained close to his heart. He was four times Minister of the Interior ; the first time in the Cabinet of the great peasant leader Wincenty Witos. In 1930 he became Speaker of the Senate. When war broke out M. Raczkiewicz was Governor of the province of Pomerania.
When the Polish Government was forced out of the country in September, 1939, as a result of the German and Russian invasion, the President of Poland, Professor Moscicki, who had taken refuge in Rumania, decided to resign, on September 30th, and, in accordance with Article 24 of the Constitution, he appointed as his successor M. Raczkiewicz, who, on the same day, took the oath in Paris. The appointment of M. Raczkiewicz had particular significance for the Poles residing outside their country, since, as chairman of the World Association of Poles Abroad, he was very well known to those on whose direct help depended the organization of Polish Armed Forces on foreign soil. Determined loyally to continue the fight against the invaders, according to the explicit will of the Polish people, M. Raczkiewicz appointed General Wladyslaw Sikorski as Prime Minister and Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Forces. General Sikorski formed his Cabinet in Paris, and proceeded immediately to organize a Polish Army in France. M. Raczkiewicz was recognized as President of Poland by all the Allied and neutral countries. Germany, the U.S.S.R. and their satellites did not recognize him. The Soviet recognition came only after Hitler's attack on that country in 1941.
His Majesty the Kin,g, in his letter of October 18th, 1939, when recognizing M. Raczkiewicz as President of Poland, wrote the following words :— " We request you to accept on this occasion the assurances of Our constant friendship, together with Our best wishes for health and welfare in the discharge of the great responsibilities which You have been called upon to assume. In their execution You may with the fullest confidence expect that Your severely-tried fellow-citizens, whose sufferings and heroism in the face of savage and unprovoked aggression have aroused the profoundest sympathy and admiration wherever the ideals of freedom and honour are cherished, will be staunchly supported by Our people in the common struggle against the forces of tyranny and brutal oppression until the cause of right and justice is crowned with victory."
At the head of the Polish Government in London he represented the continuation of the legal existence of a free Poland, and his oppressed countrymen looked to him for help and guidance. He was deeply conscious of the heavy losses suffered by the Polish Underground Army, of the martyrdom of the Poles because of their refusal to submit to the enemy, and of the heavy toll paid by the Polish Armed Forces. It must have been with a heavy heart that the President learned of the decision of the Teheran Conference in 1943, that Poland, together with other Eastern European countries, was to come within the Soviet sphere of influence.
In the light of American and British support for this decision, it was only natural that he should ask himself to what extent he was entitled to ask Poles to sacrifice their lives in the Allied cause. The decision at Yalta in February, 1945, which was taken without consultation with the Polish Government and as a result of which nearly half of the territory of the Republic was given to the U.S.S.R., was perhaps the heaviest blow of all. Yet in spite of this the Poles never wavered in their decision to see the struggle through to its end, and President Raczkiewicz continued to the end as the legitimate President of Poland and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.
On June 29th, 1945—only a few days before recognition was withdrawn by the Big Three from the Constitutional Polish Government and given to a provisional administration set up in Warsaw as a result of a conference in Moscow in which, again, the Polish Government did not participate— M. Raczkiewicz issued a message to the Polish people, in which he said:— " Freedom is the very essence of the Polish ideals and national will ; to defend it and safeguard it was the main goal of the policy of the Polish nation, and the main object of its struggle in this war. Today, when the war of the United Nations against German aggression has been victoriously. concluded, our country has not, alas, recovered her true freedom. The Polish nation and State are still in danger. The great task of reconstruction and of peace in freedom, for which we have fought, has not yet been achieved so far as Poland is concerned. To reach our goal further efforts will still be needed.
"The Constitution of the Polish Republic imposes on me the duty of transferring the office of President after the conclusion of the war to the hands of my successor, chosen by the nation at a democratic election, free from violence and threats of any kind. I shall do it immediately when our nation is in a position to hold such an election. For the time being I remain at my post in accordance with both the provisions of the Constitution now in force and also, I think, with the will of the immense majority of the Polish people. I am confident that this decision of mine will be understood throughout the world by all those who hold freedom, justice, and law in higher esteem and regard than brute force or temporary victory of violence."
It was not given to M. Raczkiewicz to see Poland free again. The Polish Provisional Government carried out first of all an unconstitutional plebiscite in June, 1946. This was followed by a general election last January. Both the plebiscite and the election were organized on now familiar Communist lines.
Neither was free. Neither was fair. M. Raczkiewicz had to witness his beloved Poland ruled by men set up in power and kept in power by a foreign country.
In spite of all these vicissitudes, this deeply religious man continued to inspire his compatriots with his confidence in God and in the victory of justice, and maintained throughout with dignity the honour of his office. He passed away at Ruthin Castle in North Wales on June 6th. Our sympathy goes out to the Polish nation in the loss of a man who was held in the deepest respect and affection by all,