Poland’s Independence Day is observed every November 11th. The holiday honours those who have fought for their country’s freedom.
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In Poland, Independence Day also celebrates the escape of Poland from foreign domination in 1918.
For decades, the surrounding empires of Prussia (Germany), Russia, and Austria-Hungary had gradually “gobbled up” Polish territory until Poland ceased to exist as an independent nation. In World War I, however, all three of these powers went down in defeat, and one of them, Austria-Hungary, was shattered into pieces never to exist again. This led to the rise of an independent Poland, though the process happened gradually.
First, a commission for Polish independence was formed in Krakow on October 28th, 1918. Soon, they had retaken their lost Austrian territories of Galicia and Silesia. A temporary capital and interim government was then set up in Lublin on November 6th and 7th. Jozef Pilsudski, who would be their new president shortly, was released from a Prussian prison and arrived in Warsaw to cheering crowds on November 10th, and on November 11th, he took control of the interim government and called for elections to be held.
November 11th began to be celebrated as Independence Day only in 1937, and it was only observed twice before the Nazi invasion of 1939. It was then shunned by the Communist, Soviet-backed government that held power in Poland after World War II, but the people would celebrate it anyway many times. The pre-war Polish government, which had gone into exile in London after the Nazis and Soviets divided Poland between themselves in 1939, was declared invalid and the attempt was made to replace November 11th celebrations with commemoration of the issuing of the PKWN Manifesto on July 22nd, 1944. That manifesto had declared the Soviet intention to set up a new government over Poland and dismiss the existing government in exile as illegitimate.
In 1989, however, when Communism collapsed in Poland, the official status of November 11th as Poland’s Independence Day was restored, and it has been observed ever since. It is an off-work day in Poland, and there are many family gatherings, fireworks displays, special patriotic concerts and events, and special church services where Poles pray for the future of their country.
If in Poland on Polish Independence Day, three ideas on what to do are:
- Attend any of the parades held throughout Poland, and especially the main parade in Warsaw’s Constitution Square, called “The March of Independence.” The president leads the marchers, and there is flag-waving, singing of patriotic songs, and much fanfare. Thousands take part in the event every year.
- See the ceremonial changing of the guard at Poland’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw, which takes place right at noon. Also, visit the two Warsaw monuments to Jozef Pilsudski, one of Poland’s main national heroes.
- If you enjoy running with strangers, or if you have a partner to go with you, join in on the Race of Independence, a six-mile long foot face that starts in Warsaw on Independence Day morning and draws thousands of participants. At the end of the race, you will be greeted by re-enactments of battles from Poland’s past.
Visiting Poland at the time of their Independence Day will give you a unique glimpse into Polish patriotism and history and plenty of opportunities for fun-centred activities as well.