Walery Sławek

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Walery Sławek
Walery Sławek portrait.JPG
Walery Sławek
Prime Minister of Poland
In office
29 March 1930 – 23 August 1930
Preceded by Kazimierz Bartel
Succeeded by Józef Piłsudski
Prime Minister of Poland
In office
5 December 1930 – 26 May 1931
Preceded by Józef Piłsudski
Succeeded by Aleksander Prystor
Prime Minister of Poland
In office
28 March 1935 – 12 October 1935
Preceded by Leon Kozłowski
Succeeded by Marian Zyndram-Kościałkowski
Sejm Marshal
In office
22 June 1938 – 27 November 1938
Preceded by Stanisław Car
Succeeded by Wacław Makowski
Personal details
Born Walery Jan Sławek
(1879-11-02)2 November 1879
Strutynka, Podolia
Died 3 April 1939(1939-04-03) (aged 59)
Warsaw, Poland
Resting place Powązki Military Cemetery
Nationality Polish
Political party Polish Socialist Party
Occupation Politician, soldier
Religion Roman Catholicism

Walery Jan Sławek (Polish pronunciation: [vaˈlɛrɨ ˈjan ˈswavɛk]; 2 November 1879 Strutynka – 3 April 1939 Warsaw) was a Polish politician, military officer and activist, who in the early 1930s served three times as Prime Minister of Poland. He was one of the closest aides of Polish leader, Józef Piłsudski.

Polish government in 1930 (Sławek is sitting fifth from left)

Early Years[edit]

Walery Sławekwas born on November 2, 1879 into an impoverished szlachta family, in the village of Strutynka near Nemyriv, Podolia, Russian Empire. He was one of four children: two of his older sisters died early of TB. His father, Boleslaw Sławek, worked at a sugar plant owned by Count Józef Mikołaj Potocki (see House of Potocki). His mother was Florentyna nee Przybylska, and the Sławek family was distinctly related to the family of Ignacy Jan Paderewski.

In 1888 - 1894, he attended elementary school in Nemyriv. In 1899, Sławek graduated from Higher Trade School in Warsaw, and began working for an insurance company. At that time, he became involved in the activities of socialist organizations. In 1900, Sławek moved to Łódź, employed for Insurance Company Horodiczka i Stamirowski. Soon afterwards, he joined Polish Socialist Party (PPS). While in Łódź, he was involved in the activities of the PPS.

Upon returning to Warsaw (May 1901), Sławek was named one of leaders of local branch of the PPS. He was frequently sent on missions to other cities of the Russian Empire. In 1902 in Vilna, he met and became friends with Józef Piłsudski and Aleksander Prystor. In June 1902, Sławek was elected leader of the PPS for the Governorates of Kielce and Piotrków Trybunalski. At that time, he fell in love with Wanda Juszkiewicz, the stepdaughter of Józef Piłsudski. She became the love of his life, and after her premature death, Sławek did not became involved in any other relationship.

On March 6, 1903, he was for the first time arrested by Russian police, at the rail station in Będzin. Sent first to a prison in Piotrków Trybunalski, Sławek escaped on December 18, 1903, while being transferred to a prison in Sieradz. Soon afterwards, upon order of Piłsudski, he began working on the creation of a secret, paramilitary organization within the PPS. On November 13, 1904, he organized a mass anti-Tsarist rally at Warsaw’s Grzybowski Square. Sławek delivered weapons to some participants, and the rally ended in an exchange of fire with the police. It was the first act of armed resistance in Congress Poland since the January Uprising.

During the 1905 Congress of the PPS, Sławek was elected to the Central Workers Committee (CKR), as its youngest member. His main duty was coordination of local party chambers in southwestern corner of Congress Poland. Sławek himself never became a true Socialist: he regarded this party as the only real organization which would bring back independent Poland. During the Revolution of 1905, he was a key member of Combat Organization of the Polish Socialist Party, and participant in numerous missions. On September 10, 1905, he was arrested and sent to the Warsaw Citadel. Russian authorities planned to send him to Siberia, but on October 19, amnesty was declared, and on November 4, 1905, Sławek was released. He continued his activities: during a raid on a train near Milanowek (June 9, 1906), a bomb exploded in his hand, injuring his head and chest. Sławek lost his left eye, three fingers in right hand and two fingers in left hand. Furthermore, he permanently lost hearing in his left ear, and for the rest of his life, Sławek wore a beard, which covered numerous scars on his face. Arrested again, he was acquitted by court, and ordered to leave the Empire.

Sławek left for Kraków, located in Austrian Galicia. There, he underwent two operations, which improved his health. Nevertheless, he was in depression, caused both by the injuries, and the death of Wanda Juszkiewicz. Józef Piłsudski ordered him to oversee party finances. In 1908, he was sent to Paris, and after his return, took part in the legendary Bezdany raid.

On June 1, 1909, Sławek, already a member of the Union of Active Struggle (ZWC), was arrested by the Austrian authorities. He was released after two weeks, with help from Austrian military intelligence (Hauptkundschaftstelle, HK-Stelle), which cooperated with the leadership of the ZWC. The Austrians highly appreciated the information on Russian army, stationed in Congress Poland. In exchange, the HK-Stelle allowed the ZWC to carry out its activities.

World War One[edit]

Walery Sławek was one of the chief advisors of Józef Piłsudski. In mid-1914, he joined 1st Brigade, Polish Legions, but in August of that year did not march with First Cadre Company to Congress Poland, remaining in Kraków. In 1915, Sławek was sent by Piłsudski to Warsaw, where he created local structures of Polish Military Organisation (POW). At the same time, he formed a secret body within the POW, called Military Association (Zwiazek Wojskowy), later renamed into Organization A. In December 1916, after creation of Provisional Council of State, Sławek was employed by its Military Commission. Following the Oath crisis, he was arrested by the Germans (July 13, 1917), and sent firstly to Warsaw Citadel, then to Szczypiorno and Modlin. He was finally released on November 12, 1918.

Polish Army[edit]

On January 1, 1919, Sławek joined the 4th (Intelligence) Department of Polish General Staff. In May 1919, he was sent to the Lithuanian borderland, where he tried to reach an agreement with Lithuanian general Silvestras Zukauskas. The purpose was to initiate a joint Polish-Lithuanian anti-Bolshevik front, but his attempt failed. In November 1919, he left for Tallinn, to negotiate with envoys of Estonian and Latvian governments. In January 1920, Sławek was sent to Ukraine, where he cooperated with Civil Commissar for Podolia and Volhynia, Antoni Minkiewicz. Promoted to major (April 22, 1920), he was a Polish envoy to Ataman Symon Petliura. Together with Wacław Jędrzejewicz, he signed a military appendix to the Treaty of Warsaw (1920), between Poland and Ukrainian People's Republic. For the remaining part of Polish–Soviet War he remained in southeastern provinces of Poland, where he tried to create mixed, Polish-Ukrainian volunteer units.

In 1922 - 1923, Sławek attended Wyższa Szkoła Wojenna in Warsaw. After graduation and nomination to the rank of Officer of the General Staff, he was sent to Łódź (October 15, 1923, to the staff of 4th Military District. At that time, he probably joined the Freemasonry. On November 29, 1923, Sławek was transferred to the Officer Reserve Corps, and on June 30, 1924, he became chairman of Association of Polish Legionnaires, together with Adam Skwarczyński.

During the 1926 May Coup (Poland), Sławek remained close to Piłsudski, but did not take part in military activities. After the coup, he returned to active service, remaining in the army until 1928.

In the Government of Poland[edit]

Soon after the May Coup, Józef Piłsudski sent Sławek to the Tarnowski family’s Dzików Castle, for a series of talks with members of Polish nobility. His mission was to convince them to support the Sanacja regime.

In the autumn of 1927, the informal “Council of Colonels” was created. It consisted of a group of close Piłsudski aides, and was headed by Sławek. Its meetings took place at Sławek’s Warsaw apartment. Before the Polish legislative election, 1928, Sławek came up with the idea of creating a new pro-government political body, the Nonpartisan Bloc for Cooperation with the Government (BBWR), of which he was the chairman. After BBWR’s victory in the election, Sławek was its main ideologist and one of the most influential persons in the country. One of the closest associates of Piłsudski, fanatically devoted to the Marshal, he was called by him the “Loyal Walery”. Sławek was one of the first ten persons awarded with the Cross of Independence with Swords.

After the collapse of the government of Kazimierz Bartel, on March 29, 1930 Sławek became Prime Minister of Poland, as one of the so-called Piłsudski's colonels. His cabinet was almost identical to the government of Bartel, with Stanisław Car as Minister Justice, Leon Janta Połczyński as Minister of Agriculture, and Felicjan Sławoj Składkowski as Minister of Interior.

The creation of the new cabinet resulted in deterioration of the relations between the government and the Sejm. The Centrolew coalition called for an extraordinary session of the Parliament, but President Ignacy Mościcki refused. In June 30, a massive anti-government rally took place in Kraków, the Congress for the Defence of Law and Freedom of People (Kongres Obrony Prawa i Wolnosci Ludu). The size of the Congress took the government by surprise, and on August 23, 1930, Sławek resigned, claiming that he was unable to be prime minister and chairman of the BBWR at the same time. Józef Piłsudski became the new premier.

Following the so-called Brest Election, Sławek returned to the post of Polish premier (December 4, 1930). Due to the fact that in late 1930 and early 1931, Józef Piłsudski spent three months in Madeira, Sławek was de facto the most important person in Poland. He faced several difficulties: the economic situation of the country was worsening, oppositional parties fiercely attacked the cabinet, and the Pacification of Ukrainians in Eastern Galicia (1930) had just ended. Sławek urged members of the BBWR not to engage in any talks with the opposition, and the government quickly accepted a number of new regulations. At the same time, the case of Minister of Treasury, Gabriel Czechowicz, was dropped without ruling due to pressure from the regime.

On May 26, 1931, Sławek resigned from his post, to be replaced by Aleksander Prystor. Sławek then devoted his time to writing a new Constitution of Poland, together with Kazimierz Świtalski, Aleksander Prystor, Stanislaw Car and Bohdan Podoski. The April Constitution of Poland was passed by the act of the Sejm on 23 April 1935. It introduced in Poland a presidential system with certain elements of authoritarianism.

On March 28, 1935, Sławek for the third time was named Prime Minister of Poland. On July 13, President Mościcki awarded him with the Order of the White Eagle (Poland), for his work on the new Constitution. Since Sławek regaded himself as new leader of Poland after the death of Józef Piłsudski (May 12, 1935), President Mościcki decided to make a pact with Edward Smigly-Rydz, in order to sideline Sławek and remove him from the government. In the second half of 1935, Sławek began to lose his position, to resign on October 12, 1935. Furthermore, on October 30 he decided to dissolve BBWR. Soon afterwards, Ignacy Mościcki offered the seat of Prime Minister to Sławek, on condition that Eugeniusz Kwiatkowski becomes his deputy. Sławek refused, and as a result, Marian Zyndram-Kościałkowski was named new premier.

On August 15, 1935, deputies and senators of BBWR handed to Sławek a manor house, purchased by them. Located in the village of Janowiczki, near the site of the Battle of Racławice, it now is home to a local office.

Late 1930s and Death[edit]

Walery Sławek planned to replace the dissolved BBWR with a new structure, called Common Organization of the Society (Powszechna Organizacja Spoleczenstwa). His idea was harshly criticized by Rydz-Smigly, who sent to him a letter writing that there is no need for such a body to be formed. On May 24, 1936, Sławek was replaced by Adam Koc, who became new chairman of the Association of Polish Legionnairies. A few weeks later, he was named chairman of the Józef Piłsudski Institute of Modern History, a post, designed to keep him away from political life. This nomination was purely honorary and marked Sławek’s decline.

On November 11, 1936, President Mościcki nominated Edward Rydz-Smigly to the post of Marshal of Poland. Most of the so-called Piłsudski’s Colonels refused presidential invitation to this event. Sławek himself decided to accept the invitation, but later stated that Smigly’s promotion to Marshal was one of the saddest days of his life, as he was of the opinion that Józef Piłsudski was the only person worthy of that rank.

On February 21, 1937, the Camp of National Unity (OZN) was officially formed. It was yet another blow to Sławek’s prestige, as in his opinion, the new party was designed to provide Rydz-Smigly with unlimited power. On June 22, 1938, after the death of Stanislaw Car, Sławek became new speaker of the Sejm, with 114 deputies voting for him. The parliament, however, was dissolved by the President on September 18. The new election took place on November 6, 1938 (see Polish legislative election, 1938). Sławek fail to win the seat in the parliament.

On 2 April 1939 at 8:45 pm (the exact hour of Piłsudski's death), Sławek shot himself in the mouth at his Warsaw apartment, located on Jan Chrystian Szuch Avenue. Before the suicide, he wrote a farewell letter: “I am taking away my life. Please do not blame anybody. 2/IV. 1939. W. Slawek (...) I have burned all private papers, and those confined to me. If not all, please forgive me. God Almighty will perhaps forgive me my sins, including this final one”. Furthermore, he left a letter for President Mościcki. Its contents have never been revealed.

The bulled was stuck in Sławek’s palate, and he was taken to Józef Piłsudski Military Hospital. He underwent a blood transfusion, and then a two-hour surgery. His condition temporarily improved at app. 4 a.m. on April 3, but he died on the same day, at 6:45 a.m. [1]

The funeral took place on April 5, at Warsaw Garrison Church. Sławek was buried at the Powązki Cemetery; among the pallbearers were Aleksander Prystor, Janusz Jędrzejewicz, Michal Tadeusz Brzek-Osinski and General Lucjan Żeligowski. The funeral was a demonstration of those followers of Piłsudski who opposed the Rydz-Smigly’s regime. The Mashal himself was present at the cemetery, but was unable to get closer to the coffin, prevented by the pallbearers, who blamed Rydz-Smigly for Sławek’s death.

Until 1964, the body of Walery Sławek was kept at the Avenue of Notables. On October 17, 1964, it was moved to the quarter of soldiers of the Polish–Soviet War. In 1965, friends of Sławek’s family decided to found a stone monument. Wacław Jędrzejewicz, who was responsible for the collection of the money, contacted a number of influential people and organizations, including Generals Tadeusz Kasprzycki and Wacław Stachiewicz, Adam Koc, the Association of Wilno, Chicago’s Polish Independence League and the Association of Formers Soldiers of the 5th Infantry Division. Currently, the remains of Walery Sławek are kept at tomb A 11-1-3, while his old tomb remains empty.

Remembrance[edit]

Polish writer and air-force pilot Mieczysław Pruszyński, in his book "The Secret of Piłsudski" ("Tajemnica Piłsudskiego") claims that Sławek's suicide was directly linked to the Anglo-Polish military alliance, and British guarantee to Poland, accepted by Józef Beck: "Sławek killed himself after British guarantee to Poland had been announced and accepted. This guarantee was developed into an alliance, which Adolf Hitler saw as casus belli. Sławek was of the opinion that such an alliance, aimed at the Third Reich, would end in a Polish-German war. The war against which Józef Piłsudski had warned until the last days of his life (...) When on April 2 Sławek found out that Beck had left for London, he commited suicide in the evening of the same day. For him, Beck's trip meant the war with Germany and the end of Poland" (Mieczysław Pruszyński, Tajemnica Piłsudskiego, Warszawa 1997). A few hours before his death, Sławek met with a man named Bogdan Podoski, to whom he said: "I know it, I feel that they are leading Poland to destruction, and I do not know how to react against it".

In 2004, in a Polish Newsweek article, historian Dariusz Baliszewski wrote that in early spring of 1939, a group of leading Polish political figures, such as General Kazimierz Sosnkowski, former Premier Leon Kozłowski and Kazimierz Puzak, planned a putsch, in which they wanted to get rid of Józef Beck, Ignacy Mościcki and Edward Śmigły-Rydz, whose recent change to anti-German and pro-British policies would lead to the destruction of Poland. Walery Sławek was to be elected new President of Poland, but the plot was revealed, and to avoid embarrassment, Sławek either killed himself or was murdered.

Honours and awards[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Kazimierz Bartel
Prime Minister of Poland
1930
Succeeded by
Józef Piłsudski
Preceded by
Józef Piłsudski
Prime Minister of Poland
1930–1931
Succeeded by
Aleksander Prystor
Preceded by
Leon Kozłowski
Prime Minister of Poland
1935
Succeeded by
Marian Kościałkowski-Zyndram