Gabriel Narutowicz

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Gabriel Narutowicz
President of Poland Gabriel Narutowicz.PNG
President of the Republic of Poland
1st President of the Second Polish Republic
In office
11 December 1922 – 16 December 1922
Prime Minister Julian Nowak, Władysław Sikorski
Preceded by Józef Piłsudski (Chief of State)
Succeeded by Stanisław Wojciechowski
Maciej Rataj (acting)
8th Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland
In office
28 June 1922 – 14 December 1922
President Józef Piłsudski (Chief of State)
Prime Minister Artur Śliwiński, Julian Nowak
Preceded by Konstanty Skirmunt
Succeeded by Aleksander Skrzyński
Personal details
Born (1865-03-17)March 17, 1865
Telsze, Vilna Governorate
(now Lithuania)
Died December 16, 1922(1922-12-16) (aged 57)
Warsaw, Poland
Political party None
(supported by the Polish People's Party "Wyzwolenie")
Spouse(s) Eve Krzyżanowska
Children 2
Profession Engineer
Religion Roman Catholicism

Gabriel Narutowicz (Polish: [ˈɡabrjɛl naruˈtɔvit͡ʂ]; 17 March 1865–16 December 1922) was a Polish professor of hydroelectric engineering at Switzerland's Zurich Polytechnic, Polish Minister of Public Works (1920–21), Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs (1922), and then the first president of the Second Polish Republic (1922). He was assassinated in 1922, while in office.[1]


Gabriel Narutowicz was born into a Polish-Lithuanian noble family in Telsze (now Telšiai in Lithuania), then part of the Russian Empire after the partitioning of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. His father, Jan Narutowicz, was a local district judge and landholder in the Samogitian village of Brėvikiai. As a result of his participation in the January 1863 Uprising against Imperial Russia, he was sentenced to a year in prison; he died when Gabriel was only one year old.

Gabriel’s mother, Wiktoria Szczepkowska, was Jan's third wife. Following her husband's death she raised the sons herself. An educated woman, intrigued by the philosophy of the Age of Enlightenment, she had a great influence on the development of Gabriel and his siblings' world view. In 1873 she moved to Liepāja, Latvia, so that her children would not be forced to attend a Russian school (Russification in Latvia after the Uprising of 1863 was less enforced than in Lithuania and Poland, the center of the uprising).

An illustration of the dual nature of the family's identity is Gabriel Narutowicz’s brother, Stanisław Narutowicz, who, after Lithuania regained independence in 1918, became a Lithuanian, not Polish, citizen. Earlier, towards the end of World War I, Stanisław had become a member of the Council of Lithuania, the provisional Lithuanian parliament. He was a signatory to the Lithuanian Act of Independence of 16 February 1918.


Narutowicz finished his secondary education at the gymnasium in Liepāja, Latvia. He then enrolled at the Institute for Mathematical Physics in St. Petersburg. Illness, however, caused him to suspend those studies and to later transfer to the Zurich Polytechnic in Switzerland, where he studied from 1887 to 1891.

Narutowicz helped exiled Poles on the run from the Russian authorities during his time in Switzerland. He was also connected with a Polish émigré socialist party, "Proletariat". As a result of his associations he was banned from returning to Russia, and had a warrant issued for his arrest. In 1895 Narutowicz became a Swiss citizen and, after completing his studies, got his first job on the construction of the St. Gallen railway.

He proved to be an excellent construction engineer and in 1895 became a chief of works on the River Rhine. Later he was hired by the Kurstein technical office. His works were exhibited at the International Exhibition in Paris (1896) and he would become a famous pioneer of electrification in Switzerland. Narutowicz directed the construction of many hydroelectric power plants in Western Europe, in Monthey, Mühleberg and Andelsbuch).

In 1907 he became a professor at ETH Zurich, in the water construction institute in Zurich. He was dean of that institute from 1913 to 1919. He was also a member of the Swiss Committee for Water Economy. In 1915 he was chosen chairman of the International Committee for regulation of the River Rhine.

During World War I he cooperated with the General Swiss Committee tasked with helping victims of the war in Poland and was also a member of La Pologne et la Guerre, located in Lausanne. A follower of the ideas of Józef Piłsudski, in September 1919 Narutowicz was invited by the Polish government to return to Poland to take part in the rebuilding of the nation's infrastructure.


Narutowicz in his office, just days before the assassination

After coming back to Poland, on 23 June 1920 Narutowicz became the Minister of Public Works in Władysław Grabski’s government. He held that post until 26 June 1922 (in four different subsequent cabinets: of Władysław Grabski, Wincenty Witos and the first and the second governments of Antoni Ponikowski). After becoming the Minister of Public Works, Narutowicz immediately started to work on the rebuilding of his country, using the experience acquired in Switzerland as a pioneer of electrification. He would soon go about reorganizing the reconstruction bureaucracy and reduce the number of employees fourfold over the course of two years, in that way greatly increasing its efficiency.

Narutowicz traveled around the country often to personally supervise and direct public works. By 1921 almost 270,000 buildings and 300 bridges had been rebuilt, most of the roads mended, and about 200 km of highways added. He also designed dams and supervised the building of a hydroelectric power plant in Porabka on the river Soła in the Beskid Mountains, and worked on irrigation control of the Vistula River.

Politically he had a reputation as a moderate, a reasonable and broad-minded man. He was a member of the government in every subsequent cabinet (a period of constant government crises and turnover). In April 1922, Narutowicz was delegated (together with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the time, Konstanty Skirmunt) to participate in the Genoa Conference, and was given credit for the success of the Polish delegation—many Western diplomats had greater trust in the highly respected Narutowicz than in the other government ministers of the newly re-established country.

On 28 June 1922, he became the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Artur Śliwiński’s government. He also held that post in the later government of Julian Ignacy Nowak. In October 1922, he represented Poland at a conference in Tallinn. In the election of 1922, he supported the center-right National Public Union (Pol: Unia Narodowo-Państwowa), connected with Józef Piłsudski. He himself was a candidate of the Public Union on Eastern Borderland (Pol: Państwowe Zjednoczenie na Kresach) but did not gain a seat in Parliament.[2]


President Gabriel Narutowicz with Marshal Józef Piłsudski in Warsaw, 1922

After having lost the elections, Gabriel Narutowicz continued on as Minister of Foreign Affairs in the government of Julian Nowak. To his own great surprise that December he was nominated as a candidate for the ensuing presidential election. Although discouraged to do so by none other than Józef Piłsudski and after first wanting to decline the nomination of the Polish People's Party- "Wyzwolenie" (“PSL “Wyzwolenie”), he eventually relented and accepted.

According to the March Constitution of Poland the president was chosen by the National Assembly, that is, the two houses of parliament (Pol: Zgromadzenie Narodowe i.e. the Sejm and the Senate). There was no clear winner after the first round of voting. In the next round the socialist candidate, Ignacy Daszyński, was eliminated, but again without a clear victor. The next to drop out were the candidates of the united groupings of the national minorities, Jan Baudouin de Courtenay and Stanisław Wojciechowski (supported by some of the Left). In the last and decisive round, two candidates remained: Count Maurycy Zamoyski (backed by the right wing National Democracy movement) and Gabriel Narutowicz (supported by some center and left wing parties as well as national minorities).

Narutowicz prevailed thanks to votes of the left, the substantial national minority vote (who were opposed to the National Democracy movement) and the centrist Polish People’s Party “Piast” (PSL “Piast”), which unexpectedly in the last round of voting supported Narutowicz and not the more right wing Zamoyski. Eventually, Narutowicz's vote totaled 289 to Count Zamoyski's 227. And so Narutowicz was elected the first president of the Second Polish Republic.

Narutowicz's victory in the elections came as a surprise to the right wing. Following the election, certain Catholic and nationalist groups began an aggressive campaign against him. Among other accusations, they called him an atheist and a Freemason, and some of the press referred to him as “the Jewish president”. The anti-Pilsudski faction, supported by General Józef Haller, also criticized his relations with the man and for his support of Piłsudski's policies.


Gabriel Narutowicz served as president of the Poland for only five days. During his oath of office ceremony on 11 December 1922, members of the National Democracy and others manifested their opposition against the president-elect with anti-government demonstrations in Warsaw. Earlier on that day, opponents of his election attempted to prevent the president-elect from entering the Sejm by blocking the streets and throwing mud at his motorcade. Narutowicz was never comfortable with the widespread belief that he was a representative of the Left in Polish politics. He had only become the candidate of the Polish Peasant Party "Wyzwolenie" by happenstance; he had also not expected to win the election (in its first round Narutowicz gained just 62 votes whereas count Zamoyski had 222).[3]

During his first days after his taking the oath of office, Gabriel Narutowicz met with the representatives of the Christian Democratic Party and Cardinal Aleksander Kakowski. Narutowicz realized that it would be impossible to form a majority government in the Parliament, so he made an attempt to create a government beyond the purview of parliament. As a gesture to the right wing, he offered the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs to his rival Zamoyski.


Guard of honor at Narutowicz's funeral bier

Only five days after taking office, on 16 December 1922, Narutowicz was assassinated while attending an art exhibit in the National Gallery of Art “Zachęta”. The assassin was a painter, Eligiusz Niewiadomski, who had connections with the right wing National Democratic Party and would soon become their martyr. The assassin was sentenced to death and executed outside the Warsaw Citadel on 31 January.

In film[edit]

The murder of Narutowicz was the main theme of the 1977 Polish feature film Death of a President (Pol: Śmierć prezydenta), directed by Jerzy Kawalerowicz.

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by
Konstanty Skirmunt
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by
Aleksander Skrzyński
Political offices
Preceded by
Józef Piłsudski
(Head of State)
President of the Republic of Poland
Succeeded by
Maciej Rataj