Michał Rola-Żymierski

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Michał Rola-Żymierski
Rola-Żymierski Michał.jpg
Michał Rola-Żymierski as Marshal of Poland
Birth nameMichał Łyżwiński
Born(1890-09-04)September 4, 1890
Kraków, Austria-Hungary
DiedOctober 15, 1989(1989-10-15) (aged 99)
Warsaw, Polish People's Republic
Allegiance Austria-Hungary
 Second Polish Republic
 Polish People's Republic
Service/branchAustro-Hungarian Army (1911–1914)
Polish Legions (1914–1919)
Polish Army (1919–1927)
People's Guard (1942–1944)
People's Army (1944)
People's Army of Poland (1944–1989)
Years of service1911–1927
RankMarshal of Poland
Battles/warsWorld War I
Polish-Soviet War
1926 Polish Coup d'Etat
World War II
Other workMinister of National Defence

Michał Rola-Żymierski (pronounced [ˈmixaw ˈrɔla ʐɨˈmjɛrskʲi]; September 4, 1890 – October 15, 1989) was a Polish high-ranking Communist Party leader, communist military commander and NKVD secret agent. He was appointed as Marshal of Poland by Joseph Stalin, and served in this position from 1945 until his death. He supported the 1981 imposition of Martial law in Poland.[1]


Rola-Żymierski during the Potsdam Conference in Germany.

Rola-Żymierski was born Michał Łyżwiński in Kraków under the Austrian Partition, to the family of railway clerk, Wojciech Łyżwiński. At the age of 20, he enrolled at the law faculty of the Jagiellonian University in 1910, but was drafted a year later.[2] After his brother committed a widely publicised murder-robbery in Kraków, he began to call himself Żymierski around 1913.[1] When World War I erupted in 1914, he joined the Polish Legions, and fought with distinction on many of the most important battlefields of the Austro-Hungarian Eastern Front. After the Oath Crisis of 1917, he retired from the Austro-Hungarian army and returned to Kraków, where he graduated from the Kraków Trading School.

In 1918, he joined the reborn Polish Army and took part in the Polish-Soviet War. He initially commanded the II Infantry Brigade and was then promoted to commander of the prestigious Polish Legions 2nd Infantry Division. After the war, he was sent to Paris, where he graduated from École spéciale militaire de Saint-Cyr.[2] Upon his return, he was promoted to General. Żymierski served in Warsaw as the Deputy Chief of Administration of the Polish Army. During the 1926 coup d'état, he defended the democratically elected government of Stanisław Wojciechowski. After the coup, in 1927, the new sanacja regime of Marshal Józef Piłsudski charged him with bribery and embezzlement. Following an official investigation, he was court-martialled and demoted to private first class, expelled from the army and sentenced to five years in prison.[2]

Upon his release in 1931, Żymierski went to France. He was recruited by Soviet intelligence and became a well-paid secret agent delivering information about the Franco-Polish alliance. He joined the Communist Party of Poland. His secret engagement with Moscow was discontinued when Stalin ordered the dissolution of the Polish Communist Party (KPP) in 1938 during the Great Purge.[2]

World War II[edit]

Żymierski returned to Poland shortly before the Nazi-Soviet invasion of Poland at the onset of World War II,[2] and soon resumed his clandestine work for the NKVD (as revealed first by Józef Światło). Under the pseudonym "Rola", he engaged in the Soviet dealings with Nazi German Gestapo secret police. In 1943, by Soviet executive order, he was named the deputy commander of the Communist and Soviet-backed Gwardia Ludowa, and from 1944, the commander of Armia Ludowa. He was promoted by the Communist-backed Polish Committee of National Liberation back to the rank of General and became the commander-in-chief of the Polish Army fighting alongside the Soviet Union (the Polish Armed Forces in the East). He was Minister of Defence in the Provisional Government of the Republic of Poland (Rząd Tymczasowy Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej, January–June 1945). On May 3, 1945, by order of Stalin, he was promoted to the rank of Marshal of Poland.[2]

Generals Karol Świerczewski, Marian Spychalski and Michał Rola-Żymierski standing on the Lusatian Neisse river.

From 1946, Żymierski served as head of the Commission of State Security. He was responsible for repressions against the former resistance fighters, members of the Polish 2nd Corps and non-communist politicians, as well as for the deployment of the Polish Army against Poland's Freedom and Independence fighters; and the roundup of Ukrainian families in Operation Vistula against the OUN-UPA. Until 1949, he also held the post of Minister of National Defence. In this year, he was replaced by the Polish-born Soviet Marshal, Konstanty Rokossowski, who received the rank of Marshal of Poland and held his office until 1956. As a consequence of Stalinist purges organised in Poland by Bolesław Bierut, Żymierski was arrested in 1952. However, he was released in 1955 without any charges. He was rehabilitated by the Polish government in 1956.

After the end of Stalinism in Poland, he held various posts, including deputy head of the National Bank of Poland (between 1956 and 1967) and the honorary head of the ZBoWiD (Society of Fighters for Freedom and Democracy, an organisation of Polish war veterans). He was also a member of the Polish United Workers' Party and, after Wojciech Jaruzelski's introduction of martial law in Poland, Żymierski also became a member of its Central Committee and of the Front of National Unity.

He died in Warsaw on October 15, 1989. He was the last person to hold the rank of Marshal of Poland.

Honours and awards[edit]

Foreign awards[edit]


  1. ^ a b Prof. Jacek Wijaczka (2016). "Michał Rola-Żymierski. Honorowy Obywatel Miasta (tytuł odebrany)". Urząd Miasta Torunia. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  2. ^ a b c d e f Informacja historyczna (2012). "Michał Żymierski (1890–1989)". Warszawa: Instytut Pamięci Narodowej. Archived from the original on 2012-05-30. W 1927 roku wyszły na światło dzienne malwersacje, jakich Żymierski dokonał w okresie sprawowania funkcji ministerialnej. Podczas procesu udowodniono mu popełnienie nadużyć i przyjęcie korzyści majątkowych. Niezawisły sąd skazał go prawomocnie na degradację, wydalenie z wojska i 5 lat więzienia. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)

Further reading[edit]

  • Andrew A. Michta, Red Eagle: The army in Polish politics 1944-1988.