August 1917

The Catholic Church in the face of the war. The letter of Benedict XV of 1 August 1917

By Gustavo Corni

Over the course of the First World War, even given its prolongation and the increasing number of victims, the acceptance of obedience to political power changed into an open justification of war in religious terms: war as a sacrifice, as a crusade. However, this sanctification of the war, twisted for the purposes of a national religious discourse, was in sharp contrast to the action of the Pontiff who, in August 1917, replied with a famous Note to the leaders of the belligerent peoples, in which he took a precise position against the ongoing conflict.

One of the peculiar aspects of the Great War was certainly that of the broad approval for the conflict, its "ideals", and the goals of the war proclaimed by the governments and hailed by the propaganda. This approval contrasts violently with the course of the conflict, the enormity of loss that it implied, and the increasingly evident lack of sense in so much fighting and dying.

The explanation for this apparent contradiction must also take into account the ecclesiastical apparatus, which played an important role in influencing public opinion in each of the warring nations. From the time war was declared, the clergy and large organizations took part in the mobilization for war along with the parliaments and the vast majority of national political classes. This was readily understandable in those countries, such as Germany, Great Britain, Russia, and Serbia in which the national churches were strongly tied to the state. The situation for Catholics was more complicated in France or Austria, for example, where loyalty was expected to lay more with the Roman Pontiff than with the State. But the reasons for patriotism, and readiness to join the pro-war climate, where - clearly in the French case – Catholics did not wish to be instructed in patriotism by a fiercely anti-clerical ruling class, got the upper hand. There were those among the Catholics who wanted a theological element present in Catholic and Christian teaching to be the paladin of intervention into the war: the just war.

This doctrine taught that the faithful-citizens should accept the reasons for the war proposed by the holders of political power, who alone had knowledge of all the elements that justified a war conducted on proper grounds. Once the conflict began Catholics would have to adapt and accept the explanations given by the political power and commit themselves to following the orders of civil and military authorities. There were many reasons for declaring a just war, and these took different forms in individual cases: French Catholics could be informed that they were fighting to defeat their arch-enemies the Lutherans, while for Austrian or German Catholics the goal of fighting was to eliminate the risk that if their country were defeated, it would be overwhelmed by the dangerous "ideas of 1889": materialism and secularism, and so forth and so on. Once a national church had entrusted its own country with the task of achieving the restoration of peaceful Christian society through the war, Catholics were obliged to obey, and proved to be exemplary soldiers and patriots.

Over the course of the conflict, even given its prolongation and the increasing number of victims, the acceptance of obedience to political power changed into an open justification of war in religious terms: war as a sacrifice, as a crusade. A very influential secular intellectual, like D'Annunzio, made skilful use of such reasoning from the start of the intervention campaign of May 1915. This sanctification of the war, twisted for the purposes of a national religious discourse, was in sharp contrast to the action of the Pontiff. The Pope had had a very "hard" life since the outbreak of the conflict. He was the head of the universal Roman church, but also the head of the Italian church, as well as being an Italian himself. The Italian church had had more than a few disagreements with the unified state since the conquest of Rome in 1870 and, at the time of the debate on the intervention and in the months that followed, it had to deal with a state ready to resort to censorship and incrimination of priests and bishops who dared to even whisper against the seemingly firm national unity that supported the war. The church was frequently accused of being lukewarm and "leaning towards Austria". And Benedict XV, born Giacomo della Chiesa, and pope since September 1914, had to deal with a church which, to consolidate its national legitimacy, had more or less openly come out in favour of the war. We might think of figures like Father Agostino Gemelli, future founder of the Catholic University, confidant of the extremely religious General Cadorna. Gemelli was among the first to define the typical psychological traits of obedience of the conscript army. Then there was Father Giovanni Semeria, who was among the most fervent advocates of the sanctification of the war. Benedict XV had to intervene frequently to censor priests from twisting the prayers for peace, so strongly recommended by the Pontiff, into nationalistic pleas: prayers for peace were being transformed into prayers for victory

The famous letter sent by the pope to the rulers of the belligerent countries after a tormented silence, on 1 August 1917, contains two very important aspects: first, a passionate invitation to start peace negotiations, starting with the principle of a renunciation of all territorial conquests achieved so far and a return to the status quo. Benedict XV set out a programme that anticipated President Wilson's fifteen points the following year, which included freedom of the seas, mutual disarmament, and the recognition of the national aspirations of peoples living in the empires. Moreover, the most famous phrase of the letter stating: "every day the war seems to be a useless slaughter" is of great theological significance. If the war had become nothing more than a useless slaughter, the very reasoning that legitimized the use of war had failed. If the supreme authority of the Catholic Church proclaimed the uselessness of war, war could no longer help restore the proper Christian order of collective life that the enemy had violated. It appears anti-historical to accuse - as the military commands did - Benedict XV, along with the Socialists, of having been the inspiration of the "rebellion" against the war that a few months later would become strengthened by the route at Caporetto. In any event, the Pope's letter put a rather large dent in the consistency of the ecclesiastical argument that sought to legitimize the war.

“Diventiamo sempre più magre, giorno dopo giorno, e le rotondità della nazione tedesca sono diventate una leggenda del passato.”

(Una donna tedesca, citata in: Vincent, C.P., “The Politics of Hunger: The Allied Blockade of Germany, 1915-1919.”, p. 127)

Il problema alimentare e il ruolo delle donne in Germania

Di Alessandro Salvador

L’approvvigionamento alimentare fu uno dei problemi principali che i paesi coinvolti nella Grande Guerra dovettero affrontare. La coscrizione di massa privò le campagne di una quota consistente di lavoratori qualificati e l’economia di guerra tolse risorse importanti all’agricoltura. In questo ultimo caso basti pensare all’uso di fosfati e azoto per la fabbricazione di esplosivi invece che di fertilizzanti.

Il problema alimentare fu ancor più grave negli imperi centrali, in particolare in Germania, a causa dell’isolamento dal commercio internazionale seguito alla guerra.

Nel periodo precedente alla guerra, la Germania stava vivendo un periodo di rapido sviluppo economico e industriale che aveva modificato le abitudini alimentari e le modalità di approvvigionamento. La richiesta di beni di qualità come le carni e i latticini, era aumentata e il paese iniziò a dipendere dalle importazioni sia per i mangimi, sia per i cereali e altri prodotti per l’alimentazione umana. A dispetto della modernizzazione, però, l’agricoltura tedesca rimase largamente dipendente dal lavoro umano e impiegava, alla vigilia del conflitto, circa il 30% della popolazione lavorativa rispetto, ad esempio, ad un 8% della Gran Bretagna.

Per queste ragioni il reclutamento diffuso incise in modo consistente sulla forza lavoro nelle campagne, con circa il 40% dei lavoratori rurali reclutati nell’esercito. Questo fenomeno, assieme al blocco navale e delle importazioni e alla carenza di fertilizzanti, produssero un crollo della produzione alimentare.

In una situazione di questo genere, le condizioni di vita delle donne e delle famiglie peggiorarono in modo consistente. Private del sostentamento degli uomini che lavoravano, le donne dovettero sopravvivere grazie ai sussidi pubblici e lavorando. Tuttavia, l’accesso femminile al mondo del lavoro non fu così consistente come si potrebbe immaginare. Vi erano forti e diversificate resistenze all’impiego diffuso di donne nel lavoro industriale. I sindacati erano fortemente contrari, dal punto di vista culturale si riteneva che questo potesse danneggiare il ruolo femminile tradizionale tra le mura domestiche e le stesse donne prediligevano il lavoro domestico a quello industriale.

In linea di massima le donne che già lavoravano prima della guerra, soprattutto in settori come il tessile e l’industria del tabacco che entrarono in crisi a causa del blocco navale, furono reimpiegate nelle industrie militari. In altri settori in cui le donne giocarono un ruolo importante come sostitute degli uomini, prevaleva un approccio familistico: le mogli, in sostanza, prendevano il posto di lavoro del marito arruolato.

Le autorità tentarono, piuttosto, di avviare le donne delle aree urbane verso il lavoro nelle campagne. Campagne di propaganda, i cui risultati furono piuttosto deludenti, cercarono di convincere le donne che il lavoro agricolo avrebbe giovato non solo al paese ma anche alla loro salute. Purtuttavia, con esclusione delle donne che già vivevano nelle campagne e che portarono avanti l’attività dei mariti, non furono in molte a scegliere di abbandonare le città.

In linea di massima, ogni tentativo di rimpiazzare i lavoratori agricoli mandati al fronte, circa il 40% del totale, si rivelò inadeguato. Prigionieri di guerra e civili dei paesi occupati erano poco motivati e difficili da gestire, donne e adolescenti erano poco preparati. Ad un certo punto si arrivò a concedere licenze speciali ai soldati durante le fasi cruciali del lavoro nelle campagne, come la mietitura.

La fame e la carestia cronica che caratterizzarono gli anni della guerra in Germania, produssero però un fenomeno opposto alla sperata migrazione delle donne nelle campagne. Si poté assistere alla riruralizzazione di parte delle aree urbane, con casi molto ben studiati nelle città di Berlino e Friburgo. Gli attori principali di questo fenomeno furono proprio quelle donne che, private del sostentamento dei mariti e lasciate a gestire il bilancio famigliare con sussidi il cui valore scendeva di giorno in giorno, si impegnarono per trovare ulteriori fonti di approvvigionamento.

Vennero utilizzati tutti i lotti di terreno disponibili nelle aree urbane per creare degli orti per l’autoconsumo e vennero allevati piccoli animali nei giardini di casa o, in molti casi, negli appartamenti. La risposta alla crisi alimentare, quindi, venne dal ritorno ad una economia di sussistenza, evidentemente ritenuta più adeguata piuttosto che il ricorso ad un lavoro mal pagato e per fronteggiare la decrescita del potere d’acquisto del denaro. Per capire l’entità del fenomeno, basti pensare che a Friburgo circa un terzo delle abitazioni urbane aveva degli spazi utilizzati per la coltivazione o l’allevamento.

Durante la peggiore delle crisi alimentari della guerra, quella che avvenne in Germania nell’inverno tra il 1916 e il 1917, gli orti urbani furono cruciali. Nel cosiddetto “inverno delle rape”, in tedesco “Kohlruebenwinter”, l’elemento principale della dieta tedesca, la patata, fu sostituita dalle rape e le coltivazioni urbane giocarono un ruolo fondamentale in questa transizione temporanea.

In conclusione, l’ipotesi che la guerra, con l’arruolamento di massa degli uomini e la loro sostituzione con le donne nelle attività lavorativa, abbia comportato un cambiamento stabile nei rapporti sociali tra i generi è recentemente discussa nella storiografia. Nel caso tedesco abbiamo visto come la mobilitazione dall’alto fu caratterizzata da scarsa convinzione e scarsi risultati e il ruolo della donna nel mondo del lavoro, sia agricolo sia industriale, fu meramente quello di sostituta.

Questo, però, non deve portare a minimizzare il ruolo della donna nell’economia di guerra. Al contrario, la capacità di tornare ad una gestione di sussistenza e la ruralizzazione degli spazi urbani si dimostrarono efficaci, anche se insufficienti, nel contrastare la profonda crisi alimentare causata dalla guerra.

Link:

https://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/organization_of_war_ec...

https://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/food_and_nutrition_ger...

https://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/womens_mobilisation_fo...

https://mises.org/library/world-war-i-home-front

Bibliografia:

Susan R. Grayzel, Women and the First World War, London, New York, 2002.

Belinda Davis, “Konsum im ersten Weltkriege” in: Haupt, Heinz-Gerhard / Torp, Claudius (Hrsg.): Die Konsumgesellschaft in Deutschland 1890-1990, Frankfurt a. M., Campus, 2009: pp. 232-249.

Belinda J. Davis, Home fires burning. Food, politics, and everyday life in World War I Berlin, Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 2000.

C. Paul Vincent, The politics of hunger. The allied blockade of Germany, 1915-1919, Athens, Ohio University Press, 1985.

“We are all growing thinner every day, and the rounded contours of the German nation have become a legend of the past.”

(German woman, quoted in: Vincent, C.P., “The Politics of Hunger: The Allied Blockade of Germany, 1915-1919.”, p. 127)

The German food-crisis and the role of women

By Alessandro Salvador

The food supplies represented one of the biggest issues for the belligerent countries in World War I. Mass recruitment deprived the countryside of a significant number of qualified workers and war economy subtracted important resources from agriculture. For example, nitrogen and phosphate, used as fertilizer, were largely redirected to produce explosives, thus causing an important decrease in agricultural production.

The scarcity of food hit the Central Empires harder than other countries, mostly because of the naval blockade and the isolation from the international markets.

In the immediate pre-war period, furthermore, the German economy saw a rapid growth and an impressive modernization process that modified the food habits of the population and the channels of supply. Consumers required more high-value goods, such as meat and dairies and the agriculture in Germany turned from a mere producer of food to a transformation industry that relied on importations for animal fodder and basic goods: Russian barley and American corn, for instance. Despite this modernization, however, German farms still highly relied on workforce. Compared to the 8% of British workers employed in the countryside, the 30% of Germany resembled more the quotes of less developed countries rather than those of advanced economies.

For these reasons, the mass recruitment in the army severely affected the agricultural production by cutting the workforce of 40%. This process, alongside the naval blockade and the lack of fertilizer induced a collapse in farms’ productivity.

This situation worsened particularly the life conditions of women and families deprived of their income sources with the recruitment of men. Women usually had to live with public subsidies or working, or both. However, employing women in the factories and in usually men-dominated jobs faced surprisingly severe resistances. Trade-unions usually opposed the massive employment of women in the industries and there were cultural resistances to protect the “traditional role” of the woman in the households as well. Women also preferred domestic rather than industrial work.

Generally speaking, the women already working in the factories before the war, mainly in sectors in crisis because the blockade – such as textile and tobacco industries – kept on working in the military industries. In other sectors, families played a crucial role, as many women simply substituted their husband in his job until he remained at the front.

The authorities, instead of pushing the women in the industries, tried to move them towards the countryside with specific propaganda targeting them and claiming that farming was as good for the Fatherland as it was for women’s health. However, except the wives and relatives of farmers and agricultural workers, that took over their men’s positions, very few women from the cities moved to the countryside.

As a general statement, one can say that every attempt to replace rural workers sent to the front proved inadequate. The first choices, represented by POWs and civilians from occupied countries, were usually not well motivated and hard to control. Women and teenagers, on the other hand, were not well suited or qualified for farming. At the end of the day, the German authorities preferred to give special licenses to the soldiers to send them back in the countryside for important work, as the harvest.

Hunger and chronic lack of supplies during the war years in Germany produced, however, a phenomenon opposite to the expected migration to the countryside: the ruralization of urban spaces. In many cities, among them Berlin and Freiburg as important case studies, the women re-organized the urban spaces to provide for food.

Every available piece of terrain was used and transformed into a vegetable garden for self-sustainment. Also small livestock was kept into private households, gardens and apartments. To understand the spread of those experiences would suffice to say that one third of private households in Freiburg used spaces for small cropping or livestock. This kind of practices proved to be more efficient, or at least preferred, to provide for sustainment in a context of decreasing value of money and economic crisis.  

In the worst German food crisis, during the winter of 1916-17, the urban gardens proved their importance. The so-called “turnip winter”, “Kohlruebenwinter” in German, saw the main ingredient of German diet, potatoes, being substituted by turnips, largely cultivated in the countryside as well as in the urban gardens.

Summarizing, the idea that the war produced a significant and permanent change in the gender relations because of the massive recruitment of men and the subsequent employment of women in the job market, is largely challenged by current historiography. In the German case we can conclude that the attempts to mobilize women for work or volunteering showed scarce determination and poor results. Women in the agricultural and industrial work were mere temporary substitutes for men.

However, this should not minimize the role that women played in the war economy. The capability to return to a self-sustaining model of economy in the maintaining of the households and the ruralization of urban spaces showed, despite their insufficiency, some significant results in opposing the deep food crisis caused by the war.

Links:

https://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/organization_of_war_ec...

https://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/food_and_nutrition_ger...

https://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/womens_mobilisation_fo...

https://mises.org/library/world-war-i-home-front

Bibliography:

Susan R. Grayzel, Women and the First World War, London, New York, 2002.

Belinda Davis, “Konsum im ersten Weltkriege” in: Haupt, Heinz-Gerhard / Torp, Claudius (Hrsg.): Die Konsumgesellschaft in Deutschland 1890-1990, Frankfurt a. M., Campus, 2009: pp. 232-249.

Belinda J. Davis, Home fires burning. Food, politics, and everyday life in World War I Berlin, Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 2000.

C. Paul Vincent, The politics of hunger. The allied blockade of Germany, 1915-1919, Athens, Ohio University Press, 1985.

Anche sul fronte orientale, le donne parteciparono direttamente al conflitto, servendo nelle formazioni ausiliarie dell'esercito, soprattutto nella sussistenza e nei servizi medici. Una situazione particolare si verificò nei territori dell'attuale Polonia, dove durante la guerra molte donne servirono nelle Legioni e nell'organizzazione militare polacca.

Donne sul fronte orientale

Di Joanna Sondel-Cedarmas

Lo scoppio della prima guerra mondiale cambiò la situazione delle donne in Europa, costringendo molte di loro a cercare un lavoro retribuito e assumere il ruolo di "capofamiglia", al posto degli uomini sottoposti al servizio militare obbligatorio. Come sul fronte occidentale, anche su quello orientale, alcune donne parteciparono direttamente al conflitto, servendo nelle formazioni ausiliarie dell'esercito, soprattutto nella sussistenza e nei servizi medici. Una situazione particolare si verificò nei territori dell'attuale Polonia, dove durante la guerra molte donne servirono nelle Legioni e nell'organizzazione militare polacca. Nell’agosto del 1914, nelle forze paramiliatri del Regno di Polonia e Galizia, vi erano 300 “fucilieri” donne, appartenenti alla branca femminile della ZS - Zwizków Strzeleckich (“Associazione dei Fucilieri”) e dei PDS - Polskich Druyn Strzeleckich (“Fucilieri Polacchi”) - riunite sotto il comando di Janina Antoniewicz. Il coinvolgimento delle donne fu particolarmente importante nella formazione dell'iniziale esercito polacco. Nei primi giorni di agosto del 1914, il comando della Zwizków Strzeleckich creò una speciale commissione per la formazione di unità composte da sole donne. Il loro primo compito fu quello di contribuire al vettovagliamento e ai rifornimenti dei combattenti polacchi. Le donne inoltre gestivano le cucine da campo e le infermerie nelle principali caserme. Dovevano inoltre mantenere la comunicazione tra i comandi e svolgere compiti amministrativi e di ufficio. Al tempo stesso si occupavano della raccolta di donazioni per le future truppe polacche. Anche se il fondatore delle Legioni, Jozef Pilsudski si oppose al servizio in prima linea delle donne, acconsentì infine al loro impiego nello spionaggio e istituì un'unità sanitaria sotto il comando di Zofia Dobijanka. Tuttavia, quando l'8 settembre 1914 le Legioni passarono sotto il comando austriaco, Pilsudski ordinò il ritiro delle donne dalle unità militari. Indipendentemente da questo divieto, negli anni 1915-1916 si segnalarono casi di donne in servizio con travestimenti maschili nelle Legioni polacche schierate nei Carpazi e in Volinia. Inoltre, nella Prima e nella Seconda brigata delle Legioni servirono dieci paramedici donne.

Inoltre, diverse donne entrarono a far parte di un'unità d'élite, il reparto di spionaggio dell'esercito polacco (Oddziału Wywiadowczego), comandata da Rajmund Jaworowski e creato tra agosto e settembre 1914. Il nucleo femminile era comandato da Aleksander Szczerbiska e raccoglieva membri attentamente selezionati delle associazioni dei Fucilieri e donne appartenenti a organizzazioni patriottiche che conoscevano il russo. I membri del Oddziału Wywiadowczego erano principalmente giovani ragazze, studentesse universitarie, insegnanti e giornaliste, la più anziana delle quali, Waleria Goliska, aveva 65 anni. Anche se vivevano nelle caserme e ricevevano la paga militare, non erano soggette ad una disciplina severa. Nel primo periodo di attività (dall'agosto 1914, fino al ritiro delle truppe di Pisudski a Nowy Korczyn e Opatowice a metà settembre 1914) le loro attività consistevano principalmente nel raccogliere informazioni tattiche sul campo e monitorare i movimenti e l'entità delle unità russe, così come la profondità del fronte e la dislocazione delle truppe nemiche. Queste informazioni erano poi trasmesse da Pisudski agli addetti austriaci e tedeschi. Con la stabilizzazione del fronte a novembre e dicembre 1914, e il formarsi di una linea permanente di trincee e postazioni, il ruolo degli ufficiali dello spionaggio cambiò, concentrandosi sul mantenimento delle comunicazioni tra Varsavia e la Prima Brigata.

Le donne polacche durante la guerra furono una parte attiva del movimento per l'indipendenza anche sul fronte interno. Già nel 1913, nel Regno di Polonia fu fondata la Lega femminile per l'allerta di guerra (LKPW - Liga Kobiet Pogotowia Wojennego) e due anni dopo, a Cracovia, la Lega galiziana delle donne. Entrambe le organizzazioni erano dominate da donne legate alla socialdemocrazia, all'istruzione e al movimento femminista, le quali credevano che la nazione polacca dovesse combattere per l'indipendenza armi in pugno e che il dovere delle donne fosse quello di partecipare a questa lotta raccogliendo risorse materiali e formando attivamente l'opinione pubblica. La LPKW si concentrò sull’agitazione politica e la propaganda, organizzando conferenze sulla storia polacca, incontri e letture patriottiche, nonché contribuendo a creare nuove unità militari polacche. I suoi membri raccoglievano abbigliamento e rifornimenti alimentari, inviando pacchi al fronte, prestando servizio negli ospedali e nelle strutture sanitarie in prima linea per i legionari.

Tra fine agosto e  inizio settembre 1914, su iniziativa di Józef Pisudski, nell'area del Regno fu creata l'Organizzazione militare polacca (POW), che doveva diventare una forza militare segreta, indipendente dalle autorità militari austriache. Il ramo femminile della POW a Varsavia aveva ancora il compito di condurre lo spionaggio militare, raccogliendo dati sulla dislocazione delle truppe russe, nonché informazioni sullo stato delle strade e lo stato d'animo della popolazione nelle città. I rapporti preparati dall'Ufficio di Ricerca del POW erano poi inviati al fronte attraverso l'unità di spionaggio della Prima Brigata. Dopo l'occupazione di Varsavia da parte dell'esercito tedesco nel 1915, la POW concluse ufficialmente le sue attività, tuttavia le sue attiviste diedero vita al Pocztę Listów Prywatnych (“Posta Privata”), che mediava la corrispondenza da e per i legionari al fronte. Dopo l'arresto di Pisudski nella notte del 21 luglio 1917 e la repressioni che coinvolse anche le attiviste del POW, i membri dell'organizzazione si concentrarono sulla ricerca di locali sicuri per le riunioni clandestine, della ricerca di nascondigli per sfuggire alla polizia tedesca e, dall'autunno 1917, anche dei profughi di Beniaminowa e Szczypiorna. Occultarono inoltre armi ed esplosivi e furono responsabili degli uffici passaporti che producevano documenti falsi. Allo stesso tempo, i Peowiaczki (come venivano definiti i militanti del POW), il 31 ottobre 1918 parteciparono attivamente alla presa del potere da parte dei patrioti polacchi nella Galizia occidentale, disarmando le truppe occupanti. Dopo l'indipendenza della Polonia, nel dicembre 1918 fu deciso di sciogliere il corpo femminile del POW e al gruppo di Varsavia fu assegnata la Krzyżem Virtuti Militari (Croce al valor mlitare).

Con l'indipendenza della Polonia le donne acquisirono diritti elettorali e civili, sia attivi che passivi, che sanzionavano il loro nuovo status acquisito nella comunità civile.

Divulgazione:

http://www.herito.pl/en/articles/women-in-first-world-war-photography

Musei:

http://mjp.najlepszemedia.pl/- Muzeum Józefa Piłsudskiego w Sulejówku

Bibliografia:

J. Dufrat, Kobiety w kręgu lewicy niepodległościowej. Od Ligi Kobiet Pogotowia Wojennego do Ochotniczej Legii Kobiet (1908-1918/1918), Toruń 2001

A. Piłsudska, Udział kobiet w walkach o niepodległość, „Niepodległość” (Londyn) 1955, t. 5, s. 182

Służba ojczyźnie. Wspomnienia uczestniczek walk o niepodległość 1915-1918, red. Piłsudska A., M. Dąbrowska, W. Pełczyńska, Warszawa 1929

Wierna służba. Wspomnienia uczestniczek walk o niepodległość 1910-1915, red. A. Piłsudska, M. Dąbrowska, W. Pełczyńska, Warszawa 1927

Z. Zawiszanka, Poprzez fronty. Pamiętnik wywiadowczyni I Pułku Piechoty Legionów w 1914 r. Na podstawie notatek spisanych w II-III 1915 r., Warszawa 1928

Women participated directly in the conflict also on the Eastern Front, serving in auxiliary army formations, especially in provision and medical services. There was a particular situation in the territories of modern-day Poland, which saw many women serve in the Polish Legions and the Polish military during the war.

Women on the Eastern Front

By Joanna Sondel-Cedarmas

The outbreak of World War I changed the situation of women in Europe, forcing many of them to seek paid employment and to assume the role of "head of the household" in place of the men who were forced to serve in the military. Just as they did on the Western Front, some women participated directly in the conflict also on the Eastern Front, serving in auxiliary army formations, especially in provision and medical services. There was a particular situation in the territories of modern-day Poland, which saw many women serve in the Polish Legions and the Polish military during the war. In August 1914, the paramilitary forces of the Kingdom of Poland and Galicia included 300 female "riflemen" that belonged to the female branch of the ZS - Zwizków Strzeleckich ("Riflemen's Association") and the PDS - Polskich Druyn Strzeleckich ("Polish Riflemen") - united under the command of Janina Antoniewicz. The involvement of women was particularly important in the formation of the early Polish Army. In the early days of August 1914, the high command of the Zwizków Strzeleckich created a special commission for the formation of units composed only of women. Their first job was to contribute to the supply and provisioning of Polish fighters. Women also ran field kitchens and infirmaries in the main barracks. They also had to maintain communication between commands and carry out administrative and office tasks. They were also engaged in collecting donations for future Polish troops. Although the founder of the Legions, Jozef Pilsudski, was opposed to women serving on the front line, he finally agreed to their use in espionage and established a health unit under Zofia Dobijanka. However, when the Legions passed under Austrian command on 8 September 1914, Pilsudski ordered the withdrawal of women from the military units. Despite this prohibition, between 1915-1916 there were cases reported of women serving in the Polish Legions deployed in the Carpathians and Volynia disguised as men. Ten women also served as paramedics in the First and Second brigades of the Legions.

And there were also several women that joined an elite unit, the Polish Army Intelligence Department (Oddziału Wywiadowczego), commanded by Rajmund Jaworowski, created between August and September 1914. The female unit was commanded by Aleksander Szczerbiska and carefully selected its members from the Riflemen associations and women belonging to patriotic organizations who could speak Russian. Members of the Oddziału Wywiadowczego were mainly young girls, university students, teachers and journalists, the oldest of them, Waleria Goliska, was 65 years old. Even though they lived in the barracks and received military pay, they were not subject to strict discipline. In the early days of their service (from August 1914 until the withdrawal of Pisudski's troops to Nowy Korczyn and Opatowice in mid-September 1914) their activities mainly consisted of collecting tactical information in the field and monitoring the movements and the size of Russian units, as well as the strength of the front and the deployment of enemy troops. Pisudski then transmitted this information to the Austrian and German agents. With the stabilization of the front in November and December 1914, and the formation of a permanent line of trenches and posts, the role of espionage officers changed, and became focused on maintaining communications between Warsaw and the First Brigade.

During the war Polish women were an active part of the movement for independence even on the home front. Already by 1913 in the Kingdom of Poland, the Women's Wartime Vigilance League (LKPW - Liga Kobiet Pogotowia Wojennego) had been founded and, two years later in Krakow, the Galician League of Women was founded. Both of these organizations were dominated by women with ties to social democracy, education and the feminist movement, who believed that the Polish nation should take up arms for independence and that the duty of women was to participate in this struggle by collecting material resources and actively forming public opinion. The LKPW focused on political agitation and propaganda, organizing conferences on Polish history, patriotic meetings and readings, and contributing to the creation of new Polish military units. Its members collected clothing and food supplies, sending parcels to the front, serving in hospitals and healthcare facilities on the front line for the legionnaires.

Between the end of August and the beginning of September 1914, at the initiative of Józef Pisudski, the Polish Military Organization (POW) was created in the Kingdom, which was to become a secret military force, independent of the Austrian military authorities. The female branch of the POW in Warsaw was still engaged in conducting military espionage, gathering data on the deployment of Russian troops, as well as information on the condition of the roads and the mood of the population in the cities. The reports prepared by the POW's Research Office were then sent to the front through the First Brigade's intelligence unit. After the occupation of Warsaw by the German Army in 1915, the POW officially ceased its activities, but its activists went on to create the Pocztę Listów Prywatnych ("Private Post"), which intermediated the sending of correspondence to and from legionaries at the front. After the arrest of Pisudski on the night of 21 July 1917 and the repression that was also directed at the POW activists, members of the organization focused on finding safe premises for clandestine meetings, finding hiding places to evade the German police and, from the autumn of 1917, also for the refugees of Beniaminowa and Szczypiorna. They also hid weapons and explosives and were responsible for the passport offices that produced false documents. At the same time, on 31 October 1918, the Peowiaczki (as the POW militants came to be known), actively participated in the takeover of power by Polish patriots in western Galicia on 31 October 1918, disarming the occupying troops. After the independence of Poland, in December 1918, it was decided to dissolve the female unit of the POW and the Warsaw group was awarded the Krzyżem Virtuti Militari (Cross of Military Virtue).

With Poland's independence, women acquired both electoral and civil rights, both active and passive, that sanctioned their newly acquired status in the civil community.

Information:

http://www.herito.pl/en/articles/women-in-first-world-war-photography

Museums:

http://mjp.najlepszemedia.pl/- Muzeum Józefa Piłsudskiego w Sulejówku

Bibliography

J. Dufrat, Kobiety w kręgu lewicy niepodległościowej. Od Ligi Kobiet Pogotowia Wojennego do Ochotniczej Legii Kobiet (1908-1918/1918), Toruń 2001

A. Piłsudska, Udział kobiet w walkach o niepodległość, „Niepodległość” (London) 1955, t. 5, s. 182

Służba ojczyźnie. Wspomnienia uczestniczek walk o niepodległość 1915-1918, red. Piłsudska A., M. Dąbrowska, W. Pełczyńska, Warsaw 1929

Wierna służba. Wspomnienia uczestniczek walk o niepodległość 1910-1915, red. A. Piłsudska, M. Dąbrowska, W. Pełczyńska, Warsaw 1927

Z. Zawiszanka, Poprzez fronty. Pamiętnik wywiadowczyni I Pułku Piechoty Legionów w 1914 r. Na podstawie notatek spisanych w II-III 1915 r., Warsaw 1928

 

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