On December 3rd, 1945, the President of the United States awarded the Legion of Merit to Marshal Michał Rola Żymierski. Marshal Żymierski would die in 1989 as the last Pole to carry the honorific rank of Marshal. He would also die either forgotten or despised by his people. If he is remembered at all today, it is only to be despised. It is easy, if one is inclined to shallow views of history, to despise a socialist revolutionary, an NKVD agent, a Gestapo collaborator, a corrupt officer, an adulterer, a murderer and a tyrant. If, however, one is an imaginative conservative, one recognizes that hatred, inevitable in partisan politics, should not infect the study of history. If we study Michał Rola Żymierski, we find that the anti-communist view which condemns him is as worthless as the communist view which exalts him. In truth, we find in Michał Rola Żymierski a species of conservative particular to Poland: a tragic conservative.
On September 4, 1890, Michał Rola Żymierski was born in Krakow, under Austrian rule, in the heart of Poland’s failed conservative movement , where he studied law. Like so many educated Poles born in the late XIX century, he was a socialist because he was nationalist. Conservatism, rooted in opposition to the French revolution, was late in coming to Poland, and dead on arrival. For insofar as conservatism opposed Bonapartism and sought to preserve the old order for reasons most sensibly set forth in Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, conservatism consequently supported the status quo in a partitioned Poland. Napoleon, a hero to the Polish people, was regarded by Michał Żymierski’s compatriots as a liberator who had overthrown the Prussian and Austro-Hungarian despots, established a free and independent Poland and marched on Moscow. Under such circumstances, planting the seeds of Burke’s political conservatism in Poland was impossible. Every manner of revolutionary radicalism was preferred over calm conservatism because romantic Poles believed that only revolution could achieve liberty. Polish nobles, clergymen, educated men—classes usually considered the most conservative—were the bedrock of revolutionary thought in direct proportion to their national patriotism.
Roman Dmowski constructed a Polish nationalist movement that was as mindful of Burkean conservatism as it could be. It sought to achieve independence through prudent diplomacy: a tactical alliance with Russia against the German and Austrian throne. Dmowski rejected the Polish romantic and Napoleonic traditions as impractical and unwise. He opposed Polish armed uprisings and worked in the Russian Duma for a political resolution of Poland’s aspirations. Roman Dmowski, though ultimately successful in his methods, was an anomaly.
Many educated and patriotic Poles of the late XIX century were revolutionaries, often dazzled by the most progressive teachings of their age. By the close of the XIX century, they supported Marx, who had called for the creation of an independent Poland and an overthrow of Imperialism. Supporting British conservative ideas meant supporting Polish slavery at the hands of Russia, Prussia and Austro-Hungary. Michał Rola Żymierski knew of Romam Dmowski’s national-conservative ideas, but like many Poles, he did not support them because he felt that only revolution and a program of radical modernization could save Poland. Żymierski and many in his generation thus supported Józef Piłsudzki and the Polish Socialist Party. The type of Marxism closest to the heart of Michał Rola Żymierski was represented by the Polish Poet Stefan Żeromski, a socialist and national patriot often called the moral conscience of Polish literature.
As a young man, Żymierski joined a paramilitary formation fighting for Polish independence. When he was eventually drafted into the Austrian army, he was glad to learn the art of war so as to put it to good use against the Austrians in due time. By 1914, facing the prospect of serving in the Austrian army in a war between the Empires holding Poland in bondage, MichałŻymierski deserted and returned to his native Krakow. With the formation of the Polish Legions under Austrian command, Michał Rola Żymierski, like the socialist poet he drew inspiration from, joined the Legions along with Polish Socialist leader Józef Piłsudzki. After seeing action against Russian forces in Nowy Korczyn and Opatów, Michał Żymierski was promoted to Captain on 29 September, 1914, having rallied his fellow soldiers to battle after their commanding officer was lost. On the night of October 22-23, 1914, Captain Żymierski led his men against the Russian Tsar’s forces near the Dęblin Fortress. He was severely wounded: shot through his left lung, his right leg and his left hand. For his valor against the Russian army, Captain Żymierski was promoted to Major and made an Imperial Knight of the Iron Crown.
Amidst the military concerns of war, the political situation of the Polish Legions weighed heavily on Michał Żymierski’s mind. Józef Piłsudzki demanded that the Legions appoint him their supreme commander and threatened to effectively withdraw his men and disband the Legions if his request was not met. Major Żymierski was one of the few officers to have opposed Piłsudzki. He was of the opinion that the existence of a Polish military force, fighting under the Polish flag, should not be subject to the whims of one man, but had to exist for the sake of Poland. For his opposition, he was transferred, eventually attaining the rank of Colonel in command of the Second Infantry Division, II Brigade of the Polish Legions. Political events moved quickly.
The Legions had been formed as a tactical measure meant to ally Polish forces with Austro-Hungary and Germany against Russia, in the hope that Austria and Germany would grant Poland independence. Events proceeded differently. It was national conservative Roman Dmowski, not socialist Józef Piłsudzki, who had accurately presaged the course of the first world war and made sure to find himself with General Haller’s support, in Paris as the representative of the Polish nation. The Austrian crown and its German master eventually demanded that Piłsudzki’s Polish Legions swear a loyalty oath, while the Tsar was overthrown by the Communist Revolution thus leaving Piłsudzki’s legions to serve the German Reich’s Western ambitions. This divided the Legionnaires politically, for the Polish Legions in 1917 found themselves serving on behalf of the Austrian and German forces occupying Polish land against a Red Army now calling for the overthrow of the remaining two Imperial powers lording over Poland. Colonel Żymierski found himself, as a socialist and Polish nationalist, fighting in a Polish army serving the reactionary Germanic powers against a Russian Communist army which had proclaimed Polish freedom.
Refusing to take an Oath to Germany, Józef Piłsudzki accepted jail in Magdeburg prison, from whence Kaiser Wilhelm would eventually send him forth to make an independent Poland upon German capitulation. Meanwhile, Colonel Żymierski and his 2nd Infantry found themselves poised to fight the Red Army near Odessa in Novorossiya of the Ukraine. Reacting to the 1917 Petrograd resolution  calling for Polish Independence, Colonel Żymierski once again opposed Józef Piłsudzki’s political decision to disband the Polish Legions in the face of the German demands for a loyalty oath. While Piłsudzki surrendered to Germany, and his Austrian soldiers were sent to fight in Italy while his Russian soldiers were interned in German prison camps, Colonel Żymierski negotiated with the Red Army Cavalry in Novorossiya and, according to communist historiography, was resupplied by them and eventually aided by the Russians in returning to a free and independent Poland. Anti-communist historiography merely noted that he “went over to the Russian side,” which does not take into account the context of the event.
Marshal Żymierski’s refusal to engage the Red Army was a result of political conviction, not cowardice or Russophilism. His war time experience of revolutionary Ukraine and firsthand view of the emergence of the Federation of Soviets left its mark on the mind of the young socialist. Still, he was a Polish Colonel and, when Józef Piłsudzki decided to pursue a renewed Promethism and march on Kiev in order to create a Polish-led multinational socialist empire, Colonel Żymierski, under the direct command of General Minkiewicz, marched against the Red Army. Not surprisingly, both communist and anti-communist historiography are intentionally vague about Michał Żymierski’s service against the Red Army. This episode of Colonel Żymierski’s service defeats their efforts to paint him as an heroic communist or an evil communist and demonstrates that he was simply a good Polish soldier. In fact, Michał Żymierski’s service on behalf of the II Republic of Poland against the Red Army through 1921 is neither a testimony to his anti-communism nor a blight on his fidelity to communism: it is a testimony to his loyalty to the concept of the rule of law and the duties of a soldier to obey his government despite political disagreements with the policy of that government.
Michał Żymierski likely sympathized with the Red Army that he was sent to fight, but he fought because he was a citizen and a soldier of Poland, a nation-state he had dreamt of and fought to create. His loyalty was to Poland, and when Poland called on him to fight the Soviet states he did so. That he fought in an important capacity against Soviet Ukraine and Soviet Russia is evident on the basis of the fact that his immediate superior was tracked down at the age of 60 by the Soviet Union and shot in the head in Katyn: clearly Stalin remembered his enemies, and Colonel Michał Rola Żymierski fought with the enemies of Stalin until 1921.
Following the peace of Riga, Michał Rola Żymierski was relieved that the Polish-Soviet war had concluded. He shared the view of his poet-muse, the aforementioned Stephan Żeromski, who lamented that Poland had embroiled itself in a war against the Soviet Ukraine and Soviet Russia to the detriment of its more immediate interests . This was not an opinion unique to Polish socialists sympathizing with the Soviet states. Romam Dmowski’s national conservatives were also highly skeptical of the war. Thus, insofar as Michał Rola Żymierski opposed Piłsudzki’s war against Kiev and Moscow, his Soviet sympathies cannot be seen as indicative of treasonous Soviet sympathies: unless we presume to accuse the II Republic’s Catholic national democrats, also opposed to Piłsudzki, of being Soviet stooges. Western opponents of Soviet communism praised Poland for saving Europe from communism in the battle for Warsaw, but—as has always been the Western habit—did nothing to actually aid Poland in the war against the Soviet Ukraine and Soviet Russia. Michał Rola Żymierski on the left and Roman Dmowski on the right, though radically differing in their political philosophies, understood why: geopolitics. Józef Piłsudzki did not understand this, nor did he much care to.
When considering Colonel Rola Żymierski’s service in the Polish-Bolshevik war, communist historiography underscores how deeply upset and bitter Żymierski was at having to fight against the Red Army. Anti-Communists likewise focus on his Soviet sympathies to discredit his Polish patriotism. Both of these views are wrong-headed. What is truly important about Colonel Żymierski’s activity during the Polish-Bolshevik war is not what he felt nor what he thought, only what he did. He loyally carried out the orders of his government, despite having many reservations about that government’s foreign policy. Żymierski’s detractors seem not to recognize how important this is.
Winston Churchill called the Polish-Bolshevik war “the war of the pygmies”  because for the world at large, Poland and its Ukrainian enemy were unimportant pigmies. For Michał Rola Żymierski, the nation-state he fought for was not a pigmy. It was worth dying for in a war he disagreed with because it was worth demonstrating to a world that could live without Poland that there were men who could not. During the Polish-Bolshevik war, Michał Rola Żymierski demonstrated the virtue of excellent republican citizenship. His actions spoke louder than his words: he was a soldier of the independent Poland for which his nation had struggled, and he would obey his government right or wrong. No nation-state can long survive without men who are willing to be soldiers and do their duty irrespective of their political opinions. No mature republic blames its soldiers for the perceived sins of their government.
It is this notion of obedience to the rule of law, to established constitutional norms, to republican modes and orders, which I claim justify using the term “conservative” to identify the political comportment of Michał Rola Żymierski. Political conservatism is not fundamentally about an economic system, or about a religious system, or about a cultural ideal. Political conservatism is above all an understanding that the rule of law is of paramount importance to republican life and the life of the soul. Citizens of a free republic can be communists, socialists, nationalists and liberals. They cannot be law breakers. They cannot be oblivious to the rule of law. Socrates questioned the law; he loved the God more than he loved Athens and this is why he refused to break the law. America’s greatest conservative thinker, Russell Kirk, opens his magnum opus on America arguing that “order is the first need of all.” This is particularly true in nations where the natural, organic order and the artificial, legal order were opposed to one another. Men cannot live in perpetual opposition to their most basic need. It is on this account that the Fathers of the American republic devoted the majority of their public lives to nurturing order, not perpetuating revolution. Michał Rola Żymierski recognized this and like American patriots who chose to bind themselves to uphold the laws of their new national government, Żymierski did the same when he marched with the Polish army against a Soviet enemy he probably sympathized with. This act of loyal citizenship and dutiful soldiership is a republican virtue, not a vice. It is a conservative virtue.
It was also, soon after the Polish-Bolshevik war, to become a tragically conservative virtue. By 1926, Poland was a free, independent nation, whose state encompassed territories upon which it was possible to build a lasting prosperity for her citizens. Like all young republics, it faced the common problems of a newly free state: corruption, partisanship and the drudgery of democratic political life. Yet, seen from hindsight, the situation was not without virtues.
Besides the aforementioned freedom and independence, Poland’s Prime Minister was Vincent Vitos, of whom GK Chesterton vouched that he was not just a peasant politician, he was really a peasant. Vincent Vitos was a humble man, a man of the Polish village, a poor and good man who had been a lumberjack and a caretaker of his village. A man to whom the old Polish maxim could apply: he had “a farmer’s sense”—chłopski rozum. Anyone who has lived for a long time amongst the peasants in Poland, as I have, anyone who has encountered the culture of the Polish village, as GK Chesterton did, will immediately recognize that the content of this “farmer’s sense” is more valuable than a thousand doctoral degrees from all the universities of the world combined.
The Polish “farmer’s sense” is dutifully Catholic, wasting no time on spiritualism or theology, cleverly practical as a farmer must be to survive, mindful of the community and the family, to whom the farmer is always close and whose judgment he fears, and above all prudent, for a farmer knows that you cannot argue with the weather, that in political life as in farming, you must at times accept the harsh verdicts of fortune and simply do your duty, hoping for better crops next year. In short, Poland in 1926 was governed by a living embodiment of Jefferson’s Agrarian Republican ideal.
It was in the midst of this slow growing crop of Polish republicanism, nurtured by Vincent Vitos and plagued by banal corruption, that the martial and gregarious mind of Józef Piłsudzki could not live. “I call the Constitution a ‘Constitute’,” Piłsudzki said, “because the idea of a Constitution is like the idea of Prostitution.” Piłsudzki believed that Constitutionalism was an anachronism. He believed that republicanism would, as a matter of history, give way to the rule of charisma. His chief worry was not to secure Polish constitutional order, only “what will Poland do once I am gone?”; for just as he was prepared to dissolve the Polish Legions during World War I if they were not Piłsudzki’s Polish Legions, so too he was determined, in 1926, to dissolve Poland if it would not become Piłsudzki’s Poland. Having withdrawn for a time from public life in order to benefit from the French strategy briller par son absence, Piłsudzki organized a clandestine militia and marched on Warsaw. As a testimony to the weakness of the II Polish republic, but also of the charity of its constitutional and duly elected ruler, the President of Poland met Piłsudzki and his army with a military force of loyalists to negotiate. The two armies, made up of Poland’s patriotic youth, confronted one another on the Poniatowski bridge over the river Vistula in Warsaw. Piłsudzki demanded the reins of government. The President demanded Piłsudzki stand down.
I judge this event as the most tragic episode in Poland’s XXth century history. True, Hitler commenced the physical annihilation of the Polish nation, but he could only do it because Józef Piłsudzki commenced the political annihilation of the Polish state. Piłsudzki’s megalomaniacal ambitions pitted Poles against one another. Piłsudzki, Poland’s founder and hero, placed Polish soldiers, citizens and the constitutional government in an unenviable position: he divided the nation against itself by compelling the people to choose between the founder and the republic he founded. This is a tragic choice. Of course, many Poles retained a sober instinct and understood that the republic was not the work of one man. Many Polish soldiers, though Piłsudzki hoped they would remember he had given them their medals, decided that it was The II Republic of Poland which had given them those medals—not Józef Piłsudzki.
This was the right decision; it was the republican decision. It was the decision of General Michał Rola Żymierski, whose units were called in to protect Poland’s constitutional government against the coup unleashed by Piłsudzki. The coup, like Piłsudzki himself, was treated with extreme leniency by the constitutional and democratically elected Polish President. The President would have been within his rights ordering that the army open fire and kill Piłsudzki on the spot—long before Piłsudzki managed to march his forces into Warsaw. Sensing this would only aggravate the situation and not wanting the first free and independent Polish republic in years to go down in history as having turned its arms against Poles, the President tried to negotiate.
The negotiations failed and the unpardonable happened: Polish soldiers began to kill Polish soldiers. This was a military coup against a constitutional, civilian government in a young, newly reborn republic. If the fighting continued, Poland would be engaged in civil war. Prime Minister Vincent Vitos, determined not to have a hand in killing his fellow Poles, resigned and returned to his farm and family a heartbroken man. The President attempted to continue the fight, but soon realized that there were only two possibilities: either Piłsudzki would be allowed to win, or Piłsudzki would have to be killed. The latter would likely plunge Poland into a prolonged, devastating civil war. In spite of his loyalist Generals, amongst them Michał Rola Żymierski, the constitutional and democratically elected President of Poland tendered his resignation for the good of the nation. Constitutionalism had given way to charisma; but not to character.
Józef Piłsudzki, under the pretense of his new Sanation regime (from the Latin for “healing” or “cleaning up”) began to heal his divided nation by arresting officers who had remained loyal to the constitution and the republic. When his political opponents on the left formed a united political front calling itself the “center left,” Józef Piłsudzki had them arrested, imprisoned, tortured and put on trial for treason. One of the officers put on trial by the Sanation state was General Michał Rola Żymierski. Modern anti-communists make much of this trial to discredit Żymierski. Żymierski was found guilty of corruption, and the proceedings revealed that he kept a mistress and used his status as an officer to secure favor for his family. Communist historiography insists these charges were untrue. Żymierski himself, during his testimony, made a dramatic claim:
“I am a soldier and I do not come before you to beg forgiveness. I am not guilty. Had I felt myself guilty, I would have taken my own life in pursuit of justice. I do not fear death and am very carefree about life. Since I have not committed suicide, let this fact demonstrate that I believe I am not guilty and that I do not believe in the legitimacy of this court.”
Given Żymierski’s service for Poland in two major wars, these words cannot be taken lightly. It is my firm conviction that a republican constitution and an uninterrupted democratic process of free and fair elections is a treasure worth the price of a million corrupt officials, a million adulterers, a million imperfections of every and any sort. Politics is such that no government, however noble or well meaning, will secure utopia. Only a tolerable order is to be hoped for. Republican virtue does not consist of getting the “right man” into power at all costs, but in preserving and protecting Republican modes and orders in the process of natural political partisanship. General Michał Rola Żymierski’s trial was thus a farce and an unpardonable sin against republican ideals. If Michał Rola Żymierski were indeed guilty of corruption, was it worth overturning the first free and independent Polish republic in years to learn, through hearsay, that one officer had a mistress and engaged in petty corruption?
Insofar as it is easy for anti-communists to consider General Żymierski’s trial to have been well deserved because of the General’s future association with Stalin and communism, these same detractors will not, I trust, claim that the trial of Poland’s humble and good peasant statesman Vincent Vitos, was equally just? I single out Vitos, of all the men put on trial, to make a point. The Polish peasant, with his “farmer’s sense,” tells it like it is. Vincent Vitos, tortured and degraded by the Sanation government which forced him to carry feces from his jail cell to a waste center laid out the plain truth with straight talk in his testimony :
“Where there is no free Poland: make her free! Where a free Poland exists: labor for her! Where a free Poland is in danger: defend her! These principles were the guiding lights of my party. When our state ratified its constitution, and the people of Poland were given their constitutional rights, we told the people that their country does not merely exist to tax them, it does not simply exist so that people might bleed for her, or sacrifice their property for her. The constitution made Poland a commonwealth and made Polish men and women its caretakers. My accusers supported the coup, My party and I opposed it. I was not so much opposed to Mr. Piłsudzki as to the methods with which he governs. I thought that he had some greater plans in mind when reaching for power. The coup was undertaken under the banner of a fight against corruption. But evil has only been magnified by it. The people have been divided. I was once a citizen of one of the states that held Poland in bondage. I was a deputy to the Galician parliament under Austro-Hungary. I often criticized the Austro-Hungarian government rather harshly. I was accused of treason and five other crimes against Austro-Hungary. Yet – the Austro-Hungarian Empire never threw me into a dungeon, and never demeaned me by compelling me to carry my own feces in a bucket. The Austro-Hungarian Empire never deprived me of my humanity. I was the Prime Minster of a Polish government that was overthrown by the coup—how can the court then accuse me of plotting a coup? I was the victim of a coup organized by others—and yet here I am: sitting in court, accused of plotting a coup?”
The effect of the Piłsudzki dictatorship would have far reaching and catastrophic consequences for Poland. By jailing, demoting and exiling many of its most committed patriots and skilled officers—not least amongst them General Michał Rola Żymierski who had honed his battle tested skills in France’s prestigious École spéciale militaire de Saint-Cyr, the Sanation dictatorship would leave Poland militarily weakened. General Żymierski, demoted to private, would flee Poland after 5 years in jail and settle in Paris. Vincent Vitos fled Poland for Czechoslovakia. The enthusiasts of the Sanation government of Józef Piłsudzki often point to the accomplishments of the Sanation state. Indeed, if Poland were an island surrounded by fair waters and threatened only by excessive sunshine, I would be willing to grant that the Sanation government did many things right. But given Poland’s eternally precarious geopolitical situation and the overriding need to establish republican habits and uphold constitutional government, the Sanation government was a disaster.
Having fought for his nation’s independence, having dutifully fought in a war between his new nation-state and the Bolsheviks he rather admired, and having defended a constitutional and democratic government against a coup, Michał Rola Żymierski—who earned his rank at the cost of a bullet to his lung, a shattered hand and a wounded leg, found himself degraded to the rank of Private, jailed for 5 years and then expelled from an independent and free Poland.
We cannot, I think, even begin to imagine the depths of anguish and rage this soldier must have felt when the Poland he fought for treated him with such severity. Keeping this in mind, is it any wonder that Michał Rola Żymierski became a fully committed communist and most likely entered into cooperation with the Soviet NKVD upon arriving in Paris?
It is in Paris, in 1931, that Michał Rola Żymierski embarks upon a course that will determine the future of the Poland and Europe. We must, as a rule, exercise caution and judgment in treating this period. The communist historiography describes it as a period of hard work for a restoration of freedom in Poland, while the anti-communist historiography treats this period as collaboration with Stalin’s NKVD against Poland. The truth, to my mind, is an amalgamation of these two views. Given what Michał Rola Żymierski was subjected to by the II Polish republic, combined with the socialist sympathies he had exhibited from his youth and throughout his adult life, it is likely true that he became an active communist and collaborated with the NKVD. It is also not inconsistent with his devotion to Poland. This last sentence is, understandably, the most difficult to fathom.
In making the claim that Michał Rola Żymierski entered into collaboration with the good of Poland in mind, I am not arguing that the NKVD had the good of Poland in mind. I am not concerned with the minds animating the NKVD, only with the mind animating a Polish soldier who had spent his entire life fighting for Poland. Every psyche has its breaking point, and Polish politics is particularly capable of driving its participants to that breaking point. Winston Churchill, no weak mind, admitted after only a moderate amount of contact with Polish politics that he felt as though he were in an insane asylum. It takes a deeply tragic measure of short-sightedness and pettiness to suppose that ambitious and capable young men who are willing to die to build and defend a constitutional republic will not consider themselves, upon being treated in the most demeaning of fashions by this republic, free of all moral inhibitions to engage their considerable military and political talent against the republic which exiled them. Anyone who fails to see this under the pretext of “anti-communism” is either incapable of political reflection or unwilling to be a serious citizen.
If Poles are to ever secure to themselves a durable and strong republic in the European arena, they must recognize when partisanship is due, and when reflection is due. The time for anti-communism was from 1954 to 2005. Between 1954 and 1989, to be an anti-communist was to be brave and to trod a difficult path. From 1989 to 2005, to be an anti-communist was to do the necessary work to secure Poland, insofar as it was possible, against the political and economic vices of a post-communist nomenclature and a post-communist culture antithetical to the requirements of free republics. To be an anti-communist today, particularly to wage quixotic wars against dead Generals, is false patriotism because it is easy. Communism is over. It is defeated, having died of its own inner contradictions combined with the bravery of its opponents. What is required now, more than anti-communism, is intelligent Republicanism.
Republicans must nurture political thought because only it can preserve free republics. Republicans can and should be magnanimous and gracious to their communist opponents, particularly since republicans won. Republicans only hurt themselves if they refuse to undertake a mature study of Polish communists acting under difficult circumstances and refuse to attempt to distinguish patriots from villains on any basis more complex than “communist: bad, anti-communist: good”. With this in mind, it is without a doubt an amazing thing to fathom MichałŻymierski’s deeds following his exile to Paris. For while the Sanation government fled for their lives as Hitler’s forces entered Poland, Michał Rola Żymierski returned to Nazi occupied Poland.
Anti-communist historiography suggests that Michał Rola Żymierski returned from the safety of Paris into the heart of Nazi occupied Warsaw on orders from Stalin’s NKVD for the purpose of collaborating with the Gestapo. I do not believe this. I do not believe this for a number of reasons, foremost amongst them because the source of this allegation is a Zionist-communist-NKVD-CIA agent named Isaac Fleischfarb. Isaac Fleischfarb is well known to the United States government, which refuses to declassify papers pertaining to him. Isaac Fleischfarb, a vile and sadistic torturer, conducted the post-World War II Stalinist purges of the Polish state and arrested Marshal Michał Rola-Żymierski, Władysław Gomułka and Poland’s sacred beloved Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński before fleeing to West Berlin where he became a CIA agent. It was newly minted CIA agent Isaac Fleischfarb who “revealed” Marshal Żymierski’s collaboration with the Gestapo—just in time for American propaganda efforts intent upon ratcheting up anti-communist Cold War rhetoric against its erstwhile Soviet ally.
I refuse to take the word of Isaac Fleischfarb, a man with no history of service to Poland prior to World War II, a man who took part in efforts to Sovietize Poland following the war, over the word of Michał Rola Żymierski, whose rich history leaves little doubt as to his capacity for serious patriotism. To my mind, Michał Żymierski returned to occupied Poland for the same reasons that had animated his renegade, independent actions since joining a paramilitary Polish patriotic organization during his youth in Krakow: because he was determined to be in the center of the struggle for Polish independence. No other logical reason exists: no sane man would leave the relative safety of Paris for Nazi occupied Warsaw for any other reason.
Incidentally, it should be noticed that he was not the only one who returned to Poland rather than running away from Poland when Hitler menaced the nation. Vincent Vitos, the peasant leader exiled to Czechoslovakia, left that country upon its occupation, returning to Poland where he gave himself up to authorities and was jailed. Vitos preferred to be in his motherland when Poland was threatened, even if it put him in jail. When the Nazis occupied Poland, Hitler attempted to persuade Vincent Vitos to create a pro-Nazi government and thereby retain a Polish state on the map of Europe. Vitos, with his “farmer’s sense,” refused the offer. It must be noted that the idea of a Polish state allied to Nazi Germany was also refused by Joseph Stalin, who, in 1939, was convinced that Poland, as a political entity, had run its course in Europe. This fact, combined with Stalin’s having abolished the Polish communist party just prior to the war—not, as the Polish Institute for National Remembrance claims, because the party was riddled with Sanation spies, but because, as Major Henryk Krzeczkowski argues, Stalin’s entire conception of an internationalist communist revolution had given way to the notion of a Russian national communist vanguard. These facts make it all the more unlikely that the NKVD “sent” Michał Rola Żymierski to Nazi occupied Warsaw to “collaborate” with the Gestapo. It is far more logical to suppose that Michał Rola Żymierski went to Warsaw of his own initiative, possibly with NKVD contacts, and in doing so once again risked his life for Poland. Finally, Michał Żymierski did not go to France in 1938 “after the Polish communist party was disbanded”—he went to France in 1931, immediately upon his release from jail. To believe otherwise is to believe Isaac Fleischfarb.
Considering Żymierski’s service for Poland against the Red Army, his betrayal of Austria for Poland, his military expertise honed in the same French school that had trained de Gaulle and Joffre his stature in the II Republic of Poland, the fact that the NKVD murdered Żymierski’s commanding officer General Minkiewicz in Katyń and the fact that the Gestapo immediately set about murdering the military and the educated classes of the II Republic and would have likely killed Żymierski as well, I find the allegations of Isaac Fleischfarb rather preposterous and politically motivated. If the anti-communist case against Michał Rola Żymierski cannot offer any better proof of his collaboration with the Gestapo than the testimony of a Zionist NKVD agent who arrested Pope John Paul II’s role model in the Catholic Communion, then it cannot be considered credible and runs against the entire biography of Poland’s last Marshal.
From this point on, communist and anti-communist historiography converge once again. Michał Rola Żymierski, while in Warsaw, conspired with fellow communists and undertook the organization of an underground Citizen’s Court to review the guilty verdict passed against him by the Sanation government in order to overturn the verdict and formally restore him to the rank of General of the Polish army. From a legal point of view, the verdict of this Citizen’s Court is dubious and to argue over its validity is an exercise in futile positivism. What this episode does tell us is that Michał Rola Żymierski had a strong sense of honor and political responsibility. He was determined to restore his formal standing through some political means rather than simply relying on his biography. He wanted some formal basis upon which to stand when undertaking his efforts against the Nazis.
When the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union and Stalin once again warmed to the idea of a Polish state on the map of Europe, a chain of events MichałŻymierski was rather convinced would eventually come to pass, General Żymierski, unlike the London government in exile, found himself in a beneficial strategic and political situation. Prior to 1939, he had been sure that England and France would not help Poland against Hitler, and he saw the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact as a prudent measure by Stalin to secure territories lost to the II Republic of Poland and peace on the western border of his Empire. Żymierski was convinced this peace would not last, and that a final battle between fascism and communism was on the horizon. This was his judgment as a brilliant military officer conscious of geopolitics. Seeing the weakness of the allied response to the invasion of Poland, he decided that the Allies would in fact never help Poland and therefore Poland must help itself.
If anyone really wants to understand why the Polish London government lost Poland to the communists, one needs only realize the immense difference between the Polish London government’s strategy of using Polish troops to fight for Britain and France everywhere but in Poland while sitting in England versus the Polish communist strategy of raising a Polish communist army from deep within occupied Poland. As Winston Churchill eventually told the Polish London government when their services were no longer needed and the British began cooperation with General Michał Rola Żymierski’s Lublin Provisional Government: “he who holds the castle gets the crown.”
This brings us to the final episode of our brief overview of Marshal Żymierski’s wartime service: the impact of the Marshal on the post-war fate of Poland. I have attempted throughout this brief overview to make Michał Rola Żymierski’s military service and military thought subservient to the immediate goals of this work: to undertake a political analysis of the Marshal’s conduct. Thus, for the sake of brevity, I shall not dwell, beyond these few sentences, on the operational details of General Żymierski’s organization of the Polish People’s Army, nor of the unification of his army with General Berling’s First Polish Army and their common victorious campaign straight into the heart of Nazi Germany. Instead, attention should be focused on Michał Rola Żymierski’s account of his face-to-face negotiations with Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill regarding the future of Poland.
I judge it relatively impossible for those who have not breathed Poland for a long time, who are not native to her soil, to be capable of undertaking a useful analysis of this account. If ever any account could be said to require a Straussian eye for persecution and the art of writing, it is this one. Communist historiography has always been aware, despite its pretenses to universalism, of the national histories of its component parts. The Polish nation, given its historic struggle against Russian domination, has forever remained sensitive to the prospect of having their fate decided for them by the Russians. Thus, the official communist account of General Michał Rola Żymierski’s meeting with Joseph Stalin and Foreign Secretary Molotov is highly complementary to Polish national pride and presents Stalin in a position uniquely unheard of in the majority of communist historiography.
If we believe Michał Rola Żymierski, Stalin sat, Stalin smoked a lot, and Stalin listened. Stalin heard General Żymierski lay out the case for expanding Poland’s western frontier at the expense of German lands on the basis of Poland’s historic rights to the Piast dynasty territories. Żymierski had also required that the new Polish coat of arms be deprived of its crown in honor of the Piast dynasty (not, as anti-communists claim, as a sign of submission to Russia). Stalin worried that General Żymierski’s demands would be difficult to fulfill, but Stalin listened to his wise political and military council. Stalin listened as General Żymierski explained the strategic importance of reducing the total length of the Polish-German border in Poland’s favor, of depriving Germany of strategic territories which made an invasion of Poland easier, of how a stronger Poland would guarantee that Germany, should she ever threaten Russia again, would find itself impotent, of how Poles in Belarus and Ukraine would repopulate the lands from which the Germans ought to be expelled for the benefit of Poland. Stalin listened to General Żymierski and following some questions, concluded that the Polish General was correct in his thinking and bowed to his demands made on behalf of the Polish National Council, difficult as it might be to persuade the Allies of them.
When Winston Churchill and his allies from the Polish London government in exile were met by Stalin’s demands for a Polish border reduced in the east and expanded at the cost of Germany in the West, Churchill discovered that insofar as the London government in exile had no power in Poland and would not compromise, General Michał Rola Żymierski had a huge Polish army in Poland, allied to General Berling’s 1st Polish army fighting alongside Soviet Russia against Hitler, and had already compromised with Stalin. On August 29, 1944, Michał Rola Żymierski, Winston Churchill and the Polish London government in exile met to attempt to create a united Polish government .
Żymierski had recognized the reality of the geopolitical landscape—he knew that Poland’s eastern territories were lost. His focus was on taking political advantage of the existing situation, wherein all the world was set against Germany, to lay Poland’s claim to western lands that the III Reich had used as a springboard to launch its eastern campaign. Żymierski believed that the Polish government in exile was not interested in Poland, only in itself. The General had already warned Poles not to take part in the Warsaw Uprising, insisted that the London government’s forces, if they were determined to make an Uprising, do it far from the center of Warsaw, and gone so far as to claim that the Warsaw Uprising had been a crime against the Polish nation perpetuated by cynical politicians in London who exploited the patriotism of Warsaw’s citizens, promising them Western support which did not come in 1939 and would not come in 1944.
Independent of the extent to which this account of history is accurate, these facts are irrefutable: Michał Rola Żymierski correctly assessed Poland’s strategic position in 1938 as catastrophic. Michał Rola Żymierski correctly assessed that England and France would take no military action against Hitler to rescue Poland. Michał Rola Żymierski returned from exile to Poland following the Nazi invasion. Michał Rola Żymierski made an attempt to formally clear his name and restore his rank of General. Michał Rola Żymierski organized and commanded the anti-German Polish communist resistance. Michał Rola Żymierski was confident negotiating in Potsdam and Moscow because he knew that Stalin would provide him with everything he needed, while Churchill was politically impotent and could do nothing to support the unrealistic wishes of the Polish London government in exile. In short: Michał Rola Żymierski was clearly the most effective, clear headed, successful and intelligent Polish military mind of the XXth century.
To say that Marshal Żymierski was Poland’s most successful and intelligent military mind of the XX century is not to say that the political, economic or moral aspects of the Polish People’s Republic he helped create were good. Given that the Polish People’s Republic arrested and almost killed Marshal Żymierski soon after World War II, I do not think Michał Żymierski had any illusions that the Polish People’s Republic was a good republic. I also do not think Michał Rola Żymierski really cared one way or another if the Polish People’s Republic and Joseph Stalin ended up liquidating him. From an early age, he had decided to give up his life for Poland, and he fought in all of the major wars of the XX century ready to do so. That the Polish nation-states his valor helped build were led by bunglers, fools, traitors, incompetent asses and idiots is not his fault. Michał Rola Żymierski was a soldier. The duty of a soldier is to fight. The duty of a General is to win battles. Marshal Żymierski won his battles, including the battle for Berlin against the greatest army in human history. The Communist Poland he helped create was not a good state, but it was a Polish state and all that is expected of a soldier is that his country is still there when the smoke of battle clears. The soldier is not a philosopher, not a statesman.
In writing this essay, I have been forced to consolidate a wealth of historical information and omit many elements of history. One principle omission is the role Marshal Żymierski played in the post-war Polish civil war between the new communist government and remnants of the Home Army. This omission is not intended to be a slight against the Home Army, nor against the Underground National Government. This omission is a conscious decision rooted in a firm conviction that ample information exists about the Home Army, and that my own work has established my deep respect for the Warsaw Uprising. I am opposed to the Polish civil war and am disgusted by any attempt to prolong it. It is my view that all Polish soldiers who fought for their nation in World War II deserve to be honored and that attempts to divide Poles into “real heroes” and “traitors” only serve Poland’s demise. It is my hope that readers will recognize that this essay is not written against the Home Army, though it is highly critical of the London Government in Exile and the Sanation State. Yet the Home Army, the London Government and the Sanation State have hundreds of books, essays and articles in their favor. I believe one short essay pointing to the merits of Marshal Żymierski is not an affront to their memory, nor should this essay be understood as advocating or glorifying Polish communism.
Still, if we are pressed to provide one salient and purely good deed that Marshal Michał Rola Żymierski did for the benefit of the birth of a free, independent non-communist Poland after 1945, for the birth of high minded political philosophy and healthy republicanism in Poland, then without a doubt, it might be said that more important than the Marshal’s battlefield valor, more important than his skills negotiating with Stalin and Churchill, the Marshal’s greatest gift to Poland was made in 1948, when a lowly Major of the Polish Army named Herman Gerner took a public stand against the Soviet policy of placing Russian officers in charge of Polish military units. Instead of arresting Major Herman Gerner, instead of shooting Major Herman Gerner in the head or tossing Major Herman Gerner into a dungeon—all of which was in the power of Supreme Commander Michał Rola Żymierski—the Marshal personally signed an order changing Herman Gerner’s name to Henryk Krzeczkowski, discharging the Major, and letting him go free to live in poverty, collecting old books, and building a conservative movement in Poland rooted in political philosophy and serious republicanism. If for no other reason than that he let the father of post-war Polish conservatism go free, Poland owes Marshal Michał Rola Żymierski at least a little thanks. But perhaps – in a world where Poles are always thought of as either military failures or excellent at dying dramatically, Poland would like to consider at the very least not burying the memory of its last Marshal too deeply, for why should Poland be embarrassed to have produced such an effective, loyal and committed soldier who made such an impact on the history of Europe and the World?
I have attempted to argue in this work that Michał Rola Żymierski was not a communist nor an anti-communist first, but a soldier and a patriot. His communist sympathies and his communist beliefs are not in doubt. His ability to shoot at communists when so ordered is equally not in doubt. His ability to put aside his communist sympathies and communist beliefs in the name of the rule of law and the duty to serve his republic were demonstrated numerous times. This dedication to the rule of law merits that we acknowledge Marshal Żymierski as a sort of conservative. The difficult circumstances under which he lived and fought, particularly the depressing fact that this gallant officer was exiled by the very free and independent Poland he fought for reveals a serious flaw in the Polish regime. Poland, whether it was the II Republic, the Communist People’s Republic or the current III Republic, is a nation divided against itself to such an extent that it continues to be capable of oppressing its own men and women of excellence, as if the world had not done enough to make their lives hard. Poland, if she is to truly attain greatness, must break this tragic cycle. It must produce successful conservatives, though—in the end—if the reality of Polish life is its tragic component, then I suppose we might just have to learn the virtues of Dostoyevsky, who discovered joy in his suffering as a Russian. Poles, who are natural conservatives, might just be destined to be tragic conservatives.
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 Dmowski, Roman, The Conservative Route in Europe, see chapters pertaining to Polish conservatism in Krakow
 Browde, Robert Paul, The Russian Provisional Government, 1917: Documents, Volume 1, see paragraph 278 The Petrograd Soviet Sends Greetings to the Polish People (Izvestiia, No. 15, March 15, 1917, p.2): “The Tsarist regime, which in the course of one and a half centuries oppressed the Polish and Russian people at the same time, has been overthrown by the combined forces of the proletariat and the army. Notifying the Polish people of this victory of freedom over the All-Russian gendarme, the Petrograd Soviet of the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies declares that Russian democracy stands for the recognition of the national-political and self-determination of peoples, and proclaims that Poland has the right to complete independence in national and international affairs. We send our fraternal greetings to the Polish people and wish it success in the forthcoming struggle for the establishment of a democratic, republican order in independent Poland.”
 Żeromski, Stefan, Rzeczypospolita Newspaper 22 June 1920: “I laugh when I think of it: having yet to secure its’ western and northern border over lands of such great significance which have been wrenched from us into the dangerous jaws of Germany – we go off and spill the blood of our hero knights over bridges crossing the Danube [in Ukraine] and the Sosza river! All of the working men of the West view us with disgust! We have gotten ourselves into a fight with Moscow to the detriment of our west and our Baltic coast! Poland has fallen into the abyss by forgetting to secure the west and the Baltic Coast!”
 Hyde-Price, Adrian, Germany & European Order, Manchester University Press, 2001, p.75
 Time Magazine (11 November, 1929) has a version of this quote whereby Józef Piłsudzki calls the Parliament a prostitute, but it is generally well accepted in Poland that Józef Piłsudzki’s statement in full was “Of the Constitution I say ‘Constitute’—like Prostitute —because constitution is like prostitution, and members of parliament are all whores.”
 Basarabowicz, Tomasz, Michał Rola Żymierski—primo voto Łyżwiński—Frontline Renegade
 Vitos, Vincent, On Democracy: A selection of speeches, writing and dialogues with Vincent Vitos, Education for Democracy, Warsaw 1995
 Polish Army History Institute archives (1983) Marshal of Poland Michał Żymierski—while the date is not corroborated anywhere else, de-classified British documents do corroborate the participation of Michał Żymierski in meetings with Winston Churchill in 1944
 Cenckiewicz, Sławomir, The Long Arm of Moscow: Military Intelligence Services in the People’s Republic of Poland, pages 230-231