On November 18th, 1918, the world powers agree to the emergence of an independent Polish state. However, as the years to come show, this decision in no way guarantees Poles their political independence. Bravery, determination and dedication of those who have not had their homeland for 123 years will decide about everything. And the event, as a result of which the revival of the Republic eventually became possible, turned out to be the battle on the outskirts of Warsaw, fought on August 12th – 25th, 1920. Jerzy Kossak’s painting from 1930 tells about this unequal combat. Apart from the armies fighting each other, the Mother of God appears on the canvas.
On the subject of the Battle of Warsaw, many publications were produced, detailing the preparations for the military confrontation and its course, but few of them touch upon the topic of Marian apparitions that were to take place on August 14th and 15th, 1920. Let’s start, however, with the events that immediately preceded this eighteenth most decisive battle for the fate of the world, according to Lord Edgar D’Abernon.
Storming the sky
On June 19th, 1920, at the Old Town Square in Warsaw, Poland was officially entrusted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the presence of Church and state authorities. In July, the Polish Episcopal Conference gathered in Jasna Góra and again gave the Republic to the protection of the Heart of Jesus and at the same time renewed the act of coronation of Mary as the Queen of Poland. On the feast of the Transfiguration of The Lord – on August 6th, a great novena for the Homeland was begun, which was scheduled to end exactly on August 15th – the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. At the beginning of August, Pope Benedict XV appealed to all bishops for a prayer “over unfortunate Poland” (this wording well reflects the odds that the West gave the Polish army in the clash with the Russians).
In July and August, universal prayers were organized throughout Poland, ordering Masses for soldiers and Homeland. Lord D’Abernon, who came to Poland as a member of the Anglo-French Mission, recalls that when passing through Warsaw he had to stop at almost every intersection of streets due to numerous religious processions. On August 8th, relics of Bl. Andrzej Bobola and Bl. Władysław from Gielniów were presented on the Castle Square, so that huge numbers of the faithful could pray together to save Warsaw and Poland. The involvement in the prayers organized by the Church was so great that, dissatisfied with this fact, Wincenty Witos called on Interior Minister Leopold Skulski “to not let so many healthy people in the face of the greatest danger of the state wander the city thoughtlessly, instead of working with others to defend the capital”. In one sentence: a powerful prayer mobilization, a kind of “storm on the sky” took place.
To complete this picture, let us add that many commanders and soldiers going to the front were active worshipers of the Mother of God. General Józef Haller, a member of the Marian Sodality known for Marian piety, a year before the outbreak of the Polish-Bolshevik war, took part in a pilgrimage to Jasna Góra with his soldiers. His pupils carried an embroidered image of Our Lady of Częstochowa on their banners. Marshal Józef Piłsudski himself gave the best example. After conquering Berdyczów on April 26, 1920, he directed his first steps to the church, where the Loreto Litany was said. In addition, according to the press coverage of the time, Piłsudski prayed daily before the image of Our Lady of Ostra Brama. The same image was placed in his grave and carved on the urn in which the marshal’s heart was found.
In these circumstances, the Bolshevik hordes clash with the young, largely inexperienced recruits, Polish army, which, to the great surprise of many observers, pulls off an impressive victory. According to the saying that “success has many fathers”, the success of the Battle of Warsaw was attributed to various strategists or circumstances. It is not difficult to guess that in the period of twenty years, when society particularly needed “bronze” heroes, it was primarily Józef Piłsudski and, of course, “the strength of the Polish weapon”. Without going into these quarrels, one should pay attention to the fact that in the context of discussions on the reasons for victory, first of all attention is paid to the maneuvers that led to the final destruction of the Bolshevik forces. On the other hand, two events are often overlooked or seriously underappreciated, without which success would be impossible: the defense of Ossów and the fight for Wólka Radzymińska.
Our Lady of Grace
On August 13, the Russians approached Ossów, which was only 10 kilometers from Warsaw. While breaking the line of Polish defense, seasoned Red Army soldiers from the 27th Division of Riflemen Witold Putna, known as the Iron Division, faced a battalion of inexperienced junior high school students and scouts (originally intended to maintain order in the capital). And then an event that was difficult to explain happened. Untrained, poorly armed youth repelled the Bolsheviks, maintaining their strategic position. As indicated by eyewitnesses, this happened thanks to Fr. Ignacy Skorupka, who by his brave attitude set an example to the soldiers and thanks to… Our Lady. According to numerous accounts taken to the captivity of the Russians, it was Mary, such as can be seen in the image of Our Lady of Grace (the patron of Warsaw), who was surrounded by hussars, appeared during the fight over Father Skorupka and caused panic among the Bolsheviks.
The second extremely important moment of the Battle of Warsaw was the fight for Wólka Radzymińska. Lieutenant Stefan Pogonowski, contrary to the order of General Lucjan Żeligowski, to remain in previously designated positions, on the night of August 15th, undertakes an unexpected attack on Bolshevik positions in the Radzymin area. The Russians flee in panic, surprised not only by the reckless attack of the Polish battalion, but also, as we learn from their later accounts… manifesting over Poles, the Mother of God. Ks. Wiesław Wiśniewski gives us the testimony of his great-grandfather, a resident of the Zambrów parish: “Around August 20th, the Bolsheviks retreating in disarray said that they were doing well in Warsaw, but they did not conquer the city because they saw the Mother of God over the capital and could not fight her.” There is one of many accounts we have. At the same time, the key significance for the entire battle of Pogonowski’s charge is confirmed by the words of General Żeligowski himself: “At this moment, a weak battalion, not waiting for a time of general strike, attacked a point that, as it turned out later, was the most sensitive place of the Russian army – the center of the main artery of the enemy movement. According to my belief this is where the war card turned, there was a psychological breakthrough for us and the Russians. From that moment, three victorious and unstoppable brigades as well as the 21st Division from Słupno began to retreat, creating chaos and confusion with their retreat. Pogonowski, led by extraordinary instincts, began the victory of the 10th Division and the 1st Army at the Warsaw bridgehead… and died.”
“My young army will defeat them and drive them far”
In the context of the aforementioned events, the words of the Mother of God spoken to the visionary Wanda Malczewska, nearly 50 years earlier, become particularly important: “Since (Poland – M.S.) will receive independence, soon the former oppressors will rise against her to suppress her. But my young army, fighting in my name, will defeat them and drive them far away and make peace. I will help her.”
Regardless of how we refer to revelations unconfirmed by the church authorities (the only ones recognized by the Church are those from Gietrzwałd), there is no doubt that the events from almost a hundred years ago are proof of a great faith in the power of God’s Providence. The mobilization of prayer that took place before the Battle of Warsaw shows us the Polish nation as Mary’s trusting children, calling on their Queen for help in a crisis. The conviction about the intervention of the Mother of God finds expression in paintings. In addition to the aforementioned Jerzy Kossak’s painting, Mary also appears, among others in a series of paintings in the Polish chapel in Loreto, completed in 1939. We can also find the Mother of God on canvases depicting Fr. Skorupka, who stands opposite the Bolshevik soldiers with the cross raised.
Looking at the long history of the Polish state, from baptism in 966 to regaining independence after the years of partitions in 1918, it is impossible not to notice the very vivid Marian cult and its natural consequence, i.e. tangible evidence of the presence of the Mother of God in our history. Although the events cited in this series of articles would not fill us with optimism and a sense of national pride, we must remember that (as the modern history of the “first daughter of Europe” – France shows) nothing is given once and for all, and a man, in his freedom, can easily and permanently fall. Ultimately, the Catholic faith was what kept the national identity alive throughout the ages. And it is, according to the words passed on by Wanda Malczewska: “If Poles succumbed to the pressure of evil and agreed to treat faith as a private matter, then Poland would lose its independence forever”, and not the strength of the weapon, can ensure the survival of the Polish state at the dawn of the third millennium.
by Mateusz Soliński
Translated by Filip Szary
Article in Polish HERE