Since 1795 - when it was carved between Imperial Russia, Prussia and Habsburg Austria - Poland had been off the map and effectively ceased to be a country. Poznań enjoyed brief freedom when Napoleon’s conquering troops liberated much of Poland during their march east in 1806, however Napoleon’s military disaster on the plains of Russia resulted in the 1815 Congress of Vienna, which saw Poznań delivered back into Prussian hands where it would remain for over a century.
With Europe reeling after World War I, Germany in collapse, and Russia plunged into revolutionary chaos, Polish patriotic fervour once more simmered to the surface. The overwhelmingly Polish people of Poznań could sense independence was near, but there remained one crucial sticking point: German stubbornness to relinquish the Wielkopolska region. Woodrow Wilson’s plans for an independent Poland had failed to set any boundaries, and though Warsaw was back in the hands of a Polish government, Poznań was still answerable to Berlin. Ever since the Kaiser’s abdication on November 9, 1918, Poznań’s Poles had been plotting an uprising. Positions in local government and industry were forcibly seized by Poles and the countdown was on for outright war.
Following weeks of tension the fuse was finally lit on December 27th. Historical accounts of how the Uprising started vary; some sources claim it was the shooting of Franciszek Ratajczak and Antoni Andrzejewski on the steps of the police headquarters that started the initial fighting, though most point to a stirring speech given by the pianist and patriot Ignacy Jan Paderewski on the balcony of what was then the Bazar Hotel (Al. Marcinkowskiego 10). While addressing the Polish crowd assembled below a German counter-demonstration passed by – within moments shots had been fired and the Uprising had begun. Historians disagree on which side started the hostilities, but either way there was no turning back the clock. Within hours Polish forces had captured the Poznań train station and post office, while other towns in the region joined them in rebellion.
Under the temporary charge of Stanisław Taczak, the Polish forces scored swift successes against a German army shattered from four years of world war, liberating neighbouring Kórnik and Mogilno, but counter attacks suggested a stiffening German resolve. Fighting continued and by January the situation was out of hand. To save the region from total anarchy, the government in waiting (christened NRL) took charge of all civil and military issues, conscripting all Polish men born between 1897 and 1899 into military service. Taking their oaths of allegiance in what is today Plac Wolności, the Polish troops continued to march into increasingly fierce battles with their German counterparts.
Thankfully, peace was just around the corner, due in no small part to French intervention. February 14, 1919 saw the beginning of international peace talks, and within two days the French delegation had persuaded the Germans to sign an extension of the Allied-German armistice, this time including the Wielkopolska front. Sporadic fighting continued for the next few days, but to all intents and purposes, Poznań, and with it Wielkopolska, were liberated.