In Exile – General Władysław Sikorski

During the war, the proof and guarantee for Poles, both in their occupied country and those scattered around the world, that Poland had not perished was the government in exile. The government’s first Prime Minister, General Wladyslaw Sikorski would become a symbolic figure.

Nancy, France, May 3, 1940. A review of the units of the 1 Grenadiers Division during celebrations of 3rd of May Polish Constitution Day (first Polish constitution passed in 1791, the first such document in Europe). In the center marches Commander in Chief and Prime Minister General Sikorski, besides him (in a trench coat) President Wladyslaw Raczkiewicz. Photo: Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum in London / KARTA Center
Nancy, France, May 3, 1940. A review of the units of the 1 Grenadiers Division during celebrations of 3rd of May Polish Constitution Day (first Polish constitution passed in 1791, the first such document in Europe). In the center marches Commander in Chief and Prime Minister General Sikorski, besides him (in a trench coat) President Wladyslaw Raczkiewicz. Photo: Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum in London / KARTA Center

Polish civil and military leaders, crossing the Polish border into Romania on September 17, 1939 hoped to continue their activities in exile. However Romania, not wanted to draw the ire of Berlin, intervened. Additionally, the French were not inclined to cooperate with the pre-war Polish political elites, who were compromised by the September defeat. Paris backed a General well known to them, Władysław Sikorski (1881-1943), a longtime opposition figure in Polish politics. Władyslaw Raczkiewiecz, the successor to the interned Polish President Ignacy Mościcki, appointed Sikorski Prime Minister on September 30 (also becoming Commander in Chief). Most cabinet seats were filled with officials from prewar opposition parties – the Polish Socialist Party, the National Party, the People’s Party and the Labor Party, however there was no shortage of Pilsudski supporters either, such as Foreign Minister August Zaleski and General Kazimierz Sosnkowski who was responsible for matters in occupied Poland. The parliament was substituted with the National Council of Poland, established in 1939/1940 with Ignacy Paderewski serving as chairman.

Gibraltar, July 4, 1943. Commander in Chief of the Polish Armed Forces General Wladyslaw Sikorski conducts a review of a company of Polish soldiers stationed in Gibraltar in Spain. That same day General Sikorski died in an airplane accident right after takeoff from Gibraltar. Photo: Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum in London / KARTA Center
Gibraltar, July 4, 1943. Commander in Chief of the Polish Armed Forces General Wladyslaw Sikorski conducts a review of a company of Polish soldiers stationed in Gibraltar in Spain. That same day General Sikorski died in an airplane accident right after takeoff from Gibraltar. Photo: Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum in London / KARTA Center

The government’s mission, operating first in France until her defeat, then in Great Britain, was to reestablish military and civil structures in exile as well as in Poland. The Government Delegation for Poland was an agency of the Polish government in exile which operated in Poland, building an underground state (see: Secret State). The government in exile prepared important social reforms, intending to institute them in post-war, democratic Poland. It also acted, within its ability, in the realm of foreign policy (for instance it planned a federation with Czechoslovakia, and signed an alliance with the Soviet Union in the form of the Sikorski-Majski Pact of July, 1941). It was precisely relations with the Soviet Union which became the source of the government’s loss of influence, especially after the tragic death of General Sikorski in a plane accident off the coast of Gibraltar. Successive Prime Ministers – Stanisław Mikołajczyk and Tomasz Arciszewski – did not have as strong a position as General Sikorski and ultimately on July 5, 1945 Western Powers ceased to recognize the Polish government in exile in London. Nevertheless the government in exile continued until 1990, which had an important symbolic meaning as the continuation of the sovereign Polish Republic.