It’s been 105 years since the end of World War I. The French in Gdańsk commemorated November 11
The Great War, its far-reaching consequences
The French embassy has been organizing such a ceremony in Gdańsk for years.
November 11, celebrated in Poland as National Independence Day, for Europe is a commemoration of the end of World War I. On this day in 1918, Germany concluded an armistice with the victorious Entente in a railway carriage in Compiègne, northern France. The ceasefire came into force at 11, the armies of the parties to the conflict began to leave their front positions.
This was the end of the greatest massacre in the history of Europe at that time. Until 1939, World War I was simply called the “Great War”. 8 million people died there. This tragic balance was complemented by millions of men who survived but were permanently physically mutilated or marked by neuroses. The memory of the victims was later one of the main reasons for the reluctance of Western societies to confront Hitler’s increasingly aggressive Third Reich and the use of the so-called policy of concessions.
1,359 French graves in Gdańsk
The nation that suffered one of the greatest sacrifices was the French. They counted over 1 million 357 thousand. fallen and those who died from wounds. Including the missing, this amounts to nearly one and a half million.
The cemetery in Siedlce, Gdańsk, is the largest French necropolis outside France. There are 1,359 graves here – mainly prisoners of war exhumed from many regions of today’s Poland who died in German prisoner of war camps during World War II. The remains of French soldiers from World War I, transferred from the Garrison Cemetery in Gdańsk, are also buried here, as well as the remains of French prisoners taken prisoner after the Battle of Sedan during the French-Prussian War of 1870. When the cemetery was established, the remains of French soldiers buried in 1813, after the disaster of Napoleon’s Grand Army in Russia, were found here. In the years 1807-1812, Gdańsk was in French hands.
The French remember differently than Poles
Many thousands of Poles also died in the ranks of the armies of the partitioning countries during World War I, but our society has denied this trauma. If we remember anything at all, it is about Piłsudski’s legionnaires, who fought against the Russians as part of the Austro-Hungarian army. Historians note that November 11, 1918 is basically a date on which there are no significant events in Poland – because it is difficult to consider that Józef Piłsudski arrived by train then and got off on the platform in Warsaw. Beyond the horizon of Polish historical reflection is the fact that the day of regaining our independence in 1918 is closely related to the victory of the Entente countries and the signing of the Peace of Compiègne.
The history of the cemetery in Siedlce
The French Military Cemetery in Siedlce, Gdańsk, is located at ul. Powstańców Warszawskich 35. On an area of approximately 2 ha, in 8 quarters, French soldiers from different times and various armed conflicts are buried: the Napoleonic era, the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, both world wars. About 30 percent of the graves contain personal data of the deceased, the remaining graves are unnamed.
The cemetery had been under construction since 1961 and was opened six years later before the visit to Poland of the President of France, General Charles De Gaulle. In 2002, its thorough renovation was completed.
The cemetery monument was founded by the French state in 1961. At his feet there is an inscription: “The French Republic is grateful to its sons who died for France in Poland.” The content does not fully correspond to historical realities, but in the times of the Polish People’s Republic, a different inscription was not possible for political reasons. In fact, all the French buried in Siedlce lost their lives when Gdańsk and Pomerania belonged to Germany.