Małopolska on the Eve of the Great War

Małopolska on the Eve of the Great War

Hotel Saski, Kraków
If one had a look at a political map of Europe in 1914, e.g. the map issued in the famous Berlin publishing house Pharus Verlag G.m.b.H. Berlin, instead of several contemporary independent states in its middle part, one would see only a few but large countries. Among the states established after the First World War, and nonexistent on the political map of 1914, is also Poland – then divided between the three great monarchies.

Most of the Polish territory, including Warsaw, was annexed to the powerful Russia, ruled absolutely by Tsar Nicholas II of the Romanov Dynasty. After the failure of the January Uprising of 1864, the tsar authorities eliminated the remainder of autonomy enjoyed by the Kingdom of Poland and soon afterwards they also liquidated the entire Congress Poland, the strange creation established in 1815 during the Congress of Vienna. All signs of Polish national life were brutally crushed and the mandatory Russification was imposed on the country. Poles had no influence on the authorities whatsoever. At the outbreak of the Great War Russia had been allied with France for several years, and with Great Britain, standing in opposition to the two other countries that ruled the Polish lands.

On the other side of the barricade were the so-called Central Powers, i.e., the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the German Empire. The southern part of the Polish territory remained in the hands of the Danube Monarchy, as the Austro-Hungarian Empire was also known. This vast country, ruled for over half a century by the aging Franc Joseph I of the Habsburg Dynasty, was a conglomerate of very diverse provinces, inhabited by numerous ethnic groups and nations. Poles were one of them. The entire Małopolska south of the Vistula River line and a scrap of land north of the Vistula River in the vicinity of Kraków were located within the borders of the Habsburg Empire. The capital of Małopolska was annexed to Austria in 1846. Kraków was then a provincial border town (Lemberg became the capital of the Polish territories annexed to the Habsburg Empire), and in the course of time it became the largest fortress in the country.
Emperor Wilhelm II of trying to eat the world - a caricature of the French (1915), arch Wikimedia Commons

Polish area in 1914