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Echos of the “Polish issue” in Prussia

After the suppression of the November Uprising, many insurgents decided to leave the Polish territories under Russian rule and cross into Prussia. They were interned and scattered in Elbląg and various places in Żuławy. Initially, the insurgents were carried along by a wave of admiration for the Poles and general support for their independence aspirations (known as “Polish enthusiasm”) and received a warm welcome in Elbląg. Soon, however, the mood tilted, not least because of the need to cover the refugees’ living expenses. On January 27, 1832, tensions erupted into violence in Fiszewo, near Elbląg. Prussian soldiers opened fire on Polish insurgents and eight of them died. Adam Mickiewicz mentioned this event in The Books of the Polish People and the Polish Pilgrimage, which was published on emigration. Sympathy for the Polish cause was revived for a short time in the so-called Vormärz, a period of political ferment and emerging liberalism that preceded the Spring of Nations. Elbląg was then one of the bulwarks of liberalism in Prussia, but soon gave way to policies dictated by the Prussian national interest. When the January Uprising broke out in 1863, Prussian authorities worked closely with Tsarist Russia. The cooperation found its clearest expression in the Alvensleben Convention, in which both states agreed to act together against the insurgents. This makes the statements of pro-Polish Prussians all the more remarkable. For example, Ludwig August Clericus, a heraldist and illustrator with ties to Elbląg, had himself portrayed in the 1850s wearing a bekishe and a konfederatka, a coat and cap typical of the Polish clothing that became popular in Prussia after 1830 and were worn by Prussian students as a gesture of solidarity. We also find echoes of the January Uprising in Nitschmann’s poem Bei den Insurgenten, written about twenty years after the events.
Illustrations (from top):
1. A title page of a bilingual musical print entitled “Revolution dances of the Poles” from Nitschmann’s collections. The print was published in Gdańsk in 1831 as a manifestation of the “Polish enthusiasm”.
2. The massacre of November insurgents by Prussian soldiers on December, 22 1831 in Elbląg. Hippolyte Bellangé, Massacre des Polonais à Elbing, Paris.