Bitwa Warszawska - Warsaw (1920)

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Summer 1920 remains a memory landmark for many Polish families. One century ago, in just a few weeks, our great grandparents have experienced a succession of contradictory feelings, from certainty to fear, from desperation to enthusiasm, from shame to pride. Our dollhouse pictures the memory of a Książyk boy aged 10 and living in Warsaw. 

Post-war Hardship

Poland had recovered independence after 130 years of partition in November 1918. All across the country, the Poles had celebrated the event with much pump, forgetting for a short while the hardship of their post-war environment. In Warsaw, the population had to make do with rationing cards for food and basic goods. There was a massive unemployment and the inflation was pressuring households’ budgets.

At this time, there were only few Ksiazyk Families were living in Warsaw. Some had established in this town in the late 18th century. Others, originating from Greater Poland, had arrived in the years 1900. Walenty Książyk and his family was living in the centre of Warsaw. Małgorzata, his only daughter had married three years earlier. The house was blessed with the turbulent presence of three boys aged 10, 9 and 7.

Bolshevik Hordes

In 1920, the borders of Poland were not secured. In Russia, the Bolshevik government was planning to extend revolution to Europe. In June, reacting to the extension of the Polish presence in Lithuania and Ukraine, Russian troops had pushed back the Polish army and crossed the provisional borders of Poland. Bolshevik hordes were now rolling into the country, bringing with them violence, destruction, rapes and looting. In Warsaw, newspapers reported the red terror unfold by the konarmia, the cavalry led by General Budionny.

Since mid-July, the Polish Army was retreating. Early August, the situation deteriorated further. News from the front were alarming. After losing the strategic line of the Bug River, the Polish Army had crossed the Narew River. The front was coming closer on the right bank of the Vistula River. Warsaw was now preparing for a likely siege.

In 1920, there was no radio but the population was amazingly well informed. Street vendors shouted the cover stories of Kurjer Warszawski or Gazeta Warszawska. The war was in all minds. People tried to position the front on whatever map they could find. They knew that the Bolsheviks had already appointed a communist "government" in Bialystok. They also knew that the Vistula River was the last line of defence of Warsaw.

Collective Mobilization

As soon as 8 July, the Polish government had launched a massive enrolment of volunteers (ochotniki). All men aged 17 to 42 were invited to join the armed forces, whatever their skills and capacities. Ochotniki came from all over the country, bringing with them guns, long scythes and forks. Aged 57, Walenty was not concerned. Still, as many other civilians, he was engaged in activities related to the logistics support of the Army.

Women of all ages were also mobilized as volunteers. Some were committed to helping the thousands of refugees arriving from Eastern invaded territories. Other joined the medical training of sanitariuszka that would be sent the front after a few days of basic preparation. The iconic pictures of Polish women dressed in impaired military uniforms remain the symbol of this collective enthusiasm. To get a military look, magazines suggested adding pockets to an old jacket before dying this homemade uniform into a mixture of coffee, thyme and green leaves to get an approximate kaki green colour.

Church on the Frontline

Walenty and his family attended the church of All Saints (kościół Wszystkich Świętych) in the centre of Warsaw. Father Marcel Godlewski was the leading Priest of this church. He was also a social activist with ideas close to Walenty who had been a moderate Socialist in his youth. In 1915, Father Godlewski had begun his ministry with a series of initiatives to help the impoverished population of Warsaw. During the war, he had emerged as an influential profile in the diocese.

Since the beginning of his priesthood, Father Godlewski had encouraged the scouts of Wszystkich Świętych to engage in social activities. He was now supporting the massive mobilization effort in support to civilian defence and to the refugees flocking from Eastern invaded regions. Many parishioners answered his call to become "soldiers of the Christ", serving their country away from the battlefield.

National Collect

In parallel, newspapers and local committees had launched the collect of anything valuable for the front. The Polish Army was properly equipped but the thousands of volunteers needed almost everything. Useful item included clothing, blankets, cutlery, and tools. Local committees organized the production of “war bread” and homemade preserves. At home, ladies also organized workshops to sew clothing.

This effort was remarkable but far from addressing the needs. Marshall Pilsudski himself spoke out against the outrageous conditions of some ochotniki battalions. Shoes were the weakest link of the supply chain. So were the linen bands that many Poles used as socks at this time. Whenever possible, bed sheets were sacrificed to make "Polish socks".

In Warsaw, many families answered this patriotic call by giving relics from the past: swords, sabres, and even fake precious karabela used for decoration. However, this generosity proved useless. Antic weapons were not reliable for a military service. Poorly maintained guns had no ammunitions. Antic sabers were not properly sharpened. Many disappointed families went back home with their patriotic but useless contribution.

Forceful Propaganda

For the three Książyk boys, the war was a cause of great excitation. The enemy was clearly identified. Newspapers described the Bolshevik troops as a foul-smelling crowd of inebriated ogres. The memory of the Russian rule during the partition was vivid. During several generations, the population of Warsaw had paid a heavy toll with permanent harassment, arrests and deportations. The new Communist regime in Moscow was just another expression of the Russian grip.

Moreover, the streets of Warsaw displayed a forceful propaganda, served by the talent of Polish artists. Posters highlighted a long list of czerwony crimes: blazed villages, destroyed churches, abused women, slaughtered cattle, and poisoned well. The words Do broni! was a call to fight until the last drop of blood.

War Heroes

The official propaganda also emphasized the role of heroes. After the recent recovery of Independence, the young Republic needed consensual causes to stimulate patriotism and build cohesion. Within days, two profiles emerged to become the providential war heroes. 

Chaplain Ignacy Skorupka (aged 27) died in the Ossów battlefield, leading a charge with the Holy Cross in hand. On 17 August, his funerals were celebrated in Warsaw with much pump and emotion. 

Another hero was a role model for Książyk boys. Engaged in the Scout brigade of Plock, Tadeusz Jeziorowski (aged 12) joined the Polish Army. On 18 and 19 August, he displayed remarkable courage during the defence of Płock, a town strategically located on the right bank of the Vistula River. Becoming the youngest combatant, Tadeusz survived the war and received the Cross of Valour from Marshall Pilsudski in 1921.

After his heroic death, Chaplain Ignacy Skorupka got a special place in our family. During his sermons, Father Godlewski emphasized the heroic sacrifice of this young army chaplain who had been a parishioner of his church.

Indeed, just as the three Książyk brothers, Ignacy Skorupka had been christened in the All Saints church (Wszystkich Świętych). Later, he had been altar boy in this same church. Moreover, Ignacy Skorupca had also attended the same school as the boys. The proximity of this war hero was very impressive for the three kids.   

Our little dollhouse scenery pictures the Książyk brothers paying tribute to Ignacy Skorupka during the Ossów Battle. 

Strategic Contribution

For the three Książyk brothers, the war was also a great frustration. Early August, the enemy was some 12 km away from Warsaw. According to a persistent street rumour, Bolszewicy were “on the other side of the river”. Some boastful kids were even reporting the heroic action of showing their asses to the enemy. Aware of a possible plot to perform such a feat, the anxious parents decided to locked the boys at home.

After the 12 of August, the population of Warsaw was anticipating a massive onslaught with cavalry assaults. Trenches and barricades were supposed to stop the ennemy at strategic points such as crossings and bridges. Boys and girls aged 10 and beyond got the permission to join their Sunday school for a strategic contribution to the war: dig trenches to stop the invasion that now seemed certain. The mission of the kids aged 10 to 12 was to help adults in the trenches work. Armed with shovels (when strong enough) and buckets, the children were dispatched in the neighbourhood under close adult supervision. 

The kids were proud of their homemade "uniforms" embellished by red and white paper ribbons. They had endless discussion about the right way to make a Polish cockade: red inside or outside? One hundred years later, there is no definitive doctrine. We can find the two versions on Flag Day, a national holiday celebrated on May 3rd.  

A Nation in Prayer

Since August 12, Warsaw had been holding breath. Reportedly, some elderly women were already wearing black mourning dresses. Across the city, churches were organizing prayer vigils and processions. Across the streets of the city, the words of Boże! Coś Polskę were resonating a heart-breaking significance: 

Boże! Coś Polskę przez tak liczne wieki
Otaczał blaskiem potęgi i chwały
I tarczą swojej zasłaniał opieki
Od nieszczęść, które przywalić ją miały.

Przed Twe ołtarze zanosim błaganie,
Naszego Króla zachowaj nam Panie!

On August 15, the Assumption Day was an opportunity to remind Saint Mary that She had been the Holy Queen of Poland since 1656: “Królowo Korony Polskiej, módl się za name”. In the Książyk house, there was a strong certitude that after centuries of adversity and grief, Virgin Mary would never let down Poland. 

Miracle on the Vistula

The Bolshevik blitzkrieg offensive was part of the plan of Marshall Pilsudski. He expected the concentration of Russian armies to break the front, encircle them and launch a major offensive. On 16 August, this plan proved successful. The counterattack of Polish forces was rapid and decisive. The population welcomed the victories in Ossów and Radzymin with eruptions of joy.

In the immediate aftermaths of this military success, the Bolshevik hordes withdrew and began a disorganized retreat eastward. The Red Army left the Polish territory on 25 August and took refuge in Eastern Prussia, a region of Germany. The war was over. The Treaty of Riga signed in 1921 consolidated the recovered Polish territories and stabilized the Eastern borders.

The victory of Poland was celebrated across the world. The Miracle on the Vistula (Cud nad Wisłą) still resonates today as one of the most important battle in History. Once again, the Poles had confirmed their exclusive position of saviour of Europe. They had stopped the Turkish invasion in 1683. They were now protecting the continent from a Bolshevik contagion.

War Booty  

The Red Army fled Poland in chaos, leaving behind looted items and many equipment. Months after the war, thrift markets in Warsaw were proposing war booties collected on the battlefield. Leather items (belts, bags), were the most sought after. The boots of Red Army officers were expensive but they had much success. Same interest for the  black leather coats of political commissars, the dreadful rulers of Russian regiments.

During the darkest hours of the Bolshevik offensive, two distinctive hats of the Red Army had been the fascinating and repulsive symbol of the enemy. One was the budenovka of the infantry, a grey wool pointed beanie. The other was the Cossack papachka of the konarmia, made from black astrakan. For every children, the possession of these items was the equivalent of receiving a medal from Marshall Pilsudski. Parents were horrified to have such smelly devil in the house. 



The Łukasiewicz Institute and Polacy1920

invite you to visit our dollhouse

and share our family memory

 of the “Battle of Warsaw”


Several events are organized for the 100th commemoration of the Battle of Warsaw. 

Exhibition "Fotorelacje. Wojna 1920" at the National Muzeum in Warsaw from 14 August to 15 november 2020;

Exhibition "Czas Chwały. Bitwa Warszawska 1920 r." at the Muzeum of the Polish Army in Warsaw;

-Visit of the Muzeum Pilsudki with a new building recently inaugurated.

Several websites focus on the History of Poland in the early 20th century:

Niepodlegla reports all the events related to the commemoration of the Independence;

Bitwa 1920 develops the main points of the Polish-Bolshevik war. 

We also strongly recommend the website

This excellent blog is dedicated to the 100 Jubilee of the Battle of Warsaw.

With immense talent, the author explores the atmosphere of Poland and Warsaw in 1920.

The great quality of documents and pictures helped us to develop our dollhouse story 

Polacy1920 has no equivalent.

Worth visiting and reading.


Behind the scene: the making-of our little stories 

Remark: In the gallery, most press photos are from Tygodnik Illustrowany, as scanned by the Library of Lodz University

Photos K, O and S are our compositions, inspired by Tygodnik Illustrowany layout.

Credit: Photo A - Ilustrowanyo Kurier Codzienny nr 191/1920 posted by POLACY1920 / Photo B - Tygodnik Illustrowany 18.9.1920 / Photo E - Tygodnik Illustrowany 11.9.1920 / Photo F -  Tygodnik Illustrowany 18.9.1920  / Photo G - Tygodnik Illustrowany 11.9.1920 / Photo J - Tygodnik Illustrowany 31.7.1920 / Photo M - Tygodnik Illustrowany 17.7.1920. 

Memory of a Dollhouse

- Pickles Season (1910)

- Laundry Day (1910)

- Exploring the Pantry (1920)

- Spanish Flu in Warsaw (1918)

- A Paper Army in Grunwald (1920)

- Visit to Grandma (1937)


©Ksiazyk 2015