Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Rydz-Smigly, Edward (1886–1941)

Marshal of Poland and commander in chief of the Polish armed forces at the beginning of World War II. Born on 11 March 1886 at Brzeóany in Austrian Galicia, Edward Rydz-Smigly joined a Polish paramilitary organization in 1907 and graduated from its officer school in 1912. In August 1914, he joined the First Legion organized by Jósef Pilsudski and fought in it alongside the Austrians against the Russians until July 1917. Rydz-Smigly advanced quickly thanks to his leadership abilities, and by 1917, he had reached the rank of colonel and had command of a regiment.

When Pilsudski discovered that the Central Powers did not intend to grant Poland its independence, he and his First Legion refused to swear allegiance to Austria and Germany and went underground. Rydz-Smigly followed Pilsudski and was appointed commander of the clandestine Polish Military Organization (Polska Organizacja Wojkowa). Following the declaration of Poland's independence in November 1918, Rydz-Smigly became one of Pilsudski's closest associates and was promoted to the rank of brigadier general. In 1920, during the Russo-Polish War, he commanded the Third Army that spearheaded the Polish-Ukrainian offensive that occupied Kiev. After the peace treaty of Riga in March 1921, he became one of the inspectors of the Polish army, with the rank of lieutenant general.

Rydz-Smigly supported Pilsudski in his 1926 coup d'état. In May 1935, when Marshal Pilsudski died, Rydz-Smigly took power, assuming both Pilsudski's rank and his place as head of the Polish armed forces. Thereafter, he made a considerable but belated effort to modernize Poland's defenses. Such efforts were halted by the September 1939 invasion of Poland, first by Germany and then by the Soviet Union.

Rydz-Smigly next turned to Poland's ally Romania. Promised the right of free passage to France for himself and the remnants of his military forces, he sought shelter on Romanian territory. Under pressure from Berlin, the Bucharest government decided to intern him as well as other members of the Polish government. Rydz-Smigly escaped internment, however, and returned secretly to Poland via Hungary. He died at Warsaw from heart failure on 28 November 1941 while trying to organize Polish underground resistance against German occupation.

M. K. Dziewanowski


Further Reading
Coutouvidis, John, and Jaime Reynolds. Poland, 1939–1947. New York: Holmes and Meier, 1986.; Dziewanowski, M. K. Poland in the 20th Century. New York: Columbia University Press, 1977.; Dziewanowski, M. K. War at Any Price: World War II in Europe, 1939–1945. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1991.; Garlinski, Józef. Poland in the Second World War. London: Macmillan, 1985.; Mirowicz, Ryszard. Edward Rydz-Smigly. Warsaw: Instytut Wydawniczy Zwiezku Zawodowych, 1988.; Zaloga, Steven, and Victor Madej. The Polish Campaign, 1939. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1985.
 

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