Among the multitude of conflicts that erupted during 20th century, the Polish-Soviet War is all but forgotten.
The 1919-1921 confrontation featured the newly formed Soviet Russia and Soviet Ukraine against the Poland and the Ukrainian People’s Republic.
Poland, which had just been re-established by the Treaty of Versailles after spending nearly 125 years under the rule of various other countries, including Russia, wanted to secure its borders and independence.
Soviet forces were seeking to spread revolution into other parts of Europe.
Ultimately, the Soviets were defeated, but Polish efforts at an eastward invasion of Ukraine and Belarus were equally unsuccessful.
“The Polish-Soviet conflict is famous for decisively thwarting a Russian advance into the West and Central Europe following the Polish victory at the Battle of Warsaw (Vistula River) in August of 1920,” according to the Warfare History Blog.
The war resulted in the deaths of approximately 110,000 soldiers, according to historians.
Although the conflict ended 93 years ago – fighting concluded in October 1920 but a peace treaty wasn’t signed until March 1921 – its final survivor died only last week.
Józef Kowalski was 113 when he died in a nursing home in Tursk, in eastern Poland.
Kowalski gained a measure of fame when, in February 2012 at the age of 112, he was promoted from lieutenant to captain.
Kowalski’s military service wasn’t limited to Polish-Soviet conflict, either.
He served with Polish forces in the opening weeks of World War II, attempting to defend his country from invading Nazis, but was captured and spent much of the 1939-45 conflict in a concentration camp.
Kowalski was born Feb. 2, 1900, in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
He fought in a Polish cavalry unit formed during World War I, the 22nd Uhlan Regiment, but because Kowalski was not listed as a veteran of the Great War, it appears he did not see action.
It is also unclear whether Kowalski served in the 1918-1919 Polish-Ukrainian War, which claimed another 25,000 lives.
On his 110th birthday, Kowalski was awarded the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta for his war service by Polish President Lech Kaczyński.
(Top: Polish Uhlans, or light cavalry, pictured during the Polish-Soviet War. Photo credit: Warfare History Blog.)
6 thoughts on “Last survivor of Polish-Soviet War dies at 113”
Thank you for a nice AM dose of history with my coffee!
Always glad to do what I can. And it’s always interesting to be able to highlight the life of an individual who clearly witnessed a whole lot of turbulent history. Consider how many different governments/regimes this indivudal lived under: Austro-Hungarian, probably Imperial German during World War I, Free Polish, Communist, and Free Polish again. Just to have survived the better part of six years in a concentration camp is amazing enough. Thanks for your note.
Wasn’t Poland also split in 3 between Austria, Prussia & Russia at one time?
Yes, in the late 18th century, in a move that ended Polish independence for 125 years. When you’re a flat country surrounded by a bunch of belligerents, you tend to have a history of being invaded.
The tangled history of Poland…seen as a pawn by the Great Powers of whatever time, from the Middle Ages to the Cold War.
My mother knew Polish pilots flying with the RAF in World War II… my father knew Poles fighting for freedom with the International Brigades in Spain…
Thank you for bringing attention to it in the best of ways – by telling of the experiences of an ordinary man caught up in it all.
Niech żyje Polska
A tangled history, indeed, and much sadness. If a country deserved a run of good luck, it would be Poland.