Portraits Page 3

Great Canadian Portraits

Marshal Jozef Pilsudski 1867-1935 - Zdzislaw Czermanski 1896-1970

Copyright Goldi Productions Ltd. - 2009

The hat, badge, and collar decoration on photos of Marshal Pilsudski are a clear match for the drawing.




The original pencil sketch bears the signature of Zdzislaw Czermanski (Sheeshlaw Germanski) (1896-1970) a distinguished Polish-American artist.

Czermanski was born in Cracow, spent some time in France and Brazil before settling in the USA in 1943. He was driven out of Europe by the Nazis.

He was a much loved caricaturist both in Poland and the USA. The emigre was well-received by artists and celebrities in the USA.

The Ransom Collection, at the University of Texas at Austin, has a big collection, including his caricatures of Frank Lloyd Wright, Gertrude Stein, Sibelius, Chagall, Evelyn Waugh, Joyce and Dylan Thomas.

He also made many drawings of Pilsudski, often caricatures.

But he clearly could bring out more than just the personality quirks of people.

Here he clearly plumbed the real depths of the soul of a man who was far more than a mere cold and soulless military robot.

The prominent decoration, with the double row of vertical stripes, which first set us on the right track to identify this anonymous officer, is the Polish Order of Virtuti Militari which was established 200 years ago by King Stanislaw August Poniatowski.

It is the highest military decoration awarded for gallantry above and beyond the call of duty.

It is the equivalent of America's Medal of Honor or Britain's Victoria Cross.

Few portraits exist where Marshal Pilsudski does not wear it.

Below left other details on the portrait of Marshal Pilsudski, which help identify him as the subject of the sketch: the Militari Vertuti, the sash, the collar and cuff decorations, the lanyard.

Taken together, with the name of the Polish artist, Zdzislaw Czermanski, who had a record of making sketches of the Marshal, the evidence is bullet proof of who the anonymous officer is.

Pilsudski is Poland's greatest hero of the 20th century. And for good reasons.

Poland had been under Russian rule since it lost its independence in 1795. Pilsudski, and others, started to agitate for reform and independence in the 1880s. He was imprisoned for five years in Siberia and became a revered fighter for Polish independence.

As Europe stumbled into World War I, he plotted his strategy. Far seeing, beyond most Polish leaders, who were for joining the Allied effort against the Germanic countries, he saw that for Poland to win independence from Tsarist Russia it had to play a free hand, staying clear of firmly siding with either the Germanic powers or the Triple Entente of France, Britain, and Russia. He wanted to see Germany defeat Russia and so release Poland from bondage.

When Germany invaded Russia Pilsudski organized Polish units to occupy the Polish areas the Germans "liberated."

He played coy with both Germany - who nevertheless was glad of the Polish support against the Russians - and the Allies. He informed them, though he was fighting Russia, alongside the Germans, to occupy Polish soil, Poles would never fight France or Britain.

When Russia surrendered to Germany in 1917, Pilsudski declared Poland independent. His gamble had paid off.

After the war the Russian Bolshevik government sought to reconquer Poland but Pilsudski repelled the attempt. Poland was recognized as an independent country.

But, with no tradition of democratic government, Polish politicians descended into fractious cabals, which Pilsudski thought endangered the Polish state. He engineered a coup in 1926.

Below Marshal Pilsudski on the Poniatowski Bridge during the coup. It was here that he tried to broker a peaceful solution to his perceived breakdown in government. Ultimately the crisis only ended with shooting and the death of some 400 soldiers and civilians.

But the authoritarian government that was established as a result of his coup became the foundation for the Poland of the 1930s and the Polish Government-in-Exile in World War II.

Poles in Canada - It should hardly be unusual to find a rare original portrait of Jozef Pilsudski in Canada.

There has been steady Polish immigration to Canada since the 1850s, when Poland was under Russian and Germanic rule. After Poland became independent, after 1917 till 1939, when the Nazis overran it, Poles continued to come to Canada. Most settled in the prairies, making Winnipeg Canada's most populous Polish city at the time.

At the end of World War II, when the Allies allowed the Russians under Stalin to overrun Poland and occupy it, most Poles were outraged. Thousands of Poles had fought and died with the Allies to free Poland from Nazi rule. Now Churchill and Roosevelt betrayed them by enslaving them again under their historic enemies.

One who loudly criticized the betrayal was General Kazimierz Sosnkowski right sporting a Militari Vertuti. Since 1908, he had been Jozef Pilsudski's right hand man and comrade in arms, in the long struggle to win Polish independence from the Russian Czarist Empire, before World War I, and from the Trotsky Bolshevik forces after the War.

During World War II Sosnkowski became a minister in the Polish Government-in-Exile and later Commander-in-chief of the Polish Armed Forces in the West. Having fought the Nazis, he now had to fight for Polish Independence all over again, this time from his supposed friends, and comrades-in-arms, the Allies.



During the war, Poland had committed the fourth largest group of soldiers to the Allied cause, after the Soviets, the British, and the Americans.

Poland was ultimately to lose a higher percentage of its citizens in the war than any other country.

Sosnkowski saw that, in spite of all that, the Allies were secretly willing to sacrifice an independent Poland to Joe Stalin's jackboot behind the Iron Curtain.

When Sosnkowski complained about the obvious, he was dismissed, for voicing the betrayal of Polish sacrifice.

He moved to Canada where, after the war, he became the spiritual head of the Polish expatriate community in North America while Poland suffered under Communist Russia.

Thousands of Polish ex-soldiers settled in Canada, after 1944 through the 1950s. Most settled in Ontario.

Sosnkowski died in 1969, in Arundel, Quebec, 100 km north west of Montreal. He did not live to see an independent Poland, for which he had struggled with Pilsudski, all his life, come into being again, when the Iron Curtain fell, in 1989.

Below Sosnkowski centre, as Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Armed Forces, and left Marian Kukiel (Polish Defence Minister) and Stanislaw Kopanski (Chief of Staff of the Polish Army) in London, in 1944, when the dream, of a liberated and independent Poland, was still alive.

Then came the Allied betrayal... a long exile, and death, in Canada.

His remains were finally interred with other Polish national heroes in St. John's Cathedral, in Warsaw, Poland, left.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

A large and fabulous original pencil sketch of a military officer showed up at a recent Toronto auction.

The curator - they all hate anonymous portraits - listed him in the catalogue, as Stalin - for Joe Stalin the Russian Communist dictator - hoping to boost the bidding, and snag an unwary buyer into paying a lot for a nobody he had turned into a celebrity.

Clearly the curator had no clue about what Joe Stalin looked like so why not try the famous Russian.

It could just as easily have been a Rumanian or Bulgarian customs agent, or maybe a Serbian hotel doorman. Perhaps an Albanian brothel guard. Or...

Actually Lord Kitchener might be just as good a choice.

Clearly the chest of medals had to be a first clue. They are not those found on the breast of any British general who favour more circular medals and decorations.

These are a row of mostly crosses of various kinds.

The first one, with twin dark stripes, widely separated, but also with light margins on either side, was obviously carefully drawn by the artist. It had to be a defining clue.

In fact the decoration is found on the breast only of Polish generals as is the unusual lace on the lower arm.

All these, the hat, and the placement of its badge, can be found on photos of none other than Joseph Pilsudski, the most esteemed military figure produced by Poland, and one of the most far-seeing statesmen of 20th century Europe.

Marshal Josef Pilsudski - Zdzislaw Czermanski, c 1935
Orig. pencil sketch - Image Size - 32 x 46 cm
Found - Toronto, ON