Lucjan Żeligowski ([ˈlut͡sjan ʐɛliˈɡɔfskʲi]; 1865–1947) was a Polish general, politician, military commander and veteran of World War I, the Polish-Soviet War and World War II. He is mostly remembered for his role in Żeligowski's Mutiny and as head of a short-lived Republic of Central Lithuania.
Lucjan Żeligowski was born on October 17, 1865, in Oszmiana, in the Russian Empire (modern Ashmiany in Belarus) to Polish parents Gustaw Żeligowski and Władysława Żeligowska née Traczewska. Before the Partitions of Poland in the late 18th century the town was part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. After graduating from military officers' school located in Riga (1885), Żeligowski joined the Imperial Russian Army, where he served at various staff and command posts. He then married Tatiana Pietrowna and had two children.
Żeligowski fought in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. During the First World War he served as a lieutenant colonel and commanding officer of an Imperial Russian rifle regiment.
After the February Revolution of 1917, Żeligowski became one of the organizers of the Polish Army in the former Russian Empire. Initially commander of an infantry regiment in the ranks of the Polish 1st Corps, he was quickly promoted and given command over a brigade. In 1918 he started the creation of a Polish unit in the area of Kuban, which eventually became the 4th Polish Rifle Division. As part of the Polish Army, his unit fought alongside the Denikin's Whites in the Russian Civil War. In October of the same year he became the Commander in Chief of all the Polish units fighting in Russia.
After the outbreak of the Polish-Bolshevik War and the defeat of Denikin, Żeligowski's unit was ordered to retreat to Romanian Bessarabia, where it took part in defence of the border against Bolshevik raids. Finally, in April 1919, the division was withdrawn to the newly established Second Polish Republic, where it was incorporated into the Polish Army and renamed to Polish 10th Infantry Division.
During the war against the Bolshevist Russia, Żeligowski, a personal friend of Polish Marshal Józef Piłsudski, was quickly promoted to general and given the command over an operational group of his name, composed of his 10th division and additional units, mostly of partisan origin. As such, he soon became the commanding officer of the entire Lithuanian-Belarusian Front, operating in the area of Polesie and the Pinsk Marshes. During the Battle of Warsaw in 1920 his unit was attached to the 3rd Polish Army and took part in the pursuit of fleeing Bolshevik and Soviet forces at the Battle of the Niemen.
In October 1920, Żeligowski, a native of historical lands of Lithuania, was chosen to command the 1st Lithuanian-Belarusian Infantry Division, composed mainly of P.O.W. members, volunteers and partisans from the territory of modern Belarus and Lithuania. On October 8, 1920, after a staged coup, he defected with his unit and took control over the city of Wilno (modern-day Vilnius) and its area. The coup, named after him, would be remembered as the defining moments of his life. On October 12 he proclaimed independence of the said area as Republic of Central Lithuania, with Wilno as its capital. Initially a de facto military dictator, after the parliamentary elections he passed his powers to the newly elected parliament, which in turn decided to submit the area to Poland.
After the annexation of Central Lithuania to Poland, Żeligowski continued his service in the Polish Army. Promoted to three-star general in 1923, he served as an army inspector, or a commander of a military district of the capital city of Warsaw. In 1925 he also became the Polish Minister of Military Affairs. Ousted by Piłsudski's coup d'état (the May Coup), he was soon returned to the post. He retired the following year and settled in his family manor in Andrzejewo near Wilno.
In 1930 he published a book containing his memoirs of the Polish-Bolshevik War named War of 1920: Memories and thoughts (Wojna w roku 1920. Wspomnienia i rozważania). He also wrote numerous articles on the conflicts of early 20th century for a variety of Polish newspapers. In 1935 he was elected a member of parliament and remained in the Sejm until the outbreak of World War II in 1939.
During the Invasion of Poland, Żeligowski volunteered for the Polish Armed Forces, but was not accepted due to his old age (he was 74 at that time) and poor health. Nevertheless, he served as an advisor to the command of the Polish southern front. After the Polish defeat, he evaded being captured by the Germans and the Soviets and managed to reach France, where he joined the Polish Government in Exile headed by General Władysław Sikorski. An active member of the Polish National Council, an advisory body, he escaped to London after the French defeat in 1940.
After the end of Second World War Żeligowski declared he would return to Poland, but he suddenly died on July 9, 1947, in London. His body was brought back to Poland, and Żeligowski was buried in the Powązki Military Cemetery in Warsaw.Commander's Cross of the Virtuti Militari, also awarded the Silver Cross
Grand Cross of the Polonia Restituta
Cross of Independence with Swords (25 February 1932)
Cross of Valour - four times
Merit Forces Central Lithuania
Commemorative Medal for War 1918-1921
Decade's Regained Independence Medal
Order of St. George IV class (Russian Empire)
Order of St. Vladimir with Swords class IV (Russian Empire)
Order of St. Anna, class II and III (Russian Empire)
Order of St. Stanislaus, II class (Russian Empire)
Commander's Cross of the Legion of Honour (France)
Croix de guerre (France)
Golden Laurel of the Polish Academy of Literature
Lucjan Żeligowski, Wojna w roku 1920: Wspomnienia I Rozwazania, Warszawa: Wydawn. Ministerstwa * Obrony Narodowej, 1990.
Lucjan Żeligowski,O ideę słowiańską. London: F. Mildner & Sons, 1941.
Lucjan Żeligowski, Zapomniane prawdy. London: F. Mildner & Sons, 1941.