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120th anniversary of Polish children strike in Września

120 years ago, on May 20, 1901, children from a school in Września in Greater Poland, at that time in the Prussian partition, boycotted teaching religion in German. Students were flogged, and parents were sentenced to prison. Despite the repressions, the German boycott lasted in Września until 1904. The protest echoed in all three partitions and in many European countries.

The strike of children and parents from Września was the culmination of the resistance to the fight against the Polish language by the Prussian authorities. The Constitution of the Grand Duchy of Poznań of 1815 ensured that the Polish language would be treated on an equal footing with German. A few years later, the process of limiting its use in the judiciary and education at the lower secondary level began. The removal of Prince Antoni Radziwiłł from the post of governor accelerated this action.

Already in the 1840s, the teaching of the Polish language was limited mainly to elementary schools and the last years of junior high schools.

The aim of fighting against Polish culture, “Kulturkampf” (German for “culture struggle”) under the chancellor of Otto von Bismarck, was, among others, to complete elimination of the Polish language from the public space. It was planned to introduce religious education only in German in schools. It was the last subject that was taught in the Polish language.

On May 20, 1901, fourteen students refused to learn German religious songs. Flogging was ordered. “After the punishment was imposed, the children who were body cramped and morally abused were released to go home,” recalled Bronisława Śmidowicz, a participant in the strike years later.

The screams of children and the sight of leaving school attracted about 200 inhabitants of the town. Their appearance did not stop the punishment being imposed, but the students were released through the back door. The principal of the school went to get support from the police, but he could not fully trust the policemen because the daughter of one of them was involved in the strike. However, once they arrived, they removed the protestors from the school premises. Some parents were sentenced to prison after standing up for their children. The “Poznan Daily” (Dziennik Poznański) took the protests’ side.

Protests continued to take place in the following months in Wrzesnia and other parts of the Prussian Partition until the 1904/1905 school year.

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