Gabriel Narutowicz, Poland’s first President, has been assassinated. The President was visiting the Zachęta art gallery in Warsaw. A few minutes after midday, President Narutowicz (who had only just been sworn in five days previously), arrived at Zachęta and was admiring a painting by Bronisław Kopczyński when the British ambassador William Grenfell Max-Müller together with his wife greeted him warmly. Müller’s wife addressed Narutowicz saying “Permettez-moi Monsieur le Président de Vous fèliciter” (Allow me to congratulate you, Mr President) to which he prophetically replied, “Oh, plutôt faire les condoléances” (Oh, rather offer your condolences). Narutowicz moved on to admire another painting – Teodor Ziomka’s Szron – after which three shots rang out.
The perpetrator of this crime comes as a surprise to everyone. Eligiusz Niewiadomski, the assassin, is a painter, art critic, man of letters, and one of the many heroes who fought for Polish independence after 123 years of foreign domination. In 1918 he was nominated as head of the Art and Sculpture department in the Ministry of Culture and Art by the regency Council government. He took an active part in the demobilisation of the German forces in Warsaw in early November 1918. Later, he worked for counter-intelligence demanding that the government step up its fight against communism. He was largely ignored in these demands. He is a right-wing nationalist and is a known critic of Józef Piłsudski and the late President. An impassioned anti-German and anti-Russian, he is vehemently in favour of a strong, nationalist Polish state.
Divisive politics, the struggle between the left- and right-wings, has brought about this terrible moment for Poland. We are all responsible for this mindless act of violence. Things will never be the same again. Who can forget the words of the Christian Union of National Unity – ‘Chjena’ (ChZJN): “This President has been forced upon us and we need to fight him in order to maintain the nationalist nature of Poland”. The National Democracy (ND) declared that “it would not accept any government formed by this President”. Stanisław Stroński wrote in Rzeczpospolita that “this obstacle needs to be removed”. The Office of the President has been splattered with mud. President Narutowicz has been called a Jew, an atheist and a cosmopolitan. Now, however, the Office of the President is not only caked with mud but also soiled with blood.
R.I.P. Gabriel Narutowicz, the first President of the Republic of Poland.
17 March 1865 – 16 December 1922.