Historical story

Why did the Polish prime minister become a German collaborator?

Last updated:2022-07-25

Leon Kozłowski was a professor of archeology at the University of Jan Kazimierz in Lviv. He was a supporter of Piłsudski and Sanacja. In mid-May 1934, he was appointed the president of the Council of Ministers. He was the youngest prime minister in the interwar period. How did he become a collaborator?

The dismissal of the previous government had no rational premises, the new government was made up of practically the same ministers. So it was a classic change for change. The figure of the prime minister aroused much controversy. However, he was a Sanacja man and that was enough. As commented by the Sanacja "Gazeta Polska": "We know that it will not fail and we know that it will not change course."

The government of Leon Kozłowski after being sworn in on May 15, 1934. The prime minister is sitting second from the left

Kozłowski's premiership coincided with the world crisis which particularly affected the Polish countryside. It was also the period in which the sanacja camp was preparing a new constitution. In his views on political matters, L. Kozłowski was a supporter of a tough course, ie guided elections to the Seym and the appointment of senators. These beliefs found practical expression. It was during his reign, after the murder of Minister Bronisław Pieracki, that a camp for political opponents was established in Bereza Kartuska, which, according to the authorities, was to prevent anarchization of political life. People considered dangerous to the state were imprisoned there. Kozłowski's government functioned until the adoption of the April constitution. It was the last act of his political career.

NKVD prisoner

Until the end of the interwar period, he no longer performed any important functions, devoting himself to scientific work. After the Soviets entered, he was arrested and imprisoned. He was brutally interrogated there. As he himself recalled:“I was called two or even three times a day, at various times of the day and night. The tests went on for 8, 10, and sometimes even more hours without interruption ”. The investigation was conducted using the most primitive methods, beating a prisoner was the norm. The accused should have proved his guilt himself. He was accused of serving international capital and oppressing the world of work, harassing communists . These seemingly trivial allegations were in fact serious.

In March 1940, Kozłowski was imprisoned in the NKVD prison in Lubianka, Moscow. The prison also housed former Prime Minister Aleksander Prystor, former Minister of Foreign Affairs Sapieha, both brothers of Marshal Piłsudski, prof. Stanisław Grabski, Janusz Radziwiłł and General Władysław Anders. The cells were perfectly clean. The food was also bearable. At this stage, on top of the previous allegations, membership in an illegal organization aimed at fighting the USSR, participating in the war of 1920, fighting the revolutionary movement.

Kozłowski's photo taken in 1939 in the NKVD prison in Lviv.

The trial lasted 15 minutes . Kozłowski was found guilty and sentenced to death. However, he was forced to write a request for a pardon, threatened that if he refused, the prison administration would write it for him. As a result, his death sentence was commuted to 10 years of a labor camp . In the following period he was still interrogated. He was asked, among others. for the possibility of concluding a Polish-Soviet pact.

Trip to Germany

Kozłowski was saved by the Sikorski-Majski agreement, which normalized Polish-Soviet relations. An amnesty has been announced for Poles in the USSR. Thanks to her, Kozłowski was released from prison. First, he decided to wait in Moscow for the capture of the city by the Germans. Later, however, he went to the place where the Polish army was formed in the USSR. However, due to his health condition, he was not suitable for military service (he lost more than 20 kilograms in prison). Since he belonged to the Piłsudski camp, he could not count on being able to act in the army. He then decided to return to occupied Poland. As he stated in his memoirs, he counted on the fact that the Germans would not make any difficulties in his return to Poland.

First by train, and finally on foot, he reached the front line and reported to a German officer there. The Germans organized his trip to Berlin, and at the end of November he held talks at the Reich Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The fact that the former prime minister had escaped from the USSR was exploited by the Germans for propaganda purposes. At a press conference, he spoke about the period of his imprisonment in the USSR. Then the interview was reprinted by the Polish-language press ("Nowy Kurier Warszawski", "Kurier Częstochowski" and "Goniec Krakowski"), which appeared in the so-called General Government.

The intelligence benefits were rather meager. Kozłowski did not suggest the need to cooperate with the Germans. He also did not play an exceptional role in breaking the attitude of Poles towards the occupant. He was not allowed to return to Poland. He was detained in Berlin to enable scientific work. At that time, he was preparing a work on the Slavic language, he also wrote down his memoirs. He lived in a hotel under police supervision. He could correspond with his family in Poland, he also received parcels from her. However, he was not allowed to go to occupied Poland.

The case of Leon Kozłowski is still controversial today

German propaganda used it several times. He was a member of the commission that was in Katyn in the spring of 1943. He issued a statement on this issue, attributing the crime to the Russians. He also wrote about it in the Polish-language press in occupied Poland. It is hard not to classify the activity of the former prime minister as a collaboration with the occupant. The case of Kozłowski was then taken up by the Polish government-in-exile. It was feared that the former prime minister might decide to cooperate with the Germans and form a puppet government made up of members of his camp. These were vain fears, as never such an idea appeared in Nazi plans. He was considered a traitor.

The case of Kozłowski was dealt with by the Field Court No. 1 of the Polish Army in the USSR. The hearing was of course held in absentia. By the sentence of January 21, 1942, he was sentenced to death for the crime of fugitive to the enemy, i.e. switching to the German side . This sentence was approved by the army commander, General Anders. The commander-in-chief ordered to announce the verdict in the press and on the radio. The accusation, however, concerned desertion, which was a fabricated charge. As the interested person himself explained:

It turned out that Anders had no assignment for me, and only his colleagues promised him to arrange me in the commissariat. I was supposed to run a law firm. Then I decided to return to the country. I was not admitted to the army, nor was I obliged to do military service. So there is no question of desertion. Sikorski must have known from the press that I was in Germany and he was afraid that I would not start political activity. He decided to make it difficult for me. So I was drafted into the army… and then sentenced to desertion… This is sheer villainy. I do not intend to worry about the verdict and take it into account in my proceedings.

However, the case could not be underestimated, because the command of the Home Army received an order to carry out the sentence if Kozłowski came to the country. The Commander of the Home Army asked the Commander-in-Chief to confirm this order. In response, General Sikorski wrote:

The execution of the Kozłowski sentence is binding. If, at present, the performance threatens to expose elements of the Home Army, postpone them until the moment that Mr. General deems appropriate in the event of Kozłowski's attempts to return to the country.

The sentence was not carried out because the Germans did not allow Kozłowski to leave Berlin. The former prime minister was killed in the bombing of the city by Allied planes on May 11, 1944. He was buried in a cemetery in Berlin. His body was brought to Poland only in 1978.


The case of the former prime minister is still controversial . It is obvious that he went over to the side of the German occupier, and even collaborated with it, allowing himself to be used in propaganda. It is naive to explain that Kozłowski did not know Nazi Germany, he still had a picture of Germany and Germans from the period of his studies. He couldn't imagine the situation changing that much. It is hard to imagine a prime minister of the Polish government who did not know the situation in a neighboring country during his tenure. It is also hard to imagine that he could not obtain reliable information about the situation in occupied Poland.

Everyone knew information about the behavior of the Germans with the Poles during the first two weeks of the war. Staying in Berlin for three years, he had the opportunity to correspond with his family in occupied Poland. He lived at the heart of the Nazi system, so he saw how it worked. A keen observer of the situation in the USSR, as he expressed in his memoirs, could not fail to notice a similar situation in Germany. Moreover, the cooperation with the occupant did not fit not only in terms of the standards of conduct of a Polish citizen, but also violated basic moral norms. Even if the bad experiences of his stay in the USSR made him willing to cooperate with everyone in the fight against this country.

The grave of Leon Kozłowski at the Powązki Cemetery

I do not know the second case where the Germans would allow a Polish professor to carry out scientific work, and in a sense at their expense. A large part of Kozłowski's friends were murdered at that time as a dangerous element for the Reich. Where to find explanations for the behavior of the Germans towards Kozłowski? Did they have any more serious plans for him? Was he supposed to be the prime minister of the puppet Polish state? We will never know that. Another thing is the type of accusation. While it would be normal to accuse Kozłowski of collaboration, the accusation of deserting from the army must be regarded as manipulation and law-inducing. However, this does not take away the former prime minister's blame.