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Gabriel Narutowicz

In office
December 11, 1922 – December 16, 1922
Prime Minister Julian Nowak, Władysław Sikorski
Preceded by Józef Piłsudski (Chief of State)
Succeeded by Stanisław Wojciechowski
Maciej Rataj (acting)

In office
June 28, 1922 – December 14, 1922
President Józef Piłsudski (Chief of State)
Prime Minister Artur Śliwiński, Julian Nowak
Preceded by Konstanty Skirmunt
Succeeded by Aleksander Skrzyński

Born March 17, 1865(1865-03-17)
Telsze (Тельши, Telšiai), Russian Lithuania (now Telšiai, Lithuania)
Died December 16, 1922 (aged 57)
Warsaw, Poland
Political party None
(supported by the Polish People's Party "Wyzwolenie")
Profession Engineer
Religion Atheist[citation needed]

Gabriel Narutowicz (Telšiai, Lithuania, 17 March 1865 – 16 December 1922, Warsaw, Poland) was a professor of hydroelectric engineering at Switzerland's Zurich Polytechnic, and Poland's Minister of Public Works (1920–21), Minister of Foreign Affairs (1922), and first president of the Second Polish Republic.



Gabriel Narutowicz was born into a Polish-Lithuanian noble family in Telšiai, Lithuania. His father, Jan Narutowicz, was the local district judge and also the owner of the village of Brėvikiai in Samogitia. For taking part in the January 1863 Uprising against Imperial Russia, he was sentenced to a year’s imprisonment; he died when Gabriel was only one year old.

Gabriel’s mother, Wiktoria Szczepkowska, was Jan's third wife. After her husband's death, she had to rear their sons on her own. She was an educated woman, fascinated by Enlightenment philosophy. She had a great influence on Gabriel’s interests and views. In 1873 she moved to Liepāja, Latvia, so that her sons would not have to attend a Russian school, where after, the January 1863 Uprising, Russification was more strongly enforced.

Gabriel Narutowicz’s brother, Stanisław Narutowicz, became a Lithuanian citizen. In the late stages of World War I, he was a member of the Council of Lithuania, the provisional Lithuanian parliament. Stanisław’s signature appears on the Lithuanian Act of Independence of 16 February 1918.


Gabriel finished gymnasium in Liepāja, Latvia. He began studying at the Institute for Mathematical Physics in St. Petersburg. Due to illness, however, he was forced to give up those studies. He spent most of his life in Switzerland, where from 1887 to 1891 he studied at the Zurich Polytechnic.

During his studies he helped the Poles who were on the run from the Russian authorities. He was also connected with an emigration party called “Proletariat”. Thus, he was banned from returning to Poland; what is more, the Russian authorities issued a warrant for his arrest. In 1895 Gabriel Narutowicz became a Swiss citizen and, after completing his studies, he got his first job on the construction of the St. Gallen railway.

He was an excellent construction engineer. In 1895 he became a chief of works on the River Rhine. Later he was hired by the Kurstein technical office. His works were exhibited at the International Exhibition in Paris (1896) and he became a famous pioneer of electrification in Switzerland. He directed the construction of many hydroelectric power plants in Western Europe (in places such as: Monthey, Mühleberg and Andelsbuch).

In 1907 he became a professor at ETH Zurich, in the water construction institute in Zurich. He was dean of that institute from 1913 to 1919. He was also a member of the Swiss Committee for Water Economy. In 1915 he was chosen chairman of the International Committee for regulation of the River Rhine.

During World War I he cooperated with the General Swiss Committee that helped victims of the war in Poland. He was also a member of La Pologne et la Guerre, located in Lausanne. He strongly believed in ideas voiced by Józef Piłsudski. In September 1919, Narutowicz was invited by the Polish government to return to Poland, which he began helping rebuild.


After coming back to Poland, on June 23, 1920 Narutowicz became the Minister of Public Works in Władysław Grabski’s government. He held that post until June 26, 1922 (in four different subsequent cabinets: of Władysław Grabski, Wincenty Witos and the first and the second government of Antoni Ponikowski). After becoming the Minister of Public Works, Narutowicz immediately started to work on the rebuilding of his destroyed country. He used the experience he had acquired while working in Switzerland, where he had been a pioneer of electrification. He reorganized the reconstruction administration and reduced the number of people employed in that field by about four times over the course of two years (in order to increase its efficiency). He travelled around the country to supervise and control the works. In 1921 almost 270,000 of buildings were rebuilt, over 300 bridges and most of the roads were mended and about 200 km of highways was built. He designed dams and supervised the building of the hydroelectric power plant in Porabka on the river Sola, in Beskid Mountains and worked on river control of the Vistula River.

He was perceived as a reasonable and broad-minded man. He was a member of the government in every subsequent cabinet (it was the period of constant government crises). In April 1922, Narutowicz was delegated (together with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the time, Konstanty Skirmunt) to participate in an international conference in Genoa. Thanks to him the Polish delegation was successful. According to some, a lot of foreign diplomats had greater trust in Narutowicz (he was highly respected in the West) than in the government of a newly established country. On June 28, 1922, he became the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Artur Śliwiński’s government. He also held that post in the later government of Julian Ignacy Nowak. In October, 1922, he was a representative of Poland at a conference in Tallinn.

In the elections to Parliament in 1922, he supported the National Public Union (Pol: Unia Narodowo-Państwowa), connected with Józef Piłsudski. He was a candidate of Public Union on Eastern Borderland (Pol: Państwowe Zjednoczenie na Kresach); however, he did not get a seat in the Parliament.


President Gabriel Narutowicz with Marshal Józef Piłsudski (left), Warsaw, 1922, days before Narutowicz was assassinated.

After having lost the elections, Gabriel Narutowicz continued to be the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the government of Julian Nowak. He was surprised that in December he was chosen to be one of the candidates in the presidential elections. Even Józef Piłsudski dissuaded him from standing for election. At first he wanted to decline the proposal of the members of Polish People's Party "Wyzwolenie" (Pol: Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe “Wyzwolenie - PSL “Wyzwolenie”) but eventually accepted it.

At that time (according to the March Constitution of Poland - 1921) the president was chosen by the National Assembly (Pol: Zgromadzenie Narodowe – Sejm and Senate). There was no winner after the first round of voting. In the next round the socialist candidate, Ignacy Daszyński, was eliminated, but no one won either. The next ones to drop out were: the candidate of the united groupings of the national minorities, Jan Baudouin de Courtenay and Stanisław Wojciechowski (supported by some part of the Left). In the last round, which had to be decisive, there were two candidates left: count Maurycy Zamoyski (connected with the right-wing National Democracy movement) and Gabriel Narutowicz (supported by some left wing parties and national minorities).

Narutowicz won thanks to votes of the Left, national minorities (who were opposed to National Democracy movement) and Polish People’s Party “Piast” (Pol: Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe “Piast” – PSL “Piast”), which (contrary to expectations) in the last round of voting supported Narutowicz, not the candidate of the right wing, Zamoyski. Eventually, Narutowicz got 289 votes and count Zamoyski – 227. Narutowicz was elected the first president of the Second Polish Republic.

His victory in the elections came as a surprise to the right wing. Following Narutowicz's election, Catholic and nationalist groups began an aggressive campaign against him. Among other things, they accused him of being an atheist and a Mason. Some segments of the press called him “the Jewish president”. The right wing, supported by General Józef Haller, also criticized his relations with Józef Piłsudski and his support of Piłsudski's policies. Manifesting their opposition against the swearing-in of the president-elect, members of the National Democracy movement staged anti-government demonstrations in Warsaw.


Gabriel Narutowicz was president of the Polish Republic for only five days. He took the oath of office on December 11, 1922. Earlier on that day, opponents of his election tried to prevent the president-elect from getting to the Sejm by blocking the streets and throwing mud at his motorcade. Narutowicz was uncomfortable with the wide-spread belief that he was the representative of the Left. He only became the candidate of the Polish Peasant Party "Wyzwolenie" by happenstance; he had also not expected to win the election (in the first round Narutowicz gained just 62 of all voices; whereas, count Maurycy Zamoyski - 222).

During his first days after taking office, Gabriel Narutowicz met with the representatives of the Christian Democratic Party and Cardinal Aleksander Kakowski. Narutowicz realized that it would be impossible to form a majority government in the Parliament, so he made an attempt to create a government beyond the purview of parliament. As a gesture to the right wing, he offered the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs to his recent opponent, Maurycy Zamoyski.

Guard of honor at Narutowicz's funeral bier

Only five days after taking office, on December 16, 1922, Narutowicz was assassinated while attending an art exhibition, in the National Gallery of Art “Zachęta”. The assassin was a painter, Eligiusz Niewiadomski, who had connections with the far right wing National Democratic Party. Narutowicz's murder was the culmination of an aggressive propaganda campaign vilifying him. His assassin was sentenced to death and his execution took place outside of the Warsaw Citadel on January 31. Some of the right wing extremists perceived him as a hero.

The murder of the first president of the Second Polish Republic and the angry canvassing against him revealed impermanence of democratic mechanisms in Poland at that time. December 1922 revealed a huge level of intolerance and nationalistic feeling in Polish society.

The murder of Narutowicz was the main theme of a Polish feature film “Death of a President” (Pol: "Śmierć prezydenta" from 1977), directed by Jerzy Kawalerowicz.

See also


  • Richard M. Watt, Bitter Glory: Poland and Its Fate, 1918 to 1939, New York, Simon and Schuster, 1979, ISBN 0-671-22625-8.
  • Wapiński, Roman (1980). Narodowa Demokracja 1893-1939. Wrocław: Zakład Narodowy Imienia Ossolińskich. ISBN 83-04-00008-3. 
Government offices
Preceded by
Konstanty Skirmunt
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by
Aleksander Skrzyński
Political offices
Preceded by
Józef Piłsudski
(Head of State)
President of the Republic of Poland
Succeeded by
Maciej Rataj


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