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Poland 2008 90th Anniversary of Independence 20 Zlotych Order of Virtuti Militari Medal / 3 Generals Silver Proof

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Poland's military honor, the Order of Virtuti Militari, graces this large silver proof!

Sold out at the Mint!Celebrate the 90th anniversary of Polish Independence with the new program that includes 4 different coins (and a commemorative bank note, Poland's second ever)! On November 11, 1918, the legendary Joseph Pilsudski was appointed Commander in Chief of all Polish forces by the Regency Council Marshal Jozef Pilsudski on Horseback by the painter Kossak Wojciechin Warsaw. His very first act, on that very day, was to proclaim the Republic of Poland as a free and independent nation for the first time in 123 years - a bold proclamation indeed! At that time, very few people, even within Poland, believed it was even remotely possible for Poland to emerge as a free nation, independent of her larger and more powerful neighbors. The fascinating story of Polish Independence, and a short biography of Marshal Pilsudski, are recounted below.

Polish Independence Day, the 11th of November, was made a national holiday in 1937. It was therefore celebrated only twice before the Nazi invasion that opened World War II and saw Poland lose its sovereignty yet again. In the Soviet-sponsored Peoples' Republic of Poland (PRL), the national holiday was moved to July 22nd. In 1989, upon the overthrow of the Communist party and the restoration of the Polish Senate, Independence Day was moved back to November 11th.

This significant 20 Zlotych coin, featuring the design of the Order of Virtuti Militari, is part of an intriguing five-item program that also includes a

    •  Very affordable 2 Zl Nordic Gold coin with Poland's Order Polonia Restituta award
    •  Low-mintage Commemorative 10 Zl banknote honoring Marshal Pilsudski
        - Please note that this is only Poland's second-ever commemorative bank note
    •  Low-mintage 50 Zl Pure Gold Proof in an unusual denomination
    •  Sizable 200 Zl Gold Proof featuring Pilsudski & the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Virtuti Militari
The Order Virtuti Militari (Latin, "For Military Valor") is Poland's highest military decoration for courage in the face of the enemy. It was established by the last King of Poland, Stanislaw The Order of Virtuti Militari (Grand Cross on ribbon), Poland's highest military honorAugust Poniatowski, and is considered one of the oldest military decorations in the world still in use. Poland also awards the Order of Polonia Restituta to both civilians and soldiers.

Soon after the introduction of the Virtuti Militari, however, Poland ceased to exist through the partitions of 1795. In order to quash Polish nationalism, the partitioning powers abolished the decoration and prohibited its wearing. Since then, the award has been reintroduced, renamed and banned several times, with its fate closely reflecting the vicissitudes of the Polish state. Throughout the decoration's existence, thousands of soldiers and officers, Polish and foreign, several cities, and one ship have been awarded the Virtuti Militari for valor or outstanding leadership in war. There have been no new awards since 1989.

The Order of Virtuti Militari is awarded in five classes, either for personal heroism or to The Order of Virtuti Militari (this one dating to the Revolution of 1831), Poland's highest military honorcommanders for leadership. Some of the heroic actions recognized by an award of the Virtuti Militari are equivalent to those meriting the U.S. Medal of Honor or the Commonwealth's Victoria Cross. The five classes are: Grand Cross with Star, Commander's Cross, Knight's Cross, Golden Cross and Silver Cross. Among the recipients of the Golden Cross was the ORP Blyskawica, a destroyer of the World War II Polish Navy, probably the only warship in the world to be awarded a nation's highest-ranking medal for heroism. General of the Armies John J. "Blackjack" Pershing was awarded the Commander's Cross of the Order for his role in the winning of the First World War.

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Obverse
The medal of the Order of Virtuti Militari, in the shape of a Maltese cross with the words VIRTUTI MILITARI in the arms, with the crowned white of Poland on the circular badge in the center. The medal rests on its ribbon. Also depicted is the crowned white eagle, the national emblem of Poland, with the year of issue, the denomination and the legend RZECZPOSPOLITA POLSKA ("Republic of Poland").

Reverse
Bust portraits of three Polish generals instrumental to the victory over the Bolshevik forces during the Polish-Soviet War. To the left is General Tadeusz Rozwadowski; to the center, General Józef Dowbor-Mu?nicki; and to the right General Józef Haller. The Polish legend 90. ROCZNICA ODZYSKANIA NIEPODLEG?O?CI translates as "90th Anniversary of Regaining Freedom".

Specifications
Country Poland
Year of Issue 2008
Issuing Authority National Bank of Poland
   
Face Value 20 Zl
Weight 28.28 g
Diameter 38.61 mm
Mintage Limit 110,000
   
Finish Proof
Composition .925 Fine (Sterling) Silver
Edge Plain
Packaging Encapsulated

The War of Polish Independence
The history of modern Poland is marked by tremendous highs and lows. At its zenith in the 17th century, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was a dominant player in Eastern Europe and stretched over nearly a million square kilometers! Later, with no natural defensive boundaries and squeezed by Russia, Prussia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Poland endured three partitions by these great powers. The third and final partition of Poland, in 1795, eliminated the Polish monarchy and the state of Poland from the map of Europe. Thus, Poland ceased to exist as separate nation until the end of World War I, for nearly 130 years. Through this entire time the Polish people maintained their cultural identity, struggled as best they could via revolutions, and never stopped dreaming of a free and independent Poland.

Polish defenses outside of Warsaw in August 1920 On November 11, 1918, Joseph Pilsudski was appointed Commander in Chief of all Polish forces by the Regency Council in Warsaw. His very first act, on that very day, was to proclaim the Republic of Poland as a free and independent nation for the first time in 123 years - a bold move indeed! Very few people, even within Poland, believed it was even remotely possible for Poland to emerge as a free nation, independent of her larger and more powerful neighbors. Later that same week, Pilsudski skillfully negotiated the peaceable evacuation of 55,000 German soldiers of the Warsaw garrison. In the next few months, a total of over 400,000 Germans would peacefully depart Poland. Significantly, the terms of the evacuation included that the Germans leave their weapons to the Poles.

However, this freedom did not come cheaply. For over two years, from February 1919 to March of 1921, the newly-liberated Polish state fought a massive (if little-known in the West) war against the Bolshevik armies of the Communist Russia. The Soviet armies, under direct instructions from Vladimir Lenin, launched offensives westward in the autumn of 1918, in an attempt to reconquer territory ceded by Soviet Russia to Imperial Germany under the terms of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in early 1918. With the fall of Germany and the Armistice ending the First World War, Lenin saw an opportunity to expand the Red Revolution. He viewed Poland as the bridge to Western Europe that the Red Army would have to cross in order to assist other communist movements and speed along other European revolutions.

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The Miracle at the Vistula
After a year and a half of see-sawing fortunes, a massive Red offensive brought the nascent Polish State to its knees in the fall of 1920. Red Army forces commanded by Mikhail Tukhachevsky had reached the approaches to the Polish capital of Warsaw and nearby Polish officers pose with captured Bolshevik Russian flags and standards after the Battle of Warsaw (the Modlin Fortress. On August 16, in a risky and daring maneuver, Pilsudski's mobile Polish army counterattacked from the south, catching the Russians completely by surprise and forcing them into a disorganized withdrawal eastward, behind the Neman River. Estimated Soviet losses were 10,000 killed, 10,000 wounded and 66,000 taken prisoner, compared with Polish losses of some 4,500 killed and 22,000 wounded. Formally known as the Battle of Warsaw, Pilsudski's masterstroke is colloquially known as the "Miracle at the Vistula" (Polish: Cud nad Wis??), and looms large in modern Polish history as the coup that secured Poland's freedom.

Before the Polish victory at the Vistula, the Bolsheviks (and the majority of foreign experts) considered Poland to be on the verge of defeat. The unexpected Polish victory crippled the Bolshevik forces and stunned the world at large. In the following months, several more Polish victories secured Poland's independence and eastern borders.

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Joseph Pilsudski
The story of the modern free and independent Polish state is, in many ways, the story of General Joseph Pilsudski (Polish: Józef Klemens Pi?sudski), who would go on to be named "First Marshal of Poland". A larger than life figure both within Poland and later on the international stage, Marshal Joseph Pilsudski portraitPilsudski is now little-remembered by the international community, but remains a hero to Poles everywhere. He is considered largely responsible for Poland regaining independence in 1918, after a hundred and twenty-three years of partitions.

Pilsudski seems to have had an almost preternatural prescience for events military and political. Early in his political career, he concluded that Poland's independence would have to be won by force of arms. For example, in the early 1910s he anticipated the outbreak of a major European war, Imperial Russia's defeat by the Central Powers, and the Central Powers' subsequent defeat by the western powers. Accordingly, he created the Polish Legions in 1914. When World War I broke out, he and his Legions fought alongside the Austro-Hungarian and German Empires to ensure Russia's defeat. In 1917, with Russia faring badly in the war, he withdrew his support from the Central Powers and worked to create a free Polish State.

From November 1918, when Poland regained independence, until 1922, Pilsudski was Poland's "Chief of State." During 1919–21 he commanded Poland's forces in the Polish-Soviet War and led them to victory. In 1923, with the Polish government dominated by his opponents, particularly the National Democrats, he withdrew from active politics. Three years later he returned to power in the May 1926 coup d'état, becoming de facto dictator of Poland. From then until his death in 1935, he concerned himself primarily with military and foreign affairs.

Marshal Jozef Pilsudski's tomb in the crypt beneath the national cathedral on Wawel Hill in Cracow (Krakow)For at least thirty years until his death, Pi?sudski pursued two complementary strategies, intended to enhance Poland's security and international role: "Prometheism," which aimed at breaking up, successively, Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union into their constituent nations (and thus weakening Poland's once and future nemesis); and the creation of an "Intermarum" federation (Polish: Mi?dzymorze; similar to the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth), comprising Poland and several of her neighbors. It is interesting to view Pilsudski's vision through the lens of history: less than two decades after the failure of his grand scheme, all the countries that he viewed as candidates for membership in the Mi?dzymorze federation had succumbed to the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany.

To this day, Pilsudski's tomb in the crypt of the National Cathedral at the Wawel in Cracow (Polish: Kraków) is a place of pilgrimage for many older Poles and for those who served in the military, where lit candles, fresh flowers and military wreaths are placed. So great is his legacy that his tomb merits a separate grotto all to itself, with the emblem of the Polish Legion forever standing guard above it, a lasting tribute to the great champion of Polish freedom.

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