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Józef Zachariasz Bem ( ) (March 14, 1794 – December 10, 1850) was a Polish general and a national hero of Polandmarker and Hungarymarker, and a figure intertwined with other European nationalisms. Like Tadeusz Kościuszko (who fought in the American War of Independence) and Jan Henryk Dąbrowski (who fought alongside Napoleon Bonaparte in Italy and in his Russian campaign), Bem fought outside Poland's borders for the future of Poland; he fought everywhere his leadership and military skills were needed.

Early life

Bem was born in Tarnówmarker in Galicia, the area of Poland that had become part of the Habsburg Monarchy through the First Partition in 1772. After the creation of the tiny Duchy of Warsawmarker from the territories captured by Napoleon, he moved with his parents to Krakówmarker, where after finishing military school (where he distinguished himself in mathematics) he joined the ducal forces as a fifteen-year-old cadet. Bem joined a Polish artillery regiment as a sub-lieutenant and then lieutenant in the French service, took part in the Russian campaign of 1812, and subsequently distinguished himself in the defence of Danzigmarker ( ) (January – November 1813), winning the cross of the Legion d'honneur.

After the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the Duchy of Warsaw was transformed into the constitutional Kingdom of Polandmarker, a dependant territory of the Russian Empiremarker, and Bem became a teacher at a military college. There he carried out research on a newly designed type of rocket-like missile, publishing his research along with extensive illustrations.

Bem became involved in a conspiracy to restore Poland to full independence, but, when his membership in a secret patriotic organisation was discovered, he was demoted and sentenced (in 1822) to one year in prison. Although the sentence was suspended, Bem resigned his commission and moved to Galicia. In Galicia he researched steam engines and their application, and again published his results. Bem lived in Lembergmarker ( , ) and Brodymarker until 1830, where he planned to write a treatise on the steam engine.

November Uprising

When the November Uprising, a struggle for Polish independence, broke out on November 29, 1830, Bem immediately joined the Polish insurgents. He arrived in Warsaw, was given a major's commission and the command of the 4th Light Cavalry Battalion, which he led during the Battles of Iganie and Ostrołęka. During the Battle of Ostrołęka, Bem's forces bravely charged the Russian opponents. Although the Polish army suffered a serious defeat with a loss of 6,000 men, Bem's actions prevented the destruction of the entire army. For his valour on the battlefield, Bem was awarded the Virtuti Militari Golden Cross and promoted to the rank of Brigadier General. He was steadfastly against capitulation until the very end of the Uprising, during the desperate defence of Warsaw against Prince Paskievich (September 27, 1831). Nonetheless, the Polish army was eventually compelled to lay down arms on October 5, 1831, and crossed the Russian-Prussianmarker partitional border under the command of General Maciej Rybiński in the Great Emigration.

First exile

Bem then escaped to Parismarker, where he supported himself by teaching mathematics. In France, he published his next work, on the National Uprising in Poland, in which he not only gave an appraisal of the 1831 insurrection, but also tried to present a programme for the continuation of the struggle for the country's freedom.

In 1833 he went to Portugalmarker to assist the liberal Dom Pedro against the reactionary Dom Miguel, but abandoned the idea when it was found that a Polish legion could not be formed. In Portugal, he was the target of an assassination attempt, carried out by Russian agents.

1848 hero

A wider field for his activity presented itself in 1848 (along with the Austrian Revolution). First he attempted to hold Viennamarker against the imperial troops of Windisch-Graetz, and, after the capitulation, hastened to Pressburgmarker ( , today Bratislavamarker, Slovakiamarker) to offer his services to Lajos Kossuth, first defending himself, in a long speech, from the accusations of "treachery to the Polish cause" and "aristocratic tendencies" ˙— which the more fanatical section of the Polish émigré Radicals repeatedly brought against him. He was entrusted with the defence of Transylvania at the end of 1848, and in 1849, as General of the Székely troops, he performed miracles with his little army, notably at the bridge of Piski on February 9, where, after fighting all day, he drove back an immense force of pursuers.

After relieving Transylvania he was sent to drive the Austrian General Anton Freiherr von Puchner out of the Banat region. Bem defeated him at Orşovamarker on May 16, but the Russian invasion forced him to retreat to Transylvania. From July 12 to 22 he was fighting continually, but finally, on July 31, his army was annihilated by overwhelming numbers in the Battle of Segesvár (near Sighişoara/Schäßburg/Segesvármarker), Bem escaping only after feigning death. Yet he fought a fresh action at (now / ) on August 6, and contrived to bring his fragmented army to the Battle of Temesvár (near Timişoaramarker), to aid the hard-pressed General Henryk Dembiński. Bem was in command and was seriously wounded in the last pitched battle of the war, fought there on August 9.

Second exile and death

On the collapse of the rebellion he fled to the Ottoman Empire, where he nominally adopted Islam, in order to serve as Governor of Aleppomarker under the name of Murad or Yusuf Paşa/Pasha. Having succeeded there in repressing some bloody excesses committed during November 1850, on the Christians by the Muslims, he died about a month later of a violent fever, for which he would allow no medical aid.

Character and legacy

Popular demonstration under the Bem Statue in Budapest, Hungary on October 23, 1956
Bem was a man respected for his courage and heroic temper, both of which were in contrast with his small stature. His influence is said to have been magnetic: although none of his Székely subordinates understood the language he spoke, most revered him.

As a soldier Bem was remarkable for his excellent handling of artillery and the rapidity of his marches.

A statue to his honour has been erected at Târgu-Mureş/Marosvásárhelymarker, but he lives still more enduringly in the verses of the Hungarian national poet Sándor Petőfi, who fell in the fatal action of July 31, 1849 at Segesvármarker.

His remains were brought back to Poland in 1929 and laid to rest in a mausoleum in Tarnów.

The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 began on October 23 with a protest at the foot of the Bem Statue in Budapestmarker.


Budapest, Hungary

File:Budapeszt-pomnikJozefaBema1.jpg|Statue of Józef Bem in Budapest.File:Budapeszt-pomnikJozefaBema2.jpg|Close-up of statueFile:Budapeszt-pomnikJozefaBema3.jpg|Statue inscription


File:Bem_József_Kézdivásárhely.jpg|Bust in Târgu SecuiescmarkerFile:Bem József Céhtörténeti Múzeum.jpg|Bust in the Céhtörténeti Múzeum


File:Plac Bema.jpg|Józef Bem Square ( ) in OstrołękamarkerFile:Ostroleka-pomnik bema2.jpg|Józef Bem Square and statue in OstrołękaFile:Ostroleka-bem.jpg|Close-up of statue in Józef Bem Square, OstrołękaFile:Tarnów, centrum města, socha Jozefa Bema II.JPG|Statue in central TarnówmarkerFile:PL Warsaw Józef Bem monument.jpg|Bem Monument in WarsawmarkerFile:POL Warsaw bem monument Łazienki.jpg|Bem Monument in Łazienkimarker


  • In turn, it gives the following references:
    • Johann Czetz, Memoiren über Bems Feldzug (Hamburg, 1850)
    • Kálmán Deresnyi, General Bem's Winter Campaign in Transylvania, 1848-1849 (Hung.), (Budapest, 1896).

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