The French Period 1805-1813
After Napoleon defeated Prussia and according to the Tilzit agreement of July 1807, Polish territories occupied by Prussia were transferred to what became known as the "The Great Dukedom of Warsaw", which was established at that time. The king of Sachsonia, Friedrich-August, was appointed duke, and the Napoleonic code now became the constitution of the dukedom, according to which everybody was equal before the law, except for the Jews who were not granted any civil rights.
During the years 1807-1813, Vilkovishk belonged to the "Great Dukedom of Warsaw" and was part of the Bialystok district. The Napoleonic Codex was then introduced in this region, remaining in effect even during the Lithuanian period.
In the summer of 1812, Napoleon, with a huge army of about 250,000 soldiers, stayed there for 4 days, causing great damage to the residents of the town and its surroundings. Napoleon told a delegation of Vilkovishk Jews, who had approached him requesting that the army stationed there remove their horses from the synagogues - it being before "Tisha beAv" (ninth of Av) and the Jews wanted to mourn the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalen, - that he had been in Palestine with his army in 1898-99, and that if he managed to conquer that land he would re-establish the Jewish Kingdom.
Background to the formation of the Duchy of Warsaw
The area of the duchy had already been liberated by a popular uprising that had escalated from anti-conscription rioting in 1806. One of the first tasks for the new government included providing food to the French army fighting the Russians in East Prussia.
The Duchy of Warsaw was officially created by Napoleon Bonaparte, as part of the Treaty of Tilsit with Prussia. Its creation met the support of both local republicans in partitioned Poland, and the large Polish diaspora in France, who openly supported Napoleon as the only man capable of restoring Polish sovereignty after the Partitions of Poland of late 18th century. Although it was created as a satellite state (and was only a duchy, rather than a kingdom), it was commonly hoped and believed that with time the nation would be able to regain its former status, not to mention its former borders.
The newly (re)created state was formally an independent duchy, allied to France, and in a personal union with the Kingdom of Saxony. King Frederick Augustus I of Saxony was compelled by Napoleon to make his new realm a constitutional monarchy, with a parliament (the Sejm). However, the duchy was never allowed to develop as a truly independent state; Frederick Augustus' rule was subordinated to the requirements of the French raison d'état, who largely treated the state as a source of resources. The most important person in the duchy was in fact the French ambassador, based in the duchy's capital, Warsaw. Significantly, the duchy lacked its own diplomatic representation abroad.
A small town in Southern Lithuania
Where the Jewish Community is no more
The arrow shows the position of Vilkaviskis in the Duchy of Vilkaviskis
Reinactment of the French invasion of Russia that took place in Vilkaviskis
Thiis site was built by Ralph Salinger of Kfar Ruppin, Israel
It is built to the glory of the Jewish Community of Vilkkaviskis
You can contact me with any comments at firstname.lastname@example.org,il
June 24, 1812, Napoleon's army crossed the Neman;
Review any history of the Lithuanian nation written in English and you will only find a brief reference to the existence of the Napoleonic Lithuanian. One of the major reasons for this obvious oversight is the fact that the majority of the Lithuanian leaders of the time had been Polonized and subscribed to the phrase "Gente Lituani, natione Poloni". They took pride in their Lithuanian heritage, but accepted the proposition that Lithuania had become a province in the State of Poland.
In 1772, Russia, Prussia, and Austria militarily forced the dismemberment of the Commonwealth with Lithuania losing large parts of its Latvian, Ukrainian, and Belorussian lands. The second partition of 1793 resulted in even greater loss of territory and brought the Russian Empire to the doorstep of ethnic Lithuania. A futile attempt to save the Commonwealth was lead by Lithuanian General Thaddeus Kosciuszko, but his forces were suppressed by overwhelming strength after an eight months long struggle. The third partition of 1795 wiped Lithuania and Poland off the map of Europe as a sovereign nation.
Hopes for the liberation of Lithuania and Poland now were tied to the emergence of France as a military power under Napoleon Bonaparte. Thousands of Lithuanians and Poles fled to France which had been almost the only nation to object to the partition and destruction of the Commonwealth. This ready supply of trained military exiles was a welcome source of manpower to the French army. Napoleon quickly realized the potential they offered and in 1797 assisted in the formation of Poles and Lithuanians into the Polish Legion Auxiliary to the Republic of Lombardy during the Italian Campaign. The Polish Legion commanded by General Jan Dombrowski gradually expanded and was eventually assimilated into the regular French army as the Vistula Legion and the Vistula Lancers.
Though no figures exist of the number of Lithuanians that served Napoleon during his eighteen year reign the figure was quite large. It is documented that twelve thousand Lithuanians and Wolhynians alone answered Napoleon's September, 1806, call for volunteers. The major reason why Lithuania's contribution to Napoleon can only be estimated is the fact that Lithuanians and Poles were assigned to the same units without designation.
Napeoleon's victories against the Prussians, Austrians, and Russians, during the 1806 German Campaign found him occupying several former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth palatinates annexed by Prussia. While preparing for peace negotiations at Tilsit, a Lithuanian delegation composed of Count Louis Pac, Count Joseph Sierakowski, and Count Thaddeus Tyszkiewicz, proposed to organize a revolt against Russia if France would assist. The Emperor was not favorable and the envoys returned home very depressed. Apathy gripped Lithuania, but hope was rekindled with Napoleon's creation of the Duchy of Warsaw from the captured palatinates. Frederick Augustus I, King of Saxony, was proclaimed the ruler of the new duchy and Prince Joseph Poniatowski, the nephew of the last King and Grand Duke of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, appointed the Minister of War. As established the Duchy of Warsaw included the former Lithuanian district of Suvalkija (Užnemunė). Though the failure of Napoleon to liberate all of Lithuania disillusioned many, thousands of Lithuanians rushed to enlist in the ranks of the armed forces of the Duchy of Warsaw.