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Kleeberg, Juliusz Edward (1890–1970)

by Bogumila Zongollowicz

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Juliusz Edward Kleeberg (1890-1970), army officer and Polish leader, was born on 30 March 1890 at Trembowla, Galicia, Austria-Hungary (Poland), third of four children of Colonel Emil Kleeberg (d.1908), army officer, and his wife Józefa, née Kuschée. The family moved to Vienna in 1898. Juliusz attended military schools at St Pölten and at Weiss-Kirchen before graduating (1910) as second lieutenant at the Theresianische Militärakademie, near Vienna. After World War I began he served in the cavalry on the Eastern Front. He was a staff officer (1915-17) in the Polish Legion, and later performed training duties in Warsaw. Promoted major (1918) and lieutenant colonel (1920), he took part in the Russo-Polish War as chief of staff of the Polish Legion in 1919 and deputy chief of staff, 5th Polish Army, in 1920. In Warsaw on 15 February 1919 he had married Halina Anna Olszynska.

After studying (1920-22) at the École Superieure de Guerre, Paris, Kleeberg was appointed Polish military and naval attaché in that city in 1923. He was a noted horseman and won many competitions. As colonel (1924) and brigadier general (1937), he held increasingly important cavalry commands in Poland. Awarded the Cross of Valour with two Bars and the gold Cross of Merit with Swords, he was appointed (c.1937) to the Order of Polonia Restituta (fourth class).

In August 1939 Kleeberg was made deputy-commander of the Lublin Army Corps 'B', to be raised from reserves. The Germans invaded before the formation could be mobilized. Once Poland was overrun, Kleeberg escaped to Paris where he headed the government in exile's military mission to the Allies. He went to Belgrade in November and organized the movement of some 40,000 Polish soldiers to France. Following the French capitulation in June 1940, he was briefly military attaché at Vichy. He then led a resistance cell which smuggled servicemen to Britain, for which he was appointed to the Légion d'honneur (1941) and awarded the Croix de Guerre (1947). In 1943 he was forced to flee across the Pyrénées to Spain. Promoted major general, he performed liaison duties with allied forces in the Mediterranean (1943-45) and commanded Polish troops in Scotland (1945-47). He retired from the army in July 1948.

Having farmed in Wales for three years, Kleeberg and his wife followed their son to Australia, reaching Melbourne on 3 February 1952. They settled at Kogarah, Sydney, and bought (with a bank loan) the shop in St George Hospital. The shop was rundown, but cheap, with a three-room flat above. Although lacking commercial experience, they managed to make a living. A devout Catholic, Kleeberg was a bookworm and loved music. He was naturalized in 1956.

Tall, fair and distinguished looking, Kleeberg was prominent in the Polish community and president (1954-58 and 1960-70) of the Federal Council of Polish Associations in Australia. He impressed Roman Wierzbicki 'as a man who had a stern sense of duty and skill in negotiations and handling of people . . . compatible with a strong personality and courage'. His 'charm and courtesy were invaluable assets'. Kleeberg wanted 'a Polonia [Poles living permanently abroad] loyal to Australia as citizens of this country, yet mindful of their origins and cultural traditions'.

As federal president, Kleeberg fostered the development of Polish organizations, such as the one which helped to build a orphanage and school at Marayong in 1954. He visited most of the Polish centres in 1958 and took part in their celebrations to commemorate the 'Millennium of Christianity' in Poland. In the late 1960s he welcomed a number of eminent Polish visitors to Sydney, among them Cardinal Wojtyla, later Pope John Paul II. Kleeberg was killed on 4 July 1970 when struck by a car at Mount Vincent. Survived by his wife and son, he was buried in the Polish section of Eastern Creek cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • T. Kryska-Karski and S. Zurakowski, Generalowie Polski Niepodleglej (Warsaw, 1991)
  • C. Lezenski and C. Kukawski, O Kawalerii Polskiej XX Wieku (Wroclaw, 1991)
  • A. Kleeberg, Who was General Julius Edward Kleeberg? (Canb, 1995)
  • Z. Mierzwinski, Generalowie II Rzeczypospolitej, vol 2 (Warsaw, 1995)
  • R. Treister, copy of statement after the death of Juliusz Kleeberg for the New South Wales Police, 4 July 1970 (held by author)
  • naturalisation file A446/179, item 56/24073 (National Archives of Australia)
  • Polish war records
  • private information
  • war archives (Austrian State Archives, Vienna).

Citation details

Bogumila Zongollowicz, 'Kleeberg, Juliusz Edward (1890–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/kleeberg-juliusz-edward-10756/text19069, published in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 25 July 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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