Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Discover Poland – Exhibition about Poland

Tuesday, February 1st, 2005

Twelve months have passed since the moment of my departure from Poland and my heart was filled with warmth as I viewed the exhibition “Discover Poland” at the Cultural Center. It showed the beauty, history, culture, and economic accomplishments of Poland.

We were able to see the cities of Poland. It is important to mention that many Polish cities are older than the country itself. According to Alexandrian geographer Claudius Ptolemy, the town of Calisia existed in the second century, and the country of Poland began to form in the 10th century. In later years, large cities formed at the initiative of powerful magnates, like Zamość shown on the first picture with its renaissance town hall. The next photograph is the Church of Peace in Jaworze. It is hard to believe that this building formed from wood and clay in the gothic style has a baroque interior. From southeast, we move north. We can admire the harbor in Szczecin, the modern business center, as well as remember the past in the ramparts of King Chrobry. It is impossible not to stop in Malbork, the fortified stronghold of the Teutonic knights. The capitals – old Krakow and the present Warsaw, hold a separate chapter in the history of Poland’s cities. Then, there is Lodź which quickly developed in the late 19th and early 20th century with its many examples of Art Nouveau in architecture. Next was Poznań, popular for its inter-national commerce. Then there was Wroclaw, a city of many cultures. A statement made about the royal city of Kraków says that if “the homeland disappeared, in its monuments one can see the kaleidoscope of Polish history, changes, ways of thinking, and human achievements across the centuries”. It is hard to disagree, looking at the Main Square of the Old City, Sukiennice, and Wawel – the royal castle overlooking Vistula River. Additional pieces of Krakow presented in the colorful pictures are Kazimierz quarters, which was the center of activity at the heart of Krakow for seven centuries. The Jews formed spiritual and economical cultures here contributing to the Polish culture. Currently, the Festival of Jewish Culture – Kazimierz brings back its old charm.

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A Conversation with Joanna Wiszniewicz

Wednesday, December 1st, 2004

We live in the best country in the world. A free country where the rights of the individual are respected. When there is some question or doubt about these rights, there’s always an explanation, right?

Poles saved Jews during World War II. Today Poles can sleep peacefully, with a clean conscience. But then why does somebody always want to speak about Polish antisemitism? It’s always the same. Somebody always wants me to listen to the story of how someone, somewhere, sometime, said to him „You Jew”. Later this person says to me that he grew up in Poland as a Pole and that he had the same hopes and dreams as his Polish peers. He wanted to build Poland, to defend Poland, and he wanted to be a Pole. And his home was deeply patriotic.

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Heroes and Criminals – To Survive KZ Sachsenhausen

Friday, October 1st, 2004

In the late nineties during a yacht journey through the Canadian lakes, I met a tall and slim elderly sailor, Professor Jerzy Pindera.  His springy military walk revealed a man full of energy, a man always in search of action and challenge.  His personage was engulfed with the legend of horrific war experiences.  Seriously wounded in September of 1939, he struggled to the end of his days with permanent handicap of one hand.  His busy, tragic and exciting life came to an end in Waterloo, Canada, in 2003.

In the spring of 2004 Pindera’s war memoir was published. A tiny modest book entitled Liebe Mutti; One Man’s Struggle to Survive in KZ Sachsenhausen, 1939-1945, was edited and expanded with a commentary by Lynne Taylor, a history professor at the University of Waterloo.

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Warsaw Uprising Sixty Years Later Irresponsible Brawl or Heroic Rise for Liberty?

Sunday, August 1st, 2004

How many of us realize that the Warsaw Uprising stands as one of the biggest battles of World War II?   This unprecedented Battle for Warsaw claimed 18 thousands lives of the Home Army soldiers and about 200,000 civilian lives on the Polish side, and about 17 thousands lives on the German side.  According to Heinrich Himmler, the Battle for Warsaw was “the most fiercely fought battle from the beginning of the war, equally fierce as the Stalingrad Battle.” The Battle for Warsaw engaged German forces comparable in strength to those of General Rommel’s forces in North Africa during the 1940-1942 campaign. Thus, the Battle for Warsaw effectively limited German defensive capabilities on the western front at the time of the Normandy Campaign and facilitated the Soviet passage to Berlin.  And yet for decades this important battle has been effectively marginalized on both sides of the Atlantic due to political reasons. For many Polish people the Warsaw Uprising still represents a very controversial chapter in Polish history.  Soviets labeled this battle as an irresponsible brawl. This interpretation is deeply engraved in the post-war conscience of the Polish people and represents a prevailing view in the English language historiography.

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Three capitals of Poland

Tuesday, June 1st, 2004

I do not think that this title is overdone. The inside of the Cultural Center has been transformed, continually gaining beauty and functionality.

The place of special importance for Center’s members and friends is the banquet hall, transformed to a ballroom through renovations. Utilized in many ways, it becomes a literary salon, a discussion forum, or a theater audience. Most often it is a place for meeting friends, united by consumption (Sunday dinners, dances).

It is difficult to identify the diversity of events, to which ingenious organizers invite us. The feeling of self-contentment fills the air when you spent time in a comfortable setting in an ecstatically designed and well taken care of interior. The stage holds a grand piano, a gift from Mr. Mark Bak and Mr. & Mrs. Sobieraj, and on the walls are architectural scenes of buildings in the three capitals of Poland. Two of them are historical, Gniezno and Krakow, and Warsaw, remaining in the status till this day as one of the major cities of Europe. The creators of these works are Mr. Hubert Wisniewski, architect, and Mr. Artur Berg, artist. The history of the mentioned Polish capitals follows.

Gniezno as capital

During the year of Mieszko I’s Christening (966), Gniezno enters a growth stage. The city grows in inhabitants and building. All of this happens because of religious activity. The city gains fame as a fire of bringing nonbelievers to Christianity.
In 997, an unfortunate mission of brother Adalbert to part of today’s Elblag ends in his death. The body of the martyr is brought back by the current leader, Boleslaw Chrobry, and laid in the cathedral. Two years later, Gniezno becomes an archdiocese with the martyr’s brother, Radzimin Gautanty appointed as the archbishop. In a short period of time, Adalbert was made a saint, and the numerous pilgrimages made to his grave united the religious and lay people. In 1000, during the Gniezno Gathering, the German Cesar Otto III gave alms to Saint Adalbert. The last years of Chrobry’s life were preoccupied with attaining the crown. He received the honor in Gniezno in 1025.

The city was destroyed several times by enemies. The cathedral was torn down and rebuilt several times. Double winged doors made out of bronze were added to the cathedral. The flat sculptures on the doors showed scenes from the life and death of St. Adalbert (a priceless monument).

For almost 200 years, Gniezno was the residence of Chrobry’s descendants and an important cultural center, until the great fire of 1320. Without waiting for the rebuilding of the castle, the capital was moved to Krakow.

Krakow as capital

The records of the Wawel hill date back to 1300. Thanks to the natural defensive placement (hill surrounded by Vistula river), it was a safe place for the monarchs and servants. Wladyslaw Lokietek picked Wawel as his home and was crowned in 1320 in Krakow. His reign ended the breakup of Poland into regions, remains after Boleslaw Krzywousty, who divided the country between his sons. King Lokietek united the lands and successful reign over the vast country.

The next leader, Kazimierz Odnowiciel, known as the Great, adopted in Krakow the location law from the west, which was very useful in the urbanization of the city. During this time, two new cities developed next to Wawel: Kazimierz and Kleparz. The number of craftsmen and merchants grew. The city was so rich that in 1934 a university was founded. The wealth of the monarchs was seen in a feast given by Nicholas Wierzynka for the monarchs of Europe. Each ruler in attendance received a gold patter at the end of the visit. The market place was designated (one of the largest in Europe) and it was filled with the town hall and its high tower, visible in the city’s skyline. Across from the Marjacki Church, a merchant hall was built called Sukennice.

The buildings of Krakow changed as the styles of architecture changed, from roman, through gothic, to the most prevalent renaissance. For the Marjacki Church, Wit Stwosz created the famous altar with sculptures in wood according to the late gothic style.

During the year of America’s discovery 1942, King Jagielo passed away after 45 wonderful years of reign. His son, Sigmund, called the Old, was another great leader who reigned for the next 40 years. It was 1956; no one living at the time realized that the years of the father and son’s reigns were an important time of passing from the Middle Ages to the modern ages.

A true revolution took place in culture. Many artists visited from abroad and the locals also created. From Italy came the renaissance. Buildings such as the Wawel, Sukiennice, and the university were modified. Krakow became a city of Mediterranean style, popular at the time in Europe.

The effect of Krakow’s poor placement at the ends of the huge country – Poland and Lithuania united, were beginning to be felt. For some time the parliament was called in Priotrokowo or Warsaw, which was slowly turning into a large city. Then in Krakow, a fire destroyed many building and the castle. The next monarch made his home in Warsaw. For Krakow these were difficult times. The downfall was made even stronger by the Swedish war (The Flood). The last coronation in the Wawel castle took place in 1733, when August III was made the king.

Warsaw as the capital

The decision to make Warsaw the capital was made in phases from 1596 to 1609. King Sigmund III Waza, when returning from the Moscow war in 1611, did not go to Krakow, but remained at the castle in Warsaw. The castle was recently transformed from residence of the princes to one for a monarch. Many historians believe the official movement took place during the time of Stefan Batory, when the alms giving ceremony of Hohenzollern for utilization of Prussia was moved from Krakow.

Warsaw in the 18th century grew past the new and old city limits. The number of occupants grew significantly. Its new residents: the gentry, clergy, and the magistrates build grand residences. The style of baroque Saxon was no longer mandatory, and came the local classicism named after the last king, Stanislaw August Poniatowski.  His personal painter, Canaletto brought the beauty of the city to his many painting, and he did this with so much detail that his painting were used in the future to rebuild the city. The time of Warsaw’s greatness came to an end with the fall of Poland in 1795.

Warsaw stopped being the capital of independent Poland; it followed as the capital of Prussia, Principality of Warsaw, and Principality of Poland, in reality performing an integral role in the Russian empire. It stayed under this occupation for 100 years, constantly fighting for independence. An uprising took place twice – in November of 1830 and January of 1863. The loss of these fights did not diminish the spirit of the patriotic Warsaw, the hope of independence returned during World War I.

The return of the Republic of Poland brought the first spark. Though it was short, but full of strength, enthusiasm, and fantasy. The capital experienced its best years in between the two wars. Many building for public use were built, like theaters and restaurants. People worked and played with triumph and happiness. All this was taking place without foresight of the upcoming tragedy, which is why life needs to be enjoyed, as it does not last.

During World War II in 1939, Warsaw became the central target of the German’s aggression. It was bombed for the first time from air. The brave defensive lasted four weeks. The capital had many loses. The next five years of occupation by the Nazis were a degradation of everything that mattered to the city and its residents.

The greatest tragedy took place in 1944. It happened during the rise and fall of the Warsaw Uprising. During the 63-day fights in the streets, homes, churches, on the ground and under ground 600,000 people lost their lives. Those who stayed alive were moved out. Three months was all it took to destroy the Polish capital’s 82% of buildings in the left part of the city. Warsaw simply died. But the death was short, as it did not share the faith of Babylon or Troy. In January of 1945, the city was a desert of ruins. But, the city showed its heroism once more. It rose like a Phoenix from ashes. The greatest rebuilding effort took place from 1946 to 1953, and ended when the Warsaw Castle was completed in 1980.

Today the city has more than 1,650,000 residents. It grows with new districts. It booms with life on streets and sidewalks. It is a glowing center of culture in all its forms. The pride of Warsaw is the largest in Europe scene of National Opera and Ballet. The artistic performances follow one after another; plays, local and international art showings, contests, museum expositions, and concerts – all of this brings together audiences from Poland and the world.

Parts of Poles are united with Warsaw in great emotions. Others despise it, though they do not know why. Currently, I invite you to view the wall painting in the banquet hall of the Cultural Center. It displays a fragment of a city, which rose from the fall and has served as the Polish capital for over 400 years.

dr. Elzbieta Ulanowska

Forum, 6/2004

On the Anniversary of the Battle of Monte Cassino

Tuesday, June 1st, 2004

Writing  these remarks at the request of our editor- in–chief, I first wish to say that I did not take part in the Battle of Monte Cassino, having fought the battle of the River Bzura.  But that is another story.  A great deal has been written about the Battle of Monte Cassino beginning with the work of Melchior Wankowicz.  British and American publications have given little coverage, if not altogether ignored, the tremendous contributions that the Second Corps made towards the great victory in that conflict.

So it is important for us to look at a recently published history which is quite lengthy (456 pages) and detailed:  Matthew Parker’s Monte Cassino – The Story of the Hardest Fought Battle of World War II.

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The Tragedy of W. S. Kuniczak

Monday, March 1st, 2004

Wieslaw S. Kuniczak, born in Lwow in 1930, died on September 20 at Quakertown Hospital near Philadelphia at the age of seventy. We may be to close to his death to sum up his literary heritage. (…) His opus magnum is monumental trilogy consisting of The Thousand Hour Day, The March and Valedictory. The initial volume was published in 1966, and it almost immediately appeared on the Book of the Month Club list. (…)

Putting it in a nutshell, The Thousand Hour Day portrays a tragedy of the Polish nation, when in September 1939, its army faced and was defeated by the best equipped military machine of the modern times, that of Nazi Germany. (…)
Its sequel, The March, published by Doubleday in 1979, deals with the drama of the Polish nation after the September campaign. The action is diffused over the years following the invasion of Poland by the Germans from the west and the Russians from the east. The novel concentrates on the drama resulting from the Soviet’s brutal overrunning of the eastern part of the country, which proved tantamount to the cruelest invasion.

The author focuses on a small number of protagonists such as Abel Abramowski, a young poet whose love for Catherine is reflected in the broken mirror of the war years. Tarski, a professional officer, epitomizes the manner in which the Soviets treat Poles, perishing in the Katyn Forest, where many thousands of Polish officers were massacred in one of the most haunting crimes of World War II. (…)

The final book of trilogy, Valedictory, is a heartrending cry of pain and anguish masterfully put into words. Its massage is that Poland has been betrayed. After the heroic performance of Squadron 303. which tipped the scale in favor of the British in the Bottle of Britain, and equally faithful service by Polish airman, soldiers and sailors on every battlefront in Europe an Africa, Poland was handed over to Stalin on a silver platter by Roosevelt and Churchill. (…) Valedictory is not only a great and moving novel, it also stands as a document of very special significance. (…)

When he turned to rendering Henryk Sienkiewicz’s  trilogy into English, Kuniczak proved, if proof was needed, that a great writer may also excel in the art of translation. In 1991, his translation of Ogniem i Mieczem appeared under the title, With Fire and Sword. (…) The same year(…) he published Sienkiewicz’s two-volume Potop under the title, The Deluge. (…) Pan Wolodyjowski, saw the light of day as Fire in the Steppe. (…) The undersigned was the author of the introduction. (…)

Wieslaw S. Kuniczak, born in Lwow in 1930, died on September 20 at Quakertown Hospital near Philadelphia at the age of seventy. We may be to close to his death to sum up his literary heritage. (…) His opus magnum is monumental trilogy consisting of The Thousand Hour Day, The March and Valedictory. The initial volume was published in 1966, and it almost immediately appeared on the Book of the Month Club list. (…)

Putting it in a nutshell, The Thousand Hour Day portrays a tragedy of the Polish nation, when in September 1939, its army faced and was defeated by the best equipped military machine of the modern times, that of Nazi Germany. (…)
Its sequel, The March, published by Doubleday in 1979, deals with the drama of the Polish nation after the September campaign. The action is diffused over the years following the invasion of Poland by the Germans from the west and the Russians from the east. The novel concentrates on the drama resulting from the Soviet’s brutal overrunning of the eastern part of the country, which proved tantamount to the cruelest invasion.

The author focuses on a small number of protagonists such as Abel Abramowski, a young poet whose love for Catherine is reflected in the broken mirror of the war years. Tarski, a professional officer, epitomizes the manner in which the Soviets treat Poles, perishing in the Katyn Forest, where many thousands of Polish officers were massacred in one of the most haunting crimes of World War II. (…)

The final book of trilogy, Valedictory, is a heartrending cry of pain and anguish masterfully put into words. Its massage is that Poland has been betrayed. After the heroic performance of Squadron 303. which tipped the scale in favor of the British in the Bottle of Britain, and equally faithful service by Polish airman, soldiers and sailors on every battlefront in Europe an Africa, Poland was handed over to Stalin on a silver platter by Roosevelt and Churchill. (…) Valedictory is not only a great and moving novel, it also stands as a document of very special significance. (…)

When he turned to rendering Henryk Sienkiewicz’s  trilogy into English, Kuniczak proved, if proof was needed, that a great writer may also excel in the art of translation. In 1991, his translation of Ogniem i Mieczem appeared under the title, With Fire and Sword. (…) The same year(…) he published Sienkiewicz’s two-volume Potop under the title, The Deluge. (…) Pan Wolodyjowski, saw the light of day as Fire in the Steppe. (…) The undersigned was the author of the introduction. (…)

Jerzy Maciuszko

Forum, 3/2004

Mongolian Archives

Tuesday, April 1st, 2003

I received a letter from Henryk Lapczynski, along with the following article, “Mongolian Archives”. The letter is an interesting supplement to the article and appears here with minor changes with the permission of the author.

Stanisław Kwiatkowski

Dear Stanisław,

I have enclosed a text about the Mongolian Archives. I have written only a brief account, although there is much more to write about.
It is possible, that if this subject interest readers, I will write more on this interesting topic. One of the possible questions a reader may have is: why didn’t I publish this earlier? As the youngest officer involved, I did not feel authorized to do so. I remember that after a lecture in Murnau (POW camp- eds.) the issue was not generally discussed. At this time, such knowledge was still not discussed openly.

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A Sybirak in America

Saturday, February 1st, 2003

Because many witnesses to dramatic events of the past often fail to leave any written record behind, a scholar of Polish history is often hampered in his quest to uncover the truth. And so is a lay person simply eager to learn about Poland from a personalized account. Eugene Bak set out to remedy the problem. His Life’s Journey: Autobiography (Boulder, CO. and New York: East European Monographs and Columbia University Press, 2002) is a combination memoir, travelogue, history textbook, and a business school lesson.

Born in Polska Wola, near Podhajce, the Province of Tarnopol, in Poland’s Eastern Borderlands, Bak’s life was regulated by the daily chores of village life and, on a larger plane, by Catholic and partriotic holidays. (…) The nightmare began with the joint Nazi-Soviet invasion of Poland in September 1939.

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Poland’s Independence Day – November 11, 1918

Friday, November 1st, 2002

On November 11, 1918, after 124 years of partition and oppression by the three contiguous empires, Austria, Germany (Prussia), and Russia, Poland regained her independence. The victorious allies-England, France, and the United States-celebrated November 11 as the Armistice Day, the day on which a long and bloody war finally ended.  For Poland, November 11 meant the end of a much longer struggle to regain her independence-Konfederacja Barska of 1768-1761, the Napoleonic Wars and the D¹browski Legions, the November Uprising of 1831-1832, and the January uprising of 1863-1864.

Despite the separation imposed by the partitions and in the face of the intense germanisation and russification policies of the occupying powers, the Polish nation retained a strong sense of community and an equally unyielding determination to be one, free, and independent. The spiritual unity of the nation was nurtured and perpetuated by the cultural influences of Mickiewicz, Chopin, Raymont, Sienkiewicz, Zermoski, and, of course, by the shared religious experience in the Roman Catholic Church.

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