Archive for the ‘History’ Category

The Beginnings of Polish Mathematics

Friday, January 5th, 2007

Is it possible that our country, a land of great poets, writers, and poets, can also be one of the centers of world mathematics? Of course, thanks to the great mathematician, and astronomer, Nicolas Copernicus (1473-1543).

Were there others like him? And, by the way, what else can be discovered in the history of mathematics? We start with a few names from the distant past. Some of the young Poles studying at Italian, Austrian, or French universities in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries returned to Poland; others went from court to court practicing more applied notions of mathematics. Examples, writes R. Duda, include Witelon of Śląsk (ca.1230-ca. 1280) and Marcin Bylica (ca. 1434-1493; he spent almost his entire adult life in Italy and Hungary, as a professor at universities in Bologna and in Buda, or also as court astrologer to Roman cardinals and Hungarian kings). As we know, Copernicus, after studying at Italian universities, returned to Poland and created his greatw works in Frombork. (more…)

Gustaw Herling – Grudziński (1919-2000)

Tuesday, December 5th, 2006

During „the year of Giedroyc”, the figure of Gustaw Herling-Grudziński (1919-2000), the friend and collaborator of Giedroyc in Kultura, a writer of the highest rank who can be placed on the same level as Miłosz or Gombrowicz, should also be remembered. For years, he was one of the great forgotten, considered enemy number one in the PRL and always erased from textbooks and publishers’ plans. If one did not have access to underground publications, then one did not have any chance to come across his name. This prisoner of the Soviet camps, who also served as a soldier in Anders’ army, a hero of Monte Cassino who lived in Naples after the war, was sentenced to literary nonexistence in communist Poland. His reception in Poland after 1989 was all the stronger because his work appeared suddenly at full creative maturity and raised questions related to philosophy, art, religion, literature, and politics. One can divide his work into three different areas: testimony, fiction, and chronicle.
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Stanisław Lem – colossus of science fiction of the XX century

Saturday, July 8th, 2006

When I was a little boy the books by Julius Verne allowed me to travel. I went around the world in 80 days, I visited the oceans with captain Nemo, and I even traveled to the moon. A couple of years later came the time of Łajka, Gagarin, and Armstrong. All of a sudden the mankind was on a brink of conquering space. And this is when, for the first time, I saw a book written by Stanisław Lem. For a teenager in Poland, in the fifties, when everything was a “state secret”, his books about robots, astronauts, and space vehicles were like a magical world.  Lem opened our eyes; his books moved galaxies and planets closer to us, while the technology became more understandable and accessible.
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LESS IMPORTANT EXTERMINATION – Oversimplifying and Altering History

Wednesday, June 1st, 2005

On the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the world once again failed to recognize the Polish victims of the Nazi concentration camps. Instead, frequent remarks about “Polish concentration camps” once again reminded us of the extent of distortions and bias against the Polish cause in World War II that appears to be ever present in the English speaking world.  Accordingly, some remarks on the legacy of Auschwitz are in order.

Created pursuant to the 1933 decree on the protection of the German State, the first concentration camps were built in Pre-war Germany.  After the September 1939 invasion of Poland, most of the new concentration camps were built on the conquered Polish territory for the explicit purposes of exterminating undesirable population.  In addition to the well-known Auschwitz-Birkenau complex, at least seven other hub-like concentration camps were built in Poland, each one with a wide network of sub-camps.  Thus, the Germans set up Treblinka Concentration Camp for the Warsaw district, Majdanek Concentration Camp in central Poland for the Zamość region targeted for Arian colonization, and the Stutthof Concentration Camp with over forty auxiliary camps in northern Poland “to serve the needs of the Polish population in Pomerania,” as the German documents phrased it. (more…)

The Family of Fryderyk Chopin

Tuesday, March 1st, 2005

The Chopin family home was blessed.  They were the perfect example of a loving family – dwelling within an intimate, secure atmosphere; all shared a deep, sincere love and respect for each other.  During his youth, Beethoven endured a troubled relationship with his alcoholic father. Bach was orphaned at an early age and had to live off the kindness of his brother. Mozart, the child prodigy, had been exploited shamelessly and was  driven to the point of exhaustion by ceaseless traveling resulting from the overblown ambitions of his father.  But the Chopin family wrapped young Fryderyk in a warm blanket of love and affection, where he was doted on not only by his parents, but by his sisters as well.  We know of the family’s closeness and affection through family correspondence. Even now, Chopinists continue to find new evidence solidifying the picture of an idyllic family life. (more…)

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