History and Histories

To convince the world that Pope John Paul II had performed a miracle, a young man wrote to Rome saying that the only moment when he did not argue with his fiancée was when the Pope visited Poland. Nothing could convince the young man that there could be a greater miracle. His life and his love was, for him, everything.

When the Center made plans to open a museum, Poles from all over the Cleveland area started to send in their historical treasures. Paintings of Paderewski, of course, came in the greatest number, because every Polish child in America knows that he was the greatest Pole. But, besides patriotic symbols, among the donated objects were other memories: grandmother’s wedding dress, grandfather’s school book, and the toys parents brought over from Poland. Danuta Jarema tells with tears in her eyes how she spent hours going through the items and listening to the stories.Nine miners died in the Wujek coal mine on December 16, 1981. If there was anyone who still held on to a trace of the belief that the Communist party introduced martial law in defense of workers, the events of that day forced them to give up that belief. Because the government of the workers shot at the miners. Genek Bąk never had this belief. And therefore, he was startled when, at the beginning of martial law, he saw in the Museum of the History of Warsaw the painting of the Wujek coal mine with a portrait of the miners who were shot and the symbolic trace of bullets.

„How is this possible? Now? During martial law, in a public place?” he asked, surprised. „The painting will hang until we’re ordered to take it down” somebody answered. But Genek Bąk knew that the painting would not be hanging in the museum for long. He asked if the artist could contact him. When the artist called him, Genek began to convince him that the painting should be taken to the States. The artist did not want to agree but was finally convinced under one condition: that many people would be able to see the painting.

The painting hangs now in the Center’s new museum. It tells of History and has its own story. Later, still during martial law, Genek went to Katowice and, again using his power of persuasion, visited the Wujek coal mine. Miners who remembered that December day of 1981 were his guides.

If you visit the museum, you’ll see John Paul II. Next to him, Paderewski. And on the opposite wall, you’ll find the painting of the Wujek coal mine. Look for Genek and ask him to tell you about History.

Dr Richard Romaniuk
Translated by Sean Martin

Forum, 10/2005