Gazeta Krakowska has the story of the recent discovery of a medieval sword in southeastern Poland by a high school student.
(roughly translated by me)
During a Sunday walk with his dad and his Bernese dog along the banks of the Dunajec River, 17-year-old Piotr Warzała made a surprising discovery. He found in the river a very well preserved sword from the Middle Ages. The river was unusually shallow , and in a place where water once flowed, there was now a small beach. They went down to it during their walk.
Immediately, he caught sight of a round objerct projecting about 10 centimeters above the ground covered with mud. It proved to be the pommel of the handle of a sword 1.2 meters [3.9 feet] in length. The boy took the unusual discovery home and wrapped it in a sheet to bring to the city of Tarnow, to the local office of the National Service for the Protection of Monuments.
Peter’s rational and praiseworthy action made it possible to document and map the location where the sword was found as new archaelogical site, said Andrzej Cetera , Head of the Office for the Protection of Monuments.
The teenager’s behavior was exemplary and a proposal is being prepared requesting that the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage reward the boy with a diploma of commendation, and also with a financial reward, not exceeding 5% of the average salary, he said.
It is not only his opinion that finding this sword is worth a reward. There are in the collections of the department of archeology and museums about ten medieval swords, but this one is unique because of its unusually well-preserved handle and hilt, says Andrzej Szpunar from the District Museum.
On Friday, the sword was exhibited in Tarnow to researchers from Warsaw specializing in the period of the Hussite Wars, who were very impressed with our latest acquisition, reported Agnieszka Kukułka of the department of archeology .
After detailed documentation is completed, the sword will probably next week be taken to Glogau, where it will undergo conservation by specialists, which may take up to six months. It is possible that it will seen again in the Tarnów museum in all its glory later this year.
It is impossible to tell how the sword came to be lost in Biskupice Radłowskie or to whom it belonged. Perhaps, it was the property of one of the knights who fought at the Battle of Grunwald.
“I am glad that in this small way I could contribute to the preservation of such traces of the past. Just knowing this is a great reward for me.” said Piotr Warzała, day student of the first class at the Szczepanik school in Tarnow.
My Polish correspondents have been remembering the anniversary (two days ago) of the death of Krzystof Kamil Baczynski, one of the greatest Polish poets of the last century, on the 4th day of the Warsaw Uprising at the mere age of 23.
Baczynski served in the Polish Resistance (Armia Krajowa) in which he fought with Battalion Zoska, a reconnaissance/ranger battalion largely recruited from former Polish Boy Scouts. He served during the Warsaw Uprising in Battalion Parasol, an elite unit (also largely made up of former Boy Scouts), intended eventually to become part of a parachute brigade, which specialized in attacks on the Gestapo.
Zbigniew Czajkowski-Dabczynski, in his book Dziennik Powstanca (Diary of an Insurgent), gives a detailed report of his death:
It was then that I saw Krzysztof for the last time, because they left for a new position at Palac Blanka [in the Warsaw Old Town area] without me. That day I heard from a buddy that he was hunting Germans with great success from the ruins of the Opera House. The next day a call came for a first-aid patrol to come help a wounded in the Palac Blanka. Not having much to do I joined them. At his post, in a corner room, we found Krzysztof lying on a Persian rug with a huge wound in his head. [He had been shot by a German sniper.] He was dead. Nurses carried the body over to the City Hall (next door). That same evening the funeral was held. It was rather solemn. The grave was dug in the City Hall courtyard. Some sixty people, soldiers, officers, civilians, were present. Someone said a few words. The body was lowered to the grave. We all sang the National Anthem, then the grave was filled.”
The Polish writer and critic, Stanislaw Pigon, had this to say at the news of Baczynski’s death: “What can we do? We belong to a nation whose lot it is to shoot at the enemy with diamonds.”
His pregnant wife Barbara, the subject of the famous erotic poems, was killed September 1st.
———————————————————— Biała magia
Stojąc przed lustrem ciszy
Barbara z rękami u włosów
nalewa w szklane ciało
srebrne kropelki głosu.
I wtedy jak dzban – światłem
zapełnia się i szkląca
przejmuje w siebie gwiazdy
i biały pył miesiąca.
Przez ciała drżący pryzmat
w muzyce białych iskier
łasice się prześlizną
jak snu puszyste listki.
Oszronią się w nim niedźwiedzie,
jasne od gwiazd polarnych,
i myszy się strumień przewiedzie
płynąc lawiną gwarną.
Aż napełniona mlecznie,
w sen się powoli zapadnie,
a czas melodyjnie osiądzie
kaskadą blasku na dnie.
Więc ma Barbara srebrne
ciało. W nim pręży się miękko
biała łasica milczenia
pod niewidzialną ręką.
Clare Mulley’s The Spy Who Loved, previously published in Britain, has just been released in the US. It is the biography of Christine Granville, née Maria Krzystina Skarbek, a Polish aristocrat who became one of the most daring and successful British secret agents of WWII. According to Wikipedia, Christine Granville may have been the model for Ian Fleming’s Vesper Lynd.
Emma Garman reviews it with appropriate admiration in the Book Beast:
[While] traveling in South Africa [and she] heard the news that Germany had invaded Poland, Christine harbored not the tiniest qualm about leaving… in a rush to defend her beloved homeland. Presenting herself to British Intelligence in London—“a flaming Polish patriot … expert skier and great adventuress,” according to their records—Christine volunteered to ski into Nazi-occupied Poland armed with British propaganda. Her fervent aim, writes Mulley, was “to bolster the Polish spirit of resistance at a time when many Poles believed they had been abandoned to their fate.”
That mission, carried out with a Polish Olympic skier turned mountain courier, set the tone for Christine’s career in its sheer wildness. Heading out from Czechoslovakia during the coldest winter in living memory, with snow four meters deep, the pair traversed the 2,000-meter-high Tatra Mountains, seeing two dead bodies on their way and later hearing that, on the night they reached the border, more than 30 people had died in the mountains trying to escape Poland. Then, once on a Warsaw-bound train, Christine’s nerve did not desert her: realizing that armed guards were doing spot checks of passengers’ possessions, she directed the beam of her preternaturally bewitching allure onto a uniformed Gestapo officer. Would he mind, she wondered, carrying the package of black-market tea that she was bringing her mother? He happily obliged, and so her sheaf of illicit documents—which, if discovered, would have led to merciless interrogation followed by the firing squad—reached their destination.
Such boldfaced aplomb would be deployed time and time again in dealing with the Nazis. When working for SOE (Special Operations Executive, the secret wartime sabotage unit) in the Alps, where she trekked between the French and Italian sides and transmitted vital information about enemy activity, Christine was stopped by the German frontier patrol. In her hand she held a silk map of the region, given to agents to avoid the giveaway rustle of paper in pockets. With no hope of concealing it, she casually shook the fabric out and used it to replace the headscarf she was wearing, greeting the soldiers in French as if she were simply a local on an errand. Another time she and Andrzej Kowerski, her on-off lover and frequent partner in crime, were arrested and interrogated by Gestapo officers in Budapest. Christine had been suffering from flu, so she exaggerated her hacking cough and bit her tongue so hard that she appeared to be bringing up blood. Presumed to be infected with tuberculosis—potentially fatal and frighteningly infectious—she and Kowerski were released.
Christine’s most jaw-dropping act of heroism would occur in August 1944: with a bounty on her head and her face having graced “Wanted Dead or Alive” posters, she strolled into a Gestapo-controlled French prison and, posing as another woman entirely, secured an interview with a corruptible gendarme. Every iota of her charm and resourcefulness coming into play, Christine successfully arranged to break out three colleagues—including her lover du jour, the 29-year-old Belgian-British agent Francis Cammaerts—who were about to be executed. “Good reading,” an SOE officer wrote on the cover note of Cammaerts’ subsequent report, “I am going to make sure that I keep on Christine’s side in future.” “So am I,” another scribbled in reply. “She frightens me to death.”
Of all the women agents who risked their lives in Nazi-occupied Europe in the second world war, Polish-born Krystyna must surely rate as one of the bravest of the brave. As they used to say in army vernacular, the George Medal (which was about as close to a VC as a foreign national could get), the OBE and the Croix de Guerre did not exactly ‘come up with the rations’.
Churchill is alleged to have rated Skarbek his ‘favourite spy’. The reason? In spring 1941 she passed minute details to London of Hitler’s plans for Barbarossa, the invasion of Russia. Churchill forwarded them on to Stalin, who promptly binned them.
Krystyna’s father was from the lesser Polish aristocracy, but her mother was Jewish (she was eventually swallowed up by the Holocaust) — a fact that would have made Krystyna’s repeated journeys under the noses of the Gestapo infinitely more dangerous.
Six times she trekked and skied across the Tatras, ‘exfiltrating’ high-risk Polish refugees into neutral Hungary, accompanied by her one-legged, long-term lover, Andrzej Kowerski (aka Andrew Kennedy). Seldom conducting an operation without a lover (proof of the 007 notion that sex and extreme peril often make for inseparable bed-mates), Krystyna’s reckless exploits smacked more of the age of Baroness d’Orczy than of the vile century of Heinrich Himmler.
Several of the witnesses in Clare Mulley’s scintillating and moving book, such as the late Paddy Leigh Fermor, testify to the fact that Krystyna did indeed thrive, quite irrationally, on danger. With her ‘fierce, almost blind pride,’ she reminded one British officer of the Polish cavalry that had charged Nazi Panzers in 1939. Arrested in Hungary, on one occasion she bit her tongue so hard as to draw blood, persuading the interrogators that she had TB. They released her.
Krystyna’s most legendary exploit came in summer 1944, in southern France, pending the Allied invasion. Her British boss (and also, naturally, lover), Francis Cammaerts (DSO, Croix de Guerre, Légion d’Honneur), one of SOE’s top operatives, had fallen into a trap and was awaiting imminent execution. She located his cell by humming ‘Frankie and Johnny’. Cammaerts responded by singing the refrain. Then Krystyna presented herself boldly to the milice officer holding Cammaerts, as a British agent—and a niece of General Montgomery, no less — sent to obtain the release of the prisoners. The invasion, she persuaded Cammaert’s captors, was but hours away and terrible reprisals would be exacted if the prisoners were killed. Coupled with Krystyna’s devastating charm, the ruse worked. All three agents walked free.
The process of rediscovery, generally involving painful efforts of reconstruction, of lost masterworks of the Silent Era of the cinema is still very much underway.
I am remembering with great pleasure the premiere in January of 1981 at Radio City Music Hall of Abel Gance’s “Napoleon” (1927). Karen and I found ourselves by accident sitting next to Susan Sontag (with whom we were mildly acquainted) and Lillian Gish (to whom Sontag introduced us), and we all had a very enjoyable time exchanging witticisms and appreciative observations.
Another major American premiere that we were fortunate enough to present at was that of Andrzej Wajda’s “Pan Tadeusz” (1999), shown at a Polish cultural center in the basement of an old church in the heart of that city’s Polish neighborhood. Polish-language art films were shown there regularly, and that movie theater is the only one I have ever attended whose concession stand featured wine and beer and Polish sausage as well as popcorn.
In it, a family vendetta between two families of old-fashioned Lithuanian nobles turns into a revolt against the occupying
Russians in 1812, just prior to Napoleon’s invasion. Pan Tadeusz is for Poland what Don Quixote is for Spain, simultaneously the supreme achievement of its national literature, and moreover the definitive portrait of its national character. Pan Tadeusz was described by Worcell as “a tombstone laid by the hand of genius upon our Old Poland.”
There was not a dry eye in the auditorium as the background narration solemnly intoned the poem’s famous opening line:
“Litwo! Ojczyzno moja! ty jesteś jak zdrowie;
Ile cię trzeba cenić, ten tylko się dowie,
Kto cię stracił.”
Lithuania, my fatherland!, thou
Art like good health; I never knew till now
How precious, till I lost thee.
I had always assumed that the Andrzej Wajda version was the first, and only, attempt ever made to film Pan Tadeusz, but
I recently received some correspondence from the Polish cultural news web-site, Culture.pl, and when I went to investigate the site, I discovered that two attempts had been made to film the novel during the silent era, one of which, directed by Ryszard Ordyński was actually completed and released in 1928.
The film was, of course, lost, all copies believed to have been destroyed. But, as the Polish government cultural web-site reports, “in the 1950s… the Polish National Film Archive came into possession of a 40-minute, destroyed fragment of the film, which had an original running time of just under 3 hours. The year 2006 turned out to be crucial – several other incomplete copies of the film surfaced in Wroclaw. After years of re-mastering efforts, the “Nitrofilm” project team … managed to reconstruct almost 120 minutes of the original picture.”
A gala premiere of the re-release of this spectacular cinematic landmark took place in Warsaw last November 9.
Leon Kapliński, Hetman Stefan Czarniecki, 1863, National Museum Cracow.
Died 16 February 1665, Polish national hero Hetman [Field Marshal] Stefan Czarniecki [pronounced “Charnyetsky”] of an infected wound received in battle against the Cossacks the previous July.
One of the greatest commanders in Polish history, Czarniecki fought in 27 major engagements. He played the principal role in evicting the Swedes and the Russians from Poland in the mid-17th century period of national disaster known as “The Deluge.”
Despite his age and illness, Czarniecki persisted in traveling in the most bitter winter weather to Lwow, but his strength began to fail and he was taken to a cottage in Sokołówce. Recognizing that he was dying, the hero is said to have insisted that his white charger be brought to his bedside for a last farewell. The horse refused the water and oats offered to him, and instead beat the floor with his hoofs, saluting his master. Czarniecki sank into a coma and died after receiving the last rites.
The horse also died shortly afterward, and the peasants living near Czarnca Wloszczowa, where Czarniecki was buried, claim that on February 16th, the hoofbeats of Czarniecki’s horse can be heard on the nearby meadows as he continues to watch over his master’s grave.
Leopold Löffler, The Death of Stefan Czarnecki, 1860, National Museum Warsaw.
The king had arranged, before his death, for a strengthening of the alliance and personal union between the two countries via the Union of Lublin which merged the separate Polish and Lithuanian Parliaments and which provided for his own succession by an electoral monarchy. Henceforward, the king of the Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania would be freely elected by the nobility of both nations.
On 16 May 1573, Henry Valois, third son of King Henri II of France and of Catherine de’Medici, Duke of Angoulême, Orléans, and Anjou was elected King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania.
Several months prior to his election, on January 28, 1573, the Polish Parliament in Warsaw went out of parliamentary session and into the mode of a Confederacy (in order to preclude the use of the Liberum Veto.
The Confederacy of Warsaw pledged the entire nobility of Poland-Lithuania not only to refuse to enforce any measure by state or church undertaking to compel religious conformity, but to resist actively any such measure by armed force.
[W]e swear to each other, on behalf of ourselves and our descendants, in perpetuity, under oath and pledging our faith, honor, and consciences, that we who differ in matters of religion will keep the peace among ourselves, and neither shed blood on account of differences of Faith, nor punish one another by confiscation of goods, deprivation of honor, imprisonment, or exile.
During the debate, Crown Chancellor Jan Zamoyski is reported to have said: “For the heretics [Protestants] to return to the True Faith, I would give half my life’s blood, but to defend their right to obey their own consciences, I would give all my life’s blood.”
The original text of the Confederacy of Warsaw bearing signatures and wax seals.
Wojciech Kossak (1857-1942), Noc listopadowa [A November Night]. 1898, oil on canvas, Private Collection.
The succession in 1825 to the throne of the Congress Kingdom of Poland of the autocratic Nicholas I, who made clear his contempt for constitutional government, led inevitably to revolt. The reactionary order imposed by the Congress of Vienna was tested all over Europe in 1830. Greek independence was recognized by Britain. In July, the Bourbon monarchy fell in France. In August, the House of Orange was expelled, and Belgium declared its independence. Fear that the Tsar might use the Polish Army to suppress the revolutions in France and Belgium led to revolution in Poland. Wojciech Kossak, in two famous paintings (the other), illustrated Polish cadets and Warsaw civilians in combat with Russian cuirrasseurs in the attack on the Belvedere Palace, the Polish equivalent of the White House, then the residence of Grand Duke Constantine, the Russian Governor General. The statue of King Jan Sobieski appears to be leading the Polish assault. This was the opening battle of the November Insurrection of 1830-1831.
The small number of readers familiar with Henryk Sienkiewicz’s novel of the 17th Century Swedish Invasion of Poland-Lithuania The Deluge will have some sense of its devastating impact on the country. No one living today, however, realised that Swedish looting included the theft of Polish architecture on a massive scale.
A recent major drought in Poland caused the waters of the River Vistula to recede to levels unprecedented in living memory, revealing tons of architectural masonry looted by the Swedes and loaded onto barges for transport down the river to Gdansk, and thence across the Baltic to Sweden. The invaders’ greed apparently exceeded their navigational judgment, and one or more of the barges sank in the river, possibly as the result of overloading.
Low rainfall over the past few months has brought the Vistula, Poland’s longest river, to its lowest level since regular records began 200 years ago. ...
Historians believed that the Swedes who invaded Poland in the 17th century planned to move the looted cargo up the Vistula to Gdansk, where the river joins the Baltic Sea, and from there transport it home. There is still no firm explanation of why the boats sank on the way.
Kowalski said he and his team had so far located up to 10 tonnes of stonework, but this was only the beginning. “The boats had a capacity of 50-60 tonnes (each), so we think that we should find much more,” he said.
Once it has been removed from the river bed and catalogued, the plan is to take the masonry to Warsaw’s Royal Castle, one of the sites from which, historians believe, it was looted by the Swedish invaders.
For now though, the low water levels that revealed the artefacts are hampering efforts to retrieve them. Regular lifting equipment would sink into the mud, but the river is too low for the researchers to bring in floating cranes.
“We need to wait until it gets higher,” Kowalski said.
Gość Warszawski [Warsaw’s Guest] has a slideshow
On Facebook, I see today posting after posting from my Polish correspondents declaring themselves to be “fans of the Irish fans.” “Irish fans are the best fans in the world.” according to many Poles. One declared admiringly: “They sing louder when they’re losing.”
It is not really difficult to understand Poles being offended, when at the presentation of a posthumous American valor award for Jan Karski, a Polish officer who risked his life obtaining knowledge of the Holocaust and then carried that information to the Western Allies, President Barack Obama referred to Karski being “smuggled into a Polish death camp.”
The Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania served as homeland to the overwhelming majority of European Jewry for six centuries until that country was invaded, wiped from the map, and occupied by Prussia, Austria, and Russia at the end of the 18th century.
Jews lived for all those centuries in Poland-Lithuania as a self-governing estate under the protection of royal charters which granted Jews privileges and immunities nearly equal to those of the noble estate.
The witches’ brew of demagogic populist ideologies of the late 19th century, Socialism and Nationalism, impacted occupied Poland and Lithuania, as they did the rest of Central and Eastern Europe, dividing classes, ethnicities, and religious groups, but the so-often-alluded-to Polish antisemitism was far less virulent than elsewhere. During the Nazi-era persecution of the Jews, Poles themselves were on the receiving end of nearly equivalent scale murder and atrocities, but nevertheless Poles, like Karski, did much more on behalf of the Jews than citizens of any other occupied country.
Routine reference to “Polish death camps” by the ignorant and reflexively biased naturally deeply offend Poles.