Category Archive 'Poland'
13 Apr 2015

Polish Prince Challenges UKIP Leader to a Duel

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Telegraph story

I don’t think there are any Zylinski families possessing a princely title, and I’m very skeptical of the successful-cavalry-charge-that-saved-6000-Jews story, but I do like his attitude.



I should have looked it up before posting. There is indeed a Polish Princely Żyliński family, descended from Rurik, taking their name from a locality in the palatinate of Smolensk. That cavalry charge story sounds much more believable to me now.

11 Feb 2015

Bitter Polish Humor

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Translation: “Garçon, bring us a bottle of vodka and a map of Poland.”

The Guardian:

Ukraine conflict: four-nation peace talks in Minsk aim to end crisis

Planned summit in Belarus capital on Wednesday comes after intense diplomacy between France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia

12 Dec 2014

Ryszard Barylinski, Brushmaker

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A rather charming short 3:54 video about a Polish brushmaker who still produces his wares personally by hand.

19 Nov 2014

750 Year Old Polish Oak Tree, “The Brave Oak,” Burned by Vandal

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Dąb Chrobry, “the Brave Oak” in 1967.

An ancient oak tree, known as “the Brave Oak,” growing near the nature reserve Buczyna Szprotawska in Lower Silesian Forests around Piotrowice was damaged yesterday by fire. It was most likely deliberately set on fire from the inside. The tree germinated around 1250 and was the largest surviving Polish oak tree, the third largest in Central Europe. Centuries ago,it marked the border between two Polish principalities.

The spread of its crown was approximately 52.5′ (16 m). It was approximately 92′(28 m) high and had a trunk circumference of 33′ (10.10 m). Its diameter at breast height was 10 1/2′ (321 cm).

Polish news reports asked openly: “What kind of smoldering anger must a man have to do something like that?”

Acorns from the Brave Oak were blessed by Pope John Paul II, April 28, 2004, during a pilgrimage to the Vatican by Polish foresters. The nursery in Poverty bred from them 500 seedlings which were distributed all over the country. Its offspring are consequently known as “Papal oaks.” So seedlings survive, and “the royal oak will not perish forever.” Approximately, 500 “papal oaks” in Poland are trees from the acorns of the Brave Oak.

The tree was declared a natural monument on March 24, 1967, though it was also protected by law before WWII. Its age is estimated at approx. 760 years (germinated approx. 1250 years).

Polish Wikipedia article

Hat tip to Kaj Malachowski.

31 Aug 2014

Another Summer of 1939?

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Max Fisher identifies the key term in Vladimir Putin’s rhetoric.

Russian President Vladimir Putin just dropped the biggest, scariest dogwhistle of the Ukraine crisis: “Novorossiya.”

The word literally means “new Russia” — it was an old, imperial-era term for southern Ukraine, when it was part of the Russian Empire, and is now a term used by Russia ultra-nationalists who want to re-conquer the area.

Putin has used the word twice during the crisis. First, he used it in April, about a month after Russia had invaded and annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea, subtly suggesting that the annexation was justified because Crimea was in Novorossiya and thus inherently part of Russia.

He used it again on Thursday, in an official presidential statement addressed to the eastern Ukrainian rebels that have seized parts of the country — and whom he addressed as “the militia of Novorossiya.”


Anne Applebaum, who has written a book on the totalitarian genocides committed in Europe’s Eastern Borderlands during the last century, tells us that she suddenly feels as if she is living in the Summer of 1939, and warns, on the basis of familiarity with the kinds of things which appear in the Russian press which the New York Times is never going to report, just how scary the thoughts are that Russia is thinking.

A few days ago, Alexander Dugin, an extreme nationalist whose views have helped shape those of the Russian president, issued an extraordinary statement. “Ukraine must be cleansed of idiots,” he wrote — and then called for the “genocide” of the “race of bastards.”

But Novorossiya will also be hard to sustain if it has opponents in the West. Possible solutions to that problem are also under discussion. Not long ago, Vladimir Zhirinovsky — the Russian member of parliament and court jester who sometimes says things that those in power cannot — argued on television that Russia should use nuclear weapons to bomb Poland and the Baltic countries — “dwarf states,” he called them — and show the West who really holds power in Europe: “Nothing threatens America, it’s far away. But Eastern European countries will place themselves under the threat of total annihilation,” he declared. Vladimir Putin indulges these comments: Zhirinovsky’s statements are not official policy, the Russian president says, but he always “gets the party going.”

A far more serious person, the dissident Russian analyst Andrei Piontkovsky, has recently published an article arguing, along lines that echo Zhirinovsky’s threats, that Putin really is weighing the possibility of limited nuclear strikes — perhaps against one of the Baltic capitals, perhaps a Polish city — to prove that NATO is a hollow, meaningless entity that won’t dare strike back for fear of a greater catastrophe. Indeed, in military exercises in 2009 and 2013, the Russian army openly “practiced” a nuclear attack on Warsaw.

Is all of this nothing more than the raving of lunatics? Maybe. And maybe Putin is too weak to do any of this, and maybe it’s just scare tactics, and maybe his oligarchs will stop him. But “Mein Kampf” also seemed hysterical to Western and German audiences in 1933. Stalin’s orders to “liquidate” whole classes and social groups within the Soviet Union would have seemed equally insane to us at the time, if we had been able to hear them.

16 Mar 2014

A Fine Proposal

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Poland-Lithuania half groschen coin dated 1550 featuring the emblems of both nations.

Glenn Reynolds: What Can the U.S. Do If Russia Attacks Ukraine? Give Poland and Lithuania nukes.

Tsar Putin would not like that one little bit.

24 Dec 2013

Wśród nocnej ciszy

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Warsaw Boys Choir.


Wśród nocnej ciszy

Wśród nocnej ciszy głos się rozchodzi:
Wstańcie, pasterze – Bóg się wam rodzi!
Czem prędzej się wybierajcie,
Do Betlejem pospieszajcie
Przywitać Pana.

Poszli, znaleźli Dzieciątko w żłobie,
Z wszystkimi znaki danymi sobie.
Jako Bogu cześć Mu dali,
A witając zawołali,
Z wielkiej radości.

Ach, witaj Zbawco, z dawna żądany!
Tyle tysięcy lat wyglądany;
Na Ciebie króle, prorocy
Czekali, a Tyś tej nocy
Nam się objawił.


Amidst the stillness of the night

Amidst the stillness of the night, a voice proclaims:
Arise ye shepherds – God is born to you!
Seize the moment,
Hasten to Bethlehem
To welcome the Lord.

They came, they found the child in the manger
With all the signs of honor
given by God ,
They shouted a greeting,
With great joy.

Welcome Savior, long desired!
Looked for for one thousand years
By kings and prophets
They waited, and you tonight
Revealed yourself to us.

07 Dec 2013

Medieval Sword Found in Polish River

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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.

21 Sep 2013

Michal Oginski: Pożegnanie Ojczyzny (Farewell to the Fatherland)

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Michal Kleofas Oginski (1765-1833) was a Lithuanian Prince, by virtue of lineal descent from Rurik, founder of the Kievian Russian state. He commanded a regiment of riflemen during the Kościuszko Insurrection of 1794 which attempted to resist the Second Partition of Poland-Lithuania. After Russia’s suppression of the Insurrection, Oginski emigrated to France, at which time he wrote the following Polonaise, his best-known work.

06 Aug 2013

Death of a Poet

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Krzystof Kamil Baczynski (1921-1944)

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.

4 I 1942


(translated by Alex Kurczaba)

White Magic

Standing before the mirror of silence
with her hands in her hair,
Barbara pours into her glass body
silver droplets of her voice.

And then like a jar
she fills with light and glasslike
filters stars through herself
and the white dust of the moon.

Through the quivering prism of her body
in the music of white sparks
minks will glide past
like fluffy leaves of sleep.

Hoarfrost will coat the bears in it
brightened by polar stars
and a stream of mice will weave through
flowing in a loud avalanche.

Until filled up with milk
she’ll slowly sink into sleep
as melodically time will settle at the bottom
in a cascade of glare.

And so Barbara has a silver body. In it
the white mink of silence stiffens softly
under an unseen arm.


Read aloud in Polish:


10 Jul 2013

Christine Granville, British Secret Agent

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Maria Krystyna Janina Skarbek, GM, OBE, Croix de guerre aka Christine Granville

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.”


2012 review from the Spectator by Alistair Horne, titled “Bravest of the Brave:”

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.

Maria Skarbek’s Polish coat of arms

30 Jun 2013

1928 Silent Film Version of Pan Tadeusz

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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.

Adam Mickiewicz’s Pan Tadeusz, published in 1834, is like Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, a novel in verse.

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,, 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.

New Horizons review

It will gradually be shown at film festivals world-wide, and will presumably eventually be made available on DVD.

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