Monthly Archives: November 2012

My first time

Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum

Don’t worry, I’m not going to write about my sexual experiences. Yesterday was my first time as a volunteer at the Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum. I was a bit stressed about it, because I thought I’d have to deal with visitors, but fortunately it was only a “first impression” meeting.

I met with Waclaw (I feel strange using first name of someone whom I’ve just met and who is much older than me, but sometimes English is so… simple), a gentleman who’s “in charge” of volunteers at the Institute. I’ll just mention that majority of them are veterans of WWII and I might be the youngest one there 🙂 Of course we started our meeting with… a cup of tea. There were a few other people sitting there, having tea or a glass of red wine, as it was Waclaw’s brother’s name day – a great start!

After tea, Waclaw gave me another tour, telling new stories about exhibits and Poles. We spent a good few minutes talking about Polish cadets in Middle East, as Waclaw was a cadet in Palestine. He was 10, when his family was forced by Soviets to move from western Ukraine to Kazakhstan. From there, together with General Anders’ Army he arrived in Palestine. He had to lie about his age in order to be accepted – he added himself 3 years. It was in Palestine where Waclaw saw General Sikorski, when he visited the cadets’ camp. Waclaw’s brother was sent on that day to scrub the pots, so he missed the whole show. After the war Waclaw arrived in England where he joined Polish Resettlement Corps, thanks to which he graduated from University and became a civil engineer. He spent 30 years in Africa building roads.

General Sikorski visiting cadets in Middle East

One of the volunteers is Irena (again much older than me, but Madame Irena sounds strange in English, doesn’t it?) who was sent with her family to Siberia. I don’t have to tell you that her journey was a totally different experience from today’s transsiberian railway tours. But she survived and later on served with 2nd Corps in Italy, where she met Woytek the Bear. She told a few funny stories about Woytek. He was bought as a cub, so he grew up hearing Polish all the time. Apparently he could understand when soldiers were swearing and he was showing his discontent by purring. Setting Woytek free was a good idea if soldiers wanted to have a beach just for themselves 🙂 He loved beer and cigarettes which he was eating. In Edinburgh’s zoo he was a kind of celebrity, he had a few veterinaries and an accommodation with heating just for himself 🙂 Irena was asked to tell about Woytek in a few documentaries made for Polish and English TV.

Woytek the Bear

Father of Mr Barbarski – current Chairman of the Institute, was serving under General Maczek (1st Polish Armoured Division) and was present at the capitulation of the entire garrison of Wilhelmshaven in 1945. He also took a part in the patrol sent to liberate the Oberlagen camp, where almost 2000 Polish women, including Home Army soldiers from Warsaw Uprising, were kept. Later on Mr Barbarski’s father married one of the women from that camp. It almost sounds like a movie screenplay, doesn’t it?

Oberlagen liberation

I spent a few hours at the museum listening to stories like these. I can’t wait to go back next week to find out even more!

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Save the bison

I’m sure you remember my post from 28th October about Konstanty Jelski. The Zoological Department of Warsaw University Museum benefited so much from Jelski’s work that when he ceased the cooperation, the Department quickly decided to send another scientist to South America. I’m going to write a few words about that scientist.

Jan Sztolcman

Jan Stanislaw Sztolcman was born on 19th November 1854 in Warsaw. After middle school (gimnazjum in Polish) Sztolcman started studying zoology at the Warsaw University. That was year 1872. In the same year he joined the Zoological Department and became an assistant to Wladyslaw Taczanowski (zoologist). His main task was helping Taczanowski with preparation of birds skins sent from South America by Jelski. The Department was financed by counts Aleksander and Konstanty Branickis (the latter was financing Jelski’s expeditions).

In 1875 Sztolcman went to Peru to continue Jelski’s work. He chose Lima as his HQ. His expeditions covered Peru and Equador. He discovered four new bird species, described Indian tribes and as one of the first ornithologists described hummingbirds.

After 6 years, in 1881 Sztolcman returned to Warsaw only to go back next year. This time he went to Equador and set up his base in a city of Guayaquil. During his expeditions he was accompanied by Jozef Siemiradzki (geologist and palaeontologist), whose written coverage of those expeditions is the only available source of information.  In the same year they met Ernest Malinowski (Peru’s national hero and the designer of Ferrocarril Central Andino – the central railway of Peru) with whom they spent Christmas. People who at least once spent Christmas away from home know how depressing it can be, so I’m sure it was a joyful time for all three of them. I’m going to dedicate at least one post to Ernest Malinowski. I’m also planning to take a ride across the Andes to see this marvel of engineering.

Sztolcman (sitting) and Siemiradzki with Sztolcman’s dog Jok (Dżok). Photograph taken in Equador in 1883

In 1884 Jan Sztolcman came back to Warsaw where three years later he became a director of  the Branicki’s Zoological Museum which in 1919 became the very first National Zoological Museum in Poland. While working there he became docent and then a professor of geology and palaeontology.

In 1889 he established a “Polish Hunter” (Łowiec Polski) magazine which he had edited till his death. He also established a Cynological Association.

Edition of “Polish Hunter” (Łowiec Polski)

To break the routine, in 1901 Sztolcman took a part in the expedition to Sudan.

In 1923 he was sent to Paris as Polish representative for the First International Congress for the Protection of Nature. He presented there his project of saving the European Bison (he based that on similar project that was very successful in USA). At that time there were only around 50 European Bison alive around the world, all of them in captivity (the last “free” European Bison was killed in 1919). At the moment there are around 3000 European Bison living.

European Bison. Sztolcman saved these majestic animals from extinction

Even though he was a very busy man he found time to give hunting lectures at Agricultural University. In 1926 he became a member of the State Council for Nature Conservation.

Jan Sztolcman died on 29th April 1928 and was buried in Wilanow.

Apart from saving the European Bison from extinction Sztolcman left almost 370 scientific publications. They were published in Poland, France, UK, Germany and Russia. Many species of animals were named after him. He was one of the most merited explorers of South America.

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Between old and new

I’m embarrassed to admit but before August this year I’ve never been to Polish capital – Warsaw. I guess I was never “in the neighborhood” and besides Warsaw, like every capital, is not a very popular city amongst the rest of countrymen. But because it is  Polish capital, I always wanted to visit it. It’s a city full of symbols – we say that some place is busy as Marszalkowska Street, Muniek from T.Love was singing about Krakowskie Przedmiescie (literally Krakow suburb). Seeing the Palace of Culture and Science put a smile on my face as if I just saw the Statue of Liberty 🙂 And believe me, it is an ugly building, but I’ve seen it in so many movies that it’s just simply a part of Warsaw to me. We can’t forget how much the city suffered during the last war and you can see it straight away after entering the city. I’m not sure if I’ve seen a building older than 65 years. And we’re talking about a spot where a settlement has existed for more than ten centuries. I also had a personal reason to visit – my very good friend and his wife live there.

Walking around Warsaw makes you think. About history of the city, people who used to live there. I was whispering at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier even though it’s almost in the middle of Pilsudski Square. The Royal Castle looks beautiful in the evening and it’s hard to believe it was re-built after the war.

Guard of honour at the Tomb of Unknown Soldier

Royal Castle in the evening

The original Zygmunt’s Column

Apart from spending some quality time with my mate (pub crawling :)) I really wanted to visit the Warsaw Uprising Museum. Don’t worry, I’m not going to discuss here if the Uprising was a good idea or not but the Museum is worth seeing. It’s very modern and everyone will find there something interesting to see. Life under occupation was hard but people dealt with it with wit. A few times during the visit I read things that forced me to move along as the cruelty of Nazis was unbearable to read about. But I think the most emotional moment for me was watching a short film “City of Ruins”. It was made from a German plane flying over Warsaw in 1945 and you can see almost a whole city flattened… 1.3 mil people living in Warsaw in September 1939 and after the Uprising less than 1000 people (they were called “robinsons”) hiding in ruins (including a famous pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman). Those two numbers show what Warsaw went through during the war.

Posters calling to fight

The Home Army’s soldiers’ oath

Kubus – homemade armored car

I would love to go back to Warsaw as there’s still so many places and things to see. On top of my list is Stare Powazki cemetery, place of resting for many famous Poles.

Wawel Castle

A few days later I went to Krakow. I must say I was a bit depressed after visiting Warsaw – such a beautiful city ruined in 5 years time. But I quickly felt alive again. Krakow is so… Polish, so full of great history. It wasn’t destroyed during the war, so there are a lot of gems waiting for tourists on almost every corner. Walking around I realized I was standing in front of Jagiellonian University, the oldest university in Poland, founded in 1364 by king Casimir the Great (at that time the University was called Studium Generale). In Warsaw I was thinking that Nazis did quite a good job in getting rid of everything that was Polish. After war we ended up as Soviet Union’s satellite country for 45 years (thank you dear Allies). Does it always have to be so hard for us, Poles? But then I heard the Heynal, saw the Wawel Castle, tombs of kings Casimir the Great, Wladyslaw Jagiello and John III Sobieski, the St. Maurice’s spear, which was given to Boleslaw I the Brave by the Holy Roman Emperor Otto III in 1000AD, tombs of Tadeusz Kosciuszko, Jozef Pilsudski and Gen Sikorski and I had an epiphany. This is our birthplace, the source of our strength. Thanks to Piast and Jagiellonian dynasties Poland was one of the most powerful countries in Europe. Yes, there were partitions, but we lived through it, without losing our identity. We gained our independence in 1918 only to lose it 20 years later, but there was the September Campaign of 1939 and Home Army (the Polish resistance) that gave us hope. After communism there was time of Solidarity and Lech Walesa… I understood that “Poland has not yet perished, So long as we still live”. Of course we quarrel and argue all the time, but if there is a need we always unite to fight the enemy – something none of the occupants could ever understand. I come from the generation that had nothing to fight for. Old enough to remember queuing for toilet paper but too young to fight the system. But I remember 1997 and the Great Flood. The way we helped each other was amazing. It didn’t matter if someone was old or young, from left or right wing, we all built the walls to protect our cities and homes and when the water receded we all started helping the ones who suffered most. I’ve never seen anything like that in my life before. Fortune is fickle, after bad times good ones come. So when I turn on the TV in Poland and see politicians arguing with each other, I say to myself – it’s all good 🙂

St. Maurice’s Spear

Tadeusz Kosciuszko’s tomb

Jozef Pilsudski’s crypt

Categories: Misc | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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