I mentioned on my Polish Trace Around the World Facebook page Benedict the Pole, who explored East before Marco Polo. This is his story. Continue reading
A few days ago, when I posted about Jozef Kosacki on my blog’s FB page I wanted to add a link to the actual entry on my blog and I realized that I haven’t translated it to English 😦 Here it goes then.
The fact that the Poles “broke” the Enigma code is probably widely known but we have one more invention that saved lives of thousands but let me build up the excitement first.
It often amazes me, how long live people who went through the hell of the Second World War, seems like the horrors they had seen during the war, gave them the will to live. I met at the Sikorski Institute several 90-year-olds, Jan Nowak-Jezioranski lived 91 years, General Maczek 102 years, and Jan Karski “only” 86 years 🙂 Probably of great importance is the fact that they grew up in a much healthier environment. The air was cleaner, healthier food – not many of us will reach 90, I’m afraid.
The hero of today’s post lived 78 years, but it seems to me that he had a very successful life. But from the beginning…
Richard Mieczyslaw Białous (“George”, “Ram”) was born on April 4, 1914 in Warsaw (still in the Russian Empire). From the age of ten belonged to the Gen. Henryk Dabrowski’s Sixth Scout Team, where he went through all the stages from a youngster and from 1936 he served as commander of Troop “Powiśle”. He graduated from St. Stanislaus’s grammar school where he earned a matriculation certificate in 1932. He entered the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences at the University of Warsaw and a year later he moved on Architecture at the Warsaw University of Technology. In 1936 he obtained with good results an engineering degree. A year later he interrupted his studies and was appointed to the Engineers Training Centre in Modlin and in 1938 finished in second place the School Reserve Officers Engineers, with the rank of platoon sergeant of engineers. He went back to school, but already in March 1939 was called to active duty as an engineer in 8th Infantry Division in Modlin. In June he resigned at his own request, to obtain a discharge from the Warsaw Polytechnic and marry Christine Błońska. It wasn’t given to him to enjoy his wife for a long time, because on 1st August he returned to the 8th Infantry Division as an engineers platoon commander. In September 1939 using delaying action arrived with his unit in Warsaw, where he took part in the defense of Warsaw. On 19th September was wounded in both legs.
After recovering, he was involved in underground activities with Union of Retaliation (Zwiazek Odwetu), a separate body of Union of Armed Struggle (Zwiazek Walki Zbrojnej). In the autumn of 1942 after Shock Troops and Kedyw (“Directorate for Subversion”) were created he became commander of a 300-people strong Special Unit “George”. His deputy was Tadeusz “Sophy” (Zoska) Zawadzki, commander of “Attack” group in Operation Arsenal, who was killed later on in the attack on the Grenzschutz’s watchtower and in his honor the battalion was called “Sophy” (01/09/1943).
During the Warsaw Uprising Battalion “Sophy” as part of the Sabotage Brigade “Beard 53” has passed the toughest trail of fighting in the Wola district, Old Town and Czerniaków. After Czerniaków’s fall “Sophy’s” soldiers (“zośkowcy”) infiltrated channels to Mokotów, and after the surrender of the district – to the city center.” George” with a small group of soldiers moved terrestrially to the Downtown South. The battalion lost about 350 soldiers during the Uprising. For his actions “George” was awarded three times the Cross of Valour and the War Order of Virtuti Militari fifth class.
After the Uprising he was sent to prison camps in the Bergen-Belsen, Gross-Born and Sandbostel. After his release he became the commander of the First Care Platoon at the Independent Parachute Brigade, he organized Officer’s Club and a school for soldiers. He decided to stay in the West, after hearing how the Russians treat Home Army soldiers. He returned to Poland in 1946 together with the gifts’ transport and with the same convoy he exported from the country his wife and children and several comrades in arms. In 1947 he lived in London, but he was annoyed by the exalted British attitude towards Poles. At the urging of a friend he decided to move to Argentina.
On 9th July 1948 he landed in Buenos Aires, which under General Peron was the scene of strikes and street fighting. This was the reason for the move with his family to the west, to the town of Quillen in the province of Neuquen. Together with a friend from the Independent Parachute Brigade he had launched a house factory, which soon went bust. Undeterred by the failure he had used his knowledge and experience in the construction of roads and bridges. He designed and supervised the construction of the airport in Quillen. In 1961 they moved to the town Zapala to allow their children access to education. Two years later he got the government contract to design and build a resort in Caviahue, near the border with Chile. He was technical director of the Board of Tourism and Resorts, then Director of the Hydrological Service and Electricity. He was completely responsible for water supply, production and distribution of electricity. In the years 1966-1969 he was the director of projects on behalf of province of Neuquen’s Ministry of Construction. As the director of “Adelphia” over the next two years he built an electricity transmission line, the road in the mountains, the pipeline. Since 1976 he also was appointed director of the thermal spas. He was active in the Union of Poles in Argentina and in veterans’ organizations. In Patagonia he founded the first in Argentina biathlon club. He was an active skier and mountaineer. He climbed in the Andes, capturing several virgin peaks. He visited Poland only once for the 30th anniversary of the outbreak of the Uprising. During this visit he visited his family, places where battalion “Sophy” fought and the graves of friends.
He died on 24th March 1992 and was buried in the cemetery in Neuquen. I will try to find his grave when I’m in Argentina. Although he wasn’t exiled as Bronislaw Pilsudski but Richard Białous also turned to anthropology (beautiful continuation of nineteenth-century Polish academic traditions). He moved with his family on land belonging to the tribe of Araucanians (they call themselves Mapuche – People of the Earth). Białous was the founder of the Araucanian Society. He studied their customs, language, and traditions and had become an expert on Mapuche culture and had a large collection of artifacts. I think he was impressed by the fact that the Mapuche were not conquered neither by the Incas nor by the Spanish and only Chilean troops managed to do that. Maybe their resilience reminded him of citizens of Warsaw?
Davies, Norman. Rising ’44: The Battle for Warsaw, London, Macmillan, 2003.
Utracka, Katarzyna. Poległym chwała, wolność żywym. Oddziały Walczącej Warszawy, Warszawa 2005
As promised, here it is – post about Amsterdam. Last time I briefly described the whole journey so now it’s time for some details.
The first stage was Megabus from London to Amsterdam. It’s a really good way of going to Amsterdam if you don’t mind coaches. It was £15 one way, much cheaper than flying. Up until Brussels I was sitting alone, so I actually got a good few hours of sleep. Only a few as we had to take a ferry across the English Channel. Our coach was one of the last vehicles to get onboard and as a result there was no place to sit – people lying everywhere. Fortunately I found a place on the floor. It’s an amazing experience to stand in the middle of the night on the top deck of a ferry leaving the port. You’re leaving all the lights behind you and you enter the darkness – it was kind of fascinating and scary at the same time, so I quickly left the top deck 🙂
The second thing disrupting my sleep were two American girls sitting behind me. As they couldn’t sleep they’d decided to chat, not caring about the rest of us. Thank you God for MP3 players 🙂
We arrived in Amsterdam around 9am. There’s a direct tram to city centre from the car park where Megabus finishes. Luckily I had some change so I could buy a ticket. I was surprised to see on the tram a small booth with a guy selling tickets. Maybe that’s how Dutch deal with unemployment? Because anywhere else there’s only a ticket machine.
For €5.95 you can leave your bag at the Central Station in one of the lockers for 24 hours. You can pay with your card. After leaving the bag I walked to the National Maritime Museum (15-20 minute walk) where after buying the ticket (€15) I had a quick breakfast.
Before getting to the Museum first thing you see from the distance is the replica of East Indiaman “Amsterdam”, a vessel that sank in 1749 in English Channel during its maiden voyage to Batavia (today’s Jakarta) and the Museum building (the main land store of the Amsterdam Admiralty dating from 1656).
The Museum is very spacious, modern and… disappointing. Maybe I spend too much time at the Sikorski Museum in London, which is a bit cluttered, but in Amsterdam there’s just too much unused space. I mean, we’re talking about the museum dedicated to the Dutch Navy, the most powerful navy in 17th century and most of the rooms at the museum were half empty (or half full) at best. There are a few really good rooms. I spent more than 30 minutes admiring globes from 15th and 16th century. I even found Poland on couple of them, unfortunately it was too dark to take a good picture. The Ship Decorations and Navigational Instruments were also pretty good. The ship was the best, you can easily spend an hour looking into every corner. After reading so many travel reports and Conrad’s books my imagination almost teleported me into 16th century 🙂 But if I compared this museum to the Maritime Museum in Madrid, Madrid would take the first place, no doubts. I was a bit disappointed with the Museum and I wouldn’t recommend going to Amsterdam only to see that. But the city itself has a lot to offer 🙂 But I definitely had fun traveling to Poland for 40 hours instead of two.
After the museum I still had time for some sightseeing, a pint of Heineken and a nice chat with two Norwegian guys in one of the bars. At 7pm I boarded the Jan Kiepura train and had begun another overnight part of my journey, to Poznan, where I arrived in the morning and found everything under snow. I quickly grabbed some breakfast and took the train to my beloved Wroclaw.
So it’s time for Polish trace 🙂 I’m going to tell about first Polish cartographer and ethnographer in South America. Krzysztof (Christopher) Arciszewski, of Prawdzic Coat of Arms, was born on 9th December 1592 in Rogalin, near Poznan. After studying in Arian schools he served under Krzysztof Radziwill. He would’ve probably stayed in Poland but he was condemned to infamy and exile after killing Kacper Brzeznicki, a lawyer who allegedly illegally took over Arciszewskis’ lands. He left in 1623 and went to Holland, where with support of Krzysztof Radziwill he studied artillery, military engineering and navigation. He took part in the Thirty Years’ War fighting inter alia in France in Cardinal Richelieu’s army. In 1629 he joined Dutch West India Company and was sent to Brazil to fight the Spanish and Portuguese. If you ever wondered why people speak Portuguese only in Brazil, I’m here to give you an explanation 🙂 It’s all because of the Treaty of Tordesillas signed in 1494 and dividing the New World between Spain and Portugal along a meridian 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde islands. The lands to the east would belonged to Portugal and the lands to the west to Spain. As you may know Brazil was discovered by Pedro Cabral in 1500. Et voila, mystery solved 🙂 I mentioned before the Maritime Museum in Madrid – this is the place to see the front page of the Treaty of Tordesillas!
Arciszewski returned to Brazil two more times, he became vice governor of Brazil, chief commander of Dutch army and navy in Brazil. Unfortunately quarrels with governor Count de Nassau forced Arciszewski to resign. Despite being very busy while commanding the Dutch forces, he found time to draw one of the first maps in Brazil. He also collected artefacts and stories of Indians Tupi. He always treated Indians well even those who were forced by Portuguese to fight against Dutch. Arciszewski was going to publish the notes taken in Brazil, but he didn’t unfortunately. He was first of many Poles discovering South America.
In 1646 he returned to Poland where he accepted from king Wladyslaw IV the position of General of the Royal Artillery. He fought with Cossacks and Tartars. He was defending Lviv and was in charge of Royal Artillery during the relief of Zbarazh. He’s mentioned in With Fire and Sword, the first part of Trilogy by Henryk Sienkiewicz.
He resigned in 1650 and on 7th April 1656 died and was buried in Leszno.
A wee update regarding this year’s holiday plans which have developed a bit. I’m going to Lithuania in June and Morocco in July. I also bought ticket to Cancun, Mexico, and am flying on New Year’s Day! That will be beginning of the Journey. Cheerio!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
If you’re not very much interested in zoology, you probably haven’t heard about Konstanty Jelski, a Polish zoologist and explorer, but he’s well worth mentioning.
Konstanty Roman Jelski was born on 17th February 1837 in a small village called Lada, in today’s Belarus. His parents, Michal and Klotylda (sister of Stanislaw Moniuszko – a Polish composer), were prosperous, which allowed young Konstanty to get well educated.
After finishing secondary school in Minsk, for 3 years Konstanty studied medicine in Moscow, from where he moved to Kiev to study at Science and Environmental Department. Unfortunately, in 19th century’s Poland, a way to a scientific career led through one of the occupant’s university (Russian, Prussian or Austrian). It wasn’t easy to resist the forceful imposition of German or Russian culture and language, when anything related to Poland was banned. But as you know, Poles managed to live and keep their identity through 123 years of partitions. But we have great examples of how hard it is in today’s world. According to International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights 50% of Tibetans are analphabets and Chinese educational policy is called “assimilating”. We, Poles, have heard that before…
In 1858 Konstanty submitted a dissertation about birds’ tracheae and obtained a gold medal and master’s degree. He spent a few years working at Zoology Department as a keeper and in 1863 was offered a teacher position at the university, but he refused saying he wasn’t capable of such an honour. He wanted to continue his education in Germany, but he landed in… Turkey, where he made his living by colouring maps for schools.
In 1865 he went to Paris and in July on board of “Amazon” he sailed for French Guiana. You can find Konstanty’s stories from 1865-1871 in his book, which unfortunately is hard to get and it was published in Polish. But when reading it you can find out how dedicated to his work he was. I think we can easily say his work was his passion. He went through hell when he thought he would have to stay aboard while in Madeira, because “some snails’ and insects’ species are not present outside Madeira” and it was such a great opportunity to see them.
After four years in Guiana he went to Peru, where he stayed for ten more years. From 1868 he was supported by count Konstanty Branicki from Poland (explorer and naturalist himself) who wanted Jelski to go deeper into South America to collect specimen and then send them to Poland. Thanks to this cooperation many examples of South American fauna and flora were sent to Poland and tens if not hundreds of dissertations were based on them. To give you a sample – 300 species of spiders were collected and posted by Jelski, only from Peru…
But it’s not that he concentrated only on work, apparently he wanted to marry a Peruvian woman, but I guess none of them was interested 😀 After coming back to Poland he married his cousin, Helena Korsakowna and became the curator of the Natural History Department of Academy of Learning in Krakow. The salary must have been low as he went very often to Dalmatia (today’s Croatia) or France to collect specimen and sell them afterwards to support the family budget. Apparently, if he didn’t have to waste time to earn more money he would have become even a greater scientist. He was making Chinese ink that was as good as the original one. His fruit wines were so good that people weren’t able to guess what fruits they were made of.
Konstanty was 58 at the time of his death, so still quite young. Ha had a stroke and was told by the doctor to rest in bed, but Konstanty was not the resting type, he’d always had so much to do. He had another stroke and on 26th November 1896 Konstanty Jelski died.
Konstanty Jelski was a typical 19th century’s Polish scientist – educated at foreign university, dedicated his life to science. Many young scientists (not only Polish ones) made use of specimen collected and discovered and studies conducted by Jelski in South America and he still is an acclaimed ornithologist and zoologist.
It’s been a while, I know, but don’t worry I’m back in business and guess what?!? Only 264 days left 😀
Almost each time I talk to someone about my travel plans I can see confusion on their faces when I say I want to go to Uzbekistan… Why would I go there??? To most of the people this name sounds… exotic. But people who read Marco Polo’s Description of the World or anything about the Silk Road know how crucial that area was for caravans heading west.
I’m going to focus only on Samarkand this time, but don’t worry, Uzbekistan will re-appear on my blog. The city was founded in 8th-7th century BC on a hill called Afrasiyab and was called Marakanda. In the 6th century BC massive city walls were built by Achaemenids (Persian dynasty which ended their rule thanks to Alexander the Great :D). Yes, Samarkand is as old as the Eternal City. Alexander’s wife, Roxana, came from Samarkand. In 8th century AD Samarkand was conquered by Arabs and Islam became main religion. The next important date in city’s history is 1220 when it was… destroyed by Genghis Khan. But in 14th century it was rebuilt by Timur (also called Tamerlane) who made Samarkand a capital of his empire. In 16th century Samarkand became a part of Bukhara (or Bokhara in 19th and early 20th century in English publications) khanate and went into decline. In 1868 the city came under Russian rule and 8 years later today’s post’s hero appeared on the scene…
Leon Barszczewski (impossible to pronounce, I know :D) was born on 18th (or 20th) February 1849 in Warsaw as a son of a nobleman from Suwalki. His family had to leave Podlasie region to avoid repressions after Spring of Nations in 1848. From Warsaw the family moved to Biala Cerkiew in Ukraine, where soon after Leon’s parents died. After that him and his younger brother, Wlodzimierz, were placed in a boarding school, which was a common way of dealing with polish orphans from politically incorrect families. How right the Russian regime was – in 1863 Leon’s five older brothers joined the January Uprising. 😀 Leon went to military school in Kiev and after graduating he joined the Junker Infantry School in Odessa. He didn’t become an officer because of his stubbornness – during the exams he defended polish insurgents from 1863 – a strange thing to do for a soon-to-be Russian officer. He was expelled from school and sent to a regiment in Bessarabia (today’s Moldova and Ukraine). That was actually a good thing for Leon as he learnt there a lot of useful skills like tailoring, shoemaking, carpentry, cooking and even some basic medical skills. He also learnt French and German and unlike his fellow soldiers, who spent their salaries on alcohol and women, he used his money to buy books. Thanks to Nikolai Osipov Leon became a quite proficient photographer. Later in Asia, wherever he went, he always had his portable 10kg camera with him.
In March 1876 Leon and his unit were sent to Bukhara. He was very enthusiastic and excited about it. Vast areas of Central Asia were unknown to Europeans at that time. He was about to see lands conquered by Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan. That’s why he volunteered. He must’ve felt like a 6-year old boy before Xmas… He was given a task of charting new routes to Afghanistan and China. It took them 8 months to get to Samarkand. It will take us a few hours to fly from Istanbul to Tashkent (yes, our plan has changed again 😀 – we’ve added Georgia, Armenia and Turkey to our list).
Barszczewski spent 20 years in Samarkand, he met there Irena Niedzwiedzka, whom he married in 1880 and who died 10 years later, leaving Leon with five children. During those 20 years he organized or took part in over 20 scientific expeditions. He found deposits of turquoise, graphite, garnet, rhinestone, iron, lead, silver, coal, gold and naphtha. Because of his scientific reports many Russian scientists arrived in Samarkand to join one of Leon’s expeditions. He was fascinated by glaciers, he organized a few trips just to describe and photograph them. He almost lost his life during one of those trips while… taking a picture. But it was worth risking his life – those photographs won him a gold medal at the exhibition in Paris in 1895. His second gold medal was won in Warsaw in 1901 for landscapes and portraits of inhabitants of Central Asia.
Through his expeditions he got to know peoples of Central Asia. He was often saying that one can solve a lot of problems with a kind word or just by being polite. Thanks to this approach we can admire scenes from the past in photographs taken by Barszczewski. Apart from taking pictures Leon was collecting ceramics. Over the years he built quite a collection. That’s how he made a discovery that puts him together in one line with Heinrich Schliemann (discoverer of Troy) or Arthur Evans (a man who discovered a palace in Knossos). One day Leon saw young boys throwing stones at old-looking vases. For a few pennies they showed him a place where they found them. First, he thought he found an old city founded by Alexander and destroyed by Mongols in 13th century. In a short period of time he dug out more ceramics, statues and a silver box with pearls and jewellery made of gold.
Before starting the second phase of excavations he read all available historical sources but still had no idea how big his discovery was. He excavated a few streets, houses and found objects that could be more than 2000 years old. He realized it was a part of a bigger settlement. Neither Moscow nor Petersburg were interested in Leon’s discoveries, but someone else was. French archaeologists wanted to buy from Barszczewski all the items. Only part of the collection was sold and funds were used by Leon to open a coal mine. The rest of exhibits were donated to the city of Samarkand to start a museum. Until death Barszczewski had no idea he discovered ancient Samarkand.
Thorough excavations took place in 1960s and 1970s led by Soviet archaeologists. Of course none of the books published as a result had mentioned Barszczewski as a discoverer. Who would care about some Pole…
Leon’s service brought many benefits to the Empire. He found many geological layers, was a member of a Russian Geographical Society and Geological and Botanical Society, awarded with many awards and medals e.g. Golden Star of Bukhara from Emir. Was promoted to lieutenant colonel and his future seemed very bright. He was offered a promotion to general if he converted to Eastern Orthodoxy. Apparently he answered with a telegram: I refuse to convert. I’m a Polish catholic…
Probably that was the reason for sending Barszczewski away from his beloved Central Asia to Siedlce in today’s Poland. It wasn’t easy for the Barszczewskis, of course they could speak Polish but with a strong accent, and that fact wasn’t helping to assimilate. Also, after so many years spent in Tsar’s service I think he was a bit torn between Poland and Russia. He was very surprised when at the breakout of Russo-Japanese War in 1904 his speech about sense of duty given in Russian had little effect on inhabitants of Siedlce… When he founded a Trade School for girls (he used profits from his coal mine for that purpose), out of 200 girls that enrolled in only 16 showed up on the first day… Eventually a high level of education encouraged more girls to join.
In 1906 Leon retired but his life as a pensioner was rather short. On 22nd March 1910, wrongly accused for stealing military money he committed suicide at a hotel in Czestochowa. He was buried at the local cemetery but was exhumed in 1995 and moved to Stare Powazki in Warsaw.
He left a few hundred photographs showing life of Central Asian inhabitants in 19th century. Apparently he also had a talent for writing, but his notes are either missing or are impossible to decipher. His heir, Igor Strojecki is looking after what’s left. In recent years exhibitions were organized in a few major Polish cities, showing Leon Barszczewski’s life achievements.
Samarkand has become a very popular place amongst foreign tourists but I’m sure, if you leave the city behind you, you will be able to see a true Central Asia, the one Barszczewski loved so much.
I think every Pole knows the name Pilsudski. The “First Marshall” played a major role in regaining independence by Poland in 1918. But today’s post is going to be about his older brother, Bronislaw. I’m pretty sure many people have never heard about him. Continue reading
My second post will take us again to North America. Why, will you ask?!? Well, there are at least a couple of reasons I can think of.
Primo, because this continent hosted many Poles. Some of them spent there only a few years, some of them stayed longer. A few will be remembered forever… hopefully.
Secundo, because USA is not on our list of countries to visit. I mean not during the Journey. The reason for that is money of course. Unfortunately, comparing to South-East Asia or South America, North American countries are simply too expensive for us.
We still want to visit both Canada and States, but this trip will have to wait. We dream of buying a car and driving through states. I’m sure many of you would like to do that and some of you have already done it… And even if we have mixed feelings about America (because of history, of course), it still is almost a magical place for Poles from my generation. As kids we watched American movies, learnt English from American movies (that would be American English then) and for many of us that was the greatest country in the world…
As I said, US are not on our list and I won’t be able to go there and take any pictures anytime soon, so at least I can write about Poles who helped build this country.
Today’s post is about a person well known among Poles and Americans, Casimir (Kazimierz) Pulaski, also called “the father of American cavalry”. Most people heard about his achievements in America, not many know about his heroic actions in Poland.
Kazimierz Michal Wladyslaw Wiktor (yup, 4 names) Pulaski (of Slepowron coat-of-arms) was born on 6th March 1745 in Warsaw. He was baptised at home as it was a common practice if the child was ill. He had 2 brothers and 6 sisters.
He grew up in Warka, where he went to school and later on he attended at the college of Theatines in Warsaw. After the college he became a page of Duke of Courland and witnessed Russian occupation of the area.
In 1764 he took part in the election of Stanislaw August Poniatowski but on 29th February 1768 he signed the pact of confederation in Bar against Russia and Polish king, who was seen as Russian puppet, against the attempts to limit the power of nobility, and to defend the Roman-Catholic Church. Prussia and Austria stayed neutral, but they eagerly joined Russia 4 years later in the First Partition of Poland. Casimir’s father, Jozef (Joseph) Pulaski, was one of the creators of the confederation and Casimir with his brother Franciszek (Francis) Ksawery became colonels (pulkownik).
Casimir was only 23 at that moment but 4 years later his military talents were well known in Europe. But those 4 years weren’t easy. He had many successes and failures: defending the fortress of Okopy Sw. Trojcy, many victorious skirmishes with Russians and king’s forces, holding Czestochowa and forcing Russian commander Drewicz to withdraw.
The fighting ended in 1772 when insurgents (by many historians Bar Confederation is called the very first Polish Uprising) had to fight with Austrian forces, which decided to have a piece of cake as well. During the fights, Casimir’s father died, his brother was killed at the battlefield and Casimir for his role in an attempt to kidnap king Poniatowski was stripped of “all dignity and honors”, his possessions confiscated, and he was sentenced to death. With all that, Casimir had to seek refuge outside the country. The confederation failed, the puppet-king was still in charge, and foreign powers (Russia, Prussia and Austria) used the uprising as the pretext to the First Partition of Poland.
After 5 years of wandering he met Benjamin Franklin in Paris, who recommended him to George Washington. In a letter he wrote of Casimir: “Count Pulaski of Poland, an officer famous throughout Europe for his bravery and conduct in defence of liberty of his country…”.
On 23rd July 1777 Casimir arrived in America and in August met with Washington to explain his project of forming cavalry. During the Battle of Brandywine, he impressed Washington with his military talent and even saved Washington’s life. For that he was promoted to brigadier general of the American cavalry, which at that time was only few hundred-men strong and was used primarily for scouting duties. He also took part in the Battle of Germantown in October.
In 1778 Pulaski started organizing the cavalry (famous Pulaski Legion). It was a mixed unit of lancers and light infantry. He used his experience from Poland, where he was called by some the next Stefan Czarniecki (famous Polish guerrilla commander from seventeenth century). Quite often he used his own personal finances to buy equipment for the soldiers. He demanded much of his men and trained them in what he knew best – guerrilla war. Poor Brits didn’t know what was coming to them… In the same year the Moravian Sisters funded a banner for the Legion. Banner that was also called Pulaski’s Banner.
In 1779 Legion fought at Little Egg Harbor and Charleston. After that he arrived in besieged Savannah where on October 9th , during a cavalry charge he was wounded by grapeshot. His wounds were mortal and on 15th October 1779 he died aboard USS Wasp. He was buried at Greenwich plantation on 21st October.
On 17th November 1779 George Washington issued an order to identify friends and foes when crossing military lines: Query: Pulaski, Response: Poland. Later on that month Congress voted that a monument should be built in memory Count Pulaski. It was never done.
Pulaski is both Polish and American hero. During the Bar Confederation he led a successful guerrilla war against Russia and he died in America, defending freedom. Several times Pulaski impressed Washington and his officers with his skills and actions.
He has been called “the father of American cavalry” and 11th October is celebrated in USA as “General Pulaski Memorial Day”. Numerous statues of Pulaski exist. Over 200 cities and towns, many streets and bridges were named after him. A Polish transatlantic ship, US submarine and Polish Frigate were also named after General Pulaski.
In 2009 Polish Parliament honoured Pulaski’s name. In the same year Pulaski obtained honorary U.S. citizenship, becoming seventh person so honoured.
He was one of the first Poles fighting “for your freedom and ours” outside Poland. Luckily he died before seeing Poland disappear from Europe map.
The term “America’s greatest bridge builder” may be misleading because it was supposed to be about Poles… and it will be, trust me.
It all started with a Polish actress, who despite being a celebrity in Poland, always dreamt of playing Shakespeare in English. That actress was Helena Modrzejewska (1840-1909). Following her dream she arrived in New York in August 1876. She didn’t step on American ground alone – she was accompanied by her 15-years old son, Rudolf.
Rudolf was born on 27th January 1861 in Bochnia, near Krakow. If he didn’t come to America, we would be probably talking about famous pianist, as Rudolf was a very talented musician, and Ignacy Jan Paderewski was his close friend.
Right after arrival Rudolf with his mother visited the Centennial International Exposition held in Philadelphia to celebrate the 100th anniversary of signing the Declaration of Independence. As Helena mentioned in her Memoires, Rudolf was very happy to visit the Exposition, and he was interested in all kinds of machines represented there.
In 1877 Helena changed her name to Helen Modjeska and Rudolf became Ralph Modjeski. It was impossible for Americans to pronounce the full Polish name.
In 1885, two years after obtaining American citizenship, Ralph graduated from the School of Bridges and Roads in Paris at the top of his class. He returned to America, where he worked under “father of American bridge-building” George S. Morison. Later on he opened his office in Chicago. In 1894 he got his first contract, followed by others.
In 1907 Modjeski became a member of a commission investigating the Quebec Bridge disaster that killed 75 workers (including over 30 Mohawks). Later on him and another architect were commissioned to complete the bridge. The Quebec Bridge (based on Firth of Forth in Scotland, next to which I lived for 2.5 years) is still the longest cantilever bridge in the world.
Ralph’s biggest achievements were Benjamin Franklin Bridge in Philadelphia and Bay Bridge in San Francisco. In total he built over 40 bridges. One of Modjeski’s students was Joseph B. Strauss, a man who designed the famous Golden Gate in San Francisco.
He was the recipient of numerous awards and degrees like a doctorate in engineering from Illinois State University, or a doctorate honoris causa from the Lwów Politechnic.
In March 2008 a Fordonski Bridge in Bydgoszcz, Poland was named after Rudolf Modrzejewski.
Until the end of his days Rudolf spoke and wrote in Polish, he stayed in touch with the country and with Poles. The letters he wrote to his friends in Poland were always signed with his full Polish name. People who knew him said he always emphasised his Polish roots. He followed the tradition, spent Christmas the “Polish way”, at the table on Christmas Eve, with traditional dishes and Christmas tree. Surely it was influenced a lot by his mother, Helen.
Ralph Modjeski died in Los Angeles on 26th June 1940.