A little square just at the heart of Warsaw. Usually Sunday market would need more space but here in small area there are three buildings significant for history of Poland: Zachęta Gallery built between 1898-1900, The Holy Trinity Lutheran Church completed in 1781, and one of Warsaw`s oldest high schools established as a parish Lutheran school in 1906. I happened to have graduated from Mikołaj Rej lycee. I am the abitur of that school emotionally bounded with Stanisław Małachowski Square.
*** / The First Flashback
We were having the Physics lesson. Our school was called ‘’bloodbath” by students. That meant our teachers had high standards of educating and assessing our knowledge. They used to say that God deserved to have the best result („5” in old Polish system of assessments), their scholastic knowledge was for „4” and we hardly could have got „3” which was a little bit better than „2”, the worst credit. The Physics teacher was one of a few cool guys. He stood out of the crowd of very strict tutors. But what can I say if the school`s apophthegm was „PER ASPERA AD ASTRA” which means “through hardships to the stars”? I saw the writing any time I was entering the school. It was like an inscription on „tombstone” of my poor credits. I thought: „Oh, I am going through hardships but will I ever get to the stars?”. I doubted. It made me down to earth, not hoping to be better one day. Now the apophthegm was changed to „MACTE ANIMO – SIC ITUR AD ASTRA” which means „Young, cheer up! This is the way to the skies”. It could have sounded more optimistic, couldn`t it?
The works on the dome attracted our attention. The windows looked out on classical rotunda of Protestant Church. It was tall and majestic, and there were a few labourers working on the roof which was round.
Mr Professor, which laws of Physics are responsible for keeping workers on the dome and not allowing them to fall down? – colleague said.
The men on a circular roof were working without protection. It was reckless but also weird and thought-provoking. How come could they have been safe there?
There are laws of Physics and there is divine right. As far as this is concerned the latter was more appropriate. – teacher said.
The Temple Dedicated To All Gods
The dome where labourers were working accounts for The Holy Trinity Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession (Kościół Świętej Trójcy), also known as Zug’s Protestant Church (Zbór Zuga). It is a Classical rotunda based partly on the Roman Pantheon so temple was dedicated to all gods. The church was to have the shape of a rotunda covered with a dome with four lower annexes. In the last version the dome carried the light lantern with ionic columns surmounted with the cross.
The Lutheran church was the highest and at the same time one of the biggest buildings of the 18th century Warsaw. The diameter of the dome was 33.4 meters and the height was 58 meters. The huge dome with magnificent lantern tower still dominates the nearby buildings. It upholds the spirit of pure classicism. As the tallest building in Warsaw at that time it served as vantage point for the Polish Army during the Kościuszko Uprising.
***/The Second Flashback
I was standing on a chair next to the window. There were ZOMO vehicles parked in the courtyard. ZOMO (Zmotoryzowane Odwody Milicji Obywatelskiej) was Motorized Reserves of the Citizens’ Militia, paramilitary-police formations during the Communist Era, in the People’s Republic of Poland. They usually were stationed near our building and used to suppress riots.
Down with ZOMO – I yelled.
I was young and reckless with head full of high ideas. I was not familiar with saying ”look before you leap”. I turned around climbing down to see a militia man standing on our class door step. He was staring at me. I had only one thought: they would take me into custody and my mother would be called. But luckily he stepped back and walked away.
Frédéric Chopin Gave Concerts There
For two centuries Warsaw Lutherans did not have the right to build their own church. The edict issued by the Mazovian prince Janusz in 1525 forbade any other public worship but Roman-Catholic. It was only in 1767-1768 that treaties and constitutional laws were passed at an extraordinary session of the Polish Parliament and equal rights to all denominations were conceded. In this situation, the foundation of the Lutheran church was possible. The king’s banker, Piotr Tepper, made efforts to build the church and in 1777 he obtained the appropriate privilege from King Stanisław August Poniatowski. The king however reserved for himself the right of choosing the design of the building.
From three designs presented by an Italian-Polish architect Domenico Merlini, most famous for his Royal Baths Park in Warsaw, a Dresden-born architect Jan Christian Kamsetzer, known for Tyszkiewicz Palace, now a part of University of Warsaw and Szymon Bogumił Zug, one of the most versatile and prolific architects of his epoch the king chose the last one. Zug, unlike his competitors, was not connected with the royal court and at that time was famous as designer of many Warsaw tenement houses, palaces and modern landscape gardens. He also received commissions from Polish aristocrats in the provincial areas. The design of the Lutheran church was however his biggest and most important architectural realization highly estimated by his contemporaries. The final design was preceded by a few versions not far from each other.
In the beginning of the 19th century the church was renowned of the music performances accompanying the service. Among the famous musicians, who gave concerts there was Frédéric Chopin. In April 1825 in the presence of tsar Alexander I of Russia, he played on the choralion (aeolimelodicon).
The Lutheran church was quickly taking root in the history of the city. Similarly its parishioners can be found on the most glorious pages of the history of the capital city. They showed their patriotism in Kościuszko Insurrection in 1794 and the uprisings for independence in 1831 and 1863.
The Holy Trinity Church fell into ruin when bombed and burnt by the Germans on September 16, 1939. It was rebuilt after the war. Inside, visitors are impressed by its double gallery encircling the interior. Because of its acoustic improvements and a splendid organ, the Warsaw Chamber Opera (Warszawska Opera Kameralna) regularly organizes concerts of classical music here.
***/The Third Flashback
It was dark and stirringly. The recital of Polish bard Jacek Kaczmarski was about to start. I loved his songs. I played them everyday, all the day long. I had an audio tape, illegal recording. After play backed so many times it turned nearly to ash.
My 16th birthday, March 5th 1982. I had invited school mates to my party several months earlier, on the beginning of school year 1981, before we knew our rights would be reduced even further. We didn`t have any idea the martial law would be introduced in our country; that ban on gatherings would be imposed and the curfew introduced. We were going to have my party in our flat and my mother surprisingly agreed to it. Twenty something young people from the school which was on the regime black list. Gathering of three people was considered as illegal at the time. Once my friends and I met militia when we left cinema. There were three of us so we were taken into control because we formed a gathering.
We enjoyed my birthday a lot. We were loud, laughter could have been heard and Jan Kaczmarski`s music was being played. My friend Leszek picked the receiver and dialled his mother’s number. The civilian phone lines were earlier disconnected, but at the time of my birthday they were routinely tapped and monitored by government agents. When Leszek placed the receiver to the speaker and music flew into the phone, call was disconnected and there was silence on line.
I was standing in dark corridor of Zachęta cellar. I was waiting for Jan Kaczmarski recital with my mother and my step-father who introduced us to a young man. He gave us his name which escaped my attention. When this man left us I was told I was talking to Him, Jan Kaczmarski whose songs I knew by heart but whom I had never seen before. If I knew who he was I would have told him about my affection.
The first President of the Second Polish Republic was assassinated there
The second oldest building in Stanisław Małachowski Square is Zachęta, one of the oldest showrooms in Poland. The impressive edifice was built between 1898-1900 and designed by Polish architect and conservator Stefan Szyller. All the most outstanding Polish artists’ presented their works in Zachęta, including Wojciech Gerson, a leading Polish painter of the mid-19th century, Jan Matejko, known for paintings of notable historical, political and military events, Józef Chełmoński, famous for monumental paintings now at the Sukiennice National Art Gallery in Kraków, Stanisław Wyspiański, playwright, painter and poet, as well as interior and furniture designer, Józef Mehoffer, one of the leading artists of the Young Poland movement and one of the most revered Polish artists of his time and many others.
Zachęta „witnessed” many historical moments. Gabriel Narutowicz, the first president of Poland after regaining independence, was assassinated on December 16th, 1922, five days after taking office. He was fatally shot by Eligiusz Niewiadomski, an artist and art critic, while visiting an exhibition.
Zachęta is now the most prestigious and largest contemporary art gallery in Poland, with a valuable collection of post-war Polish art. Today, the Gallery exhibits the outstanding work of many artists such as Paul Cezanne, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pablo Picasso, Kasimir Malevich, Max Ernst, Jean Dubuffet, among others.
The Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts
The main goal of the Society, which was first established in 1860, was originally to promote and support Polish art and artists at a time when Poland did not exist as an independent state. Among the founders and members of the Society were the most prominent representatives of Warsaw’s social and cultural life, such as painters Wojciech Gerson, Julian Fałat, and Leon Wyczółkowski, writer Henryk Sienkiewicz, banker Leopold Kronenberg and philanthropist Feliks Sobański. The Society not only founded a national collection of art, but also made its mark by educating and inspiring new generations of art lovers. One of the most prominent achievements of the Society, made possible due to the hard work of its members and the generosity of donors, was the construction of the Society’s headquarters in 1900. Designed by Warsaw architect Stefan Szyller, to this day it is the seat of one of the most important Polish art institutions, the Zachęta National Gallery of Art, which established itself as the natural successor to the Society and has continued its traditions.
The Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts was dissolved after World War II, but was re-established in 1991 by the Zachęta Gallery.
*** / The Fourth Flashback
You musn`t go to May 3rd demonstration – a history teacher said – We might be in trouble if you do.
There was silence. We were sitting in history faculty class and nobody spoke. Another Constitution Day considered by regime as illegal. We were not going to celebrate contemporary constitution. It was about the first Polish government act which remained in force for less than 19 months but became so significant. May 3rd was declared a holiday 2 days after it was officially adopted by Parliament.
The holiday was banned during the partitions of Poland but reinstated in April 1919 under the Second Polish Republic—the first holiday officially introduced in the newly independent country. It was again outlawed during World War II by both the Nazi and Soviet occupiers. It was celebrated in Polish cities in May 1945, although in a mostly spontaneous manner. The 1946 anti-communist demonstrations did not endear it to the Polish communists, and it competed for attention with the communist-endorsed May 1 Labor Day celebrations in the Polish People’s Republic; this led to its “rebranding” as Democratic Party Day and removal from the list of national holidays by 1951. Until 1989, May 3rd was a frequent occasion for anti-government and anti-communist protests.
Each year my colleagues took part in illegal demonstrations. They operated in anti-communist underground. One of them Emil Barchański was likely to be murdered by Security Service (SB). And now history teacher was trying to avoid another tragedy and questioning at Mostowski Palace, Warsaw`s militia headquarters.
Like in previous years my colleagues took part in May 3rd demostration, too.
Września children strike
After the creation of the German Empire in 1871, Chancellor Otto von Bismarck set about uniting society morally and moulding a tolerably uniform German consciousness among the inhabitants of all the federated states that made up the Empire. The civil service and the education system intensified their activities when the “Kulturkampf” policy failed to deliver. A regulation designed to halt the further Polonisation of settlers from Bamberg had the Polish language removed from religious instruction and chanting in Rataje, outside Poznań, in 1882.
German was systematically introduced as the sole language of instruction in all other subjects as well. This soon led to widespread protests among pupils, the most famous of which were the events that took place in Września in 1901. The children refused to accept German textbooks, answered their teachers in Polish and even said their prayers in their native language. The pupils were punished with canings and after school detentions, which was standard practice in the educational system of the day. School pupils in many Polish cities Miłosław, Pleszew, Buk, Gostyń and Krobia soon joined in the strike. The German administration threatened that the students would not be allowed to finish school. Adults involved in the protests were put on trial for public disturbance, preventing the officials from carrying out their duties, trespassing, and similar crimes. 26 people were officially charged, and on November 19th 1901 20 individuals were sentenced to imprisonment from several weeks to over two years. Polish activists formed two committees to support families whose members were imprisoned. The German administration soon disbanded the committees, and in turn charged the activists.
Despite the trial, the protests continued. Some parents moved their children to other schools; while the school officials constructed a barrack where protesting children were isolated. Use of Polish language was banned on the school grounds, and police were charged with enforcing student attendance. After amnesty for children was declared in 1903, the number of children who kept refusing to take the German religion lessons diminished. The last of the striking children gave up by the summer of 1904.
The protestant college at the bottom of my heart
In 1905. College of Ecclesiastical congregation of the Evangelical – Augsburg appointed at the request of Fr. Julian Machlejd, Preparatory Committee for the opening of the municipal school with Polish language of instruction. Patron of the school was Mikołaj Rej. In 1906, 200 students began the first year of study. Pupils took part in military independence organizations. During World War II, approx. 300 teachers, pupils and high school students got killed. In 1940. It began secret education. During the Warsaw Uprising part of the building was demolished. Classes were resumed on September 1, 1947. Since 1949 learning took place at the building of the school. The facility was nationalized in 1952.
The College of Ecclesiastical congregation of the Evangelical – Augsburg which happened to be my high school was the reason I told you about Stanisław Małachowski Square which is so small and that significant for Polish history. I hope I haven`t made you bored and you would like to visit Warsaw.
See you there!
By Agata Szostkowska
Photos: Michał Stanisławski
@Copyright Communications-Unlimited 2016
Zachęta Gallery: exhibition venue where Gabriel Narutowicz, the first president of Poland was assassinated on 16 December 1922, five days after taking office.
Mikołaj Rej lycee