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Grunwald: A monument to hearten spirits

The Grunwald Monument
1910, by Antoni Wiwulski
On July 15, 1910, the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Grunwald, the City of Krakow saw the unveiling of what was originally named the King Jagiełło monument, but came to be universally known as the Grunwald monument. It was a grand occasion, a patriotic manifestation attended by 160,000 people from all the Polish lands and many places abroad, the greatest such during the period of partitions. The monument was a gift to the City and the Nation from Ignacy Jan Paderewski, the world renown pianist. Guided by patriotic impulse, he had commissioned the 60 feet tall monument, entirely at his own expense, from Polish sculptor Antoni Wiwulski, then resident in Paris.

Erecting such a monument commemorating the battle had been a dream of Paderewski who described it in the following terms: "At the age of 10, I read an account of the Battle of Grunwald that took place in 1410 during the war with the Teutonic Order. The battle was a great Polish victory. It came to my mind then that since 1910 will be the 500th anniversary of that victory it would be great if I could celebrate that victory by erecting a great monument." His feelings of patriotism had, no doubt, been impacted earlier when he witnessed Russian soldiers taking his father to prison for having helped insurgents during the January 1863 Uprising. Fortune had smiled upon him and his art, and his hugely popular recitals had made him a wealthy man. Yet, he always said "The Motherland first, art second." On the monument's plinth were inscribed the words "To the glory of our forefather 1410 - To our brothers to hearten their spirits 1910."

Paderewski speaking at the unveiling of the monument
1910 postcard
The culminating point of the unveiling ceremonies was Paderewski's speech in which said: "The artwork before us did not arise from hatred. It was born from a deep love of our Motherland, not only in its past grandeur and its current prostration, but also in its bright, strong future. It was born of love and gratitude to those ancestors of ours who not for loot, not for conquest, entered the field of battle but instead drew their victorious swords in defense of a just and good cause."

The composer Feliks Nowowiejski had composed an anthem for the occasion and now it was performed for the first time in public by massed choirs from all over the Polish lands. It was based on the text of a poem Maria Konopnicka had written in 1901 or 1902 (it wasn't published until 1908) at the height of the germanization campaign being carried in the Prussian partition and it expressed sentiments far stronger that Paderewski's speech. Nowakowski had called the anthem "Grunwald" but it was published under the title "Haslo" (Motto or Password). It later acquired the name Rota (The Oath) and, after Poland regained its independence and was deciding on a National Anthem, it was given serious consideration.

Krakow, once Poland's ancient Royal capital, was also one of the two principal cities in Galicia, the Austrian partition. Given a degree of home rule, Galicia was by far the most liberal of the three partitions. One manifestation of this was that, unlike the German and Russian partitions, the Polish language was not repressed in Galicia. Expression of patriotic feelings, such as might be aroused by the monument, was permitted. In this regard, the location of the monument had been carefully chosen. The ancient walled city was in the shape of an elongated teardrop with the Royal Castle and Cathedral on a its southern end overlooking the Vistula River. In ancient times, the City was surrounded by swamps and wetlands with the only good approach being from the north leading to the City's Florian Gate. Accordingly, the streets leading from the Florian Gate to the Wavel, the route Royalty would travel to the Wawel, Florianska to the Market Square and Grodska thereafter became the Royal Way. The monument located in Matejko square, just outside the Florian Gate, became the starting point of annual July 15th processions to the Wavel, commemorating the battle.

Portrait of Paderewski by Jan Styka
1910, oil on canvas, National Museum, Poznan
The monument's monumental architectural plinth is surmounted by an equestrian bronze statue of King Jagiełło. It faces the Barbican, a medieval fortification, and the Florian Gate behind it. Other bronze figures adorn the sides of the monument: at the front is that of Grand Duke Witold of Lithuania and below him the figure of the fallen Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, Ulrich von Jungingen; on the plinth's left side a group of Lithuanian warriors and on its right side, a group of Polish warriors. At the back of the monument stands one more figure, that of a peasant breaking his bonds.

Paderewski, asked for the reasons behind his gesture said: "This monument, and no other, has to exist. That's required not by it alone, but also by this day of historic importance, the political moment, and the need to raise hearts with a visible symbol of the sacred past," The celebrations of the anniversary lasted three days. Among the events was a banquet Paderewski threw for various guests at the Grand Hotel. Francis Fronczak, Health Commissioner for the City of Buffalo, who was present at the unveiling and at the banquet in the Grand Hotel that followed, quoted Paderewski as having

The Grunwald Monument
1976, in Marian Konieczny's recreation
also said "Within five years, from the ashes of our burned and devastated cities and towns, from Polish hamlets and huts, from the smoke and dust of our martyred country will rise the Polish Phoenix."[1] Since these words were not even implied in Paderewski's address at the unveiling, they could have been uttered at the banquet. To a degree, his remarks were prophetic for within five years WWI, which would lead to Poland's resurgence, was underway.

In the years that followed, a procession formed annually at the monument on July 15 and proceeded to the Wavel. More generally, after Poland regained its independence in 1918, the monument became the usual starting point of patriotic manifestation in Krakow, also serving as such for tours of Krakow's old town, a practice that continues to this day. Then came the German invasion of September 1939. Having occupied Poland, the Germans could not countenance the continued existence of the monument, both as a symbol of Polish national pride and a painful reminder to the Germans of a stunning defeat. By November, the Germans had surrounded the monument with a palisade of wooden planks hiding it from view. Demolition activities lasted till April 1940, the bronze being conveyed to foundries to be utilized for war equipment, the granite blocks being conveyed to distant sites. Poles made to work on the demolition managed to hide and save King Jagiello's scepter and sword, the coats of arms of Poland, Lithuania and Żmudź (entity corresponding approximately to the current territory of Lithuania), and the head of Grand Duke Witold. With the end of the conflict in 1945 the notion became firm among the citizens of Krakow that the monument must be rebuilt.

It wasn't until 1972 that the reconstruction project got underway. The job was entrusted to sculptor Marian Konieczny, then the Rector of the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow. Unfortunately, the forms used in casting the bronze effigies were no longer in existence. Accordingly, the effigies had to be recreated. Fortunately, one of Wikulski's assistants, Franciszek Ksawery Black, had left behind to his daughter, Maya Black, a plaster model of the monument and portafolio of sketches and documentations of the original monument. Now, Konieczny and Prof. Wiktor Zin journed to Paris from where following negotiations with Ms. Black, they were able to bring these artifacts back to Krakow. According to Konieczny, the original figures included a lot of fine detail, detail which he omitted making the figures more monumental. He also turned the head of the King slightly to the right and that of the horse slightly to the left. The reconstructed monument was eventually assembled in 1976 and ceremoniously unveiled on October 16 of that year.

1. A loyal Buffalonian, by Stanislaw Dabrowski, Unpublished manuscript, p 201, (1980)

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