Trip to Poland 2010

A Day-by-Day blog of The Polish Mission’s trip to Poland 2010

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

Our last full day here in Poland started with a bang.  With our characteristic fire-alarm morning ritual, we sprang from Hotel Gromada to our first meeting with Longin Komoloski, president of Wspolnota Polska at Dom Polonii early this morning. With his very busy schedule, we were honored to have an audience with him before a big press conference!

It’s heavy to know that this is our last day here.  Through this journey we’ve made some great new friends, found a number of supporters, and are huimbled to have met our museum projects supporter in Jacek Miler and the Ministry of Culture!   Amidst all these great meetings with exciting people from the museum and culture world like Piotr Cywiński, Robert Kostro, Pierre Zalewski, and David Warner, we’ve had the wonderful privilege in being in the land that shares a common place in our hearts.  For Marcin, the feeling of returning to his first country was certainly different for Mike and I, who’ve never been to Poland before now.  We all worked diligently for Polish Mission and Wayne State University.  Marcin on the other hand not only worked tirelessly for PM, but also acted as a fantastic host, guide and translator to we first-time visitors.  For that, he recieves our highest thanks.   Leaving this wonderful, rich place will be difficult, but it’s made easier by all of our desires to get back to work at home, and to our friends and family.

To you who’ve been reading this faithfully, I thank you for putting up with our internet connection issues, and I heartily thank you for caring enough to want to know what we’ve been up to.  It’s been a real pleasure checking in with all of you these past few weeks.

See you in the States.

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

Right now we’re taking a break in between meetings to unwind a little, so I can take a little time to catch up with you now.  We just returned from a meeting with Jacek Miler, director of the Department of Cultural Heritage at the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, and his senior administrative assistant Karina Chabowsla.  They are extremely interested in our operations, especially the development of our museums!  They were present at the conference the other day, so now we had about an hour and a half to expound on our projects.  After a review of our museum programs, they encouraged close cooperation and graciously offer financial support of our museum and archival programs!  This is amazing news!  In addition, they offered to sponsor museum and archival training programs for Polish Mission and Wayne State staff and volunteers in Poland!  After we get back, make sure to hit the museums tab to check for updates on new projects, or drop by the campus for a visit!  Within the very near future, I anticipate much development of our digitization and cataloging program, and we will also focus on creating new exhibits that will be shown in Poland!  We are extraordinarily grateful for this support, and are very proud to not only bring the Polish Mission into international light, but to gain unprecedented financial support from the highest possible institution, the Polish government’s Ministry of Culture!

Amazing!

Whew.  You know the aforementioned news is huge when it gets mentioned before the other huge notable occurrence of the day: lack of reliable Internet service.  I am in perpetual amazement at how any business requiring the use of email gets done at all, even here in cosmopolitan downtown Warsaw.  It’s a good thing that I sport the chrome-dome look, because any remaining hair would likely be pulled out in a fit of mind-numbing frustration at my inability to log on.  I may be a little over the top here, but come on!  Not only is my blood pressure skyrocketing, but these updates might get severely pulled back, keeping you kind readers in the dark.

Sorry.  Blame wi-fi.

This reminds me of an event that happened aroundhere in 1944.  The German army made many battlefield blunders early in the uprising, and one that best enabled the outgunned Poles to hold on for so long was access to electricity.  Thanks to the element of surprise and inexperienced troops, Poles seized a large amount of territory at first, including facilities that controlled electricity in addition to those that controlled the telephone service and water system.  Access to these things allowed the insurgents to build a battlefield network, continue arms production and repair, maintain effective hospitals, and survive much longer than they would have without.  That said, I’m not sure I can hold out much longer without a good supply of fresh, clean Internet.  I’m not exactly fighting any kind of patriotic battle with my updates here, but the comparison was too good to pass up.

Catch you later.

Monday, September 13th, 2010

Hooah.  If you’ve noticed that the last couple entries have been a little scarce, I offer my apologies.  The last few days here have been pretty intense overall, and I confess that most of my artistic energy (I flatter myself) has been spent appreciating my surroundings.  In addition to our meetings, etc., I can usually be counted on to quickly don street clothes, grab Norman Davies’ Rising ’44, and hit the road in search of historic sites and monuments.  Also, no small amount of my time has also been spent simply enjoying the company of friendly Varsovians along the busy streets and charming cafes, learning about a great new culture.  In Bielsko-Biala, touring after the close of the business day was more difficult, being nestled among the Beskid mountains and countryside and all.  Here on the other hand, I can look out my window and see the Prudential Building, which was an insurgent stronghold in the Uprising, and just on the quick walk back from a meeting today, we passed the PASTa building, famous site of a key insurgent victory.  You can imagine how tough it’s been to sit in one spot for long.  The guilt from my avoidance of quality time in front of Marcin’s iPad is simply too much to bear.  Thus, I promise to not leave the hotel for the rest of the night, until this blog is updated right-wise.

Let’s hope this fledgling Internet connection doesn’t peter out.

So today marked a meeting with the Director Robert Kostro of the Museum of Polish History, which will be built soon here in Warsaw.  The Museum of Polish History was established by the Ministry for Culture and National Heritage on May 2, 2006, and is the successor project to the Warsaw Rising Museum opened in 2004.  In my opinion, the Warsaw Rising Museum is a very tough act to follow, but this is a completely new project that promises to be in a league of its own.  The same cutting-edge minds that created the Warsaw Rising Museum now have the impressive challenge of wrangling the whole of Polish history into one institute, which ought to be very impressive.  They’ve already created a few great publications and are doing some very innovative outreach programs to the community in an effort to create a truly 21st-century Polish museum.  Sound familiar?  The Polish Mission is tuned to the same frequency.  We enjoyed a very fun meeting wherein we discussed ways to reach modern Polish people, how to make important connections between tired old artifacts and inspiring stories, and the similarities and differences in our target audiences.  These folks are extremely innovative and realize the very same challenges we face in developing museum programs.  Like the public education scene in Michigan, Polish museum experts are building new approaches to museum education that appeal to a wide demographic of people from all ages, faiths, and backgrounds  After hearing about Polish Mission and our new museum projects, Mr. Kostro was interested in visiting us next year.

It’s getting late.  The responsible members of this entourage have already turned in, and I’d better do the same.  See you back here tomorrow (hopefully)!

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

Wow!  Today the conference took us to the Warsaw Rising Museum, and it is truly impressive.  That place epitomizes just about everything a modern museum ought to be.  Every part of it exceeded our expectations!  I’ve seen my share of museums from behind the barrier, and I’ll encourage everyone reading this to hit that museum next time you’re in Europe.  Interactive, great format, beautifully artful exhibits, multimedia displays, and you can even climb aboard the Liberator.  What more could you ask for?  They’ve done the amazing job of taking a very complicated and tragic event and forming it into a cohesive, fulfilling narrative that makes you want to engage the story.  When you get in, you first hear a faint heartbeat, and as you get closer you discover that it’s emanating from an immense iron monument named the heart of Warsaw.  Through simulated bullet holes, you can press your ear closer to hear faint gunfire and other sounds of battle.  Further in, you can get pleasantly lost in the exhibits, always learning about new stories.  A glance at your surroundings in the huge main building will set the tone as the the red and blue lighting highlights the industrial-heavy decor and building structure.  I was particularly impressed with their red section, devoted to post-Uprising history for Poland under communism, and their sizable children’s section.  The development of the kids’ program has clearly taken a lot of work.  To present the story of the Uprising, inherently aggressive and complicated enough even scare away grown-up historians, to children, is a feat worthy of high praise.  With puppets, toys, a sesame-street-esque video, and plenty of rubber stamps (emphasizing the role of kids as letter carriers in the Uprising), children can come away from the museum with a tailor-made educational experience.  Very cool.

So yeah, they had to give me the boot at closing time–what can I say?  What made the experience truly moving was the memorial wall outside.  Comparable to our Vietnam Memorial in DC, the long wall memorializes all known fallen fighters in the 1944 Uprising.  Amidst the candles and wreaths, you can easily reflect on Warsaw’s tragic past.  Digesting the powerful stories extracted from the museum’s exhibits while sitting in front of the sobering memorial truly brings you closer to history.

To all the folks behind the Warsaw Rising Museum, excellent job.  Hats off to you.

Saturday, September 11th, 2010

Alright.  Remember all the flattery I gave Hotel Gromada?  I’m not totally widthdrawing it, but I will reel it in a little.  As if the mystery surrounding my pizza weren’t enough, we now are finding it the most royal of challenges to get a couple shirts washed.  Eh, I’m sure the local haberdashery appreciated our business anyway.

The great thing about being Catholic in Poland is that you’re never very far from a church, and likely not more than 45 minutes away from Holy Mass!  Awesome!  Today I had the amazing experience of attending Holy Mass at Holy Cross Church, about halfway between our Hotel and Stare Miasto on Krakowskie Przemedscile.  That beautiful church was the site of some fierce fighting in 1944, and unfortunately was all but destroyed afterwards.  The church was the site of a well known photograph taken in ’44 of battle being fought by candlelight.  After Mass, I pulled out my ever handy (and now very street-worn) copy of Davies, and took a close look at the famous picture.  Just out of curiosity, I tried to find the exact place it was taken, using the visible architecture in the photo for verification.  It was very moving to find out that the original photographer was taking cover from enemy fire behind a pillar, while his subject was firing from in front of the altar at a target toward the back of the church.  I can’t describe the feeling being on the exact site of a terrible firefight, in the very same spot of an insurgent photographer.  That that person was taking cover from gunfire, that his friend was likely the exposed fighter returning fire, that they were all putting themselves in grave danger to defend one of Warsaw’s landmark churches was frankly, a lot to take in.  Being able to appreciate this amazing story up close is a thing that stay in my mind for a lifetime.

It’s a good thing I bought new shoes before this trip, because I don’t think any of my old kicks could have handled the miles I put only new Sketchers today.  It’s pretty nifty getting around town without a car–it’s faster than you might think and you can’t beat the exercise.  Plus, it allows plenty of opportunities for window-shopping, a pastime almost as entertaining as people-watching.  Fun times!

Friday, September 10th, 2010

This was the big day!  With military precision the Polish Mission delegation sprung to action at about 7 this morning to be in time for our speaking engagement at the prestigious Stała Konferencja MuzeówArchiwów,Bibliotek Polskich naZachodzie, otherwise known to our English-speaking audience as the Standing Conference of Polish Museums, Archives, and Libraries in the West (sorry–I really like typing out the Polish names).  in all seriousness, it was an amazing honor to represent the Polish Mission at this amazing gathering of Polish cultural institutions.  Of the 8 countries represented, we were one of only 20 institutions to receive an invitation, and today, we were the very first organization to present ourselves at the conference!  Marcin set the tone as the first in our group to speak, then Mike spoke about the Walter Reuther Library’s amazing holdings and their new relationship with the Polish Mission.  I was the clean-up hitter with an overview of our museum collections.  Mike and I were a bit nervous when we discovered that we would likely be the only speakers presenting in English, but the very responsive crowd put us at ease very quickly, and mingling with the attendees at intermission put all our doubts to rest for good.  We did a lot of networking with other institutions while there, and we’re anxiously anticipating fruitful cooperation with them!

Mike’s cold has all but left, but Marcin’s bug cemented his appointment with his bed after our morning engagements.  We were all pretty tired after the conference anyway, so naps were the order of the day.  After a quick snooze, I headed out into the city to take it in and check out the historic sites.  For me, cruising around a town so rich with history is an experience not to be missed!  I walked around where the original ghetto wall was built in 1940, made my way north to the Umgschlang-Platz, and got to see the monument to Polish Soldiers Who Died in the East, as well as the monument of the Warsaw Uprising on my way back to Stare Miasto (Warsaw’s famous “Old Town”)!  From there it was straight down Krakowskie Przedmieście and back to Hotel Gromada, where I just discovered that my pizza from yesterday has suspiciously gone missing.  Interesting.

Warsaw is an absolutely amazing city, so rich with culture and history, and it’s a great privilege to represent Michigan’s polonia here.

Except for the part about the pizza, another fantastic day!

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

My apologies for the lull in updates!  Though very pleasant and with a little humble romance, Hotel Gromada here in Warsaw has had a hard time getting a wireless network operational.  Today marked another milestone!  A meeting with the president of the  Lech Wałęsa institute Piotr Gułczynski and the chief financial officer Peter Makula greatly advanced negotiations to receive former president Lech Wałęsa in October.  President Wałęsa’s proposed visit to Michigan would be a very high honor, especially on the 30th anniversary of Solidarność.  The meeting was very productive–lots of small details were hammered out and things are set in motion for an event to take place.  Now, it depends on the President’s personal schedule.  Keep checking here for updates!

The latter half of the day was spent being soggy in downtown Warsaw.  it was amazing.  To be in a place with such rich history is an extraordinary experience.  Almost everywhere you turn, you can find a marker, a monument, or a statue commemorating either a great or infamous occurrence in history.  The fascinating thing is that while you can find such things all over the United States, our young country simply hasn’t experienced as much as the ancient towns of Europe.  For me at least, being so close to so MUCH history, from medieval kings to 18th-century regality to the heart of WWII, was difficult to fully comprehend.  To appreciate it all would require a high degree of devotion toward studying the past.

Our turn at the big conference is tomorrow, and with Mike getting over a cold and Marcin just starting one, we made sure to hit the sack early.

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Because we didn’t want our exodus to Warsaw to be too rough, we only had one meeting today, and though short, it was very important.  We went back to Auschwitz for a meeting with the director Dr. Piotr M.A. Cywiński, to confirm his visit to Orchard Lake in a few weeks and to discuss the itinerary.  We are proud to report that Dr. Cywiński is looking forward to his visit, and is eager to learn more about Polish Mission!  While in Michigan, he will  and it will be our honor to introduce him to the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington.  Hosting such a prominent figure on our campus is a landmark achievement for us, and we’re extraordinarily fortunate to have the honor.

We’re leaving Bielsko-Biala with some very fond memories.  Whether it’s the fantastic food, the friendly people, the heart-stopping thrill of local driving, or the lush mountainous countryside, Bielsko-Biała is a premier place to be in Poland.  They certainly haven’t seen the last of us.  Do Widzeinia!

To Warsaw!

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

With over a week left to go here, it would make no sense to make a declaration on the most moving, or the most powerful experience we’ve had.  So I won’t.  But I’ll be personally very hard pressed to imagine a more sobering and so immensely powerful as our trip to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum today.

Marcin’s relationship with the museum as a professional photographer and close friend allowed us to gain unprecedented access to several areas of the facility, some of which are strictly off limits to all visitors.  The first part of our day-long visit was a private tour of the conservation laboratory.  There we met department head Aleksandra Papis, and proceeded to be amazed by a premier artifact conservation program.  With a staff of 14 or 15 that encompasses only the brightest minds in the field, the department utilizes some fantastic technology and science to keep the artifacts from deterioration.  As an example, our guide, a Chemistry Phd., explained the long process involved in chemically removing the dirt and mold from the camp hospital records while keeping all the pencil and ink handwriting intact.  Upon completion of the process, they use a giant non-invasive scanner to record the items before and after conservation.  Mike and I updated our wish lists after we saw a demonstration–it was pretty cool.

The next part of the tour was a private look at the archives, a discussion with the head of the Digital Repository Krzysztof Antończyk, a viewing of the art collection, and tour of artifact storage.  It was particularly interesting to view artifacts pertinent to the Polish Mission’s collections, such as Adam Grachowski’s digitized documents and the paintings of Jan Komski.  After taking time to tour the section of Auschwitz dedicated to Polish inmates, we proceeded to view the gas chambers and crematoria before our last stop: the private summer garden of Rudolph Höss, commandant of Auschwitz.  Guarded by tight security, this chilling exhibit of inhumanity struck all of us with emotion as we pictured the deranged Höss playing with his dogs, socializing with guests over fine cocktails, and teaching his children, all while the darkest moments in human history played out only meters away behind the camp’s walls.

With very heavy hearts, we arrived home feeling very tired.  We were very lucky today to receive not only an indescribable Auschwitz experience, but also to have the assurance that the story is being preserved there by the work of a cutting-edge group of people with crystal-clear focus.

A tired feeling came over us as we returned, and so our party turned in early for the night.

Monday, September 6th, 2010

Remember what I wrote earlier about Warsaw traffic?  The same goes for Kraków.  Luckily for us, the surprise construction and ensuing jams didn’t keep us from our meeting with the History Chair, History Vice Chair, and Library director of Jagiellionan University.  After a LONG meeting, we’re happy to report that our new relationship with them is off to a great start!  The Chair is a specialist in medieval history, so he was naturally very interested in our manuscript collection.  Also of special interest was our historic campus, and our new relationship with the Walter Reuther Library at Wayne State.  We’re looking forward to fruitful cooperation with Jagiellionan University in the future, and to hosting the Vice Chair at The Polish Mission in a couple weeks.  Afterward, they were kind enough to treat us to lunch, Kraków-style.

A quick stop in the “rich stalls” in Kraków’s main market square was next on the agenda.  Originally used for selling high-end goods in earlier times, they now host a multitude of small vendors who specialize in souvenirs.  Never have I seen so much amber jewelry and so many animal hides in one place.  After getting some souvenirs for family back home, we embarked on the most challenging task of the day: trying to remember where we parked.

While walking through town in search of our silver Skoda, we stumbled upon a military antiques dealer.  As we walked through their shop, I couldn’t help but be reminded of our museum rooms.  When I informed them of some of the items in our collection, they offered their consultation services and were kind enough to share some resources on Polish antiques with yours truly!  What luck!

Our last stop was certainly the most moving.  We each had the honor of paying our respects to President and First Lady Kaczyński, and Marshal Józef Piłsudski at Wawel castle.  It was very moving, and we’ll treasure the experience.

Off to bed.

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

Everything we thought we knew about the known world has been a ruse.  There really isn’t a sun in Poland; what we saw yesterday was only a fake to give people hope.  Sorry for being melodramatic, but yet again, we are under dark skies and our clothes are soggy.  Today was a day for fun and touring anyway, so luckily, it was only our street clothes that got wet.

After Mass at the charming local church of Św. Małgorzaty, we all rushed to an important meeting at the Żywiec brewery, just about a half hour from Bielsko-Biała.  Okay, it really wasn’t an important meeting, but we really wanted to tour the brewery!  We had a chance to go through their museum, which is highly interactive, with an English-speaking historic interpreter.  The brewery with ancient origins has a very rich past, like Polish Mission.  Through a very dynamic program and obvious high sensitivity to the importance of their historic artifacts, the people at Żywiec have made a very attractive and fruitful addition to their operation.  And of course, sampling a beer less than two days off their production line, in which they use water from the local Beskid mountains, didn’t hurt the experience either.  Na zdrowie!

Being Sunday and all, we had a special stop on our grand tour in store.

Maybe another half hour away was the town of Wadowice, which many of you may recognize as the home of Pope John Paul II!  We had the beautiful privilege to tour his home and see some amazing JPII artifacts and photos.  Even though it was late in the day, people were constantly streaming into the crowded apartment to come a little closer to the life of one of the greatest Poles to have ever lived.  After a special viewing of his vestments, skis, and even his stove, we visited the church where he worked in God’s service next door.  The majesty of that place was astounding, and we were all very fortunate to have the opportunity to be there.  After we each took some private time, we departed for home, with grey skies on the horizon.

Thus endeth yet another day on this Polish Odyssey.  As soon as this ignoramus behind this blog can figure out how to post photos, you’ll get to see some pretty nifty snapshots.  Until then, colorful prose (or lack thereof) will have to suffice!

Seeya!

Saturday, September 4th, 2010

Still busy!  Today we toured more of Szczyrk, and met up with some of Marcin’s old friends who were curious to hear about our projects.  Once again, we dined at the prestigious and beautiful Orle Gnziado, only this time outdoors at a barbecue!  Far from the traditional American outdoor-fare, this Polish grill served open kiszka, Russian pierogi, the standard link of kielbasa, and a piping hot beer with sweet syrup.  It was about as appetizing as it sounds.  In addition to that life-changing culinary experience, we needed a little snack to get the hot-berry-beer taste out of our mouths, so we took our business to a small cheese stand in town, where the local smoked cheese hit the spot quite nicely.  While in town, we were lucky enough to visit the oldest Church in Bielsko-Biała right after a wedding.  The recent ceremony guaranteed our access to the church built in 1800, which is usually closed to the public.  Needless to say, the interior was breathtaking, and although it shared similarities with other Holy places here in Poland, it’s small size and charm set it in a class of it’s own.  With the weather turning sour again, we hit the road back home to catch up on email and take in a little Polish TV.

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

Cheesecake and engine blocks.  That pitifully artful combination characterized our morning as we had a meeting with Wanda Strozyk, president of MOZ NSZZ Solidarność at the local Fiat plant.  After a comprehensive tour of the factory where they produce 3 different types of engines, including a newly-developed 2-cylinder type for the Fiat 500.  The record production for the newly renovated factory is a heavy 3.290 in one week!  The purpose of our meeting was to network between local Solidarność organizations and the Reuther Library at Wayne State University, and an exciting and pleasant meeting marked our success!  Wanda and her office were excited to hear about projects at Wayne State, and contributed some fantastic materials to Wayne State and Polish Mission’s archives!  Among the donated items were copies of the local Solidarność newsletters, some commemorative souvenirs, and even a very old souvenir cap that will be fantastic in Wayne State’s displays.  After a proud shot of us behind their relic Solidarność banner, we bid adieu to get to our next appointment.

A quick death-defying drive led us to Wyższa Skoła Administracji, a university in town where we met with Mme. Renata Rosowska, Polish senator to the European Union, where she informed us of her interest in our cooperation with Wayne State University, as well as their upcoming Solidarność exhibit.  A quick tour of the campus ended the business par of our day, and for the rest of the night we enjoyed each others’ company exploring downtown, and attending a local concert.

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

It’s about 10pm now, and with a full belly of home-made bigos, and half a glass of Żywiec left to go, I can report on the day.  We finally discovered the scientific rarity that had been eluding us through our entire trip here; there IS a sun in Poland, despite what our findings up to this point have proven thus far.  It’s been a brisk 16 degrees or so in the daytime (that’s about 60 degrees Fahrenheit for those of you still on the imperial system), and just a bit chillier at night.  Bielsko-Biała has officially declared a state of emergency due to the flooding caused by the almost constant rain.  Luckily for us, we’re on high ground; I’m not sure there exists such a thing as flat ground over here!

We took off to Krakow early this morning to pick up Ceil Jensen at the airport, thus completely extracting the entire Polish Mission staff from the USA.  Let’s hope the place doesn’t burn down.  After some strong coffee and a little touring in downtown Krakow, we all met with the United States Ambassador to Poland David Warner, to discuss our plans for developing long-term overseas influence for the Polish Mission.  He was very interested in our ideas, and asked us to keep him posted on PM’s affairs.  After that, we hit the road back to Bielsko-Biała to make a surprise appearance at the commemoration of Bielsko-Biała’s own Solidarity movement!  It was fantastic affair with a small but powerful exhibition of several rare documents, a music performance by guitarist Michał Mańka, and lectures by two university professors.  At the event’s close, Mike, Marcin, and I had the honor to sign Bielsko-Biała’s City Chronicle, which is a record signed by all the famous guests to the city over it’s entire history.  We wrote our thoughts on the commemoration of Solidarity on the same pages that preserve the personal greetings of Lech Wałęsa, and Pope John Paul II!

That’s all for now–more meetings tomorrow!

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

Today began with strong coffee in a Soviet disco.  Honestly!  We toured a blossoming operation at Orle Gniazdo, just outside Bielsko-Biała in Szczyrk.  The old 1950s-built hotel, which was originally the resort center for the workers of Nowa Huta, is now a premier vacation spot replete with renovated accommodations, an organic local culinary program, and even new ski slopes!  The hotel itself has a very 1950s atmosphere, and the disco and private quarters once exclusively hosted high-end communist leadership.  The leadership there was wonderfully kind to provide us with a home base for making calls and emailing, and from there we were in contact with the secretary to the President of Poland, Wspolnota Polska, and the current Solidarity leader for Fiat automotive, just to name a few.  After some exhausting networking (don’t laugh–it’s possible), we hit downtown Szczyrk for a tour of Marcin’s old hangouts.

While snaking between mountains and bluffs, we saw what was once the highly confidential resort hotel for the top Soviet officials.  Now, it’s a true peoples’ resort!  Entering through a very tight and hidden one-way street where you can see the remnants of two separate guard posts, the giant expanse can be seen nestled nicely behind some lush hills, completely unseen until when you’re very close.    Our travels also took us to Biały Krzyż, high in the mountains.  Now this was something else entirely.  It embodied the rich hand-hewn folk Polish romance you only see traces of in books and on television!  Stepping in the doorway, you see instantly that the entire structure was hand-made, from the ceiling to the windowsills.  As we sat to have a special hot wine around the indoor fire-pit used for grilling fish, we were greeted by the local security staff, the old black dog.  Because I forgot to ask what his name was, I shall call him Buster.  Buster looked to be about 150 years old, and his disposition matched his age as we paid him the fee for entry: a scratch on the head.

It is chilling to remember the events of 1939.  4 am this morning marked the 71st anniversary of the Nazi invasion, and to be here in Poland now is very moving.  Army group Biała, commanded by Brigadier General M. Boruta-Spiechowicz, was the Polish force in the area here, and it consisted of only two relatively small forces of mountain troops, the 1st Mountain brigade and 21st Infantry division.  Just on the other side of the border (not far from here at all) stood the German 44, 45, and 7 divisions of army group south, commanded by Colonel-General G. Von Rundstedt and numbering a total of 886,000.  All in all, the German forces outnumbered the Poles 2.3 to one, in a military campaign unmatched in tragedy.

This happened here.  Amazing.

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

The sun has set on our second day in Bielsko-Biała, and 2/3 of the party has turned on for the night.  Today after a much-needed sleep-in and a delightful spread of Polish delicacies, we made arrangements for the next few days.  We confirmed our meeting with the former polish ambassador to Saudi Arabia, and Ambassador David Warner and Iwona Sadecka at the US embassy.  Exciting stuff to say the least!

Despite the constant rain, we toured a soggy downtown Bielsko-Biała, taking in some coffee at a old-fashioned and classy cafe, and some good art at a local art gallery.  Everyone we meet here is very friendly, and business in Bielsko-Biała is booming.  As the city with the fastest growing economy in Poland, it’s exciting to see blossoming enterprise almost everywhere you look, especially cultural institutions like galleries and small cafes.

It occurred to me that earlier that we’re visiting Poland at a very important time.  TV stations are full of coverage of the events and controversy surrounding the celebration of the Solidarity movement in Gdansk, and tomorrow marks the 71st anniversary of the 1939 Nazi invasion.  Needless to say, we’re all eagerly taking in these important current events.  Mike is especially attentive to the Solidarity news, wherein the legacy of Lech Wałęsa’s heroic and ground-breaking defiance of the Soviet system is still passionately debated from a variety of perspectives.  I eagerly await tomorrow when I’ll see how Polish people remember the start of WWII.  It’s one thing to know a thing or two about powerful historical events, but to see how they live on in the popular memory of the home country is another thing altogether.  We’re all very lucky to be be so close to this amazing history.  With that thought, I’ll say goodnight.

Monday, August 30th, 2010

Here begins the illustrious blog on Polish Mission’s escapade to Poland 2010!  Just so we’re acquainted with each other, my name’s JJ Przewozniak, and I’m here with  our director Marcin Chumiecki, and Mike Smith from the Walter Reuther Library at Wayne State University.  I represent PM’s museums at Orchard Lake, and I’ll be the one checking in on here as I can.  As much as I’d like to promise regular entries, our upcoming schedule for the next couple weeks here will be fast and intense.  Our itinerary is packed with places to visit and people to meet, but I promise to send word to all our friends in the USA as often as I can!

Our journey was off to a great start thanks to short lines and easy transfers at the airports in Detroit and Amsterdam.  We touched down at Chopin Airport in Warsaw this afternoon to be welcomed by some light drizzle, but no grey skies could diminish the beauty of the lush Polish countryside as we drove from there to Bielsko-Biała.  Let me tell you plainly that Warsaw traffic is nothing to be trifled with, but once out of the city, you can enjoy a pleasant drive while finally giving the brakes (and your blood pressure) a rest.

After a fine supper of veal, wild boar sausage, home baked bread and other assorted deliciousness, we’re all in need a good night’s rest.  And especially after those extraordinary pickles, some breath mints too.  (They were amazing!)  Tomorrow we’ll begin our business in earnest after we tweak our agenda in the morning.