And the summer in Sopot was so beautiful, hot and calm, the sea soothingly humming... Memoirs of the First World War

"But, if war does break out your way, what do you think," we ask curiously, "what will happen?" "What will happen? - cheerfully picks up a young lawyer, a reserve officer - In ten days we will be in Warsaw." And again I feel sad. This young Pole, talking with such calmness and even cheerfulness about the fact that he will have to put on the hateful Prussian uniform and enter Warsaw in it, is so terrible in his Polish tragedy - perhaps the most terrible in a century....

The memoirs of Maria Walewska [Maryla Kuźnicka] were transcribed by her granddaughter Inka Słodkowska, in whose possession are her grandmother's diaries.

In mid-July 1914, after passing her final exams, the author of these memoirs - then a student of agriculture at the Jagiellonian University - left Kraków to join her grandmother, Bronisława Suligowska, née Cywińska, who was spending the summer in Sopot with the family of her brother-in-law, attorney Adolf Suligowski. The following recollections were written down by the author in mid-1915.
– IS

On the eve of war. An adventure that turned into a tragedy

I started to write my memoirs, or rather my diary, from the beginning of the First World War, in August 1915, during my stay in Gomel (in Belarus - author's note). I wrote further notebooks in Kiev, in 1915 and 1916. At that time, only a short period of time had passed since the start of the First World War; the events connected with the outbreak of the war were very strongly experienced and I remembered perfectly the sequence of events, as well as the mood prevailing among a large section of Polish society. Therefore, the description of these events is as authentic as possible, and it seems to me that it is also quite characteristic of those times. In putting these notes in order now (August 1962), I have tried above all to preserve their authenticity, both in the description of all the details, even the smallest ones, and in the sentiments experienced at the time. I have only added a few explanations (necessary, in my opinion, after almost half a century of time), and deleted various digressions that were too long-winded, subjective and naive, which, by the way, was a natural result of my young outlook on the world, as I was 19 when I picked up a pen in Gomel, a little out of boredom and a little out of a sense of "social duty".

SIGN UP TO OUR PAGE The first anniversary of the outbreak of the war [the First World War] had just passed and the newspapers were full of articles calling for the writing of diaries and the 'preservation for posterity' of even small memories. I think by then everyone was beginning to feel more and more tangibly that the world was changing more and more and that people were being thrown further and further out of their former equilibrium. We were increasingly beginning to accuse the ongoing war - "terrible, bloody, relentless", "gouging deep scratches in our souls" - of this confusion of the fates of countries, nations and individual people. "More than once," I wrote at the beginning of the diary, "we asked ourselves after waking up, 'is this perhaps just such a cruel dream of a long, bloody and pathetic war?' Alas, it was not a dream, and perhaps that is why there was a desire to collect, sort and summarise the facts, to understand how it was that we had succumbed to the violence of the great storm. For there was a huge discrepancy between the hopes Poles had attached to the outbreak of the long-awaited war and the reality and surprises the war brought with it. This war had been prayed for since the time of Mickiewicz, and it was most often discussed by "compatriots", but it seems that almost no one understood the real reasons that brought about the war. That is why, when I look back now from the perspective of the past years, the views and behaviour of Polish society seem to me not only naive, but downright funny.
Photo from Krakow in 1914. Maryla Kuźnicka (later married Walewska) sits in the centre. On the left, Janina Winiarska; on the right, Maria Keczkowska. Standing from the left: Stanisław Antoniewski - future professor of economics; Wacław Jędrzejewicz - brother of the Prime Minister of the Second Republic, future diplomat, historian, brigadier general of the Polish Army; Zygmunt Rusinek - future member of the Polish Sejm of the first term and minister of the Polish Government in Exile. Photo: IS archives
In the autumn of 1912, the outbreak of all-European war seemed to hang in the balance due to the events on the Balkan peninsula. It was at that time (June 1912) that I graduated from secondary school and was going to study in Cracow. As I was living permanently in Radom, in the then Russian partition, I had to obtain a foreign passport to go to Krakow. Such a passport was quite expensive, and one had to pay 25 roubles for it (to the Russian gubernial authorities), which was equivalent to the value of 5 korcs of rye (about 500 kg). So, in general, we were advised to wait a couple of weeks, so that later (that is, after the outbreak of war) we could go without a passport. My grandmother - Bronisława Suligowska, with whom I was to go to Kraków, did not share these illusions. We bought the passport, and in the first days of October 1912, we found ourselves in Kraków. Here, too, the mood was one of war, perhaps even stronger than in the Kingdom.

In Cracow, we stayed at Mrs. Borońska's boarding house at 22 Karmelicka St. There were some young academics living there (for example, Władysław Poliński, who later became professor of zoology at Warsaw University, and his future wife, Eugenia Jabłońska - a mathematician), some older people (among them, Mrs. Szancerowa, the family of the journalist and writer Cezary Hirszband-Jellenty), and a few gentlemen came for dinner. In the evenings, various guests also came frequently (including the notorious politician Władysław Studnicki and the literary critic Wilhelm Feldman). Mostly people of progressive persuasion came, as Mrs Borońska was the widow of the editor of the newspaper Nowa Reforma (New Reform), which had a reputation as a progressive (democratic) paper. Often, therefore, after supper, lively political discussions began in the dining room, mostly about the possibility of war between the partitioning powers.

The political situation was so tense that sometimes in the evenings it seemed that in the morning we would already see mobilisation posters on the streets. However, autumn and winter passed and the optimum tension gradually began to ease. Anyway, I was personally absorbed by interesting lectures, colourful student life and social work in a couple of academic organisations. I also noticed quite quickly that, although the elderly were interested in the episodes of the Balkan War, they even enjoyed the victories of the Slavs over the Turks, but, in general, they did not believe in the possibility of possible changes on the Polish territory and mostly shared the orientation of the journalist from " The Wedding": "Though war all over the world - so long as the Polish countryside is quiet - so long as the Polish countryside is peaceful".

I was young, so I was attracted by the military orientation, according to which the regaining of Poland's independence could only be achieved on the basis of the appearance of a "Polish army" at the moment of conflict between the partitioners. The need for military preparation of society in general, and of the younger generation in particular, was therefore imposed. This work was undertaken by Polish military organisations ("Strzelec" and "Drużyny"), operating in what was then Galicia, on the basis of the All-Austrian Act on Riflemen's Organisations. The percentage of young people thinking about the political underbelly of this movement was certainly minimal. Naturally, Poles from the Russian partition had more confidence in Austria as Poland's ally in the event of a possible war conflict, and they too made up the overwhelming majority in the shooting organisations. I do not recall that any of my colleagues from the Austrian partition belonged to the Women's Division of the Krakow Rifle Squad, where I volunteered under the nickname of "Sławka Kowalska". Having joined the Squad, I was under the impression that there was the most appropriate path to follow towards a better future for Poland. This road was to go through war, but that did not frighten me or my young friends, because we had a very poor idea of war, like probably every young generation born and raised in a period of peace. It was also with great enthusiasm that we reworked the 'soldier' and 'non-commissioned officer' school programmes.

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For us girls, brought up more or less feminine, it was also a "great adventure" - those drills on Błonia, cleaning revolvers and rifles, reading military maps, excursions around Krakow, and all this mostly in uniforms of grey-blue military cloth.

It was on just such a squad trip out of town that I set off early in the morning on Sunday 29 June 1914. It was a beautiful, hot summer's day - "just for joy and life, not for tragedy and death", as I later wrote in my diary. On the excursion we worked through various fieldwork assignments and it wasn't until late in the evening that we returned to Krakow. I was tired, dusty, wearing thick boots and carrying a rucksack on my shoulders, so I wandered through the side streets, paying little attention to the festively dressed and strolling inhabitants of Krakow. It was not until I was close to the house where my guesthouse was located that I noticed two familiar "teamsters" across the street. On seeing me, they ran quickly across the road and called out cheerfully: "My friend, there's going to be a war! Archduke Ferdinand killed!".

This extraordinary news made a minimal impression on me at the time. I remember vividly that instead of inquiring curiously about the details of this event of universal significance, I quickly said to my colleagues: "Don't tell me, there won't be any war". And we talked about other, utterly indifferent things. After a few minutes I went home, really not thinking at all about the Archduke, let alone about the war.

At the guesthouse, this news was confirmed to me when I asked if the attack in Sarajevo had actually taken place. The roommates were sitting in the dining room around a table strewn with newspapers and discussing fiercely.

[Here is the end of the memoirs, typed in 1962; no further pages are available, containing, among other things, footnotes by the author. Continuing is Maria Walewska's diary, kept in 1915, transcribed from the original by M. Walewska's granddaughter in 2014. The spelling of the original has been retained - IS].

The mood of the 1914/1915 war

[...] – the omitted fragment of the memoirs written down then as Maryla Kuznicka contained information concerning the conditions of the author's stay in Gomel – IS

The news of the assassination in Sarajevo arrived in Krakow at two o'clock in the afternoon and naturally caused great sensation and confusion. Races, performances in theatres and cinemas were interrupted. Black flags were flown from state buildings, barracks and even from the [Jagiellonian] University. Newspapers published extraordinary supplements, already decorated with photographs of the murdered archdukes. The most varied versions began to circulate around the city. There was much to read and much to talk about, but almost every conversation ended with an argument about whether the slain archduke was a friend of the Poles or the Ruthenians, whether he favoured or opposed the policies of Kaiser Wilhelm - or, most importantly, whether the assassination in Sarajevo would trigger a European war or merely be an internal tragedy for the Austrian court?

Many people were resentful of Austria for not immediately declaring war on Serbia, but the generally prevailing opinion was that there would be no war because the leader of the war party had been killed. Little did people realise that preparations for war had already begun all around. Squads of a practising army were still dragging through the streets of Krakow. Once I also met a large detachment of gendarmes and policemen, returning from a shooting range in Wola Justowska. But - despite all this - the summer was so beautiful, so hot, and such bright days of July came that one did not want to think, let alone believe, in the possibility of war. Still, it seemed that the menacing cloud would part as it had so many times before....

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One day in the evening we went for a walk to Błonia. It was well past ten o'clock and darkness was falling, with the outlines of Wawel and Kościuszko Mound barely visible in the distance. We noticed lights twinkling in the forts, and from a distance some light shone on the Likornik. We walked slowly along the avenue, night was falling. Suddenly a stream of light flashed from the Mound and spread, as if some great monster had stretched its terrible tentacles far over the land.... The lights kept creeping in different directions, slipping even across the sky looking for aeroplanes. At one point we too found ourselves in a beam of light. The impression was terrible. All around was complete night, and we were momentarily as if in the brightest light of day. We felt that from afar they could see exactly where we were, and we could not hide anywhere from this stream of bright light. It lasted only a moment, yet the unpleasant, fearful impression was left for a long time.

On 15 July [1914] I left Krakow. And I was supposed to return on October 1 at the latest. Such are human intentions... My journey to Sopot took 3 days. I travelled through Wrocław and Poznań. Everywhere there was a lovely summer silence. In our vast Polish fields, people were already getting down to harvesting golden crops. [...].

In Gdansk, some young Prussian soldier or officer got into our carriage. I don't really know. The only thing that stuck in my mind was that his belt was fastened to a buckle with the inscription "Gott mit uns". And I thought - that even on their stomachs these Prussians have to put a sentence about God and His attitude to themselves. At the time, I hated the Germans quite frankly and passionately. [...] So I was travelling to Prussia under the most varied fresh impressions, and I hated very sincerely all Prussians in general, and the wooden military figures, clad in disgusting navy blue uniforms with brick-coloured collars - in particular.

On the "Polish beach" they did not see the harbingers of war

Sopot. Have you been to this lovely town, this Polish 'resort'? In this summer salon of Warsaw? Oh, right - after all, it was Mr Nowaczyński who so ridiculed and reviled Sopot in his humoresque "A było to nad Bałtykiem" ("And it was over the Baltic") that we can no longer think of this calm sea and German "vanity fair" without a certain revulsion. As if there was nothing else in Sopot anymore.... But I like Sopot. Maybe because, although they are de facto German, they are on the Kashubian shore. And I like this calm, quiet sea - maybe because it is a Polish one. True - what kind of handicap is this country that doesn't have access to its own sea? So how can you not like this Kashubian shore and Sopot by the Polish sea?.... Naturally - the Kashubian shore and the Polish sea are not only in Sopot - and mainly they are not in Sopot, but in Gdynia, Oksywie, Jastarnia. But there is a village there - a Polish village - and in Sopot there is a Polish "resort", and that has its charm too, doesn't it? Anyway, Sopot is very pretty - with its wooded, green hills, over a wide shoal of bright sand, over a bluish sea - and with a glimpse of Gdansk in the distance. Only naturally - if you want to get to know the charm of Sopot and to like it sincerely - do not live in the middle of a German town, do not go for a walk only to the "kurhaus" and to the "steg", do not go for a midday swim, to the sand, to the basket just next to the "kurhaus", and do not judge the beauty of the green hills from the taste of a piece of cake "mit Szlagsahne" eaten in one of the numerous, albeit intricately concealed 'cafe'.
Villa Seehaus in Sopot, where Kronprinz, or Crown Prince of the German Empire and Prussia Friedrich Wilhelm Victor August lived for several years - until July 1914 - together with his wife Cecilia Augusta Maria of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and their children (family pictured). Photo: Lambiotte - old postcard, Public domain, Wikimedia
Although I arrived in Sopot on 18 July, i.e. in high season, by a happy coincidence we [the author and her grandmother - Bronisława Suligowska - note IS] managed to find a room on NordStrasse (North Street) with a view of the sea. After all, how can one live by the sea and not have a view of this wonderful area of blue waves?.... Our room was truly 'seasonal', with a freshly painted floor to which all the furnishings clung. On the walls were, naturally, hung truly German [two words in German - IS.] moral sentences, burnt in wood. But there was a lovely view from the windows of the room and the veranda. From the veranda one could see a small garden under the house, clumps of trees behind the street and the sea - a wonderful sea, like silver alive and sparkling in the rays of the summer sun, and setting in the evening with a swirl of grey mist. In the evening, too, the numerous lights of ships returning from Hel glimmered in the distance, and in the daytime the sea was enlivened by the white masts of sailboats. Naturally, the veranda was the nicest place I stayed. But from the windows of our room there was an extensive view of a green meadow, a forest and the road leading to the "Cafe Stolzenfertz". This road was important insofar as it was used by Kronprinz to drive to his villa located behind Stolzenfertz.

The North Street (Nordstrasse) in Sopot is almost exclusively inhabited by Poles, and the beach touching it, starting from the Northern Baths (Nordenbad even bears the, albeit unofficial, but very popular title of "Polish beach". Our surroundings were thus almost exclusively Polish. In general that year there were a lot of Poles in Sopot. Besides - I noticed immediately - that during the two years that have passed since my stay in Sopot, this beautiful town has undergone an enormous Polonisation. It was now possible to speak Polish everywhere - at the railway station, in patisseries and in shops. So it was homely, pleasant and nice. I spent those lovely days resting, swimming, taking rides on the sea and lounging dreamily on the sand. And meanwhile, the Sopot (Kurgoste) public white [dressed in white costumes] and merry was always and everywhere having fun. They bathed and danced, drove cars and watched as Kronprinz, dressed in sportswear, played tennis every day at [10 o'clock] in the morning on one tennis court.

I was later told by people who spent the summer in Palanga that the bathing guests were pleasantly surprised when the aeroplanes from Libava unexpectedly flew into this quiet village. Palanga came alive and the curious public thronged to the beach to watch the aeroplanes gliding towards the German border. No one could have guessed where this pleasant spectacle was going. And we also had a similar spectacle in Sopot. Admittedly, here aeroplanes were a more usual thing, but even so, at the sound of their flapping from under the clouds, people ran out into the gardens and onto the beach to watch these beautiful birds, in which no one at the time guessed the harbingers of war. And the biplane "taube" performed numerous stunts in the air. The hydroplanes would descend gently to the calm sea, and then sail together again along the skyline towards Gdansk and beyond....

The sounds of the Berlin press. To believe or not to believe?

Day after day went by peacefully and pleasantly. It is true that the newspapers wrote about the Austrian-Serbian conflict, but who carefully reads the newspapers during a summer holiday when the sun is shining brilliantly and the sea is humming and humming. 24 July - we went to the middle of town, to the Seestrasse and the Kurhaus. Already on the way we had heard that someone had returned from Gdansk and had seen a telegram there [posted] that a decisive note (ultimatum) had been sent to Serbia by the Austrians. But it was such vague news. However, on Morska Street we bought an extraordinary supplement of the "Zappoterzeitung", the first extraordinary supplement - and how many thereafter!
"Seesteg mit Kurhaus", or breakwater with Kurhaus. Publisher from Dresden: Stengel & Co., GmbH, 1921. Photo: National Library in Warsaw, Public domain, Wikimedia
The extraordinary supplement contained the content of the Austro-Serbian note and some of the noises of the Berlin press because of it. I remember sitting on some bench on the beach and reading with emotion the content of this historic note. "No - Serbia cannot agree to this, absolutely not". - we thought at once. And the spectre of war horror hung over us. But the Berlin press was of a different opinion: "Naturally we are united with our ally at this important moment, and Austria can be sure of our support, but we very much hope that the matter can still be smoothed over. Austria, wishing to preserve its national solemnity, had to send such a note, but Serbia, after all, should understand that the terrible Sarajevo tragedy requires reparation". This was more or less the content of the sound of the Berlin press. "To believe or not to believe? Will there be war or not?" - we were already thinking quite seriously, and the importance of these questions hung over us in all its horror. And we decided at once that if the Austro-Serbian war actually broke out, we would leave for home at once.

But our war mood dissipated remarkably quickly as soon as we crossed the threshold of the guesthouse. Here everyone was in the old way - bright, white [in white clothes] and cheerful - and laughed at the news of the note and the thought of the possibility of war. Was this our proverbial Polish recklessness? The next day too - we were met everywhere with smiles of indulgence, even from very enlightened and eminent people . Everyone laughed as soon as they heard of our intention to return home. Who could see - after a 10-day stay at the seaside - to leave on hearing that the Austro-Serbian war was threatening? So Sopot was remarkably quiet and, as always, white and cheerful.

It was a Saturday, and so the raut preparations occupied most of the audience, going to the Polish raut in the Hotel "Victoria" and to the grand raut in the Kurhaus Hall. Polish audiences do not usually go to the Kurhaus, but today the grapevine brought the news that Kronprinz was to be at the raut. So some beautiful Varsovian women headed for the hall, and a very large crowd made arrangements for the gallery. As the evening hour approached, numerous carriages and cars drove the dressed-up and merry guests around the ballrooms. However, the traffic on Morska Street was also lively. After all, it was at 6 o'clock in the evening that Serbia was to give its answer. So the more curious people walked along the street, stood in groups [in front of the editorial offices and the Post Office], expecting telegrams, and were already a little anxious. At last - an extraordinary addition came out. It was around 11 o'clock in the evening. We learned nothing clear from Serbia's reply, but a heavy feeling of unease had already set in our hearts for good, even though the evening was so beautiful, warm and quiet, and the sea was humming sleepily-soothingly. And in the raut halls there was eager dancing until dawn and Kronprinz was rumoured to be at the Kurhaus - so many topics for Sunday conversations.

Sunday morning - strangely cloudy and sad - brought no fundamental change in the news or the war mood. True, the Sopot and Gdansk newspapers had already come out with very sensationalist headlines, but the Berlin newspapers were calm in the old way and as if full of hope for a peaceful resolution of the European conflict. News spread around Sopot that Kronprincerin and her children were supposedly about to leave. But Kronprinz played tennis as before and drove a car smiling. So the Sopot public believed in his serenity and it was peaceful and cheerful in Sopot as it had been before.

Poor Polish Falcon in a nest in a suburb of Gdansk

During Sunday lunch, Mr Tomaszewski, husband of the owner of the boarding house "Halina", asked who would like to go to Gdansk for the Polish "Sokol"(Falcon) exercises. I think 10 people signed up, everyone received a personal invitation. Naturally - we went.

The streets of Gdańsk were almost completely deserted, as is usual on a Sunday afternoon when the people of Gdańsk traditionally leave for a trip to Sopot. However, a few passers-by gathered in clusters on street corners and in front of newspaper editorial offices, where yellow and blue posters had just been put up, on which the last telegrams were not printed, but written in pencil. We read too - already with steadily growing anxiety: "Austria is mobilising - General Putnik arrested as he drove from Budapest towards the Serbian border". "Well, of course, Austria will soon beat those pig-headed Serbs", someone next to me concludes with great certainty and calmness. But immediately someone else asks: "And what will Russia say about it?". "Germany - what will it be?" - half aloud asks a third person. The discussion doesn't happen, however, because we are in a hurry.

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"The Polish Falcon" in Gdansk is an institution that has existed for quite a long time, but it has driven a very poor life. It had a few dozen members, but the real "falcons" - i.e. active, practising members - only twenty-something. These were mostly workers in the local factories and craftsmen in small workshops, working hard all six days a week and occasionally practising on poles, with sticks and with "lances" in the name of Polishness. The new spirit of the Maternal Falcons, and especially of the Cracow Falcons, had not yet penetrated to Gdañsk, and the gymnastic leotard shirts had not been replaced by grey uniforms, and the various jerks, artificial figures and measured movements by military exercises. But even so - in its former form - the Gdańsk Falcon fulfilled its purpose, breaking the scouts away from German society, and teaching them at least a little to speak and feel Polish.

This poor Polish Falcon had its nest in a suburb of Gdansk. Its premises consisted of a small single-storey house, containing a hall with a theatre stage and a beer buffet, as well as a dry town garden, in which numerous tables and chairs were spread out beside a small square imitating a football pitch - and of course you could get beer, coffee and a piece of cake "mit Szlagsahne". The poor Polish Falcon in Gdansk was not even allowed to practise in public and to raise money in public to prop up its little nest. Only from time to time on Sunday afternoons did it put on small performances for its members, "their families and introduced guests", consisting of exercises on the field and amateur tricks on the stage, ending afterwards with dances in the "big" room of the little house. Workers and craftsmen in white threadbare gloves, black festive jumpers and sometimes leotard shirts hidden under the jumpers would come here. There were seamstresses, maids and craftsmen's wives with their children - all in white or pink dresses and straw hats with gauze and flowers. In a word, the Polish population of Gdansk was coming together in quite large numbers - because the Poles in Gdansk, although they made up 11% of the local population, were only working people. However, these Polish workers came quite willingly to the premises of the poor Falcon. Here they had fun and here they were not ashamed to speak Polish loudly.

Numerous visitors from Kingdom - guests from Sopot - travelling in crowds to Gdańsk, became thoroughly acquainted with the stores of costumes and novelties: cafes, restaurants and various galleries [the original German phrase]. But few knew where any Polish institution was to be found in Gdansk - such as this Falcon, one of the few outposts of Polishness in the western borderlands.

That Sunday (26 July), only a dozen of us came from Sopot. Representatives of the few Polish intelligentsia in Gdansk also came - co-workers of a Polish newspaper ("Gazeta Gdańska"), some lawyer, a clerk.... All of them - more [to a greater extent] than simple working folk - had acquired outwardly German features, especially a round belly, bred on German beer.

All the scouts greeted us very cheerfully and warmly. But right behind us appeared (like a black nightmare) a fat and grim Prussian "Schutzman" in a pikelhaub - spying and snooping in all directions and diligently checking the named invitations. We were already in fear that the meeting might be thwarted, but somehow managed to explain to Mr Schutzman that the meeting was strictly "private" and force him to leave the premises. However, the scouts warned us also about the German waiters - as the premises are only leased and the waiters are strangers and insecure.

So we sat in the garden at iron tables and waited for the ceremony to begin. Soon the Falcon brass band began to play a very monotonous, but quite rhythmic tune, and the scouts entered the field in a line. There were 25 of them. They all tried very hard to walk with an even, steady step, listen to the not-so-sure command and make even movements with their sticks to the rhythm of the monotonous tune. Naturally - we applauded them sincerely and heartily, because, after all, these people of good will had to be rewarded with something. Later, there were gymnastic exercises on the bars and trapeze, and the brass band played the same tune over and over again. [...]. A new voice came into the garden - the distinct sound of rifle shots. "What's that? - we all asked in surprise. 'Oh, please, ladies and gentlemen,' one of the representatives of the Gdansk intelligentsia explains to us, 'this is a clear announcement of war, because these are German soldiers practising'. "What do you mean - they are practising on a Sunday? And where is Sontagruhe?" "Exactly - in this a foreshadowing of war, that they are practising on Sunday, and in addition with rifles of the new system".
"Seesteg u. Strandleben', or pier and beach life in Sopot. A bay full of sailboats. Postcard publisher: Danzig, Verlag Clara Bernthal, 1905-1923. photo: National Library in Warsaw, Public domain, Wikimedia
The conversation immediately descends into politics and war, but few still believe in the possibility of a European war. Even the gentlemen from Gdansk reassure us that there is absolutely nothing to fear, since the stock market - that pulse of life and the present world - has so far not manifested any fluctuations or declines. "But, if war does break out its way, what do you think," we ask curiously, "what will happen?" "What will be? - cheerfully picks up a young lawyer, a reserve officer - In ten days we will be in Warsaw." And again I feel sad. This young Pole, talking with such calmness and even cheerfulness about the fact that he will have to put on the Prussian uniform that I hate, and in this uniform, at the sound of "Nacht an..." to enter Warsaw, is so terrible in his Polish tragedy - perhaps the most terrible in a century.... [...].

European war in seven-mile boots

The whole of the following week was a period of fever and anxiety. Despite the gathering war clouds and the already inevitable Austro-Serbian war, we were not yet leaving Sopot. The time was wonderful and we did not want to leave. Kronprincerin and the children left on Monday or Tuesday morning. On Monday we started to think - what to do? To go home already or to wait at least a little longer. The decision was difficult. Anyway, there wasn't even much bad news from politics, and the local news about Kronprincerin leaving with the children didn't make much of an impression in Sopot. Anyway, they kept explaining to us all that there was nothing to fear yet, that even if an Austro-Serbian war broke out, it would not yet be the final proof of a European war. The beginning of a European war would only be the breaking off of diplomatic relations between Austria and Russia, followed by an Austro-Russian war. But as we are in Germany, so we have absolutely nothing to fear, as Germany will only take up arms against its ally. So we still have so much time.... This is how home-grown politicians postponed the outbreak of a European war for a long time. Meanwhile, events were moving at the frantic pace of seven-mile boots.

In Sopot, however, things were cheerful in the old days. Large posters announced performances of "Waldoper" for the following week, and naturally we took the tickets right away, as memories of the wonderful fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel, seen in the Sopot forest two years ago, were still vivid in my mind. Meanwhile, the sun and sea were used in the old-fashioned way. On Tuesday, we were offered a trip to Oliwa. It was the memorable day of 28 July 1914. But naturally, none of the numerous company thought about the importance of the moment. Instead, we thought about having a good time - and a bit about manifesting our Polishness in front of the Germans. So we rode noisily and merrily by sea to Gładzików and by tram to Oliwa. We walked through the wonderful avenues of the Oliwa park and insisted unconditionally on demanding a Polish guide to the old church. The demand was all the more audacious because the parish priest of Oliwa is some memorable nationalist. However, there were twenty of us and for our 50 fenig per person we very insistently demanded a Polish-speaking guide.

A guide was found - for what German will not do for money? - however, the German audience, also visiting the monastery, listened with strong displeasure to our loud shouts. "In Deutschland muss man deutsch sprechen," even remarked a bony German woman, a vivid drawing of "[two words in German - IS]". My goodness, we were like cockerels at the time, buoyed up by a sunny ride on the sea and a stroll through the romantic alleyways of the park - we were ready to fight this bunch of fat Germans. Our Polishness and our beliefs then were so bland and paper - like the later unfortunate orientations and aspirations.

Naturally, the guide drew us away from the German tourists. He cut up the Polish language in no uncertain terms, showing us the church and the monastery cloisters with the famous table on which the peace with the Swedes was signed. And then he let us out into the garden for some sun. And we walked through lovely avenues, across sunny squares by ponds and shady cut rows - very pleased with ourselves and the world. And then we sat in a secluded café, where there were - as everywhere in Germany - wicked pastries and so-so cake "mit Szlagsahne", and thought nothing of what was going on in the world.
"Strandleben", or life on the beach in Sopot. Postcard publisher: Gdansk, Verlag Clara Bernthal, 1905-1923. photo: National Library in Warsaw, Public domain, Wikimedia
And meanwhile, the Austro-Serbian war was beginning. In Sopot, on our way home from the station, we read a telegram about Austria's declaration of war and Emperor Franz Joseph's manifesto "to all the peoples of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy". The fact had already happened - such a terrible thing as war had already begun. Is it possible to realise this at a single moment? "Remember - that it happened on 28 July". - we said to each other, as if it were possible to ever forget - such a terrible tragedy.... Maybe Austrians and Serbs are already beating each other on the Danube border.... Maybe Poles are already fighting and dying - in a foreign army, for a foreign cause? My God! What will happen....

Despite the outbreak of the Austro-Serbian War, we were still advised against leaving Sopot, and the supernaturally peaceful Berlin newspapers were shown as proof of the all-round calm. However, we nevertheless decided to leave Sopot. We just wanted - under the influence of reassuring advice - to make use of the flat we had still paid for, the "kurtaksa", the sea bath tickets, etc. things. So we were to leave on Saturday 1 August. And with a sense of the necessity of this departure, we decided to return even the tickets for the magic evening, for the Sopot "Waldoper". But it turned out that the management of these performances did not share our anxiety - because they refused to give us our money back, motivating that the Austro-Serbian war was not yet evidence of a European conflict, our departure from Sopot and the cancellation of the performance. Well - maybe it is true, we thought.

War wake-up call. Kronprinz has left

In the afternoon the local newspapers brought the news of the taking of Belgrade. This unfortunate Belgrade had been captured by the German press systematically at the beginning of the war - at least every week, and then at least every month. Naturally, at the time, we could not anticipate the chronicity of this fact and believed it completely. This restlessness and hunger for new news led us to the Kurhaus reading room. Here we found out that the Berlin newspapers still knew nothing about the taking of Belgrade, that the stock market was still very quiet, but also that if the Germans [attacked - a line in German], they too would draw the sword from the scabbard. This was the first war wake-up call of the serious Berlin press.

And at the same time, the "Zoppoter Zeitung" wrote in the local news that important events on the horizon should not contribute to Germans closing their eyes to what was happening around them. There was a nationalist [...] walking along the seashore to Adlerhorst (Orlowo), probably thinking of the all-powerful might of Germany. And then, unexpectedly, a terrible melody came to his ears. It was in the Kurhaus of Adlerhorst that someone was playing and loudly singing "polnische national-Liede". The poor nationalist man was probably frozen with horror at the thought of such audacity. In the meantime, the tune stopped. He came to his senses enough to write an open letter to the Zoppoter Zeitung, asking where the Sopot police were and what they were doing that such things could happen in a German country. And how can one not hate with all one's soul and all one's heart these despicable Germans - spies - nationalists.

After a long wait, we also got Polish newspapers. I take the "Dziennik Poznański" in my hand: God! What does it mean? What's the title - "Explosion in the Warsaw citadel"? An uprising in Warsaw? Is it already... But the Poznań newspapers knew nothing yet - some strange news of an explosion and fire in the Warsaw citadel had come telegraphically - but what it meant, nobody knows. Only the German newspapers of Poznań, wanting to play on the nerves and feelings of the Poles - and to fill their own pockets - published an extraordinary supplement under the general title "Polnische Aufstand in Warschau". Naturally, the supplement sold out instantly. And the poor Polish hearts were struck with fear and anxiety. And the Poznań papers turned with indignation to the German press: how can it, for speculative purposes only, write lying news about what is so dear to the Polish heart. But were these merely for speculative and monetary purposes?....
Curious and extremely concerned, I picked up the Warsaw newspapers. The news about the explosion was vague and unclear. But one thing was certain - the outbreak was not organically connected with any insurgent movement. And while I was flipping through the Warsaw papers, hoping to find some new information, I finally came across an article in the "Gazeta Poranna 2 grosze", the title of which I no longer remember, but the content of which seems to have stuck in my memory forever. It was just a simple editorial. And it only stuck in my memory because of its direct connection to the incidents that followed. The unremembered, perhaps even unsigned author of this article wrote that dangerous war clouds were gathering on the horizon. And that, although we do not know what they may bring us, one thing is unconditionally certain: whatever war breaks out - if it does - its most terrible and bloody episode will take place on Polish soil. Polish society should therefore wake up from its pleasant slumber and remember that we must not now repeat after Wyspianski's "The Wedding": ".... let there be war all over the world, so long as the Polish countryside is quiet, so long as the Polish countryside is peaceful...", but to stand firm and bold, with open eyes looking into the approaching, threatening future. [...] But could they have been more like these true words when applied to the state of feeling of the average society at the time? Wasn't this what 9/10 of Polish citizens thought: "Let the whole world topple over, as long as it is peaceful with us"? [...]

On Thursday (30 July), most unexpectedly, news spread through Sopot that Kronprinz had left. He had been summoned to Berlin for the imperial council. It was said that when bidding farewell to Mrs C. from Warsaw, he was to say: 'Au revoir a six semaines a Varsovie'. The news of Kronprinz's departure had a very electrifying effect on the Sopot audience. And in general the mood was already very nervous and anxious. This was unconditionally influenced by the most varied extraordinary editions, which appeared in Sopot almost every two hours. Many people had also already received alarming letters and even telegrams from Warsaw. It should be remembered that on those days there was already mobilisation in the Kingdom. In Germany, things were generally quiet - mobilisation was unheard of. However, many German families had already begun to disperse home. The vast majority of the Polish public were not thinking of leaving. Many, however, were merely postponing their departure until the end of the week, in the meantime awaiting further developments.

The afternoon newspapers brought news of the Imperial Council in Potsdam, at which war was almost decided. The tone of the Berlin press was extremely characteristic here. It went from being ultra-peaceful to a military wake-up call. Naturally - this had neither a calming nor a pleasant effect on us. In the company, there was talk of collecting deposits from banks and fulfilling letters of credit. However - only the ladies were talking about this, because the gentlemen - although eminent Warsaw economists and activists - were still laughing at the war mood and the desire to hide money "in the stocking". On the same day we also received the last letters from the Kingdom. These were letters from Radom, Siedlce and Ciechocinek, all dated 29 July and were very calm. They all wrote about minor things and advised us not to return home just yet. However, we were already too anxious and excited to follow this advice. We started packing...

In the evening, around 8 o'clock, we went into town. We wanted to say goodbye to official Sopot for the last time - to the Kurhaus, the rainbow fountain and the Steg, going far out into the dark sea. The traffic in the streets was enormous. Special editions, writing about the progress of the Austro-Serbian war and the Russian mobilisation, were being snatched up on the fly. We also met familiar gentlemen from Gdansk. They maintained that the stock exchange was still completely calm, and that as for the rumours of mobilisation in Germany, they were untrue and unfounded, as in the event of mobilisation they would have to be the first to get the call.
"Ostseebad Zoppot, Kurgarten", i.e. spa garden with fountain, with the Sopot pier in the background. Postcard publisher: Gdansk, Verlag Clara Bernthal, before 1915. Photo by John Faltin - National Library in Warsaw, Public domain, Wikimedia
It is very possible that the Gdansk stock exchange was still calm, but the German population of Sopot was already very restless. In all probability, the calmness of the German stock exchanges had been artificially maintained until then, but no one wanted to keep the German population calm any longer. Yes - the impending war storm was dragging with it a long chain of casualties to be borne by Germany. So in order to endure these casualties, the German population had to be reinvigorated with a fair amount of patriotism. From peaceful "burgers" - working hard and meticulously, and in their spare time drinking beer and smoking cigars - they were to transform themselves into brave defenders of the Vaterland. There is, moreover, the usual psychology of wartime moments. And the deeper the transformation of a nation at the outbreak of war, the more certain victory is. Germany was preparing for a great war. This war was to call everyone up, as in Germany everyone serves in the army. The hearts of German men and women were already beating with anxiety in anticipation of a dangerous time ahead.

The huge crowd gathered in the square in front of the Kurhaus was rippling and trembling - and expecting something anxiously. Everyone was irritated and excited, everyone [was] waiting for something. And against their expectations came the all-powerful German song - it came out to seize their trembling souls, to excite them with patriotism and to chain them to the chariot of war - of death and victory. The orchestra played "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles". And this typical German song, typical in words and melody, was echoed by thousands of German voices, and probably also by hearts....

"Let's get away from here, as far away as we can't hear". - I said. I was instinctively repelled by this song, so hostile and alien to us Poles. But - how to escape - it is impossible to get to the exit, the enthusiastic German crowd blocks the exit and is dangerous for those who would like to leave. So we go to the Steg - there, at least, it is empty now and the sleepy hum of the sea drowns out the distant echoes of the all-powerful German song.

We walk - the planks of the pier clatter - the dark sea hums. On the shore, the lights of a villa flicker among the trees - a wave licks the sandbank silently - the moon slips out from behind the clouds. Such is the wonderful silence in nature. I slowly forget that a rainbow fountain is splashing a few hundred paces away from me, an orchestra is playing and a strange, hostile crowd is rippling. I look out at the dark sea, drowsily humming, and I dream - if one can dream with a heart full of pain. I dream of my home country and of someone who will meet the feelings of its people. Who will grasp the unrest that the Poles are currently experiencing? Will the all-powerful Polish song " Not yet Poland perishes" come out to meet them and draw the Polish spirit to its chariot of battle - death - glory and victory? Will the archangel of faith appear with a fiery sword? And my heart is troubled. For against my sorrow and anxiety there is no song, no archangel of faith and hope walking on the dark waves of the Polish sea. And I fear alone for my sacred faith in the immortality of the Polish soul, and with trembling I stretch out my hands to the golden stars in the sky....

Meanwhile, the wind begins to hum and brings..................................................

[ Further pages of Maria Walewska's 1915 diary notebook are missing. A continuation of the memoirs, starting from 1 August 1914, was included in notebooks written in 1962. - IS.]

– Maria Walewska
– Compiled byy Inka Słodkowska

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

– Translated by Tomasz Krzyżanowski

Title and subtitles are from the editors
Maryla Kuźnicka (Walewska) in 1914 as a student at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. Photo: IS archives
Maria Walewska, née Kuźnicka (1894 – 1980)

Daughter of Maria née Suligowska and Władysław Kuźnicki. She was the owner of the Kowala Stępocina estate near Radom (now the main street in Kowala is named after her). She studied agriculture at the Jagiellonian University and married Aleksander Walewski in 1920. They had four children. A distinguished social activist in the Second Polish Republic (Union of Women Landowners, Rural Housewives' Circles, Catholic Action), she was awarded the Silver Cross of Merit. Aleksander Walewski was an activist of the Landowners' Union and Catholic Action, and founded a food cooperative and a savings bank in Kowale. During World War II Walewska organised secret teaching in the Kowale manor house, both she and her husband were active in the "Shield", the older children belonged to the Home Army. After 1945, as a result of the land reform, the Walewska family left Kowale and settled in Radom. Aleksander, arrested in March 1945, died in 1946 after being released from prison. Maria worked in school administration. She left extensive memoirs, of which the following have been published: " Year 1918. Memories" (Warsaw 1998), " In the shadow of the Agricultural Reform Act" (Warsaw 2007).

Photo of Inka Słodkowska: PAP/Tomasz Gzell
Main photo: "Ostseebad Zoppot - Im Familienbad" - i.e. swimming in the Baltic Sea in Sopot, on the family beach. Postcard from the publishing house of Klara Bernthal, from1905-1923. Photo: National Library in Warsaw, Public domain, Wikimedia
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