The forgotten Zawisza Czarny. Destroyed for his Polish patriotism and for his "post-German possessions"

By irretrievably destroying the family archive and library, the Germans took revenge for the continuation for several decades of the oasis of Polishness created near Toruń during the Prussian partition. And then the Red Army and Communist administrators burned the rest of the estate in the middle of the dining room and conservatory, cut down the orchard, the manor park and filled in the ponds....

What do we know today about Zawisza Czarny ("Zawisza the Black") of the Przerów coat of arms? Almost nothing, apart from the square named after Artur Zawisza Czarny at the former Central Railway Station in Warsaw, with Grójecka, Raszyńska, Towarowa and Aleje Jerozolimskie streets diverging from it. And so many Varsovians believe that this is the square of the famous knight from Grunwald. Only a few know that the latter, of Sulima coat of arms, a native of Garbowo, was not in the least bit related to the Zawisza Czarni of Przerowa coat of arms.

This much we know about them, as the brothers Artur and Alfred Zawisza Czarny fought valiantly as cavalry officers in the Polish-Russian War of 1830-1831 (it came to be known as the November Uprising), and emigrated west after the surrender. Arthur made it to France, and Lieutenant Alfred, together with his friend Captain Kalikst Borzewski, managed to enlist in the army of the Kingdom of Belgium before, as a result of Russia's protests and diplomatic pressure on France, Belgian King Leopold I was forced to stop the recruitment of Poles. Both were accepted into the 1st Cuirassier Regiment, each agreeing to serve with a rank one below that held by the Polish army. Alfred as a second lieutenant, Kalikst as a lieutenant.

Searching in Belgium

I found Alfred's personal file in the Royal Museum of Arms and Military History in Brussels. It contains correspondence and promotion applications. Nothing about it has survived in Poland.

SIGN UP TO OUR PAGE In the Polish-Russian War of 1830-1831, Lieutenant Alfred Zawisza Czarny served in the Płock Cavalry regiment. In 1833, Alfred's older brother Artur, going to the country on the orders of Colonel Józef Zaliwski to instigate an uprising there, took Borzewski with him, and ordered his younger brother to remain in the Belgian army. It was as if he sensed that both of them might die on this expedition. Arrested by the Russians, he was hanged by them on the corner of Wola, on the square that today bears his name. After Arthur's show execution, the Russians sequestered the huge estate of the Zawisza Czarni family in Łowicz, allowing his mother and youngest son to remain in the estate of Sobota, near Łowicz.
In the park in Sobota there is still the Renaissance brick manor house of the Zawisza family, rebuilt as neo-Gothic in the inter-war years. Photo: ZeroJeden - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 en, Wikimedia
Alfred applied for naturalisation after several years of service. A royal decree of 3 June 1842 finally regularised the stay of naturalized Polish immigrant officers in the Belgian army. Their military ranks, awarded in the Polish-Russian War, were retroactively approved on 28 May 1841.

In 1842, while on holiday with his relatives, the Działowscy, at the Turzno estate near Toruń, Alfred learned that Heinrich von Bornstaed, the owner of nearby Warszewice, intended to sell it. The 31-year-old lieutenant in the Belgian army bought the estate together with the palace on a bargain price.

On the basis of the documentation in Alfred's file, I have established that in January and February 1846, he was on leave to strengthen his health at the home of relatives in Turzno. On hearing of preparations for another uprising in the Polish lands, he travelled to Berlin, where he met with the Minister Plenipotentiary of the Kingdom of Belgium. He conveyed to him his fears that he might be arrested, of which the latter informed the Foreign Minister in Brussels in writing.

The Belgian army lieutenant's fears were justified. On 26 February 1846, he was arrested by order of the Prussian government. The Belgian diplomatic mission showed no interest in the further fate of an active army officer with Belgian citizenship. He sat for more than a year in a Prussian prison. It was not until 13 May 1847 that he managed to inform General Pierre Louis DuPont, the Belgian Minister of War, in writing that he was being held incommunicado in a prison in Poznan, where he was being forced to comply with strict prison rules. General DuPont immediately responded through diplomatic channels. On 25 May, fifteen months after his arrest, the Prussian Minister of Justice (not State) Alexander von Uhden notified the Belgian Minister Plenipotentiary in Berlin, Jean-Baptiste Nothomb, in an official note, that Alfred Zawisza Czarny 'had taken no part in the conspiratorial plotting in Poznań and had been released'.

How did the Belgians behave, who did nothing for fifteen months to find their officer and citizen? A few months after his return, he was promoted to the rank of captain by the Minister of War and on the same day, 22 December 1847, dismissed at his own request from the Belgian army. He left the Kingdom of Belgium forever, never to return to it. He obtained permission from the Prussian authorities to live in a manor house and own an estate in Warszewice near Chełmża in Toruń, which he had bought a few years earlier.

In Warszewice

Buying land from Germans - Hirschberg, Schuller - and Poles - including Pawlikowska, Mondraszewski and Kostecki - he increased the estate to 700 hectares within a few years. He extended the 18th-century manor house in Warszewice, building a wing and a colonnaded front. He married a maiden from a Polish noble family and had four daughters with her. Warszewice in Toruń, like the Turwia of General Dezydery Chłapowski in Poznań, became a model homestead and an oasis of Polishness.

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Alfred Zawisza Czarny was one of the first landowners in Pomerania to use drains to drain arable land and grassland. During the period of intensified Germanisation of these areas, he entered the Polish names of parts of his vast estate in the Grundbuch (land book), and named one of them Zawiszówka.

He designated a room in the Warszewice palace as a museum of family memorabilia. The most valuable item there was a box with two neck scarves and a bloodied bandage given to his mother by a Polish guard after Artur's execution on the Wola corner. In addition to correspondence and memorabilia with a valuable ivory carved effigy of Artur Zawisza Czarny from the period of his studies, there were two of Alfred's uniforms, an lancer's uniform with a cornered cap and Belgian cuirassiers (without the breastplate), as well as a collection of white and firearms. These included Belgian rifles, supplied by Alfred to the Russian partition during the January Uprising. Hanging on the library wall was a beautifully decorated saddle of a Russian officer, Cherkess, who had fought in the ranks of the uprising. The library contained maps and a valuable book collection amassed by Alfred. On the walls hung 18th-century portraits of the Zawisz Czarny family and their relatives, the Głębocki family.

In Warszewice, after the death of Alfred in 1878, who is buried in the cemetery in Chełmża, his daughter Władysława, née Hulewicz, managed. In 1913, she set up central heating in the front part of the palace. She invited the then well-known historian and publicist Aleksander Kraushar to the palace. He made partial use of documents from the family archive in his book, 'Partisan activity of Artur Zawisza Czarny', published in Warsaw in 1915 (Miscellanea Historyczne, vol. 1).

Following Poland's independence, 280 ha of the Zawisza estate were put up for parceling out in accordance with the provisions of the Agrarian Reform Act of 1925, and bankruptcy proceedings were initiated against the remaining 200 ha. By 1939 the heirs had managed to pay off their debts. At the outbreak of the Second World War, the Zawisza Czarny estate comprised 180 hectares of agricultural land, 3.5 hectares of built-up land, 2.8 hectares of surface water, 3 hectares of orchards and 0.8 hectares of manor park.

His last administrator and heir was Jerzy Skarżyński, grandson of Władysława Hulewicz and a direct great-grandson of Alfred. Mobilised as a reserve officer at the end of August 1939, he fought on the Bzura River and near Kutno. Taken prisoner by the Germans, he spent six years in an oflag in Woldenberg.

Deleting from history

Years ago, I found the aged Jerzy Skarżyński in Toruń. He told me about the fate of the Warszewice palace and its collections. As early as the first week of September 1939, the Germans brought an expert historian from Berlin to Warszewice. In the room-museum of the Zawisza family, he conducted a brutal selection of exhibits.
He took the most valuable items to a Berlin museum by truck, and ordered servants to throw them with pitchforks into the yard and burn the rest. The 18th-century portraits of the Głębocki family, the library and other valuable documents and artefacts perished. Gardener Owsiany managed to surreptitiously hide several photographs, as well as photocopies of Alfred's promotions and decorations from the November Uprising and from the period of his service in the army of the Kingdom of Belgium (today they are in the possession of the Skarżyński family). By irretrievably destroying the family archive and library, the Germans took revenge for the fact that this oasis of Polishness, created by Alfred Zawisza Czarny during the Prussian partition, had lasted here for several decades.

From September 1939, a former Polish citizen from Chełmża named Trenkel was appointed by the Germans as administrator of the palace. He evicted its owner, Władysława Hulewiczowa, and her daughter from the palace to the Zawiszówka farmstead, but allowed them to take meals from the palace kitchen. Władysława Hulewiczowa died in 1942. Shortly after her funeral, the German authorities transferred the ownership of the entire Zawisza Czarny estate to the Third Reich in the land register. I found this entry in the Notary's Office in Toruń.

In 1943 the palace in Warszewice was turned into a school-internate for the paramilitary women's service (Arbeitsdienst). The administration of the building and the German women in training took care of the interiors, where furniture and furnishings from the pre-war period had survived. The administrator Trenkel, fleeing from the approaching Red Army in February 1945, loaded tableware and bedding onto several carts, leaving the rest of the furnishings with the furniture. Fleeing, he abandoned the carts near Piła and probably reached the Reich on two bicycles with his wife and child. Perhaps his descendants are still alive in Germany?

Before the Red Army entered the abandoned palace in Warszewice, the locals had removed whatever they could from it. The rest was burned by the soldiers at bonfires lit in the middle of the dining room and in the winter garden, arranged years ago by the hand of Zawisza Czarny himself. After the soldiers with red stars on their helmets came the communist administrators, treating the palace and estate as post-German property.

I reached the land register of the estate. Under the date 13 September 1946 there is a notation stating that the property of the former Third Reich was taken over by the Polish State Treasury.

What did they take over? Bare walls and floors with hacked and burnt parquet floors and mosaics. In 1947, the estate - land and buildings - was given to a production cooperative, advertised in the local press as a role model. One of the first decisions of the board was to cut down the orchard, then the manor park and to fill in the two ponds. The ruined palace was unnecessary for the board. Someone remembered that the Germans had arranged an excellent school for young ladies in the building. In 1950, the walls of the palace were handed over to the Toruń Board of Education to be used as a school.
After renovation (the floors were covered with rough boards, some walls were broken and openings in others were bricked up, new walls were built, the winter garden was converted into a Farmer's Club, etc.), the palace turned into a building with classrooms and eleven staff flats. In 1990, when I went to Warszewice for the first time with Mr Jerzy Skarżyński, six staff rooms were occupied by teachers and five by families accommodated by the head of the municipality. The 80-year-old Mr Jerzy asked to remain incognito. Not without reason. In the 1970s, the then head of the school did not let the co-owner of Warszewice, Michal Skarżyński, inside the building. He blocked the entrance with himself, citing a regulation prohibiting former owners from visiting estates parcelled out in accordance with the agrarian reform decree of October 1944.

A similar situation could not be repeated in the Third Republic. Invited by one of our hosts to his house, we noticed a stylish serviette and table in the room. Mr Jerzy recognised them immediately, but did not say a word. We exchanged discreet glances. The host's wife didn't notice anything. She explained to us at the time, pointing to a sculpture standing in the garden, that her sons had excavated it from a buried pond and repainted it.

"They did very well," smiled Alfred's great-grandson.

The young head of the school assured us that he would do his best to restore the memory of Zawisza Czarny by making him the school's patron saint, setting up a commemorative corner and so on. Exactly a year later we were invited, Mr and Mrs Skarżyński and me, to the ceremony of naming the school after Zawisza Czarny. Beforehand, I sent the headmaster some archive photos and facsimiles of documents from the royal archives in Brussels.

I remember years later that the welcome at the last ancestral seat of the Zawisz Czarny family was warm. We were seated in places of honour in the former dining hall, converted into a gymnasium and now an auditorium. The student ensemble began the show in historical costumes about Zawisza Czarny from Garbów, the alderman of Spisz, participant in the Battle of Grunwald, legendary personification of chivalrous virtues and symbol of integrity.

I whispered to the grandson of Alfred Zawisza Czarny sitting next to me that I was leaving in protest. He held my hand asking me to stay. After the performance, the school was solemnly named after Zawisza Czarny of Garbowo. The then provincial education authority did not react, nor did the Ministry of Education speak out on the matter. And so it remained.
We returned from Warszewice to Toruń depressed, with mixed feelings. That Zawisza had left the world without an heir, stamped with a different coat of arms. The headmaster, teachers, parents and children did not care which Zawisza would become the patron of the Warszewice school. They knew one, the one from the battle on the fields of Grunwald.

And Alfred, the owner of Warszewice? For 45 years it was said of him that he was an exploiter and oppressor of peasants. And he farmed a post-German estate. This is how communist propaganda destroyed the image of a patriotic Pole, who was also heavily involved in helping the January insurgents.

After the electoral victory of the post-communists in the Third Republic, Mr and Mrs Skarżyński lost hope of recovering anything from the Zawisza estate. During their reign, there was no reprivatisation of the estates or compensation for them. Nothing was due to the former 'exploiters' and the school - everyone, including the Skarżyński family, admitted this - must remain in the former palace, as there was no other building suitable for the education of children in the village of Warszewice. While writing, I looked on the internet. On the page about the Warszewice school there was a song written especially for pupils, parents and teachers - The Ballad of Zawisza Czarny. From Garbowo. A memento of Alfred in the palace is a plaque about him, unveiled by his grandson Skarżyński.

The Ministries of Education, then Education and Culture, since the end of the Second World War, have not been interested in searching for the mementos of the Zawisza Czarny, taken away in September 1939 to a museum in Berlin. So little remained of the inheritance plundered by the National Socialists from the Third Reich, together with the Real Socialists (that's how the Communists referred to themselves) from People's Poland.

It was not until 2021 that the marshal of the voivodeship announced that a museum of the Zawisz Czarny family would be placed in the palace in Warszewice. PLN 4,300,000 was earmarked for the renovation of the building. We had to wait so many years to make it happen.

– Maciej Kledzik

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

– Translated by Tomasz Krzyżanowski
Main photo: The manor house of the Zawisz Czarny family in Warszewice, now a primary school, in 2008. Photo Margoz - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia
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