Archive for the ‘History’ Category

A BUILDING IN CHERNIVTSI… A BLIZZARD IN LWÓW   Leave a comment

.
building Pawlowski
A building in Chernivtsi…
.

On a bitterly cold December day in Lviv last year, as wind, sleet and snow beat down in equal measure, I ducked into an antiquarian bookshop to seek shelter and warm my cockles before moving on. I thought I might find some interesting bric-a-brac from the days of my father’s youth which might serve as a Christmas present for my brother back in Ireland. I perused the shelves and presentation cases with cursory glances. Nothing caught my eye. Some old medical text books, specialist literature on outdated sciences, the usual old coins and stamps, Soviet pins and tin insignia celebrating long-forgotten jamborees and olympiads, along with the obligatory busts of Lenin, Gorky, Stakhanov and their dead comrades. I noted the prices seemed rather high for nondescript junk of the type found in abundance in the outhouses, abandoned factories and canteens of the former Soviet Union. As I was the only customer in the shop and the proprietor had the air of a man scorned by the public’s lack of appreciation for his treasure trove of insignifica, I decided I’d buy something small and symbolic. When he enquired what I was looking for, I asked if he had something from before the war, perhaps an old guidebook, a city map, a photojournal of Lwów before the end of days. He pointed to some tattered publications which underwhelmed with their dreariness. A cabinet maker’s manual, translations of Dreiser and Dickens, assorted monographs on subjects morose or beyond my comprehension. Finally I spotted a few collecting albums resting on the counter which contained old postcards. Notable views of Lwów and other cities. That will do! I thought and began flicking through them. They seemed quite pricey for what they were. In Dublin I can buy postcards of a similar vintage for less and Dublin for the most part is considerably more expensive than Lviv. Perhaps because of the history of Lviv, a city scourged with exile as much as murder and displacement, keepsakes, mementos, and familiar junk command higher prices for returning prodigals and their families. Or perhaps this particular proprietor knows something about the true value of cultural jetsam which I do not.

.

But I did find something interesting. A pre-First World War view of a building in Chernivsti which I had seen with my own eyes just a year previously. I had traveled there to see Edward, a cousin whom I had never met but whose very existence, only recently discovered, was quite marvellous. My father’s bloodline, where not annihilated, had been disconnected and separated by the Second World War and its aftermath. A message on this very WordPress site from Edward telling me his great-grandmother was my great-great-grandfather’s sister was thus how I came to visit Chernivtsi, the city where my grandmother Olga Pawłowska was born, when Chernivtsi was Czernowitz, capital of Bukowina, a crownland of Austro-Hungary. She met my grandfather Henryk Korowicz at Bank Polski in Warsaw where work had brought both of them. He was an economist and she a bookkeeper. She was also the daughter of a mathematician, Antoni Pawłowski, who was the founding rector of Lwów’s Academy of Foreign Trade. The marriage worked out well for both of them. My father was born and my grandmother wasn’t the only one happy that her parents were close by. My grandfather ended up working alongside his father-in-law, eventually becoming the rector of the Foreign Trade Academy himself.

.

IMG_20181009_085839

The same building in 2016

.

In Chernivtsi, Edward took me to the graveyard where ly the mortal remains of my great-great-grandfather, also Antoni Pawłowski (1830-1901). Antoni Sr. was a man of some note, the official municipal builder, entrusted with erecting some of that city’s grand constructions. The building in the postcard you see is in fact one of Antoni’s efforts and not a bad one at that, still standing one hundred and twenty years after his death and looking for all intents and purposes like a monument to his craftsmanship which will stand for many more. The building served as a ministry in Austro-Hungarian times, the headquarters of the Communist Party in Soviet times, and is now an academic institution.

.
IMG_0026

The builder Antoni and his wife Zusanna, my great-great-grandparents

.

Telling the proprietor nothing of my family connection to the building in the postcard, I plucked it out of the album sleeve. As I went to pay for it, I realized I had left my wallet at my hotel. Fortunately, I had eight hundred hryvnia in my pocket and handed over half of it for the postcard. On the street, a blizzard whipped the cobblestones and erased the city from view. I ducked into one of the courtyards off the Old Market Square. A few stragglers raced past me in search of shelter. As I stood there under an archway, I spotted an old woman in a swaddle of layers, hunched over with age and privation, shrouded in a white shawl of thick snowflakes, with a gnarled hand held out before her. She was sobbing but no sound could be heard above the squall.

Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements

SIBERIAN SOUVENIR   Leave a comment

.

Does a banknote have a value beyond its parts: a symmetrical piece of paper, over-written with symbols, poly-lingual, portraited with angels or stiff civil notables, inlaid with silver slivers, water-marked, embossed in braille, and branded with code? Well, only if we (and those with whom we wish to trade) believe it does. Money means something, good or bad, life or death, until it doesn’t and, on that day, the wise will take note that time spent amassing tokens does not a happy life ensure; while the unlucky will have far more pressing concerns to ponder. But while money does retain it’s value, as the song goes… it’s no surprise they’re giving none away.

.

.

The banknote above used to sit in a faux-gilt frame as an interesting travel souvenir and an illustrative lesson in how we ascribe value to things in life. It was purchased in Siberia for the price of a pancake and caviar breakfast and appealed to me for the story it tells. It is a ten year 4½% bond issued by Alexander Kerensky’s Provisional Government. The notes were commissioned in autumn 1917 from the American Banknote Corporation in five series of which this is the fifth and last. Ten million of such bonds were transported to Vladivostok on the steamships Santa Cruz and Sheridan in 1918. Between the commissioning of the bonds and their delivery, the Bolshevik revolution had occurred and civil war raged throughout the country. In the absence of regular supply routes and the banknote drought which ensued, the first three series of notes were approved by the anti-Bolshevik Omsk Government for use as regular currency at face value. Local regional banks applied their own stamps to indicate this and examples can be found with stamps from Vladivostok, Irkutsk, Chita, Blagoveshchensk, and Krasnodar. A different fate awaited the fourth and fifth series of bonds. As the Bolshevik Red Army began to make headway against Kolchak’s White Army in the east, they decommissioned the re-stamped Provisional Government Bonds (which were colloquially called sibirki or kolchakovki) and issued the clean fourth and fifth series with their own bright, elaborate ‘Siberian Revolutionary Committee’ stamps complete with warnings that counterfeiters would be prosecuted by full force of the law. Money is a promise and a threat.

.

IMG_0008

.

So the anti-capitalist forces of the communist revolution appropriated the trudovik Kerensky’s Provisional Government’s American-made bonds as their own currency, promising to fulfill the same promise in their own manner. Socialist, Democrat or Communist, Revolutionary of the February or October persuasion, all government legitimates itself through printing press and stamp, gun and cudgel, favour and disgrace, court and assays, carrot and stick. Needless to say, in the case of this note at least, none of the above parties did fulfill their promises. To me the inherent story is worth two hundred roubles with interest.

THE FUTURE OF INTERNATIONAL LAW (1945)   Leave a comment

.

IMG_20180213_164057

.

“During the inter-bellum and throughout the war which began in 1939, innumerable articles were published in the daily press and periodicals denouncing international law, whose beautiful rules were consigned to remain only on paper as two wars, with increasing atrocity and devastation, raged throughout all corners of the world. However, if any accusations levelled at international law came from jurists, they were not only ill-founded and glib, but increasingly rare. As for opinions from non-legal quarters which decry the ineffectiveness of international law, they can be considered entirely justified, but it is not the juridical character of the law which is at fault, rather the present state of that law which has failed on account of ambitions, egos, and a lack of mutual understanding among states, which must ultimately carry the blame.

.

On the face of it, this shelf-parched, soft-bound tome, written in France during the Second World War, did rather well to survive this far. I recently saved it from the oblivion of a book depository in Aquitaine. The year and location of its publication, the identity of its author, the subject and content, the small number of the imprint and even the quality of the paper it is printed on are all testament to the unlikelihood of its existence let alone the likelihood it may have anything of note to say to the modern reader. La Souveraineté Des États et L’Avenir Du Droit International (“The Sovereignty of States and the Future of International Law”) was written by my great-uncle Marek Stanisław Korowicz, whose story I have documented here previously. Marek, a professor of International Law, represented Poland at the League of Nations in the interwar period, specialising in the complicated sovereignty of the disputed territory of Silesia, with its Polish, German and Czechoslovak claims.

.

Marek after his defection from the Polish People’s Republic United Nations delegation in New York (September 1953)

.

When World War II broke out, Marek made his way east (visiting my father and grandparents briefly in Lwów), before escaping through Romania and making his way to France. There he joined the Polish 5th Rifle Regiment and fought with the French Army until its surrender. Already a fluent french speaker, he joined the intellectual underground, producing books and pamphlets denigrating the rise of fascism and communism. As he would later describe in his book W Polsce pod Sowieckim Jarzmem (“In Poland Under the Red Yolk”), he made the fateful decision to return to Poland in 1946 to recommence his work as a professor. He is best remembered for his dramatic escape from the Polish People’s Republic in 1953 by renouncing his diplomatic credentials to the United Nations in New York.

.

Cutting through the unopened pages with a paper-knife holds a specific fascination, not only for the light it shines on the personal circumstances of Marek in occupied France, but also for the aptness of its theme. That a man whose expertise is International Law should be going back to the drawing board in the midst of a brutal war in which every edifice and instrument of law seemed to have failed, and failed spectacularly, perhaps shows the tenacity of his choice of profession; but knowing as I do that he had lost his parents, siblings, and cousins in that war, had been living in exile and in fear of arrest, and within two years is going to return to his Polish homeland to discover that any hope of a just society there based on the rule of law will be crushed by a Soviet policy of political interference, administrative manipulation and the threat of military force makes the pages turn with a fatalism that stems from this reader’s qualified omniscience.

.

The final page notes that this book was written in Chambéry and Grenoble between March 1943 and March 1944. Marek was then working with the resistance movement. Following Italian occupation, the Germans invaded Grenoble in September 1943. The self-styled capital of the Maquis witnessed a year of sabotage, ambush, and brutal retaliation before the Germans finally withdrew on 22nd August 1944.

.

Marek survived the war in the French underground. As he was all too aware by the time he published this book in 1945, with the war finally at an end, the toll his own family had paid for being Jewish, or Polish, or educated would become tragically clear. His father had been successful Jewish lumber merchant Joachim Kornreich. Although Marek adopted the Polish surname Korowicz from the start of the Second Republic in 1918 and became a Catholic through marriage, his choice of profession and not his ethnic origins could very well have resulted in his extra-judicial murder if he had not managed to escape from occupied Poland in 1939. That was in fact the fate of his brother and fellow professor, my grandfather Henryk Korowicz who was murdered in Lwów in July 1941 along with 24 of his colleagues.

.

Marek dedicates the book to his parents whom he was not to see again. Eighty-year old Joachim was beaten to death by German soldiers in Lublin in 1939. Joachim’s wife Gisela disappeared into that charnel house of human slaughter where international law had been most ineffective.

.

29177820_10160106247660228_2451590881862483968_n

“To the memory of my Mother and my Father, murdered in Poland by the German occupier.”

 

COTTON-EYED JOE AND THE VEGETABLE LAMB OF TARTARY   Leave a comment

 

.

There is only one story (with two diametrically-opposed perspectives) to come out of and about Uzbekistan in September and early October – cotton. While the local press can literally re-publish last year’s or even last century’s paeans to the ennobling efforts of the Uzbek pakhtakor (cotton farmer) and the community spirit which sees the young and the old drop rattles and walking sticks and march patriotically-inebriated to the tune of the harvest-master’s bugle, Western human rights organisations retell an old gulag narrative with crypto-feudal barbarity represented by incumbent despot, the weak-chinned hard man Islam Karimov.

.

Stalin Tractor

Cotton-Eyed Joe always at the forefront of Soviet cultivation efforts in Central Asia.

.

The 2015 harvest gave us the by now sadly predictable reports of patriotic corvée with tragic absurdities. Farmers in the village of Shaharteppa were forced to glue the cotton back onto empty stalks for the visit of Uzbek Prime Minister  Shavkat Mirziyaev, who, like his president, expects to see (and be seen with) a blinding sea of white gold on his triumphant journey through the vibrantly blossoming land of his subjects. That the vizier’s cavalcade was two weeks late and the cotton already harvested would thus be no impediment. Nature, after all, is there to be bent to man’s will, and men and women to the great leader’s. But what is constructed fast and without foresight inevitably engenders consequences unpredictable and difficult to remedy. The building of the Great Fergana Canal in 1939 took forty-five days and over 160,000 volunteers with little mechanization to construct.  The photos and film of this exalted people’s project once provided a poignant propaganda; now they stand as a sad testament to the tragedy of despotic arrogance. Later, Stalin’s so called Great Plan for the Transformation of Nature which dared to further tame the steppe with canals and shelterbelts, to make fecund what once was barren, to inseminate the desert with Communist zeal, indeed contributed to Uzbekistan, on the very eve of Communism’s collapse, becoming the world’s largest exporter of cotton. Unfortunately, the syphoning of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers through a sieve-like canal network would make even the notion of sacrificing the Aral Sea for the well-being of man redundant. Last year, in the Olotsky and Karakulsky regions of Bukhara, women accused of prostitution were forcibly rounded up and sent to work the cotton fields to expiate their moral deficiencies. In the Alat district of Bukhara, women who weren’t accused of prostitution were told they would be if they didn’t get with the programme. In Gallaorol, the local headman ordered the arrest and two-day detention of Yusuf Esirgetov, chief doctor of the district hospital, for not fulfilling the cotton harvest quota assigned to the hospital. Dr. Esirgapov died of a heart attack several days after his release. That was his own fault of course. If the good doctor had applied more vigour in ordering his staff and patients (the fulfilment of national duty is an elixir stronger than antibiotics) to the fields, he would not have wound up in such an embarrassing pickle. That very logic is why ‘pass-the-persecution’ is a very Uzbek game. That is why school administrators threaten their staff with redundancy, why film studios threaten their actors with black-listing, professors threaten their students with bad grades, and ministers glower at their deputies with scowls pregnant with unspoken threats.

 .

As former Comrade No.1 Mr Karimov sealed his grip on the reins of power when the newly-independent and nominally democratic Republic of Uzbekistan morphed out of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic, tales of forced labour and child exploitation in the Fergana Valley’s cotton fields came to provide a seasonal rebuke to Uzbek authorities in the western press and the halls of the International Labour Organization, whose conventions Uzbekistan has ratified with all the sincerity of a fox at a poultry convention. But propaganda is as much self-inebriating as truth-manipulating. There may even be a sterling kernel of truth to the one economic argument for official persecution which radiates beyond the cotton fantasia of Uzbek patriotism. When state representatives raise an o-so-faux, scrupulously-inclined eyebrow at hypocritical capitalist double standards, chime they may, with a nonchalance the world’s other great garmentocracies would blush to enunciate, that if you don’t like your very reasonably priced shirts and bloomers stitched by impoverished, calloused childish hands from clothe woven and dyed by famished, forgotten fingers, and spun from cotton picked and washed by those who do not have a choice, don’t buy them. Well bless my cotton socks!

 .

Perhaps there is no surprise that a country which was once pulled like a rabbit from a hat by a Politbiuro-initiated plan for the national demarcation of Central Asia’s borders and exogenously ‘indigenized’ should suffer from cognitive dissonance down the line.  State-building has always demanded an adept degree of myth management and archetype juggling. The socio-economic raison d’être not to mention the socio-mythic contents of the project called Uzbekistan, from its fey fairy-tale inception in 1929, has a long-standing, almost mystical relationship with the miracle plant whose usefulness inspired wonder and gave free rein to fantastic imaginings going right back to the Middle Ages.

.

The vegetable lamb of Tartary

The Vegetable Lamb of Tartary

.

Gossypium, as the cotton plant is known to botanists, has played a significant role in world trade since the industrial revolution and may even provide evidence of pre-Columbine trans-continental migrations which preceded trade routes. Its usefulness is attested by its manifold applications: it can and has been found in some shape or form in the textile, food, automobile and paper industries as well as proving a vital component in many military and medical applications.  Related to hibiscus, okra and mallow, it was used by the ancient Chinese, Egyptians, and North and South Americans. It has been lauded as the pillar of economies by farm managers and politicians and lamented as a tool of enslavement by the millions of workers which this labour and land-intensive crop traditionally demanded.

.

Cotton’s influence on human history is evident in the anthropomorphic and zoomorphic evocations that this plant has inspired. James Hammond, a South Carolina Democratic senator, in his infamous defence of slavery as ‘the very mud-sill of society and of political government,’ gave pre-eminence to cotton as the life-blood of the American South, ‘the well-spring of wealth, stability and security, in short – King Cotton’. In medieval Europe, when cotton, even more than silk, was a coveted luxury, travellers such as Sir John Mandeville brought back tales from the east of the mysterious Lycopodium barometz, half-animal and half-cotton. Said to be a ‘plant whose shape is that of a lamb bearing a golden fleece’, Sir Thomas Browne wrote of it as the ‘vegetable Lamb of Tartary’. So vital  was its role in local economies that Marco Polo, in describing the provinces and kingdoms of Central Asia, frequently uses cotton as an indicator of assessing the ‘means of life’.

.

The Uzbek SSR’s flag, anthem, slogans, propaganda, politics and pageantry revolved like a centrifugal cotton ball at the reactor core of Soviet semiotics. It’s impossible to read any literature about the Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan, that jewel of the Jaxtartes, without having to consume an earnest encomium to this noble plant and the Marxian midwives of her fecundity in the once-parched lands east of the now-parched Aral Sea. In 1991, incumbent Uzbek leader Islam Karimov merely replaced one inscrutable state despotic symbol with another. Lenin might have had to cede his plinth to rape-and-pillage merchant Tamerlane but the cotton show continued to flourish, both as Uzbekistan’s chief economic export and, conveniently for the independent nation’s new president, a ready-made system of political docility and economic enslavement. Small farmers receive credits for cotton cultivation which they must pay back with their harvest. The state has the power to set the cotton price it buys at, which, naturally, results in the indebtedness of the farmer. Lenin may even now be boiling in his embalming fluids at this profoundly un-Soviet exploitation of the peasants.

.

In Uzbekistan, the cotton harvest is still touted as an annual ur-festival of community and camaraderie, as pure and fresh as a Komsomol picnic. Its flamboyant supernatural position within the state propaganda has ensured that it became the principle cypher for all that is excessive and unnatural about Uzbekistan outside the state.  (Imagine the US State of Wisconsin forced its citizens to fulfil their cheese destiny.) Of all the many injustices of ‘democratic’ Uzbekistan, from torture, terror, and arbitrary state theft, deciphering and demystifying the sorcery of cotton propaganda fills more column inches than any other.

.

When September rolls around again the same old stories of forced labour and child abuse will doubtlessly appear in the international and opposition press. And so too shall Uzbekistan’s government-controlled media emit jolly refrains about that all is joyous and ennobling in the cotton fields. How quaint, how community-spirited, how Soviet! In effect, the official position has not changed since 1929, though the barometer of state violence may read stormy or fair. I will leave the final word to a 1976 issue of the old Soviet newspaper covering all things industrial and true, Sotsialisticheskaya Industriya (whose banner reproduces an appeal from the Central Committee of the Communist Party to workers to ‘tirelessly struggle to increase productivity of labour, efficiency in production, and quality of labour in the name of the further growth of the socialist economy – being the building blocks of the Motherland’s greatness and the steady rise in the people’s prosperity.’) Amid predictable reports about miraculous growth in the Soviet economy and spiralling downturns in the doomed enterprises of the western capitalist states, the sports section presents an up-date on the USSR cycling championship, which was at that moment hurtling its way through Central Asia.

 .

“All along the race route the cyclists encounter slogans in Uzbek, Kyrgyz, Tajik, and Russian: “Everyone to the cotton harvest!” The harvest season for ‘white gold’ is in full swing. During their rest day the race participants have decided to add their own efforts to the harvest work.

With large sacks in their hands, the riders, judges, and accredited journalists spread out through the field of Andizhan’s “Kommuna” collective farm. Many are carrying hard cotton boxes in their arms for the first time. Naturally, victory in this additional ‘cotton stage’ of the tour by a significant margin was clinched by a member of the Uzbek team, master of sport A. Yudin.

Rest day over, and once again the busy task of the long-distance race gets under way. The trainers and team managers make their notes and work out their strategies for the second half of the race…”

.

What is a myth but a tale, a concoction, a lie told so often it becomes a liturgy. The wheels turn, recycling threadbare notions of false grandeur, pedalling an imaginary bicycle off a very real cliff. Plus ça change…

.

IMG_00022

DRAŻA THE SERBIAN CHETNIK IN THE POLISH UNDERGROUND   3 comments

.

What follows is the story of Dragan Mihajlo Sotirović, a figure known little outside Poland and Yugoslavia. A Serbian Captain who made a vital contribution to the efforts of the Polish Home Army in South-Eastern Poland during World War II. There is surprisingly little material available. It was certainly in the interests of the Communist Polish authorities and the Soviet Union to write him out of the history books of the Second World War.  And Tito, whom he met when both were guerilla fighters (and political opponents), would tar all chetniks with the collaborationist brush. There is a cinematic wholesomeness to his character, in the recollections of his friends and soldiers, so much so that I am still searching for Ukrainian, Yugoslav, or Soviet sources which might describe him as an enemy. The information here comes from Polish sources, including Jerzy Węgierski’s histories of Home Army operations in Lwów and Rzeszów, from Draża’s own memoir L’Europe aux Enchères (“Europe for Auction” – Paris, 1952), written in French immediately after the war, as well as the recollections of my father, who fought under his command in the 14th regiment of Jazłowiecki Lancers.

.

Draza 5

Dragan Mihajlo Sotirović (1912-1987)

.

.

From 1941, “Draża”, as he was known, fought as a chetnik in the Yugoslav Army, in the Ravna Gora Movement, where he served as the adjutant of General Dragoluba Mihalović, the royalist general and staunch enemy of Yugoslavia’s future leader, Joseph Broz Tito. He was captured by the Germans and transferred to a prison in Rawa Ruska, on formerly Polish territory. But his captors would underestimate his love of freedom. Draża was to make of escape a professional art. He escaped once from the Germans, three times from the Soviets, and avoided arrest countless times. Everyone seemed to have had a bounty out on his head at one time or another – Germans, Soviets, and the Ukrainain Insurrectionary Army.

Read the rest of this entry »

THE WHITE EAGLE AND THE BLACK EAGLE: A FOOTBALL LEGEND   Leave a comment

.

.coat_of_arms_of_poland_official

.

When the Soviet Union invaded Eastern Poland on September 17th 1939, Communist restructuring of society began immediately. Institutions of the Polish state were abolished, political enemies arrested, sent to the Gulag, or executed, academic institutions closed down or renamed, and the Polish currency abolished. My father, who was thirteen at the time, would recall another detail, the disbanding of the football team he supported – Czarni Lwòw. Any symbol of the old Polish order, which promoted a national identity deemed detrimental to Soviet interests was to be erased from the socio-political landscape. Czarni Lwòw was the first professional Polish football team, founded in 1903, at a time when Poland itself did not exist. In 1911, when Czarni, together with Wisła Kraków, created the Polish Football Association (the predecessor of the modern PZPN), they in fact played as part of the Austrian Football Union. The intricate interplay of nationality, politics, and sport, reflected the complicated multiethnic nature of Central Europe as a whole. Immediately after the founding of the Second Republic in 1918, Poland would fight no less than six border wars. For those who resided at the fault lines of collapsing empires and nascent nation states, the consequences were never going to be simple. Take the following case of a controversial figure, arguably one of the greatest European players of the interwar years, who came from the far side of the new Polish Republic, on the border with the new German Republic.

.

1083106_3

Ernst ‘Ezi’ Wilimowski (1916-1997)

.

.

POLITICAL FOOTBALL

The tempestuous relationship between politics and football has hardly a more talented and divisive personification than Ernst ‘Ezi’ Wilimowski who had the dubious distinction of playing for both the Polish and German national football teams, during a period which saw the decimation of Europe.

.

Ezi 2

.

Ezi, an ethnic German, was born in Kattowitz, Upper Silesia, then part of the German Empire, in 1916. After the First World War, Upper Silesia was partitioned and the three-year-old Ezi became a Polish citizen. His father had died in the war and his mother remarried an ethnic Pole. He spoke both German and Silesian Polish, and would always consider himself, if anything other than a footballer, an Upper Silesian (“Górnoślązak” or “Oberschlesier”). The left wing forward, who dominated the ekstraklasa during the 1930’s, a period of fledgling football success for the recently reconstituted Polish Republic, left a fine record. Pacey, agile, and inventive, he was renowned for his dribbling and goal scoring largesse (his team-mate and later 1954 World Cup-winning captain Fritz Walter, said of him: “He’s probably the only player in the world who’s had more goals than chances.”) He had six toes on his stronger right foot but scored more goals with his left. He netted one hundred and twelve times in eighty-six appearances for Ruch Chorzów, the Silesian powerhouse of pre-World War II Polish football, championship winners through 1933-1936, and 1938. He was the league’s top scorer twice, in 1934 and 1936, and was well set to make it a third in the 1939 season, but for the intervention of Hitler.

.

Ezi Warta Ruch 1937

.

.

FOUR PAST BRAZIL

His contribution to the Polish national team was equally impressive. His goal tally for the White Eagles was twenty-one in twenty-two outings. Although forced to sit out the 1936 Berlin Olympics football tournament due to a harsh one-year ban by the Polish Football Association for excessive drinking and carousing, he would get his chance to represent Poland at the 1938 World Cup in France. There the little-fancied Poles narrowly went down 5-6 against the great Leônidas da Silva’s Brazil, in a World Cup classic. Although the knockout system meant the Poles would only play one game, Wilimowski left an indelible mark on the international stage, becoming the first player in a World Cup game to score four goals. Even Poland’s other goal that day in Strasbourg came from a penalty (scored by another ethnic German Friedrich Scherfke) after Ezi had been taken down in the Brazilian penalty area.

.

Ezi Brazil

Ezi takes on Brazil and puts him name in the record books. Watch the highlights of the 11-goal thriller:

.

.

.

.

‘THE LAST GAME’

The next year, on August 27th 1939, at Warsaw’s Wojska Polskiego Stadium, Ezi would play in what Poles to this day call ‘the last game.’ Unbeknownst to fans who turned up to watch their team play World Cup runners-up Hungary, the ten-year non-agression pact signed just three days earlier by Germany and the Soviet Union (Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) contained a secret protocol which would soon result in the complete territorial dismemberment of Poland. The Poles had never beaten Hungary and gave themselves little chance. The sports daily Przegląd Sportowy, in a pre-game headline, which could have been a premonition of Poland’s soon-to-be fate off the football field, declared: ‘No chance, but ready to fight.” The visitors quickly went 2-0 up, before Ezi sprang to life and put three past Ferenc Sziklai the Hungarian keeper. The home team claimed a memorable 4-2 victory, and unwittingly provided the epitaph for football in the Polish Second Republic.

.

Ezi Wilimowski 1

Ezi wearing the German strip

.

EZI SWAPS EAGLES

After the German invasion of Poland, the football league was abolished. Ezi signed the German citizenship list, which allowed him, unlike his ethnic Polish team mates, to continue his playing career. Later on this decision would lead him to being branded a traitor and collaborator by Polish Communist authorities, as a result of which he would spend the remainder of his life in Germany. Was he a traitor, a pragmatist, or a Silesian who knew more than many about the vagaries of international politics? After all, he had been born a citizen of the German Empire only for the First World War and the Treaty of Versailles to conspire to change the goalposts of nations around him. He was not the only Silesian (Polish) footballer to take German citizenship. His national team mates Edward Jan Dytko (Dąb Katowice), Paweł Cyganek (Wawel Wirek), Leonard Franz Piontek (AKS Chorzów), and Wilhelm Antoni Góra (KS Cracovia) also took this path and would continue to play for German league teams post-1939. However, it was inevitable that players who made this pact would later be negatively compared to the many Polish players who fought and died off the football field. And perhaps especially to those football players who to their cost refused to allow themselves be used for Nazi propaganda (Austria’s Matthias Sindelar and, even if the details remain disputed, the Dynamo Kiev and Lokomotiv Kiev players associated with the controversial ‘death match’ story come to mind). But Ezi’s talent and thirst to play sealed his fate. It wasn’t so much the games he played in the German league for 1 FC Katowice, PSV Chemnitz, or TSV 1860 Munich (where he won the 1942 German Cup with a still unsurpassed tally of fourteen goals in the competition) which irked his former compatriots. His decision to play for the German national team (with the black eagle and swastika crest) would forever tarnish even his outstanding contribution to Polish football. He scored twice in his debut in a 4-1 victory over Romania, completed a hat-trick against Finland and memorably hit four past a decent Switzerland team. However, by late 1942, with fortunes changing in the war and a lack of opponents for ‘friendly’ fixtures, Nazi Germany would play no more. Ezi’s German career thus ended with an impressive goal tally of thirteen from eight games.

After the war, Ezi wished to return to Silesia but the new political landscape in Poland made his earlier decision to play for Germany seem treasonable. Some Germanified players, such as Edward Jan Dytko, did manage to return but only after careful scrutiny by the new Communist authorities and the signing of a declaration of loyalty to the Polish state. The fact that Ezi had played for the German national team, in games his detractors considered political propaganda, made his return more unlikely. He later said he feared for his safety and lived the remainder of his life in West Germany. He never played for any national team again. He continued to play as a journeyman striker with stints at SG West Chemnitz, Rapid Kassel, TSV Detmold, BC Augsburg, Racing Strasbourg, Offenburg FV, FC Singen 04, and VfR Kaiserslautern. He retired in 1959, at the age of forty-three.

.

.

GOALPOSTS AND NATIONS

Ezi’s decision to play for Nazi Germany would over-shadow and detract from his prodigious talent and historic contribution to football. In assessing that decision, it should be remembered that Polish history presented many challenges with regard to the issue of ethnic and national allegiance. Firstly, Poland did not exist as a state from the end of the eighteenth century until 1918. The first Polish football teams were in fact founded in 1903 in Lwòw, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They would later be disbanded by Soviet authorities when the Red Army occupied Eastern Poland in 1939. Teams such as Czarni Lwów, Pogoń Lwów, and Strzelec Wilno ceased to exist or were incorporated into newly established clubs when the territories they represented became part of the Soviet Republics of Ukraine and Lithuania. Thus the idea of ‘playing for the other side’ was often dictated by politics and was not necessarily an overtly political act by the players themselves. Nowadays, of course, we see little wrong with Silesian-born footballers with mixed Polish-German roots, such as Lukas Podolski (whose mother played for the Polish national handball team) or Miroslav Klose (whose father played football for Polish team Odra) choosing to play for Germany. This is a reflection of the intertwined histories of the two countries, painful at times, but inescapable.

The problem with Wilimowski’s decision was obviously the swastika on his new shirt and the bitter relevance of that symbol to Poland. He considered, naively, his only politics was playing football at the highest level but paid for that decision with exile and a fall from grace. Even as a star player in the national team, life wasn’t all rosy for Ezi in Nazi Germany. His mother was sent to Auschwitz for having a relationship with a Russian Jew, a race crime under Nazi law. He only managed to save her with the help of his friend the fighter ace Hermann Graf. On the other hand, he was afforded the opportunity to continue playing football, to avoid combat, and to survive.

When Kazimierz Górski’s outstanding Polish squad came to West Germany for the 1974 World Cup, the Polish Football Association refused a request from Wilimowski to visit their training camp. The message was clear: his legacy was divisive. Anyhow, the 1974 vintage would create their own legend, finishing third, and beating Argentina, Italy, and Brazil along the way. Their only loss, by a single Gerd Muller strike, was to the hosts and eventual champions. Perhaps they could have used some advice from the only player to ever score for and against Germany.

————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

©2013.

BEAR NECESSITIES   3 comments

.

78165691_Bear_249213c

Wojtek liked nothing better than a beer and a smoke

.

For the many Polish soldiers who fled to Britain after the war, in order to escape Stalin’s ill intentions, Wojtek the bear became a poignant symbol of their fate. An orphaned bearcub, who travelled far from his Persian home, who fought in a great battle on foreign soil, and who ended up not only an exile, but an inmate at Edinburgh Zoo – the story resonated with the Polish diaspora in post-war Britain. My father (also Wojtek and also newly landed on Scottish soil after years of fighting) once went to visit his namesake the Soldier Bear with some regimental buddies. When they shouted over the cage to him, this kind-hearted ursine wonder perked up immediately. Everyone said he best understood Polish for that was the language of his youth, and acted much like a soldier, for that was the life he had led.

.

Wojtek bear 7

.

.

POLISH RESETTLEMENT CORP

Wojtek the Soldier Bear and thousands of Polish soldiers followed the same route to Britain. On 22nd May 1946, British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin announced the creation of the Polish Resettlement Corp, which was a holding unit for the Polish forces who had fought for the Allies and didn’t wish to return to Poland. 160,000 qualified and 115,000 joined. Many soldiers brought family members with them and over 200,000 Poles eventually moved to Britain. They signed up to the Corps on a two-year contract, were paid British Armed Forces rates, and could avail of various opportunities for training and tuition. They could also be hired out to private contractors, and thus gain work experience. My father would do a stint in a pipe factory in Derby with a whole platoon of Poles. They transported the soldiers to Britain by ship. Ship after ship made this voyage, what would become the final stage of the exodus of Poles, the last shore.

.

Wojtek Edinburgh

.

.

PRIVATE BEAR

Wojtek was a most extraordinary soldier, and an even more remarkable bear. ‘Private Bear’, of the 22nd Artillery Supply Company, was a beer-swigging, cigarette-smoking Syrian Brown Bear. He had been found by a shepherd boy in Hamadan, Iran. The bear’s mother had been killed by hunters. The boy sold the cub to some Polish soldiers traveling through the desert.  In 1942, the Polish Army was assembling in the Middle East, after Stalin, his hand forced by Operation Barbarossa, had agreed to allow all Poles on Soviet territory (i.e. prisoners) to leave in order to form the Polish II Corp (see Sikorski-Mayski Agreement). The soldiers looked after the little cub, weaning him on condensed milk, and Wojtek became the Company mascot. He traveled with the army through Iraq and Palestine to Egypt.

.

Wojtek Bear 2

. Read the rest of this entry »