2014 Pierogi Party

Leon and Ewa’s 10th Annual Pierogi Party is now history! This year about 30 of us gathered and made about 433 pierogi, and consumed well over 1/4 of them as well. Now that the party is history, I’ve posted a “few” pictures from it. You can see them here: http://photos.leonkonieczny.com/2014%20Pierogi%20Party/.

A special thanks to all who attended, both old and new friends. We had a blast!

Thanks again from Leon and Ewa, as well as our elves, Tommy and Joe.

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I am in Poland every day of the week–yet at home in Florida, USA

I am totally blessed. You see, I get to spend some time in Poland every day of the week, and from the luxury of my home office in sunny Florida, USA. How do I do it? It’s easy, it’s called the Internet!  I am Facebook friends with a few people with ties to Poland, but much more so, I follow various Polish Facebook groups. This morning if got on Facebook only to discover a wonderful video from Kazimierz Dolny, a city I visited in 2010. But now I got to see the bird’s eye view, and got to see the castle ruins which were closed when I was there.

Every day when I check out Facebook, I find news and information and pictures about and from Poland. Often times they take me back to my visits there, and they always make me long to visit again. Yes, my heart truly is in Poland and i long to return again and again and again. But luckily through the modern miracle of the Internet, with Facebook and various web sites, i can wander the streets of Kraków one minute, see Kazimierz Dolny from the air another minute, and peruse a 150-year-old map of Galicia–where some of my ancestors lived–the next minute. It is wonderful. But it often brings two tears to my eyes. The first tear, for the memory of what I’ve already seen and experience. And the second tear, the longing to return again, to visit Poland and the Kresy (borderlands) to see and experience even more…..

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Battle of Vienna

It’s simple: on this day in history, September 12th, 1683, Europe and Christendom was saved from the Turk (Ottoman Empire) at the Battle of Vienna, led by Poland’s King Jan Sobieski III. Later proclaimed the “savior of christendom” by Pope Innocent XI, Sobieski led a coalition of German and Polish forces numbering around 100,000 against the Ottoman forces estimated at up to 300,000 who had besieged Vienna for months. In a series of strategic and decisive moves and battles, the combined Polish forces routed the Turks and sent them fleeing. Historians in general agree that this decisive battle ended nearly 300 years of Turkish contention for Christian Europe. To read details of the battle and the events leading up to it, read this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Vienna. If you’d like to know more about Jan Sobieski III, arguably one of the greatest kings of Poland and perhaps the most brilliant military commander of all time, I highly recommend you read the book Jan Sobieski: The King who Saved Europe by Militiades Varvounis–it is a wonderful biography of one of the greats of history and well worth your time. But on this day in history, September 12th, , 1683, the course of modern history was decisively change, due in large part to Poland, her army, and the leadership of one of her greatest Kings, Jan Sobieski III. Never forget!

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Book Review: Push Not the River

Push Not the River, by James Conroyd Martin, is a historic, romantic novel written somewhat in the grand tradition of Doctor Zhivago or Gone With the Wind. To call it “fiction” would do it no justice at all–it is set in late 18th Century Poland, in the years including the 3rd of May Constitution and leading up to the third partition of Poland in 1792. But it is also based on deeper history and true story, on the unpublished memoir of Anna Maria Berezowska.

In a sense, it is a grand novel of romance and intrigue, but on a deeper level, it provides a sense of the place of strong women in the history of Poland. Indeed, during the 125 years of the partition (and non-existence as a country) of Poland, it was in large part the matriarchy that kept alive the sense of Polish nationalism and pride which allowed Poland to emerge from World War I as a sovereign nation. Historic figures such as Tadeusz Kościuszko, (the last King) Stanisław August Poniatowski, and Russian Empress Catherine are woven throughout the fabric of this story, but it is the strong character of Anna and Zofia (cousins, but often at secret odds with each other), the main characters, that bring the story to life, woven around their trials and tribulations. The story is honest which makes it stark and tragic at times. Twists and turns of the storyline will keep you entertained and guessing. It’s not all pretty, it’s not all happy, but all along, you will learn a bit about late 18th century Polish culture, society, and politics–the good and the bad.

This is a heartwarming book and–good news–only the first in a trilogy of books Martin has written. I cannot wait to read the next two. This book kept me engrossed every bit of the way. I was impressed with how historical fact was interwoven seamlessly with the plot. The characters were wonderfully developed and seemed to leap off the page at me–I could almost see and feel and hear them and I felt totally drawn into the storyline, almost as if I was there, silently watching every event, every emotion, listening to every conversation.

I would heartily recommend this book on many levels. I’d previously given it as a Christmas gift to one of my sisters, and she dutifully passed it on to the others and to my sister-in-law–they all absolutely loved it (and the sequel too, which I plan to read soon). If you like romance, if you appreciate the place that strong woman have played in the course of history, and/or if you are interested (as I certainly am) in all things Polish, then you will absolutely love this novel. Once I started it, I had a hard time putting it down. It has my highest recommendation. I hope you love it, too! And by the way, it is available on Kindle, too–that’s how I read it!

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70 Years Ago Today

70 years ago today, at 5 PM local time, the Warsaw Uprising began. After 5 long years of Nazi occupation, having suffered the devastating loss of the whole Jewish Population, having suffered the loss of many Polish lives with countless others taken away as slave labor, and with the Russians (Soviet Army) just across the river, the remaining Polish people of Warsaw rose up against the Nazis. Vastly outnumbered and outgunned, they held the huge German army at bay for two months. Help from the Russians never came–they were content to watch the Nazis slaughter the Poles. Help from the Allies never came either–Stalin would not allow American and British planes to use Russian bases to refuel. To his defence, Churchill pleaded with Stalin and Roosevelt, to no avail. The people of Warsaw fought on–alone in the world.

It did not end well. When the Warsaw Uprising finally ended nearly two months later, 12,000 Polish soldiers/fighters were dead, and 150,000 to 200,000 citizens were dead, many through Nazi mass executions. 25% of the city was in ruins. But that was just the beginning. Furious that the Poles resisted (and that they were so successful at it), Hitler ordered the city leveled. the remaining 700,000 or so Poles were expelled and the city was leveled, block by block. At the end of the war, no more than 1000 or so people were left in the once grand city.

And so today, at 5 PM, in Warsaw, for one minute, horns and sirens will sound, and all people will stop for a minute and remember what started 70 years ago. They stand today in one of the largest cities of Europe with a population of 1.7 million, the bustling a vibrant, totally rebuilt, capital of Poland, a triumph of freedom and human will–today Poland stand proud as a free country, but does not forget what happened 70 years ago today, nor the fact that Russia and the allies stood idly by and did nothing.  Pamiętamy! 

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Battle of Grunwald

Today, July 15, 2014, marks 604 years since the Battle of Grunwald in 1410. It was at this battle that the combined forces of the Kingdom Poland and the Duchy of Lithuania once and for all decisively defeated the German Teutonic Knights. Their crushing defeat resulting in the Peace of Toruń (1411) and finally the Peace of Melno (1422), but this battle effectively “broke the backs” of these unwelcome “visitors” and it marked the rise of the Polish–Lithuanian union as the dominant political and military force in central and Eastern Europe.

Though long gone from Poland, the Teutonic Knights left behind a “wonder” of Poland that is not to be missed, Malbork Castle, the largest brick castle in Europe. I was fortunate to visit Malbork on my first tour of Poland, and I posted some of my photos from that tour. It is a fascinating place.

But never forget the events of 604 years ago when Poland emerged as a dominant power in Central/Eastern Europe.

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On this day in Polish history…. June 27th

June 27th is a significant day in Polish history for two events that happened on this day, 48 years apart, in 1581 and in 1629. Both events are a source of great pride for all of us who are of Polish descent.

27 June 1581 — On this day in Mogilev, Russia, occurred one of the most lopsided battles in history. A force of about 1000 Polish troops including 200 elite Polish hussars (Cavalry) prevented a 30,000+ strong Tatar/Russian army from storming the city for seven hours. When 300 cavalry came in the aid of the hussars, along with villagers, the combined Polish force chased the enemy away, a total route. Later that year, Polish King Stephen Bathory invaded Muscovy and laid siege to the city of Pskov.

27 June 1629 — On this day occurred what is known as the Battle of Trzyciana. In short summary, the twice-larger forces of King Gustav II Adolf, by many historians considered to have been one of the most outstanding military leaders in history, was routed by the much smaller sized force let by Polish Hetman (military leader) Stanisław Koniecpolski, considered to be one of the greatest military leaders of the all time for the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Their success in this battle effectively ended this particular religiously driven attempt by protestant Sweden to invade Europe. The battle was a stunning victory for Poland and her allies.

And now you know the rest of the story!

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Wolność — Freedom

As I write this, it is June 5th, what I’ll call a ‘tween day. It is the day between two historically significant days in the history of Poland.

On June 4, 1989, the Third Republic of Poland rose from the shadows of communism and 40-some years of Soviet domination. On June 4th 2014, Poland celebrated 25 years of freedom. At last, real freedom.

Poland25YearThe road to freedom for the Third Republic of Poland was a difficult one, but it came as all Poles knew it would one day. In some sense, that road to freedom began in earnest with the event we will celebrate tomorrow, June 6th–the 70th anniversary of the Allied Invasion of Normandy in World War II. Some Polish troops participated in the invasion of Normandy, but even more were involved in many other aspects of World War II, from pilot who helped defend Britain during the Battle of Britain Bombardment, to the soldiers who finally captured Monte Cassino in Italy 70 years ago this May.

But, it’s not a time to dwell on war and it’s aftermath, not a time to dwell on the sad fate of post-war Poland, handed over as a prize to the Soviets, not the time to dwell on the past. Today is a day to look at the accomplishments of Poland, at one time in history the largest and most powerful nation in Europe. And today, Poland again stands strong and proud. Not only the people of Poland, but all people of Polish descent, and all people who love freedom have something to be proud of today, the fact that freedom does win. Poland is a living example. Happy 25th!

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Święty Jan Paweł II — Saint John Paul II

Today is a historic day for many Poles all over the world. On this day, the first Polish Pope was made a saint. To me, personally, this is a very amazing event, and a day for celebration not only for those of Polish heritage, but for freedom-loving people all over the world.

In August of 1978, I was just starting my first year as a teacher in a Catholic High School in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, Pacelli High School. I’d never taught before and had just completed a year of seminary–I had studied to be a priest and was taking a break from that. So in that August, I walked into a classroom fresh with an attitude of hope and idealism and the part I could play in the formation of young people. I walked into this in the midst of a new Pope being elected, John Paul I. Of course there was a lot of talk about the Papacy in my classes, since the elect of the new Pope was fresh in everyone’s mind.

Image our surprise only a month later to learn of the death of this new Pope who had brought a serene and calm sense of moderation to the church. So we all watched the process for the next election of the Pope, the ceremony, the tradition, watching for the white or black smoke…it was a good learning experience.

And then it happened, there was white smoke, a signal that a new Pole had been elected! But the news was even more astounding to all of us–the new Pope was not only Polish, but a man who had visited Stevens Point two years early as Cardinal Karol Wojtyła! For many people of Stevens Point who had seen and heard him speak and offer mass two years earlier, this was indeed a memorable and joyous occasion.

Stevens Point is a heavily Polish town, many are descendants of the Kashubs of northwest Poland, and more from other areas of Poland. Cardinal Karol Wojtyła visited the area because of it’s heavy Polish descent. He visited a local farm, gave a lecture at the University, said Mass at a local predominantly Polish parish, and visited with religious sisters, some of whom were a Polish order, the Felicians. It was at the time a memorable visit, but made all the more so by his election to the Papacy.

I remember at the time, the great excitement and sense of pride felt by my students and the people of Stevens Point. It was pride as a person of Polish descent, pride that for the first time ever, a Pole had been elected Pope, and pride by many that they’d been fortunate enough to meet/see him previously. It was a great feeling.

Through the years, I’ve followed the comings and going of Pope John Paul II. He visited many countries, always preaching a message of peace. As Pope, he set a lot of “firsts.” He visited 129 countries. First Pope to visit the White House. First Pope to visit the western wall in Jerusalem, and the list goes on.

But the story of his most amazing journey is not widely known, though it’s consequences literally changed the world. In 1979, he visited his native Poland for the first time. It was, truly, a visit that changed the course of history. The communist government of Poland was anxious to show Poland–a deeply and devoutly Catholic country–that event though there was a Polish Pope, that did not diminish their capacity to govern, oppress, and direct Polish society. Boy, were they wrong! In the estimation of many scholars, it was his trip to Poland in 1979 that lead to the formation of the Solidarity trade union (Solidarność) and the eventual fall of Communism.

But here in the USA, we really don’t know much about what really went on during that first visit to Poland, nor the scope of it. The Communists were interested in using his visit for their own propaganda–to show that they were still in charge. The movie Nine Days that Changed the World really tells the whole story. And I have heard the story told by people in Poland who lived through it, and people who saw the Pope when he was there. This is the rest of the story.

When he arrived in Warsaw, the first thing Pope John Paul II did was kiss the ground, the ground of his native land. The motorcade through Warsaw saw the streets lined with two million people. 2,000,000. The open air Mass at Victory Square was attended by 250,000 people. To see him during that first  visit to Poland (and subsequent visits), people walked dozens of miles, waited patiently in huge throngs of people, if only to hear a few words or to catch a glimpse of the Pope. Polish pride was enormous.

The Pope’s visit to Poland culminated 8 days later in Kraków, the city in which he’d been Cardinal/Archbishop. That day, June 10, 1979, began with a Mass on the Krakow commons attended by a crowd of two to three million people. During his visit to Poland, it’s estimated that 13 million people saw him. He brought a glimmer of hope to a nation that had been oppressed by communism for 35 years, a nation that has time and again risen from the ashes. And he set helped set in motion and support the underpinnings of what would eventually become the Solidarity Trade Union and helped lead to the eventual downfall of Communism and the freedom of Poland and many other countries.

So, today, as a Polak myself (American by birth, Polish in my heart), I am proud to see a new saint, Saint John Paul II. I did not always agree with his rather conservative church policies and views, but I wholeheartedly agree with his humanistic views. I, too, am a proud Pole today.

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Walentynki — Valentine’s Day in Poland

Valentine’s Day has been celebrated in Poland in recent times–since the collapse communism and the opening of Poland’s borders. Poles were very quick to adopt Valentine’s Day, and now it’s very popular, as much in Poland as anywhere else.

Poles celebrate Valentine’s Day (Walentynki) with heart-themed items including greeting cards, candies and cookies and other gives. Many restaurants and resorts offer special romantic packages as well.

Some Poles make a pilgrimage to Chełmno, a small town in west-central Poland where some relics of the real St. Valentine have been preserved for hundreds of years at the local church. In fact, it has become a multi-day event in Chełmno where the main square becomes a fairyland with a huge electronic heart that glows in the night. The festivities end with a spectacular fireworks display.

Wszystkiego najlepszego z okazji Walentynek!  Happy Valentine’s Day!

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