89 Books about Poland | Polish War Graves in Britain
In 1989 a Solidarity government was elected in Poland and almost 50 years of imposed Communist rule from Moscow was over. For Radek Sikorski living in exile in Britain it was time to return home. His parents had recently acquired a dilapidated manor house called Chobielin. The house was located not far from Radek Sikorski's native city Bydgoszcz in Western Poland.
For the Sikorski family the aim was to restore and rescue something of Poland's past. The hope was that in a few year's time their guests would think that communism had somehow spared this remote manor house. Rebuilding the house would be their contribution to rebuilding Poland.
Radek Sikorski writes that:
I had always wanted to live in a dworek. Every Pole does...A Pole sees himself as the proud resident of a dwór, a manor house, or dworek, a little manor house...A classic dworek is 18th or early 19th century...Thousands used to dot the length and breadth of Poland. A dworek is a calling...In the 19th century, when Poland was wiped off the map of Europe, Polishness was preserved in two places: in church by the peasants, and in the dwór, the manor house, by the nobility...Out of over ten thousand manor houses in Poland before the war, less than a thousand survived Communist rule, perhaps half of them in a salvageable state...they perished through stupidity and sloth. (pp. 7-9)
In 1981 Radek Sikorski visited Britain for a short stay but during his visit General Jaruzelski, leader of the Communist government in Poland, imposed martial law. Rather than return to Poland and face possible arrest he chose to remain in exile in Britain where he was granted political asylum. He studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Pembroke College, Oxford University. Between 1986 and 1989 he worked as a reporter covering the wars in Afghanistan and Angola.
In The Polish House he describes his childhood growing up under communism. His family sometimes holidayed outside Poland and travelled through Lwów (Ukraine), on their way to Turkey.
Lwów, once an easternmost output of Austro-Hungary, which had belonged to Poland until 1773 and between the world wars...Lwów itself had spoken mostly Polish for centuries...Hearing us speak Polish in the street, old men would often greet us and drag us inside a porch for a surreptitious conversation. They were people who had missed the boat and did not leave for Poland in the official ethnic cleansing of the 1940s and 1950s. "Do you have any Polish stamps?" one of the old men once asked me. He was white-haired, stooped, and looked at me, barely a teenager, with solicitous humility. "I just want to have something that comes from Poland." There was a religious reverence in the way he pronounced "Poland"...Lwów, unlike most of Eastern Poland had never belonged to Russia, not even during Poland's 19th century partitions. (pp. 37-38)
Radek Sikorski describes events he experienced in Bydgoszcz in the period leading up to the imposition of martial law and the arrest of the leaders of Solidarity. He also explains what happened in Bydgoszcz in 1939 after Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany.
On 5 September 1939, the first day of German occupation in Bydgoszcz, 50 secondary school students were shot there...Polish priests and teachers were specifically targeted for elimination and several dozen were executed...In all, historians estimate that about 120,000 people were exterminated during the war in the area between Bydgoszcz and Gdansk. (pp. 83-84)
In February 1992 Radek Sikorski was invited to join the Polish government as Deputy Minister of Defence. By June of that year the Prime Minister, Defence Minister and Radek Sikorksi had been dismissed from their posts. He returned to the solitude of Chobielin and could take stock of the progress made in rebuilding the house. By 1993 the manor house was half restored and by 1997 almost complete.
Radek Sikorski is married to the American journalist Anne Applebaum. He has a website at www.radeksikorski.pl