Museum—testimony of human suffering and unhuman strength of survival - Muzeum Pamięci Sybiru

17 September 2021

Museum—testimony of human suffering and unhuman strength of survival

I was driven by a desire to fulfill the Sybiraks’ dreams to create a place where their steadfastness and fortitude would be commemorated, said the Mayor of Bialystok Tadeusz Truskolaski during the opening of the Sybir Memorial Museum. – Poles are like grass, war can pass over them, but they get up every time; they come back to continue their old life – emphasized the President of the Republic of Poland Andrzej Duda.

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The ceremony was attended by the President of the Republic of Poland Andrzej Duda, the former President Bronisław Komorowski, the Deputy Speaker of the Sejm Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Culture, the Minister of National Heritage and Sport Piotr Gliński, the Mayor of Bialystok Tadeusz Truskolaski and the representatives of local government authorities. The president of the Siberian Union, Kordian Borejko, was also present, the hierarchs – Bialystok Metropolitan Archbishop General Józef Guzdek, the Orthodox Archbishop of Bialystok and Gdansk, Archbishop Jakub, Bishop of the Evangelical-Augsburg Church Jerzy Samiec and the Mufti of the Republic of Poland Tomasz Miśkiewicz. The special guests were Marta Herling, the daughter of Gustaw Herling-Grudziński, Sybirak Elżbieta Smułkowa, the first Polish ambassador to Belarus, and Henryka Pagniello née Bogusławska. Krystyna Nowakowska, the daughter-in-law of the last pre-war president of Bialystok, Seweryn Nowakowski, was also present. Next to them sat several hundred Sybiraks, who came from all over Poland.

The ceremony began with the emission of a short film, a moving impression presenting the creation of the Sybir Memorial Museum, activities for the benefit of Sybiraks and building an intergenerational community of memory.

Then, at the request of the Mayor of Bialystok, Tadeusz Truskolaski, the wife of the last President of the Republic of Poland in exile, Ryszard Kaczorowski, Karolina, who died on August 21 this year, was commemorated with a minute of silence.

In his speech, the city governor referred to the collective memory of Poles, for whom the word Sybir has a sinister meaning as a symbol of millions of victims, including hundreds of thousands of Poles: – This is a gloomy word with a curse of silence. He drew attention to the less remembered threads of history – pioneers, scientists, industrialists and inventors, who not only as exiles, but also willingly took the risk of settling in a distant country: – Their traces are still there today. This is another interesting page of our national epic.

Referring to the opening of the museum, Mayor Truskolaski said: – I was driven by the desire to fulfill the dreams of Sybiraks, to create a place where their steadfastness and fortitude would be commemorated. The memory of everyday heroism that could not be talked about for decades. The museum was a response to a real social need, he emphasized. – The stories have been collected in one place and shown in many dimensions. They show the heroism of ordinary people put in extraordinary situations.

– Bialystok, our city – emphasized Truskolaski – has always been at the edge of the Borderlands. Today, it is the most eastern Polish city, where traces of the mixing of nations and cultures have survived. Right next to us, there is an exceptional place – the Poleski Railway Station, today Fabryczny, from which transports of people considered dangerous departed from its siding. The walls that witnessed deportations are today the seat of our museum – he emphasized. The establishment of the Sybir Memorial Museum is – as Mayor Truskolaski assessed – an event of such importance as the opening of the Warsaw Uprising Museum in the capital city during the term of Mayor Lech Kaczyński in Warsaw.

– Establishing the museum required knowledge, work and commitment – said the Mayor of Białystok. – I am proud that this project was successfully implemented in our city. We, from Bialystok, know that preserving the memory of Sybir is an obligation and not an easy mission.

In his speech, the President of the Republic of Poland, Andrzej Duda, also emphasized the role of Bialystok and the new museum in bringing the memory of the Sybir experience: – This is an important place documenting difficult years, showing life: tragedy, suffering, but also how Poles coped. Poles are like grass, war can pass over them, but they get up every time; they come back to continue their old lives – he said. – I am glad that this next important institution was established here in the beautifully developing Bialystok. It is a modern museum that combines tradition with modernity. Thank you for the contribution of your hearts and talents so that the museum could be created and can be visited by those who experienced the hardships of exile, by their loved ones, but also by young people – to see the difficult testimony of those times and how important Poland was for previous generations: free, sovereign, independent. – he finished.

The former President, Bronisław Komorowski mentioned that Sybir is an important foundation of the identity of many Polish families. He spoke, holding a family memento in his hand: – This is a mug from the prison in Lukiszki in Lviv. My great-aunt Zofia Komorowska-Majewska, was imprisoned in early 1940 as one of the first female political prisoners. Before the Germans entered the country, the Soviets decided to transport political prisoners deep into the country. Rushed to the railway station, my aunt practically grabbed the cup and took it with her to the freight car – the fromer president explained the origin of the item. – My aunt devoted her whole life to serving God, the homeland and the family – said Bronisław Komorowski. – I remember numerous conversations with her. One of the thoughts she conveyed to me, now I convey: patriotism should not be talked about, it should be practiced. You should not have a mouth full of phrases, but have the love of the Fatherland in your heart. Let the mug remind about it, ”he added, and handed the souvenir to the Mayor of Bialystok, who handed over the artifact to the director of the Sybir Memorial Museum.

The vice-speaker of the Seym, Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska in her speech reminded of an important role of women: – In the days of the Tsar, women went East to strengthen men. The memory of Sybir is very important because it is our identity. The authorities did not talk about it, but at home this knowledge was passed on, at home our story was told by our uncles and “grandmothers” – she added.

The Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Culture, National Heritage and Sport Piotr Gliński read a letter from the Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki. “We have a duty to nurture and transmit the historical truth about crimes,” wrote the Prime Minister, “we must guard it and fight for it. Initiatives such as the Sybir Memorial Museum build our community, remind our relatives and the values that unite us ”. Sharing his own reflections, the Deputy Prime Minister recalled the years of his work at the University of Bialystok: – I saw how vibrant the Sybiraks community is here. My students conducted research among them. The minister emphasized the role of state authorities in the creation and development of modern cultural institutions: – The state fulfills its duty by modernizing and building over 200 museum investments throughout Poland.

After the representatives of state and local authorities, the chairman of the Siberian Union, Kordian Borejko, spoke about the importance of today’s date: – Today, 82 years after the tragic date of the Soviet aggression, we are participating in the opening of the Sybir Memorial Museum, the only one in Poland and in the world, where the history of human suffering and inhumanity comes alive. survival forces. I am touched and taken over by the momentum and reverence with which the museum was created, a joint work of Sybiraks, local authorities and the government. The huge steel poles symbolizing the Siberian taiga make a great impression. Authentic wide tracks that stay in our memory. Many emotions and memories are evoked by the monument of the Sybirak Mother monument – he admitted. – As Sybiraks, we belong to the last generation of exiles who, being children, got to know the hell of exile, and deserve salvation mainly for their heroic mothers – he said and quoted a fragment of a poem by Marian M. Jonkajtys about the “superhuman power” of motherly love. Sybirak ended his speech with an appeal: – What one generation has gone through, the other is remembered by the heart and memory. Let us dedicate today’s meeting, our respect and remembrance to all those who suffered the greatest sacrifice, their own lives, realizing the dream of a free homeland. Let’s remember them and let their dreams come true and come true. In the relay race of generations, we pass the baton to the young, leaving our mark in the museum that is opened today. Take care of the museum, young friends. I wish your life to be free from war, crime, suffering and human tragedies. Glory to the victims of Siberian hard labor!

Professor Elżbieta Smułkowa, a Sybirak, the first Polish ambassador to Belarus, in her speech referred to the perspective of a child: – I have to focus on three key words: Katyn, Sybir, Mother. My father, a forest engineer, was arrested by the NKVD in Lviv on March 23, 1940. Please feel the picture – she said. – I am awakened by strange, sharp voices. My parents ‘and sisters’ bedding is empty. I run to the open door, a Soviet soldier with a rifle is standing at the entrance. I go back to the crib, my father enters, followed by a civilian. My father kisses me and slips my wedding ring into my hand. “Remember whose baby girl you are,” she says. That was the last time I saw him. Mother kept the wedding ring through the hardships of Sybir. She passed it on to me when I got married, I still wear it today – she continued. – The most important message that I would like to leave is a sense of admiration, gratitude, even tribute to our Mother, to our Sybirak-Mothers who were our cover. They themselves, in extremely difficult conditions, had no one to cover them like this. Their husbands, home, and everything that was close to them were taken from them. They were thrown with the children into extremely difficult conditions. Thanks to our mothers, these conditions hardened us and helped us to live an interesting life, convinced that all violence is evil and that no one has the right to put himself above others.

The daughter of Gustaw Herling-Grudziński, Marta Herling, referring to the experiences her father described in “A World Apart”, spoke about her own experience, which was a visit to the Russian Jercewo. – I would never have thought, neither would my father, that one day I would come on a pilgrimage of remembrance to the place of his imprisonment. Jercewo is also a part of the memory that the Sybir Memorial Museum restores and passes on to visitors, especially the younger generation, in the name of the principle of truth and justice. It is a historical monument showing the suffering of mankind who experienced the camps. The museum is like a seal that is imprinted on us. Here we find a house that welcomes us – she added.

Later in the ceremony, the hierarchs said prayers for the deceased, but also for the creators and visitors of the museum, calling for “this place to learn history and inspire people to be servants of peace.”

After the memorial call ended with a salute of honor, the ceremony culminated. The Mayor of Bialystok and Henryka Pagniello née Bogusławska, a Sybirak passed the Bell of the Piłsudski Brothers – Józef and Bronisław commemorating all Sybiraks. The story of the Bogusławski family from Bargłów was recalled earlier by the mayor of the city in his speech. Henryka’s parents, Marianna and Edmund, were arrested after the Soviets entered. By the decision of the Soviet authorities, five of their children were to be deported as “children of the enemies of the people”. Their grandfather made a heroic decision to join his grandchildren to protect them in exile. Thanks to him, the children survived and met their parents in the country.

Henryka Pagniello, together with the Mayor of Bialystok, raised the bell, and the strike of its heart symbolically inaugurated the activity of the Sybir Memorial Museum.

At the end of the ceremony, representatives of the authorities and honorary guests walked over to the “Sybirak Mother” monument to lay a wreath under it. The President of the Republic of Poland and the Mayor of Bialystok lit symbolic candles that they placed in front of the museum – on the tracks that remember the times of deportation.

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