Both the Germans and the Soviets treated
occupied Poland’s cultural tradition with exceptional brutality.
They tried to choke and paralyse its rich resources, destroy its
nationally conscious and unyielding intelligentsia. ‘Sonderaktion
Krakau’ on 6th November 1939 symbolised the
infliction of German terror on the Polish academic world, but
the Soviets also had their version of ‘intelligenzaktion’.
In response, a cultural self-defence emerged. Alongside the
underground military and political resistance, a struggle for
cultural legacy began.
Although Polish Underground State
patronage was not a major policy priority in the years
1939-1945, it was practised on a daily basis together with
spontaneous private sponsorships of scientific, literary and
artistic works. In wartime conditions this primarily meant
providing broad material support for academics, writers, artists
and their families. A separate activity of Underground State
patronage was to provide conditions in which these people could
continue their work. Efforts were made to save from looting or
destruction works of art in state and private collections,
museums, libraries and archives, such as those of Jan Matejko.
As the continuator of the Republic of
Poland, the Polish Underground State automatically became an
active patron of Polish culture, science and art. Actions to
protect Polish culture were left to various homeland cells of
the Government Delegature (Delegatura). An exceptional
role was played by the Department of Culture and Art, which was
put in charge of: literature, the theatre, libraries, archives,
monuments, museums, music and fine arts. A special team
efficiently realised the Underground State’s patronage of
literature and theatre. Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz was put in charge
of dividing financial support among the various writers. A
particular example of Government Delegature patronage was its
sponsorship of the underground publications of works by, for
example, Winston Churchill, Arkady Fielder and Jan Kisielewski
as well as 10,000 copies of a Polish primary-school primer.
Likewise the Department of Labour and
Social Care provided social support and patronage for Polish
scientists and artists. In the autumn of 1944 the Krakow
Regional Delegature Department of Social Care organised the
so-called ‘Warsaw Action’ to help 132 families of Warsaw
academics. Also deserving distinction was the Wilno Delegature
Department of Social Care – headed by Fr. Aleksander Lachowicz
(alias ‘Leszczyna’ – Hazel) – for the consistent help it
provided for a number of representatives the cultural and
artistic world. It was the initiative of the Department for the
Elimination of the Effects of War to register and document of
lost cultural treasures. Its first report on robbery or
destruction of works of art was sent to the Polish
Government-in-Exile in 1940, when the latter was still in
France. Finally, the Department of Internal Affairs issued
decrees for the protection of monuments of Polish culture as
well as also overseeing actions of patronage and social care for
artists and scientists.
Another important patron of Polish
culture was the Catholic Church. Apart from protecting a large
part of society (including Jews), it took special care of
scientists and artists. Here a great contribution was made by
Archbishop Adam Sapieha. One of the forms of help was to employ
artists in restaurants located next to places of worship. Help
was also provided by various Catholic organisations (which were
usually banned by the occupying authorities), including: the
‘Caritas’ Union, Marian Sodality, ‘Odrodzenie’ (Rebirth)
Academic Association and Catholic Action. During the war the
Franciscans of Krakow kept in hiding the stained-glass panels of
Stefan Wyspianski and Józef Mehoffer. Patrons of another sort
were the aristocracy and landed classes. Many a palace and manor
house became a sanctuary for people of science and culture.
Aristocrats and landowners provided their ‘lodgers’ with a roof
over their heads, their upkeep and conditions for them to
continue their work. An example of such a patron was Janusz
Radziwill of Nieborów.
The only charities that could provide
help on broad scale were those organisations legally recognised
by the occupant, above all the Chief [Social] Care Council (Rada
Glówna Opiekuncza – RGO). Apart from the help provided to
deportees, ordinary prisoners, POWs from the Stalags and
Oflags as well as refugees from Wołyn (Volhynia) and
Podole (Podolia), this charity also assigned money to save the
nation’s culture. It was the RGO that protected the musicians,
painters, sculptors and graphic artists of Warsaw and Krakow.
The financial situation of artists and
academics depended on their stance with regard to the occupant.
Most were no longer able to officially continue their
professions. Nonetheless, a large percentage did not desist.
Wartime artistic groups appeared, e.g. ‘Bacciarelówka’ in Warsaw
and the Young Painters Group in Krakow. And there were wartime
commissions from private art collectors and patrons. Thanks to
such people, secret artwork presentations and exhibitions were
held in Krakow, Warsaw, Lwów, Wilno, Lublin, Radom, Sandomierz,
Kielce, Zakopane, Nowy Sacz and Bialystok. Secret State agencies
were among the most important sponsors and patrons of fine art.
Artwork commissions came from the Home Army Chief Command Bureau
of Information and Propaganda (BIP) as well as various
Government Delegation cells. The above-mentioned Department of
Culture and Art not only provided social care but also financed
art, issued scholarships and commissioned paintings and
The Government Delegation also concerned
itself with music. Thanks to it, despite the limitations and
persecutions, the Polish music movement did not quite vanish.
Participating in clandestine concerts even became an act of
resistance of sorts. Artistic cooperatives, such as those in
Warsaw and Krakow, were another type of patron. A similar role
was played by private sponsors, antique bookshops, art salons
and cafes. The Clandestine Theatre Company provided financial
support for actors who boycotted official German controlled
productions. Thus a privately funded underground theatre
emerged. The performances (recitals) were held in private homes,
schools and churches. On of the actors of the Rapsodyczny
Theatre in Krakow was Karol Wojtyła.
In a time when the nation’s very
existence was under threat the importance of books increased.
The occupying powers drove Polish literature underground. They
destroyed collections, including: the Sejm and Senate Library,
the Przedziecki Estate Library, the Zamoyski Estate Library and
the Central Military Library together with the Rapperwilski
Collection. Thus a genuine war for books was waged. Secret
distribution networks were set up in Warsaw, Krakow, Lwów,
Grodno, Wilno, Mielec, Przeworsk, Rzeszów, Brozów and Nowy Sacz.
Thanks to the Krakow bookseller and publisher Stefan Kamiński,
many books that had been plundered by the Germans were
eventually salvaged. Kaminski was also a patron who secretly
commissioned 200 scientific and literary works, some 300,000
[copies] of which appeared after the war. This was a frequently
practised form of sponsorship. Contracts were signed, after
which the authors received advanced payments or royalties.
Stanislaw Arct was a ‘book patron’ in Warsaw. The Gebethner and
Wolff publishing house paid royalties to among others: Kornel
Makuszynski, Juliusz Kaden-Bandrowski, Jan Marcin Szancer, Zofia
Nalkowska and the family of Leon Kruczkowski, who was at the
time in a German POW camp for officers (Oflag). Other
organisations to issue royalties were Ossolineum and the
printing houses Biblioteka Polska, Nasza Ksiegarnia
Trzaska-Evert-Michalski, the Lwów Atlas Library and Poznań Sw.
[St.] Wojciech. The journalist and satirist Zbigniew Mitzner
made advanced payments for 150 works and signed a contract with
the young poet Krzysztof Kamil Baczynski.
One cannot fail to mention the wartime
émigré support and patronage. Though it was not directed
exclusively at Polish communities, much of it went to the
occupied homeland. The exiled Polish authorities also
coordinated the registering and documenting of Polish works of
art that had been either destroyed or plundered by the Germans.
An important part of art sponsorship from abroad was instigated
and managed by the National Culture Foundation (reactivated on
10th January 1940).
Wartime patronage, both from within
occupied Poland and by émigré circles, was treated very
seriously. The significance of protecting national culture was
universally recognised. Although the lives of many artists and
academics as indeed many works of art could not be saved from
destruction, nowhere else in occupied Europe was
underground-state and private patronage so comprehensive and
effective. The Polish Underground State was free from any
ideological bias and protection of items deemed to be of
particular value was never motivated by political sympathies.
This was a society’s struggle to defend its national bonds of
memory, culture and tradition.
Dr G. Ostasz
Translation from Polish: W. Zbirohowski-Koscia