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THE LAST RESIDENT OF THE LUBOMIRSKI FAMILY GENERAL MIECZYSŁAW SMORAWIŃSKI – AUDIOGUIDE
Welcome to the exhibition “The Last Tenant of the Lubomirski Palace – General Mieczysław Smorawinski”. The exhibition presents the life story of Brigadier General Mieczysław Makary Smorawiński. It portrays him as a hero, a soldier and a commander, but above all as a human being: a loving son, a caring husband and father. The exhibition is broken up into three sections, each focusing on a different aspect of Smorawiski’s life: his military service for Poland, his personal life, and the events leading up to his untimely death. The general’s life story allows us to remember and commemorate the victims of the crime committed by the Soviets against Polish officers during the Second World War in the Katyn Forest. A crime for which the perpetrators never faced justice. It is in 2023 that the 80th anniversary of the revelation of the existence of the Katyn pits, where 4410 bodies of Polish officers were found, including General Mieczysław Smorawiński, the hero of our story.
More than 200 exhibits are on display for the first time and they make up the largest collection related to Mieczysław Smorawiński. The collection includes trinkets, personal memorabilia and documents. They were donated by the general’s family to the Museum of Martyrdom – a branch of the National Museum in Lublin. In this way, the museum became the holder of the only collection in Poland of artefacts associated with Mieczysław Smorawiński.
General Smorawinski had ties to Lublin in his final years. From 1934 until the outbreak of the Second World War, he lived and worked in the Lubomirski Palace – the current home of the Museum of the Eastern Lands of the Old Republic, at 3 Litewski Square. At the time, he was serving as commander of Corps District No. II. On 14 September 1939, he left Lublin to never return.
So let’s hear about who the protagonist of the exhibition was.
2. Mieczysław Makary Smorawiński
Mieczysław Makary Smorawiński was born on 25 December 1893 in Kalisz and grew up in Turek. He was the second of Marianna and Jan’s eight children and the grandson of Makary, an insurgent from the January Uprising. Both he and his siblings were brought up in the spirit of Polish patriotism. All the brothers fought in battles for Poland’s independence. As a teenager, Mieczysław was already involved in youth organisations working for the independence movement. He was even arrested for acting against the Russian partitioners. After completing high school, he began studying chemistry at the Polytechnic in Lwów, but the outbreak of the First World War prevented him from graduating. In 1914, he completed the officers’ course of the Polish Rifle Squads, joined the Polish Legions and fought successfully against the Russians on the eastern front in the First World War.
Move on to hear about Smorawiński’s time in the army.
3. The Legions and the Polish Army
We are in the first part of the exhibition “THE LEGIONS AND THE POLISH ARMY”.It shows the early period of Smorawinski’s time in the army between 1914 and 1921. In this space, we can see unique correspondence from battle on the frontline, shown for the first time, and photographs of soldiers from the Polish Legions and the Polish Army. A particularly valuable exhibit is the silver cigarette case, a kind of talisman that protected Smorawinski during Polish-Ukrainian battles. This part of the exhibition is accompanied by a multimedia presentation and Legionary songs, which recreate the atmosphere of the 1920s. Here we see awards and medals, official documents like diplomas and identification cards, and finally private correspondence that shows Smorawiński as a doting son, fiancée, and husband. After joining the Polish Legions, Smorawiński served in the 2nd Legionary Infantry Regiment, which was part of the Legionary Second Brigade, where he held successive positions as platoon, company and battalion commander. He then joined the Polish Armed Forces, attaining the rank of major.
Please note the letters on the displays and in the showcases.
4. Cigarette case
This silver cigarette case belonged to Mieczysław Smorawiński. It is embellished with an asymmetrically arranged floral motif, and a ribbon with the monogram M – the first letter of the owner’s name – is tied around it. Smorawiński received the cigarette case in 1915 while he was serving in the Polish Legions from men of the Second Brigade. In the centre was engraved the inscription “To our Commander M. Smorawiński – for Christmas – IV Company”. The item saved the future general’s life, protecting him from grenade shrapnel that wounded him in fighting with the Ukrainian Halich Army near Rawa Ruska on 7 January 1919.
As Janina Smorawińska, the General’s daughter-in-law, recalls: My father-in-law was very fond of it. It was lost when he was wounded at the Battle of Rawa Ruska in 1919, the fourth time in that war. It must have fallen out of his pocket when soldiers carried him off the battlefield. Twenty years later, shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, they again held manoeuvres in that area. A local farmer asked for the name of the commander. Hearing that it was General Smorawiski, he came back with the cigarette case he had found to personally hand it over to the general. The general noticed the grenade shrapnel marks and dents on the cigarette case and remembered that he had been carrying it in his breast pocket at the time of his injury. It saved his life.
Let’s go and see the second part of the exhibition.
Conformation of receipt of the decoration and authorising Colonel Mieczysław Smorawiński to wear the Order of Virtuti Militari V Class badge. The Order of Virtuti Militari is the highest Polishwar decoration, awarded for outstanding combat merit. It is one of the oldest military orders in the world. It was established by King Stanisław August Poniatowski on 22 June 1792 to commemorate the victory at the Battle of Zieleńce. Smorawiński received the Silver Cross of the Virtuti Militari, similar to the one in the display case, while commanding the 4th Legionary Infantry Regiment during the Polish-Bolshevik War.
Let’s look at the exhibits in the display case on the left.
6. Maciejówka officer’s cap
The lineage of the cap dates back to the 19th century and is associated with Count Maciej Mielżyński. In 1848, he provided this type of headwear to Wielkopolska cavalrymen who were fighting against the Prussian army. Other sources point to German livestock traders arriving in Poland in the mid-19th century, who were known as Maciejs. These types of caps were purchased from them. The Maciejówka is similar to a style of military cap that was popular throughout Europe. However, it differs in that its crown is soft and loose. From the mid-nineteenth to the early twentieth century, it was common headgear among revolutionaries, workers and the urban proletariat. It gained its greatest popularity during the First World War. It was famously worn by Marshal Józef Piłsudski himself. The future Head of State first made the maciejówka cap the official cap of the Riflemen’s organisations and then of the soldiers of the First Brigade of the Polish Legions.
The cap on display dates from 1916-1917 – it was made of Austro-Hungarian cloth. Following the regulations for field uniforms issued by the Polish Army in 1917, it features the insignia of an officer. It was equipped with a strap at the peak in the officer’s version and an officer’s rosette. At the top of the cap is a prominent riflemen’s eagle.
A bayonet is a type of spiked weapon fitted at the barrel end of firearms, usually a rifle. When applied to a firearm, the bayonet is an extension of the weapon allowing it to be used more effectively in close combat. The Austro-Hungarian-made Mannlicher M1895 rifle bayonet presented here was the standard type of bayonet used in the infantry of the Polish Legions and the reborn Polish Army between 1918 and 1921. A legionary eagle has been placed on the handle. This was a relatively common, albeit rule-bending, practice.
In the Legion area of the exhibition, we present the numerous correspondence of the young Mieczysław Smorawiński, still a schoolboy, to his parents. Both the letters and the postcards presented here show great respect and devotion to his parents. The surviving letters written to his fiancée bear witness to his strong feelings for Helena. Smorawiski includes details of frontline battles and his spiritual state as a soldier in this deeply personal correspondence. Later letters, displayed in the exhibition’s second section, reveal his deep love and care for his family. The correspondence concludes with the last letter sent to his wife on 13 September 1939. You will be able to read that letter in the final “Katyn” section. From a rich collection of fifty-three different letters and postcards covering the years 1906 to 1939, 38 have been selected that best characterise Mieczysław Smorawiński’s life.
Mieczysław Smorawiński received many decorations and badges. Take a look at the exhibits in the display case.
9. Husband – father – commander
The second part of the exhibition “HUSBAND, FATHER, COMMANDER” shows Mieczysław Smorawiński’s life between 1922 and 1939. The exhibition introduces us to the officer’s life in peacetime. He continued his military career in the newly independent Poland, where he was known as an outstanding division commander and an effective organizer and staff officer of the Corps District Command in Kraków, Grodno, and Lublin. It was with our city that Smorawiński particularly tied his fate. Beginning in 1934 while based out of the Lubomirski Palace, he demonstrated his worth as a family man in addition to his military prowess. The original documents, letters, and photographs of the general on display in the exhibition attest to this, providing a glimpse into his personal life while stationed in Lublin and documenting the many expressions of gratitude he received from his subordinates and the citizens of the city. He went above and beyond what was expected of a military commander. He was actively engaged in the civic and cultural life of the city and surrounding area. He was a member of the Parents’ Committee at the Jan Zamoyski Boys’ Middle School in Lublin, which his son Jerzy attended.
In front of you is the symbolic entrance to the palace. Heading to the right, let’s enter the lounge. The room reproduces original elements from the interior of the palace – the general’s apartment.
The lounge was furnished with eclectic furniture with historicist forms for the dining room. They were owned by the Smorawiński family. The table, chairs and sideboard date from the late 19th century and testify to the conservative taste of their owners. The sideboard with its profiled, streamlined shape is decorated with marquetry. It was used for storing crockery and table linen. Food for the table was placed on its ample countertop. On the sideboard is a commemorative mantel clock in white marble on four columns. It was given to Colonel Smorawiński as a souvenir of his visit to the high school in Królewska Huta.
The oval table with curved legs is extendable so that up to a dozen people could sit at it. Six chairs, whose forms evoked English furniture from the 18th century, flanked it on normal days. The light and warm colour of the furniture veneer gave the interior a casual, welcoming feel. Above the table hangs a metal Dutch art déco chandelier. The furniture was set on an eastern-type wool carpet. On the wall, is the painting The Kraków Wedding, dating from 1935, by Wojciech Kossak – a leading historical and battle painter. The painting once decorated the lounge of the Smorawiński family. The interior also features an eclectic wooden glazed pharmacy cabinet with drawers. The furniture is complemented by a piano made by the Viennese firm Rudolf Stelzhammer at the turn of the 20th century.
Take a look at the artwork on the walls to get a sense of the room’s family and representative character.
11. Maria and Jerzy – Smorawiński’s children
In the middle, we see Smorawiński with his then fiancée, Helena Danielewicz. After being seriously wounded during fighting near Hrubieszów, he stayed in hospital and then with his uncle and aunt in Hrasznica. It was then that he decided to marry Helena. The ceremony took place on 6 October 1920 in his hometown of Turek. Two years later, their daughter Maria was born, followed by their son Jerzy, who is shown in the photo opposite.
From the lounge, let’s move to the study.
The study contains Smorawiński’s officer commissions for captain and brigadier general, his uniform braids and caricatures of officers of the 6th Infantry Division in Krakow, as well as numerous documents relating to his military service and positions held in the Polish Army.
The study has a rather austere interior and is furnished with solid and simple furniture. The glazed library cabinet dates from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. The room’s main feature is a massive, free-standing desk with a beautiful veneer grain pattern, typical of the art déco simplified and geometric form so fashionable in the inter-war period. The items gathered in the study testify to the affection the men serving under Smorawińśki had for him. On the desk is a decorative glass platter given to Smorawiński on the occasion of his name day. Next to it is a Swiss Omega cabinet clock in the art déco style, given to General Smorawiński by officers of the Kraków Garrison, and a painting titled Zaloty (which means courting),given to the general by the Kraków painter Wincenty Wodzinowski,. Also on display here is a wartime plenary indulgence from Pope Pius XI, issued to Smorawiński at the Vatican in 1938.
Another interesting souvenir is a scrapbook of the Horse Day celebrations that took place in Włodzimierz Wołyński on 29 September 1935. Smorawiński was famous for his love of horse-riding, and Lublin, as the headquarters of Corps District No. II Command, had a rich equestrian tradition, and was the venue for equestrian competitions and the breeding of riding horses. The general kept his horses in the stables at the “Strzelec” house, near the Saxon Garden, and later in the barracks of the 8th Legionary Infantry Regiment. His favourite horse was called Wierna, or Faithful, a black mare with a star on her head. Older Lubliners remembered the general’s frequent horse rides around Lublin. Jerzy Smorawiski, the general’s son, recalled many times when he and his father went for rides.
Let’s look at the wall behind the desk.
13. Officer’s commission
On 1 January 1928, Poland’s president Ignacy Moscicki promoted Mieczysław Smorawiński to Brigadier-General. Smorawiński was 34 years old at the time and was the youngest general in the Polish Army. The officer’s commission of 10 October 1932 on display confirmed the promotion. The signature of the Minister of Military Affairs, Jozef Piłsudski, appears in the bottom right-hand corner. The commission was designed by Józef Mehoffer’s student Wojciech Jastrzębowski – an artist who designed applied art and graphics, as well as a soldier of the Polish Legions, and a senator from 1935 to 1938. Next to it is an officer’s commission from an earlier period: Smorawiński’s nomination to the rank of captain of the 2nd Polish Legion Infantry Regiment on 20 January 1918.
14. General’s axelbant
An axelbant is a decorative braided shoulder cord on an officer’s dress uniform. Axelbants come in a variety of colours and are worn on the right shoulder together with a braided epaulette. The metal end of the cords is a remnant of the lead stick that was attached to them, which acted as a pencil. Today, the Polish Army also uses axelbants in its dress uniforms.
15. Commemorative badge
Smorawiński received his caricature from junior officers from the 6th Infantry Division in 1932, when he left Kraków to take command of Corps District III in Grodno. The general was presented with a notebook of caricatures of other officers of the 6th Infantry Division in Kraków. While the identity of the artist behind these peculiar drawings remains a mystery, his self-portrait may be on the final sheet.
Please go over to the medals on display.
16. Caricature of General Smorawiński
Commemorative badge of the 8th Legionary Infantry Regiment – In the inter-war period, the 8th Legionary Infantry Regiment was stationed alongside Corps District No. II in Lublin Garrison. It was part of the 3rd Legionary Infantry Division. In peacetime, the regimental commander awarded the badge to the unit’s soldiers for exemplary service. The commemorative badge was given to senior officers in command of the regiment. General Mieczysław Smorawiński received this badge during his time in Lublin. The version presented here dates from 1928. It’s shaped like a cross, and the colours in the medallion’s 12 rays echo those of the infantry uniform, which are navy blue and yellow. The medal features a central 8 to denote the recipient’s regiment. On the white enamelled arms of the cross was inscribed the abbreviated inscription ‘P.P. Leg’ and two dates: 1807 and 1918 – indicating the year of incorporation of the 8th Infantry Regiment of the Duchy of Warsaw and the establishment of the regiment in the region of Ostrowia Mazowiecka.
Let’s move on to the third and final part of the exhibition entitled KATYN
17. Letter from General Smorawiński
At the outbreak of the Second World War, General Smorawiński, as commander of Corps District No. II in Lublin, organised the mobilisation of troops and supply bases for the w2ar effort. He stayed in Lublin until 14 September 1939, from where he sent the letter shown here at the exhibition. He then proceeded, as ordered, to Kowel and then to Włodzimierz Wołyński. After the Soviet Union attacked Poland on September 17, he ordered the units under his command not to fire on the advancing Red Army and decided to demobilise the privates and NCOs in Wodzimierz. He advised the remaining soldiers to evacuate to Romania and Hungary. When the Red Army arrived in Wodzimierz, he started bargaining, and by 20 September, he had an agreement to move his troops towards the Bug River. Unfortunately, shortly after the column had begun moving, it was halted, and the soldiers were declared prisoners of war. General Smorawiński spent time in several prisoner-of-war camps, eventually being placed in Kozelsk at the end of 1939. From there, dated 21 November 1939, he sent the only letter to his family, which arrived in Lublin just before Christmas. It was proof that the general was alive, which gave the family hope that he would return. The further fate of both the general and the thousands of Polish prisoners of war who were taken into Soviet captivity remained unknown for a long time.
18. Ten-zloty banknote
Following the Red Army’s invasion of Poland in September 1939, nearly 22,000 Polish prisoners of war were executed in the spring of 1940 on the orders of the highest authorities in the Soviet Union. The victims included soldiers from the Polish Army, the Border Protection Corps, the police, as well as professors, doctors, lawyers and engineers. They were executed in line with a decision of the highest authorities of the Soviet Union dated 5 March 1940. The Polish prisoners of war, taken into captivity in violation of international conventions, were handed over to the NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs) and imprisoned in Kozelsk, Starobelsk, Ostashkov and many other camps scattered across the Soviet Union. General Smorawiski and other officers were doomed from the moment they arrived in Kozelsk. As Poland’s elite, they were to be executed and their legacy was to be wiped out. They were transported to Katyn and murdered there.
From 1941, the Polish government in exile made numerous enquiries to the Soviet authorities about the fate of the Poles. The Soviet authorities reported that the prisoners of war had been released and their fate was unknown. In April 1943, the German authorities officially informed the world that mass graves with the bodies of Polish officers had been found at Katyn.
Faced with the refusal of the International Committee of the Red Cross to send a delegation to Katyn, the Third Reich decided to set up its own International Medical Commission. It consisted of twelve representatives from European countries, from the allies as well as those subordinate to the Third Reich, as well as neutral Switzerland. The committee was made up of specialists from various fields and specialisations, including criminology and forensic medicine. The commission was chaired by Hungary’s Dr Ferenc Orsós. The leaders of Poland’s underground government anticipated that the Nazis would try to use the murder of Polish officers as propaganda. Nevertheless, they decided to send a delegation led by Kazimierz Skarżyński. The International Medical Commission found that the executions were carried out by the Soviet authorities in March and April 1940. After returning to Warsaw, the Technical Commission of the Polish Red Cross sent a report to the government in London with identical findings. Among the bodies of murdered Polish Army officers excavated from the death pits, two generals were identified: Mieczysław Smorawiński and Bronisław Bohaterewicz. It was established that General Smorawiński was shot by the NKVD on 9 April 1940 at Katyn in a group of 89 officers.
Numerous personal items, including a PKO savings passbook, personal identification cards, a document confirming the Silver Cross of the Order of Virtuti Militari, a silver cigarette case, a gold ring, two medallions, and the presented ten-zloty note, were discovered on Smorawiski’s body.
19. Lizard press
“Goniec Krakowski” was a German Polish-language information and propaganda daily newspaper dubbed by Poles as a lizard newspaper. The “lizard” newspapers throughout the General Government described the exhumation work and published daily a list of the names of the bodies of Polish prisoners of war identified at Katyn. Along with the names, documents and personal items found with the victims were revealed. For the families, it was important information that could help them identify missing loved ones. The press published photographs from the death pits and from the proceedings of the Technical Commission of the Polish Red Cross and the International Medical Commission. The fact that the Germans brought Stanislaw Smorawiński, the General’s brother, to Katyn was widely publicised.
After the exhumation work had been completed, Kazimierz Skarżyński, secretary general of the Technical Commission of the Polish Red Cross, prepared a ‘Confidential Report’ in June 1943, which was sent to the Polish government in London. The exhumation resulted in findings, confirmed by both Polish and German experts, that small arms, 7.65 mm calibre, had been used in the killings. The cause of death of the victims was a shot to the back of the head. The pistol and revolver displayed in the display case echo the weapons used by the NKVD killers at Katyn. For more than fifty years, the Soviet authorities denied their responsibility for the Katyn massacre. On 13 April 1990, they officially admitted that it was ‘one of the grave crimes of Stalinism’. Nonetheless, there are still many questions about it that have not been answered.
The dates September 1 and September 17, 1939, have become tragic symbols of enslavement in the minds of Poles. However, 84 years after these events, knowledge, particularly of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Poland, remains inadequate. For the most part, this refers to the atrocity at Katyn, where Polish POWs were murdered by the NKVD. The Branch Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation of the Institute of National Remembrance in Warsaw has been investigating the Katyn Massacre since 30 November 2004, labelling the executions as a war crime, a crime against humanity, and even genocide due to the unlawful and deliberate deprivation of life of nearly 22,000 Polish prisoners of war and civilians. The United Nations Convention of 26 November 1968 includes genocide among crimes that are not time-barred.
General Mieczyslaw Makary Smorawiski is emblematic of the era represented in the exhibition. As the first name on the Katyn List, Smorawiski’s name has come to represent the Katyn atrocity. The motto of the Polish Army “GOD, HONOUR, HOMELAND”, although introduced only in 1943, most accurately describes the attitude of Smorawiński and many Poles of the generation that created independent Poland.