Stroll around streets in Vilnius: following Szymon Konarski

Fot. Marian Paluszkiewicz

The Szymon Konarski street (Simono Konarskio street) is one of the longest streets in the New Town District (Naujamiestis). It starts at the Basanavičiusa street (former Wielka Pohulanka street), crosses the Pietario street and ends at the Geležinio vilko street.

Few objects situated on the street are worth mentioning. At the corner of Konarski and Jovaro streets there is a slender baroque St. Hyacinth’s chapel built in 1762 by Dominicans (Saint Hyacinth – Polish: Jacek Odrowąż – was a Dominican missionary active in 13th century, also in Lithuania). The old chapel was renovated in 1843 (on the initiative of Kazimierz Wilczyński who was the publisher of the “Vilnius Albums” lithography), in 1901 (under the auspices of the rev. Jan Kurczewski who was the then rector of the Saint James parish) and in 1998. The originator of the last major renovation works of the chapel was Paweł Czetyrkowski from Vilnius who is the Head of Representation of a Polish energy and electronics company. In 1901 the old wooden chapel was replaced a new copper monument sculpted by Bolesław Bałzukiewicz.

Before the Second World War the Konarski street was a quiet place with wooden houses surrounded by orchards. In one of those houses lived a literature historian of the Stefan Batory University in Vilnius professor Konrad Górski. During the war underground lectures and Polish seminars for students took place here. In 1980s blocks of flats were built on the left side of the street. Over recent years more modern blocks have appeared. Lithuanian Jonas Basanavičius Secondary School and Justinas Vienožinskis Art School are situated on the right side of the street. Further down the street there is the seat of the Lithuanian Committee of Radio and Television. First television programme was broadcasted on 30th April 1957. It was the news later named “Panorama”. This date is considered to be the birth of the Lithuanian television. At the Lithuanian radio there is the editor’s office of the Polish radio.

Szymon Konarski (1808-1839) came from an impoverished noble family of the Calvinist denomination. He attended the schools in Sejny and Łomża. He participated in the November Uprising in Lithuania – he received promotion to the rank of lieutenant – and after the downfall of the uprising he was deported by Prussians. Konarski spent few years abroad in France (where he established contacts with Joachim Lelewel who was already described in one of the articles of this cycle) and in England.

He has returned to Poland in 1835 as an emissary of a Paris emigration group led by prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski with the seat in the Hotel Lambert. He came to Kraków and then moved to Vilnius where he was the Head of the Medical-Surgical Academy. Soon Konarski established the Society of the Polish People. Vladas Drema in his book titled “Vilnius Lost” (the second edition has been already issued) wrote that secret meetings of conspirators under the leadership of Konarski has taken place in a café in so called “Kardynalia” (in 1944 a fire destroyed the building, in 1956 the ruins were demolished, although specialists have claimed that it could be rebuilt). In this place a long and painfully different from the rest of the Old Town commercial and residential building was constructed (at the corner of Świętojańska and Zamkowa streets).

Under assumed names he was travelling between Vilnius and Odessa establishing an organization of conspirators called Union of the Polish People. Over three thousand people were involved in the organization – an unprecedented number in the history of Polish conspiracy. He had many enthusiasts, but also many opponents who were afraid of repressions in Lithuania, Belarus and the Ukraine. He decided that thanks to systematic and long-lasting cooperation with the people he could shape their national awareness. He was not going to propagate the idea of monarchy restoration which was the aim of the group led by prince Czartoryski. He also avoided another armed conflict. Konarski hid himself in the middle of nowhere and wrote manifestos for the people. He was betrayed and arrested in Vilnius. However, he managed to escape, but he was recognized and imprisoned on 27th May 1838. He was kept in monastery converted into prison at the Ostrobramska street where he died nine months later. “He had a guard in his cell. The window was bricked up (…) he could see noting, but skies (…). He was sending me his little poems full of patriotic spirit (…) always written on a paper turned yellow from the tobacco smoke (…). Often he played the flute he received from his mother and was allowed to keep…” – wrote the witness of that events, another prisoner Stanisław Szumski in his diaries in 1812-1848 titled “W walkach i w więzieniach” (lit. In battles and in prisons) which were published by Józef Zawadzki in Vilnius in 1931. The cell of Stanisław Szumski was placed below the Konarski’s cell. They were sending each other letters using a string. Szumski wrote that Konarski has betrayed nobody in spite of brutal interrogations.

Sunday, 2nd March 1924, was named the day of Szymon Konarski by residents of Vilnius. “Exactly at 9.30 a.m. a solemn mass started in the church on the Zamkowa street (…). Military and civilian authorities were represented by Roman, Gąsiorowski, professors Ehrenkreuz and Ruszczyc and generals Griebsch and Rommel. About 11 a.m. a black marble plate with golden inscriptions of Konarski’s name and his birth and death dates was revealed (…). The gathered crowd moved to Pohulanka. It was a sunny day, white snow was lying on the streets (…) exactly as 85 years ago when the martyr was taken this way to his execution (…). On the hill by the Wróbla street a gray boulder was laid at that place (…). At 4.30 p.m. in the Polish Theatre: speech by Henryk Mościcki, a fragment of a drama by Seweryn Goszczyński titled “Szymon Konarski”, a fragment of the IV part of “Dziady” – in the Konrad’s cell” – was written in the Vilnius newspaper “Słowo”.

In the place of execution of Szymon Konarski a boulder with an inscription: “Here national hero Szymon Konarski was executed on 27th February 1839. Save Poland Lord our God” was placed. The last verse is almost illegible. On the monument a trace of sculpture “Polish Eagle” destroyed after the war is visible. It was renovated by Adam Mickiewicz Foundation from Wrocław. Few years ago an idea arose to recreate the sculpture. The intentions were good, but unfortunately nothing was done. Nearby Szymon Konarski School takes care of the place.

According to many sources Konarski was buried at the Protestant Cemetery which does no longer exist by the Kalinausko street (former Mała Pohulanka street). Reportedly, at night right after the execution the body was moved to the cemetery on the initiative of Antonina Śniadecka. A few dozen rings given to active supports of the fight for independence were made out of his irons. Antonina Śniadecka was arrested for her deeds. “A life after life of the 31 years old hero has begun. Chroniclers have written about him, he became a legend. During the celebrations commemorating Konarski in Strasbourg on 2nd April 1839 Seweryn Goszczyński read his poem starting with these words: “The Polish Angel! Why are you among shadows? When death has come upon Vilnius, why do you look so long, on the Vilnius covered with blood” – wrote Edmund Małachowicz in his book titled “Vilnius. History, architecture, cemeteries”.

Artists have created numerous paintings of him, mostly in his last years in irons or with bars in the background. For example, Elwiro Andriolli add splendour to the drama by Konstanty Goniewski titled “Szymon Konarski (1889) – half a century after the execution” with eight prints of Konarski. The boulder at the place of execution, a school and a street named after Konarski remind us of the hero. They are symbols of memory of all people fighting for independence, people who sacrificed their lives for freedom. During this cycle we have described Tadeusz Kościuszko, Jakub Jasiński, Zygmunt Sierakowski and Konstanty Kalinowski. Today Szymon Konarski joined the splendid group of national heroes.


Tłumaczenie by Maciej Jóźwiak w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, Translated by Maciej Jóźwiak within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights,

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