- August 4, 2012
Eišiškės and famous historical figures
‘This land possess a special, characteristic stigma, an idyllic one. Small forests scattered among the fields, and individual trees everywhere. Sometimes you look along the stubble and, here you go, a park, full of wild pears like in an orchard, then oaks, birches and maples. (…) It’s just impossible to look away’, wrote Józef Mackiewicz.
Eišiškės, dated at the beginning of the 11th century, may have been founded – as some sources indicate – until the late 13th and 14th centuries. However, saturation and concentration of historical figures who visited the town throughout the ages still amazes today.
Eišiškės in the 14th and 15th century
The Grand Duke Vytautas the Great’s first wife, Anna, was born in Eišiškės to the family of Duke Sudymund, who owned the town at that time. She married Vytautas in 1370 and saved him from death twice; she enjoyed the respect of the Teutonic Knights, who appreciated her political insights and abilities. When Sudymund died as the prisoner of the Teutonic Knights, Eišiškės was governed by Vytautas himself. During the agreement between Vytautas and the Teutonic Order, signed in 1384, a ‘Wisesken’ seal was hanged out, now decoded sometimes as ‘Eišiškės’. On the order of Vytautas, the first Catholic Church was built in Eišiškės; it was the 16th Roman Catholic parish church and the 16th temple in Lithania raised from the time of Baptism. It is said that the local court and surrounding forests were the favourite place of hunting and resting for the Grand Duke, and that it was in Eišiškės where Vytautas was officially welcomed by the noblemen when he returned from the convention in Lutsk; supposedly, the letter to Emperor Sigmund of Luxemburg accusing Jagiełło of treason was sent from Eišiškės as well.
The parish church founded by Vytautas was retrofitted by Alexander Jagiełło and Sigismund the Old. The temple was on fire several times. It was first charred during the civil war between Sigismund Kiejstutowicz and Swidrygiello. After the tragic death of them both in 1440, Casimir IV became the Grand Duke of Lithuania; in the same year, on his way from Krakow to Vilnius, apparently he spent a few weeks Eišiškės. It is said that he stayed there until the safety of the road to Vilnius was checked. This is even more important event in the history of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, as choosing Casimir the Grand Duke of Lithuania by the boyars in Vilnius Cathedral is considered as breach of the agreements with Poland concluded by Sigismund Kejstutowicz in Grodno and de facto breach of the Polish-Lithuanian personal union. During Casimir’s reign (1440-1492), Eišiškės was a strategic point on the way connecting Krakow and Vilnius and became to develop and grow quickly.
In 1485 in Montwiliszki near Eišiškės, one of the fathers of Lithuanian literature, reformer and the first professor of theology at the University of Königsberg – Stanisław Rafałowicz – was born to the family of minor nobility. Originally he signed as Stanislaus Rapagellanus or Stanislaus Lituanus, but he is recognized as Stanilovas Rapalionis. He contributed to the issuance ‘Catechism’ by Martynas Mażvydas, with whom he had not only scientific interest but also they were close friends. It is assumed that Rafałowicz began his education in the parish school in Eišiškės. Then he studied in Krakow and on Wittenberg University as a scholar of the last Teutonic master, Albrecht Hohenzollern. He enjoyed a good reputation among professors, including Martin Luther. Rafałowicz received a doctorate, became the first professor of theology and the co-founder of the University of Königsberg. He knew Polish, Lithuanian, Latin, Hebrew, Greek and German. Prince Albrecht, who attended the funeral, ordered to bury Rapalionis in the Königsberg Cathedral, next to the graves of the princely family. In 1985 – the 500th anniversary of the birth of the scientist – in the courtyard of the manor in Gornostajiškės, which was adopted as a registered collective farm named ‘Lenin’s Commandments’, a monument in honour of the eminent scientist was raised. Unfortunately, with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the memorial of Rafałowicz was neglected after the manor was privatized and fell into ruin. Now, one of the schools in Eišiškės (with Lithuanian as the teaching language) is named after Rapalinios.
In 1848 close to Eišiškės (near Podborze) was born the father of modern surgery, Hipolit Jundziłł, who later became the head of the Vilnius “Sawicz” hospital (now – ‘Missionary Hospital’ (‘Misionierių ligoninė’)). Hipolit Jundziłł was the first doctor in Lithuania who applied the principle of asepsis and antisepsis, and then used diphtheria antitoxin. He was the head of the Vilnius Medical Society. He came from a famous family of prominent scientists: Stanisław Bonifacy Jundziłł and Józef Jundziłł were distinguished natural scientists and the founders of the Botanical Garden in Vilnius.
Royal processions and other ones
Already in the days of John III Sobieski, the town received Magdeburg rights, renewed in 1792 by King Stanislaw August Poniatowski. Over the centuries, the royal and ducal processions marched through Eišiškės; the funeral procession of Barbara Radziwiłł passed through Eišiškės when she ‘returned’ from Krakow to her beloved Vilnius. In Summber of 1705, Tsar Peter I stopped here on his road to Warsaw. But a year later, the Swedes marching on Poltava razed the town to the ground. After some time, King August II visited Eišiškės while visiting settlements plundered by the Swedes; he ordered the rebuilding of the church and town.
In 1809, the Governor General of Lithuania and the later conqueror of Napoleon, Mikhail Kutuzov, visited the town. In June 1812, the forces of Prince Jerome Bonaparte stationed here on their way to Moscow. The prince himself lived in the manor in Gornostajiškės, and the army settled in the surrounding area. They spent three nights there. However, the town suffered only when in December the same year the survivors of Napoleon’s army returned to France and plundered all the roadside settlements.
In 1827, Eišiškės was visited by the marshal of the nobility of the Lida district, Wawrzyniec Puttkamer. In the local church, together with his wife (beloved of Adam Mickiewicz), Maryla Wereszczakowna, Puttkamer held for the baptism the future land judge of Nowogrodek – Onufry Rymsza.
Eišiškės in the 19th century
During the November Uprising in Eišiškės stationed Cossack troops, controlling the important communication route from Vilnius to Warsaw. It is close to Eišiškės, near Naujos Kazokiškės, where one of the major battles of the uprising took place, attended by students of Vilnius University headed by Klimaszewski, PhD (future curator of Versailles Library), a famous Polish poet Wincenty Pol and Emeriko Stankiewicz.
In 1845, the project of a new brick Catholic church in Eišiškės was created by the Polish historian Teodor Narbutt, who was born and lived in Shaury (about 12 kilometers from Eišiškės). He was a researcher of the history of Lithuania, a bibliophile and a military engineer in rank of captain. Narbutt fought in the war against Napoleon with the imperial army, then he returned to his estate. In 1864 he was sentenced to exile in Siberia for the participation of his children in the January Uprising.
His son – Ludwik Narbut – commanded troops formed of the people of Eišiškės. He was joined by Father Stephen Horbaczewski’s branch and then by the Vilnius Youth together with the famous painter Elwiro Michał Andriolli. The painter became famous in the future, mostly because of his illustrations for “Pan Tadeusz” and “Konrad Wallenrod” by Adam Mickiewicz. After the battle fought in the area of Eišiškės, upon Karkutsyany, when Narbutt was fatally injured, supposedly Andriolli brought his body to Eišiškės, hiding in the nearby woods until he managed to escape to Vilnius dressed as a peasant.
It’s worth mentioning that the Church of the Assumption, designed by Narbutt, was also created through the efforts of the parish priest Paweł Kalinowski, who made every effort to ensure that the construction was completed. The chronicle of the parish church, written down by hand by the priest, is a document of particular importance. His portrait is one of the most valuable works of art in the temple.
Some sources indicate that in Eišiškės and surrounding areas lived as many as 16 representatives of noble families, including Siekluccy family prevailing in the estate in Gornostajiškės. The last owner of the property was arrested in 1939 and probably executed in Lida. In Eišiškės still exist orally transmitted tales of the nobility and prudence of Józef Sieklucki, social activist and the member of the Border Landowners Association.
Among the vivid figures of this family, Barbara Kostrowicka of Siekluccy should be mentioned as the founder of the Church of Saint Spirit in Vilnius. Another member of the family, Wincenty Sieklucki, supported the January Uprising, which caused in consequence the imposition of sequestration of the property in Gornostajiškės.
At the cemetery near the church in Eišiškės exist several graves of members of Sekluccy family, including Marya Sieklucka of Jundziłłowie, Anna Sieklucka, Jan Sieklucki, Józef Sieklucki, Łucjan Sieklucki and Wincenty Sieklucki – the chamberlain of the Lida district.
In the interwar period
On 7 October 1920 in Eišiškės, in the headquarters above the pharmacy, General Lucjan Żeligowski spent the night. On the main square of the town was held the review of the troops and volunteer corps that were to take Vilnius on 9 October.
On the road from Eišiškės to Vilnius (near Podborze) still lies the rock on which, according to the legend, Marshal Józef Pilsudski took rest. Whether he sat on that stone or not, who knows, but the fact is that on 18 September 1920 the ceremony of road connection called ‘Trail of the Marshal’ was held upon Zygmunciszki. President of the Republic of Poland, Ignacy Mościcki, drove using this way through Eišiškės on 27 September.
A forgotten, though incredibly important historical figure associated with the interwar period was prelate Czesław Kulikowski, born in Grodno. Eišiškės was his first parish, he worked here from 1933 to 1936. During World War II, the heroic priest survived the Kozelsk prison camp, then travelled with Ander’s Army and took part in the Italian campaign, including the Battle of Monte Cassino.
World War II left its bloody mark on Eišiškės, changing the ethnic composition of the town. It particularly affected Jewish population – about 4 thousand Jews were killed here in 1941. Wartime and postwar repression affected heavily Polish population as well; partisan troops of Home Army operated in the surrounding area. At the local cemetery lie the remains of soldiers commanded by the legend of the Home Army of Nowogrodek, Jon Borysewicz, pseudonym ‘Krysia’.
Even today Eišiškės may be proud of prominent names, including Egeniusz Skrobocki – the late activist of the Polish minority in Belarus, the former editor of ‘Głos znad Niemna’ (‘Voice of the Niemen River’) and ‘Magazyn Polski’ (‘Polish Magazine’), researcher of the history of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, or bishop Aleksander Kaszkiewicz – respected by people, the current Bishop of the Diocese in Grodno and the chairman of the Conference of Catholic Bishops in Belarus.
‘The nobility of Eišiškės – we say often, rightly, because it’s a thoroughly aristocratic, ancient land. When you go from Olkieniki or Woronowo to Eišiškės, or from there to Raduń, you feel like rotating sheets of “Pan Tadeusz”. Just look at how the white walls of the court in Soplicowo will flash at the top of the hill’, wrote Józef Mackiewicz.
Tłumaczenie Ewelina Zarembska w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Ewelina Zarembska within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.