- August 11, 2014
She is reading „Pan Tadeusz” to the class in her dream
Irena Mackiewicz belongs to, let’s name it conventionally, the second postwar generation of teachers in the Fifth High School in Vilnius, currently named after Joachim Lelewel. It was in the sixties of the twentieth century when she began working here after graduating from Polish studies in the Pedagogical Institute of that time.
As her old students reminisce, she was a teacher whose lessons were desirable to the students because something attractive could have happened. She was always full of ideas. Some said that Mrs Mackiewicz is always happy and have a positive attitude to both people and the world.
The stars of Warsaw Opera – at school.
That kind of memoirs are rife. Here is one of them. Famous opera singers arrived to Vilnius from Grand Theatre in Warsaw. They performed the opera „Halka” in Vilnius. Because they were world famous singers, meeting with them was an amazing experience for people from Vilnius.
For students from „Fifth” it was a really special experience… After the performance, Mrs Irena went behind the scenes and said that in Vilnius there is a special school that must have been visited by the artists. That way, she brought to the school the best Polish opera artists. Spontaneously organized concert performed great. At the end of the concert, Polish teacher went on stage and said: „And now I’m going to sing for you!”. And then she sang: „The Red Poppies on Monte Cassino”. The artists raised and acclaimed the performer while the Primadonna of the Warsaw Opera, Maria Fołtyn said: „ Mrs. Irena, you should sing professionally!”
As Wacław Baranowski reminisces, the physics teacher of that time and later – long-standing headmaster of the school – for the first time guests of a high-level range visited our school.
Mrs Irena was not singing professionally. But in the temple of st. Teresa she sang „Godzinki” and she wasn’t even hiding with it from the administration of the school.
The second postwar generation of teachers in the school constitute an interesting historical overview of the „Fifth”. Its former professors were either made redundant because of „not proper teaching in Soviet School” or they left because of their age or they arrived to Poland. Former students of the school re-entered the establishment but this time as qualified teachers of math, physics, history, biology or polish. Rejuvenating the teaching staff had its benefits – from the one side young people introduced something new, radical, from the other – memoirs of those old, great professors were still alive in the hearts of the former students.
Spirituality of the family home
Irena Mackiewicz from the house of Aksamitówna knew little about the school from the old times – in the environment of Vilnius teachers she was a novice. She studied in Czużekampie and Soleczniki. Every day she covered 10 kilometers route to her school in Soleczniki. Families of Aksamitów and Szaraków (on the part of her grandmother) were famous from their spirituality in those old days. Backwater Janopol the 2nd and the village Puszyniszki were associated with the Aksamit family for many years by old inhabitants – in particular with the grandfather Maciej. He was learned and a generous man. It was him who in the 20s’ established a school for children of his employees in his own house. He brought teachers and paid them for their job, gave them food and garment. He used to say that students have to study how to read, write and count because without studying „you will live in the darkness”.
Friends from Vilnius often visited this house: well-known gynecologist Łopata or pr. Burak. They arrived there to satisfy their eyes with beautiful environment around Puszcza Rudnicka, spend some time with people with high ethical values and play preferans.
Mrs. Irena remembers her guest house as well as one terrible event. She was three when there were deportations to Siberia. Her parents were fully Polish and affluent so they were to be displaced. Father of Antonia Aksamit – former legionary, uncle Wiktor – former soldier AK who was send to Siberia.
She remembers as she was hiding in the barn with her father and mother, in a hay, and soldiers were pointing their forks at the hay looking for „criminals”. Then, only their prayers helped them survive.
Unfortunately, their house was robbed from a piano, beautiful cuckoo clock with sculptures of kings and other valuable things.
Mr Antoni lived to a ripe old age. He observed with pain as their estate – more than 50ha of ploughed earth, more than 30ha of forests – is being destroyed before his eyes. The rule pronounced by pr. Jerzy Popiełuszko was particularly significant for him: „Pole is ready to get up from any fall as he used to kneel down only before God”
Wincenty Szarko, the grandfather – was an extraordinary person. His memory in Solecznicki is living to this day. He was buried in this ground, although he marched around the world as a faithful soldier with an army under the command of general Anders. In his last years he lived in England. But even when he was on wheelchair he kept arriving to his patrimony. When he still lived he erected a family monument with an order to be buried here himself when he dies. The funeral of Wincenty Szarko whose body was brought from England was attended by many local people.
Polish studies were attended by many
Irena Aksamitówna attended the Polish studies in the teaching institute (currently Lithuanian University of Educational Sciences) as she is saying, in the last moments. Her energetic nature appeared soon. Because of an innocent poem, as she thought, she was exposed to many unpleasantness. Only unforgettable vice-chancellor Włodzimierz Czeczor saved her.
She worked for 38 years in the Fifth High School. It was her only place of work. And because of her friends – teachers, it was unforgettable time. As a polish language teacher she saw in her students great potential. Henryk Kulesza, currently doctor Sokołowska cannot be forgot as she was very helpful in many issues connected with teaching. Even today, the teacher has piles oflecture handwritten assignments, fragments of literature, wise thoughts and sentences.
„It was because of Hania, current lecturer in Lithuanian University of Educational Sciences” – says Irena with pride. „Polish studies were attended by many of my students. It’s a great honor for me. It was unforgettable memory for me when my students – pr. Tadeusz Jasiński and Bogdan Jakszto beautifully greeted the Holy Father, John Paul II. Pr. Jasiński at the meeting with teenagers in Zakrecie and Bogdan – in the church of Holy Spirit.”
Pr. Marek Gładki was also her student whom she reminisces as a great, subtle boy.
As a student, Tadeusz Jasiński proved to have an amazing talent for acting. To achieve greater diversity of the poetry readings, she brought to school well-known lithuanian moviemaker Vladasa Sipaitisa so that he could help in preparing the performance of Adam Mickiewicz poems. That was the discovery! Students came to the rehearsals as for something attractive and lofty. In the „Improvisation”, Tadeusz was unrepeatable. Mrs Irena sees his glowing eyes to this day. That was an unforgettable poetry reading. But not the only one.
„I’ve invited Mr Sipaitisa to see how he works as a moviemaker. I’m sure I’ve learned a lot”, says Mrs Irena.
Mickiewicz is greater than Lenin?
The teacher is connected with Adam Mickiewicz through different kind of experiences. During moving on from an old estate to the new one in the lumber room, she found a portrait of Mickiewicz. It was a well-known portrait of an artist whose copy was made by Vilnius painter, Znamierowski. This real work of art was thrown away, in a terrible condition. Professional restaurateurs advised her. For two months Polish language teacher restored the painting: glued, cleaned, painted, renewed with wax and oil. And then, she put the portrait of the Bard in a polish language office that was a first place at school in terms of decoration until now (Mrs Irena’s pedantry is also well known). Commission from the Department of Education that is assessing the condition of the classes was aghast. Above the table was a portrait of Lenin – small, and nearby was a big one, sparkling with new glow – a painting of Mickiewicz. Apolitical Mrs Irena had to explain herself and also the first place no longer belonged to her.
Portrait of Mickiewicz is at school until now but it adds luster to a different class. She also found another painting of a great Pole in a chaos that appeared during the removal, Mikołaja Kopernika, painted as well by Znamierowski. It was a copy of Matejko’s painting. Together with Wacław Baranowski, they took care of its restoration. For a while, Kopernik was hung on the walls of her office.
They were one gang
About what is thinking our retired teacher? Obviously, about her students and about her classmates.
„We, who arrived to this school in a second wave, we held together. There were: Krystyna Żyngiel-Krzywicka, Halina Kostecka-Szulska, Zdzisława Buszo, Zbyszek Stecewicz, Kazimierz Kozłowski. They are my unforgettable friends. We understood each other, we helped each other. I really miss Halina, I’m praying for her. And Kazik – that noble man nowadays is hard to find. Once, when I was threatened with reprimand, only Kazimierz Kozłowski did not signed under the accusation. Now, I don’t exactly remember what it was about, but I remember a brave attitude of my friend, as for those times. Unfortunately, serious illness took him very early.”
There were many situations in which we had to explain world view that was rife in a Polish family. One situation was connected with her son, Jerzy, who also graduated from the Fifth High School. When he was in the army in a far end of North in Oleniegorsku (near the borderline), he earnestly wrote in a poll, that he believes in God. And that Piłsudski is a hero.
„Luckily, it was already „pierestojki” period and it was possible to defuse the situation.”, says Mrs Irena.
Irena Mackiewicz is often dreaming about one situation – she is standing before the class and recites „Pan Tadeusz”. She knew it by heart. No, in a real life she does not know the whole poem by heart, although she intended to learn it but in her dreams – she knows it. She cannot leave the school for the rest of her life.
Translated by Edyta Zarzeczna within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.