- August 22, 2014
Stroll around streets in Vilnius: Sierakowski – a cheerful person full of energy
We continue our stroll around streets in Vilnius named after famous Poles. We have already described Tadeusz Kościuszko and Jakub Jasiński – the heroes fighting for independence of Poland.
Today we write about Zygmunt Sierakowski, commander-in-chief during the January uprising who in Lithuania was described as the new Kościuszko. Quiet and modest street bearing the name of Zygmunt Sierakowski is located near the Jakub Jasiński street, between the M.K. Čiurlionis and V. Kudirka streets. At the beginning of the 20th century the street was called Junkierska.
The seat of the Vilnius Junker Infantry School was placed near the 4 Zakrętowa street (currently Čiurlionio street) in the building of the Natural Sciences and Medicine Faculty of the Vilnius University. It was one of the oldest Russian Junker Infantry Schools. The Russian military school which educated future infantry officers was established in 1864 as a result of military reform during the reign of Alexander II. Before the takeover of Vilnius by Germans in 1915 the school was moved to Poltava.
Sierakowski street is located in the city centre. It is a quiet, green street hidden between old tenement houses situated on the left side of the street. The buildings have three or four floors and were constructed a different times. Diverse architectural styles show evidence of the passage of history. Modern blocks of flats were built on the right side of the street. Wooden houses were placed here at the end of the 20th century. The building at the end of the street constructed after the Second World War is now the seat of the German Embassy.
At the foot of the Taurus mountain at the end of the Aukų street, where the current car park is located, Zygmunt Sierakowski was executed on 27th June 1863 on the order of Governor-General Muravyov who earned the notorious name of “the Gallows” in Lithuania. Severely wounded Pole was dragged out from the St. James’s Hospital by military policemen. He could not stand on his own feet. Before the eyes of the terrified crowds, he was escorted by force to the gallows.
He barely stood leaning on the priest’s arm listening to the sentence. As an officer he had to be put before the firing squad, but cruel and perfidious Muravyov sentenced him to death by hanging. The general answered the numerous petitions against shooting of Sierakowski with infamous sentence: “There will be no shooting. I will hang him!”. The executioner kicked Sierakowski several times aiming exactly at his wounds. His last words were: “Thy will be done”. He was hung by the ominous sounds of drums. Sierakowski was 36 years old. He was survived by his pregnant wife. Apolonia Sierakowska was told that if she will give birth to a son, the child will be taken away from her. She was deported to Borovichi. She gave birth to a daughter, but the child died soon. Brothers of Sierakowska were deported or shot.
In the place where Sierakowski died bloody executions were held. January insurgents were shot or hung here. In this place died 23 years old Tytus Dalewski – brother of Sierakowski’s wife, Konstanty Kalinowski – one of the leaders of the uprising, Ignacy Zdanowicz – commander of the insurgent troops in Vilnius and many others.
In 1922 in the centre of the Lukiškės Square a modest stone with inscription “1863” was laid. The Monument of Liberation was planned to be built here. Unfortunately it has not come into effect because of the outbreak of the Second World War. Lenin’s statue was located here until 1991. The right hand of the leader of the October revolution was pointing towards the place where January insurgents were killed. During the war also Gestapo Headquarters were placed here. In Soviet times it was the seat of KGB in which people fighting for freedom were tortured and murdered. Today the Genocide Victims Museum is located in the building.
Because of the construction of Lenin’s statue the stone with inscription “1863” was moved near the St. James’s Church. Next to the stone there is a Lithuanian-Russian misleading sign according to which people fighting for freedom were executed here. When Lithuania regained independence a wooden cross with folk ornamentation was placed here. We listed places in Vilnius Zygmunt Sierakowski was somehow connected with. He visited also the house on 9/7 Stuoka-Gucevičius Street (former Bonifraterska street) where Tadeusz Wróblewski was born who was the founder of the Library of Lithuanian Academy of Sciences which few years ago was named after the Wróblewski family. We wrote about the Tadeusz Wróblewski Street in the previous article of the series.
There is another place connected with Zygmunt Sierakowski. It is the former Niszkowski Hotel situated on the corner of the Bokšto and Latako streets. At the beginning of this century there was a plate on its walls informing that in March 1863 a secret war council consisting of leaders of the uprising in Lithuania was held in that building under the leadership of Zygmunt Sierakowski. The plate has disappeared in mysterious circumstances.
Tomas Venclova in his book titled “Opisać Wilno” (lit. Describing Vilnius) writes about Sierakowski: “He had conspiracy in the blood. His father died in the November Uprising in 1830. His mother dressed young Sierakowski as a girl because as a son of a rebel he could be taken away”. Zygmunt Sierakowski was born on 19th May 1827 in the Volyn region. His maternal grandfather has fought in the Kościuszko uprising. Brothers of Sierakowski’s mother – who also have taken part in the November Uprising – took care of young Zygmunt. As you can see Sierakowski was brought up in the atmosphere of combat and sacrifice. In one of his letters he wrote: “I am not ashamed to do any work. I know that one can chop wood and carry water and still be a real human being, a poet and philosopher (…)”.
He started his education in a Russian Gymnasium (there were no other schools under the Russian rule) in Zhytomyr. In 1845 he entered the University in Saint Petersburg. Among the students „there was no one who could match his brightness”. He united young Poles. In 1848 a revolutionary wave known as the Spring of Nations spread all over Europe. When Sierakowski tried to cross the border of Galicia to join the army, he was captured and deported to the military corps in the Orenburg Oblast. After the death of Nickolas I and the Russian defeat in the Crimean War, Sierakowski was allowed to come back to Saint Petersburg where in 1857 he passed the entry exams to the General Staff Academy. After coming back to Poland Sierakowski succeeded once again. Thanks to his project tsar outlawed the physical punishment in the army.
In the recently published book titled “Great Poles from the Vilnius region and North-East Borderlands” Polish writer and a great fan of the former Borderlands of Poland Barbara Wachowicz quotes a letter written in July 1862 by Zygmunt Sierakowski to his mother and sister: “Your Zygmunt and his Apolonia are in love with one another and they gave each other their word that they will get married. She is ready to sacrifice it all for the Homeland, she will help me duly fulfil my most important obligation! I am very happy – it is not an idyllic happiness of a daydreamer, but a happiness of a man who found his guardian spirit”.
Zygmunt Sierakowski married Apolonia Dalewska, who was affectionately called “Polka”, on 30th July 1862 in Kedainiai in the gothic church of the Saint George. The wedding was loud and grand. It was the last joyful event in the life of our hero.
The January uprising broke out. Sierakowski voluntarily gave up his career and joined the uprising. He became a commander in Žemaitija. He wrote a letter to the Russian war minister: „I cannot be deaf to the voice from the Homeland. Because of my brothers fighting for freedom I cannot remain in the Russian army. I must fight together with them”. He had not to wait long for a troop, because one formed as soon as he arrived. He has taken his pseudonym “Dołęga” from his coat-of-arms. An insurgent wrote: “The Žemaitija rejoiced over the presence of ‘Dołęga’”. Everywhere he was welcomed enthusiastic and gained many victories. The triumphal march over the Žemaitija was stopped on 8th May 1863 in the battle of Birzai when Sierakowski was severely wounded, taken prisoner and transported to Vilnius.
Tortures of Sierakowski were described by the press all over Europe. His burial place is not exactly known. Jakub Gieysztor who during the January uprising in Vilnius was the Head of the Wydział Zarządzający Prowincjami Litewskimi (lit. Department Governing the Lithuanian Provinces) described in his “Diaries” Sierakowski as: “… a cheerful person full of energy…”.
Translated by Maciej Jóźwiak within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.