• February 8, 2015
  • 276

“I care about Vilnius”

An unusual man can be spotted near the Gate of Dawn. His civic attitude makes him worthy of the title of the freeman of Vilnius.

“Recently, I was visiting the Gate of Dawn and I saw an elderly man through the window of the chapel. He was walking down the street and picking up trash laying on the streets” – said a colleague of mine. “I thought that the old man is making money on the side by selling paper and plastic to recycling companies. However, I noticed that he looked too decent to do such things. I met him yesterday on the classical music concert in a church. We talked for a while. It turned out that he is a Pole and that his name is Jan Pogorzelski. He collects thrash from around the Gate of Dawn for 20 years now. He does that because he thinks that it is the right thing to do, after all the Gate of Dawn is a trademark of Vilnius. 20 years of collecting trash out of the feel of the civic duty is a heroism” – added my colleague.

“I think that the man should receive the title of the freeman of Vilnius…”

A passion for history

Inspired by the civic attitude of Mr. Jan, I decided to meet him. I found him by the Church of the Holy Trinity and Basilian Monastery. He agreed to talk with me, but he immediately started to talk about the church in which he has been working for years now, not about himself. His knowledge about the temple is impressive. He proudly showed me around the 16th century commemorative plaque of someone from the Tyszkiewicz family and explained to me the symbols located on it. He was clearly fascinated with art and artistic harmony.

Mr. Jan is not only an expert of the church ornamentation, but he is also an expert of history – his true passion. He is not a trained historian, although one may think so while listening to his explanations concerning history. Mr. Jan often talks about the life of St. Josaphat Kuntsevych who worked in this temple, about three saint Vilnius martyrs, or about the Three Crosses on the Bleak Hill – generally about the matters unknown to the wider public. Mr. Jan is also surprised and dissatisfied with tourist guides telling historical lies to the tourists.

“I pity these people that come to the church and kiss the rotten tree trunk by the entrance thinking of it as the place of the torture of Vilnius martyrs. It is quite the opposite, when the temple was founded, the main altar was placed on the original tree trunk of the Vilnius martyrs” – explained Mr. Jan.

Many interests

When I asked him: “how old are you?”, Mr. Jan laughed and said: “old”. He was born in 1930. His grandfather, Wincenty Pogorzelski, was a Vilnius nobleman. But as a keen hunter he moved from town to a village located 50km from Vilnius, near Kaunas. That is where Mr. Jan was born. Mr. Jan’s parents, due to their place of residence, witnessed the Polish-Lithuanian war from close up (his mother came from Owsianiszki – where Lithuanian soldiers stationed, his father came from around Jewie – the place where Polish soldiers stationed). Mr. Jan was told about as a child. Mr. Jan’s father – Franciszek Pogorzelski (born 1902) did not participate in the campaign himself, but he lost his best friend in the war. Mr. Jan said that because of the family experiences he has been trying to heal the Polish-Lithuanian relations for whole his life.

Jan Pogorzelski came to Vilnius after serving his military service in 1957. He immediately moved to Lentvaris because he couldn’t stay in the capital. He worked in the paper mill in Grzegorzewo (Grigiškės). He often analyzes his experiences and he thinks that military service and the work in the paper mill taught him a lot. Later on, he became interested in the traditional medicine and Indian philosophy. He also worked in the Parliament of the Republic of Lithuania as a part time editor of „žalioji Lietuva”.

To serve God by actions

When I asked Mr. Jan if he is an uniate he said no.

“On the 400th anniversary of the Union of Brest there was a conference devoted to that event. It took place in the University of Vilnius. The speeches made me realize how persecuted uniates were under the rule of the Russian tsar. They actually are still persecuted. That is why I decided to work here. I do it for free, for 20 years now” – said Jan Pogorzelski.

He comes to the temple every day. He likes talking with people. And this place gathers many different kinds of people. He visits the Gate of Dawn every day as well. When I asked him why does he do that he answered that once he worked in the parliament he spoke with president Brazauskas about tourism as the source of income for the country.

“If we start to neglect tourism we will have nothing to provide for ourselves. An appropriate programme has been implemented, but it is frequently infringed. I decided to actually do something about it, not just talk. I care about Vilnius” – he said.

I asked him a provocative question: “what kind of satisfaction does collecting thrash for free give to you?” Mr. Jan answered: “Serving God by my actions gives me satisfaction. It is a kind of service. And service may lead to a great achievements.”

“Is it not easier to force someone to clean?” – I pushed.

“I am not a head of some sort, I don’t have such power” – laughed Mr. Jan.

“But when it comes to the mess near the Gate of Dawn, I phoned to the local government. The problem is that the poor begging in the area leave their cardboards there. It seems that the situation has changed for the better. It is very important because tourists visiting Vilnius often start their tours here” – he said.

The guardian angel of the Gate of Dawn does not care about people’s reaction towards his cleaning.

Nationality – citizen of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania

The talk with Mr. Jan was an opportunity to visit Konrad’s Cell situated nearby the temple. We talked about Mickiewicz.

“How should we perceive Mickiewicz? His nationality?” – wondered Mr. Jan. “Poles treat him as their own, Lithuanians want him to be theirs, Belarusians claim that he was a Belarusian… I once told to the ambassador that no one can be forced to become someone. It is who we perceive ourselves that matters. When Mickiewicz wrote “O Lithuania, my country” (translated by Kenneth Mackenzie) he thought about the Lithuania of his times – the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. That was how Ignacy Domeyko, Czesław Miłosz and the whole intelligence perceived Lithuania. When I planned to join the Lithuanian Catholic Academy (Litewska Akademia Katolicka), a linguist named Kučinskaite commented upon my name: “…but you are “lenkas” (transl. note: Lithuanian for Pole)”. I answered that I am simultaneously a “lenkas” and “lietuvis”. As understood by Mickiewicz…”

Alina Stacewicz


Translated by Damian Gabryś within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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