• November 12, 2015
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How Polish Gymnasiums in Vilnius were formed

Education froze, any kind of public life froze. For every word said in Polish in public place, there was a 25-30 rubles fine. School child that spoke their mother tongue with parents outside their home, was risking expulsion from school with ‚wolf ticket’ – that is how Ludwika Życka characterised the ability to use Polish Language in Vilnius after 1863. Mother tongue was taught to kids in home schools, but it was threatened with jail. Educational conspiracy has started and lasted for the next 50 years. No to denationalisation – was the activists’ slogan.

Private school with underground classes became the origin of Polish education. Emphasis was put on teaching history and Polish language. Principals of those private schools had participated enormously in creating national consciousness; they included: Mmes Beniuszewiczówny, Mrs Aleksandrowiczowa, Emilia Wróblewska, Mierzejewskie sisters, Koszkówny sisters, Miss Hundjusówna and Miss Elżbieta Sidorowiczówna (was a teacher in Convent of Benedictine nuns), Apolonia Makowska  (school for village children in Verkiai). Eliza Orzeszkowa, who together with Wincenty Chełmiński and Wacław Makowskim sold Polish books in their bookshop; her activity was named a conspiracy of the Polish primer. Time of slight relief has came… Famous thaw in 1905, when Nicholas II of Russia after the defeat of Japan an revolutionary September, decided to grant some allowances. They have triggered the use of Polish language in Russian schools. Polish was allowed to be thought after hours. Zygmunt Kasprowicz, graduate of Language and Literature Studies faculty of Jagiellonian University, was first to teach in Polish at Mikołaj Winogradow Gymnasium in 1905. His first lecture took place on 24th November.

In December 1906, the legalisation of the secret ‚Education’ society, which was running for 16 years, was a big success of secretive polish educational activists. During the meeting of the founders, which took place in February 1907 (about 150 people were present), new authorities were chosen, because former ones were temporary. Witold Węsławski became a Chairman; other people that formed the committee were: Ludwik Czarkowski as vice-chairman and few other people that were active members of the society for a long time (Maria Rodziewiczówna, Stanisław Jarocki, 2 clerics Napoleon Dyakowski and Stanisław Maciejewicz, Franciszek Juriewicz, Franciszek Szczęsny Świeżyński, Emma and Kazimierz Dmochowscy, Alojzy Perzanowski, professor Stanisław Kościałkowski). The Board of Directors was formed by Józef Montwiłł (Chairman) and Restytut  Sumorok, Mayor of Vilnius Michał Węsławski and few other influential people. All of them for many years formed Vilnius’ intelligence elite.  Among the honorary members were Eliza Orzeszkowa and Konrad Prószyński. Organization was registered as ‚Polish Education Society’. Thanks to Mayor’s help, they acquired a flat on 16 Zawalna Street. Shortly after the meeting, Management and the Board of Directors published a manifesto in press, which read:

At the end our hands are untied. At the end we can come out of basements and dark corners, to the wide world – act openly and bravely – and what’s most important, together. […]’Education’ Society has been formed, approved and can operate. It is up to the people how it will operate – read „Education’s” manifesto published at the beginning of March 1907 in ‚Kurier Litewski’.

However, it did not mean that ‚Education’ Society could set up Polish schools in Vilnius. Ludwig Życka wrote that regardless of the legalization, this activity was […] half-legal, was a fiction of freedom, but it freed some of the secretive organizations.

Obtaining the consent to teach in mother tongue was a matter that connected communities living in Vilnius. Wacław Gizbert-Studnicki wrote: in 1907 parents of the kids attending governmental gymnasiums, wrote a memorial (‚dokładnoja zapiska”) through the governor to the Minister of Education. Poles asking for the right to use Polish language, also represented the Lithuanian minority. After the introduction, which underlined that politics should not intervene with schools, they asked for Russian teachers not to taunt students, insulting religious and national feelings of dissenters. The following postulates were very eloquent:

Lifting the ban of using mother tongue by students (Polish, Lithuanian) both inside and outside of school premises.
Compulsory teaching of the Polish language in gymnasiums, and where needed, according to the number of Lithuanians, teaching of the Lithuanian language by Polish and Lithuanian teachers.
Allowing Poles and Lithuanians to work as teachers in gymnasiums.
Removal of tendentious falsities from history textbooks.
Teaching religion to catholics, Poles and Lithuanians in Polish and Lithuanian language.
Allowing private persons to teach Polish and Lithuanian languages and to open private schools.

The appeal was late because Prime Minister Stołypin had begun to withdraw granted rights. The break in underground ‚Education’ lasted exactly 1 year and 4 months. By the order of Governor, society was being harassed  through a variety of inspections, which verified the propriety of running schools, shelters, canteens and educational societies.

Few sneaks sent reports to Saint Petersburg; informing that children from Orthodox families are not accepted in orphanages, what was seen as manifestation of Polish fanaticism and chauvinism. However, if the child was accepted, it was, for sure, to polonaise and convert him or her to catholics.

Vilnius Governor received few reprimands for tolerating Polish schooling on his territory. „Education became too dangerous for local authorities. Real Russians were especially hurt by the dynamics and efficiency of the Society.

After the pressure from Capital, on 27th February 1908, Governor decided to remove this dangerous Polish invention. „Education” has been shut down after stating the fact that reports of the meetings were done in Polish language. Termination of the Society was one of the signs of the retreat from rights granted in 1905. Police officer and Head of the County received an order to ensure closure of all institutions set up by „Education”. During the general meeting of members on 16th March 1908, the Society was officially banned. The next day, Witold Węsławski convened a meeting in his private apartment, during which it was decided to return to the initial state of full conspiracy. The matters of resurrection or establishment from the beginning of the University in Vilnius, were under way. Every project collapsed after hitting the wall of tsar’s refusal. Polish education had to wait for a better time. It was recognized that besides the primary schools and university, which were believed to become reality, gymnasiums must be established as well. Gymnasiums were necessary to recruit graduates, who would join the group of future students.

Good point came in the summer of 1915, when German army pushed towards the East and occupation of Vilnius was approaching fast. Russians, who felt weak against approaching front, completely changed their attitude. Suddenly, it turned out that nijakich priepastwij nie widit protiw ustrojstwa zaniatij po grupam. This opinion has been given by a front-line military district commander – Prince Nikołaj Tumanow. Thus meant that educational activists could begin setting up gymnasiums. Stanisław Kościałkowski  was the main creator of new units. At first, they were set up under the leadership of Polish Education Committee, led by Witold Węsławski, then schools were ruled by Polish Teachers Association. Initially, there was supposed to be only one coeducational gymnasium in Vilnius but it was quickly decided to create 2 gymnasiums, which were formed simultaneously in August 1915. At the end, 4 gymnasiums had to be set up because of huge student  interest, and this number of schools was given in statistics by the Committee and later by the Association.

First male King Zygmunt August Gymnasium was formed in September 1915 and was controlled by Stanisław Kościałkowski. Vice-President of Vilnius, Konrad Niedziałkowski allowed the school to take the premise exempt by the Russian private Winogradow Gymnasium on Vilnius Street 10, which was evacuated from Vilnius in a hurry. New school accepted 330 boys. The best time for school occurred when it obtained a building on Mała Pohulanka 11.

Second male gymnasium was the school known as Joachim Lelewel Gymnasium. The base of the school were scientific courses, named student’s because were run by a group of academics (young, hungry idealists), and which were attended only by 42 boys. Kazimierz Masiejewski, mathematics teacher and a lawyer after war, was the Principal of the institution transformed into a gymnasium. In April 1918 gymnasium became property of Polish Teachers Association in Vilnius and Zygmunt Fedorowicz became a head of it. After 1918 gymnasium was fully fledged institution of secondary education (nationalised on 1st January 1920). In 1924 gymnasium had maths-bio classes and was located on 38 Mickiewicza Street, and few years later shared a building with Z. August Gymnasium on Mała Pohulanka.

First female gymnasium was located in old trade school Ms Julia Maciejowiczowa on 28 Vilnius Street (it was Monika Oskierko’s house). Maciejowiczowa, together with Julia Rodziewiczowa, was a creator and superior of the new gymnasium, but Stanisław Kościałkowski was the boss. 240 girls applied, assigned to grades 1-7 (8th was created in 1916). Later on Eliza Orzeszkowa became the Patron of the school. Gymnasium was nationalized and in 1920 moved to former Realschule’s building on Orzeszkowa Square, and its branch remained on 10 Vilnius Street.

Second female gymnasium, which operated from 1915 was a school run by a superior of the Sisters of Nazareth, Mother Waleria  also known as Anna Czarnowska. Gymnasium was opened on a foundation of Vocational School of Weaving on 19 Mickiewicza Street, which was running few years before I World War (home of rich lady Maria Jeleńska). Polish language has been taught there since 1904 next to the weaving machines to cover up the real agenda. Up to November 1915, the school enrolled 110 girls (in 1917 there were 219) and was located on 10 Vilnius Street. Stanisława Pietrasziewiczówna, the owner of the house, was an excellent Polish teacher in that school.

The Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth school, was widely known as Nazareth Gymnasium. In 1921 it moved from Vilnius Street to its own building on 13 Sierakowskiego Street, which was located next to so called ‚white house’ on Piaskowa Street, where was the headquarters of Nazareth Sisters. School building was destroyed in 1944, and after the war was completely demolished. Now defunct building of Nazareth Gymnasium on Piaskowa Street (access to school was from 13 Sierakowskiego Street and that was the address).

In September instead of joyous day of the of the start of the school year, Vilnius’ residents watched as Germans enter the city and take it over along with the area of the Western Country. Polish community has immediately awaken and focused their energy on developing Polish education.

Bringing this education to life was and still is a pure political manifestation, designed to show all the Polishness in acquired Russian country – wrote Czesław Janikowski. Next to the primary schools and gymnasiums, arose an organization under the name of Scientific Courses (sometimes called Flying University, because this was intended to be the origin of the future university in Vilnius). Germans, were surprised with the greatness of Polish network of education built by Polish activists.

Firstly, they accepted the existence of Polish schools, but the order of compulsory German lessons was issued. Teachers protested and… the most assertive of them ended up in Łukiszki jail. After 10 days and many tries, they were released.

Germanization system was abandoned but only for a while. Orders were issued and Courses together with Polish primary schools were closed. Polish socio-national activities would be limited to a minimum. When Wilson proclaimed a message about Independent Poland, planning to unite Vilnius and Warsaw, youth manifested their joy and organised a march towards the Gate of Dawn, after the mass in cathedral. Demonstration was interrupted by German army. There were bullets, swords and whips. Wanda Stanisławska wrote a poem about this event; fragment below:

O, Orle Biały, kogo wiedziesz w bój?
Co znaczy główek tych dziecięcych rój?
Ja te głowy młode, w Ostrobramę wiodę,
Do Marii – Nie w bój! nie w bój!
O, Orle Biały, jaki wiedziesz lud?
Czy na miecz idzie spod Katedry wrót?
Ludu tego rzesza, do Matki pośpiesza,
Za zbawienia dziękować cud.

1918 came and Polish educational activists started working. Scientific Courses were resumed, and were led by Jagiellonian University professor, Marian Zdziechowki. Germany announced that permission to open a university will be issued, provided that the lectures will be run in German. Poles rejected this condition. National Democracy, operating in Vilnius Region, had its own project of university. Circumstances were constantly changing then and opening of the university was one step away.

After a few events of passing Vilnius from hands to hands, during the period of Central Lithuania situation stabilized, and even more after incorporation of Vilnius into II Polish Republic. Polish authorities administrated governmental facilities, including buildings of former Russian gymnasiums. With the opening of Stefan Batory University, it was sure that secondary education will not be able to use buildings located between streets Uniwersytecka and Zamkowa. Strictly educational objects were: former Realschule on Orzeszkowa Square, post-tsar female gymnasium building on 38 Mickiewicza Street, adjacent to courts building and second Realschule built in 1914 on Mała Pohulanka 7, on a corner of Góra Buffałowa.

At the turn of 1921/22, 3 more gymnasiums were created. Adam Mickiewicz Gymnasium (humanistic specialization), at first was a coeducational night school. It has been located in the same building as Lelewel Gymnasium on 38 Mickiewicza Street. Acquiring its own building in 1928 was a big day for the school, when it was moved to 3-5 Dominikańska Street as morning gymnasium, opposite the Holy Spirit church. Bronisław Zapaśnik was the first principal of the school.

J. Słowacki Gymnasium had development specialization, and later on, classic. First headquarters of the school were the premises of Zygmunt August Gymnasium on Mała Pohulanka. Then it moved to its own building on 3-5 Dominikańska Street. The then gymnasiums ‚Mickiewiczówka’ and ‚Słowacki’ lasted till 1939.

Second female Prince Adam Czartoryski Gymnasium was constituted in September 1922. First ‚Czartoryszanki’ headquarters was on 10 Vilnius Street, until it was a branch of Orzeszkowa Gymnasium. Students had to study in the afternoons. Branch was separated in 1923 and school became an independent educational facility (nationalised a year later); Waleria Lazarówna was a principal. In 1926 gymnasium was moved to the building on 7 Mała Pohulanka and shared it wth Zygmunt August Gymnasium.

There were 6 public gymnasiums in Vilnius in 1933 (4 male and 2 female). 4 years later Lelewel Gymnasium did not exist. The remaining 5 had its own headquarters: Z. August Gymnasium (Mała Pohulanka 7), Orzeszkowa Gymnasium (Mickiewicza 38), Mickiewicz and Słowacki Gymnasiums (Dominikańska 3-5) and Czartoryski Gymnasium (Orzeszkowa Square 9).

Together with gymnasiums, schools run by religious orders were operating: Jesuits male Gymnasium on Wielka Street next to the St. Kazimierz Church, Benedictine female Gymnasium (in monastery building on Benedyktyńska Street, entrance from 3 St. Ignacy Street).

Multi-nationality and multiculturalism of Vilnius was reflected in the existence of private gymnasiums. Educational Society „Rytas” opened a Witold Wielki Lithuanian Gymnasium (12 St. Filip Street). Emma Dzięcielska Coeducational Hebrew Gymnasium (humanistic specialization). Sofia Gurewicz coeducational Gymnasium was located on 15 Kolejowa Street, and on 9 Krupnicza Street, Chaim Epstein Jewish coeducational Gymnasium was based. Jan Łuckiewicz brought to life  in 1919 Belarusian coeducational Gymnasium (9 Ostrobramska Street). In September 1922, Russian Society male Gymnasium was founded (41 Zawalna Street). French Coeducational High School , founded in 1922, was operating on 7 Jagiellońska Street for a while. There was a few more of them, which were being founded between 1919 and 1922, but none of them has been approved as national school.

Interwar Vilnius was proud of its history of the struggle for Polish education in times of annexation. How significant was establishing in 1930 of a nationwide „Committee of the 25th Anniversary of the Fight for Polish School” and Vilnius Region was strongly represented by it. Vilnius celebrations took place in December 1930. Alfonso Parczewski, USB rector, became a head of the organizational Committee. The main ceremony took place in the theatre on Pohulanka (14th December). In 1934 nationwide committee published a two-volume collection of documents, studies and memoirs titled: „Our fight for Polish School 1901-1917”. An extensive chapter was devoted to the heroic battles and people, who were dedicated to replicate Polish education in Vilnius.

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

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