• April 1, 2016
  • 272

Alicja Podolska: I Ached to Teach Children Reading and Writing in Polish

She was only sixteen years old when she left her family home. According to today’s standards she was still a child when she made a firm decision that she wanted to be a teacher. For over 50 years, Alicja Podolska – a deserving teacher from Landwarow, was introducing the youngest students to a mysterious world of cognition. Patiently, letter by letter, she was leading children into a wide and interesting land of knowledge.

Alicja Podolska (Oleszkiewiczówna was her maiden name) was born in the Nowosiołki village (nearby Bołtup), on the Christmas Eve, few minutes before midnight. Four hours later, on the 25th of November, at the saint night of Christmas, her twin sister Teresa was born. This year’s Christmas were for their family special, because it was a double jubilee of their 80th birthday.

“On the 26th of December we were already baptized in the church in Kalwaria. We attended our First Communion there, and other family celebrations…” says Alicja Podolska, a jubilee. She also emphasizes that her parents, Władysława and Edward Oleszkiewicz, cared for their six offspring. Alicja was raised with the respect for the religious beliefs.


“I started my education at school in Jerozolimka. I finished four grades there. Because of the fact that there was no higher grade in any Polish class at the school in Jerozolimka, I had to think about where to study next. There was a fifth grade in the one and only school in Vilnius – the Fifth Grammar School. I enrolled there together with my sister but Teresa went there only for three days and said she did not want to anymore. She said that she was not strong enough. The school was far from home and there was no transportation. I had to go through the Green Bridge. I was more persistent” says Ms Podolska with a smile.

She was in a ninth grade of “the Fifth”, and she was only one trimester from finishing the school year, when a lady from the pedagogical institute appeared at the school. The lady informed the students about the opening of the Polish classes in the village schools, and the lack of the teachers there. Ms Alicja, just like many other young and brave Poles, enrolled on a nine-month course for teachers in Vilnius. After finishing it, she was ready to take on a teaching job.

Nevertheless, she did not stop her education after the course. Another step was a two-year pedagogical school in Trakai, and after few years a Pedagogical Institute in Šiauliai where she studied extramurally.

The Łoździany Station

“I was 16 years old, and I entered the seventeenth year of my life… I was just a girl and already I had to go to work. Many times, my father asked me ‘when will you start to earn your daily bread?’. These were tough times. I became a teacher in 1953. I remember when I, Hela Stasiukiewiczówna, Antoni Jankowski, and Ludwik Młyński arrived to the Trakai region. We were all sent to different places. One inspector told me that there is one good place to which I could commute easily from Vilnius by train. I said yes. It was Łoździany village, situated around 30 kilometers from Vilnius – claims Ms Alicja. She also emphasizes that she was happy to be sent to Łoździany. It was a really hard work, there were mixed classes and the students were of different age. Very often they had to repeat a class few years in a row. Even today Ms Alicja still remembers their names. She loved those children and that would never change. Her job gave her satisfaction.

“Jesus, I was so devoted to my job! To be honest, I was always a hard worker, but those first few years were special for me. I spoke to the students loudly and audibly, because I knew that the headmaster listens to my lessons behind the door. I knew all of the parents, I knew where every child lived. Those students, who had problems with studying, stayed with me after lessons to learn the multiplication table.” that is the way Alicja Podolska recalls her first years as a teacher. When she found out that her students like theatre, she took them to watch a play at least once in a month. No one was discouraged by the fact that the train to Vilnius left at 6 in the morning, and returned late in the evening. The children were curious of the world and the people, and a young and full of spirit teacher helped them making their small wishes true.

Ms Alicja met her future husband, Wojciech Podolski who was a railwayman, during one of the New Year’s Eve parties in Łoździany. She got married in 1956. A year later, Mr. and Ms Podolski moved to Landwarow. Ms Alicja was commuting to her workplace in Łoździany for the whole year. Unfortunately, a seven-grade Polish-Russian school was changed into an elementary school, and eventually closed.

Years fly by…

The hero’s of our story two daughters, Zyta and Jolanta, were born in Landwarow. Alicja and Wojciech worked and they were building their house at the same time. Wojeciech’s mother, Adela Podolska (her maiden name was Kimberówna), moved to their new house and she helped her daughter-in-law, who was entirely devoted to her work, with raising her children and taking care of the household.

“I had never thought that my whole life would be connected with Landwarow.” Ms Alicja says while opening some photo albums on her lap “Years fly by so fast. I want to do something more… I am happy though that I can turn back the time, and see everything that I went through. I have never thrown out a single photo. I have everything organized. Here are my first students and Łoździany. And there it was already 1958… 1975… 1981. School plays next to a Christmas tree, Christmas time, a hornbook” she browses through the pages of the heavy, leather-bound albums. The experienced teacher feels regret that many of her students passed away. Nevertheless, she is happy with her personal quests and actions, which, as years went by, became a crucial part of school in Landwarow’s general values.

The introduction of Cracovian outfits into the fashion of school in Landwarow, was for Alicja Podolska a matter of honor. During school celebrations, her students always wore national costumes, by doing that they emphasized their affiliation and allegiance toward Polish tradition.

The happiness of creation

A special stage of school’s history and of the teacher-beginner Alicja Podolska’s life was the time of forming a school group “Prząśniczka.” Over 30 years ago, in the very beginning, she did a lot for the native group.

“When we started my daughter was wearing the only costume that the group had. It was sent to us from Poland. Day by day, during the whole year, we were sawing costumes for the group together with the girls who knew how to saw. My daughter, Jolanta, who was an artist, designed them, and I, with my own fair hands, sew 26 jerkins. During those times we lacked basic materials, so we had to take care of everything ourseleves, even textiles. And then, Władysław Korkuć formed another group in Landwarow – “Lira”. We had to saw costumes for “Lira” as well. We were full of zest and desire to create something that was ours, Polish..” cheerfully says Ms Podolska.

The concerts, similar to the one in June 1984 in the Grand Theatre in Warsaw, to which came so many people not all of them got into the building, compensate for all the troubles and concerns.

“We cried of joy and agitation and we gave many of such concerts” the teacher from Landwarow, who, together with Lira, travelled around Europe, remembers not so distant times. She had a possibility to bow before pope John Paul II, who gave her his blessing. Also those significant moments are depicted in the pictures.

Work at the Grass Roots

Telling the story of her personal and professional life, Ms Alicja, without hestitation says “I was everywhere, maybe even where I was not supposed to be?…” Those words are additional confirmation that she wanted to be useful and needed to people. To create more beautiful and better world, she undertook not easy work at the grass roots. As a chairwoman of Red Cross organization in the high school in Landwarow she could not let herself do the official “paperwork, instead she rolled up her sleeves and she worked on introducing to the school some order and basic, elementary cleanliness. Cleanliness among students was a big challenge several dozen years ago.

For over 25 years, together with her students, she visited and cleaned neglected Polish gravestones on the cemetery in Landwarow.

An active and helpful teacher did not stay away when stirrings of the Association of Poles in Lithuania were created. The Association’s club was founded in Landwarow, in the exact same room where we are having this talk with the dignified jubilee.

Together with other compatriots from Landwarow who were committed to the cause, our converser explained to people the necessity to vote for trustworthy people in the elections. She tried to convince less aware parents to enroll their children at Polish schools. Schools which would give them not only knowledge, but also, they would inject respect for national values. Such explanation was necessary in Landwarow, where russification was deeply rooted.

Many medals and congratulation letters are the expression of acknowledgement for the nourishment o the language. Ms Alicja really cares about those awards and protects them as if they were the most valued relics.

Alicja Podolska is actively involved in the in the action to the cause of the parish in Landwarow. She is the member of the Catholic Association of Poles in Lithuania. She takes part in the pilgrimages to the Vilnius Calvary, to the Hill of Crosses in Šiauliai, organized for the citizens of Landwarow. She also helps organize church celebrations. She admits pilgrims from Poland, carols in the houses of faithful citizens of the city and helps with many more important happenings. Despite the fact that her own health leave much to be desired, Alicja still finds the time to visit her ill neighbours. This helpful woman says that she is actually a guest in her own house. She has been a widow for five years now. However, her work for others takes a lot of time, and that is why she does not feel lonely. Nevertheless, she always anticipates the arrival her daughters’ families, and Waldek, Wiktoria and Jerzy, her grandchildren.

Ms Alicja said goodbye to her career as a teacher in 2001, however, neither her, nor the school, to which she devoted almost 50 the most beautiful years, forgets about her. Whenever she starts missing school chatter, she can always visit Henryk Sienkiewicz Gymnasium, which is situated in the neighborhood.

“When I stood in front of the class, I knew that my responsibility was to teach. I wholeheartedly wanted my children learn reading and writing in Polish. I explained the parents that they should send their children to the school that teaches using the language of their ancestors. I was happy when a child could learn that” a famous teacher sums up her lifelong input in shaping the minds of the successive generations of the citizens of Landwarow. She also adds that the first symptoms of education were visible when a child could say “Thank you”, “Good morning,” “I’m sorry” in Polish…

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

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