Henryk Sienkiewicz, Szetkewicz and Mineyko as family

last update: 10 October 1999


by Krzysztof Mineyko

Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846 - 1916) writing his famous novels created many very distinctive characters. For example, he invented Zagloba, Michael Skrzetuski, and Longin Podbipieta in “With Fire and Sword”. These heros have become extremely popular in Polish culture. Any child in Poland knows most details from their lives, including jokes that they said in the novel. The author observed his own family members and friends, inventing these personas.

by Jozef Mineyko

Jozef Mineyko (1879 - 1970) remembered how this happened. He wrote in the following:

We, my brother, a teacher, and I, came from far away village to Warsaw. We stayed at the apartment of our uncle, Casimir Szetkiewicz, at Wspolna 24. His wife and our aunt left with Sienkiewicz’s children to Zakopane for a year. They went away for health reasons.

Szetkiewicz graduated in law from St. Petersburg University when he was still young. After the graduation he settled down in his estate of Hanuszyszki in Troki county. At that time, he visited often his first cousin, Tomasz Mineyko. He engaged with his daughter. They wedded in Vilnius, in 1853. Young couple settled in Hanuszyszki. They had two daughters, Maria and Jadwiga. In meanwhile, unhappy year of 1863 arrived and the uprising erupted. Our uncle was involved in it, and as a result, the general Muraviev banished him to Ufa in Siberia. The family had to sell the estate. Our aunt with little daughters stayed temporarily at home in order to finalize financial matters. Already a new administrator of the estate moved. He was Russian and a representative of the new owner (count Alsufiev). The administrator was a dissent, good man. Once, his friend came from St. Petersburg. Two girls, Maria and Jadwiga, played around these two men. All of sudden, the guest from St. Petersburg stated to girls: “Remember, from now on you have to serve the Emperor and follow his commands”. Maria called back with anger: “We will not serve the Emperor, we will serve Poland for ever”. The guest wanted a severe punishment for girls, to send them to the special Russian orphanage, “preyootov”. However, under insistence of the administrator there were no consequences for girls. Soon, my aunt with daughters went to Ufa, joining her husband. After many difficulties, the family moved to Riazan. After few years, they obtained a permission to move back to central provinces or even to the Kingdom of Poland. They arrived to Warsaw.

After many years, Maria met young Henryk Sienkiwicz in Venice. Soon they engaged and wedded in Warsaw, in a church on the Theatre Square. The marriage was happy one. Henryk writing a Trilogy consulted often his young wife, believing in her judgment. Unfortunately, their happiness did not last too long. Tuberculoses killed Maria, parting them for ever. Maria’s sister, Jadwiga, married a professor Edward Janczewski. She moved with him to Cracow. The professor lectured in the Jagiellonian University for many years. Their home was always open for many guests. Many scientists, authors, and painters met there. Jadwiga lived for 80 years. She died during the German occupation.

The uncle, Casimir Szetkiewicz was an eccentric. Even his appearance attracted peoples’ attention. He was tall, overweigh, with full chins and small eyes. He wore always a long coat in sand colour, a huge hat. He helped himself with a big cane and he smoked cigars.

His mind and moods contradicted each other. He was capable of serious thoughts and he was a quite successful businessman. He always advised his friends and cousins in his financial matters, trying to helped them when they were short of money. At the same time, he told them unending stream of anecdotes, jokes, and stories. He liked a good time. He patronized few taverns around Warsaw, for example, Stempka (Stempkowski’s) on the Theatre Square, or Miller in The Grand Theatre. In most afternoons, anyone could meet him in those places. He made his financial transactions in the Portner’s Bank. He believed Portner, the banker. When Portner went bankrupt, the uncle lost his humor. Probably, he lost some money too.

His entertainment was summer theatres. Also he liked circus. However, he enjoyed male company the most. He was very talkative, although he claimed that he did not like people who talk too much. As a result, when he met someone who talked too much, he waited for a while, politely listening. He waited for the end of the story. When the story was too long, he interrupted. From now on, he kept talking for the rest of the evening. Once, he brought a glass for drinking vodka three times bigger than the average glass. When we asked him what he planned to do with it, he said that his doctor agreed that he could drink a glass of vodka before dinner. However, the doctor did not specify the size of the glass. Then, the uncle decided himself what the right size should be. He chosen a pediatrist as his physician, arguing that if a doctor can treat children who cannot explain their pains, he must treat an adult very well. Adults can explain their pains much better.

The uncle had always a very good appetite. Even when he came back home after any partly, he ate a full plate of herrings, claiming that nothing can be hard on his stomach, except pears.

At home, uncle studied seriously Lithuanian language, comparing it with the Sanskrit.

A death of Maria Szetkiewicz was painful for the entire family. Sienkiewicz mourned her for long time. He moved in an apartment above his in-law’s place, at Wspolna. Aunt Szetkiewicz looked after the children. The relationship between Henryk and his mother-in-law was excellent. They had many common friends, including priest Chelmicki, Dr. Leo, and Dr. Benni. In Zakopane, they associated with Dembowska, Zamoyska and her son, Wladislaw, Stanilaus Witkiwicz, Karol Potkanski, and many others. Henryk Sienkiewicz was very grateful his mother-in-law for her role in upbringing his children. Also, he admired her mind. He shared friendship with his father-in-law. He liked his sense of humour. Many jokes told by Zagloba, he heard from his father-in-law. I think that such eccentrics like Szetkiewicz we canot meet anymore. He was sympathetic towards others. However, he did not like Germans, and especially Bismarck. He cut out his portrait and hung it in a washroom.

The uncle Szetkiewicz spent his thirty years in Warsaw. He liked the city and he was very popular with his neighbors. He died in 1899.

by Krzysztof Mineyko

I have few memoirs written by some other relatives, in Polish and never published. I know also few anecdotes about Henryk Sienkiewicz too. For example, I remember one. Sienkiewicz spent some summers with my family in Dubniki, in current Belarus. One of Mineykos, Tomasz Mineyko, married Emilia Wawrzecka. She was the last descendent from her family. The legend in her family was the following. One of her first ancestors was a knight who fought in the battle of Grunvald (known also Tannenbeg) in 1410 between Poland and Teutonic Knights. This ancestor performed so well that he was knighted by a king. His name was Skrzetuski. Their family later even received a count title. Couple centuries later, one of Skrzetuskis, Wawrzyn Skrzetuski was an adventurer. His adventures were not always fully honest. As a result, he escaped from Poland to Lithuania. He changed his last name to Wawrzecki, from his first name. He named the estate that he bought as a Skrzetustowo, from his previous last name. When Sienkiewicz stayed with Mineykos, he heard the legend. Later, he used some stories from it in his book "With Fire and Sword". When I went in June of 1999 to Belarus, I have found the grave of Emilia Wawarzecka. Also, I saw the inscription about this family. The plaque was in one of churches in Vilnius, in Lithuania. For me it was a very nice touch.

Photographs from Belarus and Lithuania: