Memoirs by Zygmunt Mineyko (1840-1925)
Copyright of English translation Krzysztof Mineyko @ 1999
Working always hard for my large family and being influenced by historic events so much I did not have a luxury of having enough time for describing events in which I have taken part in my so long life. I would like to describe these events for future generations. I am aware of relative value that my memories may have. I have another motivation. I do not want to be blamed for hiding a knowledge of many political events in which not only I have taken part but also many my comrades and some famous personalities.
I had continued vigorously my work as a chief engineer of the Public Work Ministry in Greece until August 1917 when I went through a heart attack. My illness together with nervous stress caused my resignation from that post. My wife, daughter Karol Potocki, granddaughter Lunia Potocki, and son Stanislaw, a military physician, looked after my health. My son had been delegated temporarily from Saloniki to Athens for that purpose. All of them helped me so much that after two months I had regained my strength and I could start working on the memories.
My children and wife being afraid of next hart attack that can be fatal tried to convince me that I should limit my work to few pages a day. They suggested that otherwise the work may affect negatively my intelligence.
My old age has contributed to many illnesses that have prevented from continuation my memoirs. This is even more regrettable when I have so much time on my hands. In spite of these circumstances I will try to do my best until the final days prevent me from doing so. I find my intellectual activity invigorating and I feel that my brain capacity remains satisfactory. I am aware that my physical strength may have influenced my ability to recollect images and may reduced my sensitivity.
Previously, I have contributed in the area of journalism. I have sent my correspondences to the Cracow’s “Czas” and to the Lwow’s “Gazeta Polska”, covering Olympic Competitions, disturbances on Crete and an independence uprising in Epire. I have managed to find free time for doing so.
However, I had to terminate my contacts with my native country because of the World War eruption. This did not stop me from writing down my comments and descriptions of events that occurred in Greece. My productivity in this area even increased because I had more time in my disposal. As a result, I have produced many volumes of chronics as manuscripts. I have an intention of publishing them if I live to see a road again open to Poland, if I remain still alive.
When my sister, Rozalia Zasimowska asked, I sent to her a short recollection of my participation in the uprising of the 1863. The plan was to include my description in the 50 year anniversary of the uprising related publication. Because this enterprise has never materialized, and only Jakob Gieysztor has mentioned few times about my unfortunate adventure and me, I let my sister to publish my memoirs. I have done it when someone inquired for it.
I have not received any assurances that my memoirs were published. The lack of communication channels with Poland and my sister death during her escape from Zasimowo to Minsk, because of Germans invasion, caused this misinformation. As a result, I have to duplicate some my descriptions previously already done.
Materials for the basis of memoirs include few letters and some documents. These materials are so sparse because I had to leave regrettably my collections at least twice, once when I left Paris and second time when I left suddenly Constantinopol. I never could get them back. My home has been temporary many times in my life.
I have settled in Greece for last 27 years. This place has become my permanent residency. Many images from the past lost its original intensity. I cannot retrieve from my memory pictures of many familiar faces that belonged to my close friends. I forgot their names. As far as geographical places and the chronology of events, I may easily be accused of mistakes.
My memoirs, especially describing my journey to Siberia and an escape from there, could have a very different shape if I would write them down just after my arrival to France. However, I have committed to put all into one, coherent piece of work. I hope to finish it before end of my days.
Frequently, parents organized secret meetings at home, in addition to usual parties. They did not allow my brother Eustachy and me to participate in these gatherings. As a result, our curiosity grew more and more, especially that they requested from us to keep in secret about these social events without giving us any explanation in regards of their nature. We have noticed that in addition to familiar persons some unknown to us strangers were coming to see father in his library. Mother led them to his room making sure that we could not hide close nearby with a help of older sister Albertyna. Guests continued discussions at the entrance when meetings ended. We could overhear random pieces of conversation that we did not understand, something about the Duchy of Poznan, Prussians, Mieroslawski, Siemaszko, and landless nobles. The riddle of expressed views drove us nuts increasing our curiosity up to the almost physical pain.
The year was 1848 when I was eight years old. At that time, an uprising erupted in the Duchy of Poznan. Discrimination of the landless noble's class increased in Lithuania. Also, the Moscow policy included an attempt to eliminate a union between the Ukrainian church and Roman Catholics trying to tight the local population with the Russian Empire. The ongoing state discrimination caused wide spread resistance of citizens belonging to all classes in Lithuania.
Everybody conspired in order to find the best way to neutralize murderous goals of the common enemy. Secret societies and gatherings mushroomed everywhere in patriotic Wilno, a capital of Lithuania. The main objection for this activity was to collect material means for helping volunteers going to join the uprising against Prussia. The second goal was to help landless nobles hiding from officials trying to draft them into a 35 year military service. This service usually included fighting in very remote provinces of the Empire. The landless citizens were not excluded from the draft. The drafting was one of the means to eliminate patriotic youths from the entire region.
The secret gatherings in father’s room were meetings of one of those subversive groups - my mother told me much later. My father had a substantial influence over his comrades because he gained a trust of a bishop Wolonczewski. The connection helped in underground activities.
My 13 year old sister Albertyna was fully aware of weight that these activities brought. She knew how important patriotic movement was for our country and the price for it was an arrest or even deportation to Siberia, especially that police searched houses everywhere. The authorities had noticed that some suspicious individuals were coming to our house.
Albertyna surely knew what she was doing when she taught us, younger brothers, to be secretive, keep mouth shut, and watch for any sign of danger from the outside world. She reminded us that with one unthoughtful word we could lose parents for ever. If authorities interrogate us, we should confess that we have seen only family friends coming to our house - no strangers and no secret gatherings.
She instructed us that in the event of questioning where father hides his secret materials, even under a treat of beating, we can direct investigators to our father’s boxes of cigars. He was devoted smoker of smuggled, good quality cigars. We should never under any circumstances lead them to illegal papers and seals that were in his possession. She tried to build up an inner strength that nobody could squeeze a word from us. Otherwise parents would have to go to jail for a long time and we would end up shamefully in an orphanage.
I decided together with my brother Eustachy that we were going to resist an enemy until the end. No abuse will break our mission. However, being practical we started to wear two pairs of pants, the second one over the first one. In this way, we were hoping to minimize pain from beatings. If we could not avoid beatings over the naked flesh we would still continue our resistance.
These were circumstances under which the future generation of 1863 revolutionaries was growing. We were learning about secrecy and the necessity of hiding the truth from officials. The ability to lie well had become a basis for a servicing family and the country. The expression of the truth led to betrayal and defeat. Otherwise fighting the common enemy did not make any sense. We heard many stories about little boys who survived severe beating from hands of Moscovites and Prussians, who had never reviled the secrets to the authorities. All our friends and classmates admired these little heros.
We did not have to wait too long for the search of our house. The investigators could not find suspicious papers. Found letters did not prove any guilt on our father’s part. Then policemen expectedly turn their attention to us, children. They requested us to lead them to hidden documents. The questioning was also directed towards Albertyna and other younger sisters.
Great fear sunk in our hearts when the police officer with golden insignias on his uniform threatened us with severe beatings if we hide any truth. He also tried to bribe us with sweets for the cooperation. Brother Eustachy had an excellent idea when he requested sweets in advance promising a confession.
The investigator exited with a possibility of finding the evidence sent a constable for sweets to nearby grocery store. When the constable returned, he gave a handful number of sweets to Eustachy. My brother with an expression of pride on his face immediately led the police officer to the small room where our father hid his collection of luxury cigars that mostly were smuggled from abroad.
Obviously the trick caused our father cigar storage big depletion and a fine. However, the attention of investigators was redirected from a real danger. We knew very well where subversive papers were hidden. If they would manage to find them (and a special seal) the deportation of our father to Siberia was guaranteed. Eustachy’s cheating assured authorities that our parents were in fact innocent. The police officer was happy with the positive results of his search and gave us rest of sweets equally dividing them between children. He was quite happy to carry big boxes of cigars and substantial fine that stayed in his possession anyway. Leaving our house, he wished good night and excused for disturbing a peaceful evening.
Parents gave Eustachy a big hug. He shamelessly showed his pride, especially that Albertyna truly congratulated him and she had always a big influence over us, younger children. We, kids, considered her being smarter than anyone else because she collected every year award. Awards were from her school for academic achievements, in shape of books with golden inscribed covers.
The house search marked the beginning of new phase in our lives. We became very sensitive towards any political events. Our senses could not miss anything what occurred around us. We had understood fully that Moscow authorities are the enemy number one. We had to be very careful when we dealt with officers with golden insignias on their uniforms. Previously, I was very jealous of these beautiful insignias - not anymore.
Unfortunately, we learned to hate Muscovites increasing our knowledge of their barbaric crimes. Everyday events fed our resistance of official slavery, although so short time ago we considered Russians being our friends. Previously, we were innocent because parents and teachers avoided bringing us, children in atmosphere of primeval hatred.
Recently, the government dellegalized the union of the Ukrainian church with the Roman Catholics. Those who opposed the decision were severely punished. The discrimination was the most directed against peasants who were converted to the Russian Orthodox church by force. The conversion was double devious because expressed not only betrayal of faith but also meant betrayal of patriotic values. As a result, many stubborn peasants were slaughtered and many were deported to Siberia. The policy affected the most of priests who rejected the idea of conversion to orthodox pastors.
We heard about Siemaszko’s cursed arguments who used to be a bishop of the Ukrainian church and who betrayed own parishioners joining the Russian Orthodox church. He had become a weapon in hands of the government. He was against the local population, in state attempts of Russianizing our beloved Lithuania. His conduct brought an incalculable hardship for thousands of the best children of our nation.
These events created a desire in children for the revenge and the necessity of life sacrifice. They acquired a sense of a responsibility to resist the government. The patriotic Wilno youths grew in this kind of political clouds.
In our interactions with other kids we had the most news to tell because constantly we tried to overhear what our father discussed with other comrades of the underground movement. We knew all details about tortures which members of the Ukrainian church were subjected. The father brought detail information about this aspect of political fight straight from the office of the Wolonczewski bishop. The knowledge of this discrimination increased our hatred of Muscovites.
The patriotic enthusiasm in youths increased because of many reasons. One of them was the fact that many professors of the Wilno University were unemployed as a result of closing down the only university in Lithuania. Russians did it because of their policy of suppressing independence moods in the society. The Wilno inhabitants always gave the greatest respect when they met these unfortunate scholars. Parents commented to their children how the enemy destroyed our identity. We learned that in the past the country had much better opportunities. These were circumstances under which the future partizans of the uprising of 1863 grew.
When the authorities closed down the university, so famous in Europe, they stole all laboratory equipment and all invaluable collections, including library, national museum and astronomical devices. These goods were distributed between different centers in a proper Russia. For example, a custodian of astronomical observatory was a famous astronomer, priest Szukiewicz. He was a brother of my grandmother (through my matrimonial lineage). Because of my close relation with him, I knew some details about him. He eventually died in depression because between collectibles which Muscovites robed was his private item: an enormous model of the universe made of brass. He was working on it for many years reflecting star constellations in very meticulous and precise proportions. This was his main achievement and the source of his personal pride. He could not bare a thought that fruits of his many years work fell in hands of enemy. He planned to donate his model to a national institution in Lithuania. Before he passed away, when he realized that it will not be possible, he advised my mother to sue the government of Russia. To make this process possible, he left the ownership of the model in his will to our family. However, any attempt to get justice from the state was a dream. Invaders did not respect anything.
As a child, we went for long walks in the city and beyond to surrounding towns. All this hikings were saturated with historical lessons. For example, I remember tracing all places where Napoleon stayed before his invasion against Russia. Wilnians advised him to stay here through the winter and then start the war in the spring. Lithuanians knew how Russian winters can be severe. We learned how expectations for freedom grew and how they quickly diminished when French army disappeared in snow and frost. I saw the place where recently the government executioners shot the rebel Konarski. The entire Lithuanian society cried for him. Someone took chains that were used for tighting him up and made rings out of it. People were wearing these rings on fingers instead of jewelry. For them, the rebel was a saint.
We learned about some underground organizations. I remember stories about the group called “Filareci & Filomaci”. Their leader, Zan was tortured in the jail. We learned about many national heros who perished. We learned about banned publications that described secret plans and events, and which explained its political program. All of this increased our curiosity, prepared for a revenge and sacrifice.
Finely, I learned that my parents decided to send me to a military school. There were two options, one of them was a school in Polock and the second one was in Lithuanian Briest. The government introduced a bill that all sons from a noble family had to serve in the army, with exception of one. If these sons did not gain an officer rank they could lose a nobility status.
This bill aimed at the privileged class where most members tried avoiding army service as much as possible. Although only a noble could have been promoted to the officer rank the rich kids did not want to serve the oppressor. Population belonging to lower classes, including Jewish minority, was treated differently. The government recruited selected youngsters by force. The list that was prepared with some consent by the representatives of local communities contained prearranged percentage of that population. Police and the military staff helped the process making sure that it was as smooth as possible.
Usually, the date of the draft was kept in a total secrecy. Otherwise the officials could not achieve the quota because youngsters would escape to large Lithuanian forests. The authorities would have to accept older people depleting peasant's population in surrounding villages. The secrecy was the part of good management that guaranteed a cooperation of older generation in this inhumane procedure.
The chased youngster, drafted into battalions located in remote parts of the Empire, had to serve humiliating 35 years. He did not have any chance to be promoted to the rank of an officer. He remained a private for the rest of his life, being beaten under slightest circumstances. He usually forgot his mother tongue. He became slowly the lowest kind of servant of the tsar, so called “stoopuyka”. However, I have never heard that any one of them forgot his own faith. When the term was served, he came back to own village becoming some kind of a freak for all his neighbors until his death.
However even rumors about a possibility of the draft caused that young people escaped in the mountains and forests. Then, the official hunt followed. Caught teenagers were locked in specially prepared wooden traps and dragged to closest towns. Crying and mourning mothers and sisters assisted sons and brothers. The noise reminded a funeral when family assisted passed away to the cemetery.
When I was a young child I witnessed this type of draft in our village of Balwaniszki. I remember my devastation when I saw how relatives of included boys were terrified. I will never forget a face of one of the fathers who came to me and begged “Young Master, please help me, help me..” I cryed and begged authorities to release a boy. It was fruitless. At that time, I knew that we cannot cooperate with oppressors, we had to resist them. This circumstances led to the future uprising of 1863.
Few years later, I witnessed even more brutal events. I saw a military draft of Jewish boys as young as seven years old. They were dragged away from hands of terrified mothers. This time the state had made an attempt to enroll Jewish children into a freshly organized cadet school for that minority. Someone had an idea in his sick mind to reduce in this way Jewish population converting their sons into Christian soldiers. The school allowed promote graduates to the rank of a sergeant. The empire could gain good servants brought up in the state religion. The school was opened somewhere in the South.
There was other motivation. The officials eagerly proceeded with the draft. Police officers and military officials tried to get as much bribes as possible enlisting only sons of the wealthiest businessmen. The scam was very well prepared. Candidates had to go through the medical screening. Military doctors cooperated with officials involved making sure that all representatives of the government loaded their pockets with money. When a bribe found a way into their hands a reach boy was replaced by the poor Jewish one.
The recruitment to the largest army in the World was continued for several weeks in Wilno, until all Jewish families that had any money to spare lost it. At least, they saved their children from inhumane military service making sure that sons would not increase the stream of new Christian converts. However, poor Jewish families went through unspeakable torture. But who at that time cared for the poor. Unusual number of solders escorted the unfortunate children every day dragging them through the streets to barracks. The procession was accompanied by a crowd of mothers crying and chased away with gun butts beating them over heads. Solders did not care that mothers just wanted to hug their beloved children the last time in their lives. The new guardians simply followed orders in cold blood.
The draft casued a robbery of the Jewish community in extant of many thousands' rubles. It took place in Wilno and in many other towns of Lithuania. The obvious violation of basic human rights did not trigger between them any visible resistance. They learned to accept any injustice from the state. In addition, it seemed that a relationship between the Jewish minority and the Polish majority did not improve as well. This event could unite the whole society. However, this did not happen.
During my childhood the majority spoke Polish in Wilno. Only Jewish spoke a Germanic dialect, called “yudish”. Many considered it an inferior language. Townsfolks and nobles stubbornly adhered to Polish refusing of learning Russian. As a result, even the state officials, teachers and their families had to learn Polish. Otherwise they could not function properly in our country.
I have made this comments because when I visited again Wilno in 1911 I saw a completely different situation. I had obtained a special permission to go there for a month through the queen Olga of Greece intervention. I was surprised that the tsarist slavery made a huge impact on the society transferring the capital of Lithuania into a typical Russian city.
I calmed down later when I found out that it was a very artificial impact. The Moscow government delegated many officials to the city. It requested even from minor employees to wear Russian uniforms. Even luggage boys at the train station had uniforms designed by officials. The masquerade went so far that horse carriage drivers had to follow the suite wearing typical Russian hats. When I realized that I saw only the surface of things my disappointment diminished.
I had many opportunities to discover that the spirit of the proud nation stayed in tact. Everybody remained hopeful that the future will bring freedom.
Only the narrow part of the society, mostly belonging to the ethnic minorities (Jewish), accepted Russian domination acquiring their language for everyday conversation. These youngsters shamelessly spoke that language on the streets knowing that they have backing up of numerous police officers keeping eyes on most parts of Wilno.
After 48 years I could see Wilno again. I walked every corner of this beautiful city, being accompanied by my wife, my sister Rosalia Zasimowski, and son in law, Karol Potocki. Many events from the past came to my mind clearly again.
The central part of the city remained the same. However suburbs grew with increased inhabitants. I have seen many metropolitan centers of the world, however Wilno definitely has the biggest appeal to me. Lithuania remains the most charming country of them all.
I saw a distasteful monument of the empress Catherine the Great built in front of the cathedral, one of the most revered buildings. This church was build around the grave of the Lithuanian saint, prince Casimir. This place had even more significance for the nation: before Christianity it was a site of pagan worship. The symbol of Russian occupation, errected in front of our ancestors’ place of worship, was outrageous.
My upsetting continued when I visited a sister of my friend, Emanuel Jundzill. Her name was Maria. In front of her house, the occupants built a monument of general Muraviev. He was the most cruel suppressor of Lithuanian drive for freedom. He hanged most of freedom fighters.
Muscovites continued the work started by Catherine the Great, even after Muraviev’s death. However, all signs showed that there is only one future for free Lithuania. The brutal force always lose when right circumstances come. The Russianizing of my beloved country was not possible.
I had an opportunity to see Oszmiana, Holszany, Balwaniszki, and many other villages so close to my heart. I saw all these places maybe the last time in my life. Everywhere I was welcomed with open hearts, although all my friends knew that they risked some police harassment as a result of my visit.
Even the Governor of Lithuania approached me through his officials with a suggestion that I could stay for rest of my life here. The price to pay was an official statement that I would serve the emperor of Russia and that I would renounce my previous libertarian convictions. The commandant of Oszmiana’s police, major Smirnow, ensured me that I can be fully accepted if I remain committed to the tsar. I understood that their intention was to turn myself into a traitor. I could not reject what I stand during whole my life.
When I was leaving my beloved country I was afraid of an arrest at the border. The Russian government did not forgive its citizens a rejection of any offer. I still believe that they did not go that far only because of presence of my wife, the citizen of another country. The authorities did not want risk any serious protest from outside the country.
I crossed the border with butterflies in my stomach. I settled down after some rest at the estate of count Oswald Potocki, in Piatkow.
I have included the above episodic description out of context only because I am afraid of leaving unfinished memoirs. The description proves that I have never lost my faith into my compatriots. I deeply believe that one day Lithuania will be a free country.
Continuation (on 30 May 1919)
There were many villages with poor farmers. These farmers did not belong to a peasant class. They were pauperized nobles who acquired the status as an award in many wars. The privileges included the right of carrying a saber and to be excused from the obligatory military service. In addition, they had the right to be promoted to the rank of officer, if the military service was chosen as a career path.
The occupants did not honor these privileges. They treated villagers as any other peasants. When time came for the draft, the youngsters were scrupulously joined to the army. No excuses could save them. Quite often violence erupted and blood was flowing. Soldiers and police collected fresh members to the army with the full determination.
When the draft started, all effected villages suddenly became empty. Nobody could see any young males. Usually, young escaped to the mountains and forests and older went to St. Petersburg to contest the law in courts. The Police when caught escapees dragged them to barracks for condemnation the rest of their lives.
I remember a village between Balwaniszki and the town of Holszany. I forgot its name. The inhabitants of the village were poor nobles. Most of them were fairly educated. They worked hard on their small farms. They were leaders for the surrounding community. They played in many ways a leading role in progress bringing a civilization to the backward countryside. Muscovites could not stand any leadership not controlled by the authorities. This village was a kind of sore in their eyes. To destroy them, the government used many hideous methods. I am not sure whether the village currently even exists.
When my mother and I were going through this village, on our way to the town of Holszany, we stayed there visiting few our friendly families. We wanted also to see how they were handling difficult situations after the draft to the army that occurred a week ago. In every house people’s faces were tearful. Everybody was grounding teeth. Little, clean houses made impression that a funeral was under way in all of them.
When we stopped our carriage, people went out to their front porches to see who was brave enough to come to the country of darkness. All our friends, when they recognized us, were lamenting and complaining about lost sons, brothers and husbands. They shared with us information who managed to escape. The escapees were in equally bad situation. They condemned themselves to become homeless beggars hiding own identity for ever and moving from village to village. The government destroyed the community trying to draft too many males. Women were talking about their loves' ones like about dead ones.
Obviously, the event made a big impact on my psychic although at that time I was only a little boy. I disliked Muscovites since then willing to sacrifice myself for the liberation of my country.
Under above described circumstances, the Lithuanian youths grew. They knew that lost happiness can be achieved only through freedom. Our grandfathers still remembered what freedom really meant. Our fathers with broken spirits after unfortunate Napolean’s attempt to suppress Russia and after unsuccessful uprising of 1830, did not resign into acceptance of the status quo. They organized many underground movements aimed against the enemy. They tried to educate patriotically the society as much as possible.
People acted very carefully, knowing that they cannot afford open fight against so strong occupying force. Escaping youngsters from the military service always could find a help from these organizations. The subversive groups supplied food to hiding places in forests. The military dodgers could find illegal work in cities. Those who managed educate themselves were even accepted into the local aristocracy through false documents. In other words, the avoidance of military service was well organized and it was an expression of patriotic values.
My mother helped many, hiding them in Wilno and in our villages. I remember Jan who was on false papers. He worked in our fields in Balwaniszki as a supervisor. I remember also Jacyna who was well educated. He even spoke French. He hid on our estate. Later he moved to the female convent in Wilno. Someone snitched about his hiding place to the police. He was arrested, severely beaten in public, and sent to the special battalion where only criminals served. During the investigation he never confessed about those who helped him. He explained that he came to the convent only to get a job of the caretaker.
Obviously, the convent had to bribe many officials in order to avoid closing. Actually, in a way, people were pleased with so widely spread corruption of bureaucrats. It helped to save many lives. The authorities were ready to exchange any punishment for the right price. Only poor really suffered.
Bribery became a weapon against the tsar government. It saved many people from going to Siberia or losing entire estate. On the other hand, I have never heard about any Lithuanian who spied against own people and collaborated with the oppressor. As a result, subversive activities in Wilno were quite successful. The officials could not know what was decided during many underground meetings.
Unfortunately the government was quite successful in suppressing local population through the means of drafting potential young trouble makers, especially between landless nobles. They did not care that most of them were descendants of those who showed bravery on fields of many battles, that their families earned the privileged status. When villages lost potential leaders, the Moscow could continue its domination.
The fight against landless nobles lasted many years since 1848. Those who were caught wandering as homeless beggars were sent to the battalions with serving criminals, or even some of them to Siberia. Unfortunately, many emigrated abroad for ever.
Many very prosperous villages became empty in 1850s. Even women moved from forsaken area. Houses turned into rabbles and land remained unproductive covered with weeds. Even peasants’ fields declined, maybe as a result of lost leadership and encouragement from better educated neighbors. In other words, countryside declined materially and culturally.
Muscovites triumphed. The government trying to ensure its success sent there many new officials from the proper Russia. They had only one motivation: money. The new style of governing was authoritarian, barbaric, and inhuman. Even as child, I had noticed brutality of new breed of officials. They showed lack of manners. Alcoholism was widely spread between them. Immoral behaviour became an official norm. I could see that barbarians ruled beloved Lithuania.
At that time, the population was not ready for a military action against the occupants. However people tried to minimize the negative consequences. The Polish aristocracy for most part behaved dissently. Only Wittgensttein and one of Oginski betrayed. They helped officials even representing Polish. However, most of them worked underground for the country, having morale support of honorable bishop Wolonczewski. I learned later about his role in the patriotic movement from my father before his death.
The worst of all collaborators was Oginski. He helped Russians in their attempt of destroying the Lithuanian noble class. Under false pretenses, he collected from most nobles authentic documents proving a nobility. They were hoping that Oginski can help them in legalizing their status through the highest court in St. Petersburg. Instead of helping trusting families, Oginski burned the collected documents in own palace. He went even further: he burned the rest of those documents, remaining in the archives of Rossa. As a result, the entire class lost any prove of their status. Until today descendants of victims curse the name of Oginski.
Because of my brother Eustachy eyes' illness that caused his inability to read parents hired a teacher who taught us orally. As a result, the teacher lectured not only my brother but also me. In the beginning, the elderly man was our teacher. I remember him as a very well spoken man who emphasized oratory skills. Regrettably, he died too soon. After him, we had many teachers: some males and some females. However, nobody could measure up to the first one.
After the summer, the end of happy home years was coming. My destiny was a military cadet school. I had to part with my home and family at the age of nine. I resigned to my faith with a deep sorrow.
The interest of the family required that one of sons commit himself to the military service. Otherwise the family would lose the privilege of belonging to the noble class. All preparations for the departure were under way. My parents gathered necessary information about two cadet schools: Polock and Brest. These two schools traditionally accepted students from Lithuania. Parents tried to make an intelligent decision about a better choice: which school could give me a better upbringing.
In mean time, Eustachy gossiped with peers about these schools. He was two years older than me and as a result he had wider than me connections with youngsters. He heard that Muscovites widely used a corporal punishment in both schools trying to train boys into loyal servants of the tsar. Beatings were routinely abused. The goal of schools was to eradicate any traces of Polish identity. The staff ensured that graduates left as fanatic supporters of the Russian empire and that they had imprinted in their minds an image of the white tsar. The program was prepared in a such way that cadets did not have any chance to speak Polish. After several years grown officers virtually forgot a mother tongue.
Eustachy together with Albertyna informed me about a grave danger that I was facing. They promised to reverse the tide. The news did not threatened my conviction to maintain my patriotic views. I knew I would never become a Muscovite. However, I could not allow any barbaric corporal training crossing my path. My honor did not accept so direct enemy dominance.
Circumstances required from us to be more mature than our age required. After a lot of thinking and even rhetoric practice, I stood up in front of my parents, asking why they punishing me. What was my sin? I explained that I cannot subject myself to such methods that were used in chosen military schools.
Albertyna and Eustachy, present during my oratory, supported my arguments. They suggested that I still can be sent to a military school after high school. The government did not require to commit children to a military service in so young age.
The support of my siblings helped my parents to come up with the decision along my lines. They did it because for them it was not too easy to part for so many years with their beloved son, especially that schools had so abusive nature. To close the gap completely, they said that they did not know at all about rampant corporal punishment in those places and that they wanted only to give me a good military education. Now, when the truth came out they would make sure that my future is well-taken care. The confrontation was so emotional that at the end they hugged me and tried to make sure that I would never again get so exited about any other matter. They advised that if I have any doubts about anything their hearts are always open for me and that I can come to them and speak.
A week later, we were on our way from Balwaniszki to Wilno. We travelled on horse carriages. The trip was as difficult as usually because of bad road qualities. We had the first rest at the tavern of a Jew, Icek Bakszta, in Oszmiana. My parents were always fond of him. They protected him and trusted. Icek returned a sympathy advising about business. He also acted as a go-between in such deals as sale of grain, linen, wool and nuts. Both sides always equally profited from those transactions. Also, Icek borrowed money from my parents without any aditional cost (percentage). They just trusted each other. This friendship helped him to make a small fortune and my parents had a friend in the business area.
The service provided at Icek’s tavern was excellent. He served the best quality of vodka “paysukovka” and resin wine to my parents. If we came on Saturday, the waiter brought fish freshly caught in the river Oszmianka. The fish was very tasty done with saffron and pepper gravy. This was the speciality of the Icek’s wife.
Although the distance from Balwaniszki to Oszmiana did not take more than three hours of travelling, usually we stayed for a night there. We could travel farther. However, in this way we prepared ourselves for a longer trip. Also, we had a chance to get news through gossiping and to finalize any pending deals.
The next night, we slept in a tavern somewhere in the middle between Oszmiana and Wilno. At that time, there were plenty of little motels on that road. The road was very inconvenient. During the summer the road dust was a nuisance. In the falls and spring carriages sunk in mud. During the winter the snow was so deep that we hardly could travel. In other words, nobody maintained the highway. The surface was not covert with crushed stones. Our strong horses always were challenged by that road. These circumstances caused that travellers moved slowly, stopped often to clean themselves and feed tired horses.
In addition to tasty food prepared by servants for the travel, we used to buy desserts in most taverns that we passed on our way. In this way, accompanying servants were fed well. Also, this gave an opportunity for owners to make an additional profit. As a result, we as travellers were always warmly welcomed. This was a nice touch.
Although the travel from Oszmiana to Wilno lasted only nine hours, we always stopped before Wilno and slept there. The intention was to enter Wilno in the morning being fresh and rested. Usually, at the last stop we finished food. The remaining packages contained only gifts for friends and relatives, sometimes in shape of food as well. With some special occasions, the carriages were filled up with such gifts.
During the winter, when we stopped to rest in the evening, in addition to boiling tea we were served with hot beer mixed with sour cream. Sometimes travellers drunk vodka mixed with honey, called Lithuanian “kroopnick”. Because this was a strong alcohol, only men drank it.
Slow travelling was justified during rainy seasons and during winter. However during dry months it was not justified. Still everybody moved very slowly. They just were used to it and took their time. Later, at home they had a subject for telling stories. Short trips did not help story telling. Obviously, everybody wished instead to travel abroad. However, only few really could afford it. I think that also a local custom played a role here. The travelling had to last long, unless something extraordinary happened: an illness or a patriotic duty, etc. When the doctor had to be brought from Wilno to Oszmiana, the whole trip in both ways took only a day. Nobody was really tired.
In 1851, we did not have any reason to rush. The trip from Balwaniszki to Wilno took for us three days. This was the end of my vacation. My parents registered me in one of the introductory schools that was going to prepare me for studying at high school. After that, my parents returned to our village in order to manage harvest.
After few days, I moved to the German boarding school, managed by the principal with name Herman. Actually, his daughter Elwira was a real boss there. Mister Herman was little too old for this kind of responsibilities.
I cannot recall for what reasons my parents selected a German boarding school. As far as I remember this school was the only one in its kind in Wilno. I could not complain about this institution, especially that I did not know any other with which I could compare. However, I remember that everything changed in my live. I felt like moving abroad to some exotic country. Food was entirely different from what I was accustomed. The sleeping schedule and arrangements were new to me as well. My live was turned upside down.
Instead of beds we had big drawers where we stored all our clothes and belongings. Before going to sleep we removed the lowest drawer and slept inside. In the morning, drawers were moved back and our beds disappeared. The bedroom became a dining room. Servants put together tables and served meals there three times per day: breakfast, lunch and supper. Miss Elwira supervised very efficiently the operation. She was always full of energy and led the entire school staff.
The first time in my short life, I found myself in the middle of the big peer group. Some my colleges were Germans. Others were Russians. At that time, I did not have any close friend. I was longing to someone to whom I could confess my feelings. I was upset and I did not know to whom to turn for help.
My happiness was genuine when after few days my childhood friend Kazimierz Girdwoyn showed up in our school. He restored a balance in my psychic. My isolation was over. I felt alive again. I was ready to face the whole world and was looking forward to studying.
Teachers taught us many subjects in three languages: German, French and Russian. Actually, Elwira and her father were very helpful in teaching German. They spoke not only this language but also Polish (which helped us to ask questions in our native tongue). I had many difficulties with learning Russian. Elwira and a teacher of this subject could not explain meaning of many words in Russian. This language has a lot of vocabulary much different from Polish. The teachers avoided any translations into Polish. They did not supply students with any dictionaries. Actually, I am not sure whether such dictionaries existed at all. Also, I could not learn correct pronunciation. The accent in Russian is completely different form Polish. Maybe this is a reason why Polish people usually do not have enough patience to master that language. The fact that a lot of nouns and verbs are very close between these languages does not help many students. They assume that they do not have to work hard. They think that two Slavic languages are close enough.
In spite of difficulties in learning Russian language I managed after a year to pass entry exams to the Wilno high school. I was accepted into Grade one of that school. I have noticed that the teacher Herman and his sister Elwira were good professionals as teachers. They tried to provide a service for money they made. They never spread any German propaganda and they never tried to convert their students into own religion. I have a very good memory of them. They were warm, decent educators who replaced my parents in my upbringing. When I was ill for a while, they looked after me with a great devotion. I will keep an image of both of them close to my heart for ever.
The time spent in Herman’s school helped me to learn how to interact with a large group of students. I became a more social person, after playing so often with my peers in my spare time. Sometimes I argued or even engaged into more serious conflicts. Also, I learned to build a friendship with others. I joined with groups of boys where usually the brightest colleague led, or sometimes physically the strongest one.
The first year spent in Wilno taught me to be mature and independent, preparing me well for a high school. At that time, I considered myself almost an adult.
Because my parents lived far away in the country, they accommodated me with my uncle, Jozef Mineyko. He and his family welcomed me very much. I experienced a big hospitality from them. Their favoritism towards me encouraged to be even more independent. My freedom based on trust was never limited.
I would like to add that granted me freedom had never led me to any mischievous activity. My mother imprinted in me very strong moral standards. I freely went for many trips outside the city. On such trips, I took my class notes and together with my friend, Boleslaw Borejsza, reviewed them. I did not have any tutor outside the school. I did not have any hired help. From the start, I decided to study responsibly. The reason was quite simple: I made a commitment to myself that I would never earn any physical punishment for academic failures. Every Saturday, the severe punishment was performed on those students who did not measure up to the required standards. Beatings were practiced regularly until the Grade Four.
Usually, a principal showed up at classroom doors of first three grades. He held in his hands a note with the list of those students who earned a grade zero. He called names and asked to step out to the corridor. When unfortunate boys formed a line, they followed the principal into another hall where traditionally beatings were executed. The lashes were proportional to the number of zero grades collected from all teachers during a week. Some additional strikes were added when a pupil was caught with some unacceptable behavior. One of janitors, Wiktor, was an executioner. He was a strong and unforgivable man. He grabbed with his right hand a neck of the victim and laid him down on a chair. Then he beat the naked flesh with the fresh and wet branches of a birch tree. The lashes mostly fall on buttocks. The procedure was horrifying and guilty students cried at the bottom of their lungs. The howling lasted for hours and echoed in the whole building. The noise was so terrible that students who avoided the punishment swore to themselves that they will always study very hard. Fear of lashes made miracles in our academic progress.
When any stronger boy tried to resist Wiktor, the principal directed other waiting students for their turn to help him in this awful ordeal. As a result, the rebel was punished with twice as originally assigned lushes. In addition, the angry executioner stroked much harder than usually.
His role was to intimidate entire population of students. During the recess, he stood at the corner beside the entry door, quietly watching youngsters. He always kept himself located in the arm distance from the jar full of water and birch branches. Children gossiped that the jar contained an acid instead of water in order of making branches even more painful. The principal strategically stood at the other end of the corridor. He could use Wiktor’s service whenever he required immediately to punish any pupil guilty of some mischievous action. The corridor was well heated during the winter making it comfortable for both of them. They had an absolute rule over this tiny part of the universe.
In our minds, these two officials, the principal and the janitor, was one body. Maybe the difference between them was only by the fact that the principal never change his mind and Wiktor could have been bribed by students or even their parents. If the janitor accepted a bribe his lashes were less severe. Although he never changed number of strikes.
Children analyzed their oppressors with the passion. They gained a substantial knowledge of their nature. Smart victims never showed any resistance. Even some boys, when selected for punishment, willingly dropped their pants and quickly laid down for a beating. This attitude was greatly appreciated. Sometimes the verdict was reduced in half. The passive approach reduced violent nature of the janitor. The principal, as a Muscovite, highly valued the extraordinary behavior.
In addition, money triggered a tenderness in Wiktor’s heart. This was a main source of his well being. To avoid any suspicion from the principal, he knew how to pretend that the punishment was applied as severely as usually. Before striking, he brought the branches high. However when he hit a student the speed of branches was reduced to the minimum. In addition, he yelled loudly pretending a great anger. Beatings terrified me. I did anything possible to avoid an application of them on my body.
The school order caused that most of us matured very quickly. Those who understood the nature of Russian oppression considered themselves being adults. We were ready to fight for the freedom of the country, even if the price was a death. For most of us, to be punished for lack of academic achievements or for a bad behavior was a sign of immaturity.
I remember one event that occurred just shortly after I joined the high school. The authorities decided to punish a student for expressing his patriotic views. I forgot his name, but I heard that he very openly resisted interrogators. As a result, the verdict was extremely harsh: hundred lashes in the public place, on the naked body tight down to the pole. During an execution, all students from older grades had to witness bloody show. Only students from lower grades were not allowed to be there. I suspect that the motivation for the excluding younger children was not a concern for human feelings. The school staff did not want to initiate youngsters into patriotic moods. This kind of executions was a real training for patriotic movements. However, I had an opportunity to see results of the action. The physician had to check the victim condition at least twice. As a result, only half of lashes were applied when the student with clearly raw meat on his back was taken to hospital. However, the second half of the punishment was not forgiven. The judges recommended to apply rest of lashes later when the boy regains his strength.
I heard many rumors about that student, that he never survived and died at the hospital. I heard also that the officials drafted him to the special battalions with criminals to fight Chechnians in the Caucuses maintains. At that time some local tribes in Caucuses still resisted Russian occupation. Whatever happened to that unfortunate boy, nobody saw him again in Wilno nor nobody heard about his faith anything concrete. He was not from wealthy family but from poor shopkeeper one. His parents were afraid of even inquire about own son. Otherwise they would have to face a deportation to Siberia.
This was not first and last such event. The school harshly punished any child under even slightest suspicion of criticism of the government. Between the staff there were teachers specially assigned to spying students who expressed unauthorized views. They spent more time on finding out who plots against the holly empire than on ethic conduct of youngsters. They focused on older boys, trying to prevent an establishment of any subversive organization within the walls of school. They jumped all over the youngster who expressed minimal criticism of the state. They acted like pack of vicious dogs against weak victim. The results always were very similar to those which were applied to the previously murdered boy.
All our parents tried to reason with us that we should avoid of exposing ourselves to the danger. They tried to diminish our ambition to sacrifice ourselves for the grater cause. Many of us thought that to be punished it was the greatest responsibility of all. Parents argued to the contrary. The older generation sweated a lot trying to explain that to jeopardize the future for an unnecessary patriotic demonstration did not make any sense. They tried reason that real patriots should act extremely consciously and carefully. Only when real attitudes were hidden from the enemy they could have been successful. The lost of brightest and committed youths guaranteed failure. The future of the country could have been jeopardized if all leaders disappeared. Fortunately, that knowledge sunken in children minds. We learned to be untrusting and secretive towards Russians. We were waiting for the uprising and the ultimate freedom.
The necessity of hiding real attitudes and feelings made us depressed. This accelerated only joining the subversive organizations. We as children did not want to play and be happy. We wanted to fight for our country. Children acted like adults. Twelve years' olds had to be eighteen years olds. The older teenagers reminded elderlies. Children played very rarely in the school yard. The school in many ways did not remind school. Everybody knew that it was time of unhappiness and that we were slaves.
The inability to express patriotic feelings led to focussing on academic achivements. We knew that this was a way for the success. In this process, the positive role played the fact that some teachers for science subjects were previous professors of closed down university. They made enourmous impact on our education. In addition, we trusted them and admired. I remember the following teachers who belonged to that group: Tamulewicz, Horbaczewski, and the priest Beresniewicz.
All subjects were lectured in Russian, with exception of religion that was in Polish. The regulations forbade teachers to answer when a student asked a question in Polish. In addition, they were obligated to warn for not using that “diabolic language”. Obviously, our favour teachers never punished us for speaking Polish. However, we learned very quickly not to overuse the favour. We became protective of those Polish teachers. The principal office could remove any teacher immediately from the staff and send him to the proper Russia, to some other high school, or just fire the unsound employee. Actually, some jokers provoked Russian teachers for explaining matters in Polish. They pretended lack of understanding in Russian. The naive teacher fell into the trap and started explaining in broken Polish the questioned issue. Usually, the knowledge of our language was too weak and the teacher became a laughing stock between students.
Dissolving the Wilno university and an elimination of Polish language from primary school jeopardized our native language. However, the entire society resisted the trend maintaining private classes for Polish language and Polish history. These private schools were financed by wealthy citizens. Also many women voluntarily taught children from families that could not afford to pay. Most of previous professors from the university actively lectured. I remember that professor Jundzill, who specialized in biology and who was the author of “Lithuanian plants”, was active in the movement. Also, the chief librarian from the university was active (his large library was completely transferred to Moscow). They had an enormous influence over youths when lectured them on Saturdays and Sundays in our beautiful language. These professors showed to the young generation the buildings of the university - now so empty. Through comments about the past greatness they tried to awake a love of the Polish culture.
These lectures were done in a great secret. We gathered in small groups or even one by one waiting for long time for the lecture. The meeting spot was always in a different place. In other words, the patriotic education was done in a very conspiratorial manner. The program was not focused on a cheap excitement about the past. Lectures were very well prepared and they had a great scientific value. The true historical information was passed. The truth was the best ticket for increased morale between Polish youths. The goal was to prepare them for the future governing of the free country.
We had an access to private art galleries and also to private archeological collections. Our mentors free from the political interference could serve the country. They lectured us about our true history.
Not only those two professors tried to save us from Russianizing. There were many professors from the non-existing university who served in this way our native country.
These were circumstances under which we were growing up during the high school years. Gradually, we were becoming fully conscious about our rich history and about injustice currently applied to our nation. We felt being robbed from the most essential values. The necessity of armed uprising was slowly coming to our minds. We knew that our fathers were not ready for the fight. However, for us it was a different matter.
We were under a strong impression of destroyed native temples, lamentation of compatriots who were forced to renounce own religion, and those who were drafted into inhuman military service.
The Wilno youths were depressed and grew up too fast. The crowds on streets reminded people who mourned after funeral. People did not show happiness. Everybody carefully paid attention to undercovered spies. However Polish language was prevalent on the streets. The occupying force could not jail the entire population.
The relationship between officials and older teenagers was quite peculiar. The authorities were fully aware of growing gap of distrust and inability to prevent the process. Any propaganda effort was fruitless. As a result, they focussed on younger students. The school organized well-prepared theatre shows with plays about greatness of Russia and tsar. The attendance was obligatory. Teachers treated children with sweets during spectacles. They tried to brain wash all of us suggesting that only love of the monarch can guarantee a great future for us. The biggest circuss traditionally occurred during the day of birth of the tsar. However the propaganda could not shake the little boys’ conviction who is a real enemy. We hated the occupants with the passion.
After the Empire lost the Crimean war and when the tsar Nicholas died suddenly, the government became extra conscious, fearing a possibility of revolution. As a result, they required an official swearing of alliance for the tsar Alexander II from military and civilian employees of the state. To prepare the society for that event, the churches had to perform masses dedicated for the well-being of the tsar. At the end of the mass, parishioners were required to swear alliance to the tsar. Because most of people did not understand the reasons behind it, loudly repeated text after priests. Usually, uneducated people were hoping for a new set of freedom related laws. They assumed that the government will free most of deportees from Siberia. The state orchestrated this kind of moods spreading false rumors about general amnesty. The police spread the gossip, encouraging ordinary people to come to the ceremonies.
When I was 15 years old, I had to participate in a similar event, with all students, teachers and swearing ceremony. After the mass in the church of Saint John, just besides of our high school, teachers led us back to the school building. All students had to sign the confirmation of the verbal swearing that occurred in the church. The signature had to be clear. Nobody could have been missed. I understood very well the significance of the act. In the case of any political insubordination, the signature could have been used in court as an evidence. Breaking a such official commitment was a crime in itself.
I had a nightmare that the devil himself tried to deal directly with me. I felt like selling my soul to him. However, we knew very well that any resistance would lead to murderous beatings. Under watchful presence of our teachers, we signed the paper and were excused from the rest of classes. This was an award. Even kids from the first grade were not exempt from this brutal procedure. Going home, we naively thought how from now on we have been committed to the Empire. The only way of cancelling the commitment was to join an uprising.
When time came for me to sign I had an impulse to use fictitious name. Without much thinking, I did it. I walked home with a great lightness in my heart. I tricked the enemy. At home, I told my parents what I did. However, I quickly realized what foolishness it was. I did not have any right to feel better than my colleagues. In addition, my parent remained terrified for next couple days that the school office will find out about my betrayal. Fortunately, nobody noticed my crime.
This little event can be an example of circumstances under which the Wilno youths grew at that time, later becoming a core of the 1863 uprising in Lithuania. They did not have a luxury of living in the country where the lie was a lie and the truth was a truth. Only real freedom could guarantee proper ethic standards.
The lost campaingne in Crimea by Russians somehow deminished a weight of the state discrimination against the local population. Lithuanians were very glad how this war turned out. The outcome proved that the Empire can loose. Almost people considered the results as a turning point.
The officials lost esteem and improved their behavior, probably under some concrete directives from St. Petersburg. The government was afraid of disturbances in our country. Police spread again a gossip that the tsar will give some measures of freedom. The policy against landless nobles was changed. The officials did not suppress them as before. Even the conversion of members of the Ukrainian church into the Orthodox church stopped.
The changed political climate made so much impact that the municipal theatre showed a play that was completely Polish in its character. The next play was freshly written. Syrokomla Kondratowicz wrote a story where performing actors wore Polish traditional clothes. Audience welcomed the play with enormous enthusiasm. The story expressed patriotic moods. The students secretly rewrote poet’s other works that the state did not allow to publish. He had a big influence over the young generation. The government did not prevent open defiance, limiting itself only to spying.
The Lithuanian Governor officially informed the chairman of noble's association about the fact that the tsar was willing to visit Wilno. The chairman passed the message to local leaders of the association. The event required to assemble and discuss with wider communities' preparations for the visit. Leaders were ready to express their commitment to the state and confirm their love of the monarch. This would guarantee them to receive new titles and new privileges. Citizens joined assemblies for the other reason. They sent their representatives to Wilno with precise instructions how their conditions can be improved. They openly requested new reforms from the tsar. Citizens did not care for awards and titles.
The general assembly in Wilno conferred for couple days. The majority voted a statement that had very patriotic meaning. They rejected few who probably were bribed by Russians. These few pretended to be honest Lithuanians who suggested to express full love of the tsar and not to come up with any request of reforms. They claimed that they did not want diminish well-known Lithuanian hospitality.
Nobels of Lithuania made clear to the Governor that they will welcome the monarch warmly and will make him very comfortable during the visit. However, at the same time, they will firmly present to him their request for reforms that can bring the order to the land.
The authorities suggested to forget about demands and focus on oranizing of balls and other festives. When the tsar see how the society warmly greets him, he can introduce reforms on his own. Badering him with foolish requests can only jeopardize his good will. They argued that the monarch is like a father to all of us. To make him nervous does not make any sense.
At the same time, the Governor tried to find out the nature of these requests through his net of spies. He knew that he had to eliminate somehow requests, and if it was not possible, to dminish them as much as he could. However, nobles understood his intentions. They were very secretive and managed avoiding any leaks outside their assembly.
The approach was successful so much, that patriots managed to spread own rumors, that the attitude encouraged by the state prevailed. The rumor was that nobody will present to the white tsar any demands. They pretended only to focus on planning festivals. The assembly divided itself into many comities looking after different aspects of the event. They planted new flowers on most streets and build triumphal gates over main streets. Slogans with artistically prepared messages were everywhere. The streets were brighten with additional lights. The halls where most events were going to occur were decorated.
The whole population of Wilno was involved with the preparation of the event. Everybody was busy. Some decorated streets, others gathered to see how streets were changing its image. The Governor was satisfied with the process - his suspicions declined. He was pride of himself that he could avoid rebellious tendencies and he managed to guarantee his post for many next years.
Finally, the tsar arrived during the evening. The dark helped to give romantic impression to the event. Streets were full of light. The entire population gathered along so beautiful boulevards. The triumphal gates, made so artistically, added a splendor to the parade. Different gates were financed and prepared by different ethnic groups and different segments of the society. Jews paid for one of them too, in spite of the fact that Russia has never been loving country towards Jewish. The slogans expressed their commitment and love of the tsar.
Unfortunately, some mischievous teenagers achieved to turn the slogan on that particular gate into a cheap joke. Just before when the cavalcade was approaching the site, they replaced a text with own graffiti. The replaced text said, “We Jews, for our monarch who has so impressive penis, we offer this gate...”
Some onlookers were so naive that they blamed Jews for the lack of hospitality. Others just laughed. Apparently, even the tsar laughed, not taking the abusive joke seriously.
During the preparations for the visit and during the visit, the youngsters were present everywhere. I was 18 years old at that time. I was counting like most my friends on new reforms that nobles so secretly prepared. We were hoping that the time for some freedom came and that Lithuania will unite with Poland into one state, under Russian protectorate. We thought that the tsar realized that the state cannot operate against the will of majority. I assumed that national freedom will be given, at least for some extant. In our imature minds, we were hoping that the tsar will rebuild the Republic of two nations within old pre-partition borders. We hoped that the monarch Alexander II will resign from Polish-Lithuanian throne with own will. I thought that new elections were around the corner. Our naivete bordered with the stupidity.
The tsar toured a lot of places showing a great interest in all aspects of life. He even visited our high school. All students gathered in neatly organized raws stood on main ground at the front of the building. The tsar, with his enormous handsome body, faced us. His interest in the school, made us believe that he will allow new reforms, that Lithuania cannot again end up with raw deal.
Soon, the nobles presented their memorandum to the monarch. The document became a common knowledge. The first request was to reintroduce the Lithuanian law, instead of Russian. Some kind of self government on the local level was the basis for that codex. The second request related to the language issue. The society wanted to make Polish language official in schools and offices, in addition to Russian. The third request was to return all properties taken from the university and restore this institution. The last point requested to eliminate border between Lithuania and so-called Polish Kingdom, which was under Russian domination anyway. All these requests aimed at reduction of Russian administration and increase of the local control. They were not too bold. Nobody requested to replace the current bureaucracy, just to add some control over it.
The memorandum was the minimal attempt to change the course of history. Everybody was aware that without any military pressure the contribution from the throne can be minimal too. The nobles counted only on some circumstances that might help their cause. Russians understood very well the political situation. They were not under any physical threat. The state did not have to do anything. However, the only gain was the introduction of Polish language into high school curriculum. The administration of the country remained in tact, in the same hands. The hope of restoration of the university disappeared. The border with Poland remained closed as before. Russian law prevailed. I have noticed only that bureaucrats became little more responsible. They were less free-handed with their abuse of the locals. However, the bribery remained the main vehicle for any positive answer from officials.
The tsar left the city without any ceremonies, suprisingly quietly. He assurred leaders of Lithuanian community that they always can count on his good will towards the country. However, nothing really concrete as far as new reforms has never materialized. The whole society slowly realized that only an arm uprising can lead to any success. Russians understood only the language of force, otherwise their small reforms will remain the political trickery.
It was noticeable that the monarch mood drastically changed after he read the memorandum. Before nobles presented to him the document festivals, parties and balls were everywhere. After the event all entertainment stopped. The committee that presented the demands was not welcomed warmly. Apparently, everybody who was involved in the preparation of the memorandum found the way to be on the special black list, combined by the security service. The brightest members of the local community lost any credibility in the eyes of the government. The monarch openly criticized the Governor for his inability to diminish silly demands of the Lithuanians. He was especially irritated that his officials could not even predict the occurrence of the event.
For now, Russians could not continue tyranny as they used to do it under the tsar Nicholas. They did not change their minds. They just postponed the extreme dictatorship, replacing it with a more liberal one. Peoples’ lives improved. Because they could not get more, they were satisfied with what they got. However, discontent and disillusionment remained. Actually, all bureaucrats were happy. They were afraid of losing their posts. This did not happen.
The school started to teach Polish language, only in higher grades and only two hours a week. Students with excitement listened again to the mother tongue. Only reopening of the university could make them fully happy. Older youths who had to study at Russian universities and abroad criticized fathers’ generation for inept passiveness in this regard. The state should have opened the university long time ago.
Generation gap grew in all families. Children criticized own parents accusing them of cowardliness. They did not understand that even the action taken in front of the tsar could have destroyed lives of all people involved. Poor noblemen accused the aristocracy for looking after only own interest. Shopkeepers and tradesmen accused the entire nobility for usual ineptness. Everybody accused each other. Actually, all classes and segments of the society could not free the country. They loved Lithuania very much, however they could not do much for her.
Even demands expressed in the memorandum could not eliminate widely spread drive towards ultimate freedom of Lithuania. The society wanted nothing else than get rid of slavery. This time, the young generation took an initiative in their hands. The older generation could not stop it and accepted the attitude of their children. The liberalization of ruling the country helped the process. The patriotic propaganda organized by intelligentsia between peasants was in a full swing. The preparations for the uprising of 1863 were under way.
The university and high school students spent their vacation for getting closer to villagers, explaining them the necessity of arm resistance. They tried to awake the patriotic moods between lower classes. Only when vast numbers of people commit themselves to the cause there would be a chance of winning the battle. They explained that everybody has only two alternatives: fighting or slavery. To win a future uprising, it was required to sacrifice own life.
The youngsters worked fields helping peasants. They tried to get close to them fulfilling the apostolic role. They tried to explain all aspects of politics arguing that only rebirth of free Lithuania united with Poland in the shape of Republic can guarantee social progress and freedom. This was the only future for the nation. The republican ideas could give all classes the citizenship, as the French Revolution gave it to all people of France. Only the difference was that the French Revolution washed the entire nation in blood. Polish and Lithuanian attitude were contrary to the violent West. When nobles and the last Polish king voted the Constitution of May the 3rd in 1791 the Parlament (Seym) gave the same freedom to the entire society to all classes in a very peaceful manner. The subversive movement was organized around churches. When people were coming for Sunday masses it was very convenient to get them involved into patriotic propaganda meetings. The movement became stronger and stronger with every new week.
In few years, the patriotic young generation work helped to select leaders of the movement. The established hierarchy based on natural talents and members accepted it in a very democratic way. The secrecy and large membership required a discipline. The structure became very effective.
Older generation sharing the same moods did not prevent these activities. Actually, they were fully aware that they could not stop the process anyway. The preparations avoided any disturbances and provocations. The secrecy was the most important and was quite successful. The subversive cells united members with deep friendship eliminating any police infiltration.
We enjoyed also social aspect of the movement. When young people gathered for political reasons usually the event followed with picnics, mushroom pick ups in forests, hunting, and dances. Usually during dances we danced “mazurka” until dawn. It was a very traditional Polish dance. The first love relationships blossomed between future partizans and beautiful girls, charmed by their freedom fighter heros. These playful activities occurred in barns in most villages, uniting sons of a privileged class with peasants.
The Russian government did not spy yet the movement. Even average citizens did not suspect that all these activities may lead to anything really serious.
I took part in the movement until 1858. I worked in few parishes with a great excitement, in Holszany, Boruny, Krewo, and Oszmiana. I cooperated with many comrades. I remember the following names: brothers Januszewicz, Jussewicz, Zawadzki, Wankowicz, and Swiecicki. Unfortunately, I had to leave them after graduating from Grade Seven of high school. I enrolled to the Military Engineering School in St. Petersburg. I returned back after few years in 1861 and joined back my friends in their subversive activities.
Actually, I left the Wilno high school little before the end of school year. I needed some time to prepare myself for an entry exam to the Military Engineering School. They did not require a high school diploma. The new school selected candidates only on entry exam's basis.
STUDY IN ST. PETERSBURG
I do not remember exactly. However, I think that I left Grade Seven of high school in September 1858. It was before end of the course. I needed time for travelling to St. Petersburg and time for studying before exams.
The whole family, including my mom, Mr. Alkimowicz (my god father), and Alexander Tydman (my brother in law who married my sister Albertyna), discussed my future. They recommended the Military Engineering School that prepared graduates not only for the military service but it also gave a good professional education. The school guaranteed not only fulfillment of government quota for military service but it could give me the opportunity of having bright future. This way the family status of belonging to the nobility class was saved and at the same time I could guarantee myself a descent source of income.
As I mentioned before, I had the responsibility of serving in the army because my older brother Eustachy was practically blind. My brother in law Tydman suggested this particular school. In turn, he heard about the school from his cousin, general Todtleben. We accepted the idea with excitement. Alexander offered to travel with me to St. Petersburg and he guaranteed to gain for me the protection of Todtlben. The famous general had a lot of influence because of his very successful contribution in defending the Sevastopol during the Crimean War. Unfortunately, my father could not take any part in so important decision. He died suddenly two years ago in young age, discontinuing his so important patriotic activities.
During the discussion about my future, I had a full chance to express my views. In other words, I fully contributed to the outcome. However, when time came to leave my Grade 7th, I was sad. I knew that I will not receive a diploma from my high school. Without such diploma I would not have a right to study at universities. The ability to register at universities was a very important aspect for me. However, I decided not to waste time because the high school diploma was not required by the Military Engineering School. Actually, I could have enrolled to this school even a year earlier.
Some doubts overwhelmed me. I was confused. I knew that I will have to work very hard for many years before I see any income. When I said good bye to all my friends, I felt like a failure. It seemed that I had to quit because I could not keep up my commitment to the school. Actually, my colleagues could not understand my doubts. I expressed my confusion and sadness on my face too much.
The departure from my high school was very emotional. I shook my hand with many students and all teachers. They wished me all the best in my long journey. Even at the last minute I had a great temptation to stay and graduate with diploma. The law did not require for me to leave at that time. Even after study at university I could join a military. However, at the end, the taken decision prevailed. I was ready for the departure.
The enrollment to the Military Engineering School was not a simple matter. The school was the best of this type in the entire Empire. Candidates were sons of generals and the highest Russian aristocracy. However even the most privileged had to pass entry exams. The school really cared about its reputation. The school was so exclusive that number of all students in four levels (four years) was limited to one hundred. As a result, the school selected only twenty-five freshmen from many candidates because the school graduated only twenty-five students a year, with a lieutenant rank. All graduates automatically enrolled to the famous Military Engineering Academy to finalize their studies. The students after studying in the Academy for three years graduated with a rank of captain. The process guaranteed to all of them quick nomination to the rank of general, appointments close to the throne, and very high salary for life.
My brother in law was very keen to obtain this kind of privileges just for me. My success could improve his family influence. Also for him and Albertyna I was the favorite younger brother. They really loved me, especially that I became a god father of their first child, daughter Waleria.
My family obtained all necessary documents proving my noble status. Also, we had to get a permission to travel from Lithuania to St. Petersburg on Post courier carriages. At that time, the rail road did not exist. We could not afford to prepare own private carriages. Travelling on official carriages was much cheaper.
My brother in law obtained only a month leave from his post that was very tight for travelling from Wilno to St. Petersubrg and back. To accomplish such schedule was only possible through using a Postal system that was very well established along the entire way. The stations were apart from each other by twenty-five to thirty miles. Every station was supporting several tens of complete carriages with rested horses. These carriages could travel from station to station with a great speed, however making passengers very tired. With a great help from my brother in law, all necessary preparations finished. We were ready for the long journey. My entire family came from the village of Balwaniszki for my departure. I will never forget my sisters’ and my blind brother hugs. My mom shed many tears blessing me and hoping to see me again. She always treated all her children equally. However, this time she could not hide her affection for her the youngest beloved son. The bell of the Post carriage coming towards us had somber effect. It enforced to separate us making me busy with loading all suitcases.
After a firm intervention of Alexander, we kissed each other for the last time, then he and I climbed and sat inside the carriage. The horseman used his horsewhip and the journey started with a fast speed. I looked back for the last time and crossed my eyes with eyes of my family members. The scarf waving lasted a long, long time until we could not see each other.
We left Wilno without saying a word. I felt like leaving a paradise. I was banned for unknown reasons from my beloved city. Long time past before I returned to my usual composure and then Alexander and I could return to our conversation. My brother in law understood my feelings and patiently waited for my words.
All of a sudden, we found ourselves on the long highway leading to St. Petersburg. We could not recognize the countryside. Landscape gradually kept changing. Different villages and even separate farms encouraged us to find out their names. Usually, the horseman satisfied our curiosity. He was a great source of local gossip and legends related to the passing lands. Actually, he could not provide any scientific information. We could not expect too much from uneducated person. However, he told us charming stories. At that time, tourist books for travellers did not exist.
We travelled even during nights. I regretted that my brother in law rushed so much. I could not see the countryside at night. We spent the first night in the carriage. Because improper sleep, I persuaded Alexander to spent next night at the Post station, in the bed.
The quality of carriages did not help a comfort. They did not have any suspension. Maybe they lasted long serving country well. However, travellers were exhausted. Nobody looked after roads. They were full of holes. The effect increased with greater speed. Actually, the speed of travel was directly proportional to the number of rubbles given to the driver and to the size of the road, the wider road - the greater speed. With some amount of money, the carriage raced the wind. My brother in law, understanding very well the nature of the Russian empire, did not pinch his pocket. As a result, we moved with the speed of wind. However, after couple days I felt inside every my bone.
We moved so fast that both of us had to hold the frame with two hands. Otherwise we would have been thrown out to the ground. Unquestionably, we would have finished the journey with broken bones. As a younger and with a stronger body, I could easier stand the hardship. However, when I was tired, I fall in sleep easily. The biggest holes could not wake me. This was a problem for Alexander. He had to watch me all the time, making sure that the carriage did not throw me up to the air.
After the short rest during the second night, we continued the trip quickly until my brother in law felt a big pain around his spine. We had to slow down travelling. From now on, we spent all nights resting at the stations and during days we travelled slower, not as fast as wind. For only some distances, when we had an excellent road, we moved fast. When the road was sandy or very muddy, we had to move very slowly. Usually, when a road passed along marshes, it was covered with stamps of wood. This type of road was very inconvenient. Travellers bounced enormously.
I found most of Post stations quite comfortable, with good food. The Post Masters managed well their stations. Travellers paid for carriages and horses proportionally to the distance. They also paid extra for food. Managers appreciated an extra income. As a result, the food was excellent. When a traveller was short of money, he or she could eat food taken from home and sleep in a waiting room for free. However, mattresses available for free usually had bad springs or sometimes there were only wooden benches. In other words, the cheap travelling was possible with some sacrifice.
In the apartment assigned to the Post Master there were few rooms with comfortable beds. Travellers had to pay for that service, however he or she had a chance to rest. Those who chose the free waiting room were constantly awaken by new travellers coming with the great noise at all times. Horses prepared for the next departure made also too much noise. In other words, free service was the worst possible choice equal to real tortures.
Wives of postal workers helped them preparing and selling food. If the Post Master was single, he had to hire a cook, or even it was his responsibility to prepare meal for travelers. The service was well organized. In this way Post Masters had a chance to make additional income. All government servants always found the way of getting bribes. The post service was not unique in this respect. Employees of stations could give better carriages and horses, less or more tired. As a result, travellers had to bribe all the way until they reached their destiny. Nobody questioned even this approach. This was the culture of the biggest empire of the World. May be this is why ordinary people desired so much working for the postal office.
Understanding very well the Russian way, we were doing quite all right. We rested well and our food was excellent. All countries that we passed were doing economically very well. The quality of food was the best. Peasants had plenty of domesticated birds. Also I have noticed clear overproduction of domestic animals. If someone preferred, any kind of fish was available too. Until we passed Swieciany, Dynaburg, and the vast lands of North of Western Dzwiny, we considered being within our country. The area was a part of Lithuania and Belarus. I felt still being at home, not too far from the starting point of my journey. Language, customs and behavior of the locals were very similar to what I was accustomed. I did not feel that I was abroad at all.
I went through a shock culture when we went outside the Witebsk province. The name of station was “Gypsies”. From that point peasants spoke only Russian. The province was called Pskow. The locals still remembered that the Jagiellonian state bordered with Moscow Russia at the place where now the station “Gypsies” stood. The land beyond that point has never belonged to Polish kingdom. When I entered Pskow I did not see any visible difference in faces of people. Their appearance still was typical for Slavs - no Asiatic or Mongolian features. I knew that I was in the country that had a reach past. Many centuries ago democratic system ruled this land. In the center of the city still big bell existed that it used to call all citizens to gather. In the past, people met to make together vital decisions. Everybody was respected and could voice opinion. At the end, they had a chance to vote. Now, the same bell rang to gather people for the entire different reason. People were herded for official events that had the only one objective: express unlimited commitment to the white tsar. The political system was totally authoritarian and citizens were slaves in own country. The bell called slaves to come and bow in front of the monarch.
I went for a long walk around Pskow. I noticed difference between locals and Russian officials sent from Moscow. The natives seemed to have somehow more noble appearance. They rather belonged to Europe than to Russia. They seemed to be more similar to Poles and Lithuanians, not to Russians. However, their conditions were regretful. Morale was low. For the most part, people forgot their tradition of democratic approach in governing city. The big bell was silent. The society resigned to everyday life. Nobody even dreamt about an uprising against tyranny. The nation seemed to sleep, in deep sleep. Maybe this is why it was so easy for Moscow draft these unfortunate people into military troops against flaw of Polish and Lithuanian uprisings.
My impression was that Slavs of Pskow were not aware even of their deplorable conditions. Unknown span of time was required for their awakening. I almost felt a pain coming from the fact that inhabitants of Pskow could not share my feelings. How they could not see what I saw? I regretted that they could not unite spiritually with me and shed the slavery with which they were surrounded. I knew that my impressions could have been completely different if the Republic would exist in this land.
In spite of unfortunate situation of this country, I did not feel as a complete stranger. This was still Slavic country, although their language was not so close to Polish as Belarusian or Ukrainian. They belonged to the same vast family of Slavs.
We stayed for a day and half in Pskow, washing our clothes and making order in our luggages. My brother in law had an opportunity to buy a good carriage, called “tarantan”. The carriage was more comfortable than those supplied by the post stations. It did not have a good suspension, however wheels were located well behind the travelling bench. As a result, bouncing was not so bad. When we had own carriage, we did not have to reload luggages at every station from one carriage to the another one. We could travel a little more comfortably.
Travelling from Pskow to Luga was easy because we truly rested. The distance was not too long. As a result, we reached quickly a destination. We could travel by train from Luga to St. Petersburg. I saw the famous train the first time in my life. The time spent on the train was unforgettable. It was really remarkable how far human mind can reach. Before we left on the train, Alexander found the place for his carriage. He was planning to go back to Wilno on his own vehicle.
With the knowledge that I will stay in St. Petersburg for a long time, I paid an attention to the entire surrounding world. I was a stranger and I was fully conscious of foreign culture around me. I knew that adjustment will be difficult. In the first hotel, where we stayed, even the service was much different from what I was accustomed in Wilno. Cooks prepared food differently, not to my taste at all. My appetite disappeared.
This was the biggest metropolitan city in Russia, with high aspirations. In downtown, where famous personalities felt an obligation to go for a walk on the Newski Boulevard, I could see a real circus. Men and women moved with some kind of artificial pose, reminded more manikins than humans. They competed between themselves who can get more attention. However, the biggest rivalry was between prostitutes: who is the most fashionable? Army officers were not much behind in this respect. Their uniforms were colorful and very flashy. The most elegant women could not exceed these military men. They were dragging their long sabers close to the ground with such pride that one could think that they just came back from another successful war. Nothing was natural in this crowd. At the same time, they seemed to tell “we are the leaders of the civilized world”. Definitely, nobody was walking just to rest and to get fresh air. The inhabitants of St. Petersburg did nothing without the purpose.
Street vendors were everywhere. Most of them were Finns or Tartars. Constantly, they stopped passersby offering sweet deals on their merchandise, mostly food. Vendors did not accept refusal. Some of them persuaded so much that they tried to enforce sales through physical contact. Few times, I ended up with some bruises when I stubbornly rejected buying anything. Honest citizens risked also losing money to the street pocket thiefs. Crowd was always full of them. I have never seen so skillful thugs in other country as in Russia. However, locals called them Mazurs, making fun of Polish. The word “Mazur” in Russian was an equivalent of the derogatory name of “Pollack”. I was upset with the calling name because I knew how the name was ironic. In Poland, thiefs were Muscovites. Polish very rarely committed any crime.
After short time, I found out that so called European manners touched only a surface of the St. Petersburg society. I did not expect too much as far as progressive attitudes. In spite of the glamour of the big city, this was still a backward community. I came to the conclusion that one thing united all classes of St. Petersburg, from the richest aristocracy, through the middle class, bureaucrats, officers, including laborers, thiefs and prostitutes. This united force was an unquestionable adoration of the tyranny. Nobles were ready to fight with sabers against anyone who threatened the white tsar, even when the danger was coming from enslaved nations. Mood between thiefs was the same. They were ready to defend their father-tsar with knifes. All of them did not realize that they remained in slavery too.
I clearly understood that I will miss my country as long as I stay in this forsaken city, although with so beautiful buildings. I could never assimilate into this society. When I realized what I really feel, I decided to stay away from any local community. I will not mix with the crowds of St. Petersburg. Only one obligation remained - studying. I had to gain as much professional skills as I could manage.
Immediately after arrival, my brother in law visited the general Todtleben, his close cousin, and introduced me to him and his family. Alexander was ecstatic and very proud being so close to the very famous person. He as a Courland accepted Russian domination much more than me. I secretly displeased his family so well established in the upper class of the Empire. My feelings made me awkward and paralyzed. However, new found family felt obligated to protect me. In my childlike mentality, I saw myself in the role of a beggar. Being young and strong, I thought that I did not need help from anyone. I was sure that my intellectual abilities can guarantee success in entry exams. I almost regretted that I showed up at the gates of this powerful house and was asking for help.
Alexander noticed my objections. He argued that his mother was a sister of the general’s mother and he has a right to expect help from the family. When I heard these types of arguments, it made me even more irritating. In addition, he claimed that the help coming from his family cannot be mistaken for favors of some Muscovites. His entire family always belonged to the Polish faction in Courland, not to the Russian one. They supported uprising of 1830.
In spite of all his persuasion, I remained skeptical. My feelings made me quite unfriendly person during the dinner and a party that followed until late evening. Many guests, mostly Russian aristocrats, came to meet general cousin, Tydman. I knew that I was only unnecessary addition, Polish who made an attempt to become a part of an establishment. I even had a strange impression, that my presence could make Todtleben a suspect. Others might have thought that he was a Polish sympathizer, or even a secret supporter of the Polish cause.
Guests were polite towards me. However, when I tried to speak up somehow nobody had a patience to listen up to the end what I had to say. Some other conversations seemed be more interesting. I realized that I always will remain a stranger for them. Actually, they were strangers from my perspective too. Alexander knowing that I always was at the center of any social event and that I am skillful dancer, he dragged me at the front of a lady of the house. The musicians initiated a tune of waltz. Because I did not expect what was happening, I did not perform too well. Actually, I felt that it was a disaster. I was sure that everybody looked at me and saw a typical villager from the far away province. I would remain invisible during the evening if musicians would not play my beloved melody of mazurka. I love this dance - so Polish in its nature. My heart started to beat again. I was the first on the floor dancing. Others followed my steps. I knew every movement by instinct. At the end, I realized that all guest surrounded me watching my solo performance. The dance was finished with cheers from all guests. Alexander congratulated me. He and the general encouraged me to lead the next mazurka, involving few pairs of those who knew how to dance these difficult steps.
My brother in law knew very well about my dancing skills, that I could perform the most difficult steps with grace, that I was truly talented in this respect. He wanted me to show my the best, securing me the entrance to the best houses of St. Petersburg. With the recommendation of the general doors of the most famous houses of that city could have been open for me. I could not reject such offer. I had to fulfil expectations of both. To the new tunes of mazurkas, I started vigorously dance again. Again, everybody focused an attention solely on me. This time a young girl whom I have chosen measured up to the task. I did not have to look after her steps. She intuitively knew her role. She could predict in advance what I was going to do. Truly, she had a sense of rhythm. Both of us seemed to be one spirit united in the dance. From time to time, new pair joined dancing crowd. All dancing participants had to follow a general pattern. Dancers became part of a greater plan designed to express nature of mazurka. All of us had a great time, emphasising Polish character of the evening. I was truly pleased.
I succeeded in making a mark on St. Petersburg scene. The party lasted long hours into the morning. Lively Polish tunes kept the guests awaken. I transformed myself from the village boy into a new Casanova. I have to admit that I brought to St. Petersburg new variations of mazurka. The integration of all dancing pairs into one well-organized pattern was not yet known in that city. Mazurka is a very powerful tune that allows many variations of different figures and steps. Not many dances can measure up to such complexity. I believe it is one of the most complicated dance to perform. No wonder why Chopin loved so much to play this particular melody.
Everybody thanked me in person for a such interesting evening. I received so many invitations for next parties that I had to schedule them in my notebook. Even in the same evening, the general introduced myself to his brother who was an engineer major in the army, asking him for personal recommendations in regards of the Military Engineering School. The major suggested to admit me to the special private facility that specialized in preparation of candidates to the Military School. Although this private school was expensive, it was worth of the money. The director guaranteed the best preparation possible. Because the number of candidates exceeded by at least hundred percent the number of available places, to spend money made sense. Obviously, nobody could guarantee the results, however odds for the success could substantially increase.
With the recombination of the major, my brother in law made an appointment with the director of the private school, Mr. Iwanow. He was an engineer major in army too. He accepted me to his facility, taking a substantial fee in advance. I moved to the boarding school of major Iwanow. It happened on the third day since the ball, in the palace of the general Todtleben. Alexander departure was a very emotional moment for me. I truly loved my brother in law. The long trip from Wilno to St. Petersburg united us forever. Alexander had to leave because he had to travel the long way back. He had to go back to his post at the army. I stayed alone in a big, foreign city. I cured my depression with a hard work. Studying became my life.
The Russian government, making sure that candidates to the Military Engineering School were prepared well especially in the area of Math, organized two entry schools. In both of these schools, the best professors lectured. I attended one of them. Officially these schools were private, in reality they were very well connected with the central government, and with the court itself. Directors of these schools were go-between new candidates and the office of the Military School. The idea was to screen all candidates in order to eliminate any undesired candidates. For example, families that found the way to the black list of the tsar did not have any chance. The second reason was to help favorite youngsters with making sure that their academic knowledge was up to standards. With this approach, the government could avoid straight favoritism. The Military School really cared for an opinion, and exams were not fixed.
We knew exactly who were favorites. Usually, the half of candidates belonged to that group. Favorites knew each other. They were sons of the princes and super aristocrats of the Empire. Sometimes, some of them were talented too. Not all of them were dumb. However, they had to work hard as anybody else. They stayed long into nights studying, like rest of us. Next day, professors verified homeworks, treating everybody equally. For most part, professors were not corrupted at all.
In my school, the official policy was clear: nobody can count on any favor. Even the sons of the tsar were treated equally. If princes cannot score well academically, they certainly will be rejected by the Military School. Major Iwanow repeated many times, “Russia needs talented engineers in army, with proper set of skills. We are going to make sure that underachievers and unfit candidates will not enter the best military school in our country.”
All candidates were treated equally. On the surface, aristocrats did not have any privileges. The school followed precise schedule. Discipline was an essence of the institution. Lessons were tough. When a student could not answer all questions, he had to repeat the same set of tests next day, until his performance was fully satisfactory. Teachers did not apply any other punishment except a moral one. The physical punishment was unthinkable.
The boarding school prepared good food. Teachers and all staff were always ready to help us in academic area. The private school of major Iwanow looked after only thirty students from different parts of the Empire. The building was more than enough for the accommodation of so few candidates.
Directors of these two private schools charged students so much that they could afford to hire the best teachers. Also they had enough money to make facilities enough comfortable to all candidates. Probably their income was quite handsome after paying all expenses. Because of their connections with the government, they had all the backing that they required for the success. Parents of students did not mind hefty fees. They were very wealthy anyway. They knew that only the best preparations for exams of their children could guarantee the future successful career and the direct access to the throne.
My close friend from my childhood, Kazimierz Girdwoyn, joined the school of Iwanow about a month and half ago. I knew about his departure. However, at that time I was not ready yet for the trip. We were together again in the same school. I was fortunate to have a friend. I had to eliminate a gap between him (and other students) and me in the level of knowledge. As result, I could not join other students to have a good time on Sundays. I had to study all the time, just to catch up with others.
I was also happy to meet few other Polish candidates in the school of Iwanow. I remember the following names: Boleslaw Dobrowolski from Wilkomirsk, Szaszkiewicz from Podole, Sipianski from Witebsk, Ibianski from Lithuania, Szpyrko from Polock, and Mierzejewski from Grodno. All of them were from the previous Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Nobody was from the Kingdom of Poland. Very soon, we established very close friendship for the rest of our lives.
During breaks and after when all homeworks were done, we could not stop talking about our beloved country. All of us equally loved the country of origin. Sometimes evening talking went on late into the night and we were sleepy next day. Some boys were talented musically. We sang patriotic songs. Some of them were legal and some of them were illegal. Usually Szaszkiewicz directed the singing. He was the best singer between us with a beautiful tenor voice.
The oldest was Mierzejewski who had to shave his mustache because the Military school did not accept candidates with beards and mustaches. He accompanied Szaszkiewicz in signing with his great bass voice. Rest of us, tried the best, causing sometimes Szaszkiewicz to express uncontrolled grimaces on his face. Sometimes he even waved his hand in attempts to reduce false tunes coming from our throats. He never lost his optimism in improving our singing skills. Sometimes, he sang very romantic Ukrainian songs, unknown to us, Lithuanians. Even now, I can remember after half a century one melody learned from him:
|Noo ty dety wyhod s huty
Varnyhory tchast vyduty!
Yadnuy doomka, yadnuy spruva
Stoletzayoo bood Varshava.
Szaszkiewicz sang the song in unforgettable rhythm, so characteristic for Cossacks from the South.
Our Moscow friends did not mind singing because they did not understand patriotic meaning of them. Sometimes to improve our morale, we sang a national anthem, usually with lower down voice. Muscovites liked drink too much vodka or Donieck wine. We never could keep up company in their drinking. I have to admit that all students behaved very well towards each other. Russians never showed any discriminatory attitude against us, Polish.
Time was flying very fast. Short break for having good time, quickly followed with the hard work. The work united all of us from the school. Only few months were left before the entry exams and we still had to learn so much. The Military school sent a very concrete program to fullfil. Director Iwanow followed religiously the requirements. The program was reviewed every year. The governement never published its content in any official document. Only two directors from those two private schools were notified.
We studied very hard knowing how much our parents paid for the privilege of attending the private school. The spent money for few months of studying could finance the entire university program, and still some money would have been left. The government closely monitored all students recording characteristics of all future rulers of the Empire. Negative and positive profiles were equally writen. Teachers, tutors, and even cleaners reported to the director for the lengthy investigations every day. The director very thoroughly prepared himself for issuing a positive or negative recommendation at the end that was sent to the Military school. We knew what the process was and I tried my the best.
Reinventing of new program every year and passing it to directors of private schools guaranteed their absolute power over the process. Nobody who did not go through these schools could enter the Military school.
Our professors having the program in front of them practiced questions and answers until they were sure that we could succeed. No room for an accident was left. When the program omitted a particular topic no matter how vital it was from the scientific point view, they omitted it without any remorse. We knew all secrets that could help us in passing the ultimate exams. In two weeks, I managed to master material that my colleagues reviewed before my admission to the school. My achievement was only possible because of a contribution from teachers and tutors.
Obviously, I paid the price. I was truly tired. I had the biggest problem with mastering the Russian history. The teacher of that subject required from students to memorize entire material. His demands were so absurd that even we had to recall the same punctuation from his books. I did not mind that some parts of the history were not true. To me, it smelled with a typical propaganda. To memorize everything word by word was above human abilities. However, I tried the best. The teacher was a cousin of the director Iwanow. His opinion could influence the final recommendation. I remember some parts of his materials like prayers until today.
My effort paid off. After couple weeks, I could recall from a tick book such items like a page number where the particular topic started. I could recall words on every page how the particular page started. My abilities did not go unnoticed. My professor started to use my name as an example for others. However, I was fully aware that my skills to recall those details were completely useless from the scientific perspective.
After three months passed, the deadline for the exam was up, just after Christmas. I remember exact date because our Russian friends ate too much traditional pancakes served during holidays. The dish is made of buckwheat and taste great, when it is cooked with a lot of butter or sour cream and when it is served still hot. However, nobody should eat them too many - they are heavy for the stomach. Most Russian colleagues became really sick. Their sickness prevented them in taking exams on time. The event helped Polish to have some advantage over the competition.
Before attending the exam, the director of the Military Engineering School, in the rank of general, reviewed all candidates standing in front of him. The entire commission assisted him in this process. The bad lack wanted that I showed up with the bandage covering half of my face. An erysipelas has infected just half of my nose. I looked terrible and ugly. When the general saw me he immediately requested a physician to diagnose whether my disease can infect others.
Expecting the worst, I was waiting terrified for the verdict. Fortunately for me, the diagnose was positive. I could stay and attend the exam. However, my ordeal was not over yet. Suddenly, the same fat director already sitting in his armchair yelled with a crisp voice that my the only light bluish uncovered eye shows dulness. According to him, it was a sure sign of lack of sharp vision. Again, I was terrified. Even the commission was moved by the accusation. All members of the team gathered around and discussed the matter. They decided immediately to undertake a necessary vision test. The exam had to wait for the results for the new check up. I felt so stressed out that I answered questions about colored letters with doubt in my voice. I thought that this time I was lost. In addition, I could look at presented figures only with one eye. The bandage covered the other one. However, my vision was always perfect. I spent so much time hunting ducks and geese in the Lithuanian forests and marshes that not many could see as far as I could. As a result, I could convince the commission that the dullness in my eye was rather only in the head of the director.
Free from more accusations that I was not fit for studying at the Military school, I was allowed to attend the exam that afternoon. I did not notice any attempts to discriminate us, Polish. Professors were truly fair. The candidates randomly picked up questions. The panel scored every student without any attempt to communicate between professors. I did not have any doubts that examiners were top scientists in their field with complete integrity. They would never agree for any scam, even if the tsar himself asked them do it. Honesty was up in the air.
During the first two days, I did not have any problems with tests. I was sure of positive results. I answered all questions and I solved all mathematical tasks on the blackboard without any hesitation. The last day included a history. Because I memorized this material like prayers I was very hopeful. I envisioned a triumph. Quietly, I prepared myself for a bed trusting that the next day let me achieve my goal. Other my Polish friends were in a similar mood. All of us did not read again heavy history books. We thought there was not any need for it.
I was only surprised to see our Russian colleagues still working hard late in the night. I blamed their intelligence for it. Maybe they just needed more work than us to memorize the same material. Our memory was just better.
Just before I went to sleep, my Finn friend informed me that we were going to have in addition to the history exam another one - statistics. Unfortunately, nobody lectured that subject at the private school of Iwanow. I did not know much about that area of mathematics. I gathered from my friend that Iwanow distributed between his favorite students a short manual describing the subject of statistics couple weeks ago. Apparently, he asked those Russians to study the booklet without any help from teachers and tutors. It was obvious to me. All excluded candidates had to fail the subject, and forget the best Military school in Russia.
My beloved Finish friend did not want to lose our close association. He gave me his booklet with description of statistics. He advised to study the whole night. In this way, at least I had a chance to pass the exam, if I avoid the mark zero from that subject.
I was friendly with Finn since we met. He shared with me his sweets that he regularly received from his parents. Finland was much closer to St. Petersburg than Lithuania, and I could not receive any packages from my home so often. I thanked him with the whole my heart for his help, we shared again a supper together, and when all Russian students went to sleep I quietly gathered around all my Polish friends. I explained them what the plot was, why others were studying so much, and how Iwanow cheated us with the shameful cooperation of the Military school.
The situation was very urgent. We did not dwell on injustice. We read the booklet trying to understand a new subject. We discussed all numbers, mathematical assumptions, and proofs. Miraculously, we managed to finish the entire subject. However, I understood some parts of the subject rather vaguely. In the morning, we left to attend the exam with light heart, knowing that at least the subject is not out of this world for us. Because most of us had excellent scores from other tests, we were hoping that we can satisfy the school requirements.
I saw how surprised was the director of the Military school when Polish attended the statistics exam without any protest. He knew that the private school did not teach the subject. He suspected that Iwanow followed the old Russian tradition and packed his pockets with huge bribes. This was the only explanation for funnelling the booklet into Polish student hands. After questioning few of us in the area of stastistics, and hearing our correct answers, he dragged Iwanow behind closed doors. We could hear almost every word. The general yelled so much that probably passersby on the street could understand his accusations. He was sure that Iwanow betrayed him. Iwanow defended himself with a high pitch voice, arguing that he was entirely innocent. Both of them did not realize how immoral impression they made on the present professors.
Probably, Iwanow could not defend himself properly. Other person took over the private school next year. Iwanow was our victim and I think that he never discovered what really happened.
Polish candidates had an ultimate success. All of them entered the Military school. I scored much better than average. I think that the statistics played here important role. For all questions, I used my rhetorics and commented on wide aspects of the topic, showing good understanding. The professor who was a specialist in the area of statistics tried truly find how deep my knowledge was. He must have been satisfied with most answers because his score was one of the highest. When the school published an official list I was the third. Actually, all Polish placed themselves at the top part of the list. This success was only possible because of my Finnish friend. Unfortunately I forgot his name. In addition, he did not pass exams together with few others who ate so many pancakes before the first exam. By the way, the second private school did not have any Polish students.
I went to visit the Todtlebens expressing my gratitude next day. Keeping in my mind how Iwanow and the director of the Military school behaved during the selection process, I suspected that Alexander cousin did nothing to help me. I noticed right away that my success truly surprised my benefactors. The general, with little too quick speed of his voice, warmly welcomed me to visit his house every Saturday. His house was always open for guests on that day of week.
The Military Engineering School had a name Nicholas I because that tsar opened it. The school was located in the Summer Palace where the tsar Pavel was strangled. His son Alexander I, the next tsar, committed the murder. The building was huge with enclosed ground area inside. Students practiced marching and some other exercises on those grounds. At the front of the palace, we had a big park called the Summer Garden. Most of paths were decorated with beautiful sculptures made of granite. I knew that most of them were stolen from palaces of Warsaw. I regretted this because it seemed that the northern climate did not serve too well these pieces of arts. They blackened losing previous glamour.
Gardeners grew many plants that could blossom well on wet ground in the park. Most of the area was dried out marshes. Trees gave very nice shades during hot summers. Everywhere were benches letting visitors to rest. However, usually the park remained empty anyway. The general public rarely had an access to that park. They spent hot summers in suburbs or on islands of the Neva river. Actually, people avoided the entire area. They gossiped that the murder of the father committed by the son in the palace made air unhealthy. Only foreign tourists showed up regularly close to the palace. They repeated each to other very quietly the story about the strangled to death monarch, over and over again.
The Summer Palace was exclusively assigned to our school. The building was more than enough for our needs. Hundred students spread very easily in many rooms. The main bedroom was a huge ball room where beds were placed in a big distance one from another. Every student had also a chest and a chair beside the bed. Every night, we had to neatly fold down our uniforms placing them on the chair. In the next large room, we ate our meals. The long table accommodated easily hundred students. Hundred soldiers served students. Every student had one assigned waiter-soldier. There was enough room to carry food and dishes.
The lunch room was so huge that it contained hundred typical Russian teapots called “sumovur”. Students drank a tea twice a day, in the morning and afternoon. Teapots were assisted by a full set of paraphernalia for drinking tea. I remember a tray, couple beautifully engraved glasses, utensils for washing these glasses, a pot, a container for tea and sugar, and few other things necessary to perform the celebration of drinking that noble liquid. Tea time was a great time for socializing between all colleagues.
Our bathrooms were not comfortable. They were placed in narrow corridors. Basically, there were big containers with water with a tap at the bottom. Because containers were hanging above our heads, water could flow through taps. We used these facilities for cleaning ourselves daily. We took a shower once a week in a real bathroom. The weekly shower was mandatory, because of health reasons. The climate in St. Petersburg was not the best: wet and cold. As a result, the school had a separate hospital ward. I suspect that often illnesses were also due to the jail cells. For the slightest insubordination, students were imprisoned there, usually only for couple days. Even such crimes like being late for classes, march exercises or simply lunch resulted with the punishment of jail. However, jail cells were cold and wet. It was a real inconvenience.
Loud drums regulated all routines. We wake up to the sound of drums and we went to sleep to the same sound. However, ambitious students could continue studying late into the night in the separate library. The school allowed them stay there until midnight. After twelve going to sleep was obligatory.
The Summer Palace had also a gymnasium where we could exercise some military skills in rainy days. Usually, the school organized classes of sabers and spades fighting there. In addition, the dance classes were part of the vital program. The dance training included even mazurkas. Our Russian friends made attempts to master this dance jumping widely. It reminded more a Cossack dance than Polish rhythms. I believe that every nation has own preference in this area and it has something to do with own blood. In the building where gymnasium was located, soldier horse keepers were stationed. In addition, the battalion of sappers had own quarters. Cartographers who prepared precise maps for the highest leadership of the Russian army took over the upper floors of the palace. Their facilities were the first world class in its area. After sunset, the Summer Palace gates were closed and the palace became a fully sealed off fortress.
The same fat director showed up in front of new students. This was the first day of school. He read names of all freshmen from the list, according to the score achieved during the entry exams. He spoke to every person face to face. Because I was the third on the list, I had to step up and come to him close in the beginning of the ceremony. I noticed some sour expression in his eyes, however he covered it up with an artificial politeness. He remembered very well his own attempt to eliminate my candidacy when he questioned my physical fitness for the school. He grimaced many times on that day when he had to read so many Polish names. His disappointment was doubled when he had to read their names from the beginning of the list. He knew very well that he failed in performing the selection process. I am sure that he promised himself never to make a such mistake again.
He could not eliminate over proportional number of students with Polish background. At least he tried to find out details about their families. He asked them lots of questions about their families and provinces from where they came. He knew that he had to know about everything about foreigners who just about to become a part of the highest establishment of the Empire. They may even become close advisors to the tsar himself.
The director had a short speech. Then, he explained the rank of command. We met our direct commander, a colonel, and few officers of lower rank who were going to have direct supervision over students. The colonel, whose name I forgot, was a nice person. He cared about students and truly looked after them. His decisions were final. After the ceremony, he directed us to our huge bedroom. At every bed, we had ready uniforms. Earlier, taylors took from us precise measurements and uniforms fit our bodies in perfect way. The uniforms were truly impressive. To make sure that clothes were not mixed up, to the every uniform was attached a name of a student. Letters were done with real golden strings.
We had desks beside each bed. We kept our notebooks, books, and all other study materials there. We could study at the desk until sleep time. After that, we had to move to the library for further work. We always followed the rule and it helped our colleagues sleep well, who finished studying earlier.
We did not keep extra clothes and underwear at the bed. We had a special room for that purpose. Soldier servants maintained all that clothes in a clean and perfect condition. Before going to sleep we had to fold down neatly daytime clothes. After falling in sleep, soldiers were coming to pick them up. After cleaning them and replacing with fresh (if it was required), they brought it back making sure that they did not wake up anyone. They did it the same with our boots. Soldier servants cleaned also our weapons on a daily basis. The system worked in a such way that all students wore perfect uniforms and looked like toy soldiers belonging to the perfect child.
In spite of the fact that our uniforms looked so gorgeous, I was ashamed that I wore a symbol of Russia. The clothes seemed to tell me that when Polish people rebel against their oppressor, I will be one of the first to suppress their drive for freedom. I knew that I have to hide my real attitudes. I felt like the Polish legendary knight Wallenrod who joined the Teutonic Knights order only to betray them and help his compatriots. Although we did not speak so openly about that topic, I assumed that all my Polish student friends felt the same. All of us, we were ready to betray the government of Russia anytime and join the Polish cause. However, we knew how to mask our true feelings.
I was afraid that when we socialize with other Polish people in St. Petersburg, they will assume that we sold our souls to the oppressor. I went through many doubts on the first day in the Military Engineering School. I had time to think about it because we did not have much to do on that day. We were well fed and in warm clothes. However, I was not entirely happy. We went early to bed in order to get up next day at 5.00 A.M.
I became used to regulations fairly easily. Because of many princes between students, the applied discipline was not too excessive. The school was quite luxurious. Food was fantastic and clothes too. The school tried not only give us a professional knowledge but also it tried to turn us into real gentlemen. For example, some lectures included dances and a protocol of behaving at the table. I had only the one complain: drums for announcing different activities. They drove me nuts, especially in the morning.
Students presented themselves as a happy family only to the outside world. In fact, it was a group of young people with a strong hierarchical structure. The freshmen were at the bottom. Older students abused younger ones requesting absolute control over them. When a younger colleague did not meet demands of the older one, he was punished in a barbaric way. The punishment was physical. The victim had to band in a such way that he reached with fingers of both hands to his toes. The executioner stroked at the back with the drafting scale. The unfortunate boy had to remain still. To make it more painful, the strike was done with the edge of it. This practice was applied with the full strength and could have been compared to Chinese tortures. Probably, invading Mongols in XIII century brought it to Russia. The victim could avoid the torture only in one way: letting the older student to use his body in a sodomized sex. Unfortunately, older boys practised the homosexuality as a way of reliving natural needs. The victim who could not take a pain became a real slave. He had to serve the bully in many ways, including satisfying pervert desires.
The oldest students controlled and directed these perverted sexual practices. I am sure that number of those who were involved in it was small. However, the atmosphere that it created around the school was devastating. Rumors about this kind of behavior reached the general public. It was a real scandal.
Most my Polish friends were so innocent that some of them just did not know even that such sexual practices existed. They were visibly moved when someone mentioned anything about kissing girls. A Roman Catholic upbringing was quite restrictive as far as morality goes.
Those between older boys who did not engage into homosexual activities, followed the pattern of bullying younger students using them as servants. They requested from freshmen cigars, alcohol and other gifts. Refusal was always punished with the described previously tortures. When the victim resisted the beatings, others helped to hold him. A pure physical force enforced the abusive nature of the school. Slavery was an essence of the place.
However, the injustice in form of bulling could not last forever. Students from the first year rebelled. They organized a real uprising. They sealed off one of the bedroom using beds, desks, and all other furniture. The fight started. The most common weapons were chairs. Some boys defended themselves with sabers. The older students attacked young rebels. The determination of abused freshmen was so strong that they were quite successful in fighting off attackers. The war started in the evening, lasted the whole night, and continued well into the next day. Both sides could not gain any superiority over each other. The first casualties of wounded youngsters had to be removed from the scene. The wounds resulted from throwing heavy furniture. Until first wounds the school office did not intervene. Officials pretended that nothing happened. However, when the officials had to collect wounded students they realized that the event cannot be hidden under the rug. The neutrality meant only the one thing: the school quietly approved the bulling of older students over younger boys. The Military school included the slavery into its curriculum.
The fight heated up from one hour to the next. The situation became so tense that the price could have been human lives. It became so serious that the school would have to take a responsibility. The school staff, including a director and all duty officers, had to take an action. They gave an order to bullies to stop attacking, and to defenders to step off barricades. Servants immediately cleaned the mess, taking broken furniture for fixing.
The peace was enforced without any problems. All students followed discipline when it was directed from officials. However, freshmen had a moral victory. They announced duty officers that if older students will abuse them again they start fighting without any warning. They really won the battle. Older students did not bully them again.
We, Polish students had a meeting within our small group. We discussed the matter, and we promised to help each other in defending ourselves. We would never allow for any abuse, especially including homosexual activities. We would rather fight until death than allow such dishonour.
To defend ourselves better, we reached to some Russian colleagues. As a result, we organized some kind of brotherhood organization, regardless of the ethnic background. We discussed the matter with all our friends who previously attended the school of Iwanow, and the other private school. Our brotherhood united all of us into a close friendship and it guaranteed that older students could not recon with us.
We shared values of morality and noble behavior. The brotherhood gave quickly positive results. Our conduct based on honor. We swore that we will defend each other against older colleagues if they attempt to abuse any of us. Our determination was so strong that we promised to ourselves that if we fail there will be only one alternative: to leave the school. We did not care that we paid so much in order to enter the Military school. We organized parties together bonding the brotherhood even more. All freshmen were proud and happy that they stood up against so obvious injustice.
The brotherhood required from us to be in a constant alert. Everything what we did was from the perspective of honour. We prepared for a possibility of fight. We were ready all the time. After one supper we noticed some whispering between older students. We knew right away that a new fight was under way. One of us was surrounded by older colleagues. He refused to make cigarettes from tobacco leaves for some other students. Immediately, the fight started. We managed to retrieve our colleague from the trap. I approached quickly a duty officer who just was passing in the corridor. I asked him for an intervention. I insisted that he had to stop the harassment if the school wanted to avoid any new blood. If he refused to intervene, we were ready immediately to quit the school as a group.
The duty officer had enough common sense to understand that a new confrontation could not be avoided. He gave an order to all students to disperse to own desks. He informed a commander, his superior, about the situation. Then, the drums woke up the school and called for the meeting. This time the director of the school made clear. If again any fighting starts all found guilty will lose the nobility and will be sent as soldiers to the war zone in Caucuses maintains. The peace and order must remain. He added a little speech directed to freshmen, that an essence of the school is a discipline. If anyone is caught in braking rules the punishment will be severe.
The success was complete. Students dispersed with a feeling that the rest of years spent in the school will be productive and according to the best morale standards. The atmosphere of the institution really improved. The friendship between Polish and Russians found the strong basis. The brotherhood crossed the ethnic lines.
The first Polish who finished the Military school opened by the emperor Nicholas I, was Edwin Wrzesniowski. He just graduated when I entered the school. I met him little later when he already studied at the Military Engineering Academy. He graduated from that school in the rank of captain. Other Polish friends suspected him that he Russianized too much. The suspicion based only on the fact that his brother served as a Police Officer in Warsaw in the rank of a colonel.
The rumor about his betrayal of Polish cause was unfounded. He was one of the first who destroyed his career joining the uprising of 1863. He showed a lot of talent as a partizan leader. I met him much later in Turkey and we became close friends there.
Also, when I joined the Military school, other Polish, my older friend from the Wilno high school, Michal Girdwoyn, studied the last year. I knew him since my childhood, since he was a brother of Kazimierz, my the closest friend. He was very happy to see me at the same school in St. Petersburg.
I am aware of only one Polish who at that time finished the Military school. His name was Jocher. He served in the rank of captain and he lectured the field fortifications. I know that there were few Polish engineers in the Russian army who graduated from some other schools. The most famous was Kierbedz. He was born in Wilno. He built a beautiful bridge over the river Neva in St. Petersburg and the Orthodox church, St. Isaac, just beside it.
After some adjustments to the service and some rest, we started to attend scientific lectures. Usually, lectures followed with some appropriate military training. The professors were the first sort. The Russian government made sure that our staff was the best in the country. Actually, some professors were hired from abroad. The highest emphasis focused on mathematics. Every subject area in this field was covered by different lecturers who specifically specialized in it. One of professors was Ostrogradzki who made many scientific discoveries in Mathematics.
The other was Polish, an engineer specializing in analytical geometry. Most students were very fond of young Jocher whom I mentioned before. He was a son of the professor of the previously closed Wilno University. I remember also a very handsome colonel Linde-Kwist. His uniform was always decorated with many medals. He taught us a cartography. He was a real artist in this field. He was especially very skillful in drawing maintains. He had a responsibility to teach us that difficult skill. He spent many hours with every one of us at our desks practising cartographic drawings. We were drawing with a very delicate pen until we mastered perfect maps.
The need of reflecting terrain on maps was a very vital skill for the military engineer. Most of students did not understand that need, wasting time. They usually gave to the professor drawings done by topographers who worked for the government on the last upper floor of the palace. The topographers earned in this way some additional income. They did not mind the cheating. In other words, most students lied to the colonel Linde-Kwist, spending free time on reading romance novels.
Topographers were very talented in their skills. They could draw perfect maps easily. However, students asked them to make some mistakes. Students always knew how many mistakes they needed. They truly created an impression that they learn topography in gradual and natural way. Linde-Kwist never discovered a scam. The cheating was perfect. Students received exactly mark that they wished to get.
Contrary to my colleagues, I paid a lot of attention to Linde-Kwist’s lectures. Later I used that knowledge in many wars, drawing good topographic works and even some maps. I remember also a war geography teacher. He was very pedantic. Nobody could cheat him because he requested to draw very detail maps of European countries with chock just on the blackboard. We had to also draw maps of Russia with tiny details, and quite detailed maps of the whole World. We had to do drawings from memory.
In winter, nights in St. Petersburg are very long. Lectures' halls were lighted by oil lamps and candles. The gas lamps and electricity did not exist at that time. The circumstances really prevented us from working well on big boards when we had to draw maps, architectural designs or even mathematical proofs. However, summer days lasted long. It helped us in this kind of tasks immensely. Summer nights were really white.
Between staff, I remember a French teacher, who taught us dancing. He was an elderly man still trying to proof his vitality showing his energy in an artificial way. He demonstrated all different steps in a funny way. We could not resist us from laughing. His face reminded a young old man. He achieved this strange effect shaving all his facial hair. In Russia, at that time most men did not shave face, or at least part of it. We had to practise dance steps to death. Those peers who acted as female had to carry a white scarf on right arm. The duty officer was always present at dance classes. Usually he took part in the good time as well. Dance classes were just fun, full of laughter and happiness.
He instructed us how to dance a mazurka dance. The instruction was a real parody. He ran with high speed at the end throwing his legs backwards with a high energy. I never saw again such a profanity of our national dance. Finely, I showed him all required steps. I also explained of a necessity of applying different figures making the dance interesting. I showed him a special step called “holubietz”. I showed how to start that step from the left and right leg, in accordance with rhythms of music. This part of dance is extremely important when someone dances solo or at the front of the entire line of dancers. The professor tried very hard to imitate what I showed him. However, he ended up in entanglement of his own legs. He concluded that this type of dance belongs to ballet. It should not be danced as a part of salon dancing. I responded with my usual statement: to learn mazurka someone has to be Polish.
The important part of the staff was twelve teachers of fencing. They taught us very thoroughly fencing with sabers and spades. All of us gained good skills in the area of defence and attack. Later, the skill was usefull in duels.
In addition to intellectual skills, we spent a lot of time learning marching. Every day, we spent couple hours just marching, mastering German steps. The training required strong muscles and it was truly murderous. We practiced lots of gun shooting. We had old guns without calibers. We loaded them with bullets and gun powder from the top end. The trainers followed precise steps. The procedure was complicated and required a discipline. The modern guns at that time did not exist. We practised marching and shooting for two months.
The school commandant reviewed all students every Friday. All of us had to see him alone in his office, one after another. During the entrance, we had to salute him in a military style. Saluting was very important. Failure of saluting in perfect way caused that we had to continue marching training. Director sometimes was partial towards some of us. For some reasons, he did not like me. As a result, I remained a recruit much longer than other my colleagues. The injustice was so obvious that some my peers expressed an opinion to superiors supporting me. Their support compensated more than enough the injustice that I had received.
Remaining as a recruit had a disadvantage. Recruits could not wear flashy uniforms that had a silver military insignia. Also, they could not wear a helm with a silver plate and black tick hair. This uniform was truly beautiful. During free time, my colleagues could parade on the Nevski Boulevard, Sea street and Kazan street in their impressive uniforms. I had to walk in my ugly coat with a dull soldier hat.
I missed my country since I came to St. Petersburg. Whenever any negative event occurred, the feeling of attachment to Lithuania increased, sometimes bordering with madness. I wrote long letters home expressing my state of mind. I had a carful reader, my mum. Eventually, she decided to come to St. Petersburg, taking the same route as I did.
She packed with Lithuanian great food and sweets the same carriage that Tydman and I came earlier. All those gifts were for her beloved son. She left home together with Alexander through the Post route. I did not know about their visit. Those two, the closest people to my heart on this earth, wanted me surprise. When they showed up in the Military school, I was the most happy person in the entire city. I hugged my mum and then Alexander, after that I again hugged them, and again and again. I could not stop doing that. The commandant gave me three days off and I stayed with them all the time. After that, every day I visited them. We went to theatres in evenings. Also, we visited the house of Todtlbens.
Their visit lasted for two weeks, then a sad hour of departure came. My mother had many businesses to attend at home and Alexander had to go back to his new post. The general Todtlben definitely helped in his promotion to the rank of colonel. Now, he became a commandant of the provision unit in Rewel. He was happy to take over this important army office. I was very moved when they left.
Probably, the climate of St. Petersburg contributed to my health. After my visitors left, I got a jaundice. I had the erysipelas a short time ago. Then, I was sick again. I do not think that my sadness caused by my family departure could contribute to my illness. I fully accepted my separation as a price for gaining a professional knowledge. The physician recommended me staying in a hospital ward. However, I could attend all required lectures. The commandant excused me from the military training (marching, shooting, etc.). My sickness was not too serious.
Every year, the Orthodox priests had a special mass in the room where the emperor Pavel was strangled in a very ruthless way. The current tsar always participated in the ceremony. The event occurred this year as well. Only the most important aristocrats took part in the ceremony. In addition, all students of the Military school had to attend. There was not enough room for more participants. On the other hand, the court did not want to include big crowds anyway. Good public relations suggested the quite ceremony. Nobody wanted too much publicity about a son emperor murdering the own father monarch. In addition, I am sure that Alexander II must have thought about similar possibilities for himself. The history of Russia is full of incidents of killing fathers by sons and opposite between a ruling family. The country rulers were always extremely violent. Tsars did not die in a natural way.
After the ceremony, usually the tsar visited the school. He tried to get familiar with students who will serve him later so directly. He always showed a real interest in all aspects of the institution. He went through the administration facilities, then he saw all classrooms. He went even to all our bedrooms. At the end, he went to hospital where he found few ill students, including myself. He stopped at the bed of every patient. He asked what kind of medicine the doctor prescribed and what symptoms the illness triggered.
He was knowledgeable in the area of health. In the time when he still was a Great Duke instead of tsar, he studied a medicine. He still was interested in this subject. When he came I was standing at my bed. I felt relatively all right. When the emperor came and saw my yellowish face, he said to the doctor “a jaundice”, and then he asked me “How are you?”. I answered with the proper “I am well, your highness”. The general Todtleben, who was accompanying the tsar, immediately introduced myself as a his cousin. Also, he added that I am a close relative of the colonel Tydman who recently was promoted by the tsar himself as a commandant of the office in Rewel. His introduction of myself to the tsar made a huge impression on the director of the Military school. Any even shade of harassment from him disappeared for the rest of my stay in the school.
When I faced the monarch of the greatest enemy of my country, I regretted that I could not tell to the tsar what I felt. I saw in him the personification of the authoritarian ruler who enslaved my compatriots. I could not express my conviction that his empire partitioned Poland in the most immoral way: braking and betraying all previously signed treaties. I wanted to say that I will remain unfaithful to Russia for the rest of my life. I knew that I had to cover up my real face. If Polish people would not mask their attitude they would have been wiped out completely long time ago. At the same time, I promised myself that I will join the uprising against the empire at the first sign of it. I had to betray Muscovites, otherwise I would betray my country instead. I did not have any other choice.
For us who have to remain slaves of the Russian Empire, the attitude of betray and lie are virtues of responsibility and honor. They are the only source of gaining a freedom. When the uprising against occupation started, all Polish remaining in service for the government became traitors of own country. The right attitude was widely spread between youths. They joined the uprising of 1863 in massive numbers. At that time, I was only 19 years old. I understood very well that lies, betrayal, and crimes are the essence of our enemy government. I knew also that we were hypocrites accepting similar values as the only means of salvation. However, without two-faced attitude we would have been completely lost.
During the summer, students from the first grade passed all exams and qualified for the next level. We went to the training camp for the summer exercises near Peterhof. I could rest there and also we could practice all theoretical knowledge that we gained during the last year. Only those students who had some health problems could travel to own families. Rest of us had to stay in the camp. We lived under tents and practiced every day in many well-prepared war simulations. Many army units gathered near Peterhof for the same reason. They belonged to many different types of troops. Most of them were artillery and sapper soldiers. The tsar himself took part in the exercise. He reviewed units on a daily basis. His personal attention to exercises gave them special importance.
Our accomodation included few big tents. Twenty bed fited into one tent, in two rows. We had enough space between rows to move freely. The facilities were comfortable. Our commandant was placed in a separate tent closeby. The duty officers had own seprate tent. Soldiers who performed as our servants were located nearby too, in their tents. The administration office with clothes and food suplies was located in own tents.
The lunch room was arranged as a tent without walls, with tables inside. Even small building was erected as a backup facility. When rainy days became too inconvenient, we ate our meals inside that building. Although building was temporary, the roof was covered with real tiles. The artistic shows performed by our talented colleagues were presented in the building. Some our friends played music very well.
The Artillery school, similar in size to our school, was located as a next camp to ours. Actually, they covered little larger area, because they brought lots of cannons. Two camps reminded a little town.
Nobody enforced too much discipline. We could sleep longer into full day. We had a lot of time for resting afternoon. Also, we could go sleep later, keeping quite in order of letting others sleep. The food was excellent. We did not have to spend own money on anything, although most of us could afford it. The service was fantastic. The summer time was a fun time.
When the military exercise was scheduled, the duty officers woke us up earlier. Even these exercises were organized as a fun. I remember one such event. Our task was to prepare a temporary bridge on the lake that led to the island. The bridge was made of an extremely light wood. The pieces fit each with other in a such way that we could build the entire bridge quickly. We covered the bridge with the linen cover. The construction of it was so strong that the entire army could march on it. Even the artillery could move to the other side. We saw many times in next exercises how the bridge was efficient.
The Military Engineering school specialized in construction of this kind of bridges. The bridge was wide as hundred meters and could have been built only on water with a small current. During the building process, we had to master working with boats: rowing and anchoring them.
To learn other systems of bridge construction, we had to join battalions of sappers. They were located near Peterhof. They had different types of boats similar to the best used in most European armies. At the same time, they trained us in planting mines, building fortifications and bridges made of local materials. The improvisation was an essence of success. We had to emphasize a quick demolish of finished bridges. When enemy wins the losing army must quickly destroy all communication channels leading to moving back army. We, Polish students paid a lot of attention to the exercises teaching the destruction aspect. The skill of destroying the infrastructure may be crucial in winning our future uprising against unbeatable Russia. We did not have any regrets with this approach. The enemy enforced our military service anyway.
We also had to join the Artillery school with their program of training. We mastered many different shootings with the use of cannons: from the smallest caliber to the biggest. The training included many different explosives. During the one of exercises the tragic accident occurred. The trainers prepared some bombs and grenades with different delay time for explosions. The plan was to use bombs and grenades with limited strengths. To train officers the school did not have to use the real explosives. Someone made a mistake. The artillery servicemen brought fully functional bombs and grenades instead of blind ones. During the training the blast killed three students, including a young prince Bebutov. One of the victims was a simple soldier who was repairing a boot of an officer. He was sitting far away in the tent and the piece of the grenade wounded him so much that he died instantly. The accident made everybody sad in the entire camp. The tsar demoted the professor who was responsible for the training to the rank of the soldier. The court prepared a funeral with a full state glamour. All princes and aristocrats of Russia and the entire command of the army took part in the ceremony. All parties and balls stopped for few days in St. Petersburg and the sorrow for young lives was genuine.
During exercises, students from different schools joined some other schools. This was the case also during the accident. However, no one from the Military Engineering school was injured.
I have noticed that no Polish studied at the Artillery school. I have a theory why it was the case. I think that Polish joined only such school that could help them in the future uprising. Obviously, artillery skills could have been totally useless in partizan activities. No one could imagine that artillery could help rebels fighting in Polish or Lithuanian forests.
At the end of summer, just before closing camps, we had a huge final war exercise. All schools, all army formations from St. Petersburg, and few brigades moved from provinces and took part in the exercise. Troops specialized with different types of weapons. The command divided the concentrated army into two independent armies. Cannons and drums woke us early morning. We had to defend ourselves from the attacking enemy. We had to put on clothes very quickly and take our posts. Whoever was late was in troubles.
All of us formed marching troops. Although it still was dark, we left the camp. The command chose the middle of night for the exercise making it a more romantic event. We could not maneuver too fast in a complete darkness. When we reached the planned target location, everybody was exhausted. The commanding officers divided us into separate units without letting us rest. They sent units to perform the following tasks: to build observation towers, scout the area, to dig trenches, and to fight enemies. We even captured the first prisoner of war.
We interrogated the imprisoned soldier. In this way, our unit gathered information about location of the enemy. We gained a knowledge about size of the facing us troops. The Engineering School was replaced by some other troops in the morning. Although we spent a sleepless night, the order was to march back to Peterhof and build a new bridge on the lake. A new communication link was required.
At the same time, a sapper battalion came to build another bridge, not far from us. The retreating troops from the island planned to use the other bridge. The command gave the signal for building both bridges at the same time. The process became a pure contest who can produce a bridge faster. Our team won. We finished the bridge few minutes earlier.
Before the competitors finished their work, we managed to get through two cannons on the other end of the bridge. The marching troops through the bridge included the transportation of wounded cavalrymen. Horsemen fell off their horses during the first attack. Also some marching soldiers were shot by the enemy. The suppliers gave to attacking troops real bullets instead of blind ones.
The special traffic unit directed moving troops through the bridge. The extra caution was required in order to avoid drowning. We could hear bomb shelling closer and closer. The number of escaping units gathering at the entrance to the bridge grew fast. The Engineering Military school was one of them.
Some units at the back had to form a defence. Only when the attacking enemy was stopped the rest of soldiers could manage safe escape. The attacking troops outnumbered defending units by big margin. The defence did not have a chance. The shelling was steady and massive. However, I had an impression that the defence was successful. Otherwise the enemy would have moved already to our positions. The defending units were very serious in their fight.
As a result of good defence, the retreating army had a chance to move through the bridge on the other side of the lake. When most soldiers reached the other end, the command gave us an order of demolishing the bridge. We loaded most parts of the bridge on carriages standing on the other side of the water. However we did not have enough time to load all boards. We had to destroy big parts of the bridge, making sure that the enemy could not use our facility in chasing our army. At least, we managed to let our artillery to get on the other side of the lake. Unfortunately, some soldiers were captured as prisoners of war. The enemy surrounded them and they did not enter the bridge on time.
When we packed all our carriages with parts of the bridge the enemy army surrounded the lake and started shooting at us. Fortunately, they did not have any forgotten life bullets in their guns. Nobody was injured and we managed to move out from the battle field into the forest. We moved without any rest suspecting that the enemy might build their own bridge at the same spot where we did. We saw from the distance that they took over our positions and expressed their happiness with wild screaming. They won the battle.
The scream during the attack and after taking over enemy positions was a typical custom. I think that they learned from Mongols who invaded Russia many centuries ago. I could never be accustomed to this barbaric way of expressing emotions. The war finished. We marched with declined heads, surrounded by the screaming crowd. We were losing a physical strength trying to escape the uncomfortable situation. By the strange coincident, the commander of a winning army was a tsar himself. The losing army had to endure inconvenience of marching back to barracks. They did not take part in the celebration of successful war. We were hungry because nobody prepared food for us. Instead of having usual excellent food, we had only one dry biscuit for every soldier. To make it eatable, we had to water it in the lake of Peterhof. This was not enough to satisfy a hanger of young bodies.
We were sad. However, nobody protested, knowing that any criticism could have been understood by our superiors as a rebellious attitude. We had to learn to accept any negative events quietly. This was a war. We marched faster and faster making sure that the enemy cannot outflank us and attack again. The enemy tried to chase us and finalize a victory with the total destruction of our army. They tried to reach a road ahead of us and trap us in an ambush. We could outmaneuver them only through quick withdrawal from the battle field.
It was a lunch time. A hope of having a good meal made us march even faster. Finely, the commander gave us order to stop and rest in a small, clear of trees, place. We lay down in a nice green grass, resting and looking forward to a meal. In couple minutes, we participated in a distribution of a lunch that just arrived. We went to help in a distribution of food between soldiers, hoping that we were getting usual delicacies.
We were very surprised. The supply included again one dry biscuit per person. The commander explained that we still did not have any time. To avoid surrender, we had to move fast. He promised a real meal soon and ordered to form columns and march again.
We, as students of the Engineering Military school, understood very well that the whole hardship was imposed on us just to test our endurance. However, we were jealous of the Artillery school that was chosen to fight on the side of the emperor. They took part in winning and in all festivals following the event. We swore our faith in silence, dragging our feet in this ridiculous escape. Everybody chewed dry biscuits covering a disappointment with a grim expression on faces. Because at the same time so many youngsters consumed biscuits, the strange noise spread with marching army. It reminded a locus attack on a field. The noise was so nerve wracking that someone could read it as a sign of rebellion.
Soon, the consumption of biscuits, one per soldier, was finished. However, the officers did not forget to remind us that eating during any escape must be done as quietly as possible. We were closer to the edge of the forest. Some soldiers could not keep up with the speed of moving columns. They were taken on carriages. Few wounded soldiers already were travelling this way. I suspect that few new soldiers taken for a ride were pretending an exhaustion, just to make situation easier for them.
After few hours, we reached a train station. I do not remember the name of that village. The commanding officer informed us that we escaped the danger of enemy ambush. Now we could relax. We waited for the ride back to Peterhof. Slowly, we forgot our hardship, especially when servants served a warm meal. The meal was not too large, because after so long hunger it might have caused a sickness.
We had to wait a long time for our train. Many trains passed with the equipment used during exercises. We were losing a patience. I was looking forward to comfort of our camp at Peterhof. We came to the camp late evening. A lot of students were not accustomed to any hardship. They spent their entire life in a luxury. When we came back, they lay down on their beds and fell in sleep. They forgot food and taking off their clothes.
We, Polish, knew what the hardship really was. We could stand much more. In addition, to lose was nothing new to us. Our history for couple centuries was full of lost battles. Actually, we were glad to test our endurance. When we came back, we followed our everyday schedule as close as possible. We went to sleep at usual time.
Next day, the command woke us early again. They ordered to form columns and march us in front of the tsar Alexander II. Many units concentrated on the Mars field, in front of the Orthodox cathedral in Peterhof. The church organized a very extravagant mass devoted to the tsar. The entire court, all princes and the command of the Russian army took part in the sermon. The mass followed with the military marching.
The concentration of military units followed precise plan. The military school units gathered beside the church. Other troops located in front of them. The crowd was enormous and we could see all participants of exercises. Soldiers covered entire field around the church. The priests planned the mass at nine o'clock. However, the preparations for the military parade started in early morning. Soldiers had to wait hours for their time. It was a torture. They had to wait froze for hours until the bells announced the end of the mass. The orchestra could start and the tsar showed up in front of his beloved army.
The army did not take any part in a religious ceremony. No sound left the church during the mass. Soldiers could only imagine what was going inside the church. That was enough for simple soldiers. Nobody really cared about their spiritual needs.
Cannons announced the beginning of the parade. The tsar-father could meet his beloved soldier-children. All units, one after another, marched in front of him in neat columns. The troops followed each other in the prearranged order keeping a distance each from the other. The tsar observed the event from his beautiful horse, surrounded by dukes, generals, and the entire army command.
All officers and soldiers passing the tsar looked into his eyes and answered cheerfully to his greetings. Those battalions that managed to hold perfectly straight line received additional warm comments from the emperor. The military school students marched as all other units. Polish, seeing the tsar and his generals - the ultimate enemy, definitely thought about their revenge. They knew that with the first opportunity they would kill them all without slightest hesitation. I felt lightness in my heart that I learned new war skills. I could use them against marching Muscovites in front of me.
We, Polish did not mind the dust from thousands' soldiers marching on the sandy road. We did not mind the standing hours in front of the church. We were truly happy with military education. Although we did not communicate between us our real feelings, I was sure that all of us would join any uprising against Russia if such would start. This was an evangelic message with which Polish youths grew before 1863.
The time for celebration started. The court supplied an excellent food for the party as an award for last couple days of sacrifice. At the same time, the school office gave us three days off for visiting own families. We, Polish had to stay because our families were far away. We stayed at the camp. Because nobody else was around, we had a chance to form even closer friendship. We discussed many issues related to us. One of them was the language. We knew that to maintain Polish at the high level we had to do something about it. Everyday use of only Russian must sooner or later make an impact on proficiency in a mother tongue. We decided to buy some Polish books and organize a little library. We could improve our language through reading and at the same time we could improve us intellectually.
Without wasting any time, we collected several tens of rubles and I went to St. Petersburg to purchase books. My colleagues gave me a free hand in selecting proper titles.
I found the recently published “Polish History” written by Koronowicz. I selected novels of T. T. Jez and Czajkowski. I also bought these works of Mickiewicz that the official censorship allowed. I added few more books of which titles I do not remember. We equally divided the library between ourselves, making sure that the new library would not become suspicious. If the command office find out that we tried to read books unfriendly towards the Russian Empire we could have been in a deep trouble.
Before the end of summer and the camp, we managed to read all obtained books. Definitely, we noticed that our language improved. The most important was that we awaken an interest in Polish literature. We did not miss any chance of speaking in Polish as a part of conscious exercise. Our friendship grew as a side effect of the practice.
In falls, we continued studying at the Military school. We encountered many Polish students coming back to St. Petersurg universities after the summer break. We asked them to buy for us as many books in Warsaw as possible. The university students also advised us about the best selection. One of my friend, Ihnatowicz, a medical student from Wilno helped me to meet other Polish students. As a result of that, I met a very knowledgeable person, Kalinowski, who studied languages. He specialized in Polish manuscripts stolen from Wilno and Bialystok. He found many of those manuscripts just right in the libraries of St. Petersburg.
Kalinowski, who was much older than me, appreciated very much the fact that Polish students of military school did not forget their identity. The Russian uniform did not change a heart underneath.
Again, we collected money and Kalinowski suggested a list of the best titles. We ordered a cabinet and contracted a bookbinder to bind our books. We planned to keep a library for future Polish students of the Military school. We stamped every book with initials P.L.E.S. (the Polish Library of Engineering School).
Because we could not place the library in the Military school, we left it in an apartment of Kalinowski. He guarded it and all Polish students could visit him any time of the day to borrow a book for reading. He asked only for one benefit - to have an access to the library for his own use. Usually, I had to visit Kalinowski every Saturday, bringing back an old set of books, and taking new books for my colleagues. Saturday was the only day of the week when we had time off from our school. As a result, we could not abuse a hospitality of Kalinowski and disturb his studies too much. He spent all his time reading manuscripts spread everywhere in his spacious apartment. The mess had some logic in it, only known to Kalinowski. When any one of us came, he led us straight to the library, making sure that we would not step on manuscripts laying on the floor.
The mess was cyclical in its nature. Kalinowski studied manuscripts according to periods of time. At one time, he collected only manuscripts from the particular period. When studying of that period was over, he removed all notes and manuscripts from his apartment. This was the time to clean the place. To get rid of dust and mess took couple days. This was also a time for rest. After that, Kalinowski started slowly collecting manuscripts from the next period. The mess started to build up until the studying of that new period finished. We, young Polish, admired his work that seemed to us so patriotic. Kalinowski tried to research Polish culture that invaders suppressed for last century.
Kalinowski looked after our spiritual growth. Many other university students helped us to maintain our national identity. They supplied us also with subversive literature that the government made illigal. Many of those students later took part in a revolution of Garibaldi in Italy, in 1859. They kept in touch with many revolutionaries from abroad. Some of them had already contacts with the Central Committee of the independence movement in Warsaw.
When we came back to the Summer Palace, new lectures started in the Military Engineering School. Two new Polish students joined our school, Jundzill and the other one whom name I forgot. They graduated from the third year of universisity in Mathematics. The command of our school agreed to attract some good universisty students, gaining intelligent material for officers in Russian army. At that year, only two Polish and one Russian were accepted.
We, Polish students gained another contact with the outside world. Especially, Jundzill, as a son of a botany professor from the previous Wilno University, had many contacts in a Polish community of St. Petersburg. Later, we realized what motivation he had when he joined the Military school. He had only one goal: to draft as many military students into Polish subversive organization as possible. The organization would join the uprising when it was ready. He tried to make sure that all of us, Polish, were safe from the official propaganda.
Emmanuel Jundzill found very quickly that Polish students of the Military school were patriotic like any one else. They were enthusiastic and ready for any sacrifice. He, as a more mature person and experienced with underground activities, had to mitigate our readiness for action. Otherwise the authorities could easily discover an existence of the subversive cell in the Summer Palace, just in the center of the Empire. We accepted his authority as a leader. Truly, we considered him God sent gift who can guarantee that our fight for the free country will not be wasted.
The school accepted only two new Polish students. I think that the school office was afraid of any more new Polish. The percentage of non-Russians was already too very high. We were glad that the command did not try to eliminate those students who already were there. Our behavior was perfect and we made an excellent academic progress. The authorities did not have any pretext against us.
We paid a lot of attention to the lectured materials, sharing between us notes and helping each other. Our knowledge constantly grew. Nobody refused any help when asked. We never limited the help within Polish friends. When any Russian asked we were always ready to share. With this attitude, we gained respect from them, and even some friendships developed above ethnic boundaries. During the second year, we lost few professors and we gained few new ones. Most new professors were the first sort between academics. Nobody really had any problems with studying. This was a result of hard, descent work.
After finishing homework, we had enough time for a good time, gossiping, and reading new Polish books. Also, we became used to the local climate, avoiding unnecessary illnesses. We felt physically stronger, ready for any new hardships. Once a week, we had some time off the school. Usually, we spent the following night in friends’ houses in the city. General Todleben invited me for all Saturdays. However, I visited him only from time to time. I was tired of dancing so much. His wife always organized dance parties. Usually after couple hours, I was leaving visiting my Polish friends, university students. I liked the most visiting my friend, Ihnatowicz, where usually I spent the night.
I witnessed how life was difficult for most Polish students. They barely could afford studying far away from home. Most of them starved. Only few were truly wealthy and they could afford whatever they needed. When the university existed in Lithuania, more students could afford the expenses. In addition, always there were funds for poor, excellent students. Our country under occupation declined materially and less youths could study abroad. Those who decided to come to Russia had to face extreme hardships. I truly felt sorry for them.
However, Polish students were known for their hospitality. They shared between themselves with whatever they had. When someone had a food he considered it common for all students. Eating was a party for many colleagues, regardless of financial status. Dinner time was a time of fun and humor, when many students met and shared the table. Friends always made sure that nobody starved.
Ihnatowicz, expecting me every Saturday, always prepared with friends some special food for soldier like me. He complained that I did not have to bring food with myself. However, I always brought lots of ham and sausages. The supper was always excellent with a good drink.
Because Polish students of the Military Engineering School were from similar regions as most students of St. Petersburg universities, all of them developed a close friendship. We had our material needs well satisfied. However, we felt sorry for our friends from St. Petersburg. Some of them, before gaining the education, lost their health. At the same time, the Russian government expected from us a gratitude for an education that it gave. The officials claimed that they brought the light of civilization to uneducated Poland. Their education policy was rotten to the bone.
Polish youths spread between educational centers of Russia and Europe were reduced to beggars and wonderers. They had to survive in foreign countries. All three occupants, Russia, Prussia and Austria closed down universities on Polish and Lithuanian soil. At the same time, they made illegal use of Polish language in primary and secondary level schools. They counted that suppressed nations decline culturally. The oppressors of the Central Europe counted that only few young people could afford studying abroad. They expected that majority will remain illiterate and that the entire nations will go back to the barbarian way of life. Youths understood their intentions very well and tried to defend themselves as much as they could. They knew that the future of the nation depends on their education.
All students, studying abroad, remembered always about preparation for the future uprising. They knew who was their enemy. On every university where even small group of Polish students met, they organized a subversive organization. They tried to be ready for the ultimate fight for the free country. Those students who found themselves back in own country, spread propaganda between peasants. The main issue was the freedom of the lowest classes. The freedom fight had to go hand in hand with the social liberation. Serfdom in free country was not acceptable any more. In addition, peasants would never join uprising if they would not see any benefit for themselves in sacrifice. They were tired of being slaves of wealthy class. Only united nation could liberate the country. All our compatriot students in Russia kept communication channels open with students of Western Europe and with political emigrants of 1831 and 1848 uprisings. The subversive movement created a wide net of cells throughout the entire Europe.
Students influenced so much public opinion in Poland and Lithuania that population widely accepted abolishing a serfdom. The land owners agreed with their children on that point, knowing that their source of economic stability can be substantially reduced. The upper class did not compromise the national interest making some deals with the Russian government. The majority rejected the proposed compromise. The political activity of students started to make some impact on the entire society. In other words, the authorities did not implement any new reforms directed towards some “modus vivendi” with the local population. The tension between oppressor and the country remained in a full swing.
The uprising led by Garibaldi in 1859 made enormous impact on Polish youths. Immediately, 28 students left universities in St. Petersburg and Kiev and went to Italy joining the revolutionary legion. They kept us informed about the events occurring in Italy. The success of Garibaldi promised us similar achievements in our lands. Happy times for Italy meant only that Poland may have similar happy time in the near future.
The hope of near liberation made us study even harder. Our knowledge will be invaluable in a free country. Our compatriots put laboratories, libraries and many other facilities in a great use. Objects stolen directly from Lithuanian and Polish universities enriched these facilities. At least, many Polish students did not waste time.
I spent falls and winter of 1860 and the beginning of 1861 in this kind of atmosphere. I found always time to discuss all these issues with my friends. Actually, I spent most entire weekends with my university friends discussing our options for the liberation of our country. I did not expect a change too soon. However, new events made a huge impact on everything.
In spring of 1861, the unexpected news came from Warsaw. The Russian army shot down a huge crowd of peaceful parade. This occurred on grounds of Palace square on April eight. The gathering was religious in nature. People were praying for own country. They were not politically active. They prayed to God.
The government was guilty of murdering people who prayed. They wetted streets of Warsaw with blood of innocent public. Cossacks on horses crushed men, women and children on streets. The event triggered wide protests, not only in Warsaw but in many other cities of Poland. The demonstrations opposed the brutality of appointed officials.
The entire population accepted a new thruth: young generation cannot accept any more an occupying force. They had enough imprisonment, banishment to Siberia, enforced labor in mines. They will not continue being in slavery. The youths were ready for the uprising.
We were glad that demonstrations spread so widely. For us, in St. Petersburg, it was a proof that the patriotism was alive. In a way, we were happy that the liberation was coming. At the same time, we cried for killed victims.
As far as I was concerned, I did not have any time to waste. I thought deeply about all my options, and I made my mind. I decided to join directly the liberation movement and demonstrations in my country. I was afraid of being tight with the Russian army when the real uprising starts. During the war, students of military school could not desert the army so easily. I announced my decision about leaving the school only to my the closest friend, Boleslaw Dobrowolski. Boleslaw shared his convictions with me. He decided to follow my decision.
Soon, both of us applied for a month off giving authorities some untrue reason. We asked for letting us to go back to our homes as quickly as possible. Having the support of general Todtleben, I gained the permission without many problems. The family of Boleslaw had some contacts in the aristocracy of St. Petersburg. They helped him to get the same permission. We had to keep in secret our decision of deserting the school, even from our Polish friends. We knew that if I would reveal the real reasons they would follow me without any hesitation. I was afraid of failing our plans. When I greeted my friends before departure I felt sorry that I had to keep a secret from them. If I would tell them the truth they would enthusiastically congratulate me for my decision. However, the school authorities could find out what was happaning. They always had their ears open for any activities in our school, especially between us, Polish students.
Trickery performed in front of my closest friends really hurt. I felt so guilty. I hoped that later they could forgive us our dishonesty. They greeted us with firm shaking hands. They wished us safe trip and they were expecting us back as soon as possible. At that time, I did not know that next time I will be back in Russia on my way to Siberia as a prisoner of the Holy Empire. Before I left, I transferred the Polish library to one of my colleagues. Also, I met with Ihnatowicz and Kalinowski. I explained them my reasons for leaving St. Petersburg. I gained their commitment of helping other Polish students of the Military Engineering School when they decide to join the uprising. Two of them were ready to help.
I could not greet Jundzill. He left couple days earlier without any warning for the similar reasons. Kalinowski, much older than me, greeted me like a father. He blessed me and wished me successful fighting for the country. Ihnatowicz and some other his friends promised to join me in the same partizan group. I left them truly moved.
Boleslaw and I soon left St. Petersburg on the train heading to Poland. We were very happy making our dream a reality. Dobrowolski was shaking my hand with an excitement. Both of us thought that we were going straight to heavens.