Editor’s note: Peter Glofcheskie is President of the Wilno Heritage Society, In this article, he explains what he feels this film means for Valley residents. A free screening of Kamerdyner, sponsored by the Wilno Heritage Society and partners The Polish Embassy in Ottawa, The Polish Heritage Foundation of Ottawa and the Township of Madawaska Valley, will take place at the Paul J. Yakabuski Community Centre on Thursday, July 11 2019 at 6:30 p.m. Joshua C. Blank, author of “Creating Kashubia” will provide a historical context introduction. Kamerdyner is a Polish language film with Kashubian language content and English subtitles. (Scroll down for link to the film trailer.)
For more than twenty years the Wilno Heritage Society has worked with a purpose, to tell the story of those hundreds of immigrant families who left their beloved Poland, from 1858 to 1907, to make a new life in Canada. The Poland of their time did not exist on the map of Europe. The neighbouring powers of Prussia, Russia and Austria had partitioned and annexed Poland three times, in 1772, 1793 and 1795, until its physical existence was gone. The Poland of our ancestors lived only in the hearts and minds of its people.
The first large group of Poles to arrive in Renfrew County, in 1858, were Kashubs, from Poland’s northern Baltic region. They were often forced from their small parcels of land by Germanization. Under the direction of Otto von Bismarck’s campaign of “Kulturkampf” conditions worsened. The Polish and Kashubian languages were not to be used in public. In administrative buildings, courts, schools, shops and churches only the German language was allowed. There was a systematic forced “sale” of small farms and large estates of land were placed under German administrators. The result was a mass exodus of Kashubs to other areas of Europe and to the new world. In the following decades, hundreds of displaced Kashubs would make Renfrew County their home.
In the Austrian partition, in the region of Galicia, a similar oppression pressed thousands of Poles to seek a better life elsewhere. Beginning in the 1870s many of these Polish-speaking families, some by way of Webster, Massachusetts, made their way to Renfrew County to join their Kashub brothers. A few others came from the areas of Poznan and Kociewie.
These are the people, Poles from Kashubia, Galicia and others, who were to build Canada’s first Polish Community. They were people of strong Catholic faith and would form three Polish parishes – in Wilno St. Stanislaus Kostka and later St. Mary’s, in Barry’s Bay Our Lady of the Assumption and then St. Hedwig’s, and in Round Lake St. Bronislaus followed by St. Casimir’s. The language of church and praise was Polish but because of the large majority of Kashubs, their language was the social one. The history of these people is now well documented. Local historians have researched and published several well received books, giving us a good picture of our ancestors’ journey from Poland and their new life in Canada. We have a beautiful museum and park in Wilno, Canada’s first Polish Settlement.
Many have traveled to the “Old Country” and reconnected with their roots and with a little searching have met “family.” Yes, family. Our forefathers and mothers left behind loving parents, brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins.
What happened to “our families” left behind? This brings me to the Polish Kashubian movie “Kamerdyner.” In the fall of 2018 this new film premiered at Polish Film Festivals in Toronto and Chicago. A Toronto film reviewer, Jasnusz Niemczyk (Goniec Magazine), was impressed by it and contacted me. “Kamerdyner” tells the story of Kashubia, Poland from 1900 to 1945, a period of chaos and nation building. It tells the immediate history of the region just after our ancestors emigrated to Canada. It tells the story of “our families” that stayed behind – the final years of the partition, the First World War, the building of the Second Republic of Poland, the Second World War and the complexities of relations between Germans, Kashubs and Poles.
Storyline of Kamerdyner
The film tells the story of the Prussian family von Krauss living in the Puck area, as well as the love between the Kashubian boy Mateusz and the German aristocrat Marita and is set between 1900 and 1945. The script depicts the complicated fate of three nations inhabiting the former Polish-German borderland in northern Kashubia, where the line of the border established in Versailles after the First World War divided not only the land but also the people of Germans, Kashubs, and Poles, causing riots and often hatred. The script goes through four decades showing the complex attitudes and choices that people had to make here. Prussian anti-Polishism fought with Kashubian patriotism, which in 1939 ended in mass murder committed on thousands of Kaszubians in forests near Piasnica. Written by FilmPolski.pl
My family’s story
I personally have been fortunate to make some connections with family that stayed behind. In 2010, I met a cousin, Maria Klopotek Glowczewska, the last namesake relative living in our ancestral village Glowczewice. In 1945, at age 11, she was “freed” from Stutthof Concentration Camp by the Russians. Her 6-year-old sister was with her but died within a few weeks from illness contracted in Stutthoff. Maria’s arm was marked with a tattooed number given her by the Nazis.
My grandfather was known here in Barry’s Bay as Taxi man John Glofcheskie. He was born and baptised in Swornigace, in Kashubia in 1898 in the old wooden church, St Barbara’s, which is now on display in the Ethnographic Park Wdzydze Kieszweski. His family came to Canada in 1907.
When visiting the new brick St. Barbara’s Church in Swornigace in 2010 I was awed by a large plaque on the outside wall. It listed the Poles from the parish that were killed by Nazis during WWII. The name of three Klopotek Glowczewscy brothers, my grandfather’s cousins, my cousins, were engraved there – Bronislaw November 19, 1943 (28), Ildefons March 27, 1944 (24) and Jan February 15, 1944 (26). I spent time on the same trip visiting the Warsaw Uprising Museum and found Glowczewscy names carved on an almost endless granite wall remembering those who perished in that fateful rising. In 2018 I visited the impressive new WWII museum in Gdansk; Westerplatte, the site of the first battle of WWII; the Polish Post Office Museum in Gdansk and several Kashubian countryside monuments to those resisters murdered in the woods.
It all felt personal.
Each of us, the descendants of Canada’s Kashubs can find similar stories in our families. It only takes a little searching.
This is what makes the film “Kamerdyner” relevant. It is our history. The history of our families that “stayed behind”, the history of Kashubia 1900-1945. The film is not just for us of Polish and Kashubian descent. It is for everyone, everyone with an interest in history. So, we, the Wilno Heritage Society and our three event partners, invite YOU to view “Kamerdyner” with us. It is relevant.
Click below to view the movie trailer.