In January 1944, Halina Jastrzębowska-Kenarowa, curator of the Museum of Contemporary Poland initiated the creation of training and educational camp for Polish girls who had escaped from Germany and managed to reach Switzerland. With financial aid from the subsides of the Ministry of Social Care, the Department of Justice, the Swiss Confederation, the “PRO POLONIA” Committees as well as donations from private individuals, with organizational support of commanders of the 2nd Rifle Division and YMCA, on August 7th 1944, the camp was inaugurated. The Goldenberg mansion, situated near Rapperswil and rented by the Museum, became the shelter for young Polish girls.
Organizing the aid for Polish refugees in Switzerland during World War II
After the invasion of German troops on the territory of Poland in September 1939, Polish Committee for Aid to War Victims was established only a month later at the Legation of the Republic of Poland in Berno. Adam Maurizio, and then Mieczysław Minkowski, took the position of its President. Stanisław Nahlik, PhD, later Professor of the Jagiellonian University became Secretary General. What is more, departments of the Committee were established in Basel, Geneva, Lausanne and Zurich. In the last of the cities, the Committee was presided by Czesław Marek, outstanding Polish composer and pianist. Several civilian associations were also established during this period, with the aim of collecting material funds to aid Polish refugees in Switzerland: Fribourg – Department of the Association of Polish Students Abroad, Genewa – Association of Poles and the Polish Department of YMCA, Berno – Polish Association. These organizations were supposed to address the need of the moment, characterized by the unprecedented flow of Polish civilian refugees, mainly escaping from forced labour camps in Germany.
In 1936, the Museum of Contemporary Poland was inaugurated at the castle in Rapperswil with the vernissage of the POLNISCHE KUNST exhibition prepared by the association of professional visual artists from the BLOK group from Warsaw. The Museum took over the heritage of the Polish National Museum, established in 1870 by Count Władysław Plater. In the program of the institution one can read: “The subject of the former Museum was the bright past and misery of the Polish Nation and the subject of today’s Museum refers to current reality of revived Poland in its life, work and expansion”.
The enthusiasts and successful promoters of the revival of Polish Rapperswil were the then ambassador of the Republic of Poland in Berno Jan Modzelewski (1875-1947) as well as press counsellor of the legation – Alfons Bronarski, PhD (1891-1965). The Museum operated from 1936 to 1951 following the mode of organized exhibitions devoted to the subject of revived Poland. Halina Jastrzębowska-Kenarowa became the Curator of the Museum, while Halina Zielińska-Studzińska managed the Museum library and reading room.
Role of the Museum of Contemporary Poland during World War II
As a result of the outbreak of WW2, the Museum in Rapperswil found itself in difficult financial condition. State institutions that had been providing the funds before were facing difficulties in their activity in exile themselves. In spite of the hardship, in 1940 the Museum took over the cultural supervision of 13 000 interned Polish soldiers that had arrived to Switzerland after the fights in France. Touring Library for Interned Polish Soldiers, organized and managed by Halina Kenarowa together with Aleksander Ładoś, deputy of the London government in Switzerland, constituted another highly beneficial initiative within the field of culture and education. “From the very first days of internment, the Polish Museum was cooperating with subsequent camps and division commanders. The system for borrowing books from Museum library was established very quickly […] Each month, hundreds of volumes circulated between internment sites. In the years 1940-1945, library collections grew three times. The demand was huge, mainly for belles-lettres, History books and textbooks. Already in 1940, Halina Kenarowa made a suggestion on organizing within the Museum the department dedicated to the 2nd Rifle Division […]”. Simultaneously, the development of the network of professional and general education at different levels began, consisting of so called Secondary School Camps and University Camps. All of their participants had the access to books from the Rapperswil library, both for individual studies as well as for preparing the talks or social evenings. Teachers conducting various courses and trainings used them as well. What is more, the Museum would distribute articles “In the country and abroad”, edited by Mamert Miż-Miszyn. After the end of the war, the Museum became an important place of identification for the Internees, who also importantly shaped its post-war history.
This is how Władysław Drobny, Headmaster of the Polish Gymnasium and Secondary School in Wetzikon during the war, recalls this period of functioning of the Museum: “The School would remain in close contact with the Polish Museum in Rapperswil. The institution was always ready to support the Secondary School and its teachers in borrowing books.
Establishment of the "Wola" camp
The most important initiative undertaken by the curator of the Museum of Contemporary Poland during WW2 consisted in establishing the “Wola” training and educational camp for young and extremely courageous Polish girls, aged 14 to 19, who had escaped from forced labour in Germany. Primary school was organized in the camp, finished by 48 girls. What is more, Polish girls completed sanitary and military training as well as household course. After the war, some of them returned to Poland together with their superior and at the same time curator of the Polish Museum, Halina Jastrzębowska-Kenarowa.
The camp was established in the “Goldenberg” villa in Feldbach ZH rented by the Museum in 1944. In 1942, Federal Justice and Police Department (Eidgenossisches Justiz und Polizeidepartament) got interested, upon the request of the cantonal police in Zurich, in the events in Goldenberg. In 1942, Easter camp for 200 – 300 members of the German Sports Group was organized within Goldenberg premises. Drill exercises and festivals during which German war songs were sung and bonfires made were carried out in the camp. It was a strange coincidence of history that the property where the exercises of Nazi armed groups had been taking take place, later served as refuge for Poles who escaped from forced labour camps in Germany.
This is how Władysław Drobny writes about the camp: “In the summer of 1944 […], with the support of the 2nd Rifle Division and the aid of Swiss authorities, it was decided to take care of Polish girls. Halina Jastrzębowska-Kenarowa, an energetic and enterprising woman, curator of the Polish Museum in Rapperswil, took the responsibility of organizational matters. Referring to Polish fortitude and the will to survive the period of occupation, the camp was named “Wola” (The Will). […] Three secondary school teachers worked in the “Wola-Feldbach” camp, commuting from Wetzikon”. Since 1944, the records of all polonica to be found within the territory of Switzerland were kept. Halina Studzińska-Zielińska together with Jadwiga Minkowska prepared their card catalogue. Documents include the inscription that they were supported by several Polish girls from the school camp in Feldbach.
Teaching and educational activity at the camp
Halina Kenar writes about the activity of the camp in the report of the Polish Museum for the year 1944 as follows: "At the camp, girls take part in the course equivalent to 7 years of Polish primary school, sanitary and military training conducted by qualified teachers – soldiers of the 2nd Rifle Division – as well as household course led by a Swiss instructor, Mrs. E. Hug-Herzog. Such course lasts about 4 months and then the girls are qualified for paid jobs as household help in Swiss urban and rural families, for further training when they manifest special skills, for staying longer in the camp due to health reasons or until being removed from the camp due to incorrect irregularities […] The aim of training the team of qualified social staff for post-war work in the Camp has already been met and is continued with the inflow of new girls”. Classes in the camp were held in three study groups (the number of students differed in various periods). Only five participants arrived at the camp with completed primary school. The entire course was managed by a qualified pedagogue from France, teacher of the Wetzikon secondary school – sublieutenant Leon Strutyński.
Everyday life at the camp
Halina Kenarowa managed the camp from the organizational side. She would establish daily schedule and weekly scope of works to be performed by the girls. On March 12th 1945 she described how it looked like in practice at the back of one of the photos presenting a beautiful two-story villa in the garden: “Just look at this beautiful park. I have rented it all for chicken feed. Later, I would like it to be the house for our scientists and artists – scholars. The villa is extremely neglected (and so is the park), but room plan is very convenient. A common room on the ground floor (under the terrace), a huge dining room, school room and my office, bedrooms, bathrooms etc. on the 1st and 2nd floor. A pergola with wisterias in front of the house. Every morning, I conduct gymnastics at the terrace. Daily schedule with the rules, prayer and all school and military tasks. I usually have about 20 girls at the primary school. My teachers are very good. At the bottom (from where the photo was taken) a railway, a road, our meadow with an orchard by the lakeshore and our watering place”.
Activity of Halina Jastrzębowska-Kenarowa
In the years 1936 – 1945, Halina Kenar managed the Museum. In 1936, as a candidate of “Blok” Association of Visual Artists, she was appointed curator of the “Polnische Kunst” exhibition by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A year later, she became director and curator of the Museum of Contemporary Poland, which she managed until mid-November 1945. Halina Kenar used to base her social and educational work on the collections of the Rapperswil library. Thanks to her university degree in arts, she was very helpful in the organization of numerous cultural events taking place in the camp. As one can read in the letter from Jerzy Stempowski, written from Muri on January 5th 1946 to Halina Micińska (future Antoni Kenar’s wife), Halina Kenarowa’s idea referring to the girls from the “Wola” camp was implemented following her typical consistency. Stempowski writes about Kenarowa as follows: “I hear that she came back to the country leading this kind of women’s campaign that gathered and drilled out the refugees. What is more, she is as dry and sedate as Mazovian sand and she represents something resembling the Lent, the Good Friday. As I used to work with her for a few weeks, I have to add that she is very meticulous and enterprising in her work and a great colleague as well”.
Within the scope of her professional duties, Halina Jastrzębowska-Kenarowa also conducted classes and talks connected with arts and crafts and the role of art in everyday life. What is more, she accompanied the girls as carer in their free time and while hiking in the mountains. On the presented photograph Halina Kenarowa wrote a quite subjective, but meaningful comment: “This photograph is from last August. My favourite pupil, holding a puppy – Henia Szczęsna. From the first group, only a few country girls remained. My experiences with those from intelligentsia could not be worse. They are unable to perform any task. Now I do not want to receive them at the camp – a totally asocial race, but full of completely unjustified claims. In our house, the puppy is called Nasza, the cat Kretynka. We also have the Bi-ba-bo monkey”.
Liquidation of the camp
Until the end of 1945, 47 girls found shelter and preparation to the life in Switzerland or to tasks awaiting them in independent Poland in the camp, including three mothers with infants. The camp was finally liquidated on November 22nd 1945 after the departure of the majority of its participants to Poland. Bernard Handke was made responsible for the liquidation of the camp. Funds intended for this purpose, in the amount of 1500 Swiss francs, were submitted by the Polish legation in Berno. The house where the girls used to live was returned to its owner, while the furniture and other objects were sold or forwarded to the Museum. But not all of the girls decided to come back to their homeland. Some of them remained in Switzerland, establishing their own families and becoming citizens of this country. Halszka Poniatowska could for example be found among them. She stayed in Switzerland to marry Kazimierz Vicenz – cultural activist in exile and together, they organized Polish Book Fairs, popularizing the activity of the Polish Museum. A lot of information presented within the exhibition comes from her personal diary that she used to keep during her stay in the camp. Another Pole who remained in Switzerland was Maria Żelazna. Her descendants live in Zürich until today. It is also impossible not to mention Janina Kapczyńska who, having completed legal studies at the Zürich University, for years worked as translator and interpreter by Fremdenpolizei, helping a vast group of political prisoners. The majority of photographs used for the exhibition come from her personal album, which she donated to the Polish Museum.
The Museum of Contemporary Poland in Rapperswil was, in its role and character, a unique institution. Poland did not use to manage the institution of this kind in any other European state. On the “test day”, during WW2, Rapperswil played an important role as a centre supporting and co-organizing the life of Poles who found themselves on the Swiss land. It played an important role in the creation of appropriate conditions for further training of soldiers interned in Switzerland as well as gave shelter to Poles escaping from forced labour in Germany. Unfortunately, it could not continue its activity in the post-war period. The authority in Poland being taken over by the government imposed by Soviets as well as the anxiety connected with this fact and resulting from communist propaganda spreading in Switzerland, motivated the authorities of the city of Rapperswil to terminate the lease contract in 1948, 22 years before its expiry. It was thought that, under the command of Polish post-war government, claiming the right to take care of the Museum, the aim for which it had been established in 1870 could not have been fulfilled. The Museum was liquidated and the collections that it included were transported to Poland. The abandoned Rapperswil castle was leased to the Schweizerische Burgenverein association taking care of the castles in Switzerland.
Curator of the exhibitions: Radosław Pawłowski
Proofreading: Anna Buchmann
Translations: Marco Schmid & JUNIQUE Agencja Tłumaczeń
Copyright: Archive of the Polish Museum in Rapperswil
The project is financed under the Polish Diaspora Funds from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Warsaw.