I’ve not gotten confused over dates; this article is not meant to comemmorate the day of the US independence from the British crown.
Looking back over the nine years of entries that this blog comprises of, I realize I’ve never written a Happy Independence Day entry in honor of America’s celebration.
Perhaps that is because, historically – my history, not America’s, I was typically on the road in the summer months and not given to contemplation of the origins of the country known as the United States of America.
Or, perhaps I unconsciously stand with those who call it ‘Treason Day’ because those British colonists declared independence from their government.
But then, if I disdain America’s founding fathers and mothers for rising up against the injustice of being taxed in absentia and subjected to punishing rule, then I should equally disdain the actions of the French 3rd Estate for storming the Bastille and catapulting France into a civic revolution.
The long and the short of the story is that, sometimes, revolution is necessary.
The taking of lands without consent of the occupants, on the other hand, is not laudable and even more dismaying is the lack of their acknowledgement in modern day ‘birth of the nation’ celebrations – but that’s another story.
Now, I tip my hat to the United States of America for the celebration that millions of citizens and those who are citizens-in-waiting enjoy, and turn my focus to my immediate surroundings.
June 27th marked my nine-month anniversary in Szczecin. As yet, I do not have official permission to reside here; I am still only conditionally approved.
Fortunately, that stamp in my passport that permits my legal residence does not have an expiration date!
Outside of that miserable time, post-arm break, when I felt that every pavestone and cobblestone was a trip hazard; when I jealously watched those who sauntered carelessly along city sidewalks, presumably unaware of the danger beneath their very feet...
Outside of that time, I have walked and/or ridden just about every street in this city. Quite a few of them are named after remarkable citizens.
I think we all know the name Sikorsky – the family of military helicopters. That dynasty was founded by the Russian immigrant to the U.S., Igor Sikorsky.
The Polish Sikorski, first name Wladislaw, has a lush boulevard near my pok named after him.
As a lad of only 20, prior to the 1st World War, he engaged in an underground movement to liberate Poland from Russia. When war broke out, he fought with distinction in the hastily established Polish League – what passed for their army at the time.
He went on to complete a brilliant military career which had detracted from his efforts of unifying Poland as a sovereign state in its own right.
During the 2nd World War, he became Poland’s first Prime Minister in Exile and the commander-in-chief of the Polish armed forces.
In short, it is easy to see why there is such a well-traveled road that bears his name.
Likewise for Gabriel Narutowicz, the first official president of Poland who was murdered a mere five days after taking office. He not only has an avenue but also a tram stop to honor him.
And the list goes on:
Augustyn Kordiecki, a prior of the Pauline monastery who protected priceless religious art
Jozef Bem, a man whose vast and varied talents saw him succeed on the battlefield as well as in academia
Tadeusz Kosciuszko, supreme national commander of the Polish armed forces during the insurrection that bears his name; later a brigadier general in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War.
Thomas Jefferson himself opined that this man was ‘the purest son of freedom he’d come to know.
Kazimierz Pulaski, leading military commander for the Bar Confederation; later a general in the Confederate Army
He is noted, among other accomplishments, for saving the life of George Washington.
I guess now we know why there are so many places named Pulaski in the States; 6 of them, to be exact.
And so, as I stroll/ride through this tiny town nearly on the German border, I am slowly discovering, through street names, the people and places of Poland.
‘Places’ because there are streets here that are named after geographical locations, too.
Such commemorations are not uncommon; every country I have been in identifies their roadways in that manner.
Some even use dates: in Berlin, there is a wide boulevard named Platz der 4. Juli – July 4th Plaza.
It just so happened that, during the Cold War, American army troops were stationed at McNair Barracks, which were adjacent to July 4th Plaza. American troops used that space as their parade grounds.
What I didn’t get, couldn’t understand and couldn’t figure out no matter who I asked was: why is there a street named 5th of July in Szczecin?
I confess that, at first, I did not know that street name was an actual date.
The Polish language having no fewer than 8 grammatical cases means that, in just about any sentence, any given word could change form completely, in some cases so that it bears absolutely no resemblance to the base form of the word.
A fine example of such – from my limited lexicon of Polish words and basic knowledge of only 3 of the 8 cases, is the word for dog: pies (pronounced p-yes).
Using the accusative case, ‘dog’ turns into ‘psa’ and in the instrumental – a case that has no equivalent in English, it becomes ‘psem’…
And there are still 5 more cases to learn – who knows how many more changes there will be to dogs by the time I learn them all!
I hope you can see why I could not immediately interpret 5 Lipca, the name of the street, as 5th of July; Lipca is a far cry from Lipiec, the base form of the word.
It was only on the tram, on my way to class on the first Tuesday of the month of July that I connected the two words, and then only because every public conveyance here bears screens that show route maps, date and time and, of course, advertisement.
Once I understood that 5 Lipca was actually a date, I stopped wondering what it was supposed to commemorate 5 of and set about trying to find what was so important about that date.
As I was to spend the next hour and a half with a native of Szczecin – my teacher, I asked her what was so important about it. She thought I meant July 4th but, after dissuading her, she confessed to not knowing and vowed to look it up.
Back home after lessons, with my trusty computer at hand, I too did some looking and, after a bit of poking around, found the answer.
That was the day, in 1945, that this city was ‘given back’ to Poland by the Germans.
Already formulating this entry in my head, I decided to challenge my Polish friends at our Meetup, scheduled for the evening of July 4th.
Mercifully, our group has grown from it just being Jerzy and I; how great it was to see Tomasz and Sylwia again! Besides those 3, we had a newcomer, Pawel, a shy young man who hopes to improve his English so he can change jobs.
None of them knew why this city had a street named 5th of July.
I did not gloat or rub their faces in the fact that I knew of a portion of their history better than they did; in fact, I did not even let on that I knew anything about it other than it identified a street.
I was too busy being dismayed that such an important event is not more renowned. Just think: were it not for that event, everyone here would be speaking German!
Surely, such a defining moment in history should be taught in schools, celebrated and publicized?
I’ve ridden and walked up and down 5 Lipca Street several times and I have yet to see even a commemorative plaque. Nor is it listed as noteworthy in the tour books or websites I’ve skimmed.
And, even though I know only a handful of people here, none of them knew the significance of that date… and Sylwia is a school teacher!
I suppose that the people in Szczecin, embroiled in their daily affairs, have no time to spare for deep reflection of their recent history.
Life happens in the states, too and, amidst the tantalizing smell of grilling meat and the exotic displays of fireworks, few would spare a thought to the fact that, in order to declare independence from an oppressive government, the land the colonists occupied had to first be taken from native inhabitants.
But then, as I rush to meet Luiza for dinner, at the tram stop: an announcement of Szczecin’s 74th birthday party, to be held this weekend…
Looks like I’m wrong in thinking that Szczecin being reinstated to Poland has been overlooked.