New Year’s Eve – Sylwester (sil-VEST-er)
New Year’s Eve in Poland’s major cities is often celebrated by way of a formal ball. Some of which have a long history as for example the one sponsored by the Warsaw Philharmonic Society or the ball at the castle in Golub-Dobrzyn. Traditionally the New Year’s Eve ball always begins with a polonaise, an elegant court dance.
In the countryside, New Year’s Eve day may provide an excuse for some pranks. In the past if was not unusual for the village jokers to disassemble somebody’s wagon and reassemble it on the roof of a house, or to smear windows and doorknobs with tar. In the Żywiec region groups of boys disguised as devils, bears, and beggars would scour the village whilst rattling empty cans, they would accost any young woman they came across and knock her down in the snow. All tricks are forgiven, however, for they are believed to be the ousting of the old passing year.
Both New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day were considered an opportunity for fortune telling. New Year’s Eve predictions were considered especially powerful if no crosses or belts were worn and no blessings were requested. Typical rituals to ascertain the identity of a future spouse included looking into the steamed mirror after a bath on New Years Eve to see the person’s face; or sleeping on a log to see the person’s face in a dream. Another method was to catch the moon’s reflection in a mirror, which would then reveal the future spouse’s name. Many Poles would carry fish scales in their wallet as a means of ensuring prosperity in the coming year.
New Year’s Day
One important highlight of New Year’s Day was bread baking. Animals were shaped from dough—sheep, rabbits, geese, cows, and birds. Godparents often gave these breads to godchildren as presents. In some areas of Poland, paczkior donuts were baked to assure wealth for the coming year. The circle is seen as a representation of life coming full circle. Bread in the shapes of a ring or a cross were hidden at the dinner table and used for fortune telling. If someone found a ring, marriage awaited; a cross—entry into the clergy.
Traditions to ensure luck and prosperity in the forthcoming year include “Wake up early on New Year’s Day, wake up early for the rest of the year;” “Touch the floor with the right foot when getting out of bed, expect a lot of good luck for the whole year;” and “To get rich, put coins in a small bag and run through the fields shaking the bag, making a lot of noise.”
Traditionally, New Year’s Day was a time for prediction called podbljunaja or “under the plate.” One such practice is where each person takes a ring off his or her finger and places it into a bowl filled with water. A plate covers the bowl and songs are sung. At the end of each song, a ring is pulled out and the fate that the song foretells is believed to apply to the owner of that ring. Some Podbljudnaja foretell a wedding, some wealth, some a journey. In some cases, the participants create their own songs for the divination ritual and use some traditional symbolisms. Bread, grain, millet, and rye symbolize fulfillment and material security; gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fur, and expensive cloth symbolize luxury and wealth. Doing things together such as eating, drinking, working, standing or sitting together, symbolizes love and happy marriages. The songs are usually short since one quickly follows another. Traditionally, each refrain ends with a praiseworthy word such as “glory.”Another such ritual of prediction was if a thread hangs from one’s clothing, wrap it around a finger while reciting the alphabet. Whichever letter is reached when the thread is fully wrapped is the initial of the reciter’s future spouse. The color of the thread is also important; pale thread for a blonde spouse, dark for a brunette.
Best wishes, health and happiness for the New Year
Author of The Cypher Bureau –how the Poles solved Enigma
Christmas is traditionally the most important festive celebration in Poland and plays a major role in Polish culture and tradition. The customs relating to this celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ have been observed with reverence for generations. Polish families decorate a Christmas tree, share Christmas wafers, sing Christmas carols and exchange gifts.
On Christmas Eve, twenty-fourth December, immediately after sunset, children begin to search for the first star to appear in the sky. The sign that the official Christmas-Eve dinner can begin. The most important moment of the celebration involves sharing the Christmas wafer and exchanging best wishes. This is a sign of reconciliation, love, friendship and peace, but above all of forgiveness.
Only after the wafer is shared, can family members sit at the prepared table. Usually, the hostess places hay straws under a white table cloth, which are later taken out by people sitting at the table. A long and straight straw bodes a good year without problems or complications. An additional place is set for a stray wanderer or an unexpected guest, who should not be alone on such a special day. An empty place is also a sign of remembrance for deceased relatives.
On Christmas Eve, traditionally either twelve fasting dishes are served, symbolising twelve months or twelve apostles or an odd number of dishes are prepared. There could be five, seven, or even eleven of them. Legend has it that the more varied the food, the greater the prosperity that will befall the participants of the meal.
Historical accounts show that originally Christmas Eve dinner was prepared only from the fruit of earth: agricultural produce and fruit of the forest, rivers, ponds and lakes. This way, peasants paid homage to Mother Earth. Meals consisting of fish, considered fasting by the Church, were initially eaten on Christmas Eve mostly in fishing households and in manors and monasteries, and similar places which would have their own fish-breeding ponds, which were quite frequent in Poland.
With time, carp has become the most important fish meal on Christmas Eve in Poland. On Christmas Eve, they are usually served fried with grated horseradish or in jelly accompanied with vegetables. In the past they used to be served in a grey sauce, called the Polish sauce comprised of fish blood and wine.
Apart from carp, the traditional Christmas Eve dinner in Poland includes borscht soup made of beetroot or mushrooms with ravioli-type dumplings with mushroom filling, pierogi with cabbage and mushrooms, as well as salads and fish, including herrings prepared in many different ways. Christmas desserts include poppy seed rolls, honey-cakes, shortcakes with almonds, nuts and raisins, as well as stewed apple, pear and plum compote. Kutia (wheat with poppy seeds and honey), in turn, is a relic of old rites in honour of the deceased.
The tradition of decorating Christmas trees came to Poland from Germany in the 18th century. Prior to that people would hang the top of a fir, a pine or a spruce from the roof, and place a sheaf of corn in the corner. The tree was meant to protect the house and its inhabitants from evil. The star that is often put at the top of the tree symbolises the Star of Bethlehem. Decorated with trinkets and other ornaments, the Christmas tree usually stays in the house until Epiphany (6 January).
After the feast, at midnight, people go to church for the Midnight Mass commemorating the prayer of shepherds who waited for the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.
Author The Cypher Bureau –how the Poles solved Enigma
#christmaseve #Poland #Polish
Declaration of war in 1914 saw thousands of young men set off for war with carefree optimism, fuelled by nationalistic pride. Innocent promises were made to loved ones on parting that they would be ‘home for Christmas.’
By Christmas eve 1914, Seven hundred and fifty thousand men had been killed in the most bloody conflict imaginable. Troops on the front line, of the Western front which stretched from the edge of the English Channel to Switzerland were suffering, both sides were poorly equipped for a bitter winter in hastily constructed trenches.
The opposing armies lines in some cases were as little as forty metres apart and the ‘no man’s land ‘ in between was littered with decaying corpses.
In an attempt to raise the morale of the despairing troops, Princess Mary arranged a fund to send brass embossed tinder boxes to the British troops with a present inside. The contents varied for smoking and non -smoking soldiers and also according to the religious persuasion of the recipient. Some boxes contained tobacco, a tinder lighter, chocolate and cigarettes, others chocolate, writing pen and notepad, others spices and sweets. The boxes contained a Christmas card from Princess Mary and a message from King George ‘May God protect you and bring you safely home.’ The soldiers were also sent plum pudding.
Kaiser Wilhelm sent miniature Christmas trees decorated with candles, and beer to the front line. Soldiers were sent a meerschaum pipe and officers and NCO’s cigars.
French and Belgium troops were also sent presents but as these countries were occupied, it was more difficult.
The ‘Christmas Truce’ was not a uniform event. In some parts of the trenches the fighting and killing continued. In other parts peace broke out for three days.
The soldiers who made the first move and bravely stuck their head above the parapet of their trench risked their lives. The soldiers on the opposing sides who did not shoot their enemy risked being shot themselves for treason. This was an extraordinary event.
Superior officers on both sides of the trenches were critical of the event.
Corporal Adolf Hitler, 16th Bavarian Regimentwho had spent the day in the cellar of an Abbey near Ypres is reported to have said, on discovering that had truce of sorts had taken place “Some-thing like that should not happen in wartime. Have you no German honour.”
The London Rifle Brigade's War Diary for 2 January 1915 recorded that “informal truces with the enemy were to cease and any officer or [non-commissioned officer] found to having initiated one would be tried by Court Martial.”
It is impossible to imagine the circumstances these soldiers found themselves in. Whilst much has been written about ‘the Christmas Truce,’ for me, nothing can be more eloquent than the words of those who were there, taking a moment from the horror around them to describe the extraordinary events.
The messages from these voices from 1914 must surely be
‘Peace’- not just for Christmas.
You will hardly credit what I am going to tell you. Listen. Last night as I sat in my little dug-out, writing, my chum came bursting in upon me with: ‘Bob! hark at ’em!’ And I listened.
From the German trenches came the sound of music and singing. My chum continued.
‘They’ve got Christmas trees all along the top of their trenches — I never saw such a sight!’
Climbing the parapet, I saw a sight which I shall remember to my dying day. Right along the whole of their line were hung paper lanterns and illuminations of every description, many of them in such positions as to suggest that they were hung upon Christmas trees.
Sergeant A. Lovell, 3rd Rifle Brigade.
What I had still believed to be madness several hours ago I could see now with my own eyes. One Englishman, who was joined soon by another, came towards us until he was more than halfway towards our trenches — by which point some of our people had already approached them. And so Bavarians and English, until then the greatest of enemies, shook hands, talked and exchanged items.
A single star stood still in the sky directly above them, and was interpreted by many as a special sign. More and more joined, and the entire line greeted each other.
Josef Wenzl, German soldier.
At daylight on Christmas Day we went halfway and met the Germans and exchanged cigars and cigarettes with one another. They seemed a poor lot of boys and men of forty with beards. One fellow had been employed as a waiter at the Grand Hotel Eastbourne for ten years and said he wished he was back again.
Private H. Dixon, Royal Warwickshire Regiment.
Eventually the English brought a soccer ball from their trenches, and pretty soon a lively game ensued. How marvelously wonderful, yet how strange it was. The English officers felt the same way about it. That thanks to soccer and Christmas, the feast of Love, deadly enemies briefly came together as friends... I told them we didn’t want to shoot on the Second Day of Christmas either. They agreed.
Kurt Zehmisch, 134 Saxons.
They said they were going to keep up the truce for three days and they were as good as their word; there was not a single shot exchanged. We could knock about just the same as if peace was declared; in fact, some of our fellows were playing football along the firing line — rather a curious affair after such revengeful attacks on one another.
Unnamed Private, Seaforth Highlanders.
Really you would hardly have thought we were at war. Here we were, enemy talking to enemy. They [are] like ourselves with mothers, with sweethearts, with wives waiting to welcome us home again. And to think within a few hours we shall be firing at each other again.
Gunner Masterton, Royal Artillery.
Author The Cypher Bureau- how the Poles solved Enigma
“Black Friday” has its origins in the crash of the United States gold market on Twenty fourth September 1869. Two notorious Wall Street financiers, Jay Gould and Jim Fisk were the ringleaders in a plan to artificially inflate the price of gold.
In early 1869, Gould initiated his audacious scheme. At that time, gold was still the official currency of international trade, but the United States had gone off the gold standard during the Civil War, when Congress authorized $450 million in government-backed ‘greenbacks’ to fund the Union war effort. Competing currencies—gold and ‘greenbacks’—had been in circulation ever since. As there was a limited amount of gold in circulation, Gould calculated that a speculator with sufficient funds could potentially buy up enough of the precious metal to effectively “corner” the market. Such a speculator could then drive up the price and potentially sell for astronomical profits. There was only one hurdle- the President of the United States- Ulysses S. Grant. The government controlled the value of gold: when government sold the price reduced; when it didn’t, the price increased. For the scheme to work, Gould needed President Grant to prevent the treasury from selling gold. Through conspirators close to the President, pressure was brought to bear upon the President to persuade him to introduce a clear policy not to sell gold. Finally, at the beginning of September 1869, the President instructed the treasury not to sell gold during the month.
The Game was on!
Gould recruited Jim Fisk into the scheme because he had considerable funds immediately available to purchase gold. They and the other conspirators continued to purchase as much as they could. As the month passed and the price of gold increased the treasury began to put pressure on the president to authorise sale of gold in order to stabilise the price. On twenty second September Gould discovered the President suspected a conspiracy. Gould did not tell his fellow fraudsters and began secretly to sell his own gold.
By twenty fourth September 1869 mobs of investors who were losing money and reporters were converging on Wall Street. Fisk continued to buy gold furiously delighted as the success of the scheme. The President furious at being deceived instructed the treasury to flood the market. $4 million in gold would be sold the following day, the twenty-fifth September.
The announcement sent Wall Street into free fall. “Possibly no avalanche ever swept with more terrible violence,” the New York Herald later wrote. Within minutes, the inflated gold prices plummeted from $160 to $133. The stock market dropped a full twenty percentage points, thereby bankrupting or severely damaging many of Wall Street’s most respected firms. Thousands of speculators were left financially ruined, and at least one committed suicide. Foreign trade ground to a halt. Farmers saw the value of their wheat and corn harvests halved.
‘Black Friday’ damaged the United States economy for several years afterwards and tainted the remainder of the President’s tenure. Despite multiple allegations of malfeasance and an official investigation by Congress neither Jay Gould or Jim Fisk spent a single night in jail. Fisk avoided massive losses by claiming third party brokers had made the trades without his knowledge. Estimates suggest Gould may have netted around $12 million as a result of his sales before that first ‘Black Friday’.
Author The Cypher Bureau
“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.”
by Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae,
John McCrae was a physician and poet from Guelph, Ontario. McCrae enrolled with the Canadian Expeditionary Force at the age of forty-one following the outbreak of the First World War. Although he could have joined the medical corps because of his age and qualifications he insisted in joining a fighting unit as a gunner and medical officer.
McCrae fought in the Second Battle of Ypres in the Flanders region of Belgium. Conditions were horrific. The German army launched one of the first chemical attacks ever when they attacked French positions north of the McCrae’s Canadian unit with chlorine gas on twenty-second April 1915. In a letter written to his mother, McCrae described the battle-
“For seventeen days and seventeen nights none of us have had our clothes off, nor our boots even, except occasionally. In all that time while I was awake, gunfire and rifle fire never ceased for sixty seconds ... And behind it all was the constant background of the sights of the dead, the wounded, the maimed, and a terrible anxiety lest the line should give way.”
On Third May 1915, after presiding over the funeral of friend and fellow soldier Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, McCrae wrote the poem "In Flanders Fields". Apparently he was inspired by the poppies which quickly grew around the graves. He penned the first draft whilst sitting
in the back of an ambulance at an Advanced Dressing Station outside Ypres. The poem was first published on Eighth December of that year in London magazine Punch. It became popular immediately and today “In Flanders’ Fields” is one of the most quoted First World War poems, especially in Canada where it is one of the nation’s best known literary works.
Because of the poems references to red poppies that grew over the graves of fallen soldiers, the remembrance poppy became one of the world's most poignant memorial symbols for soldiers who have died in conflict.
The remembrance poppy is closely associated with Armistice Day, Remembrance Day, and Veteran’s Day. The armistice for the First World War came into effect on the 11thhour of the 11thday of the 11thmonth in 1918. Since then the day has come to be a day of remembrance for those who died in conflict and a time to reflect on the dreadful consequences of war. Often two minutes’ silence is observed at 11a.m.
Today on the centenary of the end of the First World War World Leaders have gathered in Paris to remember those who fought and died.
Author The Cypher Bureau (How the Poles solved Enigma)
Poland, having ceased to exist for 123 years as a result of occupation by German, Austrian and Russian Empires, emerged from the First World War as a country reborn, fresh with ideals. Woman were granted the vote in 1918 and the future looked bright. However, Poland’s newly found freedom was soon overshadowed by German and Soviet interest in regaining what they regarded as their ‘lost territories.’ Sandwiched between Germany and Russia, Poland was only too aware of her vulnerable position. The Polish Cypher Bureau intensified efforts to break the Enigma code, the code Germany began using in 1926 to send confidential messages. The Poles needed to know what their German neighbours were up to, this desperation was a factor in the Poles being first to crack the Enigma code in 1932. As Germany became increasingly clear about her expansionist plans the 11thof November was chosen as National Independence Day in 1937 and was declared a national day of holiday and celebration. This date was chosen as it was the day in 1918 that Marshal Josef Pilsudski assumed control of Poland thereby restoring Polish independence and sovereignty. The holiday was celebrated only twice before World War II. By the 6thOctober 1939 Poland was under brutal Nazi and Soviet control. After the war, the communist authorities of the People's Republic removed Independence Day from the calendar. Poland, disappeared behind the Iron Curtain and was not invited to attend the Allied Victory Parade in London on 6thOctober 1946 despite the decisive roles in the victory which had been played by the Poles. The Cypher Bureau and broken Enigma and experienced Polish pilots played a pivotal role in the Battle of Britain. Poland endured many years of oppression. Finally, the eyes of the world turned to Poland’s plight on 16thOctober 1978, when the Archbishop of Krackow was appointed Pope and took the name of John Paul II. On 14thAugust 1980 Lech Walesa was appointed leader of the Solidarity party. During the 1980s, in many cities, including Warsaw, informal marches and celebrations were held, with the outlawed Solidarity Movementsupporters participating in the celebrations of National Independence Day. Typically, these marches were brutally dispersed with many participants arrested and tortured by the secret police. When Poland emerged from Soviet control in 1989, the original holiday finally was restored.
National Independence Day corresponds to Remembrance Day, Armistice Day, and Veterans Day. These holidays and Polish Independence Day are related because they all arose following World War I. In other countries, the holidays were established as a result of grief and horror at the enormous human cost of the war, and they mark the sacrifices of those who fought. The Polish holiday is simultaneously a celebration of the independence of a Polish state and a commemoration of those who fought for it.
2018 sees the centenary year and it is being celebrated worldwide. The holiday has a lesser uptake than expected in Poland, perhaps because many Polish residents do not feel that Poland has been truly independent for one hundred years. For many Poles a true sense of freedom may only have arrived with Poland’s entry into the European Union on First May 2004.
Author The Cypher Bureau (How the Poles cracked Enigma)
President of France, Emmanuel Macron’s decision that it was appropriate to honour Marshal Phillipe Petain for his service in World War One has opened deep wounds over one of the darkest periods of French history.
Following Hitler’s Blitzkreig on 1st September 1939 coupled with Soviet invasion on 17th September Poland, who never formally surrendered was under Nazi and Soviet control by 6th October 1939. Holland and Belgium, although both had declared themselves neutral, subsequent to invasion on 10th May 1940 were under Nazi control. (On 28th May Belgian forces surrendered and on 14th May Dutch forces laid down their weapons.)
When France was attacked on 10th May she was completely unprepared. In the aftermath of Dunkirk (26thMay to 4th June) the forty thousand French soldiers left on the beaches were captured and transported to prisoner of war camps in Germany. Defeat to many seemed inevitable. Urgent pleas for assistance were made to the USA and Britain but no help was forthcoming. The French Government was faced either with surrendering, seeking an armistice with Germany or fleeing to London to operate a Government in Exile there as did the Governments of Poland, Holland and Belgium. In a France still scared by the effects of World War I, a war fought primarily on her own soil in which she had sustained the largest losses per head of population, the French government voted by a narrow majority to seek an armistice. The French president Reynaud, who wanted to continue fighting resigned. Respected war hero, Phillipe Petain, the Lion of Verdun was appointed on 16th June as a result. Pétain was at that time eighty-four years of age. He had been presented with the baton of Marshal on France on 8th December 1918 as a result of his leadership during the notorious nine-month long Battle of Verdun during which around 162 000 French soldiers had lost their lives. Petain had been credited by historians, as "without a doubt, the most accomplished defensive tactician of any army" and "one of France's greatest military heroes".
Petain’s request for an armistice with Nazi Germany angered many French citizens. Hitler offered generous terms- France was to retain control of her foreign territories and administrative control over most of France although German military would operate in the Occupied Zone which included Paris. The armistice was signed on 22nd June 1940. The agreement was in fact a humiliating defeat. France was obliged to pay for the Nazi occupation and two million French soldiers were sent to prisoner of war and work camps in Germany. As head of Vichy France, Petain replaced the aspirational motto of "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity" with "Work, Family and Country".
The Vichy Government voluntarily introduced its own Jewish legislation on 3rd October 1940. The legislation had the effect of depriving Jews of certain civil rights and Petain is alleged to have personally intervened to ensure the legislation applied not only to foreign Jews but French Jewish citizens as well. On 30thOctober 1940, following a meeting with Hitler a few days earlier Petian made a broadcast on French radio stating “I enter today on the path of collaboration.” and invited his countrymen to join him on the journey.
The Vichy government cooperated with Nazi Germany, hunting down both foreign and French Jews and turning them over to the Gestapo for transport to extermination camps.
The Vichy regime denaturalized 1500 French citizens primarily Jews but including gypsies, freemasons, communists and homosexuals leaving them liable to deportation
After World War II, Pétain was tried and convicted for treason. He was originally sentenced to death, but following intervention by Charles de Gaulle (who himself had been tried in absence and condemned to death by the Vichy regime) as a result of his age and service during World War I the sentence was commuted to life in prison. Petain died in 1951 aged ninety-five.
Author The Cypher Bureau (How the Poles solved Enigma)
KRISTALLNACHT, NIGHT OF THE BROKEN GLASS, CRYSTAL NIGHT
Kristallnacht, so named because of the shards of broken glass which littered the streets in towns, cities and villages around Germany in its aftermath, occurred during the night of the 9thNovember and through the 10thof November in Nazi occupied territories which at that time comprised Germany and Austria.
Just before midnight on the 9thNovember, Gestapo chief Heinrich Muller instructed all police chiefs in Nazi Germany not to interfere with reprisals against Jews and their property and to arrest victims. Fire prevention companies were instructed to let Jewish property burn and only to interfere if Aryan property was at risk.
During Kristallnacht one thousand synagogues were burned or damaged, seven thousand five hundred Jewish business were looted or damaged. Jewish hospitals cemeteries and schools were vandalised. At least ninety-one Jews were killed and thirty thousand Jewish men were arrested and imprisoned in concentration camps at Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen.
Whilst Kristallnacht was fuelled by agent provocateurs under Hitler’s instruction, in many cases persons known to the victims participated in the violence. This would appear to demonstrate the success of the Nazi propaganda measures which had begun in 1933 to dehumanise the Jewish population and desensitise and immobilise the civilian population.
In January 1933 Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany. He did not lose any time in wielding the power of his appointment. There was a public burning of books by Jewish and anti-Nazi authors. On the First of April there was a one-day boycott of Jewish businesses. The Department of Racial Hygiene (Ethnic Cleansing) was established.
In 1934 Jews were excluded from military service and Jewish students were excluded from sitting exams in dentistry, medicine, pharmacy and law. Thirtieth June 1934 and the days following saw the Night of the Long Knives when Hitler authorised the death without trial of members of his own National Socialist party who not actively supporting him. A chilling message to anyone seeking to oppose Hitler or his government.
In 1935 the Nuremburg laws restricted civil rights for Jews and mixed race/blood marriages were outlawed. In 1936 Jewish teachers were no longer permitted to work in government schools.In 1937Jewish children were excluded from state schools in Berlin. 1938 saw
an acceleration in the anti-Jewish measures with Jews forbidden to change their surname or use an alias in January.Jews were banned from working as auctioneers in February. Prohibited from owning a gun shop or trading weapons in July. Ordered to add either “Israel” or “Sara” to their given names in August. In September Jewish doctors were prohibited from treating non-Jewish patients. In October Jews were obliged to have a large red ‘J’ stamped on their passports.
With Kristallnacht on the night of the 9thNovember Hitler effectively declared war on the Jewish population. It was no longer safe for Jews to stay in Nazi Germany. The Holocaust has begun.
#neverforget #neveragain #onthisday #kristallnacht
Author The Cypher Bureau
Halloween is not widely celebrated in Poland, but that is not to say that the ancient Celtic festival passes unnoticed. Whilst the ancient celebration, remembered in Eastern Poland as 'Dziady' (Forefathers) has been replaced by the festival of All Saints, which is now firmly intertwined with the Catholic Church.
The first of November or Wszystkich Świętych (All Saints’ Day) is a national holiday and the official name for the holiday in the Roman Catholic Church. However, it is very common in Poland to call the day, Dzień Zmarłych or Święto Zmarłych ( ‘Day of the Dead’). These names were first used by The Soviet Union during the period of occupation in Poland and their usage remains. On this day, according to Roman Catholic tradition, people celebrate the saints, their lives and their martyrdom. It is supposed to be a joyful event, a chance to worship saints and the belief in life after death. It is traditional to visit cemeteries, light candles and lay flowers in remembrance of the departed.
Krakow is one of the most evocative places in Poland to spend All Souls. The former Royal Capital has many old cemeteries, one of which is Rakowicki. To step through the Gothic gateway of Rakowicki Cemetery as night falls is to take a step into the otherworld where the spirits of the departed wander freely. Thousands of candles in vases of every shape and color gather as if placed magically by wandering spirits on graves and at the foot of memorials. The melodic chant of priests signing psalms, echo through the silence as the messengers of god wander amongst the paths bringing peace to the departed, whilst clouds of sweet smelling incense waft over their shoulders like mists through time. The scent of fresh chrysanthemums laid by the gravestones hangs in the still night air, a sensory reminder that death is close. Families wander through the illuminated paths throughout the night and if a raven or owl passes, this visit from a departed soul is celebrated. The memorials to the departed, from the desperate periods of Poland’s history, (the Warsaw Uprising of which a picture is annotated) are flooded with light from candles of remembrance. Although the graveyard is filled with mourners there is, everywhere a hushed, respectful silence as those present join together to form an incredibly dignified tribute to the departed.
The second of November is Dzień Zaduszny (All Souls’ Day) or Zaduszki . Typically the day is spent in prayer and reflection. It is when people remember their departed loved ones. Whilst it is not a public holiday, people come after work in the evening to graveyards with fresh candles.
For more Polish history check out
The Cypher Bureau -(how the Poles solved Enigma)
Following the Nazi invasion of Poland on first September 1939, many Polish airmen, determined to continue fighting for their country’s freedom made their way to Britain. By the end of July 1940 there were over eight thousand Polish airmen in Britain. Initially they were incorporated into British Squadrons but in July and August 1940 numbers 302 and 303 (Polish) Fighter Squadrons were formed.
As a result of Nazi propaganda there was some doubt about the abilities of the Polish air force which lead Canadian Flight Lieutenant John A. Kent, who was posted to No. 303 (Polish) Fighter Squadron, so that it had an English speaking commander, during the Battle of Britain, to comment 'All I knew about the Polish Air Force was that it had only lasted about three days against the Luftwaffe, and I had no reason to suppose that they would shine any more brightly operating from England'.
However, as Hitler’s Luftwaffe attacks on Britain increased in the lead up to a planned invasion and RAF planes where being shot down at an alarming rate with the consequent loss of pilots, there was little alternative but to allow the eager Polish pilots into the air. They had undergone intensive English lessons as most of the Polish pilots could not speak any English, and undergone training on tricycles equipped with radio, speed indicators and compasses to learn formation style flying, much to the irritation of the experienced battle-hardened Polish airmen. In total 145 Polish airmen fought in the Battle of Britain - 79 in various RAF squadrons, 32 in No. 302 (Polish) Fighter Squadron and 34 in No. 303 (Polish) Fighter Squadron. Their bravery and skill became legendary. Just a few of the feats of the Polish airmen are as follows-
On 24thAugust Sergeant Antoni Glowacki of No. 501 Squadron RAF, claimed five enemy bombers, which were shot down over three separate sorties. He was one of only three pilots who achieved 'Ace-in-a-Day' status during the battle. (Ace being attributed where 5 or more enemy plane’s had been shot down)
On 303 Squadron’s second day in action on the 2ndSeptember 1940, 6 Polish pilots took on 150 Messerschmitts, in the dogfight which ensued, all the Polish pilots survived and 2 of them broke formation to pursue the enemy planes back to France, before returning to their base. (Exceptionally one of the rebel pilots, Josef Frantisek, who was actually Czech, was then given a dispensation to break formation and pursue enemy planes at his discretion)
303 Squadron is accredited as best scoring unit of the Battle of Britain.
On the first day of the Blitz on 7thSeptember 303 Squadron are attributed with shooting down 16 enemy planes without a single loss on their side in a record breaking fifteen minutes.
Nine of 303 Squadron's pilots qualified as 'aces.'
Sergeant Josef Frantisek, of 303 Squadron shot down 17 enemy planes, the highest scorer of the Battle of Britain.
Four Polish officers were awarded Distinguished Flying Crosses after the Battle of Britain.
During the Battle of Britain, Polish pilots serving in all RAF squadrons achieved a remarkable score of 203.5 destroyed, 35 probably destroyed and 36 damaged.
Twenty-nine Polish pilots, including Josef Frantisek, lost their lives in combat against the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain.
Commander-in-Chief of Fighter Command, Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding said after the battle: 'Had it not been for the magnificent work of the Polish squadrons and their unsurpassed gallantry, I hesitate to say that the outcome of battle would have been the same'.
Another major contribution by the Poles to Allied victory was first breaking the Enigma code an achievement credited with saving thousands of lives.
Author The Cypher Bureau-(How the Poles solved Enigma)