Category Archives: History

Solidarność and the Netherlands (NL Embassy in PL)

Forty years ago, Poland was in the grip of the martial law, which had been introduced on 13 December 1981. A military junta attempted to weaken political opposition, for example by the deployment of army units, censorship, and the imprisonment of activists without trial. The period also saw great shortages in food supplies. Poland’s martial law lasted until July 1983.

In the Netherlands, several organisations set up help for Poland. Most famously, the Stichting Vriendenhulp Heemstede (Friends’ Help Foundation Heemstede) organised ‘Pak van je hart’ (‘A Package from the Heart’ – a Dutch play on words), a fundraiser which resulted in 180.000-200.000 ‘Christmas boxes’ filled with food. 130 Dutch trucks delivered them all over Poland. Other initiatives were organised as well, many of which were centralised in the so-called Nederlandse Stichting Hulp aan Polen (Dutch Foundation of Help for Poland), which set up advertising campaigns to keep raising funds for Poland.

In addition, attempts were made in the Netherlands to cooperate with Solidarność, the Polish trade union and social movement which formed the main target of the martial law. The attempts were primarily undertaken by Merpol (Mensenrechten in Polen, Human Rights in Poland), an organisation of Poles in the Netherlands. One of them was Jan Minkiewicz, the son of Polish migrants, who was raised in the Netherlands. On 19 December 1981, during a national demonstration in Amsterdam against the Polish martial law, Minkiewicz called for the establishment of a Dutch Solidarność bureau. The bureau’s first meeting occurred on 13 January 1982. It became a focal point in the Netherlands for information about Poland, organised demonstrations, and raised funds for Polish causes. Minkiewicz, meanwhile, became a central figure in the cooperation between Solidarność and Western activists. He eventually became the Western representative of the WiP (Ruch Wolność i Pokój, The Freedom and Peace Movement), a Polish opposition movement established in 1985.

Jan Minkiewicz (holding the microphone) at the demonstration in Amsterdam on 19 December 1981.

More information about Solidarność and the Netherlands can be found in the PhD thesis of Christie Miedema.

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 25.

Depicting the “Eastern” Polish Look (NL Embassy in PL)

This time of year, many of us have a nativity scene in our homes. They commonly include the Three Kings, also known as Wise Men or Magi, who came to honour Christ after his birth. These Kings are often dressed in long oriental robes and turbans. What is less commonly known, is that such a look in the previous centuries was sometimes associated with Polish dress. This can be exemplified by a gable stone showing a ‘Pool’, which is dated 1688, and which adorns a building on the Kerkstraat 322 in Amsterdam.

During the sixteenth century, Polish male fashion became increasingly influenced by Persian and Ottoman examples, leading Polish noblemen to wear colourful leather boots with heels, a kontusz (a coat or outer kaftan), a ferezja or delia (different types of cloaks), worn over a long-sleeved żupan (a tunic), and a kołpak (a hat often embellished with fur and feathers). Dutch artists and artisans subsequently produced multiple images of ‘typical’ Polish nobles, for example in books, on maps, and… on gable stones. To Dutch eyes, however, Polish dress differed very little – if at all – from other Eastern fashion: Polish figures were also used to represent Hungarians, for example. Similarly, Polish figures were sometimes indistinguishable from Ottomans.

ImageThis is why the ‘Pool’ on the gable stone in Amsterdam looks the way he does. His clothing – which even includes a turban – and his posture are reminiscent of a man in a print by the Dutch engraver Lucas Vorsterman, after the Adoration of the Magi by the famed painter Peter Paul Rubens, a painting from 1621. Rubens in turn based himself on Italian illustrations. It is likely that the gable stone’s maker referred to the same pictorial tradition. This is how the ‘Pool’ on the gable stone in Amsterdam is related to nativity scenes.

Interestingly, the French diplomat Charles Ogier, who visited Poland in the 1630s, likewise associated Polish fashion with the Three Kings. Describing a host of Polish nobles, he compared them to “the Eastern Magi, who came to honour the Infant Jesus with a large measure of display.”

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 24.

Polish Soldiers in the 17th-Century Dutch Army (NL Embassy in PL)

Last week, it was announced that the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam – with financial aid from the Dutch state and several institutions – intends to buy ‘The Standard Bearer’, a painting by Rembrandt from 1636. Such standard bearers were high-placed members of town militias, not necessarily soldiers. Still, the painting offers an opportunity to reflect on a little-known aspect of Dutch-Polish historical relations: Polish soldiers in the seventeenth-century Dutch army. A travel account by the Pole Sebastian Gawarecki, written during the 1640s, discusses his stay in the Northern Netherlands alongside Marek and Jan Sobieski – the later king of Poland. On 16 May 1646, in the town of Bergen op Zoom, Gawarecki and the Sobieski brothers met “a Pole from Warsaw, who for some years now serves in the Dutch army as a standard bearer, and whom our Polish king [Władysław IV Waza] keeps in Holland at his own expense.” It is unknown who this Polish standard bearer was, but it was not unheard of for Poles to fight in the Dutch army, even if they were Catholics.

The Eighty Years’ War, fought between the Dutch and Spanish, brought about a large-scale modernization in the art of warfare. During much of the seventeenth century, and until the 1648 Peace of Münster in particular, the young Dutch Republic in Polish eyes formed one of the greatest military powers on the continent. The ongoing war attracted vast numbers of young men from across the continent, who wished to study the Dutch art of war, either by observation or by participation. Many nobles from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth studied fortification and artillery at Dutch universities and academies, visited fortresses and army encampments, or enlisted in the Dutch army themselves. Several months ago, we already discussed one famous example: Krzysztof Arciszewski, who made a career in the Dutch West-India Company. Arciszewski’s choice to join the Dutch army is relatively unsurprising, since he was a Protestant. Catholics could join the Dutch ranks as well, however. Despite his Catholic upbringing, the Pole Władysław Konstanty Wituski fought alongside Arciszewski in Brazil, for instance, and the Catholic Lithuanian nobleman Krzysztof Zygmunt Pac served in the Dutch forces as well. It is not unthinkable, therefore, that the Catholic king Władysław IV Waza indeed paid for the upkeep of a Polish standard bearer in the Dutch army.

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 23.

Dutch Responses to the Polish November Uprising (NL Embassy in PL)

In the night of 29 November 1830, the November Uprising began. Polish soldiers in Warsaw started a revolt against the Russian Empire, which had taken control of large parts of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The uprising sparked considerable interest in the Netherlands. But whereas writers in most other European countries supported the Polish insurgents, Dutch responses condemned the revolution altogether. Poems and treatises by various Dutch authors eulogized the Russian tsar as a benevolent ruler, and simultaneously slighted the Poles for their so-called ungratefulness. In addition, they defined the Poles as principally chaotic and unruly.

Why were the Dutch so dismissive of the November Uprising? The answer lies in the Belgian Revolution, which had started in Brussels in August 1830 and in November that year led to the establishment of the National Congress of Belgium. The southern Netherlandish provinces thus separated themselves from their northern neighbours. Many Dutch observers were disgruntled with this situation, and subsequently also criticized the Polish insurrectionists, who they accused of being misled by harmful French influences. Indeed, some authors even stated that if the Poles had not revolted, the Russian tsar surely would have gone to war in order to set things right in Belgium as well.

Other than the Belgian Revolution, the November Uprising did not result in an independent Polish state. By October 1831, the revolt was crushed, and the Russian grip on Poland became even stronger. Dutch responses to Poland’s struggle for autonomy became more nuanced with time, however, and during the January Uprising of 1863-64, many Dutch voices supported the Poles. Belgian historian Idesbald Goddeeris has argued, therefore, that nineteenth-century Dutch responses to Poland shifted according to local Dutch interests.

For more information, see this webpage.

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 22.

Travelling through Poland in the 1590s (NL Embassy in PL)

Now that travelling has become more difficult due to the global pandemic, we may resort to books as a means to make mental journeys to other countries, for example to Poland. The first Dutchman to write a published account of his voyage through Poland was Joris van der Does/Georgius Dousa (1574-1599), who was the son of an acclaimed Dutch scholar. The young Joris passed through Poland in the 1590s during an educational journey to Constantinople. In 1599, a Latin description of his travels was published in Leiden, which was partially translated into Dutch and issued in Dordrecht in 1652.

Joris’s representation of Poland is generally favourable. Describing Cracow, he professed that: “it lies along the Vistula river, which also flows past the royal castle, placed on an elevated mound. Because of the splendour of its buildings, the affluence of all manner of goods, and various kinds of scholarly disciplines, the city itself contends with the illustrious towns of Germany.” In addition, Joris enthusiastically related his visit to the nearby Wieliczka salt mines, which attracted the attention of various foreign scholars and travellers. He also visited the poet Szymon Szymonowicz (1558-1629) in Lviv, and he befriended a Polish diplomat in Constantinople, who shared his interest for classical literature. Returning home, furthermore, Joris stayed in Zamość, a city founded in 1580 by the Grand Chancellor Jan Zamoyski (1542-1605), who was a friend of Joris’s father. Zamość also included an academy for higher education. Joris elaborately praised the city as “an effigy not just to Poland, but to the whole of Europe”, and he applauded the learnedness of Zamoyski himself. His flattering words were no doubt meant to strengthen his bonds with his Polish contacts. The account is an interesting testimony to the historical ties and friendships between Dutch and Polish scholars.

Joris died in 1599, while sailing to India. The following year, his brother Dirk (1580-1663) visited Zamość as a student, and later even accompanied Jan Zamoyski on a war campaign in Livonia (roughly modern-day Latvia and Estonia).

The image comes from the account’s Dutch translation, published in Dordrecht in 1652.

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 21.

A Dutch Architect in Poland (NL Embassy in PL)

An exceptional historical link between the Netherlands and Poland is formed by the architect Tylman van Gameren (1632-1706), also known as Tilman or Tielman Gamerski. Born in Utrecht, Van Gameren was a student of the Dutch artist and architect Jacob van Campen. He also travelled to Italy. Upon meeting the Polish prince Stanisław Herakliusz Lubomirski in Leiden, Van Gameren moved to Poland, where he grew into a famed architect and prime representative of the Polish classicist Baroque. His style incorporated Dutch, French and Italian influences. From 1664 onwards, Van Gameren was employed by the Lubomirski family, but he also worked for other upper class families. He was court architect to the Polish king Michał Korybut Wiśniowiecki, and also worked for king Jan III Sobieski and his wife, queen Marie Casimire Louise de la Grange d’Arquien. Furthermore, Van Gameren was appointed Golden Spur Knight, granted a nobleman’s status, and married a Polish woman named Anna Komorowska. Van Gameren designed numerous churches and palaces across Poland, including the St. Kazimierz Church and Krasiński Palace in Warsaw, and the Branicki Palace in Białystok. Miraculously, most of Van Gameren’s sketches and plans have been preserved.

This painting shows the New Town Market Square in Warsaw, with the St. Kazimierz Church designed by Van Gameren. The painting was made by Bernardo Bellotto in 1778. It hangs in the Royal Castle in Warsaw:

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 20.

Famous Polish Musicians in the Netherlands (NL Embassy in PL)

Bronisław Huberman with Albert Einstein in Princeton, March 1937.

In the first half of the previous century, several classical Polish musicians enjoyed fame in the Netherlands. One of them was the composer, pianist and politician Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941), Poland’s Prime Minister in 1919, whose long wild hair was so renowned that it became an inspiration for Dutch jokes. Another was the violinist Bronisław Huberman (1882-1947), who gave multiple concerts in the Netherlands. Huberman was a child prodigy, and first played for a Dutch audience in his early teens. Later, in 1905, a Dutch newspaper described a concert he gave in Amsterdam as follows: “When he performed here some ten years ago as a boy of twelve years old, he amazed everyone with his violin play, and today he has returned to us as an artist, in whom a prematurely ripe nature has harmoniously developed in a rarely perfect manner. His violin play combines all the elements of an artist of the highest rank. What is particularly admirable in the case of Huberman, is that his phenomenal technique is ennobled by a passion for beauty, which wells up from the depths of his heart.” With his Palestine Symphony Orchestra, founded in Tel Aviv in 1936, he helped save up to a thousand Jewish musicians and their families from the Holocaust. Another famous Polish musician of Jewish heritage who on several occasions performed in the Netherlands was the pianist Artur Rubinstein (1887-1982).

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 19.

Rembrandt and Poland (NL Embassy in PL)

On June 29, the exhibition Świat Rembrandta (Rembrandt’s World) opened in the Royal Castle in Warsaw. Rembrandt has many links to Poland. To begin with, he produced numerous etchings and paintings of Poles or people in supposedly Polish guises. There is much debate about several of these works, however. Much has been written, for instance, about his so-called Polish Rider from 1655, which shows a horseman in what many scholars have defined as a Polish costume. The rider has been identified variously as a specific Polish nobleman, a generic Cossack, a personification of a Christian knight, a champion of religious freedom, or a literary character. Another of Rembrandt’s paintings is commonly entitled A Polish Nobleman. This portrait, dated 1637, might depict the Polish diplomat Andrzej Rey, but he has also been described as a Russian boyar. Apart from these examples, Rembrandt’s oeuvre also includes drawings and etchings of people who appear to be wearing Polish dress.

Furthermore, Rembrandt’s brother in law was Jan Makowski (or Joannes Maccovius), professor of theology at the University of Franeker. Makowski’s portrait is part of the exhibition in Warsaw.

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 18.

A Polish Officer in Dutch Brazil (NL Embassy in PL)

Numerous Poles live and work in the Netherlands today, and they have been doing so for hundreds of years. One of the most colourful and famous examples is the Protestant nobleman Krzysztof Arciszewski (1592-1656), an officer, engineer and author, who through became something of a celebrity in both the seventeenth-century Netherlands and Poland. Arciszewski first arrived in Holland in 1624, at the time of the Eight Years’ War, and until 1629 actively participated in a number of battles in both the Low Countries and France, always fighting on the Protestant side. For example, he partook in the Dutch attempts to end the Spanish siege of Breda in 1624-1625, and he fought in the siege of ’s-Hertogenbosch in 1629. Moreover, he studied military engineering and artillery at Leiden University. In 1629, Arciszewski was offered a three-year contract with the Dutch West-India Company and in the rank of captain left for Brazil. He celebrated multiple victories against the Portuguese, and was eventually promoted colonel. After the arrival, in 1637, of the new governor-general, Count John Maurice of Nassau-Siegen (1604-1679), Arciszewski continued to play a key role in the Brazilian campaign, but disagreements between the two men led to Arciszewski’s return to Holland in 1639. He broke with the Dutch military, but stayed in the United Provinces until 1646, at which time he was summoned back to Poland and nominated royal general of artillery. Arciszewski next participated in a number of battles against the Turks and Cossacks, before retiring in 1649. He died in 1656.

Arciszewski had a keen interest in cartography and ethnography. He made maps of Brazil and wrote descriptions of indigenous Brazilian populations, which were used and published by Dutch scholars. In addition, he wrote poetry, and the Dutch West-India Company awarded him a golden necklace and medal for his services. Writing about Brazil in 1642, a Dutch jurist stated that “most commanders are not best pleased with the rule of Count Maurice. It is Arciszewski whom they esteem.”

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 17.

New publication: Branding Jan III Sobieski and his letters

“Every civilized Dutchman who has studied modern history, even if only in general terms, knows the brave Jan Sobieski.” These words come from a book review from 1832, discussing the recent publication of the letters of Jan III Sobieski (1629-1696), in Dutch translation. The review illustrates how famous the former Polish king was in the Northern Netherlands, even more than a century after his death.

I have previously written about Sobieski’s Dutch reception in the late seventeenth century, prior to his acclaimed victory at the Battle of Vienna, in 1683. In a new publication, entitled ‘A Hero and His History. The Branding of Jan III Sobieski and His Letters in the Northern Netherlands during the Early Nineteenth Century’, I explore a related topic, venturing out of the early modern period. In the late 1820s and early 1830s, Europe saw the appearance of several editions of Sobieski’s correspondence. Three Dutch editions were published in The Hague. My publiation analyses the ways in which Sobieski and his letters were branded in these Dutch editions, particularly in the books’ extensive front matter. It argues that, while the Dutch branding was directly inspired by earlier French and Polish versions, the motives behind these different editions varied greatly, depending on their contexts. Of key importance were events related to Polish patriotism, such as the November Uprising. A number of reviews furthermore make clear how the brands in the Dutch editions were received.

My research has resulted in a book chapter, which has now appeared in H. van den Braber, J. Dera, J. Joosten and M. Steenmeijer (eds.), Branding Books Across the Ages. Strategies and Key Concepts in Literary Branding (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press 2021). You can find the Open Access publication on the publisher’s website.