The Pilewski‘s – the house of Prussians – its heritage and identity.
Welcome. First of all, I would like to thank Mr. Hoffman for inviting
me to the Baltic Workshops. I feel extremely privileged and honored. Even more, owing to the
fact that we are situated on the land of my ancestors - the Prussians.
The topic I would like to introduce is
“The Pilewski‘s - the house of
Prussians - its heritage and identity”
- the history of my house since the 13th till
the 20th century. This history is located on the territory of Pomezania -
the land of the Prussians, the land in Chelm and the north of Mazovia. I do hope it will
arouse your interest.
In my turbulent life, from early youth, national identity was close
to my heart. I have also begun establishing my house‘s roots fairly quickly. Having emigrated
and living many years abroad consolidated my belief, proudness and affection towards my Polish
belonging. Many times with no hesitation I have stated that, for me, being Polish is the same
as Christianity and from that there is no retreat. I am a Pole of Prussian roots.
The knowledge of my Prussian ancestors was gradually bigger with the significant help of a
ingenious Polish heraldist, genealogist, an insurgent in the Warsaw Uprising and the first
biographer of the Pilewski‘s - Bernard Klec-Pilewski, whom I met in London. Complete awareness
and emphasizing my Prussian roots as well as living with this knowledge is not a thing of comfort.
Speaking about it puts me in a state of loneliness. The cause of this lies in the ignorance
surrounding the topic. On the other hand, never has my Prussian identity bothered me.
On the contrary, always when I think about the Prussians, I feel proud that I have got
such great and noble ancestors.
The nation which consisted of eleven tribes at the moment does not
exist on the map of modern Europe. After the 2nd World War the Prussian territory
was divided between Poland, Russia and Lithuania. In a way, one should not be surprised thus
the Prussian nation was gradually eliminated by German
remained was polonized.
Only in Poland, right after the war, there was a debate how to name
this land. There was even a suggestions to name it Prussia. But because of this everlasting
German illness ”drang nach Osten” as well as the heated German revisionism this idea was dropped.
Definitely, one of the causes was also the aggressive state of ”German Prussianism” which had
nothing to do with the authentic Prussians. At the same time, the appropriation of the
naming of the Prussian nation was extremely dishonouring.
The Prussians - the oldest Indo-European nation settled at the Baltic sea, on a
”land of milk and honey” (today‘s territory of Warmia and Mazuria) - led a carefree life in
symbiosis with the wonderful nature surrounding. They were excellent builders. Building water
mills, bakeries, kitchens, wagons and bridges above rivers and swamps had been daily bread for
the Prussians since the beginning of the first century. The proof of their advanced technical
culture are original Prussian words as skritajle - girdle, nabis - hub, mandiwelis - grain
lever, nawetto - cogwheel, which were in no case lent. Cultivating the land, animal husbandry,
hunting or fishing, advanced craftsmanship in metal, horn and amber were well developed.
Trade thrived with the Scandinavians through Truso and Wiskiaut ports. Amber routes let the
Prussians explore the developing southern European civilisation.
The Prussians were very hospitable towards newcomers. They helped
the ones in need, especially the ones on sea. The Prussians‘ military capabilities were remarkable.
Although, there were border battles with Polish Princes, there was never a threat of mass
extermination of the Prussian people. Only the arrival of ”Christianity propagators” -
German Teutonic Order, was to change the order of the Prussians‘ social structure and begin the
process of their extermination, and who remained was to loose their identity. In the cruel,
insidious, barbarian and with no hesitation fifty percent of the Prussian people were exterminated
regardless of sex and age. Savage and bloody annihilation of the Prussians lasted for over fifty years.
The first who had to encounter the Teutonic Order were the people of Pomezania from where my
house has derived.
In the year 1235, in the battle by the river of Dzierzgon, a place
worshipped by Prussians - Holy Grove - attacked by a crushing army of Teutonic Knights, five
thousand Pomazians died along with their not known by name Prince of Resia. Despite of such losses
the Pomezanians uprose again in 1242 which lasted almost ten years. The Teutonic Order assisted
by the knighthood of European Francons, Netherlands and England did not defeat the Pomezanians
but they also could not win with the Teutonic Knights. In a peace treaty the Pomezanians
achieved some concessions but still their sovereignty was heavily limited.
The successor of Prince of Resia, Dumel, humiliated after the uprising
was transfered from his house land, Resia (today‘s Prabuty and vicinity) to the Kucki lake.
The inhabitants of Resia by losing their leader became a mass of people easy to compel.
Their separated, isolated leaders were banned to take part in any social life of their people
and having no influence on them, they were left to exist only. Pacification was one of the
methods used by the Teutonic Order but only in the first phase of the conquest of the Prussian people.
Later on, their leaders along with their families were brutally murdered. In Dumel‘s transfer
I understand the reason why the house of Pilewski‘s still exists. Signing the peace treaty as
well as the circumstances of their separation from the rest saved them and let them survive.
Losing the leadership elite by the Prussians helped the Teutonic Order
to enslave the remaining Prussian people and consequently compel them.
The son of Dumel, Klec, then bishop‘s vassal, isolated from his people, plays no role. He only
witnessed signing bishop documents. The house of Klec did not last long in history and in the
15th century vanished completely from its pages.
The most superb of all the house was Andrew Klec who studied at the
Leipzig University and in 1470 took a PhD degree in law at the Bologna University. The Pope‘s
order makes him a Warmia canon and from 1483 is one of the most active members and Nicolas
promoter till taking over the canon in Frombork.
The Klec‘s having a Teutonic sword above their head and being in
five knights attended to the Teutonic Order. Biologically exterminated people of Pomezania
in battles and an uprising against the Teutonic Knights lasting for many years, lacking
leadership was not capable of any military actions against the invaders. Transfered, away
from their domains they fell into apathy concerning their descent identity. And until
expiring they could do anything to help the Pomezanians. The history of the house was not
yet to end thanks to the son of Klec, Otton I Pfeil.
Let us go back to the 13thcentury. Otton I Pfeil not
complying to the transfers and lineage existence leaves the property of Klecowo and settles
in the land of Chelm. This way he gave the beginning of the house of Pfeilsdorf, i.e. the
Pilewski‘s as a branch of the Klec‘s.
On the land of Chelm Otton I Pfeil automatically found himself in
a different reality, i.e. among Poles and these connections have been maintained until now.
The first mentioned squire of Pilewice was knight Hugo I von Pfeilsdorf.
His son, also knight Nicolas I von Pfeilsdorf is a very historical figure.
Through the Prussian-Polish knighthood on the land of Chelm in the
year 1397 organized The Lizard Society. Its main aim was actions against the Teutonic Knights
and what follows taking their land back. The members of this secret society was the
Prussian-Polish nobility and Nicolas, although was not one of the founders, was a very active member.
Now I will proceed to a historical period closer to an armed conflict
between the Kingdom of Poland and the Teutonic Order. The Lizard Society assisted the Polish
side of the conflict. One of Nicolas‘ function was to misinform the Teutonic Knights about the
itinerary of the Polish army with allies to Grunwald. The proof of this was finding the remains
of Polish pennants in Nicolas‘ house by the Teutonic Knights themselves when they came to arrest him.
After Jagiello‘s victory in the Battle of Grunwald Nicolas from
Pilewice together with another knight, John from Pulkowo conquered Kowalevo a castle for the king,
and according to the chroniclers ”they pulled out the Teutonic masters by their beards”.
It is difficult to understand that on the one hand the Teutonic Order
was misinformed or that the castle was conquered for the king and on the other the Chelm flag
which was on the side of the Teutonic Knights during the battle surrendered to Jagiello.
In my opinion, the role played by the Chelm flag under which was a company formed of Prussian-Polish
knighthood is a big mystery.
Soon, after these events, Nicolas from Pilewice, in 1410, against all
peace treaties signed, is secretly imprisoned and executed without a trial. The person of
Nicolas I from Pilewice and his accomplishments strongly prove of his convictions that any
kind of justice towards the Prussians could exist with Poland.
The successors of Nicolas are his son Hoyko from Pilewice, a knight,
and his grandson, John from Pilewice, also a knight, a member of the Prussian Association,
who named himself Klec.
This detail is a very important plot and verification for the Pilewski‘s.
It led to genealogically associating them with the Klec‘s as well as the Pomezenians - the
people of Prussia. On the arena of history, in the continuous struggle with the Teutonic Order
and German colonization of Prussian land the son of John entered, Nicolas III Pilewski who was
born approximately in 1420.
The personality of Nicolas was universal. The knight of the Prussian
Association participated in reinforcing fortifications against the Teutonic Knights, a senator,
a diplomat participating in all missions, congresses, as well as representative of the Prussian
Association as king Casimir Jagiellonczyk. With a strong conviction and very actively he took
part in the war against the Teutonic Order, Thirteen Years‘ War, which was not only in interest
of the Prussian nobles but also the Polish Crown. In all actions he never took any soldier‘s pay.
Everything he did was free which in the chronicles is a seldom encountered behaviour. Casimir
Jagiellonczyk trusted Nicolas infinitely.
Through a very costly war Nicolas lost his properties. Financial
problems forced him to sell them. They were also partially burned down by the Order during the war.
All this caused a irrevocable impoverishment of the house.
For his gesture and credits in the war with the Teutonic Order in 1467
the king appointed him the castellan of Gdansk. This was the first castellan position appointed
by the Polish king. Approximately in the year 1468 he also received the Tczew starosty.
Nicolas III Pilewski leaves history in March, 1478 on the congress of
the Royal Council in Brzesc Kujawski. His rich biography with many credits as well as for the
Prussian States as the Polish Crown would be difficult to list. Either way, he was an exceptional
personage from that period of history. Businesses that he represented cost him a lot and when
others made fortunes, he became impoverished. And so his family, which did not mean as much
politically, was left in the same state. The only conclusion is that he followed different rules.
I would like to mention the sons of Nicolas. John III - the oldest son,
a knight participating in the Thirteen Years‘ War on the Polish side. His younger brother -
Matthew, a royal courtier who, with other brothers, was maintained by king Casimir and Aleksander
Jagillonczyk‘s allowances. Everything finished at the end of the 16thcentury.
The period of the Pilewski‘s knights ended. We had nearly ten of them in our house.
The period of the houses‘ survival began.
The German persistence in deceitfulness and lack of consequence of the
Polish masters caused the Teutonic order to survive. What follows is the consolidation of an
artificial Teutonic country so that in a couple of centuries it could transform into a
Until the end of the 18th century the Pilewski‘s inhabited
the Duchy of Prussia maintaining tenancies, through marriage or just leasing land.
It would be greatly unfair if I did not mention the women of the
Pilewski‘s who enrolled themselves on the pages of history by marriage in other houses.
It is crucial to mention here Elisabeth von Pfeilsdorf, the daughter of Nicolas III, who was
the wife of a Prussian, John Dabrowski, the forefather of gen. John Henry Dabrowski - the
hero of our national anthem. In the end of the 19th century, probably an explorer
of Dabrowski‘s ancestors, visited in Chelmian Radzyn the Dabrowski‘s chapel and described
the plates he found there. Amongst other, there was Elisabeth von Pfeilsdorf‘s plate with
the private crest of the Pilewski‘s. When in the end of the sixties of the last century
I visited the chapel aiming to find the plate, I found it closed and as if forsaken. After
a quick search I found its guardian, and to my surprise, I found no plates inside.
Until I spoke to the guardian I did not know many details. Namely,
approximately a year before myself there came a crew of muzealists from Warsaw which exhumed
all tombs in the chapel. In those tombs there were mostly young people in Prussian uniforms
and with this the research ended. The plates were transported to the parish church maybe
securing them from robbery. In fact, in the aisle of the parish church there were the plates.
There was 6 or seven of them but among them I did not find Elisabeth‘s plate, which was the
aim of my quest.
Why did I not find this only plate? That thought gave me no peace.
Today, I suppose that by the exhumation it was stated that the house of Dabrowski was a
Germanised house. As we know, the general himself did not have good command of the Polish
language. The name of Elisabeth von Pfeilsdorf obviously was associated with Germany.
After the Pole‘s experience of World War II it was obvious that
any kind of Germanity was innacceptable. I can also say the same - I have seen and
experienced many German cruelties. Due to this I dare to say that Elisabeth‘s plate was removed.
This train of thought can seem naive but with today‘s knowledge about that period it is very probable.
The only satisfaction I have had was seeing Stroble‘s painting on
the main altar of this church. The founder of this piece was the parish priest, Lukas
Pilewski and everything took place in the end of the first half of the 17th century.
He alone is presented in this painting in the lower, left corner as a painter. This is the
oldest portrait of a Pilewski.
Not so long ago, one of my cousins informed me that in the church
of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Torun he discovered the plate of Matthew Pilewski, a royal
courtier of king Casimir Jagillonczyk. If this is confirmed this will be the oldest known
burial of a Pilewski, which had to take place in approximately the year 1500.
Here, I will end the middle age period of the house of Pilewski‘s.
Much of the information above I gathered from a work entitled ”Klec - the house of Prus” by
an outstanding Prussian historian, Mr. Grzegorz Bialunski.
The Pilewski‘s destiny between the 16th and the 18th century
are for now not registered - we should assume that the knowledge of the ancestors‘ struggle with
”German Prussianism” was handed down from generation to generation.
In the end of the 18th century, when possessive neighbours tore
Poland into pieces, the land of the Duchy of Prussia was taken by the ”German Prussianism”.
Under their Protestant rules being a Catholic was innacceptable and any affiliation to
Poland meant persecutions.
Casimir Pilewski, a refugee from the Duchy of Prussia, left the property of his forefathers
and after crossing the boarder settled in north Mazovia which was annexed by Russia. We know
nothing what could have happened to his parents or potential siblings. He settled on leased
land, started a family and left seven sons behind.
It is them and their descendants who are responsible for the biological explosion of the house
which nowadays counts approximately a thousand on both sides of the globe. It should be
mentioned that the Mazovian land, where the Pilewski‘s settled, was and still is absorbed
with deep Polish patriotism. All uprisings for independence went through the land of Plock,
Wloclawek, Sierpc, Lipno, etc. Also, it was the borderland of two annexed territories where
regularly there were weapon shifts. Two sons of Casimir, participants of the November Uprising,
vanished into thin air. They were Jack and Francis Pilewski.
I will continue the Pilewski‘s history from my great grandfather‘s
line - Jacob Pilewski, the grandson of Casimir. Married to Petronella Kaczyńska who came from
a patriotic family. Her brother, a participant of the January Uprising, was sentenced to hard
labour in Siberia by the tsarism. They left behind five sons, three of which emigrated to the
United States of America. From the two that stayed I will concentrate on Joseph Pilewski who
was my grandfather. The son of Jacob, Joseph, married Casimira Politowska, also with
patriotic roots, of deep Christian morality and had nine children.
Despite modest livelihood of his parents he received decent education,
he graduated from secondary school in Lipno. There was not enough financial means for further
education. Raised in independent and Christian tradition, just and helpful, he made sensitive
to people‘s problems. He never strived for material benefits. As a secretary of many districts
he was a respected and well-known man. Because of his beliefs he was a member of the Polish
Socialist Party - Revolution Fraction, therefore imprisoned by tsar police in the period of
the Revolution in 1905 in Plock. Upon establishing the Polish Military Organisation by marshal
Joseph Pilsudzki he entered the ranks of the organisation. As a region commandant he took care
of buying weapons and training young people to fight for the independence of Poland.
From his order, two of his sons enroll for the Russian army to gain knowledge of military art.
Witold and Sigmund Pilewski serve in the Russian army in Caucasus and there, in Tyflis, in the
military academy they learn the domain of war.
With the coming of World War I the Mazovian land changed the occupant
from Russian to German. Joseph Pilewski is forced to hide. Unfortunately, during a night visit
in his house he is betrayed by arms traffickers with whom he cooperated. He was arrested and
the next day brutally murdered, stabbed to death with a hand weapon. His remains were thrown
out on the prison‘s courtyard for the family to take them away. Already in 1914 German butchers
were no different than the Teutonic Order and the worst for Poland was to come.
With the coming of World War I on the territory of Russia first military
units of the Polish Army started forming. The sons of Joseph Pilewski, Witold and Sigmund found
them quickly. In the ranks of the I Polish Eastern Corps they actively participated in all
victorious battles with the Bolsheviks.
They conquered the citadel in Bobrujsk to use it as a base of the Ist Corps. They took part
in victorious battles of Jesien, Tatar, Osipowicze, with overwhelming enemy forces.
Accomplishments in these battles brought glory and enriched the tradition of the Polish Arms.
Witold and Sigmund served in the elite unit of the Corps - the Knight Legion, formed of officers only.
As horse reconnaissance in the Knight Legion they were also its elite. They were famous not only
for their courage and fighting spirit but also for their strategy. As an example there is a fact
that Sigmund Pilewski with six other mates, several dozen kilometers from base, disarmed half
of a Russian regiment. This was written down in the Legion‘s chronicles as an exceptional achievement.
Their younger and juvenile brother staying at home, Henry, secretly
participated in the Polish Military Organisation. Within he took part in military exercises,
actively participated in taking off church bells which were regularly stolen by the Germans.
Supplementing knowledge about him I will add that together with friends he volunteered to
disarm Germans in Lipno and packed them into wagons. Later, again as a juvenile, he reported
to the Polish Army and took part in the war in 1920 with Bolsheviks.
After an unfortunate demobilisation by general Dowbor-Musnicki the
Eastern Corps fell apart and it did consist of twenty-nine thousand soldiers. Brothers came
back home and instantly became active in POW (Polish Military Organisation). Witold Pilewski
was a soldier to the end and in 1939 set off to help Warsaw and ended war as a war prisoner.
In independent Poland the Pilewski‘s still served the country - Sigmund, a veteran of the I
Corps, as a resident of Polish intelligence was in Dubno in Ukraine. With his brothers,
Henry and the youngest Waclaw, and brother-in-law, Pawlowski - a Pilsudzkian, they formed
a Polish intelligence cell for the East.
Waclaw Pilewski, my father was barely four years old when the Germans murdered his father.
During the occupation he was on a secret mission to Hungary in the city of Esztergom, on
the boarder with Slovakia. I did not have the opportunity to know my father. Probably, the
communists killed him in 1946.
It is seldom that I disclose the history of my ancestors. You can
get a headache from it. I will just mention that we owe our infinite attachment to Poland and
patriotism to our mothers and grandmothers. I will list maiden names like: Garwolinska,
Grabowska, Politowska, Kaczynska, Bagienska, Majewska. They experienced many things but they
still could instil a sense of patriotism, Christian morality and national pride into the next
generations. Noble, patriotic traditions were always meticulously cultivated.
In the 20thcentury the Pilewski‘s actively participate
in a heroic defense of Plock from the Bolszeviks - the city of Virtuti Militari. They died
in the September Campaign, the defense of Warsaw and pacification of Zamosc. Julian and
Casimir Pilewski were murdered in Katyn.
The Pilewski‘s never took advantage of being socially active.
After carrying out their duties towards their motherland they went back to normal life.
As descendants of the Prussians they melted into a unit of a noble, honourable Polish society,
with no other like it in Europe. One could say that their motto is the maxim of an American
president, John F. Kennedy: ”don‘t ask what your country can do for you; ask what you can do
for your country”.
I am a descendant of the Prussian and my duty is to claim the
historical truth of the heroic Prussian nation. The history of this land is still falsely
presented and for 700 years there has been no will in Europe to accept it.
I have an impression that there is a double standard of Europe‘s memory. That means that
one remembers what is comfortable. The rest is hushed up and forgotten. Europe‘s memory was
kept when Saint Adalbert was to become politically proclaimed the patron saint of Europe.
I ask Europe if there is a double scale of martyrdom. Who owns it? I explicitly mean martyrdom
of a human being in respect of martyrdom of a whole nation.
What was the basis of ”Christian propagating” by the Teutonic Knights?
Who was a pagan in exterminating the Prussians, the Knight or the Prussian?
Answers to these questions, thesis, is absolutely necessary to determine an
European morality interpretation. I have submitted an Appeal to the European Parlament regarding
the Prussian revitalisation. In this Appeal I demand financing an appropriate monument
in remembrance of all the Prussian people and their leaders, a Prussian museum about their
history and archeological and ethnographic exploration. I will not rest until I do not realise my goal.
I am a proud descendant of the Prussians and my duty is to remind
Europe why it has forgotten about this brave, freedom loving nation.