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In one suitcase – Count Tarnowski

Fragments from  the memoirs of Marcin, Count Tarnowski, one of the characters from the book “In One Suitcase” by Beata Gołembiowska.

The only surviving members of the Tarnowski family come from Dzików, the estate of my parents – Rose Zamoyska and Artur Tarnowski. I was born in a castle there, in 1935.

Shortly before the Second World War we went to visit my mother’s family in Klemensów. We were still there when the war began. The Germans warned us about the Russian invasion, so we travelled back to Dzików where my father was arrested by the Nazis and sent to an Oflag – Offizierslager, a POW camp for officers.

Throughout the war many of our relatives and other refugees from all over Poland found shelter in Dzików. Our family only used a small part of the castle, the rest was taken by Wehrmacht officers. The estate was administered jointly by my father’s plenipotentiary and by my mother, Rose Zamoyska. They were so efficient, that even though the Germans confiscated a large part of the crops, there was still enough food left not only for the local people, but for AK resistance units as well.

In 1944, as a nine-year-old, I left the family home for good. With the hectic packing up, sewing precious rings into our clothes, it all seemed like an adventure to me. The Agrarian Reform Decree forbade us to live close to the confiscated estate or remain in contact with the local populace. Nonetheless, villagers from the estate would visit us at night, and bring us anything they could spare.

Finally a letter from my father arrived. He recounted how, after getting out of the Oflag, he made his way to Meppen and joined the Polish Armoured Division of General Maczek. He could not return to the country, for he would have been arrested, like others who were inconvenient for the Communists. In 1946 we travelled from Poland to Nuremberg, each carrying a small suitcase or a backpack, and using fake French expatriates’ documents.

In 1944, after we departed from Dzików, the only one left in the castle was old Professor Marczak, our archivist and librarian for many years. When the Soviets came he gathered the most valuable pieces and locked himself in the castle archives, not letting anyone in for several months. He saved a lot of priceless heirlooms this way. This devotion and selflessness cost him his life, he died in unexplained circumstances.

The precious artworks we managed to bring along with us were the miniatures from the famous Dzików Collection. For many years my father tried to donate them to the National Museum in Warsaw, as the Tarnowski Family Collection. The offer was rejected repeatedly. But he never gifted any of the miniatures to family members, he never sold any of them, for he considered them national treasures, and himself only their temporary custodian.

My father was a great idealist and a patriot. When a tornado destroyed a church in Tarnobrzeg, he used his meagre savings to partly fund the roof renovation; he even brought tinware from Vienna. In his will he forbade the partitioning of the Collection. He wanted us to gather the artworks in Dzików again, and create the Tarnowski Museum.

After arriving in Canada we all rolled up our sleeves and got busy. We all spoke good French, so my parents chose Montreal. It was very hard in the beginning. My father was a clerk in a large shop, my mother worked as a draughtswoman for engineers.

“Tendite ad Astra Viri” – “Reach for the stars, men!” – is an old motto of Tarnowski Lelivites. In 2000 I came to Poland for the Tarnowski Family reunion in Dzików. I saw that the years of occupation, communism and emigration have not destroyed our spirit, and we were one big family again. Even though we don’t have our estates anymore, the bonds of blood, ambition, honour and patriotism are still present. Those are eternal values, which we try to instill in future generations. This is our own, individual “reaching for the stars”. Marcin Count Tarnowski died in Montreal in 2010.

Beata Gołembiowska