The Museum of the History of Kielce
Welcome to the Museum of the History of Kielce. The Museum is situated in a building dating from the middle of the 19th century. This one-storey house with an annexe in the backyard has a classical façade and an entrance situated in the middle of the building. Since the 1980’s, the house at 4 St. Leonard Street has served various functions. In 1913, it was the seat of the Museum of the Polish Tourist-Sightseeing Society established in Kielce in 1908 and the house of an extensive library of the Museum’s Kielce Branch. The Museum operated in this building until 1943, directed subsequently by curators Tadeusz Szymon Włoszek and Sylwester Kowalczewski. Tadeusz Włoszek, a well-deserving man regarding Kielce museum activities, lived in the museum building and here he used to meet his collaborators, colleagues, regionalists and students of Kielce schools interested in tourism. In 1936, the Museum in Kielce organized famous all over Poland exhibition entitled “Świętokrzyska Exhibition” which promoted the Kielce region, its history and traditions. It was then that the Museum of the Polish Tourist-Sightseeing Society was named after Stefan Żeromski. In 2004, modernization works in the building commenced and on 30 October, 2006 it was handed over to the Museum of the History of Kielce established by the City Council.
To begin, we would like to take you to the permanent historic exhibition on the first floor entitled “From the History of Kielce”. The first exhibition room contains exhibits related to the following:
1. Early-medieval Kielce
The beginnings of Kielce go back to a tiny settlement, a goods-exchange spot in the heart of the Świętokrzyska Primeval Forest. The name of the city might be related to either “kiełce” (in Polish the wild boar’s tusks), Celts, in Polish Kelts, or to “klec” – the word used for a primitive shanty. Presumably, the city was the seat of a prince’s castellany. In the 11th century, to stress the role played by Kielce at that time, the St. Adalbert church was built here. In 2007, archaeological excavations were carried out on the square in front of the church. A fragment of a small wooden hut was discovered then which testifies to the existence of the old medieval settlement in this place. What is more, some pieces of ceramic pottery, including a vase made of white ceramics, were found. The pottery was used by settlers of certain material status. The discovered hut makes it possible to reconstruct the ancient Kielce settlement, with its central parts of households as well as the old larch church of St. Adalbert and the Silnica River. Attention should also be paid to an early medieval treasure dating back to the 11th century, which was discovered in Małogoszcz. It consists of 437 coins, including cross denarius coins, jeweller’s scrap and silver. The treasure from Małogoszcz belonged to a group Wiślica treasures discovered in the area the Vistula strip at the end of the 11th century. Most probably it belonged to a member of knightly order dealing with trade who hid the surplus of cash in an earthen vessel.
2. The green room presents the history of Kielce of the times when it belonged to the Bishops of Krakow. At the turn of the 11th and 12th centuries, following duke’s endowment, Kielce became the property of the Bishops of Krakow, who created there an administrative centre for their neighbouring estates. The new centre developed in the vicinity of the location settlement (currently the Main Square). As early as in the 12th century, on the nearby hill, today known as the Castle Hill, a Virgin Mary Collegiate Church together with wooden-stone bishops’ mansion were erected. In the 17th century, Bishop Jakub Zadzik founded a palace in the central part of the hill. The construction bore some distinctive features of a defence structure, and therefore nowadays it is frequently referred to as the Castle. A view by priest Brygielski depicts the Kielce of the end of the 18th century. In the top right hand corner, there is a legend about some people known to the author, walking towards the city. A separate figure is attributed to each person and then it is followed by a description of a given person. For example, number 7 refers to Lady Kubuś walking to the city whereas number 11 to some hospital women. The clergy connected with the Virgin Mary Collegiate Church played an important role in the life of the city. The role played by the church as well as the culture of the Bishops’ palace in the development of Kielce cannot be underestimated. The Kielce coat-of-arms was granted to the city by Cardinal Fryderyk Jagiellończyk. Unfortunately, the exact date when it happened is not known. Presumably, the city seal was offered between 1493 (the year when Fryderyk Jagiellończyk was appointed archbishop of Gniezno) and 1503 (the year of his death). The Kielce coat-of-arms was based on the seal granted to the city. It represents two symbols: a crown and the letters CK, probably standing for Civitas Kielce (the city of Kielce) or Civitas Kielcensis (Kielce citizenship). Thanks to the economic ventures of the bishops as well as the exploitation of raw materials led to significant development of Kielce as an important economic administration centre in the region. An important role in this process was played by successive starosts, including Stanisław Czechowski, who seems to be the most interesting figure of the 17th-century Kielce. He managed ironworks in the Kielce, Bodzentyn and Lisów areas and also collected tithes and concession fees. A noble figure presenting starost Czechowski – a manager of the Krakow Bishops’ estate.
3. The next green room is devoted to the history of Kielce – the capital of the province. In the 19th century Kielce became a centre of government administration mainly due to the roles it played in the past (at first the seat of the Austrian administrative unit of cyrkuł after the 3rd partitioning of Poland, then the seat of poviat authorities in the times of the Duchy of Warsaw after 1809 and the capital of Krakow Province in the Kingdom of Poland). The first Polish technical college, the Mining Academy, was set up in Kielce in 1816 by Stanisław Staszic. The academy was situated in the northern wing of the Bishops Palace (lecture rooms, laboratory and rooms for students and tutors). On the first floor in the main building of the palace, there was a library and a natural history room. The lecturers of the Academy came from Saxony and they included such outstanding names as: Jerzy Bogumił Pusch and Fryderyk Wilhelm Lepem. At first, all the lectures were conducted in German. The Academy offered 3-year courses. The lectures took place twice a day and lasted for 8 hours. There was one day per week off and routinely it was spent on visiting mines and factories. After their final exams, the students would start their training practice mostly in mines. The best students were sent abroad. In those times, “Aleksander” steelworks were constructed in Białogon, near Kielce. It mined copper and during the November uprising, it produced rifles and barrels. The city played a very important role in the period of national uprisings. Following the battle of Szczekociny, fought on June 6, 1794, Kościuszko directed his army to Warsaw and on his way he stopped in Kielce for a few days. The army soldiers established a camp on the pasture ground behind the city next to the road to St. Leonard Chapel. The Commander-in-Chief stayed in a house called “Wójtostwo” in the Main Square (Moniuszki Street). It was also where he prepared his War Declaration against Prussia and Russia, dated June 10, 1794. Today, a plate commemorating the Kościuszko stay in Kielce can be seen on a wall of the house in the Main Square. There is also a legend connected with Kościuszko’s stay in Kielce. When the Commander-in-Chief was leaving a stable on his horse, he wounded his leg. Some women who were dressing the wound took a stocking from his leg, and then cut it into several pieces, which they later attached to some letters describing the story. One of those letters is exhibited in the Museum. During the November Uprising, in Kielce, volunteers were enlisted to the Krakow Regiment. The painting by Józef Szermentowski entitled Geography Lesson deserves particular attention. The painter came from Bodzentyn and was born in an impoverished middle-class family. Thanks to the help of Tomasz Zieliński, the then head of the poviat, Szermentowski was educated in Kielce by a young painter and draughtsman, Franciszek Kostrzewski. He then studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw in the workshops of Piwowarski and Breslauer. He became friends with Wojciech Garson and Juliusz Kossak. In 1860, he settled in Paris, where he painted Geography Lesson. The painting is fraught with symbolic references connected with the then modern history of Poland. It depicts the map of Europe without the Polish state and a soldier standing upside-down – a symbol of the Polish army.
4. Another green room presents the history of the guberniyal Kielce
In the middle of the 19th century, the development of Kielce was hindered. The city, which in the past was the seat of the authorities of the province, was degraded and became the poviat centre in the Radom gubernyia (district). Tomasz Zieliński, the head of the poviat, was Kielce’s good spirit. He helped to modernize and beautify the city and prevented the Bishops Palace from being rebuilt. In 1863, during the January Uprising, Kielce was an important centre of the Uprising’s civil and army authorities. However, it was only when it became the seat of the district authorities that its revival began. The 19th century witnessed a very rapid economic growth of the city following the construction of the railway line from Dęblin to Dąbrowa Górnicza. At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, Kielce was inhabited by three minorities. The Jewish community developed in Kielce after the January Uprising. By the end of the 19th century, Jews constituted approximately 20 to 30% of the total population of the city. Numerous plants belonged to Jews, including Kadzielnia plant, managed by the family of Ehrlich, “Leonów” glassworks owned by the Heiman family or bent-wood furniture plant run by Florian Nowak. Among the memorabilia that survived the visitors can see a mahzor prayer book, the book of Talmud or tefillin. There is also an interesting Portrait of Tzadik by Henryk Czarnecki. According to recent research, most probably the person depicted in the painting is Motele Twerski, a tzadik whose grave is situated on the Jewish cemetery in Pakosz. The second important minority influencing the life in the city was Protestants. They settled in Kielce in 1816, when the Mining Academy was established there. The lecturers and employees of the Academy were brought from Saxony. At that time, the city developed rapidly and new quarters and plants were built. Russians and Germans also played a significant role in the history of Kielce. The 19th century was the time of intensive Russification which was the Russian response to the Uprisings. Russification at schools was particularly strong, which can be testified by numerous memorabilia from various schools from Kielce. There are some items from the oldest secondary school in Kielce – Stefan Żeromski Secondary School. The Museum exhibits include a journal written by one of the teachers in Russian in 1878-1879 and one hand-written issue of the school newspaper “Młodzi idą”. There is also a school certificate of Antonina Borkowska (a graduate of Maria Znoykiewiczowa Junior School) from 1914 written both in Polish and in Russian. At that time, the family of Jarońscy lived in Kielce. They were a family of rich traditions and extensive connections and might have been connected to the family of Jan Matejko. Ludwika Groplerowa together with her husband Henryk lived in Istanbul and led an open house frequently visited by Adam Mickiewicz, Henryk Sienkiewicz and other representatives of culture and emigration. Some noble members of the Jarońscy family include Feliks Jaroński, a famous composer and pianist, Wiktor Jaroński , a friend of Roman Dmowski and a member of Russian Parliament, Florian Jaroński, an architect, Mieczysław Jaroński, a violinist and Bożena Jarońska, a famous opera singer.
5. Kielce on the way to independence
In 1905, the citizens of Kielce joined in the organization of a school strike as well as some demonstrations and workers’ strikes. Following the events of the 1905 revolution, the tsar authorities decided to liberalize their policy. In Kielce, education was developing rapidly and new cultural initiatives were carried out. Industry and craftsmanship became an important part of the Kielce economy. In 1914, the city was visited by the Józef Piłsudski’s riflemen. The 1st Infantry Regiment of the Polish Legions was set up in Kielce. It comprised mostly young students and scouts from Kielce. At the same time, civil and military authorities were established, with the former headed by Commissioner Ignac Borener and the latter – by Kazimierz Sosnkowski. In 1921, Józef Piłsudski was granted honorary citizenship of the city of Kielce. The 5th Convention of the Association of Legionaries which took place then was attended by the Commander-in-Chief. The standard of the Kielce division of the Association was consecrated and a field mass was celebrated in the Freedom Square. During the Bolshevik invasion Kielce citizens eagerly joined the voluntary army. In 1938, to commemorate the visit of Józef Piłsudski to Kielce, the Monument of Legion’s Deed designed by Jan Raszko was erected in front of the Centre of Defence Training and Physical Education. What is more, the Sanctuary of Marshal Józef Piłsudski was opened in the Bishops’ Palace. The opening ceremony was attended by general Józef Sosnkowski and minister of communication Józef Urlach.
In the period between the wars, Kielce was the seat of the authorities of the province. It was a city of significant political diversification but also a cultural and educational centre famous for the development of tourism and tourism movement in the Świętokrzyskie Mountains. At that time, a newly opened marble plant, two dye-works, three tileries, steam mill, two brickyards, “Kadzielnia” and “Wietrznia” quarries and lime kilns, “Superfosfaty” plant, Portland cement production plant as well as “Ludwików” Casting House started their activity.
6. Kielce in the years of the Second Republic
In 1939, Kielce had more than 70,000 inhabitants, of which 1/3 was of Jewish origin. Despite many difficult periods, the city managed to grow in territory. New districts were created, including Szydłówek, Barwinek, Pakosz and Czarnów. An impressive building of the Centre of Defence Training and Physical Education and a sports stadium were constructed. The economic growth of Kielce was mostly facilitated by the business activities of important metal and armament plants, such as “Ludwików” Casting House, “Grenade” Plant and a sparkling plugs production plant, which in the 1930’s played an important role in the Central Industrial District. The city was the seat of the garrison comprising 4th Infantry Regiment of the Legions and 2nd Regiment of Light Artillery. Legion traditions were cherished and army parades and solemn roll-calls were a frequent occurrence during national and church festivals.
7. Kielce in the World War II
During World War II, the citizens of Kielce took an active part in the establishment of the Underground Polish State setting up various independence organizations in the city and the region. The soldiers of the Service for Poland’s Victory, the Association of Armed Struggle, the Home Army, Polish Peasants’ Battalions and national Armed Forces fought with the German occupant whereas those organizing secret underground education courses made efforts to preserve national identity and to educate young Polish people. Many citizens of Kielce were either murdered by the Nazis or sent to German extermination camps. World War II witnessed the extermination of Kielce Jewish population in the Kielce ghetto and in German extermination camps. In January 1945, the Nazis were forced to leave Kielce but another dramatic period of tragic events and post-war repressions commenced.
8. Post-war Kielce
Following World War II, the structures of new authorities were established which initiated repressions against patriotic circles. In answer to this, underground activities for regaining independence commenced. In July, 1946, the city witnessed the Jewish pogrom which marred the city’s image for many years to come. Up until the 1970’s, Kielce was gradually regaining its economic strength, making frequent references to the role it played in the Old Polish Industrial District. The establishment of Solidarity Trade Union, martial law and political changes that took place after 1989 set new directions for the city’s development. Instead of becoming an industrial metropolis, Kielce has become a city with “soul” and a cultural and educational centre in the Świętokrzyski region.
The last part of exhibition entitled “The History of Kielce” is an air photograph of Kielce taken in 2007. It shows the main buildings and communication routes of the city. Comparing this photograph to the painting from the first exhibition room depicting Kielce early settlement comprising three wooden huts and St. Adalbert church one can see how dramatically Kielce has changed. Initially, the settlement had only a couple of hundreds of inhabitants whereas now the city’s population is approximately 200,000.
Thank you for visiting the historic exhibition entitled “The History of Kielce”. We encourage the visitors to see our temporary exhibitions on the first floor.