A Little Paper Army - Warsaw (1920)

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Leon Ksiazyk was born in 1910, a year celebrating the 500th jubilee of the Grunwald Battle. On 15 July 1410, the battle ended with the spectacular victory of Poland against the German Teutonic Knights. Widely acclaimed, this military success shaped the future Polish Empire that would become the largest in Europe during the 17th century. In 1920, Leon was 10 and old enough to understand the significance of the Grunwald commemoration. Our dollhouse scenery pictures Leon with his little paper army of medieval knights.

Jubilee Battle

In 1910, the celebration of the Battle of Grunwald (Bitwa pod Grunwaldem) had been occasion to demonstrate patriotism in Poland. This collective feeling was even more exacerbated that at this time, the country was divided and occupied by Austria, Germany and Russia. Obviously, the three partitions of 1772, 1793 and 1795 had failed to wind down the flag of national pride. A series of books, albums, postcards, medals and commemorative objects were produced to celebrate the victory of Grunwald, a landmark event in Polish History.

In the German occupied territories of Poland, the Battle of Grunwald was commemorated with much precaution. At this time, German authorities were waging a war against the Polish culture and newspapers were muzzled. On the contrary, the Russian occupants jumped on the opportunity to highlight the collective victory of “Slavic nations” against German barbares, emphasizing the contribution of Russian regiments. Cleverly, the Austrian exploited this event with a fraternal interest. They allowed the great pianist Ignacy Paderewski to commission a Grunwald monument in Krakow.

The commemoration of the Polish victory of 1410 had a special significance for most Ksiazyk Families. Many of them were living in Wielkopolska, a region  occupied by the Germans before 1918. In Kalisz, Jarocin, Gostyn, Koscian and Srem, the memory of German confiscations and harassment was vivid. Błażej Książyk (1824-1882), the grandfather of Leon, had left Wielkopolska in the middle of the 1870s to establish in Mazovia.    

Childhood memory

Sadly, in July 1920, the 510th commemoration of the Grunwald Battle was overshadowed by the dangerous situation of the country. Poland had recovered independence in November 1918 but the country was struggling to secure borders. The Germans were still occupying many regions. Inspired by the successful insurrection in Wielkopolska one year before, the Poles in Silesia had launched a first uprising against German troops in August 1919. They were now preparing another insurrection. In addition, Poland was engaged in a war against the Soviet and Bolsheviks hordes had invaded the country. Newspapers were reporting alarming news from the front.  

At this time, Leon was living in the centre of Warsaw. The city was still suffering from the consequences of WWI. The population had to make do with rationing cards for food and basic goods. Restrictions were on almost everything, including paper, pencils and ink. Still, the business of newspapers and books was thriving. This publishing activity included patriotic booklets for children with the intention to strenghten the cohesion of the young Republic. The authors insisted on the most glorious events of the Polish History, echoing the patriotic messages delivered in schools and cathechism classes.  

For Leon, Grunwald was a story of fierce enemies, bloody battles, glorious king and victorious knights. Published in 1900, Krzyżacy (The Teutonic Knights) had previously captured the imagination of readers but the heroes of this book conveyed "strong feelings" deemed not appropriate for a 10-year kid. A very popular book had contributed to develop his imagination: Grunwald album Jubileuszowe – Szkic Historyczny. Written by Jaslaw z Bratowa, this book had been published in 1910 for the 500th jubilee. The 344-page best-seller had an impressive collection of prints, engraving, colour pictures, and maps. Postcards collections were also a powerful education tool for children.  

Paper army

Toys were a pre-war luxury in 1920. In every family, they were preciously shared between siblings. On this point, Leon was quite unlucky. He had no older brother and he was required to share everything with his brothers Władisław (aged 9) and Ciesław (aged 7). Leon was happy when he could get something – even broken - from one of his many older cousins. In this deprived environment, kids had much imagination. Newspapers and magazines were an endless source of inspiration. With good scissors, much patience and skilled hands, they could turn pictures into cardboard toys. The home production of dolls, soldiers, trucks, cars, or aeroplanes was a hobby encouraged by admirative parents.

The modest 510th jubilee of the Grunwald Battle raised the interest for chasing pictures of the battlefield. Widely reproduced and circulated, the scenic painting of Jan Matejko was a great background. Magazines and brochures were browsed to find drawings and prints. Within a few weeks, a medieval army was raised, ready to kick ennemies out of Poland. None of the paper soldiers of Leon have survived the battle of time since 1920 but we treasure the Grunwald album Jubileuszowe, one of the most read book we have in our collection.


Grunwald in a nutshell

Grunwald is located in the Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship, a region between Gdansk and Warsaw. In 1410, this battlefield was located in the State of the Teutonic Order. After gaining fame (and riches) from the crusades, the German Teutonic Knights had conquered and bought a large territory. Their extended “kingdom” included the regions of Newmark, Pomerania, East Prussia, and four other Baltic regions. Protected by a powerful military government, the Teutonic Knights were perceived as a threat by the neighbouring countries and by the Pope in Roma.

In 1385, Grand Duke Jogaila of Lithuania married Queen Jadwiga of Poland and became Władysław II Jagiełło, King of Poland. This event changed the balanced of power in the region. In reaction to recurrent Teutonic attacks against Lithuanian and Polish strongholds, King Władysław prepared war, allied to Vytautas (Witold), Grand Duke of Lithuania. They were supported by Czech, Ruthenian, Russian and Tatar regiments. On the Teutonic side, Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen had also gathered an impressive army including many German and Hungarian mercenaries. They were commanded by Grand Marshal Friedrich von Wallenrode.

Together, King Władysław and Grand Duke Vytautas launched a major offensive against the Marienburg (Malbork) fortress, the capital of the Teutonic Knights. A series of Polish-Lithuanian raids in other Teutonic regions completed this action. The main confrontation occurred in the battlefield of Grunwald on 15 July 1410. Reacting to the strategic “procrastination” from the Polish side, Ulrich von Jungingen sent two swords as a provocation to Władysław and Vytautas. After a 10-hour confrontation, the Poles won the Grunwald Battle. Most Teutonic commanders, including Jungingen and Wallenrode were killed during the combats.

After the Grunwald Battle, many major Teutonic cities surrendered to Poland, including Danzig (Gdańsk), Thorn (Toruń), and Elbing (Elbląg). The Poles secured their total victory in October 1410. Grunwald remains a landmark in the History of Poland. The event has been widely pictured in arts and literature. 

Memory of a Dollhouse

- Bitwa Warsawska (1920)

- A Paper Army in Grunwald (1920)

- Exploring the Pantry (1920)

- Spanish Flu in Warsaw (1918)

- Pickles Season (1910)

- Laundry Day (1910)

- Visit to Grandma (1937)


©Ksiazyk 2015