Born on 7 November 1867 we remember Marie Skłodowska Curie as the brilliant female scientist who in 1898 discovered a radioactive metal occurring in nature from the radioactive decay of uranium. She named it Polonium after her homeland of Poland. On the Periodic Table of Elements, Polonium appears as atomic symbol Po with atomic number 84.
In 1903 she and her husband Pierre Curie were awarded the Nobel prize "in recognition of the extraordinary services they have rendered by their joint researches on the radiation phenomena discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel." She was the first woman ever to be awarded a Nobel Prize.
After the death of her husband, Marie continued her research and in 1911 she was awarded the Nobel prize in chemistry for successfully producing radium as a pure metal. Equally outstanding in their achievements and worthy of recognition is that Marie Skłodowski and her husband Pierre Curie never applied for patents to protect their discoveries. They were believers of what is known today as the Creative Commons principle. Think Wikipedia, the multilingual, free encyclopedia, where anyone can add to the information and is designed as a collaborative work.
According to Marie Skłodowska-Curie:
"None of us ever intended to make any profit out of our discovery. Thus we didn't apply for patents and we always publicly announced the results of our studies as well as methods of extraction of the pure radium from the ore. Moreover, we always shared all our knowledge with other scientists."
The Curies never patented the process for purifying radium to keep for themselves. They had no intention to exclude others from making, using or selling their discovery. They published their work openly and freely for others to build on in order that they might come to new conclusions, new discoveries and increase the amount of scientific creativity. Other scientists and chemical companies began processing radium and selling it for cancer treatments but at such astronomical prices that for a while Marie Curie was unable to afford the very element she had discovered to carry on with her own research. It did not stop her from continuing to share her findings.
Marie Skłodowska Curie died in Paris on July 4, 1934. She is recognized as one of the twentieth century's most brilliant minds and was, at the same time, incredibly giving and generous for the benefit of mankind.
This photo was taken by my husband in Poland in December 2009 while we were visiting a museum in Stalowa Wola, only a few miles from where my grandparents, aunts and uncles were living during the German occupation of Poland during WWII. This is just a fragment, one episode among thousands, of what life (and death) was like under Nazi occupation.
Here is the English translation of the above poster and the story behind it.
On the evening of the 13th of October, 1943, there was a cowardly attack on the estate in Charzewice and shot by a band of murderers were the German [Reichsdeutche], couple FULDNER and their 6 year old CHILD.
The Polish people are hereby called upon to track down the criminals and their accomplices.
If within 24 hours, that is up to October 20, 1943 at 1400 hours, the murderers are not caught or reported to the Sicherheitspolizei (Security Police) - Aussendienststelle Stalowa Wola with specific details leading to apprehension and capture of the murderers - the following prisoners affiliated with the Resistance Movement and being held by the German police - will be publicly shot.
1.Bednarz Tomasz. 2.Brzowe Zdzisław. 3.Chuchro Stefan 4.Dyduch Marian. 5.Gawel, Jan
6.Hillenbrandt Adam 7.Kalandyk Julian 8.Kalandyk Władysław. 9.Killian Paul 10.Kluz, Julian
11.Kochański Adam 12.Kongol Tadeusz 13.Kowalczyk Tadeusz 14. Krucha Józef 15.Mikola Tadeusz 16.Niedziocha, Mieczysław 17.Lubera Ignacy 18.Lubera, Jan 19.Ortyl, Jan 20. Popiołek Roman 21.Paczek Michał 22.Rusek, Stansisław 23. Latasiewicz, Jadwiga 24. Lataziewicz, Zuzanna 25. Lysak, Antonina
The SS and Police Fuhrer of the District of Krakow
October 19, 1943.
This is the story behind the announcement and the eventual murder of 25 of Poland's citizens:
Earlier that year, on the night of June 23/24, 1943, a branch of the German Waffen SS brutally murdered the Horodyński family in Zbydniowo near Stalowa Wola (Rzeszow region). The murder was ordered by Martin Fuldner from nearby Charzewice. At the time Fuldner held the role of Minister of Agriculture in the General Government and was in charge of the wealthy Lubomirski estate in Charzewice (today a part of the city of Stalowa Wola). A lover of antiquities, Fuldner coveted the Horodyński manor house with its beautiful antiques, paintings, and porcelain as well as the estate itself.
That night in June of 1943, the Waffen SS were in the region with the purpose of ridding the area around the River San of resistance fighters. Through his powerful connections, Fuldner took advantage of that fact to liquidate the family and take over their estate. Under cover of darkness and using the pretext that there were partisans in the house, the Waffen SS brutally shot down nineteen Poles including a 12 year old boy who had gathered together to celebrate the marriage of a Horodyński cousin. The victims were shot in their beds, or while trying to escape. Two brothers, Zbigniew and Andrzej Horodyński attending the party managed to hide in a secret compartment in the attic and heard the shots as their family members were cut down. They managed to escape and recount the story of the murder of their family.
In reprisal, the Resistance issued a death warrant and executed Martin Fuldner and his family .
No one came forth with any information as to who was responsible.
There were witnesses to the execution of the 25 Poles named in the Announcement. " I remember the execution," says Michalina Hara, " when the Germans took retribution for Fuldner and his family. Along with other workers in the barracks we could see this tragic act through the gaps in the wooden walls. The day before the Germans made the local men dig a huge hole 4 meters long, 3 meters wide and 2 meters deep. The next day they brought 22 men and 3 women. We were all crying watching innocent people go to their deaths. They were separated into groups of eight and made to stand near the hole, a gun pointed at each individual. The signal was given and each body in the hole was also stabbed...before the shots, one of the men shouted, "Long Live Poland."
The two brothers that survived the attack, Zbigniew and Andrzej Horodyński, later gave their lives in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944.
Four years later, in 1947, the bodies of those executed were exhumed. Fifteen were taken away by family members to be buried in family plots. The other 10, with no family to claim them, were buried in a group grave along with another 65 individuals murdered in Rozwadowa, (also near Stalowa Wola) by the Germans.
This year, this October, marks the 75th anniversary of the murders in Charzewic and Rozwadowa.
Cześć ich Pamięci. Honor their memory.
Unlike many countries where the names of the months are derived the ancient Roman calendar, the names of the months on the Polish calendar generally come from some aspect of nature or the yearly agricultural cycle. For instance, Kwiecien, the month of April comes from the word kwitnie (blossoming). The month of July, is named Lipiec, from lipa, the linden tree that blooms so profusely during this month and is the source of wood used for carving and much loved by the bees that produce honey. October is no exception. The Polish word for the month is Październik. The word comes from the word paździerz, the inner fiber of the all-important flax plant (Linium usitatissium).
The flax plant was grown primarily by families to provide themselves with what would eventually become a piece of cloth. In olden days, whether you lived in America or in Poland, this was no small feat. If you wanted to eat, you had to produce your own food. If you wanted clothes on your back, you had to produce your own clothes and if you didn't have access to sheep for wool, you grew your own flax.
The flax seeds were generally planted in April and grew throughout the summer season. When it was ready in October, the process of converting the flax plant into a usable fiber began and was generally regarded as the work of women.
Step 1. The plant was was pulled out of the earth, tied into bundles and taken to the barns where it was dried very well. Then the flower heads were either combed or beaten to obtain the valuable flax seeds. Some of the seeds were saved and put aside for the next years planting. Some was crushed to obtain the all important flaxseed oil which was used specifically for frying and cooking purposes during the strict fasts of Advent and Lent when all meat and most meat products were eliminated from the diet. The leftover mash from the crushed seeds was fed to the cattle.
Step 2. The stems were then subject to a long-term treatment of exposure to water to help break down the plant structure to separate the fibers of the plant. This was done by spreading the stems out on grass when it was wet with dew, called dew retting. The stems were turned regularly to make sure all sides rotted equally. Dew retting would eventually yield a final thread that was gray in color and a hallmark of many older Polish linen tablecloths, shirts and blouses. Stems soaked directly in water would produce thread that was a light blond color
Step 3. The stalks were dried again. Mind you, all this is taking two to three weeks to get to the next step.
Step 4. Braking. The fiber that our ancestors were looking for was located on the outer skin of the flax stem. This was obtained when the prepared flax stems were now forced to bend into the shape of a W, using a tool called a brake (in Polish, międlica). It broke the inner layer (the paździerz), which would drop off, leaving the long outer layers, the flax fiber.
Step 5. Not quite the last step was the combing of the flax fibers into something smooth that could be spun called combing with the use of a hatchel. (photo)
Step 6. The Polish housewife now had a product that she could actually work with and spun it into a thread using a drop spindle or a spinning wheel. She spent the winter months spinning and then weaving the linen thread into cloth. The cloth became a sheet for a bed, a pillowcase, a hand towel or, more importantly, a blouse or a shirt. Something to think about when we visit the museums in Poland displaying folk costumes of the past.
Photo:Woman spinning courtesy of Polish Ethnographic Museum in Warsaw
Photo Collage: Google images
The painting by Polish painter and illustrator Piotr Stachewicz(1858-1938) depicts the Blessed Virgin Mary sowing crops. It celebrates an old Polish folk tradtion that falls on September 8th.
In the official Catholic church calendar, September 8 is celebrated as the birth of Blessed Virgin Mary but among the agrarian people of Poland, the Blessed Virgin was also the patron saint of winter crops so it was also came to be known as Matka Boska Siewna, Our Lady of Sowing. It signaled that it was time to plant their winter crops.
On this day, the farmers brought their seeds of wheat, rye and barley to church to be blessed with holy water. Added to the seeds were pieces of the grain that had been part of the bouquets blessed on Our Lady of the Herbs (August 15), or the herbs blessed during the celebration of the feast of Corpus Christi, or perhaps the crushed catkins of pussy willows that were blessed on Palm Sunday. All those bouquets and flowers were felt to have special powers because they, too, had been blessed and the strength of those blessings were thought to insure a successful crop.
The first handful of seeds thrown to the ground were made in the sign of the cross. The sign of the cross was also made into the air over the fields in the hope that the blessing would protect the crops against the devastation of hail, or a dry or an overly wet season.
The proverbs of Poland often served as a kind of Farmer's Almanac foretelling long-range weather predictions, offering gardening tips, instructions on the migratory pattern of birds and even direction for living and working. There are plenty for September but these are just a few that pertain to this particular day:
Na Siewną zacznij siać żyto, będziesz miał chleb na siebie i na parobka myto!
On the feast of Our Lay of Sowing, begin sowing your rye, you'll have bread for yourself and pay for your help(field help).
Kiedy Panna się rodzi, już jaskółka odchodzi.
When Our Lady is born, the swallows leave.
W Narodzenie Panny jaka pogoda, osiem tygodni takich nam poda
The weather on the Birth of Our Lady, will give us eight weeks of the same.
There were many important feast days when it came to gathering herbs and flowers in Poland but the single most important date occurred on the church celebration of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on August 15. So vital was this day that it was, and still is, called Matka Boska Zielna, Our Lady of the Herbs. On this special feast day, every village woman brought a bouquet of flowers, plants and herbs to church in order to be blessed by the priest.
In the Pomorze area, the northwest section of Poland, they have a saying on this day: "Każdy kwiat woła, weź mnie do koscioła!" (Every flower calls, take me to church!)
The women gathered whatever plants or greenery grew in their region, or the herbs and flowers they especially loved or needed. In the Mazowsze and Podlasie area took hyssop, southernwood, lavender, and mullein. They also took lovage, branches of the hazel tree, hemp and mint. Both herbs from the garden and the wild were gathered. These included poppy(Polish: mak), peony (Polish: piwonia, sage (Polish:szalwia), thyme (Polish: macierzanka), tansy (Polish: wrotycz), dill (Polish: koper), caraway (Polish: kminek), mugwort (Polish: bylica), chamomile (Polish: rumianek) (Kolberg Krakowskie I 1962: 227) Since the feast day coincided with the time of the harvest, it was also customary to take a few spikes of various grains such as rye(Polish: żyto), wheat (Polish: pszenica) or oats (Polish: owies)
The gathered and blessed herbs were used in endless ways: as part of wedding rituals, and death practices but mostly, medicinally. In the country villages there were few practicing physicians. Isolated and often poverty stricken, they were usually left to their own devices to treat themselves as best they could, utilizing various herbs and plants. All the plants and herbs were felt to be stronger, more effective for having been blessed. The most popular, most well known medicinal plants, and frequently brought to church included:
Mugwort (Artemesia vulgaris) Polish: Bylica. Depending on their symptoms, mugwort was used to bathe a person back to health; used in poultices, it helped in pain along the spine or back as well as ease the pains of childbirth. If gathered from nine different areas helped women in situations where they were unable to conceive.
Southernwood (Artemesia abrotanum) Polish: Boze Drzewko. Universally used in treatment of bruises and contusion by application of poultices
Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) Polish: Piołun. Wormwood appears all over Poland in wastelands and roadsides as well as in established herb gardens. The old herbals advised that an infusion of the dried leaves as a tea as a treatment for bad breath arising from the stomach, dispelling stomach gas, improving digestive juices and at the same time can build appetite.
Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) Polish: Rumianek. An infusion of the flower was taken for a fever, stomach troubles or various women's issues such as infertility or overlong menstruation. A compress of chamomile applied to the brow relieved headache, and was applied to wounds and to the eyes when suffering from a sty.
Mullein (Verbascum Thapsis) Polish: Dziewanna. A tea brewed from the dried or fresh flowers was used for illnesses of the chest and difficulty breathing. Fried with butter it was used to gray pimples and other skin eruptions and burns.
Coltsfoot ( Tussilago farfara) Polish: Podbiał pospolity. Found in every home medicine cabinet it was used for skin rashes, scrapes and tears of the skin on the arms and legs; for a cough and difficulty breathing and as a tea for most respiratory complaints.
Comfrey(Symphytum officinale)Żywokost. This plant is one of the best loved of all healing herbs. This tall, hairy leaved plant was used to heal broken bones, tears of the flesh and also for the aches of rheumatism. It was used both externally and internally. A deconcoction from the leaves, or flowers treatedrespiratory disorders. The root mashed together with an animal fat was used as a poultice for sprains and broken bones.
Elderberry (Sambucus Nigra L) Polish: Dziki bez czarny. A common plant through all of Europe, elderberry was also called bez lekarski, i.e., medicinal elderberry, to indicate its medicinal properties. The juice from the berries was especially beneficial for coughs. It would pull away the inflammation from infected wounds when the leaves and the skin were mixed with chalk and applied to the wounds.
Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) Polish: Skrzyp polny. This was also a much valued plant for its diuretic properties and as an infusion utilized for problems with the bladder or kidneys but must herbals caution that it must be on the weaker side as it is powerful and could weaken the individual.
Linden(Tilia cordata) Polish: Lipa drobnolista. From ancient times the linden was considered a sacred tree. It was so powerful that the fibers of the linden tree could tie up a devil. Branches of linden which had decorated an altar on the feast of Corpus Christi protected the house against lightning, when planted among a field of cabbage would protect it against bugs; teas made from the flower of linden was used to treat chronic cough, mucous and phlegm in the chest and larynx, to make one sweat.
Nettle (Utica diocia L) Polish: Pokrzywa. A tea made from the leaves of nettle for respiratory troubles, chiefly coughs. The leaves and stems were mashed and mixed with sugar which made a syrup within a few days.
Plantain (Plantago maior L )Polish: Babka zwyczajna, the mashed leaves are applied to the skin for wounds and ulcers.
Thyme (Thymus Serphyllum) Polish: Macierzanka. Used in the treatment of rheumatism. When bathed in it, it treated skin ailments and added to teas to treat gastrointestinal ailments.
Yarrow (Achilla millefolium) Polish: Krwawnik. This plant was used in poultices for inflamed and pus filled cuts and wounds by mashing and applying it to the wound. For the treatment of arthritis it is made into a liniment by soaking it in spirytus(alcohol) for 24 hours and applying to the limbs.
One of the biggest moments in my life was being able to sign for my very own library card. When I'm not reading, researching and writing I'm riding my bike, sewing or gardening. I love flea markets, folk art, and traveling to Poland.