Aleksander Majkowski


Aleksander Majkowski (1876-1938), Kashubian writer, poet, journalist, editor, activist, and physician by profession. The most important figure in the Kashubian movement before World War II. Editor of “Gryf” (The Griffon), author of the greatest Kashubian novel Żëcé i przigodë Remusa (The Life and Adventures of Remus), and The History of the Kashubs.

Aleksander Jan Alojzy Majkowski was born on July 17, 1876 in Kościerzyna (then Berent, Prussia) as the oldest child of a farmer apparently having two sisters and two brothers. In Kościerzyna, he completes primary school (volksschule) and in 1885-90 attends a German progymnasium. He is given a scholarship of Towarzystwo Pomocy Naukowej (Society of Educational Aid), based in Chełmno (then Culm). In 1891, he begins his education in gymnasium in Chojnice, living in a convent there. Also there, he becomes acquainted with Polish literature and history. In 1895, he earns his matriculation certificate. At first, he means to study theology and become a priest, but instead he enrolled at the Berlin University and in 1897, begins studying medicine. In Berlin, he is involved in social activities; for example, he gives lectures for Poles living there.

In 1898, he takes part in the ceremony of the erection of Adam Mickiewicz’s monument in Warsaw and is reminded of his Slavic identity. In 1899, his poem Pielgrzymka Wejherowska (The Wejherowo pilgrimage) and satire Jak w Koscérznie koscelnygo obrele, abo Pięc kawalerów a jedna jedyno brutka (How in Kościerzyna they chose the sacristan or Five bridegrooms and only one bride) are published.

In 1900, Majkowski moves to Greifswald (an old Slavonic town Gryfia) to continue his studies. There, intrigued by the history of the area, he gets involved in the agenda of an early Polish socialist organization called “Zet” and a local student society called “Adelphia.” Because he also tries to establish his own political organization, in 1901, he is relegated from the university. Later on, he moves to Munich to continue his studies there. Aside from regular curriculum, he carries on with his earlier established cultural interests and works for Towarzystwo Studentów Polaków (Society of Polish Students) and founds the “Vistula” society.

In 1903, he finally completes his studies and moves to Zurich, Switzerland, where he writes his doctoral dissertation on blood cells in plumbism. In September 1904, he defends his Medical Doctor (MD) degree and, at the end of the year, returns to Cassubia. In Gdańsk, he fulfills his yearlong medical practicum at a local hospital. With immense energy, he decides to get involved in the cultural and social activities in the area.

In 1905, he accepts a position of chief editor of “Gazeta Gdańska” (The Gdańsk Gazette) and its supplement “Drużba. Pismo dlö polscich Kaszubów” (Friendship. Magazine for Polish Kashubs). Meanwhile in Poznań, he publishes a selection of his Kashubian language poems Spiewe i frantówci (Songs and merry verses). At that time, he also prepares the re-editions of Hieronim Derdowski’s poems Jasiek z Knieji (Johnny from Knieja, i.e. the forest) and Kaszubi pod Widnem (The Kashubs near Widno).

In 1906, he returns to his native Kościerzyna, where he opens a private practice while continuing his involvement in the cultural and social spheres, e.g. in a venture “Dom Kaszubski” (The Kashubian House) and Towarzystwo Czytelni Polskiej (Polish Reading Room Society) that he had set up. He is also actively involved in Towarzystwo Wyborcze (Electional Society), Towarzystwo Śpiewacze (Singing Society) “Halka,” and Związek Młodych Kupców (Young Merchants’ Union). During this time, he cooperates with Izydor Gulgowski, Friedrich Lorentz, and the German Verein für Kaschubische Volkskunde (Society for Kashubian Folk Studies) while studying the folklore of the region, he does not forsake publishing in “Gazeta Gdańska”.

Between 1908-12, Majkowski continues to publish in Kościerzyna and, starting in 1911 in Gdańsk, a monthly entitled “Gryf. Pismo dla spraw kaszubskich” (The Griffon. Magazine for the Kashubian issues). Concurrently, he initiates other Kashubian cultural and political programs and begins gathering Kashubian intelligentsia around himself. In parallel, he takes part in many cultural activities that promote Cassubia. He organizes a Kashubian-Pomeranian exhibition singlehandedly writing all of the supporting printed matter for it. However, not only he writes a lot but also travels extensively taking pictures. As a pedagogist, he remains in consistent touch with students; encouraging them to explore Cassubia, he offers himself as a tourist guide. In the early 1912, he finally settles in Sopot, continuing working as a physician until 1921.

A capstone to years of efforts, in June 1912, Aleksander Majkowski manages to set up his Gdańsk-based Towarzystwo Młodokaszubów (The Young Kashubs Society), established for “the cultural, economical and political development of Cassubia.” In September of the following year, he institutes Kashubian-Pomeranian Museum in Sopot, including the adjacent society, and writes a guide to Cassubia called Zdroje Raduni (The Radunia river’s wells). Recognized for his accomplishments, he sadly encounters opposition from some local social activists and the Catholic Church. Fortunately, he manages to win a defamation court case posed by a catholic magazine “Pielgrzym” (The Pilgrim).

In August 1914, Majkowski is drafted into the Prussian Army where he serves as a physician in Poland, Romania and France. During the war, he writes a diary, sketches for Cassubia’s history, and two novels: Pomorzanie (The Pomeranians, unfinished) and Żëcé i przigodë Remusa (The Life and Adventures of Remus).
In July 1918, he returns to Sopot, becomes politically active, and participates in some military activities taking place in the area. During the same year, he also becomes a member of Rada Ludowa (The People’s Council). A year later, in Gdańsk, he sets up Koło Demokratyczne (Democratic Circle), becomes chief editor of “Dziennik Gdański” (The Gdańsk Daily), and continues teaching at a local folk university. For his military efforts, he earns the rank of captain of the Polish Army and later is promoted to colonel.

In 1920, he sits on board of the commission responsible for establishing the Polish-German borders and in Rada Pomorska – Towarzystwo Ochrony Polskości na Pomorzu (Pomeranian Council – Society for the Protection of Polish Interests in Pomerania) as its head. For the next two years, he resides in Grudziądz, though he travels extensively throughout Poland. In Grudziądz, he meets his future wife, Aleksandra Starzyńska. Also there, he organizes the Exhibition of Fine Arts, having Pomeranian artists in mind, which is officially opened on June 7, 1921 by the head of Poland, Marshall Józef Piłsudski.

In the coming years, Majkowski continues his political and cultural activities aimed at promoting Cassubia and Kashubian culture. He establishes a drama theater in Toruń, becomes a leader of Stowarzyszenie Artystów Pomorskich (Society of Pomeranian Artists) based in Grudziądz, and a chief editor of a magazine called “Pomorzanin” (The Pomeranian) – all this between 1921 and 1923. In addition, during this time he resumes to publish “Gryf”, continues to write, collaborates with various periodicals, and radio in Toruń. In „Gryf”, he also publishes the first chapters of his book Żëcé i przigodë Remusa.

On October 6, 1921, in Warsaw, Aleksander Majkowski marries Aleksandra Komorowska (former name: Starzyńska, 1891-1982). The newlywed couple settles in Kartuzy, in a villa called “Erem” (The Hermitage). They paranted four children: Damroka (1922-1979), Mestwin (1924-1944), Barbara (1928-1983) and Witosława (1929-1955). Somehow, in his free time, Majkowski manages to collect stamps and postcards, read detective stories, and go mushroom picking.

In Kartuzy, he works as a physician in a number of places, mainly at the railroad clinics, often volunteering to help people in need, but without neglecting his writing. Attending to his patients on the country side, he keeps collecting samples of folklore artifacts and photographs the life of the Kashubs. For his commitment to “social work in Pomerania”, Majkowski receives The Officer’s Cross of the Order of Poland’s Restitution from President Stanisław Wojciechowski in April of 1923. A year later, he publishes his Przewodnik po Szwajcarji Kaszubskiej (A Guide to the so-called Kashubian Switzerland) and, in 1925, a single issue of “Gryf”. Shortly thereafter, he endures yet another round of criticism being accused of separatism, bolshevism, immorality, crimes, and bad influence on society at large.

Due to recession, personal failures and health problems, Aleksander Majkowski retracts from public life and concentrates on literary work. He patronizes the actions of Aleksander Labuda and Jan Trepczyk – young Kashubian activists, who in 1929 establish Zrzeszenie Regionalne Kaszubów (Kashubian Regional Union) in Kartuzy, with Majkowski as its head. Later, he fruitfully and with dedication collaborates with the associated magazine “Zrzesz Kaszëbskô” (Kashubian Union). Soon Majkowski also joins Polski Związek Zachodni (Polish Union of the West) and collaborates with Instytut Bałtycki (The Baltic Institute). For his tireless efforts, in 1930, he receives The Golden Cross of Merit, one of the most prestigious awards of the Republic of Poland.

Although a member of the board of editors of the revived “Gryf” since October 1931, he does not return to a full time journalism until 1934. In October 1935, he publishes the first part of his three-part novel Żëcé i przigodë Remusa. Soon he is awarded The Silver Literary Laurel (Srebrny Wawrzyn Literacki) by Polska Akademia Literatury (The Polish Academy of Literature). Meanwhile, in his villa, he organizes a folklore exhibition and tries to cure his fatigued health by taking repetitive trips to various spas.
1936 and 1937 are busy years for Majkowski. He works on Gramatyka kaszubska (The Kashubian Grammar, incomplete) and Historia Kaszubów (The History of the Kashubs). He puts a lot of effort into his guide to Cassubia and adapts his satire Jak w Koscérznie koscelnygo obrele… for the theatre under a new title of Strachë i zrękovjinë (Fears and Engagements). All along, he writes extensively for the press.

Aleksander Majkowski dies on February 10, 1938 at the hospital in Gdynia of a heart failure and is ceremonially buried four days later in Kartuzy. His coffin is assisted by the railroad workers and the young Kashubian activists who vow to continue the work he has started.

A few months after Majkowski’s death, his Historia Kaszubów and the entire novel Żëcé i przigodë Remusa are published. After the war, his novel reappears on a few occasions and in 1964, Lech Bądkowski translates it into Polish. Historia Kaszubów (with foreword by Gerard Labuda) is published also with majority of Majkowski’s literary works and their fragments being printed or reprinted. Amongst them, his recollections, letters and the war diary were jointly published under a title of Pamiętnik z wojny europejskiej roku 1914 (The Diary from the European War of the Year 1914).

Aleksander Majkowski is regarded as the leading figure in the Kashubian movement and the founder of its historic and intellectual base. He captures a summary of the Kashubian cultural ideology in the literary figure of Remus (not to be confused with the Roman mythological or the American literary figure of the same moniker). He tries to define Kashubian grammar and spelling, promotes protection of historical monuments and regional folklore, sets up social and economical Kashubian-Pomeranian institutions, represents the Kashubs on the country’s forum and the Slavonic scene. His multifaceted activity covered all sides of the social life of Cassubia and is still alive. The personage of Majkowski is widely remembered and returns on numerous occasions. 2008 was declared Majkowski’s year.


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