History of the land of the Kashubs

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History of Cassubia is lengthy and interesting. The Kashubs have lived in Pomerania for over a thousand years, but their written history begins as late as 1238 AD. Pope Gregor IX called then the Stettinian prince Bogusław “the prince of Cassubia”. It is the oldest document known that mentions Cassubia, by which is understood the Western Pomeranian principality that existed from the 12th to 16th century and reclined to German political influences and military power.

In Eastern Pomerania since the end of the 12th century also existed an independent principality ruled by Subisław and his progeny. The most famous of them was Świętopełk who ruled the Gedanian Pomerania in years 1219-1266. His son Mściwój II ruled the land since 1271, unfortunately he had no successor. In 1282, he bequeathed his land to the Posnanian prince Przemysław II. When he died in 1294, Cassubia entered into a union with Poland and Przemysław was crowned a king of the newly augmented kingdom. At the beginning of 1296, he was assassinated though and his land invaded by the neighbors. Following that, in Cassubia began a long period of the Teutonic Knights’, intertwined with the Polish rule that lasted (with breaks) until the partitions of Poland (1772-1796). Then, for over 120 years, Kashubian land remained under the rule of Prussia. In 1920, it was taken over by Poland to which, less the Second World War years, it still belongs.

The Kashubs are a Slavonic nation most closely related to the Poles. Their language, Kashubian, belongs to the group of Slavonic languages and consequently resembles Polish, Russian and Czech. Because of the lengthy German neighborhood, Kashubian has incorporated many words derived from the Germanic languages, mainly German, but Kashubian grammar closely resembles that of Polish. The Kashubs pronounce some words in a manner similar to Poles, but use more vowels. Kashubian contains multiple dialects and a different variation of the language is spoken by the sea, in the area around Wejherowo, Kartuzy, or in the Tucholian Forests that form the southern border of Cassubia.

For many years Kashubs displayed a frail sense of their national identity, culture and language. Inadequate education, poverty, illiteracy, and German oppression afforded the latter decisive dominance in the area. The Kashubs were treated as the second-class citizens; a nation of a lower rank. At times they have endorsed similar attitudes themselves frequently showing no desire to change their dim fate. They could not imagine the world beyond their limited confines, as their rational horizons were rather narrow.

The first to recognize the distinctiveness of the Kashubian folk from their neighbors was Florian Ceynowa. He is known as the “Awakener of the Kashubs”. He has learned the Kashubian language, tried to collect its vocabulary and define its spelling. Active in the second half of the 19th century, he wrote and kept publishing short Kashubian stories along with scientific works. Unfortunately, he failed to “wake up” the Kashubs, became tired of the job and for the rest of his life worked as a physician. He died in 1881.

But soon the cultural level of Cassubia rose and the first Kashubian books appeared. The most famous of them was “O panu Czorlińsczim co do Pucka po sece jachôł” (About Mr. Czorlińsczi who went to Puck to buy the fishing nets) by Hieronim Derdowski. Its author also was a Kashubian activist who lived toward the end of the 19th century later immigrating to America where he kept publishing a popular magazine for American Poles called “Wiarus” (The Veteran). He died in 1902, aged 50.

Near the end of the century a Kashubian activist, Aleksander Majkowski, soon realized that he would not accomplish much working alone. Therefore he formed an organization dedicated to Kashubian matters which he called Towarzystwo Młodokaszubów (Society of Young Kashubs). It was active between 1912 and the start of the First World War. Its successes were rather few and far between but it has initiated collaboration of Kashubian activists. Majkowski himself continued to be active after the war later turning to literary works. Amongst others he wrote the greatest Kashubian novel “Żëcé i przigodë Remusa” (Life and Adventures of Remus) and a draft of the history of the Kashubs. He died in 1938.

Towards the end of his life Majkowski became a dedicated supporter of the young Kashubian activists who in 1929 formed Zrzeszenie Regionalne Kaszubów (Kashubian Regional Union). It incorporated Aleksander Labuda, Jan Trepczyk, Stefan Bieszk, Jan Rompski, Feliks Marszałkowski, and Rev. Franciszek Grucza. They published the “Zrzesz Kaszëbskô” (Kashubian Union) magazine and tried to enliven and alleviate the Kashubian culture and activity. Although they met with obstacles on the part of the Polish pre-war authorities and other regional circles and institutions, they managed to do a lot for the promotion of the Kashubian language and literature. Very well known are Labuda’s short stories (editorials ), Trepczyk’s songs, as well as the Kashubian translation of “The New Testament” authored by Rev. Grucza.

During the war the Kashubs lived under the German terror. Many were treated as Germans and forcibly enlisted into the Hitlerian army as cannon fodders. Thousands of inhabitants of this land were killed in public executions, in combat or Nazi concentration camps. Amongst them were Kashubian activists, e.g. Rev. Leon Heyke, bishop Konstantyn Dominik, the Mayor of Wejherowo Teodor Bolduan, or teacher Stefan Lewiński. In Cassubia throughout the war an underground organization „Gryf Pomorski” (Pomeranian Griffon) performed its anti-German actions.

After the liberation a verification of the Kashubs fighting in the Third Reich army was ordered alongside the rehabilitation of people who more or less voluntarily declared themselves as Germans during the war in this part of Poland. A feeling of mistrust to Kashubs came prevalent within the Polish authorities and lasted for many years.

At the end of 1956, a group of Kashubian intellectuals managed to set up a local organization called Zrzeszenie Kaszubskie (Kashubian Association) that later renamed itself to Zrzeszenie Kaszubsko-Pomorskie (Kashubian-Pomeranian Association). From the word go it has tried to take care of the Kashubian language and culture, document the history of the area, collect and protect the Kashubian folklore, inspire and create Kashubian literature and in many ways „wake” the Kashubs. The Association counts a few thousand members, conducts many actions and leads several institutions, while publishing numerous books devoted to Kashubian matters. Recently it launched the issuance of a three-volume publication entitled “The History of the Kashubs” whose first volume has already been released and written by Prof. Gerard Labuda, the best known of all living Kashubs in the world.

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References:

G. Labuda, Historia Kaszubów w dziejach Pomorza, Gdańsk 2006
T. Bolduan, Nowy bedeker kaszubski, Gdańsk 2006
T. Bolduan, Nie dali się złamać, Gdańsk 1996
A. K. Hirsz, Kronika życia i twórczości Aleksandra Majkowskiego, Banino 2006