Right from the start I should note that this introduction does not purport to have a scientific or cognitive approach. It is rather a form of hermeneutical excursion in an attempt to understand the origin and formulation of the idea and finally its visual effect. The entire project in its multiple aspects could be compared to the expedition of Christopher Columbus. This iconic explorer, prior to his journey, had had to feel the very idea of such peregrination. The next step which should be undertaken in this situation, as it occurs to me, is planning and mapping the route based on available and tangible hints (maps, conditions, information, legends, tales and letters). Then there is only a way, a route to … Well, to exactly what? Is our way the right way? Perhaps these questions should never be asked because what matters most in this case is the experience of fascinating peregrination and the quest for the Unknown with no promise to reach the final destination. Such was our exploratory and pioneering adventure to realize the idea and the “Reunion” project.
It is no secret that reconstructing local history is fairly problematic to researchers, often being the object of inquiry for men of passion and patience, browsers and those who can listen or – more appropriately – listen out for nearly audible sounds of history. One of the reasons (ideas) underlying this exhibition was a firm belief in the importance of this project and the awareness that those who are the human carries of local history are passing away irrecoverably depriving us of their invaluable stories (as exemplified by Emilia Wielgórecka who entertained herself in the palace when it was home to the Donnersmarck family). This is how the historic excursion into the unknown has started. The surroundings were truly virgin and rather reluctantly explored by others since the very idea of exploration stemmed from the desire to depict the life of common people working for the Donnersmarck family from Naklo in the palace and the estate. The personnel of the Silesian Culture Center not only came up with this idea but only dared to reconstruct the documents, photographic artefacts, handwritten memories, stories and accounts heard at meetings with the families of those who eye-witnessed the life in the Naklo palace. What is more, they devoted a great deal of effort to develop one common narrative and tell a possibly coherent story of the Reunion, which — by including the people, their families, ancestors and personal stories as the foundations of this project — is a story of humanity.
The research started, as a natural order of things, from official announcement of ongoing search for documents, photographs and other objects that could contribute to the
launch of the exhibition. As it was expected, the response was scare. Then, the originators and project managers, without being deterred, set out on a journey literally into the unknown. They used as their compass the idea, their intuition, perseverance and belief in success. They held their first meetings and interviews. They already knew that the subject matter was extremely fragile since it hovered above the very thin border of personal confessions and stories and the glimpses of history with obscured factual objectivity. After all, we should remember that some of our depositaries of local history still harbor clear memories of the Second World War and the communism era hindering the open and honest talk. The expedition into the undiscovered local history was becoming very risky, but as the saying goes, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained”.
Today, when I look back at the conversations I had with the staff of the Silesian Culture Center managing the project, I still vividly see their excitement and fear, fascination and concerns, substantive discussions and never-ending questions. They were at the front line of this research avant garde (from French „advance guard”) who were paving a virgin path. After all, we can either feel sorry for the avant garde since they are in the firing line, or feel jealous as they experience something nobody has ever experienced — total immersion in vivid and personal stories. As the time passed by more and more respondents appeared, although “appeared” is not a fortunate expression. It was rather a constant effort and search for further interlocutors. This way we entered the next phase of the project. The previous phase, extremely strenuous and demanding excellent diplomacy skills and genuine empathy in interactions with the children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren telling the family stories, was a prelude to what is to happen right now. The next phase, not to mention the laborious writing down of the recorded stories, consisted in gathering and selecting the resources that would form a meaningful and relatively uniform monolith. The aim was to preserve the spirit of the project (it was after all the reunion of ordinary people working in the Naklo palace before the havoc wrought by the Second World War) and to encompass all the stories with due respect. Did we manage to do so? Just as in the case of any work introduced to the society, it is the recipients who have the right to evaluate it first. However, I would like to ensure that the discussions, arguments, counterarguments seemed to be never-ending. Thus, despite great emotions, it was necessary to gain some perspective just as the editor-in-chief of London Daily. Consequently, due to space constrains some resources could not be shown on the exhibition. Also, the
exhibition does not do justice to certain nuances that emerged from individual stories (and photographs). One could clearly feel that the inheritors of the verbal heritage were proud of their ancestors, their relations with the palace and its widely understood culture. The impact of the court apparently has made difference to the lives of those families (they often talked about work ethos and the felt presence of art). Despite often difficult political relations resulting largely from the history of Silesia and its border location, the accounts of approximately 60 persons created a positive image of the Naklo owners.
It is high time for résumé. Following the masters of rhetoric, I should conclude this introduction with one sentence. Let’s try then: By delving into the stories of ordinary people working directly for the Donnersmarck family and in their surroundings we strived to reconstruct the unknown and often overlooked and undervalued local history. Mistaken is the one who thinks that this peculiar excursion into the undocumented oral history only scarcely supported by photographs has come to end. The truth, as in the hermeneutic circle, is that the „Reunion” presents the beginning to further inquiry, discussions, meetings, emotional memories where it all started — in the Silesian Culture Center.
I express my sincerest recognition to those who originated and implemented this idea:
Barbara Bereska – for the (invaluable) idea, its implementation and project management in the initial phase,
Renata Głuszek – for her belief in the idea and its implementation and for her arduous work and critical remarks,
Magdalena Zaton – for image processing, scenic design and the patient of a saint,
Akradiusz Kuzio-Podrucki, PhD – for „editorial” support and invaluable substantive discipline,
Friends Society of Naklo – for co-organizing the project, contacts, resources and promotion,
All interlocutors – for their presence, belief in success, understanding and openness.