150-year-old museum saved after threatened with expulsion from 13th century castle
The oldest Polish museum abroad has been saved from closure after facing expulsion from a 13th century castle.
The 150-year-old Polish Museum based in Rapperswil castle overlooking lake Zurich in Switzerland, had come under threat following petitions from locals who wanted to reclaim the castle for ‘other purposes’.
Founded in 1870, the museum was established by Count Władysław Plater, an émigré and insurrectionist of the November Uprising.
Set up with the aim of being “a refuge for Poland's historic memorabilia dishonoured and plundered in the [Polish] homeland", the museum was to also promote Polish interests at a time when the country was divided between three empires and had ceased to exist on the map of Europe.
The museum quickly rose to the ranks of a Polish National Museum thanks to donations from around the world, which enlarged its collections and made it a centre of the Polish diaspora, focusing on testimonies of Polish culture and coordinating political efforts towards regaining Polish independence.
From the beginning of its existence a library was also established at the museum, which at the turn of the 20th century, was the largest Polish library outside Poland.
At the end of the 19th century, two of Poland’s most important novelists Bolesław Prus and Stefan Żeromski spent time working at the library and its archives, while celebrated poet and novelist Maria Konopnicka also visited.
In 1927, nine years after Poland regained independence and according to the request of Count Plater, the collections from the museum were transported by railroad to Poland.
This included 3,000 works of art, 2,000 items of historical memorabilia, 20,000 engravings, 9,000 coins and medals, 92,000 books and 27,000 manuscripts.
During World War Two, 95 percent was destroyed.
In 1952, the museum started to operate in a new form, which continues to today, and began documenting the history of Polish-Swiss relations and the broader history of the Polish fight for independence up to 1989.
However, lack of local support for the museum remaining at the castle culminated in local authorities refusing to extend its lease, which expired on the 30th June 2022.
Deciding to help, the Polish government stepped in and bought the nearby Schwanen hotel complex, located only 150 metres from the castle.
The site of the ceremonial reading and signing of the Polish Museum’s founding act in 1870, the hotel was a popular meeting place for Polish emigres and of the Museum’s early management.
During a visit to Switzerland on Friday, Poland’s minister for culture Piotr Gliński said that the hotel would now be the museum’s new HQ.
Gliński said: “It is one of the oldest Polish institutions in Europe…The Polish Museum will find its second home here…Thank you very much to our Swiss partners who for many years, took care of Polish heritage.
“Thank you also to the former owner of the Schwanen, for their good cooperation on this transaction.”