House and home: Piłsudski’s old manor opens as museum
“Józef Piłsudski is one of the greatest Poles in history,” said President Andrzej Duda on Friday, on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the Warsaw Battle, during the opening ceremony of the Józef Piłsudski Museum in Sulejówek. “He played the biggest role in the victory in the war with the Bolsheviks in 1920.”
The opening of the museum dedicated to Piłsudski is part of the celebrations currently taking place throughout Poland to mark the hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Warsaw.
The battle called ‘The Miracle of the Vistula River’, took place from August 13 to 25, 1920 during the Polish-Bolshevik war. It saved the independence of Poland and scuppered Lenin’s plans to spread communism to Western Europe.
The ceremony was attended by President Andrzej Duda and his wife Agata Kornhauser-Duda, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Culture and National Heritage Piotr Gliński as well as Minister of Foreign Affairs Jacek Czaputowicz.
The organisers of the museum intend it to be a place where future generations of Poles can learn about the man known in Poland as the father of independence.
Andrzej Duda said that Marshal Józef Piłsudski was one of the most significant figures in Polish history of the 20th century. The president underlined that Piłsudski’s role in the process of regaining independence was invaluable, adding that it was his actions that contributed to the final shaping and strengthening of the borders of the Second Republic.
He described Piłsudski himself as the greatest Pole of the 20th century, next to Pope John Paul II. He recalled that it was Piłsudski who created the legions, the Polish army, and it was he who won the war with the Bolsheviks in 1920.
“His greatest victory was the fact that after 123 years Poland returned to the map, which was the unfulfilled dream of the November insurgents, the January insurgents and several generations that tried to regain independence and failed,” said President Andrzej Duda.
The museum is located in the sleepy town of Sulejówek on Warsaw’s eastern border, on the site where Piłsudski’s future wife Aleksandra Szczerbińska bought a piece of land in 1921.
Soldiers loyal to the Marshal raised funds to build a manor house for the couple who wed later that year. Polish architect Kazimierz Skórewicz designed the house, which was given the name Milusin. Skórewicz would go on to design the Polish Sejm building in Warsaw.
The Piłsudski family lived there from 1923 to 1926 after the Marshal withdrew from public life. This period was the first time in thirty-five years of conspiracy, struggle and political activism that he was able to stay in one place for so long.
Piłsudski lived there with his wife and two daughters Wanda and Jadwiga. Jadwiga recalled in her memoir that her father loved to walk along the paths in the garden, sit on a bench or look from the terrace at the gardens.
They stopped living in Sulejówek when Piłsudski returned to national politics to become prime minister in 1926 after the May revolt, though they would return there frequently for weekends and holidays.
After Piłsudski died in 1935, Milusin was turned into a museum. However, this did not last long as the German occupation saw the site turn into an German intelligence training centre operated by Abwehr.
In 1947, the building was nationalised. There was a kindergarten in the manor house until the early 2000s. The wooden summer house, which during the times of the Marshal was where soldiers accompanying him would live, was turned into communal accommodation.
In the early 1990s, Piłsudski’s daughters established the Józef Piłsudski Family Foundation, which slowly started to recover the historic buildings.
In November 2008, the Minister of Culture and National Heritage and the Józef Piłsudski Family Foundation jointly established the Józef Piłsudski Museum in Sulejówek.
The new museum buildings, work on which started in 2015, are made up of three square modernist blocks. The two above-ground structures are arranged diagonally to each other, while the third block sits 30 metres below ground.
The underground part of the building contains the permanent exhibition. Visitors access it by winding their way down a long passage, which is supposed to put visitors in the right mood to help them better focus on the contents.
The permanent exhibition is divided into six galleries that cover the stages of Piłsudski’s life and work towards creating an independent Poland.
Visitors can learn about Piłsudski’s early life in Żułowo in today’s Lithuania, his time in exile in Siberia, the long years he spent as a political activist and his later role as commander-in-chief and head of state.
The exhibition features more than a thousand original objects, including the shirt Piłsudski was baptised in.
One of the highlights of the exhibition is the Marshal’s Mace, which is the only mace that exists of a victorious Polish commander since Jan III Sobieski. At the beginning of World War Two it was transported to Bucharest with other personal belongings.
The items were then transported to London and handed over to Aleksandra Piłsudska. After the war, they were deposited at the Józef Piłsudski Institute in London. They were returned to Poland in 2004.
One of the reasons to put the main exhibition underground is to maintain the natural, wooded surroundings of the original manor house, where visitors can see a reconstruction of the historical interiors.
Although the museum opened officially yesterday, tickets will only be available for regular visitors from November 11 this year.
Information about bookings will be published on the museum website muzeumpilsudski.pl.