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Apr 20, 2024

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A Majestic Mazurka

The Polish National Anthem — you’ve sung it hundreds of times. It’s a beautiful patriotic song with an intense feeling that arouses our love for our Fatherland. Did you know that this melody really has a marching rhythm to it that began being sung way back in 1797 — as an unofficial national anthem. It’s author was Josef Wybicki, himself a fighting comrade, who was so moved as to put the famed ‘March, March Dabrowski’ down on paper.

The song has been referred to as the ‘Dabrowski Mazurka’ and Wybicki both wrote the text of the Mazurka and composed the music for it. I think you’ll enjoy the story as to how it all began . . .

Josef Wybicki was born in 1747 in Pomerania, Poland. He first saw action in 1768 in the ranks of the Bor Confederates. Later he became a close collaborator of Andrzej Zamoyski, Lord High Chancellor, and took over the job of codifying the laws of the realm. He was elected to the Seym and took part in the Four Year Diet supporting the reform party and the Third of May Constitution. During the 1794 Insurrection, headed by Tadeusz Kosciuszko, Wybicki was a member of the Provisional Council and a representative of the insurgent government with General Dabrowski’s division.

Outlawed by the Russians who still occupied the lands after the partitions of Poland, Wybicki emigrated to France. In Paris, he made contact with the Polish Agency there and suggested to its leaders the forming of Polish Legions in Italy under the experienced command of General Henryk Dabrowski.

In the Summer of 1797, Wybicki was dispatched to Italy at the headquarters of the Polish Legion in the town of Reggio. On his arrival, he was deeply moved by the sight of the national colors and Polish uniforms, the silver eagles on the banners of the Polish troops — who were then preparing for the march back from the land of Italy to Poland.

It was under the impact of the emotions in the first half of July that he wrote the ‘Song of the Polish Legions in Italy’ — which was first sung by Wybicki at a reception for senior officers held in General Dabrowski’s headquarters. The song was played for the first time by the Polish Legions Military Band on July 16th in a commemorative parade held in a place called Piazza Maggiore, a square in Reggio, Italy.

As you well know, the ‘Dabrowski Mazurka’ won immediate popularity. It reflected the mood of the time and promised hope for better times. It also had the uncanny knack of arousing sympathy in others. When public historical or fund raising events were held in England for the Polish emigres or in pro-Polish Germany, banners bearing the inscription “Poland Is Not Yet Lost” hung everywhere.

When Poland did regain its independence, the ‘Dabrowski Mazurka’ was generally accepted as the national anthem, but it did not acquire the official status of national anthem until 1927 when it was given its present binding version.

It is interesting to note that during World War II, this ‘Dabrowski Mazurka’ accompanied Polish soldiers to every battlefield where they fought for their country’s freedom.

It is also very important for us to realize that there was such a cry of defiance amongst all Polish emigrants resulting from the partitions that the forming of the Polish Legion in the service of France together with the song’ victorious composition was all they could hang on to at the time.

Those Poles who enrolled in the Legions hoped that marching with Napoleon against Austria they would soon pass from Italy into Poland and would thus be fighting for their own country.

There is a very sad note here because there was a peace treaty signed in Italy in 1801, and, at that point, there seemed to be no reason for the existence of the legions. In 1802, however, still under French command, a detachment of Polish soldiers was sent to San Domingo and they were compelled to fight against negroes, and they perished en masse.

Eventually, in 1805 and 1807, Napoleons crushing victories broke the forces of the three powers — Russia, Prussia and Austria — who partitioned Poland. So there was some justification and satisfaction along the way.

Today, the ‘Dabrowski Mazurka’ still thrives in everyone’s heart and mind both here and abroad. Writer Juluisz Willaume quoted the following about it . . . “It is an anthem free of national chauvinism, free of accents of conquest, an anthem which calls for sacrifice and dedication, courage and enthusiasm in the country’ service.”

And, so, in 1976 the Polish government, in recognition of these qualities, inscribed the ‘Dabrowski Mazurka’ into the Polish Constitution. It reads: “The emblem, colours and national anthem of the Polish Peoples Republic shall be surrounded with special reverence and protection.”

MAY WE SING IT FOREVER!!

. . . SEE YOU SOON,

GOD BE WILLING . . .

By Edward Wilczynski