Earthly Matters: Some Talk, Some Silence

By Adam Lyduch

     Soil collection in Poland reverberated with dramatic overtones because Poland is a dramatic country with a dramatic history. I was the go between for Gary Simpson and Kazimierz Kowal, a world traveler and resident of Krakow, who would be collecting the chosen soil. I immediately understood the importance of the Common Ground 191 project. An obvious problem any collector of soil for Gary’s project would face is to choose the place or places that will be represented. Simply put, a country is a rather vast space. Not only referring to the land itself but the history as well. Poland is no exception. Since only one pound of soil will be used for the project, quality mattered. It was decided after Kazimierz and I talked with Gary that two sites would be represented, one “upbeat” and one “downbeat“.

     Thinking about how Krakow has been closely related to the heart of Poland for more than 1000 years, Kazimierz returned to his hometown, ready to take care of these “earthly matters”. In 1976 UNESCO listed Krakow as one of the World Cultural Heritage sites. The origins of this Polish state are rooted in Krakow, as exhibited by the multitude of historic monuments, buildings, churches, squares, remarkable works of art and the impressive mounds of the legendary rulers. All seemed legitimate contenders for the soil collection. After careful consideration, Kazimierz chose Kosciuszko Mound for the “upbeat” soil collection site.

     Kosciuszko was both a Polish and U.S. hero, during the Revolutionary War, fighting with George Washington and later returning to Poland. When the Polish Army was reorganized, he was appointed Major General and fought under Prince Poniatowski against Russia. Later he headed the Polish insurrection in 1794, was wounded and captured by the Russians at battle of Maciejowice. After retirement, he revisited the U.S. in 1797 where he was received with great honor and distinction. U.S. Congress allotted him a grant of land and gave him an addition to his pension. He retired in Switzerland, where he later died from a fall off his horse. His remains, by direction of Emperor Alexander, were taken to Krakow, where they were interred with solemn pomp in the cathedral near the tombs of Poniatowski and Sobieski, in a mound 150 feet high, made of soil taken from every battle field in Poland. This was proud soil; it was the “upbeat” soil.

     Oswiecim was the evident choice. If you do not recognize the Polish name then perhaps Auschwitz the German name is more familiar. You will never find another place like this on Earth or anywhere. Auschwitz-Birkenau was designated by Himmler as the “final solution” of the Jewish question in Europe. More than a million people perished here in the largest of the Nazi concentration camps. It too was listed in 1979 as one of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage sites. I do not feel confident in writing about this place or the idea behind it. I visited it once 20 years ago and I will not attempt to verbalize my feelings about it. This was humble soil; it was the “downbeat” soil.

     The soil from all of the battlefields of Poland and the site where over a millions Jewish people perished was representative of this dramatic country and it’s history. Some subjects we can talk about and some are unmentionable. Common Ground 191 will be a silent testimony to the events of Poland and our planet.









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