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
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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