More Polish memories of the world
Michal Kubicki reports
February 12, 2006
At a meeting in Warsaw this week, historians
from Poland and several other European countries
have recommended two more items in Poland to be included
on the United Nation's Memory of the World list.
Launched 14 years ago, the UN's Memory of
the World programme plays an important role in the
documentation and preservation of mankind's historical
and cultural heritage. The Memory of the World list
contains the world's most important archival collections
of manuscripts and documents.
One of them is the 11th-century Codex of Supraśl. Written
in a monastery near Preslav, the capital of former
Bulgar state, in the Old Church Slavic language, it
has had a very turbulent history. In the early 19th
century it was found in a monastery in Supraśl, now
north-eastern Poland, and hence its name.
The initiative to include the Codex of Suprasl in the
UNESCO list is a joint project involving Poland, Russia
and Slovenia. This is because in addition to the National
Library in Warsaw, where the greatest section of the
codex - 151 pages - is kept, the other parts are to
be found in the University Library in Lubljana in Slovenia
- 118 pages, and in the Russian National Library of
St Petersburg, 18 pages. According to Ekaterina Krushelnitzkaya,
the Codex of Suprasl is a priceless historical relic.
It is known to scholars all over the world and has
been the subject of numerous research studies over
the past two centuries. I hope that once it is included
in the UNESCO list, it will be possible to protect
it in a more effective way and to make it more widely
available to researchers.
The meeting devoted to the Memory of the World programme,
held at the Polish State Archives in Warsaw, was also
attended by Michael Glovan from the Slovenian National
The second largest section of this wonderful codex
has been kept in Lubljana since 1849. It was a part
of the legacy of the famous Slovenian scholar Jerney
Kopitar which was bought by substantial amount of money
by the local government.
The codex from Supraśl is of great value for the studies
of the proto-Slavic language. The other application
concerns the records of the National Commission of
Education. Founded in 1773 on the initiative of Poland's
last king, Stanislaw August Poniatowski, it was Europe's
first secular institution, a ministry in fact, responsible
for national education. The records include hand-written
manuscripts as well as printed texts.
I asked the Director of Polish State Archives Daria
Nałęcz if it is only a symbolic gesture to have a collection
of documents included in the UNESCO list.
All these questions concerning prestige and competition
between countries are always important but in my opinion
the most important is to organize your own public opinion
around those objects, to build up historical awareness
and also the awareness of the authorities, because
we have to take care of all those objects.
Documents are currently being prepared for another
Polish application. It will concern the legacy of Janusz
Korczak, the famous Jewish physician, writer and educator
who perished with a group of children under his care
in the Nazi extermination camp of Treblinka.
As Daria Nałęcz told me, this will be a joint Polish-Israeli
This heritage is divided between our two countries
and so we'd like to introduce Korczak's educational
ideas, his concepts on how to treat children, what
is their role in society, what to do with the people
who are left aside. These ideas are very important
to contemporary societies.
The Memory of the World list currently has 120 objects
from 45 countries, ranging from the manuscript of Beethoven's
Ninth Symphony to the archives of the Nazi concentration
camp of Auschwitz. Poland is represented by five items,
including Copernicus's ground-breaking study, the archives
of the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto, Chopin's musical manuscripts
and documents of the Solidarity Union dating from 1980