More Polish memories of the world

Michal Kubicki reports

Radio Polonia

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 Library.
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 initiative.
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