Tag Archives: Poland

Book Review: The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly

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In the Church of Our Lady Mary in Krakow, Poland, there is a special tradition. Every hour of every day, on the hour, one of the firemen of Krakow goes to the tower in the church and plays a special hymn on the trumpet. This hymn is called the Heynal, the Hymn to Our Lady. You can hear it in this video here:

If you listen carefully, you will notice that the hymn ends abruptly. It actually ends on a broken note. Why?

In thirteenth century Poland, the Tartars were invading. They were almost at the gates of the city of Krakow when they heard a song. It was a boy in the brick cathedral of the Church of Our Lady Mary, which at that time was outside the walls of the city. All the other buildings around the church had been burned by the invading Tartars. Only the church remained standing.

The boy was blowing the Heynal on his trumpet, as he had sworn to do in times of emergency. He knew doing this would get the Tartars attention and let them spot him. But it was his duty to play the Heynal on the hour, and the time had come for him to play. So he played.

And a Tartar took aim and fired at him, killing him with the arrow. This left the broken note of the Heynal, as the boy died before he could finish the tune. All who play the hymn today end the tune on the broken note, in memory of the boy who died fulfilling his duty to country, God, and church. Even during the years when the Communists had control of Poland, the Heynal would be played from the tower of the Church of Our Lady Mary.

In the twentieth century, a student and teacher named Eric P. Kelly heard the Heynal being played from the tower of the Church of Our Lady Mary in Krakow. The melody enchanted him almost as much as Poland did. And it inspired him to write The Trumpeter of Krakow.

In later centuries, after the Tartars were driven out of Poland, the Heynal was played not only on the hour, but to alert the city to the danger of fire. The watchman who would play the Heynal on the hour during the day or night (they rotated shifts, of course), would ring the bell and play the hymn to warn the city of invasion and other such dangers. But for the most part, during the fifteenth century, it was to warn against fires.

Krakow had a lot of wooden buildings at the time. One little set of sparks in the right place at the right time and – whoosh! There goes a third of the city up in smoke.

Pan (Mr.) Andrew Charnetski, his wife, and his son Joseph are headed into Krakow one day in July of 1461. Joseph is sitting on the back of the cart with the last possession of his family besides the cart itself, the horses, and the clothes on their backs – a pumpkin. The Charnetskis lived in the Ukraine until their house and property were burned to the ground by raiders.

Now they are headed to Krakow, on a market day. The road to the city is full of farmers headed to market with their goods, as well as with those coming to buy those goods. The Charnetskis are the only refugees of any import in this story.

As Joseph sits on the back of the cart, watching the world go by, he suddenly sees a man riding toward them. Getting his father’s attention, Joseph dives at once to catch hold of the animal’s reins when the stranger commands him to mind the horse. Young though he is – Joseph is fifteen – the youth senses something amiss with the stranger. There is something dangerous, something evil, in his expression.

The man introduces himself to Pan Andrew and talks to him rapidly in a low voice. Whatever he says, Pan Andrew does not like it. In fact, though no one can tell from his expression, the stranger’s words frighten him. He tells the man to be off, but the stranger is stubborn. He then asks how much Pan Andrew will take for the pumpkin.

Pan Andrew tells him it is not for sale, despite the fact that the man offers him far more than any pumpkin ought to be worth. When Pan Andrew continues to refuse to sell the pumpkin, the stranger draws his sword –

But Pan Andrew is better. He knocks the man off of the cart and to the ground. Thinking quickly, Joseph turns the man’s horse and slaps its rump, sending it running. He jumps aboard the cart and his father takes off, leaving the stranger cursing and shouting in the mud beside the road.

The family makes it to the city safely. On their way in Joseph hears the Heynal as it is played from the tower of the Church of Our Lady Mary. Pan Andrew promises to tell him the story of the broken hymn later on. What poor Pan Andrew does not yet know is that all is not well in Krakow. Pan Andrew goes to see his relatives but finds his cousin has been killed in a feud between the tradesmen and the nobles. This leaves the Charnetskis with no place to stay, no money and, worst of all, no protection.

If you want to know what else happens in the story, readers, you shall have to chase down a copy of The Trumpeter of Krakow yourselves. I have whet your appetite, I hope, for this charming story. Someone I know read and went into raptures over the book a long time ago. I waited a long time to read the novel, unfortunately. Perhaps, if I had read it earlier, I would have enjoyed it more than I did.

Poland is left in the dust these days. For twenty years it did not even exist; it was divided between Germany, Russia, and Austria. By far Austria treated the Poles better than the Germans or the Russians. Poland has suffered much throughout her long history.

However, as the Japanese say, “Fall seven times, stand up eight!” Poland has suffered, but she has always stood back up at some point. It is time she was recognized for this strength. This post and, perhaps, others will help to put her back in the world consciousness, where she belongs.

God go with you, readers!

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Book Review: Escape from Warsaw (formerly The Silver Sword) by Ian Serraillier

Warsaw, Poland. 1942. Germany has invaded, and for the Balicki family, this is very bad news. The family consists of Joseph, his wife, and his three children: Ruth, Edek, and Bronia. Joseph is taken to a Nazi prison camp called Zakyna not long after the occupation begins. He escapes back to Warsaw about a year later, only to find his home rubble, his wife taken to Germany by Nazi storm troopers, and his children assumed dead.

With nowhere else to go, Joseph decides to head to Switzerland. He and his wife had decided that this was where they would meet if they were separated, and the children know to head there as soon as they can. With the help of an orphan boy he meets prowling the ruins of his house, Joseph escapes Poland. But not before telling the boy, Jan, to keep an eye out for his three children. He also entrusts a silver letter opener he once gave to his wife, shaped like a sword, to the street urchin who found it in the rubble.

For the rest of the war Ruth, Edek, and Bronia manage to scrape a living from the ruins of Warsaw. Things become harder for the girls when Edek is caught by the Nazis and shipped to Germany to labor on their farms. It is not long after this that they meet Jan, who joins up with the two Balicki girls.

To keep herself busy, Ruth starts a makeshift school for the other Polish orphans living amid the rubble. When the war ends, Ruth begins searching for her parents and younger brother. She seeks help from the local Russian outpost and, when one of the soldiers comes to deliver supplies for her school, he tangles with Jan. In the process, Jan’s treasure box, which he always has with him, is smashed.

Out falls the silver sword, sending Ruth into a fit of tears since she recognizes the letter opener her father gave to her mother. Jan reveals that, with the intervening years, he had forgotten his promise to their father. But, now that he remembers, he is willing to help the two Balicki girls find their parents.

Thus begins the trek of the three children as they head to Switzerland in search of Mr. and Mrs. Balicki. They pick up Edek, who has contracted tuberculosis and is in rough shape, along the way. The four endure many deprivations and hardships, but also manage to make a great many friends on their journey. Ruth manages the four of them, protects and leads them, and is the only one who can handle the kleptomaniac Jan.

Throughout their adventures, friend and foe alike are impressed with the Balicki children’s determination to find their parents. This fidelity to a mother and father who might well be dead inspires many to help them, even at great risk to themselves.

Escape from Warsaw is a good story, and I quite enjoyed reading it. It is easy to read. If you know someone who is a World War II buff, then this book would not be a bad recommendation for them, whether they are adults or children.

It is important to note that Escape from Warsaw puts Poland in the spotlight, highlighting much of what it and Eastern Europe endured during World War II and its aftermath. While the details of Communist treatment of the Polish are not dwelt on in this story, it should be noted that the Balicki children left Poland before the U.S.S.R. had cemented its control over the country. Given their determination to reach Switzerland, I do not blame any of the characters for deciding to stay in that country rather than returning to a Poland under Soviet rule.

Until next time,

The Mithril Guardian