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Articles --> Conference 2001

Bogusław Szmygin

University of Technology, Lublin

Prospects for preservation of the Olęder heritage in Żuławy

1. The problem of protecting the Olęder heritage in Żuławy should be analyzed from the broadest and most comprehensive perspective possible. Such an approach is justified by several issues.

First of all, the Olęder colonization in Żuławy was a long-lasting process, and thus very diverse with respect to, for instance, its causes, the area included, or settlement types. On the other hand, this phenomenon had a distinct character detectable throughout the country. Therefore, in order to carry out a complete internal analysis of the Olęder heritage and appreciate its value (at least nationally), it is necessary to examine it from a broad perspective.
Relics of the Olęder heritage should be treated as a whole also due to their very poor condition. . Even worse is the fact that our system of historic site protection is ill prepared to cope with this problem. This means that in the near future, we will have only a few remaining sites. Therefore, it is necessary to evaluate the Olęder heritage in the entire Żuławy area. Such an evaluation will constitute the basis for restoration practices, practical possibilities, and actions that will be the most appropriate from the point of view of historic monument conservation.
Contemporary historical monument studies provide another argument. The field is undergoing a radical transformation and is redefining its aims and methods. Currently, interests have shifted from the object scale to the broader scale of the cultural landscape, which we would like to preserve not only in the form of enclaves. The goal is to preserve the cultural continuum as a basis for our identity. Radical transformation of the environment is no longer considered valuable; currently, we are rather attempting to preserve as many historical and traditional elements as possible. Therefore, we protect the cultural landscape at the regional scale.

The listed arguments indicate that the problem of protection of the Olęder heritage in Żuławy is not the sum of research, technical, and restoration problems related to individual sites even if they are thoroughly described and evaluated. .
The problem of protection of the Olęder heritage should be dealt with by applying systemic solutions that would include the entire Żuławy region, the heritage, positive and negative circumstances, and most of all, the needs and potentials of the local residents.

Therefore, the following aspects should be considered:
-identification of the Olęder heritage in Żuławy,
-determination of the current conditions for establishment of a conservation system in Żuławy,
-identification of forms of protection that are currently feasible.

2. The Olęder heritage in Żuławy can be identified and protected at three levels.

First, the Olęder heritage comprises individual extant sites, that is, historic monuments in the material and traditional meaning. For example, this group includes houses, farm buildings, windmills, churches, cemeteries, and also canals, avenues lined with trees, and fields (provided they are isolated from the broader context and are treated as individual monuments).
The sites from this group can be analyzed and protected selectively and independently from the rest of the heritage. Therefore, the forms of protection can be very different.

Second, the Olęder heritage includes the cultural landscape that was formed through historical processes. The Żuławy are definitely an exceptional example of a cultural landscape in every sense of the word. Nearly all elements that create the landscape, including land forms, vegetation, and buildings, are the effects of planned human activity that was consciously carried out for centuries.
Thus, the cultural landscape of Żuławy constitutes a historic site. This type of open landscape, full of regional features and dominated by its agricultural function, and which has not changed since it was established, is of unique value. Moreover, in spite of the uniformly agricultural character, the landscape is varied, which is the result of a great variety of colonization forms[1]. The landscape protection system should preserve this diversity; therefore, it should include many areas of the region.

Third, the Olęder heritage includes non-material values, which organized the life of the community.
In Żuławy, the majority of settlers belonged to the Mennonite denomination[2]. As a result of ruthless religious persecution, which was responsible for their exodus to Poland, they lived in enclosed communities. Outside of their community, the Mennonites were not politically or religiously active. This fact is self-evident because the majority of them were farmers and craftsmen[3]. Their orthodoxy was understandable considering their situation, and required the maintenance of strong bonds within the community. In everyday life, these bonds translated into mutual support.
In Żuławy, the features of the Mennonite community were additionally emphasized by the difficult conditions of the natural environment. Maintenance of the drainage system or floodbanks required the collaboration of the entire community. This aspect was an underlying principle around which the Mennonite community was organized from the time of colonization[4]. It is not without significance that the settlers enjoyed personal freedom and self-government, which was confirmed by the laws under which they founded their settlements.
In sum, we can say that the Olęder heritage includes particular features of character and the organization of the community life. Among these features were consistency, determination, responsibility, cooperation, and solidarity. An old-fashion, protestant conviction that men find fulfillment mainly in work, that they are strictly responsible for their actions, and are part of a community are among positive values even today. And these values are especially needed in Żuławy.

It is evident from the above that the Olęder heritage possesses its own dimension and specificity at each of the mentioned levels. Therefore, the possibilities and forms of conservation are different in each case.
The protection can include only selected objects, but we need to face the whole problem. Only then, can we talk about the protection of the Olęder heritage in the full sense of the word.

3. The next step should include identification of conditions for taking actions related to the protection of the Olęder heritage in Żuławy.
There are two groups of circumstances affecting this aspect: favorable and unfavorable.

Attractiveness of the Olęder heritage in comparison to the other rural cultures in Poland is among the positive factors. This statement refers to various and contemporary aspects. The famous arcaded houses characterized by artistic originality, high quality of craftsmanship, and imposing dimensions can provide an example. These are attractive buildings suitable for certain modern functions. Furthermore, the history of the Mennonites - their persecution, customs, or travels - may become an interesting informational setting for the sites because the subject simply arouses interest. If we however treat the Olęder heritage as a landscape phenomenon, it will become evident that the landscape developed in the past can be still functional. And this fact very well justifies the protection of the cultural landscape.
The examples indicate that the Olęder heritage is characterized by features that make it usable in the present day.
Another important factor that would potentially facilitate the conservation of the Olęder relics is the proximity of large tourist centers, which are located on the Żuławy border. These tourist attractions include Gdańsk, Malbork, and the Baltic coast and are yearly visited by millions of tourists, primarily Poles and Germans, for whom these regions are of great sentimental value. Currently, tourists pass by the Żuławy region because they do not find the area very attractive. However, we must be aware that tourism is associated not only with large crowds but also with financial benefits, which could finance many enterprises related to the protection of the Olęder sites. Of course many conditions have to be met before this idea materializes.
The attitude of the local community is one of the most important factors and has a decisive impact on the condition of the Olęder sites. As a result of the Potsdam Conference, people who lived on the areas incorporated into Poland after the war were displaced. The Żuławy region was repopulated with people from various regions. They had nothing in common and this fact negatively affected Żuławy for half a century. Nowadays, the generation of the post-war settlers is being replaced by their children, who are not burdened with the memory of a different homeland. They were born in Żuławy and their homeland is here. They appreciate the region's history and its sites; as a result, the integration is in progress. The locals have established regional societies and museums and have begun to cooperate with associations of the former residents. Furthermore, publications related to the Żuławy history and sites are being published[5]. The Mennonites who visit the area, for example, participate in the cemetery clean up campaign.
Therefore, we may conclude that part of the local population became assimilated, accepted the regional heritage, and became consciously involved in its protection. This is the necessary beginning.

Unfortunately, there are a many factors that reduce the chances for an effective protection the Żuławy sites.
First of all, it must be said that the relics of the Olęder heritage in Żuławy are in very poor condition. For decades, these sites have been neglected and overexploited; no renovation works have been carried out. The buildings are desolate and dilapidating. This problem pertains not only to the majority of residential and farm buildings but also to the draining system (ditches, canals, and dams), roads, vegetation, and even cemeteries.
It is difficult to estimate the scale of the problem, but my field surveys show that the majority of the historic monuments will not survive.
This evaluation seems all the more justified that the present residents are unable to undertake any restoration works. This situation has both the material and "attitudinal" causes, which constitute the second negative factor.

The Żuławy villages are inhabited by former workers of state farms[6]. They constitute the majority of owners and users of the historic monuments. A development of a modern system of historic site protection cannot be based on these people. By modern, I mean a system based on the users' means and not on subsidies. The Żuławy residents are simply too poor. Therefore, it is often the case that the renovations completed with the financial support of conservation agencies only delay the destruction of historic buildings.
Problems associated with the current users of the Olęder relics reflect the fact that the historic continuum of the Żuławy region was interrupted.
The complete exchange of the population, mentioned in the positive context, primarily had negative consequences. The Olęder historic monuments were treated with an aversion and only as functional objects likewise the entire heritage on the Regained Territories. With a certain approximation, the situation in Żuławy can be compared to situation of the historic sites of collapsed civilizations. The relics remained, but the society that created them, that had a desire and was able to use them was gone. There were no societies for which these relics were valuable. Such situation has always negative consequences related to the protection of the historic sites, and especially to protection of a heritage that also requires preservation of certain non-material continuum. And this constitutes another important negative factor.

A more detailed analysis reveals even greater number of issues that limit the possibilities of conservation of the Olęder heritage. For example, certain sites can no longer be saved. The windmill, which is the symbol of draining systems in depressions, was replaced by mechanical pumps before the war. Out of hundreds of windmills, only several remained and they are in poor condition.
Furthermore, we must admit that it would be difficult to adapt all of the preserved Żuławy buildings to modern functions. The single-building homestead, which is the most common layout form in Żuławy, is too small for the requirements of modern farms[7]. Such a layout is undoubtedly of Dutch origin. Moreover, including a house, a barn, and a cowshed in a single building is also against our standards. As far as the arcaded houses are concerned, they are simply too big. Farmers are unable to renovate or maintain them. Their location does not favor adaptation for other purposes either. In many cases these houses are situated near busy roads, which makes them unsuitable for summer houses.
Admittedly, the Żuławy region is not a summer holiday spot. There are no bathing beaches, forests and the area is infested with mosquitoes. Furthermore, there is no infrastructure, the roads are in poor condition, and also there is no sense of security.

All mentioned factors must be taken under consideration when preparing a plan for protection of the Olęder heritage in Żuławy. A proper evaluation of negative factors is particularly important. The conservation program can be build on hopes, but not on illusions.

4. The presented issues enable us to form a several conclusions related to the protection of the Olęder sites. These conclusions will be assigned to the three defined levels according to the earlier division.

However, it impossible to preserve the entire heritage, which comprises thousands of relics, including also those unregistered. It should be emphasized that these relics will not survive in their present locations and
only isolated examples can be protected in their original surroundings. These examples include historic buildings of the highest value, which have been maintained from subsidies, private persons' means, or those that were converted into public buildings. These sites probably constitute no more than fifteen or so percent of the current resources.
Considering this situation, an establishment of an open-air museum in Żuławy in the form of a thematic park is an important form of protection. This solution is justified by conservation, didactic, tourist, and economic reasons.
The conservation reasons are obvious: it would be possible to preserve a large number of representative objects in a broad cultural context. Such a museum should include valuable buildings from a selected Olęder village[8]. It is also important that an open-air museum would facilitate the protection of the cultural landscape.
The didactic benefits of such a museum for the local residents and tourists are unquestionable. Besides, such an "appreciation" of the Olęder culture, which would result from this initiative, should attract attention and facilitate conservation of the remaining sites.
The tourist reasons also seem obvious. An interesting open-air museum or rather, a thematic park with a rich program may attract tourists, who will devote a considerable amount of time to its relics. This can be confirmed by examples of similar initiatives[9]. As mentioned before, the situation is quite favorable due to the large crowds of tourists who visit the neighboring regions.
Therefore, we should assume that the tourism will provide the financial basis for the project. The commercial character of the park should be one of the main principles when designing an open-air museum.

The conservation of the cultural landscape of Żuławy requires actions of a different character.
First of all, it is necessary to understand that the destruction of the Żuławy sites is not only a result of poverty and negligence. The situation is also an effect of a lack of popular models that would demonstrate how to take advantage of historical buildings. Such models should provide not only functional, economic, and technological arguments but also a certain ideological superstructure for these activities.
The conservation of the cultural landscape also requires an application of traditional forms and scale to new buildings. The traditional forms can and should constitute a standard[10]. For example the development of architectural models seems worthwhile.
Furthermore, the land developmental plans should include conservation programs as broadly as possible.
However, I would like to emphasize that these activities cannot be limited to small areas. In order to be effective, they should become a part of regional policies or strategies. These problems can be only examined in the scale of the entire region of Żuławy.

The non-material Olęder heritage should also be protected in the scale of the entire region. In the case of the non-material values, the first problem is their identification and putting them in a comprehensible and transferable form.

Education and popularization also play an important role. At this point schools and other relevant institutions should get involved into this process.
Certainly, the process of popularization of non-material values cannot be too abstract. It should be based on something concrete, that is, examples from the history but also from modern times. The flood that destroyed a part of Żuławy in 1982 with the attitudes of affected people, the rescuing action, and its results, can provide such an example
What is important is that the educational campaign may begin without delay. The "Program Edukacyjny (Educational Program)", whose participants are involved in conservation in this area, is also an example. This conference was organized as part of this program.

5. The presented comments that refer to forms and possibilities of preserving the Olęder heritage in Żuławy do not exhaust the topic. The discussed issues should be set in a broader context. At this point, I would like to highlight two problems.

First, we must remember that when proposing any solutions, it is senseless from the broad, systemic, and practical restoration perspective to "extract" only the Olęder heritage from the Żuławy region. Such an approach is appropriate only in research or on a micro-scale, for example, when we discus the preservation of a building.
In practice, however, the historical heritage should be treated as a whole from the perspective of the conservation policies and the local residents (their need to establish a relationship with the past). Therefore the Teutonic Knights', Polish, Dutch, and Prussian heritage should be treated jointly. A link to this region is the only criterion.

The second problem is related to the potential of conservation agencies and other institutions involved in the heritage protection to face the presented problems.
I must admit that this potential is rather slim as far as the financing and restoration of individual buildings are concerned. But this fact is obvious if we have the entire heritage of the region in mind.
It should be accepted that the scale we deal with here exceeds the limits of the field of historic monument conservation, or even exceeds the limits of the culture. After all, the conservation of the historic heritage constitutes an important part of a fundamental question regarding the development of the modern society. This is an indisputable truth, but it does not mean that it is easy to transform into effective arguments.
On that account, we can conclude that the potentials of the said institutions can be considerable. This, however, would require a transformation of the conservation idea into arguments and concrete issues and including them in policies, programs, and financial plans for development of regions or voivodeships. This postulate pertains to various fields: from housing and land development (appropriate modification of the cultural landscape) to the directions in the economic development (e.g. investments in tourism based on the historical heritage).
This is the basic condition for the effective protection of the historical heritage (also Olęders' heritage) in Żuławy.

[1] Cf., B. Lipińska, Żuławy Wi¶lane. Ochrona i kształtowanie zabytkowego krajobrazu, doctoral thesis. Politechnika Krakowska, Kraków 1986, vol. I
[2] Cf. e.g.: H. Penner, Die ost- und westpreussischen Mennoniten, Karlsruhe 1978
[3] Cf., J. Tazbir, Polsko- niderlandzkie kontakty wyznaniowe w XVII w., [in:] Niderlandyzm w sztuce polskiej. Materials from the SHS session, Toruń, Dec. 1992, Warszawa 1995, p 37-49
[4] Document "Die gemeine Landtafel" dates from 1407 and it describes the duties of Żuławy residents in the case of a flood.
[5] Among examples of the publications are: Żuławy. Czas przełomu, Pub. by Opitz, Nowy Dwór Gdański 1998, or; Nowy Dwór Gdański, Pub. by "Żuławy Wi¶lane", Nowy Dwór Gdański 2001
[6] Sociological studies demonstrate that processes of village community disintegration are particularly strong in this social group. Cf. Turowski. Socjologia wsi i rolnictwa, Lublin 1995, p.167-181
[7] The Dutch origins of the single-building homestead has been confirmed, however, the origin of the arcaded house is still being discussed, M. Komecki, Niderlandyzm a architektura drewniana w Polsce. in:] Niderlandyzm w sztuce polskiej. op. cit. p. 303-325
[8] A publication by B. Lipińska can be a point of departure. The author evaluated and divided Żuławy into zones using a Prof. J. Bogdanowski (Cracow University of Technology) method. - B. Lipińska, Żulawy Wi¶lae ..., op. cit.
[9] Cf. e.g.: A. Rottermund. Muzea i turystyka, [in:] Spotkania w willi Struvego. Wykłady o dziedzictwie kultury. Warszawa 2001, p.127-143
[10] This is a realistic demand, which is confirmed by examples. In the Alps, all types of modern buildings, such as: houses, hotel, apartment blocks, stores, offices, small architectural elements are designed based on traditional forms.

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