The Polish Poppy who became an English Rose: Poland

(For part 1 of this multipart series click here)

Rzeczpospolita Polska

To understand Poland is to understand her people – complex, diverse and resilient.

In the late 1700s, without any natural geographic borders to protect her, Rzeczpospolita Polska (the Republic of Poland) was carved into three by Russia, Prussia and Austrian forces, and disappeared as a free nation for over a century.  But the (Second) Republic of Poland was recreated after World War I with the treaty of Versailles setting the Western border. Unfortunately, Russia in the midst of its own revolution was not a participant at Versailles, leaving the eastern borders in dispute.  It would take a Polish-Bolshevik war and another treaty, this one signed on the 18th March 1921 at Riga to restore to Poland the Kresy Wschodnie, the eastern borderlands to almost their pre-1772  reach.1


Franciszek (Franek) Borkowski was born 6 March 1898 in Radziwie, a section of the city of Płock to Kajetan Borkowski and Małgorzata Paskuda, coal merchants.2 Not of age at the start of  World War I, he did not serve during this conflict. He would, however, serve his country with distinction during the Polish-Bolshevik War under Józef Piłsudski’s command. Consequently, in 1923 Corporal Borkowski was awarded a parcel of land in the Voivodeship of Białystok, plot number ten in the Osada (military settlement) of Jatwiesk.3

Płock, on the Vistula River, was some two hundred miles to the west in central Poland from Jatwiesk. However, Franek took to the frontier landscape and farming with ease.4 So well in fact, that by November 1924, he was able to marry his friend Paweł Salamończyk’s youngest sister Zofia.5


A decorated sergeant, Paweł had also been awarded a homestead in Jatwiesk for his service.6 Coming east from Miastków Koscielny, near Garwolin, Zofia with their parents, Leonard and Józefa had come to help her brother establish his farm in 1921. The Salamończyk’s were farmers and they understood the collective effort necessary to turn virgin soil into a prosperous farm. Plot number thirteen was a sizeable property reflective of Paweł’s rank and education. In 1913, at the age of sixteen, he had removed to Warsaw where he trained in the day as a machine turner and furthered his education in the evening. The World War making him redundant, Paweł had returned to Miastków Koscielny, initially finding employment as a farm labourer.7

Painting by Sabinka Salamonczyk. Dated 1988 “Jatwiesk”

Notably, Franek was not Zofia’s first suitor. Promised twice before in arranged marriages, Zofia knew what she wanted, or more importantly needed, in a spouse in the Kresy. For this reason,  the first arrangement with Witold Kuczewski fell quickly apart after the initial reading of banns. It was followed by a second broken engagement when groom-to-be Michał Głowiński failed to impress her with his farming management. Józefa had encouraged her daughter “to go where you will eat bread!”


In a word, the union of Franek and Zofia was blessed. Quickly the Borkowski family grew in size with the subsequent births of five children: Edek Józef (1925), Krystyna (1927), Jrena (1928), Wiktoria (1930) and Stanisław (1932). Their 75-acre farm prospered allowing the family to hire labourers and increase the yield.((Borkowska, “My Involuntary Wanderings, p 16.))

Zofia and Paweł’s older sister Maria had married Franciszek Szejko in 1919 in Miastków Kościelny.8 Desiring to share in the apparent success of the Borkowski and Salamończyks, the Szejko family purchased a small civilian holding in the nearby settlement of Rożki.((Wies Wojciechowski to Juli Anderson, message communicated via Facebook Messanger 17 August 2017 at 11:27 am, Personal Correspondence Folder, Salamońcyck Family Research Files; privately held by Juli Anderson, Wilmington, NC, 2017.)) Unfortunately, Franciszek Szejko found little success in this frontier landscape. Therefore he was forced to sell his farm, moving his family of nine children into the more prosperous Salamończyk home. His oldest daughter Stasia would find employment with the Borkowski family serving as a nanny to the children before returning west to Warsaw  for more opportunities.9

Spring Promises

Spring came early in 1927 to the province of Białystok ushering in the promises of new beginnings. For osadniks (settlers) Franciszek and Zofia Borkowski such beauty bloomed in the birth of their eldest daughter Krysia on the 12th March, at Jatwiesk.10 Unfortunately, she was a delicate child who cried endlessly for her busy pioneer mother’s attention. So much so, an eight-year-old cow-herd named Janek was required to stand in as maternal arms to rock and soothe her.((Borkowska, “My Involuntary Wanderings,” p. 16.)) Life in the Kresy required dedication leaving little time for coddling.

Polish by birth, Catholic by faith

polish communion
Krystyna’s communion. Swislocz, Poland

As was tradition, Krysia was baptised shortly after birth into the Roman Catholic Church, the nearest one being in Swisłocz.11  Karol Borkowski, her paternal uncle, visiting from Płock, honoured as the godfather for his niece.12 Approximately seven years later Krysia would celebrate her first communion in this same church. Faith would be an integral part of life in the Kresy for ethnic Poles, and it would be with great fondness that Krysia would recount the Sunday sleigh rides as the family rode into Swisłocz for services at the church. Sadly, any record of her baptism and communion no longer exist, the church having burned to the ground sometime during World War II.13

Krysia would always remember her life in Jatwiesk with fondness. Certainly, her view was one of a child, filled with talk of school games, visits from loving grandparents and admiration for her family farm that to her was”beautiful and full of animals.” ((Krystyna (Borkowska) Kałwa, interview, February 2007)

Polish Maki

polish poppy
Polish Poppy blooms in Argyll, Scotland.

By the time I met Krysia in 1989, over fifty years had passed since she left her native homeland. Nevertheless, she never lost her pride in Poland.

Unlike many Western countries, Poland does not have adopted national symbols like birds, animals or flowers. However, after the Battle of Monte Cassino in 1944, the Poppy or Maki, became the flower most closely associated with Poland.  Written to honour the ultimate sacrifices of the Free Polish Army,  Czerwone Maki na Monte Cassino forever linked the Polish identity with the flower. Krysia would hold this same sense of identity for she was a child of the Kresy Wschodnie. She not only never forgot, she remembered.

Yes, Krysia would agree, she had an idyllic childhood full of happiness surrounded by love and family. A childhood that would come to an abrupt and sudden end.

Please read on

  1. Robert Szymczak, “Polish-Soviet War: Battle of Warsaw,” Historynet ( : accessed 13 September 2017.) Originally appeared in the February 1995 issue of Military History magazine. []
  2. “Akta Stanu Cywilnego Parafil Rzymskokoatolickiej w Radziwiu,” database, Archiwum Państwowew Płocku ( 10 September 2017.), entry for Franciszek Borkowski birth, 1898, record number 58. []
  3. Zofia Borkowska, compiled by Mirek Popowicz, “My Involuntary Wanderings”, (photocopy of typewritten unpublished manuscript, 1988), p.16; Salamończyk Family Research Files, privately held by Juli Anderson, Wilmington, NC, 2017.  Contains information on the life of Zofia (Salamończyk) Borkowska as told to her grandson Mirek Popowicz, including information on husband Franciszek Borkowski and their children. Location of original unknown. Photocopy provided to Anderson by her mother-in-law Krystyna (Borkowska) Kałwa, circa 1992. []
  4. Krystyna (Borkowska) Kałwa, (Merry Heart Boonton Township, 199 Powerville Road, Boonton, New Jersey), interview by Elżbieta A. Kalwa, 10 January 2015; transcript privately held by Juli Anderson, Wilmington, NC, 2017. []
  5. Borkowska, “My Involuntary Wanderings,” p. 16. []
  6. Sabina (Salamończyk) Sieńko, “Os. Jatwiesk, pow. Wołkowysk,” in Henryki Łappo, et al., editor, Z Kresów Wschodnich R.P. Na Wygnanie: Opowieści Zesłańców 1940-1946 (London: Ognisko Rodzin Osadników Kresowych, 1996), pp. 658. []
  7. Paweł Salamończyk, “Autobiography, dated 1 February 1964, Loughborough, England,” (photograph of the original letter, 1964), 1; Salamończyk Family Research Files, privately held by Juli Anderson, Wilmington, NC, 2017.  Written by hand by Paweł in support of his application for a visa to return to Poland for a visit. According to his daughter Regina (Salamończyk) Wojciechowski, the letter was written to a Communist Poland and information was withheld. Original in possession of Bozena Zofia (Bak) Pinfold, Leicestershire, England. Transcription and photograph provided to Anderson by Pinfold, August 2017. []
  8. Akta Stanu Cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Miastkowie Kościelnym: Urodzenia, Małżeństwa, Zgony (civil records of the Roman Catholic parish in Miastków Kościelny, Poland: births, marriages, deaths), 1895, Marianna Salamończyk birth, record number 37; The National Archive in Siedlce, Poland. The note in the margin states Marianna Salamończyk married Franciszek Szejko 16 November 1919 in Miastków Kościelny. []
  9. Borkowska, “My Involuntary Wanderings, p 16. []
  10. Rev. Stefan Kiwiński, Polish Roman Catholic Priest, Burton-on-Wolds, Certificate of No Impediment, Ref. 16/53, dated 22 February 1953, Krystyna Borkowska; Kałwa Family Research Files, privately held by Juli Anderson, Wilmington, NC, 2017. Location of original unknown. Photocopy provided to Anderson by her father-in-law Józef Kałwa, 20 August 2017. Józef stated that original birth records have not been obtainable for the couple. His wife used this certificate as an acceptable substitute. Photocopy shows the original certificate had been notarized sometime later by Leslie Scary, Notary Public of New Jersey, her commission expiring 19 November 1995. []
  11. Rev. Kiwiński, Cert. of No Impediment, Ref. 16/53, 1953, Borkowska. []
  12. Krystyna (Borkowska) Kałwa, (2 Rainbow Trail, Denville, New Jersey), interview by Andrzej K. Kalwa, February 2007; transcript privately held by Juli Anderson, Wilmington, NC, 2017. Krystyna (Borkowska) Kałwa, interview, 10 January 2015. []
  13. Wiesław Wojciechowski, (Loughborough, Leicester, England), interview by Juli Anderson via Facebook Messanger, 31 August 2017; transcript privately held by Juli Anderson, Wilmington, NC, 2017. Wies conferred with his mother Regina (Salamończyk) Wojciechowska on her recollection during the interview. []

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