This year is the 95th anniversary of the signing of the peace treaty between Germany and Soviet Russia. It has always been thought that it was concluded in Brest-Litovsk, but it now turns out that the document was signed in Skoki: a village in Motykaly Rural Council in Brest Region
Prof. Anatoly Gladyshchuk, a physicist at Brest Technical University and a keen local historian, discovered the amazing fact while researching. The truce was signed at Niemcewicz Palace (a secret site and general headquarters of the Commander of the Eastern German Front, Prince Leopold of Bavaria). Sergey Semenyuk, the Director of the Historical and Memorial Museum of Niemcewicz Estate, joins Prof. Gladyshchuk and I in visiting the very hall where the treaty was signed.
They agreed on the borders… in the dining room
We request that the bus driver stop near the palace and are asked: “Near the school?” Local residents don’t call it a palace, since it housed classrooms for forty years.
“I studied here for 13 months,” admits Mr. Semenyuk, who has known the estate since childhood.
He learnt about the noble Niemcewiczs from Prof. Gladyshchuk’s book — Niemcewiczs: Real Stories, which made a splash among historians and has inspired the restoration of the palace. “The Prince of Bavaria did not pay to live in Skoki,” laughs Mr. Antonovich. “Yet, I had to pay for a copy of his diaries.”
It was known that the Prince had written a diary in Skoki but Prof. Gladyshchuk was the first to study it, requesting the document from the Bavarian Royal House of Wittelsbach. The director of the private Bavarian Royal House archive sent an envelope containing the text of the Prince’s diary and photographs.
Prof. Gladyshchuk tells us, “On December 15th, 1917, the Prince wrote: ‘We all gathered in our large dining room, where the documents were officially signed. It was an historical event of world scale which, perhaps, no one party will forget’. Just imagine, the informal redistribution of Europe took place there and boundaries were discussed. This makes the palace of global importance.”
I ask how he, as a physicist, became interested in local history and Prof. Gladyshchuk tells me the story. Ten years ago, in May 2002, Brest Regional Library held an international scientific conference devoted to outstanding writer and public activist Julian Niemcewicz. It was attended by representatives of the Niemcewicz family, from Poland, France and Canada. The daughter of the last owner of Skoki, Teresa Veriga (born in Skoki) was among them. On her trip to the family estate, she peered anxiously at the walls of the palace, so familiar, yet belonging to someone else. Prof. Gladyshchuk drew the attention of those present. On returning home, Ms. Veriga sent him a manuscript entitled For my Grandchildren, which includes much new information, including on the portraits which hung in the palace.
Lost while being saved?
The Prince of Bavaria didn’t find the Art Gallery in Skoki since valuables were removed to Kaluga in 1915, to save them from the impending front. “The gallery was located in this saloon,” explains Prof. Gladyshchuk, indicating the empty walls of a large room on the ground floor. Six portraits, including one of Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz and one of his father, Marceli, once hung at Kaluga Regional History Museum. “I tried to establish contacts in Kaluga but failed. We should try, since those portraits have no meaning in Kaluga; they belong here,” Prof. Gladyshchuk asserts.
Alas, the Skoki museum only has electronic copies. “There’s only one original exhibit: my book,” Prof. Gladyshchuk jokes sadly, hoping for the best. The Belarusian Commission (under the Council of Ministers) is working to identify and return national cultural treasures currently held abroad, to allow the public to enjoy them. It knows all about the valuables taken from Skoki and is working to ensure their return.
Ursyn evenings and knights’ battles
The current owners of Niemcewicz Estate (Brest District Executive Committee) have great plans for the new museum, with two rooms to be filled with exhibits connected with the history of Pribuzhie. The basement will be given over to the knights’ club.
“Thanks to pictures found by my student at Poznań University, two towers and the main building have begun to resemble a small castle; the knights complete the scenario,” smiles Prof. Gladyshchuk.
As for the other rooms, decisions are yet to be made. However, it’s clear that they’ll also be used for the museum. The main exhibition will be devoted to the Niemcewicz family and to Tadeusz Kościuszko (a national hero of the USA). The latter stayed at the palace more than once.
“I’d like to see cultural and social events brought to life here. In February, for the birthday of Julian Ursyn, we conducted an Ursyn-evening. Only five people came but it was a start,” adds the local historian.
A Catholic church crypt was once found across the street from the palace. Nothing remains however; you’d never know it had existed.
“All those who visit are sure to ask where Niemcewicz family members are buried. The answer is that they lie here, including the parents of Julian. They were originally in the old crypt of the Catholic church, which was destroyed in 1939. Janina Guziuk, who lives in Terespol, Poland, had the remains reburied in the paupers’ grave behind the Catholic church. I met her. When the estate revives, we should place a more fundamental monument but a simple cross will be sufficient for now,” notes Prof. Gladyshchuk. He’s keen to see that builders don’t accidentally disturb the graves.
Brest Regional Executive Committee is eager to support the restoration, allocating a large sum of money this year from its budget. One day, not only the palace but the servants’ living quarters may be completely restored. The foundations of one wing have been found, so a fence has been set up to protect them. The park’s unique hornbeam avenue could also be replanted. The estate was the oldest and most beautiful near Brest, laid out in the English style, with lawns. It remains recognisable, thanks to a local school.
Without denigrating the global importance of the Niemcewicz estate in Skoki, Prof. Gladyshchuk emphasises, “This is our history first and foremost.” Who can disagree?
By Valentina Kostovskaya
Agreement on peace signed in Skoki
[b]This year is the 95th anniversary of the signing of the peace treaty between Germany and Soviet Russia. It has always been thought that it was concluded in Brest-Litovsk, but it now turns out that the document was signed in Skoki: a village in Motykaly Rural Council in Brest Region[/b]Prof. Anatoly Gladyshchuk, a physicist at Brest Technical University and a keen local historian, discovered the amazing fact while researching.