Stanisław and Helena Sierakowski. Polish patriots from Waplitz.
A wedding photo taken in 1910 is an important contemporary document: it shows Helena Sierakowski, maiden name Lubomirska, alongside her husband Stanisław, the owner of the Greater Waplitz estate in the Vistula Valley in the district of Sztum, West Prussia (Powiśle). The bride is wearing a beautiful white dress with a veil and train: the bridegroom is wearing a traditional aristocratic uniform with a sabre on his left side. The couple clearly embody the culture and lifestyle of estate owners, a world that was already beginning to disappear at the time. The First World War was to begin four years later and ended with the abolition of the German Empire. However Greater Waplitz did not become a part of the new independent Poland, despite Sierakowski’s efforts to prevent this. In the 1930s the whole of the area around Waplitz was handed over to the Germans. Since the Sierakowskis were important national activists they were imprisoned after the outbreak of the Second World War and murdered shortly afterwards.
The history of the Sierakowski family provides an exemplary chapter in the history of Polish aristocracy over the last 300 years. The family came into the possession of the Greater Waplitz estate in the second half of the 18th century. After the Partitions of Poland the area fell to the Prussians. The Sierakowskis worked doggedly to preserve the national identity and cultural heritage. On account of the continual economic development and the Sierakowski’s social and cultural activities their efforts proved a success. Their descendants laid great value on increasing the economic output of the estate and helped to develop the locality to an important cultural centre. For decades works by European painters were collected and displayed in Waplitz Castle. Furthermore the family built up a significant stock of books and an archive whose contents included the valuable correspondence of Zygmunt Krasiński.
Stanisław Sierakowski was born on 9 March 1881 in Poznań: he was one of three children belonging to Adam und Maria Potocki. Stanisław became interested in politics during his teenage years. He was briefly imprisoned for belonging to a secret organisation known as the Society of Philomats (Towarzystwo Filomatów) at the Catholic grammar school in Chełmno, after which he was expelled. He passed his A-level examinations in Kraków, following which he studied law and economy in Berlin and Brussels. Apart from politics he was also interested in science. Before the First World War he was a member of the Scientific Society (Towarzystwo Naukowe) in Toruń. In 1909 he inherited the ownership of the family estate in Greater Waplitz from his father, alongside the estates in Osiek and Kretki Małe near Brodnica in the district of Rypin.
In 1910 Stanisław married Helena Lubomirska from Przeworsk (Galicia), the daughter of Andrzej Lubomirski, a member of the Galician Parliament and the Vienna Reichstag. Despite her small stature (she stood on a stool for her wedding photo) Helena Sierakowska was a decisive, charismatic, personality.
Years afterwards her grand daughter Izabella Sierakowska-Tomaszewska recalled:
(…) People respected her. She had principles from which she never deviated. She liked to say “One must act as one should”, something which my father later copied. With the exception of a doctor who was a close friend of the family, Germans were only welcomed into the estate office, but never into the salons. People “whose papers were not in order”, i.e. who lived together without having been married in church, were not invited to the family home.