Błażej Książyk, the Great-Father of my Great Father had Mennonites families in the neighbourhoods of his house in Grochale Górne. Most members of this Community were living some 4 km away, in “Kazun Niemiecki”, the old name of Kazun Nowy. Many Mennonites People came there after 1765 from Dutch settlements of the Lower Vistula and Gdansk area. They spoke plautdietsch, a low German language. Their hamlet was named Kazun Niemecki because this word means “Germans” in Polish. Hence, the sobriquet of “Niemcy” given to them by the locals.
The Mennonites established farms along the Vistula River. They did not get the best lands but they were skilled farmers and made the most of the tramps and sandy soils. Błażej wasn’t born when the flood of 1813 happened but he saw the destructions of the 1844 flood. Mennonites farms were the first to be washed away. Later, with the construction of tailing dikes, the “Niemcy” contributed to protect the area.
Old Mennonite house near Kazun Nowy
When Błażej was a little boy in the late 1830’s, Mennonites were close neighbours and their community of some 325 people was expanding. Children did not attend the same school. Błażej had to walk 6 km to Leoncin while most of his Mennonite friends enjoyed home schooling. Mennonites were more liberal than the Amish. They had no strict dress code and were allowed to visit Catholic houses. Children mingled together. The “sand sea” (Grochalskie Piachy) and the “beaches” along the Vistula River were their common playground. Mennonite kids were invited to the blessing of Easter baskets (Święconka) in Błażej’s home. Błażej was always welcomed with a glass of milk in his friends’ houses.
My great grandfather Walenty Książyk and my grandfather Leon Książyk did not experience a similar closeness with Memonnite families. Walenty was sent very early to a boarding school and Leon grew up in Mokotów (Warsaw). However, childhood stories about Mennonite friends were passed on. I would like to find the names of our Mennonites neighbours from five generations ago and I hope their descendants will read this post.
I did not find any document on the impact of the construction of the Kazun Fort (Przedmoście Kazuńskie) on the Mennonite community. Their cemetery was just outside the Western wall of this huge construction built between 1832 and 1841. For all the farmers of the areas, the massive arrival of Russian soldiers was an opportunity for business. For the children of Grochale, Catholic and Mennonite alike, the presence of soldiers was first an interesting event. Then it turned into a growing concern with the permanent presence of military patrols in the Kampinos Forest and along the main road between Warsaw and Modlin.
Of course, living near the left bank of the Modlin fortress made the Mennonite Community vulnerable. They suffered heavy losses and destructions during WWI and bombing during the invasion of September 1939. Sadly they were considered Germans foreigners. Polish soldiers killed 8 of them and the men aged 17 to 60 were briefly imprisoned near Brest-Litovsk. Then, considered as “Volksdeutsche” by the German occupant, they were liberated. After the recapture of Poland by the Russian army, the congregation had to flee or to face systematic expulsions.
The Mennonites have left behind them a unique heritage that should be better preserved. Many old wooden houses have been torn down. Gravestones in cemeteries are left abandoned. Windmills have all been destroyed. This post is a tribute to the memory of these friendly and hardworking people.
This map was drawn by a descendant of Kornelius Plenert (1815-1900) who has lived in “Deutsch Kazun” before his establishment in Kansas. Mennonites settlements are mentioned in green. Some members of the Plenert family were born in Makowczyzna, a place that seems to be one of the 3 Grochale hamlets, possibly Grochale Gorne.