Discovering forgotten Galicia

A lot has been written and said about Galicia, a large part of Poland annexed by the Habsburg Monarchy in the end of the 18th century and governed by Austria until the beginning of the 20th century. But from time to time you can find new books in bookstores that supplement knowledge about Galicia and the people who lived here.

One such book is “Landscape after Life. In the Footsteps of Galicia. Stories about People and Places” written by Barbara Gaweł. The writer restores the memory about the people who once lived and worked in Galicia, and recalls their achievements. While reading, you can meet both extraordinary and quite ordinary people who went down in history but simply have been forgotten.

The author writes, among others, about:

Jan Szczepanik – inventor with several hundred patents, also called as Polish Edison or Leonardo da Vinci from Galicia. He lived in several Galician towns, including Przemyśl, where he served in the army. He also lived in Vienna, where he had his workshop. He was visited there by… Mark Twain – the writer described Szczepanik in two of his articles. Many of Szczepanik’s discoveries are still applied today, especially in the motion picture industry and television. Jan Szczepanik also invented the color photography system (used by Kodak and Agfa company), a bulletproof fabric (which saved the life of Spanish king Alfonso XIII); he also holds the patent for an equipment for sound recording and playback and much more. It’s hard to believe that he was… self-taught.

Andrzej Gawroński – one of the greatest polyglots of all time, a professor of Oriental studies who discovered his life passion in Przemyśl, where he lived for several years and went to gymnasium. His extraordinary memory and language skills were legendary. He spoke 60 languages (all European, as well as many African and Asian languages, including extinct languages), but the people who knew him – basing on their own experience and notes Gawroński left behind – were convinced that this man was a genius who spoke… 140 languages!

Izydor (Isidore) Miller – father of the greatest American playwright of the 20th century, Arthur Miller; Marilyn Monroe’s beloved father-in-law. As a 7-year-old child, he emigrated from the small Galician town Radomyśl Wielki to America. He had an extremely difficult but interesting life. For some time he was successful in business, although he never learned to write or read. Today, the Miller family is known not only because of Izydor’s son, Arthur. His daughter Joan Copeland (today almost a 100-year-old lady) was an actress. Izydor’s grandson, Robert Miller, is a director and film producer and granddaughter, Rebecca Augusta Miller (wife of actor Daniel Day-Lewis), is a well-known director and screenwriter, once also an actress. By the way – the grandfather of Joshua Brand, who created the TV series “Northern Exposure”, came from the same Galician town as Isidore Miller.

The Czartoryski family – a powerful aristocratic family that actually ruled Poland in the 18th century. One of the seats of the aristocrats was Sieniawa near Jarosław. In the local church there is a family crypt. The most prominent members of the family (including Adam Jerzy Czartoryski) rest here. A.J Czartoryski was a diplomat, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs during the time of Tsar Alexander I. He also was a patron of art. In 1800 he bought for his mother a painting Lady with an Ermine of Leonardo da Vinci. This famous painting is today the most valuable work of art in Polish collections. The daughter of the Queen of Spain and granddaughter of the King of France who through the marriage entered the Czartoryski family also are buried here.

Kazimierz Kling – an outstanding chemist from Przemyśl. He specialized in the study of natural gas and crude oil. He collaborated with the Polish president, Ignacy Mościcki, who also was a chemist. Professor Kling’s research on new fuels and synthetic rubber aroused great interest in the world, including USA. But World War II changed everything. The professor died during the war.

Wandering through Galicia can still be surprising. Here you can rediscover interesting places, stories and biographies of the people who took their places in history and who unfortunately have been forgotten. The footsteps of Galicia can still be seen here. And that’s wonderful.