The Lords of Kurozweki
(Helping historical monuments, Zycie Warszawy, June 18, 1986)


n 14 century Poland the Kurozwecki of Kurozweki (near Staszow) family played important role in the life of both the State and its upper class inhabitants.
They were leaders of the Hungarian party, which aimed tha succession of the Polish throne to Louis the Hungarian. The Tarnowskis and the Teczynskis were their partisans. Leading role in the Kurozwecki family played the Krakow castellan Dobieslaw and his two sons - Zawisza and Krzeslaw. In time, when Louis the Hungarian became Polish king Dobieslaw became a cancellor and his son Zawisza became a vice-cancellor. Also, during Louis's reign, Dobieslaw became a member of group of the governors together with Sedziwoj of Szubin, Domarat of Pierzchnia and Jan Radlica. The group was led by Zawisza of Kurozweki, Dobieslaw's son.
Zawisza, the bishop of Krakow died in 1382 and his successor as a leader of the group became Jan Radlica. People had various opinions on bishof Zawisza. He loved sumptuousness and luxury, he was an arbiter aelegantiarum, as they said "he directed himself more towards worldly matters and carnal lustfulness than to God's service". Indeed, the bishof did not avoid the other sex and allegedly he died under ambiguous circumstances. Dobieslaw the castellan, and his son Krzeslaw were members of the queen Jadwiga cortege in spite the castellan's old age. They rode with the queen during her Ruthenian campaign.
During that time the Kurozweckis erected in Kurozweki a stone castle located on a hill and surrounded by a natural moat. Thick walls and moat made it a real fortress, difficult to conquer. Today's mansion is built on the base of the original gothic walls, which are well visible from the rear of the palace.
In the beginning of XVI century the castle went to the Lanckoronski family. A hundred years or so later the castle received new Renesance-style finish with multi-story arcaded galleries. In XVIII century new owners, the Soltyk family, re-built the palace in classicist style, probably by a well known architect Ferdynand F. Nax, the creator of the Naleczow palace. Nax built the palace for the Sandomierz palatine, Maciej Soltyk., circa 1770.
The palace is erected from stone and brick on irregular footprint, having quadrilateral court with aforementioned arcaded galleries and two-story projection. The knoll with the palace is surrounded by an artificial moat and it is located in a XVIII-century garden.
Kurozweki belonged from circa half of the previous century till 1945 to the Popiels, after the World War II were taken by the State and was totally ruined. In 1973 the State offered the palace to many government agencies, but the projected cost of the rehabilitation was expected too big. In meanwhile, the state administrator dumped the water from the moat what caused breaking and sinking of the walls. The building was endangered with collapse. Fortunately, ten years ago the State-run company for conservation of the historic monuments came to the rescue and the building foundations were made safe.
Interior of the building shows preserved beautiful Rococo golden-clad wainscoting and polychromies.
Great Polish writer, Stefan Zeromski used to be a guest at Kurozweki and introduced it as Duke Gintult's Grodno, to his famous book "Popioly". This is what he wrote: "The palace, erected on the foundation of an old castle , was surrounded by a moldy moat. The walls, few ells thick at the bottom, with the vaulted rooms, windows with the bars, resembled an old prison. Thick, oblique buttresses, like monstrous legs, were emerging from deceitful waters of the old, deep, masonry-lined moat. The upper floors with their Corinthian columns and stucco decorated architrave were work of newer times..."
Who saw Kurozweki, he will easily recognize it from the above description.
But also during Popiels' time, not only during Peple's Republic time, the palace was in disrepair, although was not collapsing. That is also in "Popioly":
"... the walls were scratched, the statues bruised, the columns were black and stripped as milestones..." - That is how Zeromski saw the palace with his character - Rafal's eyes. (B.St. transl. sp)


(Rzeczpospolita OnLine Magazyn Rzeczpospolitej 04.06.99 Nr 22)


Comeback of the Heir

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Jean Martin Popiel and his wife Karen in the back of the wagonette.

his is Popiel's factory. The one who reposses his fathers' palace - says one of the locals showing white buildings across from the Kurozweki cemetery. - Well, we have now a new lord. He respects people and listens to them. At Dozynki (Polish Thanksgiving) the priest asked the Staszow mayor and the Popiels family just next to the altar. And the Popiels preferred to stay among ordinary people.

A group of workers builds the drive to the palace. Jean Martin Popiel talks with one of them in English. A worker, a villager from Kielce region speaks foreign languages? It is explained after a moment. - That is my son Pawel - introduces Popiel the worker. - All my kids which are here with me are helping. They have to learn how to work. I would like to have them someday my supporters. We are regular people as everybody else. I would not like anybody addressing me "count". I do not need the distance it would inevitably caused.


Popiel speaks Polish although his French and English are much better. He was born abroad and almost all his life he spent away from Poland. His wife Karen is a Norwegian grown in Venezuela. They have eight kids. The three elders are studying in Scotland and in France, remaining five are in Poland. All five except the youngest one attend Polish Schools and learn Polish language. They are Polish citizens.

Temporarily we are living in Krakow, but with the end of June we are moving to Kurozweki permanently - says Jean Martin Popiel. - Are the kids willing to live in Poland? The three elders have their own choice to make. The others like here. The daughters were a little rebelling at the beginning, but it is usual with teenagers. They like ride horses and there is a  herd right here. They already like it.

The Popiels will not live in their palace for long time to come, though. Rehabilitation of the mansion will cost a lot.

Popiel shows a house he intends to inhabit before the palace is ready. The house is very modest quite small, with a beautiful roof of the larch shingles. - The shingles are from our shop - says Popiel.

Inside the house modern furniture. - I was not looking for antics. The money they would cost will serve better as an investment. The original furniture from the palace was taken into the state custody and now it is in the National Museum in Kielce. At this moment I do not intend to ask for returning it to me. I do not even have proper place to keep it. Perhaps when one of the rooms in the palace will be ready? - he deliberates.

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The veggies and the horses

Jean Martin Popiel lists his business enterprises in Kurozweki: the vegetable processing plant, the shingle shop, a small hotel in the orangerie, the fish breeding ponds, a mill with an electric turbine. We had an idea to use the energy from the turbine to supply the shingle shop, but the turbine happened to be too small. I am going to get larger one.

The PGR (State Farms, former state-run agricultural enterprise based on the lands taken from people by the state -sp) will be the Popiels' property

Probably the Popiels will take over the arab horse breeding business, which incidentally is one of four leading Polish herds. Popiel's representatives are presently negotiating purchase conditions with the Government Agriculture Property Agency. The lands and part of the buildings where the horse breeding business is running, were in the past the Popiels' property. They could apply to the government for repossession, instead. - I did not want to wait for a legal act, because I have feeling that it is going to be long time to wait - says a heir to the Popiels' fortune. I applied for repossession of the forests belonging to the family before the war. No answer. If the State is to take better care of the forest, let it be. But the herd cannot wait. The time is running out. I want to make it again world-famous. My grandfather started the herd here.

The plant and the herd are now most important. - The herd means several hundred hectares of ground (a hectar = 2 acres, roughly). Only a part of it is necessary to support the herd. On the other part we could grow vegetables like broccoli, which are imported to Poland from France. Or grow Daniels. Their meat is being sought after in the Europe - plans Popiel.

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My brother Paul advises me in business matters. He is a good economist, he was employed by the World Bank for 20 years.

Disinclination to lords

Poverty is around here. Since Grzybow "Siarkopol" (State-run sulfur processing plant) reduced employment and production, all Kurozweki inhabitants are looking for jobs. - When Mr. Popiel came to see the palace, he asked me: is there anything I could help you, Reverend? I answered: help these people. They have nothing to live of - says rev. Jerzy Beksinski, the parson.

Two months later experts came, to figure out and advise what kind of business the Popiels could run here.

- When Mr. Popiel decided that the processing plant for vegetables and fruits will be built, I organized a meeting with the Staszow mayor and councilmen. We started to look for a property to locate the plant - says the parson who knows the family for years. His brother was a vicar in a parish, run by prelate Marcin Popiel, a legend of the family. - Rev. Marcin lived extraordinarily modestly, everything he had he gave away to people. When he was walking in rubber Wellingtons, that was because he gave his shoes to a needy. He built chapels without communist government permission, organized recollection centers. He was innovative and courageous pastor. If not the Popiels, I would not come here.

The parson admits that he kept his acquaintance with Popiels secret. He was afraid that the parishioners would suspect a kind of conspiracy between the Popiels and the parson and that he is about to revive the before-war relationship.

- My generation was grown based on the enmity towards any kind of ownership and property. In particular towards the gentry, like before-war Popiels. I was afraid that the animosity will come back.

For a million

The plant called "Dehydration Technologies Poland" was erected more than a year ago. Its cost was more than million dollars. - The plant employed 60 personnel. Majority was women, since the job required delicate hands and precision - says Marion Wehbe, the manager, a Libanese born in Senegal. Since February the plant had a seasonal stoppage, but shortly it will be running again.

The horse-drawn wagonette the Popiels use causes no sensation or disinclination.

- The plant was running a year. Not all contracts were came through. In our Honduras plant, similar to this one, we also had some problems at the beginning - says Jean Martin Popiel.

- When the production was to stop, Mr. Popiel was very worried, says parson Beksinski. He came to me to seek information, whether the State would support those temporarily unemployed.

- Human being is what counts for him - adds the priest. - When he employed locals, he was full of appologies that the beginnings are tough and he cannot pay more than he offers. And still he paid highest wages in the region. Two years ago I was about to organize kind of vacations for the kids from Szewna, which was just then damaged by a flood. Unfortunately, I was running short with money. Mr. Popiel added what was needed.

"Lovely Lady"

Before the war the Popiels' estate was famous because of the fish breeding, its forest and rich library.

- They were good lords - says Wladyslawa Lokiec, whose father and husband were employed by Popiels as coachmen. Ms. Lokiec to this days lives in former servant's quarters. - My father and my husband were earning decent wages and were given so called "ordynarie", i.e. grain and potatoes, enough for a year - says Ms. Lokiec. - It was enough for the family. The Excellencies, as we called them, were modest and religious, they kept only as few servants as they needed. Mrs. Popiel was running an orphanage for children, a hospice for older people and a clinic for ill. She was giving away lots of gifts for children at the Christmas time, organized school of needlework and embroidery for girls, recollections for teachers. The villagers called her "Our Lovely Lady".

- During the war they were helping the partisans and Jews. They protected people from sending them to Germany as slave workers. And then they meet their fate: The war did not touch the palace. The communists ruined it - complains Ms. Lokiec's nephew.

The Popiels were ousted when the front was rolling over. Later, after liberation, the PKWN manifesto allowed for taking estates from the owners. The Popiels had nothing to come back to. Marcin became a priest, Jadwiga strted working at the Jagiellonian University, Maria entered a congregation, Zofia, Krzysztof Radziwill's wife, settled in Warsaw, Stanislaw, a survivor of the P.O.W. camp, emigrated to Belgium. He was Jan Marcin's or Jean Martin's father.

- We lived in Belgium for a short time, it was tough to find a job - says Popiel about the family course. - We left for Belgian Congo. Father was by profession an economist. He started working in a bank and later, he became it's manager. When the civil war started, my parents sent me to the School to South Africa.

Always on the move

Since then Jean Martin Popiel almost always is traveling. From Africa to Scotland. There he studied engineering. - There I 've meet my wife. Also, then I took my first trip to Poland and learned some Polish - he says. - It was like a paradise. Do you know how much I could get in Poland for a dollar? I met my aunt and my uncle, reverend Marcin, who took me to Kurozweki. The palace was ruined. I felt sick in my soul.

After graduating he worked together with his wife in Scotland, then they left for Zair. Popiel built communities at   copper mines. When another war started in Zair, they went to South Africa and from there they migrated to Canada. - We were living in the North, I got a job at the construction of the water driven electrical plants on La Grande River. It was cold like in Siberia.

The job at the construction of the electrical plants was his longest deployment. They had four children and they were seeking a way to stabilize the family. Popiel got an inheritance after a cousin and decided to invest these monies into his own business.

- An inventor paid me a visit and he said that he invented an unique method of drying vegetables and fruits, so that they do not loose any vitamins, natural color, taste and smell - says Popiel.  - He had his idea, but he was in need of scientific and technical as well as financial support. Our first factory was built in Honduras. We had also a business in the United States. We still have there a factory of the interior finishes.

Who is chosen...

Eight years ago Popiel was notified that reverend Marcin, his uncle had died. He came to the funeral. Whole family was thinking what to do about the palace in Kurozweki, which was given back to the reverend by the Ministry of the Culture and Art for a symbolic amount of money. The oldest brother Paul, living in the States, had only one child and decided to stay in the America. Similarly, the other brother Jacek. Jean Martin was therefore chosen and he accepted it. - It's strange. I was born in Poland and he was born in Belgium - says Paul Popiel. -  And it happened that he was more attracted to the Old Country than I was.

- Uncle Marcin had big influence over me - explains Jean Martin. - He gave me that sentiment for Poland. And to honor his memory, I decided to try and take care of the palace. The plant also is named in honor of him.

Popiel started moving to Poland from bringing here part of his business. He invested money in some companies, organized a laboratory for future dehyration plant and started repair and rehabilitation of the orangerie. - Since then I was coming more and more often here and, after a while, we decided that we are moving in - says Popiel.

Now, the matter is jobs

The orangerie is completed. Now we are rehabilitating another baroque pavillon. I am going to have there a boarding house. - I want the estate to earn it's maintenance. My private estate is not big enough to pay for the rehabilitation - explains Popiel.

Most money will go towards restoration of the palace. After the war it was used by various government agencies. And each of them ruined a part but none took care of it. - It was a ball room here, above it were apartments of my father - Popiel shows one of the largest rooms. It is really difficult to imagine that this ruin was blossoming palace before.

- Entire restoration of the palace will be a job for my kids. I am not going to be able to do it in my lifetime. I do not have such resources. But we always are trying to do something. Little by little. When we entered the palace first time, it was a pile of debris. We started from cleaning. This year we would like to close the building and heat it in order to protect against further decay.

This year part of the palace will be accessible to the tourists. Just for a symbolic fee. - Firstly, I want that everyone can enter the mansion and get a tour, and secondly, it would be another brook of trickling money for renovation of the rooms - says the host.

- I am not an exemplary businessman - admits Popiel, who prays before each meal. - I think of people too much, in spite that every enterprise must make money. I cannot imagine spending money for luxurious travels, cars, extravagancies. I want to provide inhabitants of the area with jobs and, coming from it, dignity.

First year

- Kurozweki live its own life and Popiel - his. He is a businessman. What he has to do with us. He became a friend with the priest - says Leszek Jagodzinski, a young Kurozweki's village head, unemployed. - Before the war people had their land. They were not dependent on the Popiels. For me, he is a guy who happened returned. That is it. When they were the gentry here, their estate did not came to them from their own labor.

- If not the stops of the factory, I would perhaps look at them differently - Jagodzinski tries to excuse himself. - What kind of a job is this, just one season? How to feel safe? The jobs were here and, all of sudden they are not anymore, everybody got laid off, the production stopped. People hoped for better, something good started to happen and, quite suddenly, it came to an end.

Bozena Chmiel worked in the Popiels' factory for a year. She hopes that in a few weeks she will be recalled back. Now she collect unemployment. - I was happy, she says. - No other shop in Staszow paid such wages. And sitting home won't make me rich.

- When the factory stopped, there were rumors in the village that the stores are full, no interested buyers, the business went down and, instead of the dehydration plant, there will be a butchery - says her father Edward Schildknecht, whose family worked before the war in the neighboring estate of Radziwills. - But I don't believe that. It was just first year. Everybody should know that starting a new business takes some time. They seems they know what they are doing. I wish all best to Mr. Popiel. His plant is also a chance for the farmers. He was buying fruit and veggies from the locals. If anybody had goods for sale, Mr. Popiel was there buying.

- I don't expect that Mr. Popiel will make a personal friend of all. What he, an educated man, will talk with us, simple people, about? About what? With a doctor or a priest, that different story, they have many things in common - Schildknecht summed up.

- Since Mr. Popiel arrived, he managed to put a lot of things around the palace into order. Like in old days, everything becomes nice and clean - enjoys Wladyslawa Lokiec. - It's good the Popiels got the palace back. My husband used to say: they will be back; he wanted them to come. He could not have stand when immediately after the war, looters and carpetbaggers came to steal everything they could carry. Pity he died before they returned.

No difference

In a big barn belonging to the stud the laborers work the cows. They already heard that Popiel will eventually take over the horse breeding business. - Do we like it? He comes here to get some milk, everyday, when he is in Kurozweki - they say.  -Nice man, polite. And to us there is no difference who will run the show. What wrong could happen it already happened. All State Farms are destroyed now. Now all we care is to get better wages. And whether the wages will come from Popiel or from somebody else, who cares?



Reunion in Kurozweki- 7th of July 2004

There were 130 of us at this reunion and we came from all over: USA, Canada, U.K.. We originaly are from: Czaple Wielkie, Wojcza, Sciborzyce and Kurozweki.
In July 04 the weather was good, the ball lasted till 3 AM. Next reunion in 2006 and more guests are expected.

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This site was created on June 15, 1998 and updated on May 11, 2007
Copyright 1998. Jan Popiel & Slawomir Popiel.