The Jagiellonian University Joseph Conrad Research Centre ― which is now under the wing of the Faculty of Polish Language and Literature ― was created by the Senate of the Jagiellonian University on December 21st 2005 in order to provide research facilities for Conrad scholars. The main impulse behind the University’s decision to set up the centre was, of course, the donation by Professor Zdzisław Najder of his rich collection of books, journals and other resources connected with Konrad Korzeniowski, whose pen-name was Joseph Conrad.
Having accepted the request of the Board of the Faculty that I be the first director of the Joseph Conrad Research Centre, I took up my duties at the beginning of February 2006. With the help of the Dean ― Prof. Jacek Popiel ― a home for the centre was found in one of the rooms of the old Royal Arsenal at 64 Grodzka Street, which had recently been acquired by the Faculty.
In March 2006 that part of the Najder Collection which was in Opole was brought to its new home in Cracow and at about the same time packages of books kindly donated by Andrzej Busza began to arrive from Canada. Three special bookcases were designed to fit into the recesses in the walls and the Centre now has its own telephone and computer. Our library resources have been further enhanced by donations of books made by Laurence Davies, Allan Simmons, Cedric Watts, John Peters, Stefan Zabierowski and Jakob Lothe. Grzegorz Zych M.A. ― now a postgraduate student doing a Ph.D. on a subject connected with Conrad ― has recently been entrusted with the task of taking care of the collection on a day-to-day basis.
Our aim is not only to gradually expand the collection in order to provide as many resources as possible for Conrad scholars, but also ― and perhaps above all ― to foster Conrad studies in Poland. As well as continuing the Yearbook of Conrad Studies (Poland), which was first published in 2005 (Vol. I : “Conrad’s Europe”) by the Polish Joseph Conrad Society at the University of Opole, we have also begun to host international conferences designed to explore hitherto unfathomed aspects of Conrad’s work.
The focal theme of the 2007 conference, which was intended to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Conrad’s birth, was “The Reception of the Work of Joseph Conrad ― Readers Real and Implied”. The conference ― organized jointly with the Joseph Conrad Society (Poland) ― was held in Cracow from 23rd to 25th September 2007. The proceedings of the conference are the subject of the third volume of our Yearbook, which is due to appear by the end of February 2009. The second volume of the Yearbook (for the year 2006) came out in September 2007.
As we all know, it was eventually decided that the recently created Jagiellonian University Joseph Conrad Research Centre would be located in one of the rooms of the old Royal Arsenal building at the bottom of Grodzka Street, just opposite the Wawel Castle.
Unwittingly perhaps, the University has chosen a building which ― standing as it does opposite the Royal Castle ― is not only both handsome and beautifully situated, but is also the most appropriate of all possible homes for the Najder Collection, for it was here that ― in 1914, when the Arsenal was the headquarters of the Austrian garrison in Cracow ― something happened that was to have a decisive bearing on the fortunes of Joseph Conrad.
Let us remember that in 1914 Conrad was invited to visit Poland by the mother-in-law of a young Polish friend and political associate called Joseph Jerome (Józef Hieronim) Retinger. Conrad arrived in Cracow on 28th July 1914, accompanied by his wife Jessie and their two sons Boris and John, only to find that he had come to witness the outbreak of war between Britain and Austria on Austrian soil and that he ― as a British citizen ― was now faced with the prospect of immediate internment for the duration of hostilities.
Conrad’s Polish friends decided that he should go into hiding in Zakopane, where one of his cousins ― Aniela Zagórska ― ran a guest-house called “Konstantynówka” (at 7, Jagiellońska Street). There the Korzeniowskis stayed, but as the war dragged on and their money began to run out, Conrad decided to look for a way to get himself and his family back to Britain. In this he was helped by the Cracow lawyer Dr. Theodore Kosch, who later gave the following account of what happened:
“My junior colleague Dr. Franciszek Kowalski, who was also staying in Zakopane, told me that his step-sister was on extremely good terms with the wife of no less a personage than General Kuck, the commander of the Austrian garrison in Cracow, so it seemed obvious that the best plan would be to ask her to help us get the Korzeniowskis back to Britain.
Everything went perfectly. Dr. Kowalski returned to Cracow and told his step-sister about the plight of the Korzeniowskis, who had planned to stay in Poland for no longer than a few weeks, but were now virtually destitute and unable to buy food or even warm clothes for the winter. She in her turn told the Kommandant’s wife, who was so moved by what she heard that she persuaded her husband to issue a special pass exempting Conrad and his family from travel restrictions within Austria. The wording of the pass (issued in October 1914) is as follows:
Joseph Conrad Korzeniowski wishes to travel to Vienna with his family. From a military standpoint I see no objection. All persons in authority are requested to allow this family to proceed without hindrance.
Thanks to this document the Conrad family were able to get to Vienna. After that they crossed the border with Italy and subsequently boarded a Dutch ship which took them safely back to Britain.”
Is it not a truly remarkable coincidence that General Karl Kuck (or rather Kuk, which is the correct spelling) almost certainly signed Conrad’s special pass in the very same Arsenal building which ― some ninety years later ― now houses the Jagiellonian University Joseph Conrad Research Centre? Let us hope that this is a good omen for the future of Conrad studies.
The Jagiellonian University Joseph Conrad Research Centre
Osrodek dokumentacji i badania tworczosci Josepha Conrada
Wydzial Polonistyki UJ
ul. Grodzka 64
31 - 044 KRAKOW
room / pokój 208
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