Friday, November 27, 2009

Polish Museum is something extra to celebrate on Oplatki Day

As Winona's Polish community prepares to mark the traditional Oplatki Day on Dec. 6, there is much to celebrate.

The Polish Museum, the center of Polish culture in the region, opened an expanded gallery last summer. And since August, Polish journalist Iga Marmolowska has been promoting the museum both at home and abroad.

"A lot of Polish history is here," said Marmolowska, who will return to Poland on Dec. 15.

The museum contains exhibits and displays tracing the history of the Polish community in Winona and the surrounding area. There is also a substantial library of books and genealogy resources. And now, there is the Polish Museum annex, a large hall for celebrations and gatherings surrounded by a 160-foot long mural.

The mural tells the story of Winona's Polish community, reaching back to its roots in northern Poland, through immigration, settlement, jobs in Winona, the role of the Catholic Church, good times, bad times, war and, finally, modern times. The mural includes photos, documents and other memorabilia.

The museum and annex contain perhaps the largest collection anywhere of information on the Kashubian people who emigrated from Poland.

"For me, it's amazing," said Marmolowska, who is from Winona's sister city of Bytow. "We have a museum in Bytow, but it is very small."

The museum was founded in 1976 by the Rev. Paul Breza, who still stops in nearly every day to keep tabs on the collection.

Most of Winona's substantial population of Polish immigrants came from the Kashubia region of Poland. Today, the distinct Kashubian language and culture have all but been subsumed in the larger Polish culture.

Even Marmolowska, despite growing up in Kashubia, cannot read the language. "If you tell people there they are Kashubian, they say, 'No I'm not,'" she said. Rochester Post Bulletin

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