30 January 2017
Lidia Ciołkosz - Witness of the 20th Century. Latest exhibition at Google Culture Institute
“I Am the Last One”: Lidia Ciołkosz – Witness of the 20th Century is the title of the online exhibition by the Polish History Museum dedicated to Lidia Ciołkosz. She was an activist for independence and socialism, a columnist and historian, member of the Polish Socialist Party in exile, author of works about the history of the socialist movement, and editor of My Century, the acclaimed memoir by Aleksander Wat.
Ciołkosz’ biography entails far more than an interesting life: it covers many important issues and Jewish-Polish experiences that merge into a single curriculum. Thus the subject of the exhibition, who lived from 1902 to 2002, is described as a witness of the 20th century.
Jewish, socialist, Pole, patriot – Ciołkosz was from her early years through almost her entire life a distinguished member of the Polish Socialist Party (PPS), first in Poland then for five decades spent in exile.
She was born Lidia Kahan in Tomaszów Mazowiecki, into an assimilated Jewish family in which she received both a traditional religious education and one rich in Polish culture and the Polish patriotic tradition. She spent her childhood in Łódź – a city of “amazing careers but of such noticeable misery that even children understood it.” The example for Lidia was her mother, who was active in helping the poor; her social sensibility was formed by her activity in Scouts and by Polish literature.
Her period of studies was spent in Kraków at the Jagiellonian University, where she graduated in Polish literature, history and pedagogy with a PhD, a period she spent as an active party member, in encounters with representatives from science and politics, and engaged in work with children and youth: she worked as a librarian and lecturer at the Workers’ University Association (TUR), and as a pedagogue and organizer of summer camps and centers for workers’ children.
During her studies, she met her future husband, Adam Ciołkosz, a distinguished politician of the interwar era who after 1939 became one of the leaders of the exile independence movement in London, where the Ciołkosz’ had fled from persecution.
Ciołkosz remained devoted to her ideals during her life in Great Britain for over a half of century, clearly distinguishing between guidelines of her socialist party and the communists’ pursuit of dictatorship in Poland. As “a decided enemy of getting into coalition with post-communist structures,” she occupied the highest positions in the exiled Polish Socialist Party. During her exile, she applauded independence efforts; after June 1976, she also supported the Committee of the Defense of Workers then engaged in helping the Solidarity opposition and subsequent waves of Polish emigration. She went again to Poland only in October 1990. At the 25th PPS Congress in November 1990 in Warsaw, Lidia Ciołkosz was chosen as Honorary Lifelong President of the Party.
The exhibition “I Am the Last One” presents a life, idea, the life choices and consequences of adhering to them taken by Lidia Ciołkosz: distinguished politician and social worker; author of books (including Outlines of the Polish Socialism), many articles and materials on the topic of the Polish workers’ movement; frequent recipient of awards (including literary awards from the Paris publisher Kultura in 1967, the Association of Polish Veterans in London in 1972 and the Jurzykowski Foundation in New York in 1973); last member of the prewar national general board of PPS, for which she was decorated with the Polonia Resituta Cross.
The exhibition “I Am the Last One” is also has available a free-of-charge mobile application, together with MHP exhibitions, which can be downloaded from the Google Play shop: link
The Polish History Museum made available online an interview with Lidia Ciołkosz, “Looking Back,” conducted by Prof. Andrzej Friszke in 1990.