Połoniecki Bernard

Bernard Połoniecki - Personal data
Date of birth: 24th May 1862
Place of birth: Lwów
Date of death: 1st February 1943
Place of death: Lwów

Połoniecki Bernard (24.05.1862, Lviv - 01.02.1943, Lviv) - prominent Polish bookseller and publisher of Jewish origin.

He came from a Lviv Jewish family named Pordes, who came to the capital of Galicia from Austria. According to his diaries, he was born in 1862, not 1861 (as many studies state). According to the findings of Prof. Maria Konopka his original name was Berl Pordes, and his parents were Basche [Barbara] and Schie [Ozjasz] Pordes, who resided at ul. Żółkiewska 68. This is confirmed by the preserved marriage certificate from 1890, in which Bernard vel Berl Pordes (b. 24.05.1862) is married to Anna vel Chana née Offe (b. 02.08.1867). The full versions of the parents' names, on the other hand, are known from Połoniecki's baptismal certificate of 25 December 1903. His wife, who was also baptised at the time, was henceforth called Klara Połoniecka.

In his diaries, Połoniecki recalls the traditional Jewish character of the home (including the ritual of washing hands before Shabbat dinner) and the fact that reading was a way of spending leisure time for both his mother and father; his father read exclusively in Hebrew. He attended a cheder, then a people's school and a real school, and also did an apprenticeship in a distillery and in the trade sector.

He gained his bookselling apprenticeship by working successively in the antiquarian bookshop of [Israel] Leon Pordes in Lwów (1880-1882), the bookshop of Michał Goldhar in Kielce (1882-1883), then in E. Wende and Company in Warsaw. He also worked for Friedrich Arnold Brockhaus in Leipzig and K. Lechner in Vienna. His very first experiences, gained during his apprenticeship in his brother's antiquarian bookshop, enabled him to take a critical look at the publishing market of the time and plan its modernisation.

"The shop was treated the way our people usually treat it, considering their trade as a second private dwelling. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were eaten here, and goose meat, veal and other victuals needed on the farm were purchased here. A sofa and an armchair were used for afternoon naps, from which, if any buyer came in, the shopgirl or the shopper would drift off. Relatives and friends gathered in the antiquarian shop for a meeting, filling the store with their bitterness. There was even a case in which, when there was not enough room to sit, the men, having rolled up their burp cloths, sat down on the counter. The buyer, on entering, did not know who to approach first. No one looked like a bookseller here. Back in my early days, when I joined the then antiquarian bookshop, it was customary for all purchases from the entire family to take place in the antiquarian bookshop. Someone needed for a frock coat or waistcoat, goods were soon brought in from several Jewish shops and this is where the haggling began.

In winter, Leon always walked around with a hat on his head and an overcoat on, because there was no smoking, and occasionally a pot of glowing coals stood at his wife's feet, keeping her warm. So what I had to fight, I don't remember today either - all I know is that I had enough of it and was forever messing with them. At every step,] there was the stubbornness of my brother, who could not understand my ideas or care about my aspirations. His wife acted much more sensibly. She understood that my wishes and aspirations were good, and the results soon convinced her of this. Above all, I forbade [Yiddish] jargon to be spoken, threw away the sofa, armchair and chairs, and thus abolished naps and discouraged myself from visitors who came here frequently and, having nowhere to sit, half lost the desire to visit us. I kicked out Jews and Jewish women who brought their articles here to sell, and so proceeding I soon transformed many things"[[refr: Konopka M., Dzienniki Bernarda Połonieckiego jako źródło do dziejów księgarstwa Lwowa XIX i XX wieku (Eng. Diaries of Bernard Połoniecki as a source for the history of bookselling in Lviv in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries), [in:] Kraków – Lwów: książki, czasopisma, biblioteki XIX i XX wieku (Eng. Kraków - Lviv: books, journals, libraries of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries), vol. 6, part 1, Kraków 2003, p. 31]].

On 3 March 1889, he purchased the Polish Bookshop in Lviv, located on the Halicki Sq.14. Its founder was Adam Dominik Bartoszewicz, who died in 1886, and was succeeded by his widow Maria Lea Klotylda Bartoszewiczowa (who mainly used her third name). It was not only a book company, but also a publishing company. Indeed, with the purchase, Połoniecki came into possession of the stock of the "Biblioteka Mrówka" (Eng. Ant Library), which he continued to maintain until 1901. Under the name "Ant Library" was a publishing series that had been in existence since 1869, published between 1869 and 1913 through the efforts of Adam Dominik Bartoszewicz, Klotylda Bartoszewiczowa, Połoniecki and Alfred Brugger of Tarnopol, respectively. It was the first series in Poland designed for a mass, even poor, audience, who received access to both classics and contemporary works for a low price. Initially, the "Ant Library" was published at the rate of one volume a week; later much less frequently, but in 1897 it regained momentum again, with the engagement of the literary historian Henrik Biegeleisen as its editor.

The "Ant Library" has contributed immensely to the growth of reading among young people and, in turn, to their intellectual development. As Alfred Wysocki recalled: "Receiving from my father every month a "cwancygier" with the Virgin Mary on it (a quarter florin, or 25 cents) to buy school supplies, I used to buy, for part of this "salary", volumes of the "Ant Library" at ten or fifteen cents apiece, which made many ambitious masterpieces of Polish literature available to the broad masses of society"[[refr: Konopka M., The Lviv series of the "Ant Library" and its publishers (1869-1913), [in:] From the Borderlands: studies and sketches, part 2, Kraków 2000, pp. 112-113.]].

The purchase of the Polish Bookshop opened up prospects for Połoniecki to realise his own ambitious plans. It is worth mentioning that the institution was initially to be purchased by Stanisław Kohler, and that the bookseller's Jewish background posed a problem for the previous owner. In the end, however, at a cost of 3,500 florins, part of which was donated by his future father-in-law, Mr Offe, the Bookshop passed into the hands of Pordes.

"I was helped by the good opinion of the company and its founder, he was the first who did not hesitate to open a purely Polish bookshop, and with his publishing activity, full of generosity, he won the hearts of the Polish public and all opinion"[[refr: Konopka M., The Diaries of Bernard Połoniecki as a source for the history of bookselling in Lviv in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, [in:] Kraków - Lviv: books, journals, libraries of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, vol. 6, part 1, Kraków 2003, p. 34]].

In 1896, the bookshop moved to Halicki Sq. 14, and in 1902 - to its best-known address, at ul. Akademicka 2a, to new premises, decorated in the Zakopane style. At the same time, he sought an official change of name; this took place on 3 July 1896. He also walked away from Judaism. The baptismal certificate, dated December 25, 1903, has been preserved. He received the sacrament in the church of Saint  Mary Magdalene in Lviv. In 1906, Leopold Staff became the godfather of his son, Bernard Mieczysław.

Połoniecki's contribution to the Polish book was immense - by the First World War alone, more than 700 items had been published by him, including 63 in the record-breaking year of 1907; Ostap Ortwin, who had been acting literary editor since 1906, had no small influence on this offering. He published collected editions of Polish classics, often in first critical studies: Mickiewicz, Słowacki, Krasiński, Fredro, Norwid. He also published the works of almost all the writers of the Young Poland movement (54 items of Young Poland poetry), including 14 titles by Leopold Staff, who was also the editor of the "Symposion" series (1909-1915), which included the most important works of world thought (e.g. Plato, Montaignea, de la Rochefoucauld, Diderot, Goethe, Voltaire, Kierkegaard).

Połoniecki contributed to the popularisation of the works of Stanisław Brzozowski, Władysław Orkan, Jan Kasprowicz and Stanisław Przybyszewski (according to an anecdote, he was locked in a room with a bottle of good cognac in order to facilitate his author's orders). Also published were Juliusz Kaden-Bandrowski, Kornel Makuszyński, Andrzej Niemojewski, Adolf Nowaczyński, Włodzimierz Perzyński, and Tadeusz Rittner. The works of Young Poland received the sophisticated graphic design admired today, designed by, among others, Jan Bukowski, Antoni Procajłowicz, Jan Rembowski, Stanisław Wyspiański and Edward Okunia. There have been Polish translations of Shakespeare, all of Molière (transl. Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński), Strindberg, Hauptmann, d'Annunzio, Gide, France. In the "Ant Library", the reader was given translations of Dickens, de Maupassant or Ibsen. Many works were part of publishing series. In addition to the aforementioned "Ant Library" and "Symposion", these included the "Biblioteka Księgarni Polskiej" (Eng. Library of the Polish Bookshop, the first complete edition by Krasiński in 1904), "Teatr dla Wszystkich" (Eng. Theatre for All, from 1913; Bałucki, Fredro, Molier), "Praktyczne Metody Nauki Języków Obcych" (Eng. Practical Methods for the Study of Foreign Languages) and "Polskie Przewodniki Podróży" (Eng. Polish Travel Guides) (incl. Tatry). Relatively rarely did the Polish Bookshop turn to literature for children and young people, but a selection of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales, published in 1905, should be mentioned. Of course, with such an active publishing house, a whole intellectual milieu was formed - editors, translators, contributors, among whom, in addition to those mentioned above, were Karol Irzykowski, Józef Kallenbach, Antoni Lange or Tadeusz Pini.

Staff wrote about Połoniecki in a letter to Stanisław A. Müller: "Here in this place a tribute must be paid to the venerable publisher, who proves himself always a gentleman and a man of good taste, a pioneer in the march of the literature of the Youngest, a Providence of the Creative and Hungry Spirits, and for this reason a man who may one day come out badly on this, but from our general position, looking sub speciae aetemitatis, deserves all recognition and adoration."[1.1]].

Admittedly, when the Lviv bookseller was in arrears with his royalties, Staff shared the following poem in another letter, to Ortwin: "I won't come back to you any sooner, unless, for lack / of money, I die of my last misery / Let Połoniec, sly as / a snake, know what end I am in danger of"[[refr: Konopka M., Księgarnia Polska Bernarda Połonieckiego we Lwowie w dobie autonomii (Eng. Bernard Połoniecki's Polish Bookshop in Lviv in the era of autonomy) (1889-1914), [in:] Kraków – Lwów: książki, czasopisma, biblioteki (Eng. Kraków - Lviv: books, journals, libraries), vol. 8, Kraków 2006, p. 35, fn. 17.]]. Staff's bitter poem attests to the fact that the active activities of the Polish Bookshop sometimes led to financial problems surrounded by gossip, from which, in the end, it turned out, they were able to emerge unscathed.

In addition to fiction, Połoniecki published scientific works, handbooks, sheet music, maps, journals, even cookery books. Developing another of Bartoszewicz's ideas, he founded one of the largest book lending libraries in the Polish lands, the Scientific Reading Room in Lviv (it offered three different forms of subscription: fiction, science and mixed), with a magnificently developed music reading room; in 1905-1909 it was headed by dr Matylda Goldfluss-Goscieńska.

In 1908. Połoniecki started a piano warehouse and sale (hence his name on the instruments). He also owned a bookbinders' workshop and a paper warehouse, which from 1912 onwards were located at ul. Chorążczyzny 27/29. Concern for elegant graphic design led Połoniecki to co-finance the purchase of the National Printing House in Kraków by Napoleon Telz in 1895. Although he resold the shares in 1903, the partnership with this excellent company continued for years to come. It was not until 1925 that he started his own modern printing works. In the inter-war period, he was president of the Association of Polish Merchants and Industrialists of the South-Eastern Provinces in Lviv.

After Lviv was occupied by the Soviets, Połoniecki's bookselling and publishing enterprise was nationalised and all books confiscated. "The moment the Soviet troops entered was indeed a moment full of tragedy for us. People committed suicide, others died of heart attacks. People despairing and crying could be seen on the street among passers-by. Life in the new conditions became one chain of the hardest transitions. I was one of the first to be disinherited from all my achievements.

The Bookshop, the bookbinders' workshop were nationalised, the stock of books transported from the sorting office to the Chorążczyzna was confiscated and a large part of it was taken to paper mills for (...) milling. One day I found myself disinherited from everything I owned. I experienced this blow quickly, so quickly that it would be difficult for anyone to even understand (...). The loss of Poland, it was a blow so great that all others paled in the face of this catastrophe"[[refr: Konopka M., Dzienniki Bernarda Połonieckiego jako źródło do dziejów księgarstwa Lwowa XIX i XX wieku (Eng. Diaries of Bernard Poloniecki as a source for the history of bookselling in Lviv in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries), [in:] Kraków – Lwów: książki, czasopisma, biblioteki XIX i XX wieku (Eng. Kraków - Lviv: books, journals, libraries of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries), vol. 6, part 1, Kraków 2003, pp. 35-36.]].

The distinguished bookseller, now elderly, tried to make a living from his other passion - growing roses and dahlias. At the same time, he was planning the reconstruction of the company after the end of the war and was even determining the staffing of future positions. As late as 17 January 1942, in the pages of a letter to his son (not intended to be sent, as the addressee was fighting with the Germans in the Battle of Britain), he reported on preparations for the publication of a four-volume agricultural encyclopaedia and an abridged version of a textbook for engineers. He died on 1 February 1943 and was buried in Lychakiv Cemetery in Lviv.

Bernard Połoniecki's son, Bernard Mieczysław Połoniecki (1906-2006), fought during the Second World War as a pilot in the Polish Air Force in the UK (Squadron 304). After 1945, he remained in the West. In 1995, he donated the diaries, journals and correspondence of the famous Lviv bookseller, which are of great historical value, to the National Library in Warsaw.

Towards the end of his life, Połoniecki began to publish texts containing memories of his activities and profiles of the people he came into contact with. These were articles, published in the Lviv press in the 1930s. In the 1970s, bearing the titles Ze wspomnień wydawcy (Eng. From the memories of a publisher) and Z Kasprowiczem i Staffem we Włoszech (Eng. With Kasprowicz and Staff in Italy). Since the 1970s he himself became the subject of scientific research. He was mentioned in works of H. Leokajtis (Zarys dziejów „Księgarni Polskiej“ Bernarda Połanieckiego we Lwowie 1889–1939 (Eng. Outline of the history of Bernard Połoniecki's "Polish Bookshop" in Lviv 1889-1939, "Roczniki Biblioteczne" (Eng. Library Yearbooks) 1970, z. 3-4, pp. 827-871), Feliks Pieczątkowski(Połoniecki Bernard, [in:| Słownik pracowników książki polskiej (Eng. Dictionary of the Workers of the Polish Book), Warsaw 1972, pp. 698-699) and Marian Tyrowicz(Połoniecki Bernard, [in:] Polski Słownik biograficzny (Eng. Polish Biographical Dictionary), v. 27, Wrocław 1982, pp. 349-352). The researcher of the Lviv publishing market, prof. Maria Konopka, thanks to whom - after many articles - the collections entitled Bernard Połoniecki – księgarz lwowski. Dzienniki, pamiętniki i listy z lat 1880-1943 (Warsaw 2006) and Korespondencja zawodowa Księgarnia Polskiej Bernarda Połonieckiego we Lwowie (Warsaw 2020).



  • [1.1] Konopka M., Księgarnia Polska Bernarda Połonieckiego we Lwowie w dobie autonomii (Eng. Bernard Połoniecki's Polish Bookshop in Lviv in the era of autonomy) (1889-1914), [in:] Kraków – Lwów: książki, czasopisma, biblioteki (Eng. Kraków - Lviv: books, journals, libraries), vol. 8, Kraków 2006, p. 34.
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