ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Henryk Zamojski may be Goessel’s greatest fan-at least in the country of Poland.
The gregarious ambassador of goodwill is in the midst of his fourth visit to the Mennonite community of 565 people over the past 25 years.
This time, though, he comes bearing gifts: a couple of artistic maps, new historical information about Goessel’s past, and official documents from his hometown initiating a sister-city relationship between his two favorite places.
“I feel very good here,” said Zamojski, a devout Catholic who said he has developed a special affection for people of Mennonite faith.
“These are really some special people,” he said. “I like this community for their point of view about life. You can compare Mennonites maybe with Quakers. They want to help the poor, they don’t like war.”
It was through an exchange program organized by Mennonite Central Committee that Zamojski first came to the United States and Goessel in 1978.
Zamojski, who directs the State Agricultural Advisory Centre in Losiów, was chosen in 1978 to be among 20 representatives from then-communist Poland to make a year-long trip to observe farming operations in this country.
Zamojski said he was ranked 38th on the list of candidates when an MCC official intervened and chose him to come.
“When I saw the list they prepared in Warsaw, I supposed I would lose,” he said. “I almost decided to go home.”
Once here, he spent six months at a dairy in Lancaster, Pa., then six months at the dairy operated by Randolph and Laura Flaming of Goessel.
A strong bond developed between the two.
“They are like for me a second family,” Zamojski said of the Flamings. “Now I have a place in the U.S.A. that I can come whenever I want to.”
Zamojski made successive visits to Goessel in 1989, 2000-for the Flamings’ 50th wedding anniversary-and now 2003.
In turn, the Flamings visited Zamojski and his family in Poland in 2000, and their son, Dwight, visited Zamojski’s office in 2001 as part of a training program for Polish farmers.
Zamojski’s current visit was prompted in part by concern for Laura’s health, a situation which has since dramatically improved.
Through the years, Zamojski said he has developed many strong friendships in the Alexanderwohl Mennonite Church near Goessel, and has become an expert on the Mennonite experience in Poland.
“In books about Mennonite history, there are not many sentences about Poland,” he said. “But for Mennonites, Poland was their second country. They came to Poland from Holland in 1568.”
Descendants of the two Mennonite villages established in Poland now live in and around Goessel and Marion County. Zamojski has created a map of Poland that underscores the Mennonite connection, and will present it to the Alexanderwohl congregation to remind the people of their Polish ties.
But Zamojski also has brought new historical information to the Goessel community as a whole.
Thanks to local history buffs, the community has known it was named for Kurt Von Goessel, a German sea captain who courageously went down with his ship when it collided with another ship in 1895. (See sidebar.)
What Zamojski discovered was that von Goessel was not born in Germany, as had been presumed, but in Poland-about 25 miles from Zamojski’s hometown, in fact.
“I found in the museum and archives a document that tells he was really born in a small village of Urbanowice, Poland, not in (Germany), on Feb. 20, 1852,” he said.
Energized by the discovery, Zamojski has brought a letter from the mayor of Pawlowiczki, a city of about 1,000 people, to Goessel Mayor Peggy Jay, inviting the two communities to form a sister-city relationship.
Zamojski has also brought additional gifts for Goessel officials, including a wall-hanging of the von Goessel family crest and a sizable and artistically detailed map of Europe.
“It is for that reason that I have come to the U.S.A., and to explain and to correct a little bit of the story about Mennonites and about Kurt von Goessel,” Zamojski said.
An exchange of gifts and official proclamations with Goessel officials is planned for 7 p.m., Saturday, under the big tent at Threshing Days. The public is invited to attend the ceremony.
Beyond his official reasons for this visit, Zamojski hopes to change stereotypes some Americans have of Polish people.
“You know about ‘Polish jokes,’ and they may be very funny, but you have to think that not all Polish people that you meet are bad or dumb,” he said. “We also have smart people.
“This is normal-like in the U.S.A., you have good people and bad people, too.”
Zamojski said by far the biggest change in Poland since his first visit in 1978 is that it is now a free country.
“We can do what we want-nobody controls us,” Zamojski said.
“It isn’t easy for Polish people,” he added. “We’re feeling that some (European countries) still try to push us. We like freedom, and we still fight for freedom, just like the greatest heroes in the U.S.A. fight for American freedom.”
Through his visits, Zamojski said he has come to appreciate the differences and similarities between Poland and Kansas.
“Kansas is two-thirds the size of Poland, but Poland has 14 million people-about 10 times more than Kansas,” he said.
Agriculture is key to both entities, he added, but the industry is significantly different. He said the average dairy in Poland has 10 to 12 cows with 30 acres of land. It boggles his mind to compare that with dairy operations in California, where 142 dairies produced more than 34 billion gallons of milk last year.
“Acreages (of Polish dairies) has almost doubled, but we still have a long way to go,” Zamojski said.
Even so, he has found at least one important similarity between farmers in Poland and Kansas.
“When you compare (farmers in Poland) with other people, farmers are mostly honest people, right people, and when they take credit from the banks, 98 percent will pay it back,” he said.
“It seems it is the same for farmers here.”
Zamojski, who will return to Poland Aug. 5, said this visit to Goessel has been personally encouraging.
“For me, it is important to see these people because through these 25 years, I took to Poland many good feelings about this country,” he said.
“For me, it was very important to come after a few years’ break-I have to come like a battery needs a charge. Then I feel better.”