In 1946, the Polish High School left Villard-de-Lans.
In the years that followed, the memory of the Poles remained fresh and alive in Villard. In Poland, it was exploited by the new authorities, which used it to enhance certain aspects of their policies.
In July 1958, thirty or so old pupils got together in Krakow to “create a circle of old “Villardais” (sic)” bringing together pupils from the school now living in Poland and its teaching staff. This circle regularly organised meetings and get-togethers.
In Paris, an Old Pupils’ Club was also formed, which had its headquarters in one of the buildings of the Polish High School, 1946-47 version, located 15 Rue Lamandé.
In 1973, as the 30th anniversary of the Vercors battles drew closer, the former pupils in Poland got together with those in France to create the official “Union of Old Pupils of the Cyprian Norwid Polish High School in Villard-de-Lans, and their families – the Villarczycy Club”. Among them were the very active Lucien Owczarek, Bernard Nowak and Bernard Spiega.
In its early days, the association initially concerned itself with the signs of remembrance of the Poles in the Vercors: names engraved on monuments to the dead and in graveyards, the Polish tombs in Villard and La Doua (on the outskirts of Lyon)… It also played an active role in commemorative ceremonies and endeavoured to achieve recognition of the merits of the teachers and friends still living in France; Wenceslas Godlewski, Philippe Blanc, Marcel Malbos and André Ravix. They would all be awarded the Gold Cross of Merit, one of Poland’s greatest honours.
The old pupils living in Poland successfully put on a play by Karol Obidniak, performed at Krakow’s Nowa-Huta theatre, entitled “The Guests at the Hôtel du Parc”, which showed everyday life at the high school, the atmosphere that reigned there and its pupils’ hopes and aspirations.
Nowadays, the Association has about one hundred members and is based at 6, Quai d’Orléans, Paris, in the buildings of the Polish Historical and Literary Society and the Polish Library.
It is of course a rallying point for all of the high school’s old pupils and teachers. Every year at the beginning of September, its Annual General Meeting is traditionally held in Villard-de-Lans.
The AGM is a key event when people get together again and share their memories and news. Meetings are held, wreaths are laid on the Poles’ Tomb, a Polish mass is celebrated, Polish songs are sung and a pilgrimage to Valchevrière is held, with a pause at the Polish Station. There are also meetings with the local authorities, a banquet…
The Association also has lots of other activities to keep it busy, such as exhibitions, events, contributions to university theses and book translations.
It has plenty of projects in the pipeline as well. The creation of this website is hopefully the first step towards compiling a set of archives, which for the moment are scattered all over the place, and putting them to good use.
The fact that people are being asked on this website to identify the photos that have been collected so far will help to ensure the preservation of memories that time will inevitably erase.
A number of books describing the Polish High School from different perspectives (historical, anecdotal, biographical) are available, but only in Polish. Translating them into other languages would help people to find out more about the school, its pupils and teachers and, of course, Villard!
Films also exist. We need to digitalise and disseminate them.
These projects will all contribute to the creation, hopefully in the not-too-distant future, of a special display area reserved for the Polish High School in the Heritage Centre, once it moves to what used to be the Hôtel du Parc et du Château.
A nod to history: the memory of the Polish High School would thus be honoured in the very place where, more than sixty years ago, so many of its pupils and teachers lived and worked.