These two periods were completely different, because the material and especially moral and political environments surrounding them were completely different.
The night? We’ve just described it.
The dawn? It came in September 1944, when the Polish High School became a school almost like any other, in an almost normal environment.
The staff changed, as did the pupils. They now mainly came from the “old” immigrant community and only spoke very little Polish. They were younger and calmer and didn’t have the great enthusiasm of the school’s early days, although the newcomers were still enthralled by the pioneers.
During the first year of this second period (1944-45), the school was still under the influence of London and the state of war. During the second year (1945-46), peace returned. The Soviets had installed a satellite government in Warsaw, derived from the Communist-inspired Committee of National Liberation, known as the Lublin Committee. The new government hoped to make the school its ambassador.
From April 1944, the Polish Red Cross began to fund the high school again, firstly from London and then from Warsaw. Although the PRC was traditionally a non-political organisation, a sudden change of management put it under Lublin’s control.
Although there were no radical changes to the structure and organisation of the school and its teaching, more or less subtle alterations were brought in. For example, the authorities regretted that the pupils spent too much time studying the past and wanted to impose subjects more appropriate to the changing modern world.
Professor Lubicz-Zaleski, who had returned from deportation, was worried and took it upon himself to thwart such attempts. He tried to find alternative sources of funding and thus escape from Lublin’s control, but his efforts were in vain.
In October 1945, a new master arrived from Poland. He was appointed Deputy Headmaster, and took charge of lessons about Poland. His name was Stefan Wrona, but everyone immediately nicknamed him “the eyes of Moscow”.
The headmaster, Mr Berger, was sorry to see the situation become increasingly complicated. Wrona “is spoiling the atmosphere and doing his best to split the school apart from the inside, holding secret conversations with small groups and without reason criticising procedures that have been in place for years.” To begin with, the only issues were prayer and religion, but then educational principles and political questions were also raised, which Berger described as “propaganda”.
The teachers dug their heels in, occasionally resisted and sometimes decided to leave the school. By 1946, even though the overall number of teachers remained constant at twenty-three, only five of them were members of the original team.
Wrona was a man with a mission. He deplored the fact that his pupils knew nothing of the true reality of pre-war bourgeois Poland, and had great power. Portraits of the new leaders appeared on the school’s walls, and the eagle, the national emblem of Poland, lost its royal crown.
The pupils were the ones who suffered most from the situation. Some of them did not accept Wrona’s inept arguments, but others, often the younger ones, were more receptive to them. Anyone who asked awkward questions during his lessons was rewarded with a bad mark... The official portraits disappeared during the night… Wrona put an end to compulsory attendance at the Poles’ Mass… A pupil considered to be too close to Wrona was ambushed and given a good thrashing…
But life went on, punctuated by lessons and singing, and relations with the Villardiens were better than ever before. The French and Polish communities had spilled their blood together. There was only one France now, a free country with fighting spirit.
The school’s final days left a painful impression. Pupils and teachers alike were deeply divided. Poland, freed from German occupation had been incorporated by force into Stalin’s empire. What was the best thing to do? Return home to Poland, whether or not you agreed with the new structures in place, or make a new life here or elsewhere?
The mood was despondent as it was decided to transfer the school to Paris, where it would return to the buildings in the Rue Lamandé, with an annex in the suburbs in Houilles which would get pupils ready to sit their Baccalaureat exams.
Preparations for the end of year and award ceremonies for the 1945-46 academic year were meticulous. The last “Polish” mass was held and wreaths were laid on the tombs of pupils who had died in the Vercors during a ceremony attended by the military attaché at the Polish Embassy and the Chairman of the Polish Red Cross. They wished everyone “good luck on the long path of life” and were convinced that “this path would lead to Poland”.
This was not always to be the case.
The notice sent to the school’s employees was dated 30 June 1946. The Polish High School in Villard finally closed its doors for the last time. The Red Cross paid for the buildings to be refurbished. Professor Lubicz-Zaleski tried to set up a teaching structure recreating the spirit of Villard in the Oise region, but failed.
Not all of the pupils followed the Polish High School to Paris, which was considered by some to be under Moscow’s thumb. Thirty or so of them went to the La Courtine camp on the Larzac plateau, which since the last days of the war, had been taking in Poles who had volunteered their services to the British forces but not been given a posting.
The era of the Cyprian Norwid Polish High School was over