Search for Graves of Gen. Pulaski Relatives Continues
To Find DNA Match
by Edward Pinkowski
This article first appeared in STRAZ, May 1, 2003; pages 3, 6
If Waclaw Szczygielski were living today, he would wonder what was up the sleeve of those who have taken his information on the grave of Anthony Pulaski and claimed it as their own. His secret was published in the Polish Biographical Dictionary (Polski Slownik Biograficzny) in the 1980s. It revealed that Anthony Pulaski, General Casimir Pulaski's younger brother, died Feb. 28, 1813, on his manor in Korytyszcze, which he inherited from his father, and on March 24 was buried in a vault under the stone floor of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary Church in Berezdow, a mill town of nearly 600 souls on the Kuryczka River, in the province of Wolyn. Berezdow is now written with a "v" instead of "w" on maps of the Ukraine.
Exactly where Professor Szczygielski learned this is not clear in the bibliography of the article. Certainly he read many letters and accounts of Anthony Pulaski's activities. He had access to the records of Anthony's son, Kazimierz Adam, who was 29 years old in 1813 and, if he himself didn't arrange it, remembered his father's burial very well. He was the only child of Anthony Pulaski and Antonina Oranski, who were married in 1778, and grew up in the village of Korytyszcze. The two had plenty of time to talk about family matters and attend the church in Berezdow. Anthony's son died in 1856 and grandson, Adam Eliasz, born in 1806, in 1882. On top of this, out of the writings of the great grandson, Kazimierz Ferdynand Pulaski, to which he devoted most of his life from 1846 to 1926, Szczygielski had enough to know where to find Anthony Pulaski's body just as Jane Bowen's grandson knew where she buried the body of General Casimir Pulaski by torchlight on October 15,1779.
Excursion from Warka
Little is known in this country that Mrs. Anna Kornatek, director of the Pulaski Museum in Warka, Poland, arranged an historic excursion in 2000 to Korytyszcze and Berezdow to check out Anthony Pulaski's grave in the Ukraine. She asked Waldemar Lawecki, a guide for trips to the Ukraine for the Fr. Popieluszko Life Foundation, to make the preparations. At six o'clock in the morning of September 23 of the same year, Lawecki showed up at Warka with a new 16-passenger bus to pick up the Kornateks and their party. The bus was loaded with food, beer, and gifts, in order to take care of their hosts and unfriendly police across the border. Their destination was 357 kilometers from the Polish border.
It took the Polish pilgrims two days -- not to mention stops in Lwow, Krzemieniec and other places to view old Polish landmarks and take care of their bodies -- to reach Slawuta, or Slavuta, as it is shown, where Father Jan Szanca, a Catholic priest from Warsaw, awaited them. In the rectory, over hot tea and sandwiches, the priest, who had restored a wooden church with the help of Polish workers from the atomic electrical generating plant at Slawuta, prepared them for the shock of their lives.
In Slawuta, many of the old families buried their dead in cellar of St. Doroty's Church and marked each crypt with a "labladoryt" tablet. During the Second World War, Russian soldiers stole most of the tablets, took out the coffins, and stored 200 tons of salt in the cellar. Father Szanca did not know what they did with the bodies. After the war, when the Catholic hierarchy got St. Doroty's back, the salt barrels in the cellar, or what was left of the salt, was sent to a kolchoz farm for animal feed.
Church at Berezdow
The beautiful church at Berezdow, 40 kilometers from Slawuta, did not receive the same fate. In Soviet times, it was used as a fertilizer plant, a movie theater and a disco club. In the early 1990s, when Father Szanca's predecessor asked for permission to hold Mass in the wooden edifice built in 1775, the local authorities sent a crew with a bulldozer and tore it down. The wreckers left a set of steps from the road to an empty knoll. Some men took two oaken beams from there to the cemetery to remind them of their former house of prayer. The demolition crew did not touch a solid looking red brick house that was once the priest's residence.
Shortly after General Pulaski's bones were found in an iron box at Savannah, Georgia, and his DNA was learned, many persons -- too numerous to mention -- were brought into the picture to find someone, living or dead, with the same DNA. The most successful one was Dr. Andrzej Sikorski, who found the underground vault of a grandniece, Teresa Witkowska, in Promna, Poland. Shortly after, an American DNA team, with the help of their Polish counterparts, punched a hole in the vault and took samples of Mrs. Witkowska's teeth and bones for DNA tests. Unlike other graves in Poland, where one corpse was buried on top of another, Mrs. Witkowska was an ideal choice for DNA. Her body, as befitting a Polish countess, with leather shoes, lace, and satin dress gown, was the only clearly marked grave that had not been tampered with or altered. Unfortunately the forensic scientist, who crawled into the vault alone to take samples, retrieved too little. The tests of the samples were too weak to produce positive results.
Instead of going back to Promna for better samples, the hunt went on for other graves. Among the gravehunters was an American professor from Moscow who showed up at Berezdow with a shovel and tape measure. After his visit, rumors flew like a mighty wind that he found Anthony Pulaski's grave. As Szczygielski pointed out, the grave was nothing new.
However, the strange American created a furor. He poisoned whatever talks were underway to recover the land for religious purposes. Although he said Mass in a small chapel at the Berezdow cemetery. Father Szanca could do nothing to change the minds of DNA team in the United States. Dr. James Metts, head of the DNA team in Savannah, hardly paid any attention to the interruption of church-state relations in Berezdow. He asked Mrs. Kornatek through Peter Obst, a translator of the Pinkowski Institute, to have a party enter the vault she saw before from a grassy knoll and look for Antoni Pulaski's remains.
In the meantime, Obst requested the assistance of the 21-member Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad, which Congress set up in 1985 to deal with foreign governments for the most part in the preservation of graves. Luckily, the program manager for the government body in Washington was Katrina A. Krzysztofiak, who came from Poland some years ago to get a college education and stayed, picked up the ball and contacted the Ukrainian government.
In December, two days before he flew to Poland to visit relatives Obst received a message from the program director that the Ukrainian government found no tomb of Anthony Pulaski in the underground of the destroyed church. Only female remains were found. Obst mentioned the report to Mrs. Kornatek and Father Szanca. Neither of them were aware of anyone going through the vault at Berezdow, but they were not present, of course, when the church was destroyed. They had photographs of the hole, with grass around it which led to a crypt under the church. Whatever the dirt-filled hole has to offer, Szczygielski's secret remains the only report that Kazimierz Adam Pulaski (1784-1856) buried his father there.
PICTURE CAPTIONS -- (pictures to be placed later)
1. Was Antoni Pulaski, General Pulaski's younger brother, buried under a destroyed church at Berezdow? The Ukrainian government, which signed an agreement with the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage abroad to preserve the last resting places of Polish and Jewish notables in its country, reported that it did not find the bones of Antoni Pulaski at Berezdow.
2. Pictured here are the steps that led to the destroyed church at Berezdow in Ukraine and the group from Warka, Poland, around the entrance to the vault on the grassy knoll.