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Houseofnames > Knowledge Base > Sample History: Kowalski
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Sample History: Kowalski


Five lands: Wielkopolska (Great Poland), Malopolska (Little Poland), Pomorze (Pomerania), Slask (Silesia) and Mazowsze (Mazovia) constituted the original Polish state when it was established in the 10th century. During the following years, all the regions frequently changed hands, often acquiring new cultural identities. The process has, over the years, modelled the Polish heritage, which is no more based on the endemic Polish tradition, than it is on the cultures brought to the country by its conquerors.

The earliest records of the name Kowalski come from Mazowsze, a historical region of Poland located along the middle section of the Vistula River. Although one of the original Polish lands, Mazovia had been considered an independent state since 1234. In the 15th century Mazowsze acknowledged Polish authority over its territory; nevertheless, until 1526 it was still referred to as an autonomous state. Between 1526 and 1569 parts of Mazovia were systematically annexed by Poland. Mazovian political and artistic life has been focused on Warsaw since the 15th century, when the city became the capital of the region.

Two centuries later, in 1611, Warsaw was proclaimed the capital of Poland. Despite numerous invasions, including the Russian occupation during the partitions of Poland in the 18th century, Warsaw grew to be the main intellectual center of Poland, and it was there that a number of uprisings against the foreign rulers were initiated. The deeply Polish character of the city and the region attracted noble families with a strong interest in maintaining the Polish national identity.

Kowalski is one of the most common surnames in contemporary Poland; its unusual popularity can be explained in linguistic terms: it is a derivative of the word "kowal" meaning "blacksmith" in Polish and, since this used to be a rather common profession, there were many bearers of the name. In addition, variations of the name exist including Kowalski, Kowalsky, Kowelski, Kowelsky, Kowalewski, Kowalowsky, Kowalowski, Kowal, Kowalczyk, Kowalek, Kowalewski, Kowalewsky, Kowalkowski, Kowalkowsky, and many more. It is thus virtually impossible to track the lineage down to one original house. The earliest records show Benedykt Kowalski of Sieradz, who in 1401 founded St. Paul's Monastery in Wieruszow, and died in 1409 in Malbork, in a battle against the Teutonic Order; Stanistow Kowalewski, a huntsman (master of the chase) in Kiev. In 1670, he was a commissioner for treaties with Moscow. Jan Kowalewski recieved the title of nobility in 1659 and Marcin Kowalewski was a Captain in Marshall Lubomirski regiment. He was captured by Turks and 40 years later rasomed. He was released in 1727.

Cultural and intellectual life in Mazovia was very dynamic in spite of strict censorship on the part of the foreign authorities. Among the most important institutions founded in Warsaw were: the National Theatre (1779), the University of Warsaw (1816), the Museum of Fine Arts (1862), the Polish Theatre (1813) and the National Museum (1916). This inevitably attracted artists from all over Europe and gave the city a special status among the most important European cultural centers. The Kowalski lineage is well-represented in the artistic world with the most acknowledged personalities being: Henri Kowalski (1841-1916), a pianist and composer of Polish and Irish origin, who lived most of his life in Paris, and Max Kowalski (1882-1956), a German composer of Polish birth.

In 1939 Mazovia was invaded by Germany from the west, and by the Soviet Union from the east. The new Soviet-German border, pre-arranged by the foreign ministers of Germany (Ribbentrop) and the Soviet Union (Molotov), was the Vistula River. Before the outbreak of World War II, Warsaw and the surrounding Mazovian areas hosted one of the biggest European Jewish populations, and hence they were of particular interest to the Nazi authorities. In fact, soon after the city was invaded by German troops, the Warsaw Ghetto was opened to isolate the Jewish part of the population. The same policy was employed in other major centers, among which was the nearby city of Lodz, also characterized by a large Jewish population. The liquidation of the ghettos involved extermination of their inhabitants in the concentration camps of southern Poland; this was accompanied by extermination of the non-Jewish population of Mazovia. Warsaw alone lost over sixty thousand people during World War II.

Modern historians often see the failure of the Warsaw Uprising and the subsequent liberation of the city by the Soviet troops as one of the forces determining Poland's political direction after the war. The socialist regime was not commonly accepted and, in fact, many people emigrated in the years to follow.

The first Pole in Canada was reported in 1752; in the following years five major waves of immigration can be identified: 1,000 Polish immigrants arrived between 1858 and 1894, 119,600 arrived between 1895 and 1913, 55,500 between 1920 and 1939, 67,000 between 1946 and 1956, and 42,000 between 1957 and 1982. Although many newcomers quickly blended with their local communities, there is a relatively strong Polish ethnic group in Canada, and its influence on the Canadian political and cultural life has been investigated by the Polish-Canadian Research Institute since its establishment in 1956.

The earliest North-American records of an immigrant named Kowalski or one of the many variants came in 1875 when Jozef Kowalski arrived in Philadelphia and Francis Kowalski who arrived in New York in 1901. In the following years, members of the lineage were slowly, and not painlessly, absorbed by the American and Canadian establishments. Karen Thompson's book "Why Can't Sharon Kowalski Come Home?", has probably been the most vocal acknowledgment of the existence of the Kowalski lineage in North America. Another contemporary bearer of the name, Robert E. Kowalski, is a well-known doctor and author of numerous books linking cardiovascular diseases to high-cholesterol diets; his works offer a new way of preventing heart disease through appropriate dieting.

The earliest coat of arms of the Kowalski family is:

A red shield with a sword, two stars and a crescent.


This page was last modified on 14 February 2011 at 14:56.

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