Expressing Historical Memory at Stephen Bathory University, or How Joachim Outstripped Adam

Inga Leonavičiūtė (Vilnius University)

At the end of 1918 and the beginning of 1919, Lithuanians, Poles and Bolsheviks declared the restoration of Vilnius University, all seeing it as a continuation of university closed down by the tsarist Russian Empire in 1832. However, in reality Vilnius University was restored by the Poles in autumn of 1919. The university named after Stephen Bathory came to a new life by constructing the myth of the imperial university, as the university of the Śniadecki brothers, Adam Mickiewicz and Joachim Lelewel.

In the presentation, I look at Stephen Bathory University through the heritage of old Vilnius University and the twists and turns of historical memory, connecting it with one of the most famous names in the Vilnius University Hall of Fame, Mickiewicz and Lelewel. Those personalities were the most important symbolic figures of the Polish university in different periods.

In the first years, the spirit of Adam the Great radiated from the walls of restored University (along with the figures of his eldest son, Władysław, and the young Józef, the commemoration of the Poetry Centenary in 1922, the plans about the poet’s monument in Vilnius and the transfer of Adam Mickiewicz Museum from Paris to Vilnius). Meanwhile, in the second half of the 1920s, after the collection of Lelewel’s books, atlases and maps was brought to the University Library from Kórnik, and in 1929, after the reburial of the historian himself in Rasos Cemetery, Stephen Bathory University became Joachim University for the rest of the decade. Nurturing the memory of the historian of Vilnius Imperial University, the Joachim Lelewel Documentary Center was founded in 1930, which actively collected and thus, expanded Lelewiana. During All Souls’ Day, Lelewel became a link between the old and new University, as if creating a university necropolis in Rasos Cemetery. In 1938, Stephen Bathory University expressed a desire to turn the Center into a research institute and suggested to purchase Joachim Lelewel’s house in Brussels and establish a museum there at the end of summer of 1939. However, the start of the war, followed by the closure of Stephen Bathory University put an end not only to those plans but also to the cherished memory of the historian.