Prologue to the 26. FESTIVAL OF THE CHILDREN OF MOUNTAINS: Mission to save lives

26th Festival of Children of the Mountains is coming soonWe invite you to read the "Prologue" to the Festival, which was written by Kamil Cyganik.


Mission to save lives


During the Second World War, MS Batory, the most famous Polish ocean liner and one of the symbols of the Second Polish Republic was dubbed the Lucky Ship. The “lucky ship” was lucky enough to evade missiles, bombs, torpedoes and naval mines. The gravest damage she sustained was when Dutch vessel MV Christiaan Huygens, which was part of the same convoy in support of Operation Husky, accidentally hit Batory’s side.
In 1940 MS Batory earned another nickname – the Singing Ship. In August that year she set out on one of its longest voyages. As Great Britain was vulnerable to bombing, the Polish ocean liner was tasked with evacuating five hundred children to Australia. At first, the only thing that the British childminders would hear from the Polish crew members in response to request for help was: “I don’t speak English.” But apparently the Polish cannot long hold themselves aloof from kiddies no matter what nationality they are. Suffice it to say that they astonished the cold British with the warm and cordial care they took of the little passengers. The latter ones repaid their kindness by singing Rota in English and several other Polish songs, establishing a scout group named “Batory” aboard the ship and crying their eyes out the moment they set foot on land and it was time to say goodbye.
I can’t help discerning the analogy between this short episode in the 40 years of MS Batory’s service and the Festival of the Children of Mountains.
Around five hundred children come together in quite a limited space in Nowy Sącz and its environs for eight days, and there are moments when they really gather in one and the same place: in the old market square or the multi-purpose hall.
Here, they meet – irrespective of their nationality – with loving care on the part of the organisers, guides and interpreters… At the beginning of the previous century British thinker G. K. Chesterton would chafe at the saying „all children are ours,” stating that the slogan was suggestive of an attempt at taking away from parents – and especially from father – their responsibility for their offspring. He may have been right, but not within the context of the same slogan that has been in circulation in Poland. By nature, the Polish (but I am not claiming that it’s only them or all of them) display this kind of inherent kindness towards children. All children.
And “the singing ship”? Finding a place in Poland with more singing than Nowy Sącz in the Festival time is next to impossible. What’s more, the foreign children learn at least one Polish song… about the setting sun and about the good dinner that it is about time to have…
And most importantly – the goal.
The mission of MS Batory was to save the lives of several hundred British children. And the Nowy Sącz Festival? Well, Henryk Cyganik once wrote:
Mountain masters do not depart,
For it is in their works that life is saved,
Even if they have been summoned by God,
They will return with the spring mountain grazing…
And the Festival lets the songs by the past mountain masters resound once again. We may not even remember their names, but their works save lives. And in this amazing July week, maybe for just a moment, but they do rise from the dead: traditions, games, dances…
And memories remain. The participants in the Festival of the Children of Mountains often stay in touch with the foreign friends they made during the Festival. They tell inhabitants of their home towns about Nowy Sącz; sometimes, already as adults and leaders of next generations of children, they return to this town on the Dunajec river. They do remember!
Two years before MS Batory was scrapped, an unusual celebration was held. In February 1969 the adults who as little children were the passengers in 1941 said their goodbyes to the old ocean liner as it was visiting Great Britain one last time. They did remember!
But here I can see a clear difference. I am absolutely sure that a lot of water will pass through Baltic straits before the most beautiful Festival of children’s folk culture is scrapped. May this never happen!
Kamil Cyganik
MCK Sokół 

MCK SOKÓŁ       Ministerstwo Kultury i Dziedzictwa Narodowego       CIOFF


Małopolskie Centrum Kultury SOKÓŁ - Instytucja Kultury Województwa Małopolskiego
ul. Długosza 3, 33-300 Nowy Sącz, tel. +48 18 448 26 10, fax + 48 18 448 26 11

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