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History: Polish National Association


Alfred ChlapowskiAlfred ChlapowskiDuring the period of partitions of Poland (1795-1918), Poles who were Knights of Saint John had no other option but to join other national associations or priories, forexample, Alfred Chlapowski (Note 1) belonged to the Silesian Association. The regaining of independence by Poland in 1918 paved the way for the creation of a national association of the Knights of Saint John. Due to the efforts of confrere Alfred Chlapowski, several Polish Knights agreed to establish an association continuing the traditions of the Priory of Poland and comprising of the Knights of Polish heritage living in the country and abroad. The inaugural meeting was convened on 21 June 1920, not incidentally, in the church of Saint John of the former Commandery of Poznań, with the encouragement and support from most senior Polish confrere Prince Ferdynand Radziwill (1834-1926). (Note 2)

Out of this meeting the Polish Association of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta (Zwiazek Polskich Kawalerów Maltanskich–the Association of the Polish Knights of Malta) was registered by a County Court in Poznań on 31 August 1920. The first Assembly General was held in Poznań on 27 June 1922. The majority of the newly admitted members were recruited from noble families of the Great Poland Province. The Assembly General decided to submit a petition to the Grand Master and the Sovereign Council for recognition of the new Association. Subsequently, a delegate of the Association, Count Bogdan Hutten-Czapski consulted the Grand Magistry. Recognition of the Association by the Grand Magistry was to take more time than anticipated however.

Count Bogdan Hutten-CzapskiCount Bogdan Hutten-CzapskiThe fate of the petition of the Polish Association was clarified in 1925 when Count Hutten-Czapski received clear indication that the Association would be recognised as an integral part of the Order following compliance with several conditions. Among others these were the creation of the Statutes of the Association to conform with the Statutes and the Code of the Order, and a minimum membership. The efforts of Count Bogdan Hutten-Czapski bore fruit after his election as the President of the Association on 19 May 1926.

Following assent of the Holy See, Grand Master Fra’ Galeazzo Thun zum Hohenstein, issued a magistral decree on 27 June 1927 announcing the existence of the Polish Association and approved its Statutes. Membership of the Association was initially 43. The city of Poznań was chosen as the seat of the Association. In the short period of Poland’s independence between the wars (1918-1939) members of the Association took over control of the hospitals of the Silesian Association of the Order in Rychtal (purchased from the Silesian Association in 1927) and Rybnik (1932). There were negotiations between the Association and Prince Janusz Radziwill (1870-1967) to establish a hospital on his foundation in Olyka, however nothing eventuated before 1939 (Prince Janusz was arrested in September 1939 by the Soviet occupation forces and imprisoned in Moscow). (Note 3)

In the political arena, diplomatic efforts of the Association resulted in Marshal Józef Pilsudski and President Ignacy Moscicki being honoured with the Grand Balii Cross of Malta. Later, the Grand Master Fra’ Chigi Albani was awarded the Order of White Eagle and officially visited Poland. During World War II members of the Association were the first to lead the rescue of wounded civilians during the Nazi air raids on Warsaw. In September 1939 they organised a Hospital of Malta where wounded civilians and soldiers were taken care of. The hospital was able to accommodate for 220 beds and after the fall of Warsaw Hospital remained opened until the Warsaw Uprising. The hospital is possibly one of the finest examples of the impartial care of the sick by the Order, as they honoured their pledge never to take sides in wars between Christian nations. After the fall of the Uprising, its management passed to the civilian medical administration. (Note 4)

Knight of Malta tunic and capeKnight of Malta tunic and cape

Knights who found themselves abroad at the beginning of the war decided to convene a Interim Committee of Management. Its existence was approved by the Grand Magistry in 1940. The Committee managed the affairs of the Association during the war and its aftermath. Chairman of the Committee was Prince Olgierd Czartoryski, with deputy Count Michal Potulicki. The war and the following efforts of many to return to the war-torn country created a leadership vacuum. It was not until 1948 that a new President of the Association could be elected. Count Emeryk Hutten-Czapski, who later became Grand Chancellor of the Order, was the first post-war President. His deputies were Krzysztof Górski and Andrzej Ciechanowiecki. For the next half of the century the seat of the Association’s Executive remained in exile. (Note 5)

For obvious reasons the Order could not be formally represented in communist Poland, and some of its members were politically prosecuted (for example Stanislaw Lipkowski-Milewski). For this reason the activities of the members living in Poland were restricted to informal support of various charitable projects and religious matters. Very often their presence was of a moral support nature. During the dark years of Marshal Law in Poland (1981-1983), the Knights of Saint John living in the West were able to send valuable supplies of medicines, medical equipment and clothing as well as food. The Association was also an intermediary between other national associations and charities in Poland for the distribution of welfare amongst the most needy. Following the collapse of the communist regime, the First Assembly General of the Order in post-communist Poland was opened at the Royal Castle in Warsaw on 17 October 1992 in the presence of the delegate of the Grand Magistry, Count Kinsky. At this time the Association had ninety members living in Poland and abroad. (Note 6) The rebirth was crowned by the election of the first post-war president resident in Poland, Count Juliusz Ostrowski, in 1997.


by Darius von Guettner-Sporzynski

Note 1. Biographical note about A. Chlapowski is included in J. Leskiewiczowa ed Ziemianie Polscy XX wieku, vol 2, Warszawa 1994, pp. 15-17. [Polish Landed Gentry of the 20th century.] Also in D. Chlapowski Chlapowscy. Kronika rodzinna, Warszawa 1998, pp. 141-147. [The House of Chlapowski. A Family Chronicle.]
Note 2.  Information about F. Radziwill in S. Górzynski et. all Radziwillowie herbu Traby, Warszawa 1996, pp. 40-41. [The House of Radziwill of the Clan Traby.] This work includes full detail annotated family tree of the House of Radziwill.
Note 3. Fate of Prince Janusz and many other representatives of Polish noble families are depicted in M. Miller Arystokracja, Warszawa 1993. [The Aristocracy.]
Note 4. Details presented in Edgar Erskine Hume Medical Work of the Knights Hospitallers of Saint John of Jerusalem, Baltimore 1940.
Note 5. The Executive elected in 1990: President; Jan Badeni with Deputies; Władysław Tarnowski and Andrzej Ciechanowiecki, Hospitaller Adam Zamoyski, Chancellor; Witold Sulimirski, Treasurer; Rafal Smorczewski. Delegate in Poland Juliusz Ostrowski of Kraków.
Note 6. The Executive elected: President; W. Tarnowski, with Deputies; A. Ciechanowiecki and J. Ostrowski, Hospitaller; A. Zamoyski, Chancellor; M. Morawski, Treasurer; W. Sulimirski, Members; J. Mycieski, Michal Radziwill and Marcin Libicki.