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Happy birthday UWr!

WE ARE 75 YEARS OLD. SPEECH OF THE RECTOR PROF. P. WISZEWSKI

If there was no pandemic, we would meet in the Marianum Oratory (because the Aula Leopoldina is being renovated). It would be a loud celebration of the beginnings of Wroclaw’s academic life. On November 15, 1945 the academic life in Wroclaw officially began. It has been 75 years since that moment.As the coronavirus pandemic continues, the rector, Prof. Przemysław Wiszewski, PhD, decided to meet with you – students and employees of the University of Wroclaw in this way – via the Internet. Below we present the recorded speech of the Rector, and its transcript for one and a half thousand of our foreign students.

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Today, the prestigious University of Wroclaw celebrates its 318th anniversary, including the 75th anniversary of its reconstruction as a Polish university. It was then raised from the ruins into which Hitlerism led the Wrocław Academy. Since 1945, it was built by the hands of the academics who were brought by the cruel wind of history from Lviv and other academic centres of the Second Polish Republic. Therefore, the beginnings of the Polish University of Wroclaw are marked by a paradox. At its beginning there was an disruption and at the same time a desperate attempt to maintain continuity and the academic unity of tradition beyond divisions, beyond the hostility born out of the loss of faith in human reason by nations, when political sorcerers were trusted to preach small but catchy slogans supported by naked force. Academics from Lviv, led by our father, the founder and rector, Stanislaw Kulczynski, came here and put their faith in the human genius over their resentment towards German culture, which they could have had after six years of war. They believed that, as Professor Kulczynski said in 1946, “It was possible to infuse the Polish spirit into the ruins of German universities and create a new academic community.

The transnational, religiously diverse roots of our university are reflected in the symbolism of the rector’s chain made in 1956. We will find there the dates of several beginnings of our community. They start in 1505, which is an attempt to establish the first university in Wroclaw, then we have 1506, the year of foundation of the University Viadrina in Frankfurt, 1661 – the date King Jan Kazimierz gave his consent for the establishment of the University of Lviv, 1702 – the moment of transforming the Jesuit college into the University of Leopoldina in Wroclaw, 1811 – the time of merging the Protestant Viadrina and the Catholic Leopoldina into the Royal University of Wroclaw. And finally 1945, when, amidst the sea of ruins of the Wroclaw fortress, Polish scholars began to teach the knowledge-hungry wanderers from various sides and social strata. Nothing in our history is simple and unambiguous. We have moments of glory – the Lviv School of Mathematics and the Wroclaw Nobel Prize winners, the rector Kulczynski’s resistance against the Ghetto benches in Lviv and the speeches of the students fighting for civil rights in 1968 and 1980 in Wroclaw. However, we also have moments of shame – the participation of students from both cities in anti-Semitic incidents, the night of Nazi domination at the German university in Wrocław, and the involvement of university staff in supporting the regime of the communist era.

History should not create the impression that the life of human communities is a constant birthday party, that in this history the fun under the leadership of master of ceremony never ceases, and that the hope for a great, final prize hovers over the heads of those having fun together. The history of our University of Wroclaw proves something completely different. Despite some vague declarations of successive state authorities, it never enjoyed strong financial support from his patrons. It built his position on the knowledge and commitment of its professors, on the curiosity of its students, and finally on its dedication to the society it served. In spite of the difficult political conditions, after 1945 the University of Wroclaw never shirked its obligations to the society from which it grew up. It developed knowledge and shared it generously with everyone whose hearts and minds needed it. Several hundred students started their education here, and at the peak of the demand for higher education we educated over 35 thousand students. At the same time, however, our community was able to speak out courageously for freedom and human rights. During the occupation of the Main Building in March 1968, when the Rector, Professor Alfred Jahn, did not abandon his students and tried to protect them from the intervention of the militia preparing for the assault.

The past 75 years have been a polyphonic tale of diversity and unity of the University at the same time, with different attitudes towards the world, but one goal of the whole Community: to seek the truth by the power of human mind. This is one desire: to make the world an understandable and better place to live for all people regardless of age, gender, colour, nationality, religion or political views. When we talk about the legacy of the past, we usually – and on the occasion of a birthday always – try to point out everything that in the history of a birthday person makes us do good in order to match the actions of the praised one.  As a historian I see cracks in the past decades. But at the same time I can clearly see what makes our University stand out and defend our values.

This is a centuries-old tradition of respecting diversity in order to look forward through synergy and creativity. By transforming our institution into a research university we are not turning away from our past, but we are reinterpreting it. When the Royal University of Wroclaw was founded in 1811, there were departments of Protestant and Catholic theology functioning side by side. It was a memory of the combined traditions of the universities of Frankfurt and Wroclaw, and at the same time it showed the way of cooperation between the two religions. Polish scholars who came here in 1945-1946 could not and did not want to recreate the academic world of Lviv, Vilnius or Cracow, but created a new, colourful world of the university of Wroclaw. Today, remembering the achievements of past centuries, we are moving towards the future. Our goal is a university focused on research for the benefit of all humanity, which we are introducing today into the world of tomorrow. We are acting as a community that demonstrates the value of rational discourse and respect for the rights of all citizens. We are engaged in social life to support creativity and bring the light of human reason to defend humanity from the darkness of populism and ignorance.

Beginning the history of the Polish University of Wroclaw, our founding fathers wanted peace and reconstruction of a just society, growing on the foundation of equal access to cultural goods and knowledge. Today we know that this is only possible if we act together, as part of a great community of humanity. In particular, when we make a creative contribution to the development of culture and civilization of Europe, when as a place of intellectual meetings of various traditions and researchers from all over the world we include Poland in the great current of the world Academy.

Many beginnings, dozens of generations, but one, common goal: to strengthen human intelligence and to help people live in peace. On the 75th birthday, I wish my University to continue to be true to its values and to protect its dignity. Because even when the night covers part of the world for a moment, the light of reason cannot stop shining. Our duty, our commitment to past generations is to preserve it.

I wish all of us – students, PhD students and employees – that from this service for the world we take joy and sense of life.

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Author: Prof. Przemysław Wiszewski, Rector of the University of Wroclaw

Published by: Tomasz Sikora

13 Nov 2020

last modification: 6 Jan 2021