Museologist, historian, ethnographer, tourist expert, regionalist, social activist.
He was born on August 21, 1912 in the town of Simferopol in the Crimea (Ukraine) in the then Russian Empire. His ancestors came from the minor nobility in the Garwolińskipoviat. Grandfather, also Józef Błachnio (1858–1926), was a landowner and a member of the parliament in 1920–1922. Father, WładysławBłachnio (1883–1960), became a train driver under the supervision of his uncle, who was a builder of the Crimean Railways. In Crimea, Władysław met his future wife, DomicelaBuiłek, the future mother of Józef Błachnio. After the end of World War I and after Poland regained independence, the family of WładysławBłachnio returned to their hometown, and then changed their place of residence several times. In 1922, they finally settled in Grudziądz.
The young Józef Błachnio continued his education at the Tadeusz Kościuszko Gymnasium inGrudziądz. At the same time, at the age of 16, he joined the Polish Touring Society, whose aim was, inter alia, popularizing knowledge about the monuments and history of the region by organizing trips and lectures or collecting museum collections and sightseeing literature. In the years 1928–1932 he was the president of the 3rd and 4th Tourism Club of the Polish School Youth. He also willingly organized sightseeing trips all over Poland, reaching the most beautiful places. At the side of Fr. dr. WładysławŁęga and Henryk Gąsiorowski, he discovered and developed his passions, which influenced his further life and future career.
In 1933 he married Marta Piotrowicz, whom he had met earlier in quite surprising circumstances, i.e. during a fire in a tenement house in the neighborhood, he heroically led an unconscious woman out, saving her from the flames. It was Marta Piotrowicz, with whom he had two daughters – Kazimiera and Barbara. In 1939, two months after Barbara’s birth, Marta died as a result of an illness. Józef remarried three years later, in 1942, to Leokadia née Kapica, with whom he had four children – Wiesław, Grażyna Henryka and Ewa.
He started his professional career in 1929 as a registrar in the notary’s office of attorney Kisielewski in Grudziądz. In the years 1933–1935, he served in the 8th Gendarmerie Squadron in Toruń, and finished at the Gendarmerie Training Center in Grudziądz as a corporal. In the years 1935–1937 he was a warehouseman at the Aviation School of Shooting and Bombing in Grudziądz, and for a short time he was also a clerk at the Tax Office in Włocławek. Then, in 1939, he worked as an assistant clerk at the Pilots’ School of the Air and Gas League in Grudziądz. Throughout this time, he was active socially in the Polish Touring Society and systematically raised his professional qualifications through evening courses – the Evening Trade Course at the Coeducational Merchant Middle School of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce in Grudziądz. In 1938, he passed an extramural exam in the program of the 3-class School of Economics. On August 20, 1939, he was appointed to the 65th Infantry Regiment in Grudziądz as a reserve platoon, which resulted in active participation in the defensive war in September 1939. After the defeat of the September campaign, he was briefly captured, from which he managed to bravely escape, then by he hid in Grudziądz for some time. On February 10, 1940, he was caught and arrested for four months. After his release from detention, he was displaced with his children to the then General Government. They settled in Helenów near Sobolewo, where he first worked as a worker in a sawmill, and in 1941, after moving to Biłgoraj, he was a clerk at the Tax Office (1942–1944). In November 1944, he was called up for military service in the Second Polish Army. He took an active part in the fights for the liberation of the Polish lands. He ended his service in the rank of sergeant on August 2, 1945, as a result of several months of illness, which was a consequence of a chest wound.
Shortly after the end of the war, Józef Błachnio and his family returned to the dilapidated house in Grudziądz, where he began its arduous reconstruction. At the same time, he joined the team organizing and securing the building of the Museum in Grudziądz together with the museum inventory that survived the destruction and dispersion. In April 1945, he was appointed by a delegate of the National National Council to the position of curator and manager of the museum. The new manager faced difficult challenges related to securing the preserved collections and organizing new exhibitions, which at that time was not an easy task to implement. As the process of registering museum objects showed then, only 30% of the pre-war collections (1,200 various monuments and 1,804 coins and medals) have survived. The remainder was deported by the Germans, incl. to the museum in Gdańsk or was irretrievably lost. As a result of the great commitment and effort of the entire museum team, on February 17, 1946, the Museum in Grudziądz was officially opened to visitors as the first in the province. At that time, a number of archaeological museums, guild art, numismatic items, ethnographic monuments and memorabilia about Grudziądz were displayed at that time. In September 1946, the museum was inspected by prof. Stanisław Lorentz, the then director of the General Directorate of Museums and Monuments Protection, who expressed appreciation and satisfaction for the effort put in making cultural goods available to the public. In the following years, the museum generated better and better results in terms of organizing exhibitions.
In view of the above and other factors, Józef Błachnio, already an experienced museologist and organizer of cultural institutions, on September 6, 1949, was authorized by the Supreme Directorate of Museums and Monument Protection to secure and inventory museum collections from the former Regional Museum of West Prussia in Kwidzyn (German: HeimatmuseumWestpreussen) in Marienwerder) and other cultural goods, incl. secured during the recovery action in the Kwidzyn district. These included 31 monuments taken over from the County Office in Kwidzyn in October 1949. The above resource included the following objects: 8 militaria, 5 religious sculptures, 1 bronze sculpture (emperor and slaves), 17 ethnographic monuments. In 1950, after securing and inventorying the Kwidzyn collections, Józef Błachnio sent to the Ministry of Culture and Art a proposal to employ AlfonsLemański as the future manager of the museum and BenedyktDetka as a permanent employee of the museum. The request was granted. According to the handover protocol of May 26, 1950, Błachnio, who was in charge of the former Kwidzyn museum at that time, handed over a total of 4253 objects to the new manager of Lemański, including: exhibits of the so-called prehistoric (547 items), ethnographic exhibits (323 items), guild art monuments (673 items), military (129 items), natural objects (105 items), church sculptures (17 items), paintings (37 items), library collections ( 219 items), archives (195 items) as well as films and negatives (2008 items in total). In addition, an inventory of museum objects and a whole range of documents regarding the protection and organization of the post-war museum facility in Kwidzyn were also handed over.
When he came to Kwidzyn, Józef Błachnio also took great care of the abandoned and devastated Gothic castle of the Pomesanian Chapter, which has been the seat of the present museum since 1950 – the Kwidzyn Castle, a branch of the Malbork Castle Museum. In letters to the Ministry of Culture and Art and the General Directorate of Museums and Monuments Protection, he asked for the protection and supervision of this unique monument of fortified architecture.
Despite numerous family and official duties, Józef Błachnio systematically trained himself, raising his qualifications. He started his professional activity as a self-taught enthusiast. In 1946, he completed a six-month Introductory Pedagogical Course, which enabled him to teach in primary schools. In 1948 and 1949 he participated in the 1st and 2nd Museological Course in Krakow, and in 1949 in the Course in the Conservation of Prehistoric and Natural Specimens organized by the Board of the Museum Association in Poland. In the 1950s, he participated in subsequent professional training courses in SzklarskaPoręba and Warsaw. In 1959 he completed a course for museum researchers, and in 1960 a Consultation Course – both organized by the National Museum in Warsaw. He also passed the secondary school-leaving examination at the Secondary School for Working Students in Toruń, which allowed him to start his studies in October 1964 at the Extramural History Study at the Faculty of Humanities at the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń. There, too, as the oldest seminarian under the supervision of doc. dr. Antoni Czacharowski, he prepared a master’s thesis entitled “Crafts in the Chełmno Land during the Teutonic Order (1230–1454)”. Unfortunately, he did not manage to defend her anymore.
As a result of the ordinance of the Council of Ministers of July 27, 1955 and the Ordinance of the Minister of Culture and Art of February 1, 1956, Józef Błachnio lost the title of museum curator and was classified as assistant professor at the Grudziądz Museum. However, he still held the position of manager, which he lost on July 1, 1958 to Herbert Wilczewski. The reason was the lack of higher education. From January 1, 1963, he was entrusted with the head of the Department of History and Ethnography.
In his professional career, Józef Błachnio also led numerous research projects. He conducted research in the field of regional history, field research on folk art and archeology. In the professional environment, he was also perceived as a documentary photographer. He sketched architectural details of historic buildings, mainly rural farms. He conducted a number of archival and library searches, and obtained information from spoken sources through numerous interviews. He kept in touch with the staff of other cultural institutions and scientific institutions. The results of the research, as well as the achievements in the management field of the museum, were reflected in numerous articles, publications and studies based on the rights of the manuscript. He was the author of a number of articles and notes on the regional history of the city and the Grudziądzpoviat, published in print mainly in “Gazeta Pomorska” and “IlustrowanyKurierPolski”. Co-author and editor of several Grudziądz tourist guides, including: “Monograph of the Grudziądz district”, “Chronicle of the City of Grudziądz” – under the rights of a manuscript, or “Twenty years of the Grudziądz district in People’s Poland”.
His professional work was intertwined with his social work, mainly in the field of tourism and sightseeing. His passion, already rooted in his adolescence, was continued in post-war tourism and sightseeing organizations in which he held key functions, including in: the Branch of the Polish Tourist and Sightseeing Society, the Toruń Branch of the Polish Folklore Society or the Branch of the Polish Historical Society in Grudziądz. From 1956, he was the PTTK Social Welfare Officer over the monuments of the district and city of Grudziądz. He was also a tourist guide. Moreover, for his services to culture, science and tourism, he has been honored with numerous medals and state and regional awards.
He died tragically on November 27, 1968 as a result of a car accident near Chełmno, which suffered the employees of the Museum in Grudziądz while fulfilling their official duties.
(compiled by Ł. Rzepczyński)
Handover and acceptance act of taking over the museum collections in Kwidzyn of May 26, 1950, archival collections of the Kwidzyn Castle, branch of the MZM.
Literature: Mielczewska A., Józef Błachnio, [in:] 120 years of the Museum in Grudziądz, ed. A. Wajler, Grudziądz 2004; Błachnio H. and W., Józef Błachnio. From the history of Grudziądz and the region, Grudziądz 2016.
Józef Błachnio 1968; reproduction after: H. and W. Błachnio, Józef Błachnio. From the history of Grudziądz and the Region), Grudziądz 2016, p. 129.