Zygmunt Jan Rumel (1915 – 10 July 1943) was a Polish poet and chef of the Wolhynia Region of the Bataliony Chłopskie. Rumel's poetic talent was acknowledged by a renowned Polish poet Leopold Staff, and author Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz. One of his poems entitled "Dwie matki" (Two mothers) in which Rumel described his love of Poland and Ukraine, was published in a popular Płomyk magazine in 1935 (issue No. 28). He was killed during the Ukrainian Insurgent Army massacres of Poles in Volhynia in 1943.
Rumel, whose talent was often compared to the one of Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński, grew up in Krzemieniec in the province of Volhynia. The exact location of his birth has not been confirmed. He came from a military family, his father Wladyslaw, an engineer of agriculture, was also an officer of the Polish Army who fought in the Polish-Soviet War and was awarded the Cross of Virtuti Militari. Some time in the 1920s, the family settled in Volhynia as osadniks.
The Rumels lived in the countryside near Krzemieniec, in a manor once belonging to the family of Juliusz Słowacki. His parents were avid readers and their son inherited it from them. At home, he read Polish classics of Slowacki and Adam Mickiewicz. Zygmunt graduated from a renowned Liceum Krzemienieckie and went to Warsaw to continue his education at the Warsaw University. Leopold Staff once said to his mother Janina (née Tyminska): Keep an eye on this boy, he will be a great poet one day.
Despite living in Warsaw, he was actively involved in social life of Volhynia in the second half of the 1930s. Rumel was a member of Volhynian Association of Village Youth, and cooperated with People’s University in the village of Rozyn, where he probably met Kazimierz Banach. He was a publicist of the “Droga Pracy” magazine, writing about history and society. Rumel supported the idea of multinational Poland, and cooperated with a bilingual (Polish and Ukrainian) magazine “Mloda Wies - Molode Selo”, which was published in Krzemieniec.
War years and death
In 1939, as a result of the joint attack of Germany and Soviet Union on Poland, the province of Volhynia was incorporated into the Ukrainian SSR. Then, in June 1941 (see: Operation Barbarossa), it was overrun by Nazi Germany. Rumel, an artillery colonel, took part in the September 1939 campaign. Captured by the Red Army, he presented himself as a private, and was released. He spent early months of the occupation in Volhynia, where in late 1939 he joined underground, anti-Soviet organization, created by activists of people’s movement. In January 1940, Rumel and Pius Zalewski were sent to the General Government, to get in touch with former voivode of Volhynia, Henryk Jozewski. They failed to cross the border, and returned to Lutsk, where they were met by envoys of the Union of Armed Struggle (ZWZ), Tadeusz Majewski and Jerzy Potapow, who came to Volhynia to build the organization.
In February and March 1940 Rumel twice travelled from Volhynia to Warsaw, as a courier of the ZWZ. At the same time, the NKVD managed to destroy the organization in his native province, arresting, among others, Rumel’s brother, Bronislaw (murdered by the Soviets in 1941). Zygmunt survived because he remained in Warsaw, where he married Anna (née Wojciszkiewicz), and together with another brother, Stanislaw, ran a hardware store in the Ochota district. All the time he actively participated in the Polish resistance movement, his nom de guerre was Krzysztof Poreba. In the spring of 1943 he returned to his native Volhynia and became a commandant of the Bataliony Chłopskie's VIII District covering the area.
In early summer 1943, when the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), together with local Ukrainian nationalists, began a series of massacres of Polish civilians in Volhynia, Rumel, who spoke Ukrainian fluently, was assigned to get in touch with leaders of the UPA and start talks, which would bring an end to the massacres. The order was issued by Kazimierz Banach, chief of staff of the Bataliony Chłopskie and a delegate of the Polish government-in-exile in Volhynia.
On 7 July 1943, Rumel, together with officer Krzysztof Markiewicz (aka Czort), both dressed in military uniforms, aided by guide Witold Dobrowolski, contacted the Ukrainians. They were officially representing the Polish government. However, instead of peace talks, a different fate awaited them. Both were tortured for three days. Then, on Saturday 10 July, Rumel was tied to four horses and his body ripped apart. Markiewicz and Dobrowolski were killed in the same manner in the village of Kustycze, near the Volhynian town of Turzyska. The next day, Sunday 11 July 1943, was the bloodiest day yet of the Volhynian massacres, when armed Ukrainians attacked Polish settlements and churches, killing thousands of people, including infants, women and senior citizens.
In 2004, Polish director Wincenty Ronisz made a documentary Poeta nieznany (Unknown poet), which describes the life and death of Rumel, who is also a patron of several clubs of young Polish poets. However, he remains unknown to the majority of Poles. On February 10, 2011, Public Library in Warsaw's borough of Praga-South was named after him. Also, there are streets named after him in Gdansk and Legnica.
First Rumel’s poems were published in a school paper, in 1934. He kept most of his works to himself, and did not want them to be published. Manuscripts of his poems were kept by his wife, who was a nurse in the Warsaw Uprising and survived the war. First publication of selected works of Rumel, edited by Anna Kamienska, was issued in 1975, and was highly praised by Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz who wrote: “Rumel had a mind and talent on an original scale”.
According to Polish literary critic Bozena Gorska, Rumel’s poetry was strongly influenced by the works of Juliusz Slowacki and Cyprian Kamil Norwid. He rarely reached to the works of Polish avant garde poets, but in some poems influences of Leopold Staff and Boleslaw Lesmian can be found. Rumel was close to the Volhynian folk culture, and frequently used Ukrainian and Russian words. He also touched historic subjects, which is seen in his poem “The Year 1863”.
- (Polish) Tadeusz Szyma, "Dwie biografie - dwie drogi służby"
- Barbara Olak, "Petruniu, ne ubywaj mene", 29 July 2007. No. 30
- (Polish) Antoni Serednicki, "Wychowankowie Liceum Krzemienieckiego".
- (English) Tadeusz Piotrowski, Genocide and rescue in Wolyn: Recollections, Published 2000, McFarland, ISBN 0-7864-0773-5
- (Polish) Michał Klimecki, Zbigniew Palski, IPN Report at www.ipn.gov.pl, 13 May 2002.
- (Polish) Ks. Tadeusz Isakowicz-Zaleski, "Diament rozerwany końmi", 13 May 2008.
- (Polish) Dr Lucyna Kulińska, "Dlaczego Polacy tak mało wiedzą o Kresowych zbrodniach 1939-1947?"
- (Polish) Feliks Budzisz, "Przekażcie sobie znak pokoju"