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Paszkowski, Lech Krzysztof (1919–2013)

by Witold Lukasiak

Lech Krzysztof Paszkowski – writer, journalist, author, editor of historical papers and researcher of the history of Poles in Australia. Born in Warsaw on 18 July 1919, the son of Jozef, a sculptor whose sculptures can be found in various museums in Poland, and Janina (née Bobinska), an artist who was the first woman to graduate from the Warsaw Institute of Fine Arts. Biographies of both parents can be found in the Polish Dictionary of Biography. The Paszkowski family has its roots in Greater Poland but settled in Lithuania in the 16th century, whilst the Bobinski family originated in Mazovia. The first few years of Lech’s life were spent in Zakopane, after which the family moved to Warsaw.

As a 10-year-old he received a book as a Christmas present titled On the Faraway Seas by Mariusz Zaruski and from that time was fascinated by the sea and sea voyages. He decided to become a seaman. Whilst still at the Adam Mickiewicz High School in Warsaw he was accepted by the National Sea Maritime School in Gdynia, which was a significant achievement. After an initial period of study at the School, the students embarked on the tall ship Dar Pomorza for sea trials. As the result of a misdiagnosis by the ship’s doctor he was forced to leave the ship and the School.

Returning to Warsaw, he completed his matriculation and then undertook his compulsory military training at the officer training school for the Army Reserve. He was due to return to National Sea Maritime School where he had been reaccepted but his plans were cut short by the outbreak of World War II. He joined the front in September as part of a heavy machine gun company of the 83rd Division of the Polesie Riflemen on the border with Germany and fought in battles at Parzymiechy on the Upper Warta, on the frontline of Widawki near Jezow, and in the region of Swiecice-Oltarzew near Warsaw. He was taken prisoner of war (POW) during fighting with the SS.

Not only did he never return to Sea Maritime but he did not return to Poland after his imprisonment by the Germans. From 1939 to 1945 he worked as a POW in Maklemberg. Up to the time of his departure from Germany he taught Polish, French, Spanish and History in German refugee camps, as well as fulfilling the function of a camp leader. During his time in the camps he constantly pondered the question of whether he should return to Poland. The news arriving from Poland was not encouraging with stories of the arrests of returned soldiers and their deportation beyond the Ural Mountains.

He decided that in the short-term he would not return to Poland. In later life he stressed that he never wanted to be an emigrant but felt he was carried by the tides of fate. With the assistance of a well-known Melbourne relative, Stanisalw Tarczynski, he arrived in Australia in 1948 with his first wife Hanna, on the Egyptian ship Misr. He subsequently divorced and in 1956 married Urszula (née Trella). This marriage was blessed with two children, Yolanta and Romuald.

He was initially employed as a labourer with Davey Electrical Motors Co and then worked as a foreman with Diesel Equipment Ltd and with Regiframe Steel Construction Co in Melbourne. From 1952 until his retirement in 1984 he worked in the Melbourne City Council’s electrical supply department as an electrical technician. In the years from 1953 to 1957 he indulged in his passion for the sea and completed 14 trips exploring the seas around Tasmania during his holidays.

In a 2001 readers’ survey conducted by the Perth Polish publication Kurier Polski, Lech Paszkowski, along with Professor Jerzy Zubrzycki, was elected the most prominent Pole in Australia of the 20th century. Lech Paszkowski was a humble man who did not seek personal accolades. He refused to accept the numerous awards that were offered to him throughout his lifetime. Despite working for a living, he devoted his spare time to research and writing. He sacrificed countless hours performing meticulous research in numerous archives and libraries around the world, thus slowly building up original and factual material for his abundant articles and books.

More importantly, he demonstrated a thorough understanding of history and a literary talent which enabled him to present the result of his research in an interesting and engaging manner. He spent a lot of time searching for traces of Poles in the early history of Australia by reviewing correspondence and old newspapers in libraries. He discovered many such Poles who were subsequently the source for his articles and books.

The works produced by Lech Paszkowski are not only of historical importance, but are also significant as literary works. It is thanks to him that we know about the significant contribution of Poles to the history of Australia and that this information is readily available in English. Of particular importance is the research carried out over a number of decades on the life and achievements of Sir Paul Edmund Strzelecki, immortalised in the most thorough biography of the Polish explorer of Australia written to date.

Lech Paszkowski is the author of the following books: Poles in Australia and Oceania 1790 – 1940 (London 1962, Toruń 2008) in Polish, Social Background of Sir Paul Strzelecki and Joseph Conrad (Melbourne 1980), Poles in Australia and Oceania 1790 – 1840 (Sydney 1987), Sir Paul Edmund de Strzelecki – Reflections on his Life (Melbourne 1997), his memoirs in Polish, On the Waves of Life – The Years of My Youth (Part 1, Warsaw 2005), On the Waves of Life – The lost years (Part 2, Warsaw 2007), On the Waves of Life – On the shores of distant seas (Part 3, Warsaw 2012).

He is the author of a few hundred articles in the Polish expatriate press: Kultura (Paris), Wiadomości (London), Lud (Curitiba), Wiadomości Polskie (Sydney), Głos Polski (Melbourne), Echo and Echo-Opowiadania (Perth), Tygodnik Katolicki and Tygodnik Polski (Melbourne). He is also the author and editor of the following books: Dr John Lhotsky - The Turbulent Australian Writer, Naturalist and Explorer (Melbourne 1997), in Polish Father Józef Janus Jesuit – A reflection (Melbourne 1981); author of articles in Polish People and Culture in Australia (Canberra 1985), The Australian People, An Encyclopaedia of the Nation - Its People and Their Origin (Sydney 1988), Zbigniew Jasiński – with Blood and Rhyme (Melbourne 1989), in Polish Green Winter – Anthology of Polish poetry and prose in Australia (Lublin 1997) in Polish, Mrs Stefa (London 1999) in Polish; plus a contributor to the Australian Dictionary of Biography (Canberra 1969 – 1990), Polish Dictionary of Biography (Kraków 1974) in Polish, Illustrated Dictionary of Biography of Poles in the World (Paris 1997) in Polish, and Encyclopaedia of Polish Emigrants and Expatriate Polish Communities (Toruń 2003).

Lech Paszkowski died suddenly on 24 April 2013 and is buried in the Springvale Botanical Cemetery in Melbourne.

Original publication

  • Puls Polonii, September 2014

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Citation details

Witold Lukasiak, 'Paszkowski, Lech Krzysztof (1919–2013)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/paszkowski-lech-krzysztof-18399/text30048, accessed 21 November 2017.

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