Article from Gazeta Stołeczna Wyborcza by Jerzy S. Majewski (7.08.2008)
Bas-reliefs of priests showing the way to young men after the war were so irritating to party-activists that they had ordered to remove them
Sculptures adorned the entry to the Pius XI Catholic House which survived the war. We watch it on pictures from the sessions of the Domestic National Council before 1947 Today their place is filled by show-cases of the Musical Theatre ROMA. The Catholic House building, called Roma, arises on Nowogrodzka Street, opposite to monumental building of the former Agricultural Bank, built in classical academic style. Designed by Marian Lalewicz, causes the impression as if it was relocated from pre-revolutionary Petersburg. In the meantime Roma (Stefan Szyller’s design) is one of the latest creations of the “Polish renaissance”. When the building was opened in 1936 (already after the designer’s death), its architecture was strongly outdated.
The architect of churches
Cardinal Alexander Kakowski, Warsaw’s archbishop was the one who in late 20’s of XX century had an idea of building the large Catholic House. The metropolitan Episcopal office had organized a competition for project of the building. Another one, in 1932 had to emerge a final shape of the great conference room. Stefan Szyller, who has won, had already built dozens of churches in Poland in his nearly 40 year old career. He also took part in renovation of many antique temples. His most spectacular sacral realization was the reconstruction of the collapsed Jasna Góra tower between 1901 and 1905. Its present state known from millions of pictures and movies is the result of Szyller’s work.
Designing temples from the 90’s of XIX century, he was searching for the national style. In late XIX century it was neo-roman and neo-gothic buildings defined then as the vistula-baltic style. Brick, gothic towers of temples built in the landscape of villages and small towns of the Polish Kingdom reminded about the affiliation of these lands of the Russian Empire during the annexation. Later on, Szyller more and more referred to forms of the Polish modern architecture – renaissance and early baroque. During the mid-war years he started to design beautiful countryside churches, as if they were built for hundreds of years, between Romanism and baroque eras. These churches had Roman ground floors, gothic presbyteries, renaissance attics and baroque towers.
Catholic House design was one of the latest Szyller’s master pieces. After the architect had experienced a haemorrhage, design works were continued by Konstanty Jakimowicz. The building has a long five-storey front-wing from Nowogrodzka Street, the office- side-wing and an elliptic lecture room pressed between it. Building was crowned by not large crystal attics inspired with renaissance monuments of Sandomierz or Cracow.
But the lecture hall was particularly interesting. It is constructed of reinforced concrete and contains two gallery floors. The audience could sit up to two thousand people. The hall, as well as the elevations, was ornamented with sculptures. As Ma³gorzata Omilanowska puts it in her book on Szyller, the bulged gallery elbows were decorated with reliefs representing “historical moments of the reborn fatherland”. Another bas-relief, one of priests pointing directions to a group of youths, decorated the main entrance to the building. Their author was Wojciech Durka. Two sculptures representing the pope Pius IX and the Cracow Cardinal surrounded the arcade of the main stage in the lecture hall.
Soon after its opening the hall served also as the ROMA Catholic cinema.
During World War II the building was occupied by Germans. In summer 1941 they organized German Culture Days and decorated the whole city with a great number of flags. One of the buildings at Królewska Street carried a sign saying: “Kino, Teatr, Buch und Schwert”. The grand finale of the festival was to be a ceremonial gala for the NSDAP officials organised in one of Roma halls. The guests were to watch a film named “Suss the Jew”. Shot in 1940 by Veit Harlan, on the orders of Goebbels himself, the film is considered the most anti-Semitic feature film ever made by the Nazi movie production industry. It was shown all around Europe. After its screening in Marseille anti-Semitic riots erupted.
A pre-war cinema operator Theodor Niewiadomski in his unpublished report described an unsuccessful sabotage action that was supposed to interrupt the gala in one of Roma’s halls. It was to be carried out by five dustmen working for the municipal cleaning company, one of whom was Niewiadomski himself, and another one was Józef Czapski, alias “Hrabia” (“Count”; he was in no way related to the painter). They were planning to install a cage full of rats in the lecture hall. The lock, melted by acid, was supposed to let the cage door loose at a specified moment.
“The five-person team of the dustcart began their work. For the past few days the Roma building had been watched by reinforced patrols of military policemen and SS-men reporting every move of Polish passers-by. When we stopped right by the Poznañska and Nowogrodzka Street crossroads, we were greeted by some really well-built military policeman accompanied by an SS-man. They both roared: »Raus! Raus! «, shaking their machine guns and pointing them in our direction. One of the SS-men carefully checked our professional IDs while covering his violet piece of nose with a perfumed tissue. Finally they condescendingly let us drive into the Roma backyard. This was where the dustbins we were supposed to replace with empty ones were located” – we read in the report.
The rat cage was to be hidden in the lecture hall. Unfortunately, it accidentally opened and ten rats ran squeaking towards the door leading to the Roma main hall. “While some military policemen directed their fire towards the flock of rats, others headed towards the dustmen, hitting them with fists and kicking them with mercilessly. One of our men tried to get back into the dustcart. Unfortunately he fell and hit his face against the pavement, tripping on some fruit core. He quickly stood up with use of a rifle butt. A quick readjustment with a kick made him sit on the truck. Our driver started the engine immediately. The departure of the dustcart was accompanied by enraged screams of the German guards watching the Roma building” – Niewiadomski wrote.
“At the Nazi reunion you could use
a Warsaw rat from a Jew named Suss”
The absurd story on the rat action could be used as a plot for a Monty Python film, had it not been for the gloomy atmosphere of the German movie. After its preview in the Roma hall it was screened all around Warsaw, which the resistance was also trying to sabotage.
Communists at the Catholics
The Roma building, just as most buildings at his part of Nowogrodzka street, was left intact during the Warsaw Uprising and the following destruction of the city. Immediately after the war the lecture hall turned out to be one of the biggest remaining halls in Warsaw. Hence it was not surprising that this was where the State National Council held their meetings in 1945. The Council was a political body designed by the USSR, it served as a „self-appointed” Polish parliament. SNC was supposed to be the origin of the communist power in Poland. It was the legislative and the executive body at the same time. Every decision was taken in a nearly absolute manner by the presiding officers, and Boles³aw Beirut was its chairman. Officially, the Council was dissolved on 17 January 1947 after announcing falsified results of general elections for the Legislative Chamber (Sejm), obviously won by the communist party.
In September 1948 the opera and philharmonic moved into the building. Unfortunately in 1953 it was completely rebuilt. It is believed that it was then that too „clerical” reliefs from the front elevation were removed, along with some ornaments in the lecture hall. The building itself lost Szyller’s attics. Why were they destroyed even though at that period renaissance attics were installed to decorate the socialist building, the perfect example of which being the Palace of Culture? On 30 May 1953, the day of reopening of the rebuilt house, a ceremonial premiere of „Halka” by Schiller and Bierdayev was organized. The opera was moved from the Roma building in 1965, as soon as the Wielki Theatre building had been finished. A year later Roma welcomed the Warsaw National Operetta in its halls.
Source: Gazeta Wyborcza Stołeczna
1935– Opening of the Pius IX Catholic Action building designed by Stefan Szyller, completed by Konstanty Jakimowicz.
The Roma Cinema was located in the Lecture Hall. It was equipped with the then latest cinema machines: Western Electric and Wurlitzer’s concert organs.
Occupational years. The building was the headquarters for Radar Glówna Opiekuñcza (Central Welfare Council) focused on charity aid for Poles.
1948– The Opera and Warsaw Philharmonic are moved to the 49 Nowogrodzka Street building.
1965– The Warsaw Opera changes its name to Teatr Wielki Opera i Baletu (The Grand Opera and Ballet Theatre) and is moved to Teatralny Square.
In September its current location is taken by the Warsaw Operetta, which until then had resided at 39 Pulawska Street.
The general and artistic manager of the Warsaw Operetta is Tadeusz Bursztynowicz.
The first premiere taking place at the Roma building was The Cracovians and the Highlanders. The ceremony took place on 16 March 1966.
September 1967 – the theatre Ballet Studio, managed by Izabella Gorzkowska, is established.
7 November 1968– Mitulin’s Aniuta premiere. The show received a warm welcome from the part of the critics and the audience of the Warsaw Operetta.
3 April 1970– Yet another successful premiere, this time of The Land of Smiles by F. Lehara.
1 September 1970– Stanislawa Stanislawska is appointed to the general and artistic manager of the Warsaw Operetta. Since 1966 she had been the manager of the Warsaw Operetta Ballet.
A gradual redecoration and modernisation of the building begins. The modified parts include the foyer, the stage floor, as well as the lightning equipment.
On the New Year’s Eve of 1970 the first premiere under the supervision of S. Stanislawskiej takes place – The Love of Sheik by M. Lida.
The premiere of The Man od La Mancha (1 December 1971) receives an extremely warm welcome. It is worth mentioning that the Polish premiere took place 7 years after its first staging in New York City.
20 February 1972- The very first premiere of a play for children – Bayer’s The Fairy Doll.
14 October 1972– Yet another musical premiere on the stage at Nowogrodzka. This time it is The Music Man by Wilson. The play really pleased the critics, including foreign ones, as they found it a really well-done musical. Even the composer, M. Wilson attended the event in Warsaw.
November 1973– A two-year ballet school is established.
1975 The Warsaw Operetta vocal and acting school is opened thanks to the determination of the Operetta and the support from the Ministry of Culture and Art, as well as of the Department of Culture and Art of the Warsaw City hall.
19 December 1978 – the 25th anniversary of the Warsaw Operetta opening is celebrated by a staging of Skalmierzanki by J. Baszny.
1 January 1979– Ryszard Pietruski is appointed the general and artistic manager.
9 December 1979– The new management’s first premiere – Casanova in
Warsaw by L. Róycki.
1980 saw two premieres: the one of Bajka o skrzypcowej duszy (on 17 March), the other of the Tchardash Princess (on 14 July).
55th premiere in the Warsaw Operetta is the very classical Merry Widow by F. Lehar (13 December 1981). Another premiere, this time mostly for children, was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs staged in 4 May 1985.
24 May 1986– the first premiere of T. Loewe’s My Fair Lady in the Warsaw Operetta.
1 November 1988– Urszula Trawiñska-Moroz is appointed the new general and artistic manager.
The new management’s first premiere is The Blue Mask by F. Raymond that took place on 27 May 1989.
1 March 1989– Krzysztof Jarzyna becomes the new general manager.
1 October 1992 – Jan Szurmiej is appointed the new general and artistic manager.
6 June 1993 – Szurmiej’s first premiere in the Warsaw Operetta is the Music Hall musical, a collection of songs from various operettas.
12 November 1993 – The first premiere directed and choreographed by J. Szurmiej- Piaf by P. Gemsy
Once again the Warsaw Operetta stages a play for children, this time Anne of Green Gables (19 December 1993) directed by J. Szurmiej.
The last premiere of the Warsaw Operetta was Sztukmistrz z Lublina (The Magician of Lublin, 17 April 1994) because on 23 May 1994 the post of artistic manager is given to Boguslaw Kaczyński, who changes the name of the Warsaw Operetta into the Roma Musical Theatre.