Bohdan Urbanowicz

(1911-1994)

Photo via izbaarchitektow.pl

Painter, architect, and art historian, Bohdan Tadeusz Urbanowicz was born in Poland in 1911. Before the outbreak of the Second World War, he studied in Vilnius and at the Faculty of Law at the University of Warsaw, before attending the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts and the Accademia Belle Arti, Scuola per Arte Decorativa in Rome, Italy.

Having joined the Polish Army, he fought in the September Campaign, otherwise known as the Soviet and German invasion of Poland, in 1939. He was imprisoned as a POW at the the Murnau am Staffelsee camp, in Austria, where he held painting courses for the other inmates and designed the stages for the camp theatre.

The camp was liberated by the Gen. Patton’s Seventh Army in April 1945, and Urbanowicz decided to remain in Austria. There, he acted as Spokesman for the Polish People in the State of Salzburg, representing Polish citizens. It was a couple of months later, in July 1945, that it was reported to him that in nearby Fischhorn Castle, in Zell am See near Salzburg, there were Polish works of art being kept. Fischhorn Castle has most recently been the place of residence of SS General Fegelein, Hitler’s brother-in-law.

According to his later report, the castle had been left unattended and in May 1945 the SS troops opened the warehouses next to the castle, leading to a rush of looting by German soldiers and the local population. On hearing this news, Lt. Urbanowicz was granted proxy authority by the Polish Ministry of Culture and Art, becoming their representative in the area. With his new orders, he began working alongside the American Military Government to secure the remaining Polish works in the castle. The inventory began on the 9th of September, and their work was of the utmost importance, as 80% of Polish libraries, museums and scientific workshops have been destroyed, burned down or looted.

The state of the castle was reported to be in a “deplorable condition”. The Polish artworks had been moved there sometime in 1944, and comprised of 408 paintings, 68 tapestries, 43 sculptures, 154 pieces of antique furniture, a myriad of noble sashes, militaria and collections of prints. These pieces formed part of multiple public and private collections, including the remainder of the Collection of Count Krasinski which was burned by the Germans, the University of Warsaw, the Collection of Prince Radziwill of Nieswiez, the Royal Palaces of Warsaw, from private palaces and houses, and from Warsaw museums.

In his journals, he wrote of the difficult tasks in front of him: “We keep a daily work diary, we make inventories of items. We are also physical workers - we break crates and transport them to cars”. The artworks, loaded onto twelve railway cars, reached Warsaw on 23rd April 1946. Once his job was completed, Lt. Urbanowicz was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta, his second medal after being awarded the Virtuti Militari V KI in 1939. In 1954, he would be given the Gold Cross of Merit.

Lt. Urbanowicz returned to the art world in 1946, continuing in the Ministry of Culture and Art as a teacher. In 1948, he began a long career with the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, slowly working his way up from assistant professor to, first, head of the Department of Painting and Sculpture and the Faculty of Interior Design, and later the Department of Light and Colour. He had numerous publications to his name, as well as exhibiting in solo and group exhibitions across Europe.

Lt. Urbanowicz passed away in 1994. He was survived by his wife and two children. If it were not for his perseverance and sense of duty to his country, many of the pieces that he recovered at Castle Fischhorn would never have returned to Poland.