Resistance to imperialist authority comes in many shapes and many sizes. History is littered with fascinating cases of rebellious behaviour, and more often than not the more obscure cases have been lifted to the status of national symbol, celebrated for their comedy as much as their resistance. The tale of Michał Drzymała is one such story, a man who rebelled against the occupying authorities in his own special way.
Drzymała was a Polish peasant born in the mid-19th century, 1857 to be exact. Drzymała worked and worked through his life, with the intention of purchasing a plot of land and building a house on it, in order to set up his family for generations to come. At the beginning of the 20th century he achieved his dream, purchasing a plot of land from a German farmer. Plans were made to build the Drzymała family house.
There was one major stumbling block to this plan however. Drzymała lived close to what is today known as Poznan, which was ruled by the Prussians in the early 20th century. The Poznan area had seen a great exodus of Germans over the years, replaced by Poles from the countryside who came in looking for work. The Prussians dearly wanted to reverse this process, and in 1904 a law was passed forbidding the construction of any more unapproved houses. The campaign against Polish landownership was underway.
Michał Drzymała was pretty miffed by all this, as one can understand, but he wasn’t going to give up without a fight. Initially he attempted to live with his family in a shed, but the authorities were having none of this. Any dwelling that remained stationary for 24 hours was deemed a house, and Drzymała sure as shit wasn’t moving his shed around. He was going to have to find an alternative.
One can only assume that a lightbulb went off above the bonce of Michał Drzymała, as his next move was as close to genius as it was getting at the time. Taking advantage of the flimsiness of imperial law, Drzymała moved his family into a circus wagon, making sure to move the wagon a few inches every 24 hours or so. This tiny movement was all it took to disqualify the wagon as a house, and our man Drzymała was able to live on his plot of land without bother.
Word soon spread of Drzymała’s wagon (wóz Drzymały in Polish), and the peasant from Podgradowice became a national hero. Word spread, and even men as famous as Leo Tolstoy himself supported the cause. Drzymała had become an unavoidable symbol of peasant resistance to Prussian rule, simply by having the temerity to take advantage of a loophole in the law. The charade ended in 1909, when Drzymała was able to purchase and renovate an already existing farmhouse nearby.
Michał Drzymała wasn’t the only peasant to try and resist the Prussians in such a manner. Franciszek Chrószcz (try and pronounce that) got around the law by building an apartment underground, but his story ended in tragedy. When the police came to destroy his makeshift chimney, Chrószcz defended himself with gunfire, shooting a policemen dead before taking refuge in a nearby forest, taking his own life soon after.
Drzymała was more successful however, and he was made an official hero once Poland regained its independence and returned to the map of Europe following World War One. His home village was renamed Drzymałowo in his honour, and to this day he remains a symbol of resistance nationwide.
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