NIEBOROW, Poland | Off the beaten track in central Poland lies a witness to history: Nieborow Palace, which has hosted world leaders, survived communism and wars, and even has a connection to the Kennedys.
Palace guests have included Queen Sophia of Spain, George H.W. Bush when he was U.S. vice president and Lee Radziwill, who was married to Stanislaw Radziwill, son of the palace’s last owner, Prince Janusz Radziwill. Lee Radziwill was also the sister of Jacqueline Kennedy, the American first lady.
It was thanks to Prince Janusz’s ingenuity and connections that the splendid early classicist palace survived World War II and decades of communism almost untouched. Many other residences owned by nobility were plundered by German and Soviet troops and under communism turned into collective farms’ offices or administrative buildings, gradually falling into disrepair.
Visitors today can appreciate the original 18th and 19th century interiors and furniture because Janusz Radziwill worked out a daring plan with the head of Poland’s National Museum during the war.
As the Soviet Red Army approached in early 1945, ransacking and seizing the estates of the working class’ enemies and expelling the owners, the museum’s director, Stanislaw Lorenz, put up a sign saying Nieborow was a branch of the state-owned museum and no longer private property of the aristocracy, so hateful to the Soviets.
“That saved Nieborow from plunder and destruction,” Monika Antczak, the curator of the Nieborow museum, told The Associated Press. “It is now as Janusz Radziwill had left it.”
But Radziwill did not leave the palace of his own free will. He was deported with his family by the Soviets in early 1945 to a prison camp in Krasnogorsk, west of Moscow. His wife Anna died in the camp in 1947. That year the prince and other family members were released and returned to Warsaw. Nieborow had been seized by the communist authorities but preserved intact as a museum.
Janusz Radziwill was also a descendant of the Hohenzollern family, which had ruled in Prussia. That may have helped secure his release from a Nazi prison during the war and protected the palace when German troops were stationed there during the brutal World War II occupation of Poland.
The Radziwills never got their palace back. Janusz Radziwill never visited it after 1945, apparently not wanting to revive memories of the glorious life gone.
On return to Warsaw in 1947, he was arrested for some time by the communist regime, and then lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Warsaw. One of his children, Prince Stanislaw Albrecht Radziwill, had lived in England since the 1940s and there met Lee Bouvier, the younger sister of the future American first lady. They married, and Stanislaw was also the godfather of John F. Kennedy Jr., the U.S. president’s son.
Lee Radziwill, as she was known in the American press, achieved her own measure of fame as a socialite and actress.
When Janusz Radziwill died in 1967, Stanislaw, nicknamed Stas (pronounced Stash), came to Warsaw with Lee Radziwill for the funeral. They returned in 1971, together with Lee’s sister, by then remarried and known as Jacqueline Onassis, for the funeral of Stanislaw’s brother, Edmund. This time Stanislaw and Lee made an unannounced one-day visit to Nieborow, where he was recognized by the old servants and received with great attention.
In 1987, George H.W. Bush, then the U.S. vice president, was hosted in Nieborow by Poland’s last communist leader, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski.
The palace is some 80 kilometers (48 miles) west of Warsaw. Among its many attractions are a 2nd century marble Roman head of Niobe, a beautifully framed window that becomes a mirror after dark, 17th century Venetian globes with odd continent shapes and a vast park. There is also a workshop onsite that produces majolica. A few miles away is Arkadia, an 18th century English-style romantic park founded By Helena Radziwill and believed to be the best preserved of its kind in continental Europe.
Nieborow became an intellectual center in the early 20th century. During World War II, some family members were active in the resistance. In 1992, Israel’s Holocaust remembrance center Yad Vashem recognized Janusz Radziwill’s daughter-in-law, Izabella, for her work helping to save Jewish children from the Nazis.
If You Go…
NIEBOROW PALACE: Open March 1-Oct. 31, https://www.nieborow.art.pl/en/ . Opening hours and days change seasonally so check the website. Tickets: $6.