July 9, 2010

Prof. Stanislaw Chojnacki, Ethiopian Iconography Researcher, dies

Stanislaw Chojnacki was a librarian, professor, historian and horiculturalist, but his friends will remember him as the kindest and gentlest person they have known.

"He never tolerated anything, he always celebrated what nature gave and that's the lesson that I learned and that I will take with me to my grave," said close friend Meron Yeshoa.

Chojnacki passed away peacefully on the weekend at Sudbury Regional Hospital at the age of 95. St. Casimir's Church will hold a Funeral Mass on Saturday at 10 a.m. He will be buried in Poland. Many friends and family members survive him, including wife Grace and sister Zofia Pratkowska.


The former professor and library director at the University of Sudbury accomplished much in his 95 years and his efforts have not gone unnoticed. After spending more than 25 years in Ethiopia, he was recognized as an active member of the Polish and Ethiopian communities in Sudbury.

Born in Riga, Latvia Oct. on 21, 1915, he obtained a law degree at Warsaw University before serving in the Polish Army in 1937 and 1938. According to Chojnacki's book, 25 years of service at the university college and the Institute of Ethiopian Studies in Addis Ababa from 1950 to 1975, the series of events that led him to Ethiopia began during the Second World War.

On Sept. 1, 1939, Germany attacked Poland. "My nine days of warfare was followed by close to five years as a prisoner of war in Germany," wrote Chojnacki.

Once released, he worked four years in Rome before relocating to Canada in January 1950. In September 1950, Dr. Lucien Matte offered Chojnacki the position of Librarian at the University College of Addis Ababa, which Dr. Matte had recently founded. Chojnacki humorously recalled asking where in Canada Addis Ababa was located.

Not long afterward he discovered that the school was in Ethiopia and soon enough he moved overseas once again.

The University College was Ethiopia's first attempt to establish a university in the country. It was inaugurated by the emperor in 1951.

Chojnacki fell in love with his work and the people of Ethiopia and founded the University College Museum of Addis Ababa in 1963. The librarian was a close friend of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie.

After 25 years in Ethiopia, Chojnacki decided to leave. He had lost many friends after the overthrow of the Ethiopian Dynasty in 1974, including the Emperor. He returned to Canada in 1976.

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However, Chojnacki never forgot the people of Ethiopia.

Yeshoa recalled a touching memory of him. "I remember the first time I asked him if he had any children, he ran to his bedroom and he said, 'Yes, of course. I have pictures to show you.' He brought me an album and in [it] he was showing me pictures of very young and very very poor children in the poorest parts of Ethiopia."

Chojnacki knew all the children by first and last name and would say, "This is my son so and so, this is my daughter," said Yeshoa.

His love for plants, animals, insects and all people, regardless of colour, race or wealth made Chojnacki an inspiring person, said Yeshoa.

"What really touched me about him is the fact that he didn't want to put [the children] out of their life. He went into their life. Almost every year he went back and he actually gave them love and support," she added.

Yeshoa, who is from Ethiopia, met Chojnacki when a roommate, also from Ethiopia, was in search of a cultural community here. The roommate's parents found one Ethiopian family, but they were leaving, so they put her in touch with Mr. Chojnacki. "He [was] just like an Ethiopian person," said Yeshoa.

The professor was her roommate's connection to Ethiopian roots and soon became an important part of Yeshoa and later her husband's life.

"He was like a father to me," said her husband, Gouled Hassan. Chojnacki's kind heart and inspiring work touched Hassan deeply.

Another close friend, Andrzej H. Mrozewski, also had warm thoughts to share. Mrozewski was Chief Librarian at Laurentian University when Chojnacki became Library Director at the University of Sudbury.

The two shared an interest in fine arts and Chojnacki often worked in the garden with Mrozewski's wife, Janina.

Mrozewski will remember him as a world-renowned specialist in Ethiopian art and doer of charitable work, for which he was named Knight of the Order of Malta.

Chojnacki's academic works include Ethiopian Crosses: A Cultural History and Chronology, Ethiopian Icon: Catalogue of the Collection of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies Studies Addis Ababa University and Major Themes in Ethiopian Painting: Indigenous Developments, the Influence of Foreign Models and Their Adaptation.

editorial@thesudburystar.com
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