Lublin, Poland – was the birthplace of Simon Wiess. Though born in Poland, he was born into the Jewish nation and faith. Lublin has been a home to a large Jewish community for hundreds of years and we suspect he lived in it. The Poland of Simon's parents was bounded on the north by the Baltic Sea, on the east by the Russian Empire, on the south by the dominions of the Tatars and Hungary, and on the west by Bohemia and Prussia. Just a few years before the birth of their son, Poland experienced another of many egregious assaults upon it, and it was to endure many more.
Poland was a politically tumultuous region during Simon's youth. The wars of the 17th century had ruined her and she had entered a long and complicated period in her history. Just 18 years before his birth, in 1772, Prussia, Russia and Austria divided Poland amongst themselves. Polish leaders tried to salvage something and instituted a constitution, but Russia invaded in 1792, joined by the Prussians. They took even more of Poland inciting the 1794 insurrection led by Kosciuszko. A Polish Jew, Berek Joselewicz, joined Kosciuszko and commanded the first Jewish military formation since ancient Biblical times. This rebellion was doomed and the king was taken captive in 1795 and died in St. Petersburg in 1798, two years before Simon's birth. Many captured Poles were sent to Siberia but thousands escaped to Italy where, in 1797, they formed a Polish Legion, led by General Henryk Dabrowski, fighting for Napoleon Bonaparte against Austria. The Poles hoped that by fighting on the French side against the Powers that had partitioned Poland they could free their country.
Napoleon used the Polish Legions in all his campaigns; against Russia, Austria and Prussia, in Egypt, in the West Indies (Santo Domingo), and in Spain (where they fought the British and inspired the formation of the English lancers equipped with Polish-style uniforms and weapons). Some of the Poles became disillusioned with Bonaparte, realising that they were being manipulated.
When Simon was six, in 1806, the French defeated the Prussians and, in 1807, Napoleon and Tsar Alexandar set up the Duchy of Warsaw, naming Massena as its monarch. In 1809, the Jewish/Polish leader Colonel Berek Joselewicz died in the battle of Kotzk.
Napoleon continued to use the Polish soldiers to his advantage, and they were at the front of his march into Russia in 1812 and they covered his subsequent retreat. But many Poles remained loyal to Napoleon and in 1815, while exiled on Elba, only Polish Lancers were allowed as his guards.
1815 is about the time Simon left to make his fortune, but, as a young boy, he must have been aware of the political turmoil surrounding him. As his parents were apparently of some means, their lives must have been greatly influenced by the circumstances of the times. The division of Poland and the Jewish leader Joselewicz's valiant resistance and death must have been fresh on their minds when they raised Simon. They must also have made Simon aware of Napoleon and of the exploits of Marshal Andre Massena who, for a brief time, was Poland's monarch and who was recognized throughout Europe as one of the greatest captains of the age, second only to Napoleon himself. (It doesn't appear that Simon held any resentment for the way Napoleon took advantage of his Polish troops and supporters.)
We know that Simon went to sea at an early age, but why? Poland was primarily an agricultural region with limited trade and Lublin is a land-locked area in Southeastern Poland with no easy naval access to any shipping routes. The rivers of Poland flow either to the north and west, and empty into the Baltic, or flow south into the Black Sea but no river suitable for commerce is close to Lublin. What prompted Simon to go to sea? Could his father have been a mariner or perhaps his family had traveled on the ocean and he came to love the sea?
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