How the Polish Immigrants Came to New England (Article courtesy New England Historical Society)

How the Polish Immigrants Came to New England (Article courtesy New England Historical Society)

Link to original article, which includes photographs:

Before Polish immigrants arrived in New England they had already made it to the Jamestown colony in Virginia as craftsmen.

Over the centuries Polish immigrants came to New England in waves, the first from 1870 to 1914, the second after World War II and the third following Polish independence in 1989. By 1900, 9.3 percent of Polish immigrants in the United States lived in New England. That number increased to 10.9 percent in 1930. Only the Great Lakes and Mid-Atlantic states attracted more Polish immigrants.
Today, Massachusetts and Connecticut rank 10th and 11th in total population of people with Polish ancestry. Connecticut has the third densest population of Polish Americans in the country, with 8.85 percent, behind Wisconsin and Michigan.
Poles have been soldiers and journalists, farmers and factory workers, priests and rabbis, entrepreneurs and entertainers. Tadeusz Kosciuszko and Kazimierz Pulaski were heroes of the American Revolution. Igor Sikorsky, who had Russian and Polish parentage, built a helicopter factory in Connecticut. Martha Stewart, nee Kostyra, built a business empire.
Some of New England’s most prominent politicians have Polish ancestry: Connecticut senator Chris Murphy, the late U.S. Secretary of State Ed Muskie and U.S. senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders. Red Sox icon Carl Yasztremski grew up on a potato farm and spoke fluent Polish, while the New England Patriots’ stars Stephen Gostowksi and Rob Gronkowski claim Polish ancestors. Paul Newman was part Polish; so is Steven Tyler, Aerosmith vocalist.

The 1st Wave of Polish Immigrants

Most Polish-Americans are descended from the first wave of immigrants, when an estimated 1.5 million fled poverty and starvation in Germany, Russia and Galicia. People called them the za chlebem, or ‘for bread’ immigrants, because most had neither money nor land. A large number were Jewish, escaping persecution.
They came to New England to work in the factories, primarily textile mills. They came in family groups and settled in neighborhoods with large Slavic populations. In Lawrence, Mass., for example, Polish immigrants arrived en masse at the turn of the 20 th century.
In 1903, 600 Polish immigrants lived in Lawrence. That number more than tripled in seven years, to 2,100. They mostly worked in woolen and worsted goods manufacturing. Two years later, Polish women working at the Everett Mill shut down their looms and started the Bread and Roses strike.

The Mills

When strikes in New Bedford’s cotton mills in 1894 and 1898 caused many workers to leave, Polish workers replaced them, though not as strike breakers. By 1910 several thousand Poles worked in the New Bedford mills — and they were still arriving. Polish immigrants had large families, and the children often went to work in factories at a young age. Social reformer Lewis Hine photographed 14-year-old Philip Sowa at the Shoe Mill in Fall River, MA, where he had applied to be a doffer. “Liked to go to school,” Hine noted in a caption to the 1916 photograph.
Another crusading photographer, unknown, photographed the overcrowded home of cotton mill workers in the Olneyville section of Providence. “Eight persons live in these three small rooms, three of them are boarders,” noted the photographer. “Inner bed-rooms are 9 x 8 feet, the largest room 12 x 12 feet. 23 Chaffee Street, Polish People. Property owned by the mill.”
Thousands of Poles came to Massachusetts to work in mills in Springfield, Chicopee and Holyoke. Many saved their earnings from factory work and bought cheap, abandoned farms in the Connecticut River Valley. They moved into old colonial homes and transformed the land viewed as useless into thriving onion and tobacco farms.

A Cold Welcome

They weren’t always welcome. A novel published in 1913, called The Invaders, described how people of English ancestry reacted to the newcomers. So did a 1933 article in New England Magazine titled The Pole In The Land Of The Puritan:

In the smiling country along the Connecticut river and included within Massachusetts, there was three decades ago possibly the most distinctive survival of early New England Puritan life. The first Poles came in the early eighties; many of them were attracted by glowing reports of returning Jews, who told of a land of boundless freedom and countless dollars. Soon the descendants of the Pynchon’s and the Chapin’s were marveling at the expressionless Slavic faces, which looked as if flattened against a board at birth; at stunted figures that bespoke grinding toil; at the masculine forms of the women, that told of field-work beside brother and husband and domestic animal. Today the Polish tide, swelled by continuous immigration and prolific births, is steadily rising in this old Yankee community. The Massachusetts section of the valley is the home of twelve to fifteen thousand of these aliens.

Catholics And Jews

Many of the Polish farmers were Jewish and settled on abandoned farms in Connecticut with the help of Jewish relief societies. Many Jewish families who fled persecution in Poland dreamed of owning a small farm. They ended up, though, in tenements on New York’s Lower East Side. Those who made it out of the tenements tended to settle on Connecticut farms near other Jewish farmers, in Colchester, Norwich, East Haddam and Newtown.
Many other Polish immigrants belonged to the Roman Catholic Church. In 1889, Fr. Franciszek Chalupka founded a Polish-American parish in Webster, Mass., the first in New England. The parishioners of St. Joseph Parish raised money to pay for his seminary tuition. He later founded St. Stanislaus Parish in Chicopee.
Poles and other immigrant groups suffered high unemployment after the 1893 financial panic. Father Chalupka visited wealthy people door-to-door asking for money to buy food and coal. He is remembered today for saving the Polish immigrants of Chicopee.

The 2nd Wave

World War II created the second wave of Polish immigrants who escaped ethnic cleansing by Germany and Russia. Many Poles died in German concentration camps or Russian massacres. The Soviet government also deported millions of Poles to Siberia and other remote regions of the empire.
Between World War II and 1968, 140,000 Poles came to the United States. Poles escaping repression in Europe came from diverse backgrounds and social classes. Most, however, left their home for political rather than economic reasons. A good percentage belonged to the middle- and upper-middle-classes in Poland.
The bulk of the second wave of Polish immigrants arrived between 1948 and 1952. Some were former soldiers; some were relatives of Poles already living here and some arrived under the Displaced Persons Act.
When they arrived in the United States, they tended to seek white-collar and professional jobs. Today there are 78 Polish American parishes in New England, mostly in the SpringfieldHartford-Worcester area, but also in Boston, Fall River, and Manchester, NH. Three dozen Roman Catholic churches in New England offer Mass in Polish.

New Britain’s Little Poland

Many of New England’s Polish neighborhoods have disappeared as Poles assimilated quickly. Not so New Britain’s Little Poland, a thriving ethnic community in central Connecticut. The neighborhood retained its Polish character since it started in 1890. The third wave of immigrants came to New Britain after Polish independence in 1989.
Polish Americans from nearby towns in Connecticut bolster Little Poland’s population of 30,000. They can spend a day doing business completely in Polish, shopping, buying an airline ticket, getting a home loan, taking dance or driving lessons and ordering dinner. On weekends, thousands attend Mass at Sacred Heart Church.
On the last Sunday in April, Little Poland is thronged with visitors to the Little Poland Festival on Broad Street. It features crafts vendors from around New England, food and a live stage with folk dancing and live bands.
This story about Polish immigrants was updated in 2020.

Copyright © 2020 New England Historical Society. All rights reserved. New England Historical Society, PO Box 141, Stonington, Maine 04681

Enigma and Kościuszko in the news

After seeing the superbly acted and directed Imitation Game, I decided to write a bit about the history of Enigma since Poles don’t necessarily get the credit they deserve in the film. Whereas the film wonderfully highlighted an important contribution to the war effort, as well as the personal tragedy of Alan Turing, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, and the fight for women to have equal opportunities in men-dominated fields, the film’s overall treatment of the Polish mathematicians and cryptologists leaves something to be desired.

However, as I was working on this article, I found a superbly written letter by the Ambassador of the Polish Republic to the UK which highlights precisely these issues. Thus, I will limit myself to general comments and you can read his article for more details here.

Rejewski, Rozycki, Zygalski
Rejewski, Rozycki, Zygalski

The film stresses that the world thought Enigma unbreakable but Turing, played by Cumberbatch, confidently asserted that he should be allowed a go and then we’d know for sure. Confident remark considering that Marian Rejewski, with the help of Henryk Zygalski, Jerzy Różycki and French-supplied materials broke the Enigma in 1932 using math and not linguistics. At the same time, the British and French intelligence, despite obtaining cipher keys from a German spy were not able to break the code. Increasing complexity added to Enigma made it more and more difficult to break the codes and required ever increasing manpower. So, in 1938, Rejewski built a machine, called bomba kryptologiczna, to speed up the process. The bomba did the work of a hundred workers. The Polish contribution, as mentioned in the film, was that the Poles smuggled Enigma out of Berlin, and that the Enigma Turing was about to break was infinitely more difficult. It seems strange the writers of the script would opt for that considering the Polish contributions to breaking Enigma are well known and it’s often quoted as one of the Pole’s greatest contributions to the war effort. If that were not enough, the first time Enigma was broken during the war was in 1940. In France. By the aforementioned gentlemen. In the presence of Alan Turing. One wonders if the British would have even employed mathematicians if they haven’t seen the Polish contributions since up to that point, linguists were working on decoding. A 1979 Polish film called Sekret Enigmy highlights the three mathematicians. One scene shows the Poles giving their British and French counterparts all their documentation and two copies of Enigma built by the Poles. The only condition is that the Poles be given credit for what they had done.

Tadeusz Kościuszko

This past week or so, a bit of a storm brewed in the Polish-American circles after an article in the Hudson Valley Magazine quoted Paul Ackermann, identified as a museum specialist with the U.S. Military Academy Museum, who opined that Kościuszko’s legend is “extremely overrated,” claimed that he “learned on the job, but was not a highly skilled engineer,” and that “[h]is only wound in seven years of service was a bayonet in the buttocks while leading an unsuccessful siege.”


This led to a strong reply from Alex Storozynski (addressed to Lt. General Robert Caslan, Jr., Superintendent of the United States Military Academy) who not only pointed out that Kościuszko studied with the best engineers in Europe, but that a great number of historians confirmed his incredible role during the fight for “your independence and ours.” Kościuszko’s advice was not followed at Fort Ticonderoga, and the British took the fort. In the battle of Saratoga, Americans followed his advice, won the battle, and turned the war in their favor. As to his war injuries, the doctors that examined Kościuszko at the end of his life were surprised he could still stand due to all his injuries. Actually having an officer school was Kościuszko’s idea, which Jefferson followed.

Some of his non-military ideas included equal rights for slaves, Jews, serfs, Native Americans and women. During the Kościuszko Uprising he created the first Jewish army since biblical times, and wrote in his will that the money the American government owed him should be used by his good friend Thomas Jefferson to free and educate slaves. Due to his inborn nature, he refused promotion a number of times until George Washington wouldn’t hear of it. He also composed a polonaise for the harpsichord which would become a popular patriotic song during the 1830 Uprising in Poland.

Just as Enigma, this is a strange choice, perhaps Kazimierz Pułaski would have been an easier target? Yes, he is the father of American cavalry but he was cocky. On the other hand he saved Washington’s life and died for liberty.

Dr. Anthony Bajdek, founder and president of the American Association of the Friends of Kosciuszko at West Point and Lt. General Edward Rowny, 1941 Academy graduate also wrote to Lt. General Caslan to express their shock and disbelief at the statements. Lt. General Rowny is responsible for setting up a fund which upkeeps Kościuszko’s Garden at West Point.

A reply from Lt. General Caslen,stressed that there would be no West Point without Kościuszko and that Paul Ackermann’s statements are not represent the official views of the Academy, but asserted that Paul Ackermann has the right to his own, differing opinion.

Greater Poland Uprising 1919

As World War I was drawing to a close and the armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, Western Europe erupted in euphoria of victory and Eastern Europe erupted into chaos. The signing and the defeat of Germany did not solve many issues of frontiers in Eastern Europe and with many nationalities hoping for a creation or recreation of an independent national state, there was still a lot of work to be done.

Provinz Posen in the German Empire by shadowfox
Provinz Posen in the German Empire by shadowfox

Poles in Greater Poland seized the opportunity and staged a successful uprising in the Province of Poznań (ger. Provinz Posen) in Greater Poland. The uprising started on December 27, 1918 and ended on February 16, 1919 when the Entente powers renewed the truce which affected the Greater Poland region.

Let’s go back in time a little, Polish politicians had been working on recreation of the Polish state since the end of the 18th century. In fact, they never stopped. Ignacy Paderewski, a world-renowned pianist turned statesman was instrumental in stirring up pro-Polish sentiment in the United States and Western Europe during World War I. The Blue Army is just one example of that sentiment. Another is the support of President Woodrow Wilson.

The thirteenth of Wilson’s fourteen points stated that: “An independent Polish state should be erected which should include the territories inhabited by indisputably Polish populations, which should be assured a free and secure access to the sea, and whose political and economic independence and territorial integrity should be guaranteed by international covenant.“ As romantic and idealistic the sentiment was, it was also just as ambiguous.

Fighting in the streets.
Fighting in the streets.

On December 25, Paderewski returned to Poland and visited a number of towns and cities to tremendous ovation and euphoria. We should not underestimate his stature: being a world citizen and one of the most popular and successful pianists of his time in Western Europe and the United States he had many influential friends (including the aforementioned President Wilson). Being a fervent patriot, he used his international influence to further the Polish cause. His presence in Greater Poland was seen as dangerous by the Germans since the region had a major Polish population. When the pianist arrived in Poznań, he was received at a banquet at Hotel Bazar and was met by children waving banners, people singing patriotic songs, parades and a general state of excitement. On December 27, the Germans organized a parade of their own, and the soldiers of the 6th Prussian Grenadier Regiment were breaking into private houses to rip up and stomp the Polish, French, and American flags the Poles displayed. The soldiers also reportedly defaced the building of the Supreme People’s Council. By 5:00pm, the situation was getting out of control and shots were fired. The uprising began.

Some things require more detail. The partitions of Poland which took place at the end of the 18th century ended the experiment that was the Commonwealth of Both Nations. Poland ceased to exist as an independent state and was absorbed by the three partitioning powers. Political life and hope of independence did not stop in any form however, and its most extreme examples were the suicidally ambitious insurrections in 1794, 1830, 1861 and 1905. (It is interesting to note that the Greater Poland Uprising of 1806 was successful, like its 1919 counterpart, as it helped create the Duchy of Warsaw under the patronage of Napoleon.)

Members of the Supreme People's Council
Members of the Supreme People’s Council

The political life of the nation never faltered and World War I offered new hope as the partitioning powers were, for the first time, on opposing sides of a conflict. In 1916, the Interparty Committee opened as an underground (read, illegal) organization which advocated peaceful takeover of the Poznań region. After the armistice, it was renamed the Supreme People’s Council (the one attacked by the German soldiers). The peaceful approach did not work and the Council took leadership over the nascent uprising that started before the new year.

Paramilitary organizations were a dime a dozen in the partitioned lands and (this is not much of an exaggeration), it was thought that the only pursuit a Pole should concern him or herself with at the time, was preparing for an uprising. Because you just never knew when the chance would present itself. One such organization was the People’s Guard, but there was a whole underground network which also included the Polish Military Organization and the Guard and Security Service among others. The second was actually a German organization which was made up of Poles and Germans in which Poles worked secretly to prepare for an uprising and learned infrastructure. Because, you know, Poles never make anything simple.

Franciszek Jach
Franciszek Jach

An interesting anecdote tells the story of how the uprising got its first plane. When Paul Pohl, German pilot, was ordered to take the Albatros D.III plane to Berlin from Poznań, he was reluctant to do so because of the chaos going on in Berlin. Pohl’s friend and fellow pilot, a Pole by the name of Franciszek Jach told Pohl to take the plane to Jach’s family farm in the country and he would receive…. kiełbasa. Having already tasted the homemade goodness, Pohl and Jach flew the plane north where they landed in the field and local peasant helped push the plane into a large barn (oh, the great early days of flying). The insurgents then proceeded to “inform” Pohl that they will take over the plane. Seeing the hopelessness of the situation, Pohl did not put up a resistance but did receive the promised kiełbasa and was taken to the train station from where he went to Berlin.

Franciszek Jach and his brother spent the night painting the Polish Air Force checkerboard on the plane and spent the next day flying over the region. They were the first Polish pilots in the Greater Poland Uprising. The insurgents later attacked and took control of the Ławica airport in Poznań which allowed them to bomb the city of Frankfurt. And by that we mean they dropped 36 bombs (oh, the great early days of flying).

Statue commemorating the uprising. Photo by Radomil.
Statue commemorating the uprising. Photo by Radomil.

The insurgents took advantage of the demoralized German military that recently lost the war and by mid-January, they took control over most of the Provinz Posen. When the armistice was renewed in February to include the Greater Poland region, Poles were in charge of the province. When the Treaty of Versailles was signed later that year, Poland weas granted the lands won by insurgents as well as some areas of Pomerania, the cities of Bydgoszcz, Leszno, and Rawicz, not all of which had predominantly Polish populations. Many of the insurgents later fought in the Silesian uprisings of 1919-21.

Archives highlight: Pulaski decanter

Over the last 6 months or so, we have been expanding our online archives by collections and exhibits, and we are always looking for ways to improve it. Recently, we decided to create a three-dimensional model of an artifact from our exhibit. As you may know, the Polish Center places a lot of value on developing a collection of physical artifacts of everyday people to preserve a history that is not often preserved. As Staś always says: “The Polish Museum of America may have Paderewski’s piano, but we have babcia’s pierogi board.” (I should add that we have a lot of other cool things, but babcia and her stuff is important.)

Recently, thanks to a monetary donation, we started working on improving and expanding our Polish-Americans in the Armed Forces Gallery. Part of the gallery will focus on Polish Americans who volunteered to serve in the Blue Army, or Haller’s Army, equipped by the French and who fought on the Western and Eastern Front of World War I before taking part in the Polish-Soviet War. Following World War I, these volunteers created veterans organizations to foster fraternity developed during the war. One of those organizations was the Polish Legion of American Veterans (PLAV).

To skip forward to 1976, the PLAV decided to celebrate the bicentennial of American independence by creating a decanter featuring General Kazimierz (Casimir) Pułaski (Pulaski) on a horse. Both of the horse’s front legs are up, telling us that the rider died in battle (Pulaski indeed died of wounds sustained in the battle of Savannah, Georgia). The decanter was given to the members of PLAV as well as important public figures, such as President Gerald Ford.

Pulaski decanter
Pulaski decanter

Forwarding again to Fall of 2014, with the help of Matthew Young, I had the pleasure of creating an exhibit highlighting the decanter and include a short bio of General Pulaski and a historical sketch of the PLAV. Eric Basile, our lead developer contacted a college friend of his, Desiree Fernandes, who was very kind to create a three-dimensional model of the decanter for your viewing pleasure.

The model, as it is now, allows for a much better experience by allowing you to view and rotate it to see it from all angles. It is quite fun and I encourage you to try it. We hope to be able to do more models in the future as time and resources allow. You can see the exhibit here.

The Feast of St. Andrew or, Wait, are Poles Pagans?

The Feast of St. Andrew falls on the last day of November. Perhaps best known in the United States as the patron saint of Scotland, the feast, known as Dzień Świętego Andrzeja in Polish, is preceded by a night of festivities on the night of the 29th known as Andrzejki. It is the last occasion to organize sumptuous parties before the Advent. And, as you can guess, since Poles are involved, it is quite a party involving food, drink, dancing and magic. We’ll focus on the traditional take of the feast since no one needs much explanation of “partying.”

Traditionally, the holiday was celebrated by single women, and men had Katarzynki, celebrated on the night of the 24th of November. The night was filled with magic, divination and witchcraft mostly meant to help a young girl find her future husband. Initially, it was celebrated individually as it was taken very seriously. More recently, it has grown to be a fun tradition and the magic is thankfully not seen as binding.

The most well known tradition is the pouring of hot wax from a candle through a key head (remember those really old giant keys? yea, those) into a basin of water. Once the wax cools, it solidifies and you can pick it up, and try to guess what the wax is based on the shadow it casts on a wall. The old tradition said you could divine the profession of your future husband but if one saw an angel, it meant good luck, an eagle meant reaching your goals, a heart great love. These days, the interpretation is even more open, for example: “I’m telling you that wax looked like a new Mercedes”.

wikimedia commons
wikimedia commons

Another tradition had young women take off their left shoes and put them in line one after the other from the farthest wall to the door. The lucky girl whose shoe first reached the door would be the first one to get married.

A number of lesser known traditions also abounded. Young girls would write down names of boys on pieces of paper and put them under their pillow. In the morning, they would pull out the name of their future husband. Listening to a dog bark would let the girl know from which side her husband would arrive. The abundance of dogs and their affinity for barking could probably make this a confusing and highly imprecise art, but, it was something. Dogs would also be used for other divination attempts: they would be thrown dough balls each meaning specific boys. Whichever the dog would eat first… you get the picture. A group of girls would bake cakes, smother them with grease, put them on a table and invite a dog as a judge. Whichever cake he would eat first belonged to the girl who would get married first. Geese did not escape these divinations: a blindfolded gander would stand in the middle of a group of girls that formed a circle around him. The girl he would approach or bite first would be the first to…, right, you know what.

wikimedia commons
wikimedia commons

A number of sayings and proverbs are also associated with the feast:

Na Świętego Andrzeja dziewkom z wróżby nadzieja – Saint Andrew’s Day gives girls hope in divination
Święty Andrzej wróży szczęście i szybkie zamęście – Saint Andrew bodes luck and fast marriage.
Gdy Święty Andrzej ze śniegiem przybieży, sto dni śnieg na polu leży – When Saint Andrew arrives with snow, it will lie on the field for a hundred days.

So what is it about Saint Andrew’s Day and fortunetelling? Like with many Polish traditions, its roots go to pre-Christian pagans. The time of year with its changing seasons was seen as especially magical and powerful allowing for contact with the spiritual world. As Saint Andrew’s Day precedes the beginning of Advent, the Christian time of reflection and spiritual contact with God, it was seen as fitting. Although those early Christianizers probably did not envision the pagan tradition surviving for so long.,andrzejki,andrzejki

These days, the pouring of wax and shoe-walking is still celebrated along with a lot of music, dancing, food and drink with friends and family. It is the last big party before Christmas, so take advantage of it, grab some wax and perhaps learn something about your future.

For the Love of Kilt and Żupan: Scots in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth

Poland and Scotland battled to a 2:2 tie in yesterday’s Euro 2016 qualifier in Warsaw. This naturally begs the question: when did the first Scots arrive in Poland? Naturally. Ok, maybe not to you, but now that you’re here, you’re about to find out!

Scots found their way to Poland as far back as 1438 when a Scottish student enrolled at the Kraków Academy (the Jagiellonian University). Later, lured by economic opportunity and religious freedoms, Scottish traders settled in many towns and villages, most notably Gdańsk and Kraków. King Stefan Batory granted Scotsmen right to free trade and also signed the Royal Grant of 1576 which assigned a district in Kraków to Scottish immigrants. Half of the population of Kėdainiai, a village in today’s Lithuania, was Scottish.

A “Scots Pedlar’s Pack,” which usually consisted of woolen goods and linen kerchiefs, became a well known phrase in Poland. These poorer traders developed a bit of a reputation for drunkenness, so, in other words, they fit right in.

By the 1600s, there were as many as 40,000 Scots living in the Commonwealth (although 30,000 is the more frequently given number) and by the 1640s, Scottish goods numbered about 10% of the total imports to the city of Gdańsk.

Many Scottish names became Polonized: MacLeod became Machlejd, MacAulay became Makaliński, Cochrane became Czochran etc. Let’s not forget that Bonnie Prince Charlie was half Polish and a great-grandson of King Jan III Sobieski, (you know, the guy that stopped the Turks from conquering Europe in 1683 which is considered kind of a big deal, even though he really didn’t want to for years, because the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had a great relationship with the Ottoman Empire for over a century, much better than with other Christian states in Europe, and previous kings had signed non-aggression treaties with sultans and were quite friendly, and the Polish nobility’s dress, which is considered “Polish national history” was really an imitation of Ottoman and Persian styles, but that’s a story for another day). There are a number of villagers and districts named “Szkocja” and “Nowa Szkocja” in Poland.

Furthermore, there were a number of Scottish gentlemen named Gordon fighting at the Siege of Gdańsk in 1577 (admittedly, on both sides). During World War II, there were a number of Polish gentlemen named Gordon who served Scotland (and this is a good moment to mention Wojtek retired in Scotland. Right, that Wojtek: the Polish soldier who also happened to be a bear. Look it up if you have to. Look up the Great Polish Map of Scotland while you’re at it, it’s pretty cool).

A number of Scots also rose to considerable positions of respect, power and influence. King Batory granted a certain John Gipson the right to retail his goods to the Royal Court. Another 8 Scots became royal courtiers to King Batory. James Kabrun (Cockburn) a wealthy Gdańsk merchant financed the building of a theater in the city. Robert Portius was the wealthiest man in Krosno and financed the construction of a church. Robert Gordon made his fortune from the Aberdeen-Gdańsk trade route and built a hospital which today is the Robert Gordon University (yes, he lived in Aberdeen but I’m including him). Scottish immigrants organized into brotherhoods and built Protestant churches (remember the religious toleration bit?) Seems like they liked building things.

Moving on, James Murray was made Chief Engineer of the Polish Navy in 1620 (no Polish Navy jokes, its size might have been small, but its perseverance was great [I might have just added fuel to the fire]). Another well known Scot in Poland was Alexander Chalmers (Czamer) who became a Warsaw burgher in 1673, was a leader of the Scottish immigrants, a judge and a four time mayor of Warsaw between 1691 and 1702. Finally, Jan Collison became the court painter of King Jan II Kazimierz in 1664.

Plaque on the house of Alexander Chalmers in Warsaw. Wikipedia.
Plaque on the house of Alexander Chalmers in Warsaw. Adrian Grycuk-Wikipedia.

The Scottish presence in the 17th century was so influential, Henryk Sienkiewicz, the late 19th-early 20th century novelist and a Nobel Prize laureate created the character of Hassling-Ketling of Elgin in his Trilogy (its influence on the rise of national consciousness and pride cannot be overstated). Ketling was intelligent, well-mannered and a lover of poetry. He moved to Poland and became Colonel of Artillery under Jan II Kazimierz in the 1660s. He led the defense of Kamieniec along with his best friend Michał Wołodyjowski where they both sacrificed their lives by blowing themselves up in the gunpowder depot, thus fulfilling their pledge to defend the fortress to the death.

So now you have one more weapon in your arsenal for those cocktail parties.

Diamonds of the Warsaw Uprising

Upon hearing the news that Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński joined the Szare Szeregi “Grey Ranks” (the codename for the underground paramilitary Polish Scouting Association), Stanisław Pigoń, a historian of Polish literature, remarked: “We belong to a nation, whose fate is to shoot at the enemy with diamonds.

When Poland regained its independence in 1918, following the Treaty of Versailles which ended the Great War, or World War I, people in Poland, were, understandably, exuberant. After 123 years of foreign rule and of forced and ruthless Russification and Germanization, Poles could once again use their own language at home, let alone at school, legally. The generation of Poles born in the 1920s was to be the first generation that would live in, and discover what it means to be in, a free Poland. Instead, their adolescence and young adult lives were marked by World War II.

The young intelligentsia of that period came to be known as the Generation of Columbuses. John Paul II belonged to that generation as well as writers Stanisław Lem and Zbigniew Herbert, and Władysław Bartoszewski, Auschwitz survivor, historian and politician who was instrumental in Polish-German reconciliation. But then there were those diamonds whose lives were cut short by the war. This list presents some of them.

1. Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński. We opened the article with him so it’s only fitting he opens the list. Baczyński was born in 1921 and graduated from lyceum in 1939. From an early age he showed talent for drawing and writing. While attending gymnasium and lyceum, he was interested in Polish and French literature. He wrote poems in Polish and later in French.

His style demonstrated catastrophism and a strong romantic influence. He published four books of poetry during the German occupation. His poems showed the need to find your true self when faced with the brutality and barbarism of war. He did not write about the war in a literal manner but rather through an apocalyptic and dreamy prism. His poems addressed the problems of sculpting the human soul and psyche, search for ideals and sense of war which he saw symbolically as a destroyer of moral norms and values. He also wrote the best erotica in Polish literary history. He was held in high regard by his contemporaries as Stanisław Pigoń’s quote asserts.

He was killed by a sniper on 4 August 1944: the 4th of the Uprising.

2. Barbara Drapczyńska – wife of Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński. She is as responsible for the best erotica in Polish literature as her husband. She was a student of Polish Philology in the underground Warsaw University.

She was struck by a splinter of glass which damaged her brain and died pregnant on 1 September 1944, the 32nd day of the Uprising. She never knew her husband was killed.

3. Tadeusz Gajcy. Born in 1922, he attended school with Wojciech Jaruzelski. He showed talent for poetry from an early age but later destroyed all of his early poems. He studied Polish Philology in the underground Warsaw University. He was one of the creators, and later an editor, of Sztuka i Naród (Art and Nation) a monthly literary underground magazine. On its pages, he published his poetry and short stories, sometimes under pseudonyms, and he often polemicized with literary predecessors.

Through his poetry he tried to philosophically understand the world and the fate of a person. His poems are pessimistic but reflexive and war is treated in a metaphoric, apocalyptic vision, and not literally. He also wrote some erotica and translated parts of Homer into Polish.

He was killed on 16 August 1944, the 16th day of the Uprising.

4. Wojciech Mencel – born in 1923, he attended the same lyceum as Baczyński from which he graduated in 1941 and joined the underground Warsaw University and studied Polish Philology. He was on staff of the Art and Nation magazine and later he worked for Droga (Way). He also worked for the Bureau Information and Propaganda in the Home Army. His poems were not published during his lifetime.

He was killed on 13 September, 1944, the 44th day of the Uprising.

5. Zdzisław Stroiński – born in 1921, he spent his youth in Zamość where his father was a legal advisor. In 1941 he started studying Polish Philology in the Underground Warsaw University (see a pattern?). He worked for Art and Nation (another pattern?). He spent some time in the infamous Pawiak prison in 1943 after he was caught laying a wreath under a statue of Copernicus (along with Gajcy) but was released a couple months later.

In his poems, he created metaphoric images which showed influences of the Kraków Avant-garde with messianic accents. He also explored humanistic and patriotic avenues in his works.

He was killed on 16 August 1944, the 16th day of the Uprising.

6. Józef Szczepański – born in 1922, he graduated lyceum in 1939. During World War II, he joined the Gray Ranks and Battalion Parasol (Umbrella), a Scouting battalion which distinguished itself in many underground operations. Among others, he was part of an unsuccessful operation which attempted to assassinate SS-Obergruppenführer Wilhelm Koppe, responsible for numerous atrocities against Poles and Jews.

He often wrote his poems inspired by the moment and his works chronicle the life of Parasol. Probably his best known work is his last, Czerwona Zaraza (Red Plague), which expresses frustration at the Red Army which stopped on the right bank of the Vistula and waited for the Germans to crush the Uprising before attacking the city. It was banned in post-war Poland.

He was mortally wounded on 1 September, and died on 10 September 1944, the 41st day of the Uprising.

He received the Cross of Valor twice and was posthumously awarded Virtuti Militari, Poland’s highest decoration for courage and heroism.

7. Jan Romocki – born in 1925 he completed secondary school in the underground in 1943. He joined the conspiracy in 1941, the Grey Ranks in 1942 and the legendary battalion Zośka in 1943. His underground pseudonym (and middle name) was, quite fittingly, Bonawentura, after the medieval scholastic theologian.
What survived from his poetry deals mainly with issues in, and of, Christianity and his poems are deeply seeped in Christian ethics. His poem Modlitwa (Prayer) was sung by the members of the underground.

He was killed by an aerial bomb on 18 August, 1944, the 18th day of the Uprising.

8. Krystyna Krahelska – born in 1914 her father was an engineer and her mother was a biologist. Her aunt Wanda was a member of a group that attempted to assassinate Georgi Skalon, a Russian-Empire Governor General of Warsaw in 1906 by throwing a bomb at his carriage. Krystyna studied geography, history and then ethnography at the Warsaw University in the 1930s receiving her degree in 1939. She posed for Ludwika Nitschowa, an artist who created the statue of the Warsaw mermaid. She worked as a courier, and, during the Uprising, as an emergency medical technician.

She wrote poetry and songs since 1928, one of which, Hej, chłopcy, bagnet na broń (Hey boys, mount the bayonets), became the most popular song of the Uprising.

She was shot three times in the chest on 1 August 1944 while attempting to save a wounded friend, and died, after a surgery on 2 August, the 2nd day of the Uprising.

9. Włodzimierz Pietrzak – born in 1913 in Warsaw, he attended the Tadusz Kościuszko Gymnasium in Kalisz and studied law at the Warsaw University graduating in 1935. Before the war, he published in several literary magazines and was a deputy editor-in-chief of Młoda Polska (Young Poland). During the war, he was a staff member of Art and Nation. His poems dealt with the questions of morality and ideals and were written in the vein of catastrophism.

He was killed on 20 August 1944, the 20th day of the Uprising.

Polish Center Digital Archives

We have had a busy couple of months at the Polish Center. We had a tent at the Kiełbasa festival, a very successful Golf Tournament and just as successful Polish and Eastern European Genealogy Roadshow organized by the Polish Genealogical Society of Massachusetts to celebrate its 25th anniversary (view photos here).

I, however, had been busy with another project that I am happy to unveil today: Polish Center Digital Archives. The ever enthusiastic Eric Basile led the technical side of the project installing Omeka and setting up web hosting with a lot of hocus pocus that he refers to as coding and congeniality. I have had the pleasure and honor of overseeing the project and choosing, organizing, and describing the content.

A few words about the software: Omeka is a free, open source, web-based content management system used by many museums and libraries to publish online collections and exhibits. It uses the Dublin Core metadata schema which standardizes the description of online resources.

We started the project at the beginning of May and had to overcome a number of obstacles before we were even able to start uploading materials. As of now, there are over 100 items on the website which are described in detail and can be viewed in high resolution. We are adding new items almost every day now.

The majority of items on the page right now come from the Felix Furtek Collection Papers. Felix Furtek was a notary public in the city of Chicopee and he dealt with issues of immigration, sponsorship, land sale in Poland etc. You can read more about him under the exhibit tab on the archives website. There are also sections on the Blue Army (well worth your time), Solidarity (always worth your time), and a Nazi War Crimes case (deserves attention).

Due to the fragility of those materials, we have prioritized their digitization. In this, Adam Maciaszek and Michael Sweeney have been tremendously helpful with their interest and attention to detail.

I hope you will enjoy exploring the archives and learning something about Polish American history.I also want to thank everyone that helped with the project so far and I am looking forward to seeing the project grow with all your help!

Marcin Marszałek