Four individuals have served as president of the Polish American Congress since its founding in Buffalo, New York in June 1944 in World War II, just days before the great Normandy invasion of Nazi-occupied France. Each went on to contribute to realizing the mission of the Congress, together with many other dedicated men and women. This series of short biographies is on the first three, starting with Charles Rozmarek, who headed the organization for 24 years.
Born on July 25, 1897 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Ignacy Karol Rozmarek, a son of immigrants, went on to earn his degree in Law from Harvard University. Active in the Polish National Alliance fraternal from the 1920s, he won election to be its president in September 1939, just days after Germany’s invasion of Poland and the start of the Second World War.
Already in Fall, 1943, Rozmarek was working closely with other leaders of the six million strong Polish community in America to make its voice heard to the heads of the U.S. government. Together they organized a massive Congress in 1944 of over 2,500 elected delegates from across the country. The resolutions approved at this gathering reaffirmed the Polish community’s total patriotic commitment to victory over Hitler to President Franklin Roosevelt and reminded him of his support for a postwar free and independent Poland. This was a commitment he and British Prime Minister Churchill had made in their meeting off the coast of Canada early in the War.
Tragically, after Roosevelt and Churchill met with Josef Stalin, the despotic ruler of Soviet Russia, at Yalta, it became evident that victory over Nazi Germany would not include a free and independent Poland. Instead, a war-devastated Poland would fall under Soviet domination.
From this point on, Rozmarek led a concerted, public PAC effort to denounce the Yalta decisions on Poland. Already in May 1945, he headed a delegation to San Francisco to present the case for a free Poland at the founding of the United Nations. Soon after he was in Paris, France to state Poland’s case at the meeting of the foreign ministers of the great powers. In Germany he observed the squalid conditions of Polish displaced persons and called for immediate action to improve things there. Back in the U.S. he championed passage of the Displaced Persons Act of 1948 to enable 200,000 Polish refugees to enter this country. As PAC president he spurred the creation of a special committee to assist the newcomers in beginning their new lives in America.
Rozmarek and his colleagues backed the U.S. Congressional investigation that in 1952 found the Stalin regime responsible for the infamous Katyn forest massacre (something Russian leaders Gorbachev and Yeltsin only acknowledged in 1990 and 1992). Over the years as president, Rozmarek gave hundreds of speeches, made countless radio addresses, including on Radio Free Europe, and met with Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson – all in support of free Poland. In 1957 he and the PAC supported U.S. humanitarian assistance to Poland; this aid eventually amounted to nearly 600 million dollars (today – $5 billion). His and the PAC’s unflinching effort to win U.S. recognition of Poland’s postwar northern and western borders was at last realized in 1975 at the international meeting in Helsinki, Finland.
Charles Rozmarek was defeated by Aloysius A. Mazewski for the presidency of the Polish National Alliance in 1967 and a year later stepped down as president of the Polish American Congress. He passed away on August 5, 1973.
In very his last remarks as PNA president he had this to say: “I never saw Poland but I fought for the cause of a free Poland. Never did I and never will I waver in this struggle.… Let us love Poland, the land of our fathers. Let us love America, the land of our children. “
Donald Pienkos is a Professor Emeritus at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
*For more on Charles Rozmarek, check out Dr. Pienkos’ histories of the Polish National Alliance (1984) and Polish American Congress (1991) and entries in James Pula, ed., The Polish American Encyclopedia (2011).