Milestones in the story of The Polish American Congress
The First Fifty Years – 1944 – 1994
Following Mazewski’s return to America, PAC sponsored efforts begin to raise money and materials to meet the needs of Poles suffering in an economy near collapse. The PAC Charitable Foundation initiates its work for Poland by delivering medical goods in short supply to Poland. Eventually, a range of goods from infant foods and powdered milk to clothing, shoes, books, farm equipment and seeds will be shipped to Poland. By the early 1990s, more than $200 million in materials have been distributed in Poland in cooperation with Polish Catholic Church leaders. In the drive, many American businesses, foundations and charitable agencies work with the PACCF and make the effort the greatest Polonia action in history on Poland’s behalf. These dovetail with the policies of a new Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, who in 1989 will accept the loss of his government’s hegemony over Eastern Europe as the price of the reforms he seeks to implement in the U.S.S.R.
Following Mazewski’s return to America, PAC sponsored efforts begin to raise money and materials to meet the needs of Poles suffering in an economy near collapse. The PAC Charitable Foundation initiates its work for Poland by delivering medical goods in short supply to Poland.
Eventually, a range of goods from infant foods and powdered milk to clothing, shoes, books, farm equipment and seeds will be shipped to Poland. By the early 1990s, more than $200 million in materials have been distributed in Poland in cooperation with Polish Catholic Church leaders.
In the drive, many American businesses, foundations and charitable agencies work with the PACCF and make the effort the greatest Polonia action in history on Poland’s behalf.
These dovetail with the policies of a new Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, who in 1989 will accept the loss of his government’s hegemony over Eastern Europe as the price of the reforms he seeks to implement in the U.S.S.R.
1982: Mrs. Myra Lenard is appointed Director of the Washington, D.C. Office of the Polish American Congress. Her predecessors in this key post since 1944 have been: Karol Burke, Col. Casimir Lenard, Magda Ratajska, Dana de Fredberg, Attorney Leonard Walentynowicz, and Zdzislaw Dziekonski.
Serving in key responsibilities over the years in the Chicago office of the PAC and its Charitable Foundation have been Frank Dziob, Jerzy Przyluski, Eugene Rosypal and Pamela Komorowski.
The PAC in cooperation with Mr. Witold Plonski of Brooklyn wins substantial funding from the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities for its proposal to create a national “Consortium for Humanities and Arts Programming”. Over the next five years, Plonski’s Polish American Committee in the Humanities sponsors several hundred lectures, conferences and cultural exhibitions around the United States dealing with the Polish and Polish American experience. This is the most successful effort in history to enlighten the American public and Polish Americans about Poland’s past, its culture and political experience.
1984: President Reagan meets with PAC leaders at the White House on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising.
There he reaffirms his administration’s support for the policy known as the National Endowment for Democracy and endorses the creation of a Polish agricultural foundation proposed by the Catholic Church.
1985: President Mazewski heads a major PAC protest in New York when Polish regime leaders attend the 40th anniversary of the United Nations.
1987: The PAC wins Reagan administration termination of economic sanctions against Poland, a position in accord with the thinking of Pope John Paul II and Solidarity leader Lech Walesa.
1988 Edward Moskal, newly elected President of the Polish National Alliance, succeeds Aloysius Mazewski as President of the Polish American Congress following Mazewski’s death.
1989 Following historic “round table” talks beginning in January between Polish communist leaders, representatives of the Solidarity movement and the Roman Catholic Church about the country’s future, special elections to Poland’s Parliament are held in June.
In these, Solidarity gains a sweeping and complete victory. In August, Solidarity activist Tadeusz Mazowiecki is named Prime Minister, making Poland the first Eastern European country to have a non-communist government in more than forty years. Mazowiecki and his top economic advisor Leszek Balcerowicz move aggressively to make radical economic reforms to deal with the country’s economic crisis and to lay the foundations of a democratic system.
In April, President George Bush delivers a major speech in Hamtramck, Michigan where he offers a new and supportive U.S. policy toward Poland, anticipating the approval of the round table accords. President Moskal is in attendance.
In October, President Moskal heads a PAC delegation to Poland that includes Vice Presidents Helen Wojcik, Roman Pucinski and Treasurer Edward Dykla in order to assert Polish American support for the objectives of the new Solidarity government.
In November, the PAC greets Lech Walesa in Chicago where he receives a hero’s welcome. (In early 1990 Prime Minister Mazowiecki is enthusiastically received in America by the PAC).
The PAC goes on record in lobbying for economic assistance proposals to Poland advanced by President Bush and the U.S. Congress. The first result of these efforts is passage of the “Support East European Democracy Act of 1989” which commits more than $800 million to help Poland in its transformation into a democratically governed society with a free market based economy.
By the end of 1989, Soviet-sponsored Eastern European regimes in Hungary, East Germany, Bulgaria, and Czechoslovakia have collapsed and Romania has undergone a bloody overthrow of its Stalinist dictatorship. In the Soviet Union the Baltic states are moving toward full independence.
1990: President Moskal successfully lobbies President Bush for full U.S. support to international confirmation of the permanence of Poland’s western border with the reunited Germany, something that is crucial to the future stability of central Europe.
On this issue as in numerous instances during the previous year, the PAC efforts win expressions of appreciation from the Polish government.
The PAC under the leadership of Vice President Wojcik plays an important role in raising nearly $600,000 to restore this significant institution. (In the mid-1980s, her predecessor Helen Zielinska chaired a similarly successful PAC drive to raise funds for the restoration of the Statue of Liberty.)
The Ellis Island Immigration Museum opens to the public (September).
1991: The disintegration of the Soviet Union follows upon a failed last-ditch attempt in August by old guard Communist leaders to reverse Gorbachev’s reforms, although Gorbachev himself is soon swept aside by Russia’s elected President, Boris Yeltsin. Poland, the vast Solidarity movement, and the Roman Catholic Church all played major roles in helping bring about this incredible international development. In the U.S., the Polish American Congress was ever faithful to the cause of a Poland restored to full freedom and sovereignty and therefore played its own part in the end of Soviet communism. At the same time, PAC concerns over Poland were always founded on its members’ belief that a strong, free and independent Poland friendly to America was and remains essential to peace in Europe.
1992: The PAC plays a leading role in the activities of an historic congress of Poles from more than fifty countries (including the states of the former Soviet Union) that takes place in Krakow, Poland under the auspices of the Wspolnota Polska association. The congress is among other things, a great family reunion occurring in a Poland at last free and independent. President Lech Walesa, Prime Minister Hanna Suchocka and Cardinal Jozef Glemp are among the Polish dignitaries who address the congress.
An “American Agenda” is unanimously approved by the delegates to the eleventh national PAC convention in Washington in October. Accordingly, the Congress commits itself to giving renewed and vigorous attention to building broad knowledge and respect for Poland’s history and culture in this country and the advancement of worthy Polish American nominees to every level of government responsibility in America. The task before the PAC is to put this agenda into effect.
New national officers include National Executive Director Leszek Kuczynski and Vice President Zbigniew Kruszewski.
1994: President Moskal, Vice President Wojcik, Treasurer Dykla and a delegation of Polish American Congress leaders play key roles in two meetings of Americans of Polish, Czech, Hungarian and Slovak heritage that are held with the top leaders of the United States government including President Bill Clinton and Vice President Albert Gore. The meetings held in Milwaukee and in Washington, D.C. are themselves the direct result of a massive and unprecedented PAC campaign aimed at mobilizing Polish Americans and their friends to pressure the Administration to back NATO membership for Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia. More than 100,000 letters and post-cards and countless thousands of telephone calls and telegrams deluge the White House in an unprecedented display of PAC strength and resolve.
In Milwaukee and Washington, Moskal and his colleagues present strong arguments in favor of NATO membership for the four new East Central European democracies. In neither discussion is the Administration successful in justifying the logic of its opposition to NATO membership for the four East Central European democracies in favor of its “Partnership for Peace” proposal.
Fifty years after its birth, as the PAC prepares to gather once more in Buffalo to celebrate the Congress’ golden anniversary, some facts are clear–through all these often very difficult years the Polish American Congress has remained faithful to its founding principles and has seen those ideals triumph, for the good of Poland and the United States.
by Donald E. Pienkos