Milestones in the story of The Polish American Congress
The First Fifty Years – 1944 – 1994
[trx_dropcaps style=”1″]1944: Founding of the Polish American Congress at a massive rally in Buffalo, New York, May 28-June 1, 1944. Some 2,600 delegates from Polish American communities around the country take part in this significant event of World War II.
At their first Congress, the delegates resolve to underscore American Polonia’s patriotic commitment to the U.S. war effort against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Further, they call on the U.S. government to support the freedom and sovereignty of Poland, a wartime ally of our country, once the War is over.[/trx_dropcaps]
[trx_dropcaps style=”1″]Charles Rozmarek, President of the Polish, fraternal insurance society, is elected President of the PAC. Honorata Wolowska, President of the Polish Women’s Alliance, Teofil Starzynski, President of the Polish Falcons of America, John Mikuta of the Polish National Union fraternal, and Frank Januszewski and Max Wegrzynek of an organization of patriotic activists favoring Poland’s cause in America, the National Committee of Americans of Polish Descent, are all elected PAC Vice Presidents.
John Olejniczak, President of the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America, is elected Treasurer. Stanislas Gutowski, President of the Pulaski Foundation, becomes National Secretary of the new Polish American Congress.[/trx_dropcaps]
1945: Following President Franklin Roosevelt’s return from his conference at Yalta with British Prime Minister Churchill and Soviet leader Stalin, Rozmarek and the PAC are among the first in America to publicly denounce the Great Power agreements on Poland and Eastern Europe as a betrayal of the United States reasons for participating in the World War. These are found in the “Atlantic Charter” in which the rights of all nations small and great are to be the cornerstone of a just and peaceful international order. The Soviet take-over and communization of all of Eastern Europe in the next few years proves Rozmarek correct. The seeds are thus sown for what will be an often-tense Cold War between the United States and the U.S.S.R., one that will end only with the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991.
Rozmarek heads a PAC delegation to the founding meeting of United Nations in San Francisco where he asserts Poland’s right to freedom and sovereignty. The renowned historian Oskar Halecki, himself a founder of the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences of America and the Polish American Historical Association, is in the PAC delegation.
The PAC strongly backs Poland’s new western borders, borders that include lands that were part of pre World War II Germany. The Congress’ position on this issue is ultimately vindicated when the U.S. signs the Helsinki Accords in 1975 and again at the time of the reunification of the two Germanys in 1991.
1946: Rozmarek, in Germany and France to observe the conditions of thousands of Polish displaced persons living in camps throughout western and central Europe, angrily denounces the handling of the refugee problem by UN authorities and calls for immediate changes. While in Paris, Rozmarek calls for free elections in Poland to determine the country’s future. (When the elections are held in January 1947, they are conducted in an atmosphere of terror and the final results are themselves grossly falsified.)
In America, the PAC initiates a one million dollar fund drive to place its political action work on a sound footing. The drive is headed by Adam Tomaszkiewicz of Chicago.
1948: The PAC lobbies successfully for special Congressional legislation signed by President Harry Truman that leads to the admission of 140,000 Polish displaced persons, war victims and veterans of the Polish armed forces in Western Europe to settle permanently in the United States. Walter Zachariasiewicz, the Reverend Felix Burant, Pittsburgh Judge Blair Gunther, Edward Plusdrak, the Reverend Joseph Karpinski, Honorata Wolowska and Adele Lagodzinska of the Polish Women’s Alliance, Joseph Kania of the Polish Roman Catholic Union, and Francis Swietlik and Wanda Rozmarek of the Polish National Alliance among many others, play major roles in the work to help resettle the newcomers in this country.
1949: The PAC backs the creation of Radio Free Europe as a voice of truth to the peoples of communist-enslaved Eastern Europe.
Years later, in 1991, the former director of the Polish Department of R.F.E., Jan Nowak, is elected a Vice President of the Polish American Congress.
1952: A special Committee of the U.S. Congress strongly endorsed by the PAC investigates the murder of more than 14,000 Polish Army officers at the beginning of World War 11 in the Soviet Union.
The U.S.S.R. bitterly denounces this action, claiming Nazi Germany culpable for the massive war crime. After an exhaustive review, the Committee finds the Soviet regime and its security police responsible for the atrocity. (In 1992, the Russian government makes files available from a 1940 meeting of Soviet Communist leadership. These show that Stalin ordered the Katyn Massacre.)
Chief Investigator for the special U.S. Congressional Committee is Roman Pucinski, who in 1958 is elected to a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Pucinski is later elected a Vice President of the Polish American Congress.
The PAC endorses the 1952 Republican platform, which calls for the liberation of Eastern Europe from Soviet domination. Though many traditionally Democratic Party-voting Polish Americans switch over to support Republican nominee Dwight Eisenhower for the Presidency, Eisenhower upon winning repudiates the idea of liberation in favor of “containing communism” to where it already holds power. While the PAC opposes this position, the U.S. government and its NATO allies follow the containment policy when they opt to take no military action in support of the Hungarian Freedom Fighters in their failed revolution in 1956.
1957: Following the collapse of the Stalinist regime in Poland in 1956 and its replacement by a new, seemingly reform-minded Communist regime headed by Wladyslaw Gomulka, the PAC backs a U.S. government foreign aid initiative aimed at weaning Gomulka away from Moscow’s authority. Several hundred million dollars are expended in this effort, which continues on into the late 1960s, without however attaining its objective. At the same time immigration to the U.S. is renewed, enabling thousands of Polish families to be reunited in this country.
More normalized contacts between the two countries after 1957 also means new opportunities for Polish Americans to visit their old homeland and thus reestablish personal ties with their relatives. These renewed contacts strengthen both American Polonia’s cultural vitality and the Polish people’s desire for freedom for their own country.
1960: Eisenhower is the first U.S. President to speak at a meeting of the Polish American Congress when he addresses the fifth PAC convention in Chicago. Senator John Kennedy, the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, also speaks to the assembly. In later years, Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton will all address the Polish American Congress or its leaders on issues pertaining to PAC concerns.
1964 The PAC endorses President Lyndon Johnson’s policy of “Building Bridges” to “peacefully engage” the peoples of Eastern Europe and to encourage the democratization and independence of the entire region, from Soviet domination.
1968 Aloysius Mazewski, newly elected President of the Polish National Alliance, is elected President of the PAC at the Congress’ seventh convention in Cleveland, succeeding Charles Rozmarek. Mazewski continues his predecessor’s policies on all fronts while giving new attention to what will later be called the “American Agenda” of the PAC–namely, more appointments of worthy Polish Americans to responsible posts in government and greater concern for broad public appreciation of Poland’s and Polonia’s culture and history.
1969: The first formal dialogs between the PAC and leaders of the American Jewish community begin in an effort to create new understanding and communication between two peoples who lived together in Poland for seven centuries until the Nazi occupation and devastation of Poland and their ruthless annihilation of the Jewish people. In 1979, this dialog is revived under sponsorship by the PAC and the American Jewish Committee; it presently operates as the National Polish-American Jewish-American Council. Initially headed by Polonia activists Reverend Leonard Chrobot and Professor Ronald Modras and AJC leaders Harold Gales and George Shabad, the Council is later co-chaired by Maynard Wishner of the AJC and John Kordek, former Executive Director of the PAC.
1973: PAC promotes the nationwide celebration of the 500th anniversary of the birth of astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (Mikolaj Kopernik in Polish). Later PAC cultural initiatives will include the celebration of Polish American Heritage Month, an annual event initiated in 1984, under the direction of Michael Blichasz of Philadelphia.
1975: The PAC endorses President Gerald Ford’s signing of the international treaty on security and cooperation in Europe in Helsinki, Finland.
Among other things, the “Helsinki Accords” legitimize a set of human rights for the people living under Communist rule in the U.S.S.R. and Eastern Europe. These include the rights to political dissent, association, and emigration. In a short time, courageous opposition groups such as the Polish Workers Defense Committee (K.O.R.) are in operation in several countries in the region.
In Poland, the rise of a democratic opposition is immeasurably strengthened in 1978 by the election of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, Archbishop of Krakow as Pope John Paul II and by his triumphal return to his homeland the next year.
1980 The forming of the Solidarity Trade Union Movement in Gdansk in August in a time of extreme economic and political crisis brings an immediate PAC endorsement for the union’s cause under the leadership of President Mazewski and Vice President Kazimierz Lukomski, a veteran observer of the Polish scene and a member of the World War II era Polish Combatants’ Association.
The PAC, working in cooperation with Professor Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s National Security Advisor, urges the United States to pressure the Soviet Union against intervening in the crisis and calls on the Polish government to negotiate responsibly with Solidarity. The initial confrontation subsides.
[trx_icon icon=”icon-right-2″ bg_style=”custom”]Part II
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