History of the Polish People in Rochester
WHATEVER the angle from which the story of the Pole in the World War is approached, one fact immediately assumes outstanding importance, and remains at all times the pivotal circumstance around which that story revolves. This is the farsighted premonition of war which imbued the Polish mind for years before any sign of impending trouble had become generally obvious to the rest of the world, a premonition pointing with uncanny accuracy not only to the fact of war, but to the quarter in which it would arise and in marked degree, to the political alignments proceeding from it.
It is inevitable, of course, that Polish viewpoint should regard the partitions themselves as underlying provocations to future disturbance in Europe, yet the upheavals perpetrated by Bonaparte in 1812, the revolution of 1830, and finally, the fruitless holocaust of 1863, succeeded in impressing the enlightened Polish mind with the conviction that mere war or even wholesale revolution could not be expected to produce the desired result. As late as 1912, the outbreak of war between the Balkan states and Turkey neither fired the Polish imagination nor gave rise to any widespread feeling among Poles that the long awaited hour had arrived. Through generations of political bondage and frustrated hope, the Pole had come to realize with almost strategic precision that war, in the only intelligible sense of that term, must arise among the powers responsible for the partition of Poland.
|With the exception of certain radical factions, the natural supposition was taken for granted that freedom would at last he achieved oniy by united allegiance to some one of the ruling governments and against the others on its behalf. As may be expected, this assumption furnished the incentive for considerable argument, which flourished with even greater vehemence among communities of diversified Poles in foreign lands than among native Poles, who seldom mingled with their compatriots on terms of free speech. (29)||(Footnote 29) Residents of the Rochester community recall having heard arguments of this nature, occasionally indulged in during the wee small hours of some convivial session, and which provoked pugilistic enthusiasm over the respective merits of the Romanoffs or Hapsburgs, as possible protectors of a new Poland.|
When it is considered that these matters were not merely the abstract conclusions of political thinkers in high places, but common subjects of daily conversation among Poles in all walks of life, it will be readily understood how thoroughly adapted was the Polish mind to the intelligent and accurate interpretation of the maze of events and conditions from which the World War ultimately resulted.
The opening of the twentieth century found all Europe developing the sort of transitional political restlessness that precedes upheaval. The realization that political systems, made over from the crumbling ruins of feudalism, were soon to become outworn and unstable in the face of rapidly advancing material civilization, was beginning to obtrude itself disturbingly upon the hereditary governments on the continent. The need for new alliances was felt, and the business of forming them became manifest in numerous small changes of attitude and policy which were nowhere more evident than in the three divisions of the Polish state.
From the moment that Austria began to take active interest in the vulnerability of her Russian frontier--which was, of course, the boundary of her Polish domains, Poland perceived that for which she had been waiting over a hundred years. Austrian strategy involved a liberalization of her Polish policy, the consequent organization of forces under Polish colors, and eventually almost complete military autonomy. It was, in fact, the military character of the concessious granted which awakened the immediate interest of Polish Socialist groups, who were being united gradually about the powerful, and at that time somewhat mysterious figure of Josef Pilsudski. The intense and utterly irrepressible determination of Pilsudski to devote his life to the ideal of national restoration had captivated the imagination of the Polish people, and his famous decision to hold with the Austrian crown, since under it Poland was permitted to form organized troops, turned the eyes of thousands of Poles hopefully in the direction of Austria.
Emigrant Poles the world over were, in less perceptible ways, aiding the cause by organizing themselves in comparatively non-military fashion. The various political environments in which they were placed, however, rendered open expressions of allegiance more or less inconvenient, and affectually deterred them from complete and immediate adherence to the support of the Austrian program, a development, the effect of which it is interesting to consider, and which may well have contributed advantages, then undreamed of, to Poland's ultimate fortunes.
|In 1910, counnemorating the five hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Grunwald, a great conclave of Polish leaders from all parts of the world gathered in Krakow. (30) Here, amid much ceremonious demonstration and significant reference, a monument was unveiled to King Wladyslaw, hero of the historic battle, the gift of Paderewski. Singular liberality was displayed by the Austrian government in permitting this assemblage to meet and conduct its deliberations free from the interference of local authorities. The iniminence of world conflict was freely discussed and the possible courses of Polish participation openly debated. Particular attention was directed to the further militarization of Falcon activities, and Falcon societies the world over were advised to incorporate military exercises into their curricula of athletic activities.||(Footnote 30) The historic Battle of Grunwald (Prussia, 1410) marked the expulsion from early Poland of the Teutonic Knights, so-called, by Wladyslaw I, first of the Jagiellon kings.|
This became, perhaps, the first occasion of its kind to have tangible results in the Rochester community. Nest 52, the Rochester Falcon group, had now begun to flourish conspicuously and was closely affiliated with the Polish National Alliance as Group 783. Although not yet equipped with a building of its own, the consummation of this project was presently to be achieved and even now constituted a live issue. Accordingly, the momentous conclusions that flowed from the Grunwald celebration stirred local enthusiasm to a high pitch, of which the almost immediate result was the adoption of military organization and the institution of military training as the accepted form of Falcon exercise. Very little in the way of practical training was omitted from the program now undertaken. Formation drills were first perfected followed by the exhaustive consideration of topography and field tactics.
The minutes of local Falcon meetings held February 14 and March 11, 1913, are instinct with the atmosphere of impending war. The meeting of February 14, presided over by Joseph Paprocki, then President, became a solemn muster of willing recruits, at which twenty-four members signed the specific pledge to be ready when the call should come, a pledge which was fulfilled in all but a very few instances. At this meeting the motion was made and carried to procure an arsenal of eight rifles for practice purposes. This number was deemed insufficient and at the meeting of March 11 the purchase of twenty additional guns was decided upon. Here, too, it was determined to provide members with uniforms, funds for which were in part raised by the production of a play under the sponsorship of Marion Wojnowski, the contractor, in the St. Paul Street Labor Lyceum, then a new building. At the March 11 meeting, Stanley K. Kowalski was again chosen President, and training in military tactics was placed in charge of Frank Rzepecki, not now a resident of Rochester.
|More graphically convincing than any verbal description, perhaps, is the photograph here published, which shows a group of Falcons in actual field practice, guns in hand. Expeditions of this nature were a regular feature of Falcon activity, the lands used being those of Polish farmers in the immediate vicinity of Rochester, opened willingly by their proprietors for this purpose. The picture to which reference is made was taken near East Rochester in 1913, fully a year and a half before the beginning of the World War. (31)||(Footnote 31) It must not be forgotten that exercises of this nature were being engaged in by Falcon societies in many psrts of the world, notably Brazil and China.|
|Falcon Group engeged in military trainin near East Rochester, New York (1913)|
|GROUP OF FALCONETTES, IN UNIFORM (1913). TOP ROW (standing), left to right, Konstancia Figlerowicz, Wiktoria Zagata; SECOND ROW FORWARD (standing), left to right, Wanda Czerniak, Zofia Zagata, Marya Mielcarek, Marta Stenclik; THIRD ROW FORWARD (seated), left to right, Marya Dylewska, Anna Czaban, Marta Chudzińska, Anna Sykut, Marya Zajaczek; FOREGROUND, left to right, Marya Sokolska, Stanislawa Dukowska, Instructures.|
The photograph of a group of Falconettes, herein reprinted, is interesting and will serve to show that the war-like enthusiasm of the time was not confined to members of the male sex. This feminine auxiliary organization actually procured uniforms and under the direction of its leader, who may be seen in the foreground of the picture, performed drills and delved extensively into the subject of military operations during an assumed state of hostility.
The so-called Balkan War with Turkey in 1912, although not regarded as the crucial moment, was utilized by European Poles as a compelling justification for further concessions on the part of interested governments. Through the immediate efforts of John Jaworski, former Polish member of the Austrian Parliament, a convention of leaders assembled in the spring of 1913 at Zakopane (Austrian Poland) with the avowed purpose of establishing a force and fixing upon a Polish policy in the early event of war, which now was seen to be inevitable. This convention assumed permanent status as United Organization for the Independence of Poland (Skonfederowane Stronictwa Niepodleglej Polski), and, in its open appeal to European Falcon societies, may be said to have taken the first active step in the formation of ihe Polish Legion in Austria.
This significant event, from which so much later proceeded, represents more especially the approach of the Socialist party toward the Polish problem. It, and similar conclaves of later date, usually were held under Socialist auspices and actually, if not ostensibly, derived their essential inspiration from the personality and program of Pilsudski. Indeed, during the preceding year (1912) the Polish parties of Galicia had published a majority declaration naming him their leader, and Pilsudski himself had already begun the surreptitious accumulation of army funds as early as 1909. Under the influence of this powerful moving spirit the Polish Socialist wing, operating in Europe, made its objectives definite and specific at a somewhat earlier date than other interested parties not so close to the actual scene of conflict, and was therefore accorded at the outset a position of leadership.
Following the Zakopane conference, and in November of the same year (1913) a second convention took place in Krakow. In a sense, this became the more important of the two, since out of its deliberations the strongly unified Naczelny Komitet (Chief Committee) came into being, the paramount object of its existence being the collection of money with which to finance the Polish Legion, now rapidly forming in Austria. The Krakow convention is interesting for the extraordinary freedom which attended its expressions of policy; to it came Poles from all Europe, whose traditional inhibitions were fast disappearing beneath the friendly advances of the Austrian government, which was now thoroughly alarmed at the prospect of Russian hostility. It is said that Japanese military experts attended some of the Krakow sessions.
The message of this convention was brought somewhat unofficially to America by Bronislaw Kulakowski, a prominent European Pole, who had come to the United States some time previously for the formal purpose of attending unveiling ceremonies in Washington of the Koseiuszko-Pulaski monument. Closely following his arrival, Naczelny Komitet communicated from Poland with the Polish Socialist Alliance in New York City, and an American convention was called almost immediately which met toward the close of 1913 in Pittsburgh. The invitation was general and all-inclusive, so much so, that when the body of delegates finally took seats, practically all shades of Polish-American thought or opinion were present.
Fired by the encouraging news from Krakow, and under the stress of patriotic emotions pent up for over one hundred years, this congress succeeded for a time in raising the ideal of unity among Polish-Americans to an almost unbelievable climax. Here all considerations were temporarily laid aside in a wild demonstration of joyful anticipation. Some of the more conservative delegates still recall with incredulous amazement the vision of Socialist leaders and Roman Catholic priests engaged in open and boisterous embrace. Whatever division may later have taken place, whatever differences of opinion may later have developed, it seems certain that the realization of mutual identity in a common purpose and its timely reiteration at this juncture did much that was indispensible toward vitalization and direction of the Polish cause in America.
|The instant result of this meeting was the formation of Komitet Obrony Narodowy (32) which at once assumed supervision over all activities of preparation then going forward in America. Particular attention was paid to the expansion of Falcon training and facilities, and a well-organized program of insuring financial support was undertaken.||(Footnote 32) commonly referred to as KON: members of this faction were sometimes derisively called "Koniowce" by non-sympathizers, a play upon the Polish word "kon", or horse.|
A comparatively short time had elapsed, when the natural reaction from these events took place. Whether correctly or not, the Church party soon began to perceive that the Defense Committee, however laudable its motives, unmistakably functioned under the titular leadership of the Socialist party. This awakening perception cooled the ardor of the clergy, and necessarily alienated a substantial proportion of devout Polish Catholics. Old sources of argument between Socialism and the National Alliance began to revive. The eventual outbreak of war in August 1914 and the marked degree of sympathy with the Allied cause, which developed in the United States over the Belgian situation, threw Polish-American circles generally into the greatest confusion, Some semblance of unity might have been maintained even in the face of these difficulties, however, had it been possible to obtain reliable information concerning the course of events in European Poland, For some mysterious reason this information now came only in the form of desultory and unconfirmed rumors, a situation which continued for several years thereafter, to the great embarrassment of Polish agencies in this country.
|Defection from the ranks of the Defense Committee soon took concrete form, when it became evident that large numbers of Polish-Americans were unfriendly to any form of understanding with the Central Powers. On September 6, 1914, barely a month following the declaration of war, Falcon organizations of the United States, convening in Buffalo, formally withdrew from the Committee. So far as concerned active military preparation on American soil, therefore, the Committee was thus divested of its most important branch. From this time its efforts were devoted primarily to the accumulation and transmittal of money for the use of the Austrian Legion of Poles, which, in fact, was becoming a powerful army unit under the guidance of Pilsudski, although this was, in the United States, merely a matter of rumor and conjecture at the time. (33)||(Footnote 33) There are strong indications, nevertheless, that men actually were recruited from the United States for service in this Legion, through the connivance of German and Austrian sympathizers, and the falsification of passports, Activity of this character, however, did not reach the Rochester settlement, so far as is known.|
On September 25, 1914, steps were taken by the major Polish-American organizations to establish headquarters, as a result of which there was formed the Polski Centralny Komitet Ratunkowy (Polish Central Committee for Relief). This, as will be observed from its name, adopted less specific objectives at first than KON, and was enabled to work more freely in harmony with United. States' neutrality. A like organization already was functioning in Switzerland as the Polish General Committee under the somewhat distinguished leadership of Ignace Paderewski and Henry Sienkiewicz. The American Relief Committee on January 21, 1915, affiliated with the General Committee.
|It was the consistent hope of the pro-Allied Poles, of which the Swiss General Committee became the acknowledged mouthpiece, to undertake the mobilization of a Polish army against the Central Powers. Abortive attempts in this direction were made very early in the War by "Les Chausseurs," a French contingent of Polish Falcons, which attempts became the source of diplomatic embarrassment between the French and Russian governments and were officially suppressed. (34)||(Footnote 34) The story of "Les Chausseurs", who were assigned to attack a body of German infantry, which developed to consist of Poles conscripted out of Posen, is one of the most thrilling tales of the war. It is related that the "French" Chausseurs entered into battle singing the ancient national anthem of Poland, at which the "German" Poles refused to meet the attack, approaching the "enemy" with open arms, and throwing the entire line into confusion.|
In 1916, Paderewski returned to the United States from Europe, he and Sienkiewicz having by this time fully determined to hold with the Allied cause in the hope, thereby, of insuring action favorable to Polish restoration at the close of the war. On September 12, 1916 a subcommittee of the Polish Relief body already mentioned was established in Washington as the National Department. Thus, finally, the pro-Allied movement became completely articulate under a closely knit and well organized head. With Paderewski himself its moving spirit, and James C. White, the American editor and publisher its executive leader, the National Department functioned smoothly and efficiently from this time forth.
The progress of the war toward the eve of the Russian Revolution had brought the Polish question into prominent consideration on both sides of the front. Various unforeseen objectives developed among belligerent powers, which it was obviously impossible to pursue with success in the absence of acquiescence and snpport on the part of Polish subjects. In the face of these necessities concessions were granted and promises made. Russia held out the bait of national liberty to her Polish territories in return for their wholehearted military support against the Polish territories of Germany and Austria. Austria had practically guaranteed freedom to her Polish territories if they would maintain active hostility to Russian Poland. Germany was reluctant, but the shrewd and unfaltering persistence of Pilsudski had at last exacted like guaranties from Berlin. In the midst of this increasingly perplexed situation, the Polish nation slowly was developing the conviction of strategic independence arising from within, and unrelated to the belated promises of war-harassed governments.
The Russian Revolution early in 1917 threw all European diplomacy into a tumult of uncertainty and had the instant effect of removing Allied inhibitions against the assertion of the Polish cause. The functions of the Swiss General Committee merged, with numerous other Polish movements on the continent, in Polski Komitet Narodowy w Paryzu (Polish National Committee in Paris), established August 15, 1917, but four months following the declaration of war by the United States, and the organization of the Polish Army in France openly proceeded. The Parisian Committee was quickly accorded official recognition by Allied nations from which it rapidly attained the status of a provisional Polish government. General Josef Haller was appointed by it to the command of all Polish forces cooperating with the Allies and the adjustment of military rank with relation to the armies of other governments undertaken. Civil consulates were established in various important cities and every effort put forth toward the speedy consolidation of pro-Polish thought and activity.
As in every Polish community the world over, the breathless succession of events just described was reflected in the contemporaneous activity of the Rochester Polish group. It is perhaps difficult for lifelong Rochesterians, not then familiar with the growing Slavic center, to realize the almost electric vitality of the Polish issue, affecting the lives of a goodly section of our population, while at the time arousing so little general interest as hardly to warrant a single newspaper headline.
The Rochester KON chapter grew up overnight following the Pittsburgh convention of 1913, and for some time acted as the pivot about which Polish pre-war activity developed. Chief among its early functions were the collection of funds and the coordination of Falcon training along essentially military lines. This period of ascendancy reached an abrupt conclusion, however, following the withdrawal of the National Falcon organization shortly after the outbreak of war. The defection from KON in Rochester was fairly complete, the number of members remaining after the break being negligible. The Committee continued to operate, however, and, insofar as its curtailed facilities pennitted, enjoyed an active and fairly protracted existence.
Appeals from the Polish Relief agency in Washington were met wholeheartedly by the Rochester community. Despite the indubitably nationalistic motive behind this organization, it must not be supposed that its relief activities were in any sense an idle masquerade. Actual conditions in belligerent areas of the Polish territories were serious, especially in the matter of depleted food supplies, and the avoidance of a general famine had become an imperative problem. Collections were taken from time to time in Rochester and by the fall of 1916 a fund was accumulated which was presented to the national committee in the person of Paderewski, on the occasion of his concert at Convention Hall, November 16, 1916.
Perhaps at no time during the war period did local Polish feeling rise to such heights of nervous intensity as the evening of this concert. For the preceding week or more, the newspapers had contained frequent but conflicting and sketchy accounts of concessions declared by Austrian and German governments in the direction of Polish liberation. Imperial Russia was filling the public press with vigorous denunciations of this action, couched in the impressive and high-sounding language employed by absolutism, and which appears so curiously futile in the light of subsequent events. Details, of no immediate interest to the general public, but of great importance to Polish readers, were of course, almost wholly lacking. It may be seen therefore, that the greatest excitement prevailed, especially in Rochester, where interest and conjecture were brought to a focus about the visit of Paderewski, so recently arrived from Poland.
An element of poignant tragedy also attended this occasion in the fact that two days previously there had occurred in Switzerland the death of Henry Sienkiewicz, news of which, it is said, reached Paderewski by cable on the day of his Rochester concert. The venerable age of Sienkiewicz, his world wide prestige as a writer, and his years of intimate association with the Polish cause, had combined to make him almost a legendary figure among Poles during the closing years of his life. His death at this crucial time left a sense of peculiar loss and was felt as a personal bereavement by his scattered countrymen the world over, for whom his faith and serene courage had been so long the guiding principle.
|At the close of his recital, the pianist appeared backstage at Convention Hall and received at the hands of the Rochester Polish Committee (35) a purse containing one thousand dollars which had been collected for relief. The gracious reception which he accorded the Committee and the evident emotion with which the gift was received climaxed an unforgettable occasion for local Pole.. A few terse words spoken by Paderewski on conditions in his European homeland imbued the Rochester Slavic community with a vivid realization of the responsibilities to be shared and the realities to be faced during the important months and years following his visit.||(Footnote 35) As accurately as it has been possible to determine, this Committee consisted of Adam Felerskl, Stanley W. Dukat, Matthew Kowalski, Stanley K. Kowaiski, Louis Kubiak, Adam Norwich, and Max Sosnowski.|
Declaration of War by the United States in April, 1917 had one stabilizing effect upon the Polish situation, in that it removed the inhibitions imposed by nominal neutrality and permitted open action on the part of Polish groups antagonistic to the Central Powers. The large bloc of pro-Allied Poles, hitherto engaged in a kind of parliamentary warfare with KON, now took the reins of influence completely, and proceeded to unite all Polish thought behind the Allied cause. In some quarters, the differences between the ascendant group and KON developed into hitter controversy, resulting in Federal intervention officially disbanding KON groups as "pro-German" movements. In a large sense, of course, this was unjustified, for the motive of national liberation certainly controlled the activities of KON to as great an extent as was the ease with any contemporary Polish organization, a fact which, at the time, unfortunately appeared less important than the more concrete animosities of the moment.
Shortly following America's declaration of war, local Falcons assumed titular leadership of Army mobilization in this area. As early as June, 1913, a Citizen's Pre-war Committee had been organized in Rochester, consisting of representatives front various local societies, the function of which was the consolidation of community activity under a single head. This Committee now deferred to Falcon leadership and bent its efforts toward providing men. On October 13, 1917, Stanley K. Kowalski of Rochester, received telegraphic authority to open a recruiting office which opened in Falcon Hall and became Recruiting Unit No. 2 of the American Contingent, Polish Army in France. The local unit remained continuously in operation until February 1919 and recruited two hundred and fifty-eight men. Sixty-three of these were personally signed by Kowaiski, who served in this capacity until mobilization was complete, long after the Armistice, and was transferred from time to time to Dunkirk, and Niagara Falls on like duty.
There also organized in 1917 a Rochester chapter of the "White Eagle Cross", a humanitarian and relief group similar in character and purpose to the Red Cross, and sponsored by Madame Paderewska. For some reason, however, movements of this nature failed to gather definite momentum among local Poles until the organization of the Gray Samaritans, of which further details will appear later.
|As may be imagined, the impatient enthusiasm of the Poles to organize for war and the numerous practical steps already taken by them in 1917, resulted in some confusion with the national draft program. On April 3, 1917, three days before the formal Declaration of War, a national Falcon Convention was held in Pittsburgh, Pa., at which Paderewski proposed the immediate mobilization of any army of one hundred thousand Poles, the services of which were to be placed at the disposal of the United States government. This offer was declined by the authorities as were many similar offers at this time. Such a plan, of course, was not altogethed a gratuitous sacrifice on the part of the Polish groups, for active co-operation with an established military machine had long been seen as a practical necessity to the organization of a workable Polish army. Failing of official sanction from the United States, therefore, the same overture was made to the Canadian government, with which feasible arrangements eventually were made. (36) Man power for the Polish unit was recruited from classes not eligible for service under the Federal Selective Service Act, the recruits thus obtained finding their way finally to Canada where they were trained by Canadian officers for the Polish Army in France.||(Footnote 36) This proposal, in fact, had been made to Dominion authorities much earlier, at a time, however, when United States neutrality deterred the government of Canada from accepting it.|
Pending the completion of negotiations toward this end, numerous men already recruited were sent to the Polish National Alliance College at Cambridge Springs, Pa., where a training camp had been set up, and it was here that the first Rochester recruits received training. Thaddeus Gedgowd. Rochester's first, in fact, left for Cambridge Springs on March 1, 1917, prior to the War declaration. The inevitable delay attending the establishment of draft machinery for the tnited States Army, for some weeks prevented authorized action by the local Polish organizers, and it was not until June that John Pospula, Wladyslaw Czaban, Wincenty Bancer and Wladyslaw Stugiewicz, of Rochester, also left for Cambridge Springs.
|Of the two hundred and fifty-eight men recruited to the Polish army from Rochester, only two met death during hostilities, Julian Brzezinski and Louis Kościelny. Brzezinski had had extensive military training in German Poland before his emigration to America, having served three years in the Household Guard of the German Emperor. The death of Koscielny is immortalized in the World War Service Record of Rochester, where there is related the fact that, when his body was found, a tiny Stars and Stripes appeared sewn upon his clothing over his heart. Both of these patriots, by a singular coincidence, were connected with the same unit, the 5th Machine Gun Company of the 1st Regiment, Polish Legion, and are buried in France near the field in which their lives were sacrificed.||
|Two of the Rochester contingent to the Polish Army were decorated, as records show. Antoni Nogaj received the Croix de Guerre from the Government of France, and John Pospula was awarded the Virtute Militari for bravery in an encounter with Budiennys Cavalry at the battle of Napadowka. This is the highest military honor in the gift of the Polish Government, and its presentation to Pospula was accompanied by the honorary commision of Captain.||
|Of the seven hundred or more local Slavs herein assumed to be Poles, who served in the United States army, examination of the war lists reveals the names ef twenty-three who met death in action or as a result of active service. (37)||(Footnote 37) Unfortunately, however, the Polish identity of the men listed cannot be established other than by characteristic names, or by reference to the recorded place of birth, and in the absence of more positive identification, the publication of a casualty list is deemed unwarranted.|
For a number of reasons, the records of participation in the World War on the part of Rochester Poles, unfortunately are not as complete as the statistician might wish them to be. The numerous Anglicized surnames, to say nothing of the plentiful instances in which entirely English or American surnames have been adopted arbitrarily, form a constant barrier to the compilation of accurate lists, a fact to which reference is made in the Rochester World War Service Record. The confusion which existed between the American drafted and the Polish recruited contingents also adds to the possibility of inaccuracy. Whatever categorical assertions are made, therefore, here or elsewhere, are continually subject to correction, as statistical facts, not hitherto established, may come to light.
Available data shows slightly more than seven hundred local Polish men as having served under the United States flag, aside from the total of two hundred and fifty-eight who joined the Polish Legion. Allowing for inevitable omissions, arising from causes mentioned in the preceding paragraph, the round total may be placed conservatively at one thousand.
An effort which has been made to establish the location in Europe of the various Rochester men at the close of the war, reveals the fact that Poles in general had become widely scattered among the Allied Forces. The army assembled in France by General Haller represented the first successful attempt to unite Polish troops in a given sector under a single command. Predominantly Polish contingents in the Allied armies were stationed far apart, an interesting indication of the characteristic hesitancy with which Allied governments embraced the idea of Polish restoration. This hesitancy also is observable in many later events, and insofar as it may have expressed a common interest, doubtless arose from the fact that amicable adjustment of the Russian situation was momentarily expected, in which event the retraction of pro-Polish programs might well prove expedient, and the centralization of Polish troops an embarrassing problem.
The stimulus to the Polish program afforded by America's entry into the War and by the downfall of the Russian royalist government, besides enabling the literal consolidation of Polish troops, greatly improved the morale of Polish nationalist groups the world over. The Swiss Committee, hitherto nominally dedicated to a relief program, now openly adopted political nationalism as a tenet of its policy, and organized the Polish National Committee in Paris, which thenceforth championed the Polish cause among Allied governments.
|The objective of this Committee was prodigiously advanced January 8, 1918, when the liberation of the Polish state was proclaimed by President Wilson as the thirteenth of his famous fourteen points. This espousal of the Polish cause by the United States, in the person of the world's foremost statesman among war executives fell upon Polish ears as the sublime diapason of all that had struggled for utterance during more than a century of suppression. It echoed immediately in the assumption by the Paris Committee of governmental powers. (38) It was at this juncture that General Haller was commissioned to organize the army. Throughout the Allied nations. Polish groups began to discard the cooperative phases of war activity and set up independent units looking to future concerted action in the Polish territories.||(Footnote 38) The official recognition of this Committee as a provisional government by Allied nations took place with astonishing rapidity, under the circumstances; September 20, 1918, France, October 15, England, October 30, Italy, and December 1, United States, in turn, accorded recognition.|
As subsequent investigation has shown, news of the Wilson proclamation quickly seeped through the barriers thrown up by the Central Powers, and spread excitement among German and Austrian Poles, At this time the power and influence of Josef Pilsudski were beginning to constitute a serious worry to Entente governments, and efforts to disperse the legions which he had assembled were creating dangerous dissatisfaction. The trend of events among Allied nations doubtless accelerated the progress of the cause on the other side, although it must be admitted that Pilsudski and other Socialist leaders were inclined to suspect the integrity of Allied protestations--for that matter, not without some practical justification.
The acceptance of the 14-point program by Entente nations was, of course, chronologically associated with the materialization of the new Polish state. On November 8, 1918, Austria acquiesced in the Allied demands, and Germany followed on November 11. The fact that such acquiescence involved official acceptance of a free Poland was anticipated by Polish groups. Three so-called "Polish Governments" were established in quick succession; a republic was set up November 3, 1918 in Warsaw, the outgrowth of the Regency Council formerly created by Germany; on November 7 a Socialist government was formed in Lublin by Daszynski a cohort of Pilsudski; a temporary authority also had been set up in Western Galicia and to the latter authority the Austrian government had surrendered, The inevitable confusion of interests resulting from various claimants to supremacy did not approach unity until the advent of Pilsudski, who had escaped from the fortress prison of Magdeburg immediately before the Armistice and arrived in Warsaw on November 10.
The necessity for holding the Russian frontier and of extending it while opportunity afforded, soon brought the army of General Hailer to Poland, which is the event that sent most of the local Polish army men into Polish territory for the first time.
In Rochester, while the major part of the city's population was extravagantly celebrating the end of hostilities, fresh preparations for war activity were going forward in the Polish community. The appeal for funds was redoubled, recruiting expansion was planned, and the matter of providing for the stricken areas of Poland assumed the proportions of an imperative problem. The latter project interested not only the city's Polish populalion but became a concern to local leaders generally, for the desperate situation of the Polish civilian population was a very real issue and received wide publicity at the time.
The intolerable conditions extant in the Polish territories, in fact, aroused to action not only Polish American groups, but attracted the foreground of attention with the general public of the United States in many cities. In Rochester the War Chest organization, which organized in 1918, predecessor of the present Community Chest, authorized the creation of an auxiliary Committee from the Polish quarter, to consider this problem. The Citizens' Committee (Komitet Obywatelski) thus formed consisted of Louis Kubiak, Chairman, John Owczarczak, Casimir Damsz, Frank Zhorowski, Dr. Aloysius Smeja, Stanley W. Dukat, Adam Norwich and Adam Felerski. This Committee worked more or less directly on the Polish relief question with the War Chest's Executive Board, that small coterie of distinguished citizens who gave so much of themselves and their goods to the cause in the early days of the Chest venture. From the first the members of this Board, Henry D. Quinby, then City Comptroller, Elmer Fairchild, George Eastman, Joseph T. Alling and Dr. Rush Rhees, Executive Director of the Budget Committee, manifested a keen and material interest in assisting Polish relief and lent a ready ear to appeals in its behalf.
As it happened, at the time no officially constituted body existed under United States auspices with which local Chest leaders might deal in undertaking arrangements for the proper disbursement of relief moneys. The local Polish Committee, it is true, at once proposed the Washington National Department of the Polish National Committee in Paris as a responsible spokesman for the cause, but in those troublous and uncertain days, the ever present possibility that the national cause might not attain its ends, with the consequent danger that Operations of the National Department might later be repudiated, deterred civic leaders from over-enthusiastic action. War Chest funds were regarded as a solemn trust, and their disposition by those charged with that trust received scrupulous preliminary consideration.
The Rochester Polish Committee, thoroughly imbued with the conviction that the political and economic rebirth of Poland would progress on a sound practical basis, and entirely convinced that Polish agencies at the moment were equipped to undertake relief work in Poland with greater dispatch than any other, realized that if Rochester's contribution were to have the greatest effectiveness, it must be made forthwith, and without unnecessary delay. Toward this end, it was determined to invoke the moral support of Ignace Paderewski, then the foremost Polish leader in the country, and from whose picturesque and dominating personality the Polish cause derived all of the prestige which it then enjoyed.
|Left to right, Adam Felerski, Ignace J. Paderewski, and Charles C. Behan; taken on the occasion of Mr. Paderewski's address before the Chamber od Commerce (June 12, 1918).|
War Chest officials had no sooner expressed their willingness to hear Mr. Paderewski on the Polish question than Adam Felerski, then a young attorney, and ever since a prominent and influential figure in local Polish affairs, journeyed to New York City and personally interviewed the artist. Responding to the invitation extended, Paderewski came to Rochester on June 11, 1918 and addressed the Chamber of Commerce the following day. Impressive as was his name and fame at this time, Chamber officials and leaders of the meeting were completely overwhelmed at the magnitude of his reception. An audience that packed the auditorium remained spellbound for two hours during which he spoke in crisp and cultured English upon the intense vitality of the Polish cause and the bitter travail of the restoration which was transpiring.
|One of the five War Chest Checks which went to make up the fund contributed by Rochester to Polish Relief (1918-1919).|
Shortly following this stirring demonstration, serious negotiations for a cash allowance were begun with the Chest Budget Committee, then consisting of Dr. Rhees, George W. Robinson, James F. Gleason, James G. Comerford, and Henry D. Quinby, with the result that one hundred thousand dollars was allocated by the War Chest to Polish relief and transferred directly to the National Department. The check pictured herein was one of five which went to make up this fund. The day of Paderewski's address was one of great excitement among local Poles. Numerous impromptu social gatherings were arranged, and in the afternoon Madame Paderewska, who had joined her husband from Buffalo, attended a tea given in her honor at the home of Mrs. Maximilian Sosnowska, 1399 North St.
A later contribution of fourteen thousand dollars to the National Department was made by the Polish community itself. During the two following years, the Hoover Relief Commission which was later chartered to act in the matter of Polish relief, received War Chest contributions amounting to thirty-five thousand dollars. Thus a substantial aggregate amount was raised in Rochester toward the furtherance of this cause, and the City's generosity had never been forgotten by its contingent of Polish citizens.
The year 1919 is also memorable for the, visit of Prince Casimir Lubomirski, at that time Poland's Chief Minister in the United States. Prince Lubomirski accepted an invitation to speak before the Chamber of Commerce on January 19, 1920, and his gracious presence is well remembered by members of the audience which he addressed. The personal advent of an official representative from the new Polish state could not fail to produce a favorable impression upon the non-Polish public, a source of great satisfaction to our Polish population. During his stay in Rochester, Prince Lubomirski was the luncheon guest of Harold P. Brewster, then President of the Rochester Savings Bank, and the guest at dinner of Harper Sibley.
Nor was the city's interest in Polish relief confined strictly to financial contributions. Rochester is particularly proud of the contingent of Polish young women who joined the Gray Samaritans from this city. This was a rehabilitation organization founded by Madame Laura Turczynowicz, the wife of a Polish university professor, whose recent experiences in Poland had convinced her of the urgent necessity for such a group. Early in the year 1918 Madame Turczynowicz spoke in Rochester before a large Polish American audience, following which a call for recruits was made, and three Rochester girls immediately responded, along with girls from other localities. Later the Rochester ranks augmented, and the rolls of the "Probationers' Course", conducted at the Rochester Y. W. C. A. by Dr. Marcena Rieker show the names of Mary Nita, Annette Friebe, Martha Graczyk, Anna Badura, Tillie Dernoga, Leocadia Muszynska, Stella Czemerowska, and Sophie Zagata, all of this city. Four of these women, Anna Badura, Annette Friebe, Martha Graczyk and Leocadia Muszynska, went eventually to Poland (July, 1919).
The experiences of the four are interesting and in many ways serve to portray the enormous problem which then confronted the new government of Poland in bringing order out of chaos. The greatest difficulty, for example, was experienced by these women in getting into Polish territory itself, since this involved crossing the interior of Germany, where revolution seethed in a hostile and impoverished populace. The crossing was finally effected when they attached themselves temporarily to a "Typhus Mission", so-called, on its way to the eastern front, and the journey was made on a freight train. In Warsaw the contingent went to work at once at the various refugee camps, frequently assuming emergency control of affairs and distributing the meager supplies at its disposal in accordance with whatever plan seemed best at the moment. During this period both refugees and workers suffered keenly for lack of food, water, and other necessaries.
The Rochester group later came under the direction of the American Relief Administration, supervised by Herbert Hoover, and was vested with wide authority in the distribution of relief supplies throughout the length of the Polish border. Their proximity to the frontiers, which were then a matter of bitter and bloody dispute, made life dangerous and exciting in the extreme. Martha Graczyk, in fact, was arrested by Lithuanian military police in the fall of 1920 and for some time held in prison at Rowno, as a Polish spy.
The dramatic experience of the Rochester girls is not without its romantic interest. Anna Badura and Miss Graczyk, while in Poland, encountered their future husbands. Stanislaus Czaban and Thaddeus Gedgowd, both Rochester men, who were mmebers of General Haller's army, and had remained to assist in relief work. Miss Badura became Mrs. Czaban, and Miss Graczyk became Mrs. Gedgowd.
|Through correspondence received in Rochester from the Gray Samaritan workers, and in stories told by returning veterans, there can be traced some of the feeling which then permeated the Polish populace in gratitude for the turn of events which had at last made Poland a nation. It is related with much uatisfaction, for example, that hungry German soldiers and peasants, in asking for bread, approached Polish troops passing through Germany with the Polish word "chleba" (bread) on their lips. Even so slight a concession as this could not fail to imbue the Poles with a joyful sense of national independence, and it is reported that much bread asked for in this fashion readily found its way into German hands, although intended for other destinations. It is significant also that upon arriving in Poland, as Rochester veterans have recounted, the native born Polish settlements invariably decked themselves in holiday array and scrupulously observed the ancient "bread and salt" (39) ceremony of welcome, despite the devastating hardships which they were undergoing.||(Footnote 39) It should be noted that the "bread" ordinarily employed in this traditional observance is not bread in the commonly accepted sense of the term, but a non-nutritive wafer prepared especially for the purpose.|
The independent activities and interest to which the war gave rise in American Polish communities, far from setting them apart in civic life, in fact offered a means of aiding the sort of assimilation necessary to both groups. Under any other circumstances than existed at the time, such independence of action would have produced dangerous misunderstanding. The concrete objectives held in common by all shades of American life successfully forestalled this development. For the first time Americans generally began to comprehend and appreciate the Polish problem, and the enthusiasm of the American public, when fired by an awakened understanding, brought about a spirit of friendly cooperation dear to the Polish heart, which has become an enduring bond of fellowship.
Sociologically, tke restoration of Poland to the status an independent nation conferred upon the Pole in America a national identity which hitherto had been denied him. The simple fact that henceforth he might freely be referred to as a Pole, rather than as a German, Austrian or Russian, could not but have a beneficial result upon his part in the life of America.
These two developments, an awakened interest in Polish people and affairs on the part of Americans of other origin, and the free and legitimate assertion of that ancient birthright, the right to a native land, on the part of Polish Americans, have nurtured the process of healthy assimilation, and a new sort of citizen has resulted. Numerous forms of civic activity have developed out of the local Slavic community which undoubtedly never would have done so or would have stifled in an atmosphere of political inferiority, had the momentous objects achieved during the war period failed of accomplishment.
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