This issue is devoted to the relationship between America's Central and Eastern European ethnic communities, and the intelligentsia in Central and Eastern Europe.
Some time ago, a colleague complained that his book on Polish American history which received favorable reviews in professional journals in the United States was ignored in Poland. Other than writing that book, the professor had spent countless hours arranging visits to the United States of his impecunious Polish colleagues (they never reciprocated) and otherwise helping Poles. It then occurred to your editor that this is a common experience of Polish Americans: they write, invite, arrange, pick up, prepare and promote, only to receive a patronizing pat on the shoulder from their Polish colleagues: well, it is nice that you try. . . keep trying, we appreciate your efforts. Other Americans of Central European ancestry have similar stories to tell. All too often, the Central European intelligentsia consider ethnic Americans to be in some way inconsequential, perhaps a good source of financing but nonessential as scholars, writers and opinion makers.
Not all ethnic Americans have had such experiences. Some have generously acknowledged the appreciation which their works have received in Central Europe. But the Blejwas--Milosz debate on the pages of The New York Times Book Review Magazine in 1987 pointed to a problem that would not go away. It pops up in different guises.
With her customary graciousness, Suzanne Strempek Shea summed up this problem in the interview published in this issue. With less grace and less Christian charity, some colleagues told me that they have endured ignorance and boorishness of some Central European intellectuals who visit these shores courtesy of American sponsorship. Some Polish immigrants whose books are read only in Poland and who play negligible roles in American society have been showered with Polish prizes, while Polish American writers and organizational leaders who have made a mark on this society and whose interventions have made it possible for the Polish intelligentsia to visit here have been ignored.
The cover photo shows a monument erected in the German city of Bremenhafen five years ago. The monument was funded by German organizations in the United States. It honors those who came to America from lands held by Germany in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Most of them were Germans, but some were Poles and Czechs who lived in the German-occupied parts of Poland and Czechia. Under Bismarck and later, when Polish language and Roman Catholicism were suppressed in Prussia, few of these "auswanderers" dared to declare themselves Polish. The trek from Poznania, Pomerania, Silesia and Moravia to New York included a stay in the city of Bremen. Some travelers remained in Bremen and became Germanized, others sailed on to America and became Polish Americans.
Is it not high time for a similar monument to appear in a Polish city? My hunch is that American Polonia would gladly collect money for that purpose. Given the countless ways in which American Polonia has helped Polish citizens, perhaps the Polish government should also get involved.
Finally, this issue contains an excerpt from Zygmunt Krasinski's ultra-Romantic drama Iridion. This kind of poetry has rarely been part of the Polish American education. While Iridion is by no means Krasinski's best work (it was written when the author was 23 years old), it conveys the patriotic fervor that past generations of Poles kept alive. A revaluation and reinterpretation of this fervor is now on the Polish intellectual agenda.
Back to the January 2000 issue
The Sarmatian Review
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