A History of the Poles in America, Part I

By Waclaw Kruszka. Edited with an introduction by James S. Pula, with M.B. Biskupski, Stanley Cuba, et al.; translated by Krystyna Jankowski. 1901-1904; revised and enlarged edition, 1905-1908. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press. 1993. Hardcover. xxiv+363 pages. $49.95.

John J. Bukowczyk

The republication, in translation, of Part I of Rev. Waclaw Kruszka's A History of the Poles in America marks an important milestone in the progress of Polish-American historical scholarship. The text has retained significance as a major polemical salvo in the campaign for Polish representation in the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church in America and likewise an early attempt at the definition of a Polish-American ethnicity and argument for cultural pluralism. It was also a principal work of its author, who rightly has been called the "Nestor of Polish-American historians."

Born of peasant stock in the part of partitioned Poland which belonged to Prussia in 1868, Waclaw Kruszka entered the Society of Jesus in the early 1880s, but was dismissed from the order for a minor infraction and later refused the terms set for readmission. Having developed a deep Polish nationalism during the notorious Kulturkampf and now faced, as many young Polish males, with conscription into the German army, Kruszka joined the stream of Polish immigrants heading for the United States in 1893. Joining his half-brother Michal, editor of Milwaukee's Kuryer Polski, Kruszka entered St. Francis Seminary and was ordained there in 1895.

Kruszka already had begun a literary career of sorts as a contributor of nationalist articles to his brother's newspaper. Increasingly, the young priest became preoccupied with the problem of Polish immigrant denationalization - and specifically, their Anglicization or Germanization - and relatedly, the pressing need for greater Polish representation in the Church hierarchy, including the appointment of a Polish bishop.

Kruszka argued the position of equality in the hierarchy (rownouprawnienie) most forcefully and succinctly in an article entitled "Polyglot Bishops for Polyglot Dioceses," published July 29, 1901, in the New York Freeman's Journal. It was in the context of this campaign that the Wisconsin cleric also began work on the present volume, first serialized in the Kuryer. While assembling a history of Polonia for the purpose of helping immigrant Poles resist the loss of their culture by giving them a means of commemorating their own heroic efforts at planting colonies in America, Kruszka aimed also to document the size - and demonstrate the maturity - of the Polish Roman Catholic community as a means of pleading the rightness and logic of his cause. In large measure, Kruszka was rebuked. Nonetheless, this volume stands out as a landmark in Polish-American historiography and, together with the aforementioned article, as critical if as yet unappreciated document in American religious history.

The present edition of Kruszka's history is organized into three parts: the first, a broad overview of Polish-American social development, treating topics such as the beginnings of Polish immigration, the development of Polish immigrant religious and educational institutions, the history of the immigrant press, the rise of immigrant fraternals, and early "American Polish" literature; the second and third, an examination of specific Polish colonies. In an admirably compact introduction, volume editor James S. Pula, presently a dean at The Catholic University of America and the editor of Polish American Studies, frankly and fairly lists some of the shortcomings of the original work, including Kruszka's "tendency to include inconsequential and repetitious detail" (xxiii), his tendentious tone (which actually enlivens otherwise tedious, long sections of the text), and his inflation of Polish-American population statistics. Pula also criticizes Kruszka's failure to set the events he chronicles in the context of contemporaneous developments in American history, a more excusable flaw given the standards of scholarship and style of historical writing then current.

By contrast and to Kruszka's credit, the volume does succeed in assembling a considerable amount of information (though some of it derivative from other sources such as Henryk Nagiel's Dziennikarstwo Polskie w Ameryce [Polish Journalism in America] 1894), much of it not readily available elsewhere. Kruszka's treatment of the formation of the American Poles as a "distinct type" in the book's first chapter, while fraught with internal contradictions in reasoning, nonetheless engages a crucial subject in an incisive manner and thus still makes for riveting and relevant reading. In addition, the volume includes some charming if trivial tidbits: a Chicago Resurrectionist priest invented a bullet-proof vest (l89-90); a Polish cooper in Bay City, Michigan, custom-manufactured the barrel used in a successful Niagara Falls descent (191); and another Polish industrialist developed a mechanical cradle that rocked automatically (191). Kruszka's final chapter on "The American Polish Dialect," while methodologically primitive, is nonetheless interesting as it helps to establish a base-line for the study of linguistic shifts. But above all and in its totality, the work amply portrays the ideological, political, and social complexity and dynamism of early Polonia, a quality rendered much more flatly by well-meaning more recent histories of the Polish-American experience, however better historically contextualized.

In making this work available to an English-speaking readership, the editors "decided against a literal translation" of Kruszka's archaic and "often cumbersome" Polish, attempting instead "to retain the flavor of Kruszka's elaborate prose" while "present[ing] a work ... readily intelligible to an English-speaking audience unfamiliar with Polish history, culture, or linguistic structures." (xxiv) To be sure, the problem of translation and, indeed, even orthography (as in the controversial transliteration of Polish spelling in W.S. Kuniczak's retranslation of Sienkiewicz's Trilogy) remain a chronic editorial issue. Nonetheless, purists and some serious scholarly readers with specialized linguistic or semiotic interests might reprove the editors' decision, however more accessible the final product.

More basically at issue in reviewing this volume as the first fruit of a translation project (involving numerous scholars, considerable fundraising, and the cooperation of several organizations) is whether Kruszka's History, as against other as yet untranslated Polish immigrant works, most merited the resources invested in it. This question is harder to answer. We might hope, for example, that the availability of Kruszka'sHistory in English translation might encourage the integration of the Polish experience into the history of Roman Catholicism in America, still largely unassayed in standard works on the subject by, for example, Msgr. John Tracy Ellis or James Hennesey, S.J. With this end in mind, it is unfortunate that the editors had not appended Kruszka's classic essay, cited above, to the present volume. Yet whatever its impact on American religious history, this work probably will not command much attention among wider circles of the English-speaking historical profession, thus underscoring the antiquarian character of this endeavor. To achieve this end while coping with inadequate financial resources, Polish-American scholars need to select very carefully from the enormous body of Polish-language poetry, plays, essays, criticism, biography, autobiography, satire, sermons, tracts, and long and short fiction still extant that together constitute the rich cultural legacy of the immigrant generation. Having done so, they need to bring English translations of these classic and representative works to the English-speaking scholarly public and also to those American descendants of Polish immigrants who, despite Rev. Kruszka's efforts, have become mute in the language of their forebears.

Regarding the mechanics of this volume, a few final words are in order. While the editors have furnished a large number of footnotes to identify key figures cited in Kruszka's account, they unfortunately failed to add an index to the volume, thus reducing its usefulness. The volume's Introduction also repeats the outdated myth, debunked by recent scholarship, that Poles took part in a one-way migration, focused on America, the land of democracy and opportunity. Polish Americans and their scholars alike need to acknowledge the existence of a huge return migration, as well as the fact that many young Poles migrated with the intention of returning, so as better to appreciate the meaning, costs, and losses of the immigrant epic. Likewise, it is a painful omission that the involvement of the Polish American Historical Association in this project did not merit mention in the Introduction or the Acknowledgments.

Yet these criticisms in no way should detract from our own appreciation of a book which, as editor Pula rightly observes, "remains a valuable source for the early Polish experience in the United States and the growth of segments in particular states and cities." (xxiii). We can readily concur with Dr. Pula's measured assessment:

"If it had accomplished nothing else, Historya Polska w Ameryce prodded Polish Americans to think of themselves as a group, as a culture, as a significant element in the development of their new nation. It challenged them to honor their nationality and to preserve their heritage within the framework of the Church and the new nation that they would call their own."(xxii)

Polonia would do well to thank and congratulate Professor Pula and his colleagues for steady plowmanship in a difficult field.

John J. Bukowczyk is Professor of History at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan.

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