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September 2000

Vol. XX, No. 3

Poles vs. Polish Americans

I read with interest Dr. John Radzilowski's "Poles, Poland, Polish Americans, Polonia" (SR, XX:1, January 2000). I agree with him that differences between Polish Americans can be traced to the dates of their arrival in the U. S., as different groups came from different social backgrounds. I also agree that there have been three main waves of Polish immigration:

1. The so-called economic immigration (which Radzilowski says occurred at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of twentieth century) consisted mostly of farmers who naturally were not notable for scholarly achievements. They came from a partitioned country, they did not know English and had no capital; they were in competition with other immigrant groups for low-paying jobs. As the people from Poland, which was a virtual terra incognita in the U. S., they encountered little respect. It is worth remembering that when the United States came into being, Poland did not exist on the map of Europe, having been cannibalized by three hostile neighbors. Among American historians, the map of Europe as it existed in the late eighteenth century was often the starting point for research. If academics talked about Poland in the United States, they usually did so from the point of view of the partitioning powers hostile to Poland, i.e., from the point of view of Russia, Prussia, and Austria.

Poles participated in the labor force, and they were generally law-abiding people. They made it economically, but--and here is the crux of the problem--they did not make the headlines.

2. It is this aspect of non-visibility that shocked the 'middle' post -World War II immigration to which I belong. We were imbued with memories of heroic war scenes and a belief in the amazing stamina of Poles that was demonstrated during the war. We were painfully aware of the monstrous losses sustained by our fatherland (one of every five Polish citizens dead, 50 percent of the educated classes annihilated) and proud of its war record. Despite its relatively small size, Poland provided the fourth strongest military force in World War II, after the U. S., Britain, and the USSR, but ahead of France and other powers; Poles also distinguished themselves in intelligence, to mention only their acquisition of materials related to the German V-rockets and reconstruction of the Enigma, or the German coding machine. But in the United States, nobody seemed to know or care about such things! And we were still smarting under the Yalta agreements that had placed our devastated country under Soviet rule and effectively eliminated the possibility of our returning to Poland.

Although grateful for being allowed to come to the U.S., the post-war political immigration experienced disappointment when assessing the strength of American Polonia. "Where are the Poles in academia, in opinion-forming research institutes, in the American government?" we asked. "How is it that other ethnic groups managed to obtain an influence which the native-born Americans of Polish background found unobtainable?" Concern for the purity of the Polish language precipitated other complaints. One would not have minded a dialect, but the Polish spoken in the U. S. was crude. "Jak sie masz" is not archaic, as Dr. Radzilowski maintains, but a proper term for addressing children and close friends; otherwise it is very rude to use it.

The 'middle' immigration was also shocked to find that while in Poland and in other European countries one could be poor and cultured, in the U. S. poverty was often identified with lack of culture, bringing disrespect. Most Polish Americans adhered to the American pattern in this regard, and such attitudes appeared both naive and offensive to the newcomers. In response, Polish Americans felt irritated: "Those people come here penniless, they take our jobs and prosper, but they do not like what we are doing and they criticize everything. Who do they think they are?!"

Yet, despite difficulties, some progress in mutual tolerance and even cooperation has been made due to strenuous efforts on both sides. "Let's reject what divides us and accept what unites us:" Józef Pilsudski 's appeal was embraced by both sides. One reason was the need for a common front against discrimination. Another was the belated realization by the post-World War II immigration that their own group had not managed to raise high the Polonian standards either. With the exception of those who became academics, there was no great progress made in the acquisition of important roles in American society, with few Polish Americans in prestigious positions and virtually none in the media. The events that boosted the image of Poles here and in the world did not originate in the United States but outside it. One of them was the election of the Polish Pope; another was the Solidarity movement (which has since become almost invisible, owing to the 'elbowing-out' efforts of the American academia).

3. Then came the 'new immigration' from Poland, before and after the all-important year 1989. As Dr. Radzilowski notes, most of them were welcomed by 'Old Polonia.' We, the post-World War II immigrants, were of course glad to see the countrymen socially close to us and generally well educated. Because of the political system in their country, many of them had chosen 'safe' (i.e., non-political) disciplines such as medicine, technology and science that allowed them to find jobs in this country with relative ease. Unlike many of post-world War II intellectuals, they did not have to begin by scrubbing floors. They also were more self-confident and far more assertive than we had been, although they had lived under communism. That again was not surprising, because there is nothing more detrimental to the feeling of security and self-confidence than a forced transplant from one country to another. While we were ejected from Poland, they left it voluntarily.

What is more, they had also been, at least to a certain degree, beneficiaries of the communist system. Even granting that communism is an awful evil, they were educated for free by the state, and thus reaped the benefits denied to Polish workers and farmers under communism. Those of us who struggled with heavy debts incurred in acquiring an education for ourselves or our children in America looked with wonder at our countrymen who got their education at no cost to their families or themselves.

Some doubts about this group arose due to their sometimes amazingly innocent approach to history (here I rely on my own experiences). They knew of course the main contours of Polish history, but little more. One excuse was their age and the fact that they lived their childhood and early youth in somewhat more 'normal' circumstances than Poles abroad: wars and national tragedies did not radically change their lives as they did ours. They had not been transplanted, at an early age, to a foreign country. Another excuse for their ignorance of history was the school system under communism that effectively suppressed all information relevant and advantageous to the building of Polish civil solidarity. But even now, when sources are available, few of those educated in People's Poland display a desire to fill in the gaps in their knowledge of history. The scandalously inadequate purchases of books and other opinion-making materials distinguish Polish Americans of all generations from those groups that have been successful in American society. In contrast to us, who remember World War II, they do not appear to be aware of the inadequate and often distorted presentation of Polish World War II history in the American media and, even more importantly, at American universities. Yet in no way does the danger of distortion decrease. With the rapid technological advances, an opportunity for manipulation of public opinion is on the rise and what Daniel Shore calls "industry of unreality" expands.

It is this concern for the true image of Polish history and culture that allows the 'old Polonia' (generations born in the U. S.) to unite with the middle group of Polish immigrants, making them see eye to eye in a way often incomprehensible to the 'third wave.' The native Polish Americans understand that our country consists of diverse ethnic and interest groups, each of them struggling for visibility and influence, and that among such lobbies Polonia tends to appear weak and ineffectual, its achievements and struggles basically unappreciated. The Polish Americans born here, and those who have lived here for some decades, also know that there is strength and inspiration in Poland's past, and they cannot fail to see how the past of other ethnic groups has contributed to their image and their influence.

It becomes of primary importance for Polonia to produce history teachers, history writers, history-literate media people. Highly valuable though the medical and technological professionals are, they do not devote their lives to the correction of errors and misconceptions pertaining to Polish history and culture; and these errors have a way of growing and producing offspring in American history textbooks and in the media. One must also remember the larger question of scholarship in this country. Do we want American children, whether of Polish or non-Polish background, to learn untruths and distortions from their textbooks of European history? Should we not, as American citizens, become involved in the issue of general education in our adopted country? But who is there who would choose to take on an often contentious field of study? While Polish historians who arrived here after World War II are now slowly fading away and the newcomers from Poland are inclined to embrace less controversial subjects and professions, it is left to the second, third, fourth, and fifth generations of Polish Americans to pick up humanistic subjects in the name of historical fairness and historical truth. When they do it, they will find fellowship and a ready response from the emerging post-communist class of new historians in Poland.

Anna R. Dadlez, Saginaw Valley State University, Michigan

Professor Cienciala responds

I regret that Professor Gella finds my review full of "invectives" against him (SR, XX:2, April 2000). It was certainly not meant that way. I also regret having to answer his letter because I am sure it will not affect his views, but am doing so for interested Sarmatian Review readers.

1. Professor Gella is right that my views and criticisms are almost identical with those of Professor Wandycz, as expressed in Zeszyty Historyczne, no. 129, December 1999, 159-172. We did not consult each other, so all I can say is that I am in very distinguished company. Furthermore, Professor Wandycz's review is much longer and, if anything, more critical than mine. He calls "absurd" Professor Gella's "view that if there had been a strong Poland in the 19th century, there would not have been two world wars" (ZH, 129, p.161), and says the belief [Gella's] that the destruction of one generation can determine the future of a nation, "borders on megalomania" (ibid., 169). It is curious that Professor Gella does not accuse Professor Wandycz of using "invectives" in his review. Could it be that for Professor Gella, men are more entitled to forthright criticism of the work of other men than are women?

2. I did not omit Professor Gella's "central topic, the annihilation of the Second Polish Republic." I wrote that "the book is useful because it contains many documents that the average interested Polish reader may find hard to find, but this is counterbalanced by the author's intemperate statements and judgments, and by his misinterpretations of history both within and outside his chosen period" (SR, January 2000, p. 683). In my view, it was quite clear that I was concerned not with the central theme of the book, but with some of Professor Gella's opinions and unhistorical "annexes" (in Polish, przybudówki).

3. I must say again that most of Professor Gella's views on history outside his chosen theme, the destruction of Polish underground leaders in 1945-47, are not shared by professional historians. These views include Poland's role in World War II ("without the Polish armed effort [in 1939], the fate of Europe would have been total catastrophe;" or that Polish Foreign Minister Józef Beck's was persuaded by the British to accept the British Guarantee of Polish independence in late March 1939--for both these statements, see Gella's book, p. 17). The first view is unproven, and the second is plain wrong, since both Polish and British documents show that Beck was the first to propose a secret Polish-British agreement on consultation, which led to the guarantee offer. (See Anna M. Cienciala, "Poland in British and French Policy in 1939: Determination to Fight or Avoid War?" Polish Review, XXXIV:3, 1989, 204-05). The guarantee offer was accepted by Beck without a moment's hesitation.

4. Professor Gella writes: "Cienciala defends Beck's policy, which is quite understandable as she edited Beck's papers over the years 1926-39. Therefore, she cannot see his policy more critically" (SR, 718). I suppose this refers to my statement that "Beck cannot be blamed for not securing a [British] guarantee against both German and Soviet aggression" (SR, January 2000, 684; Gella's book, p. 32). As a matter of fact, most Polish historians today agree that no matter what policy Beck would have pursued, he could not have saved Poland from catastrophe, though they are critical of some aspects of his policy. That, too, is my view of Józef Beck, particularly regarding the annexation of Zaolzie from Czechoslovakia in fall 1938, which I believe would best have been settled through negotiations, though an ultimatum was understandable in the circumstances of the time. [See Anna M. Cienciala, Polska polityka zagraniczna w latach 1926-1939 (Paris: Institut Littéraire, 1990), p. 41; and Anna M. Cienciala, "The Munich Crisis of 1938: Plans and Strategy in Warsaw in the Context of the Western Appeasement of Germany," in Igor Lukes and Erik Goldstein, editors, The Munich Crisis, 1938. Prelude to World War II (London: Frank Cass, 1999), p. 73].

5. Contrary to Professor Gella's assumption that I have not read John Earl Haynes' and Harvey Klehr's Venona. Decoding the Soviet Espionage in America (SR, 718), I have read it. It shows there were many more Soviet spies in the U. S. government than previously thought, so Stalin had very good information on its policies. However, the book offers no proof that these people shaped or influenced President Franklin D. Roosevelt's policy on Poland and Eastern Europe. In fact, it is well known that FDR decided to sacrifice Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe to Soviet domination in order to make sure that Stalin would continue the war in Europe until the defeat of Germany, and then help the U. S. defeat Japan. He did not have to be persuaded by Soviet spies to adopt this policy. I cite books on FDR's foreign policy in note 12 of my review.

6. Professor Gella faults me for citing a textbook on the relatively small numbers of Poles imprisoned by the Polish Security Police in 1948, 1950 and 1952, as compared with the larger numbers cited by him (SR, 718). I quoted these figures from Andrzej Paczkowski's excellent textbook, Pól wieku dziejów Polski 1939-1989 (Warsaw: PWN, 1995, p. 259), with a note that he was one of the first to read the police files. I referred to this book because it should be easier to find than the more specialized publications. However, if anyone wishes to have the archival file numbers for these figures, he/she can read Paczkowski's book: Od sfalszowanego zwyciestwa do prawdziwej kleski. Szkice do portretu PRL (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1999, pp. 47, 53).

7. Professor Gella charges me with claiming that his contentions regarding British policy and the dissolution of the Polish Armed Forces are not based on evidence, whereas he based them on British documents he discovered in the Public Record Office in London (SR, 718). What I do say is that his "speculations" on British policy are unfounded (SR, 685). I referred to his view that if the Polish generals had kept the Polish army together and ordered them to mutiny, the British government would have been forced to intern them and this in turn would have been a means for Polish emigré pressure on the policies of the allies in 1945-47 (SR, 685). The British might have interned the mutineers, but that is not the point. The whole idea of a mutiny by the Polish Armed Forces after the war's end is unrealistic, and the view that this would have affected British policy on the Polish question--e.g. forcing free elections in Poland--is even more so. Professor Gella's chapter on this episode was, indeed, published in 1988, but this does not absolve him from reading and referring to later publications on the subject.

8. As far as documentation is concerned, we still await Professor Gella's answer to the question put by both Professor Wandycz (ZH, no. 129, p. 171) and myself (SR, 684) on the memorandum on "German Hegemony in Europe," which demanded the return of former German territories from Poland to Germany and was allegedly submitted to the U. S. government in November 1990 by a mysterious body called "The Council of Free Germany" (Gella's book, p. 214). Who were the 87 German Americans who made up this Council? Whoever they might have been, it is clear that if they had any chance at all of influencing American policy--which is doubtful--they were much too late because" The third 'ministerial' meeting of the Two Plus Four [US, USSR, Germany, France, Britain and Poland, A.C.] was held in Paris on July 17, where agreement was reached on the Polish-German border as well as the outline of a final settlement" (George Bush and Brent Scowcroft, A World Transformed, 1998, p. 198).

9. Professor Gella protests against Professor Wandycz and myself treating as part of the book his account of a disappointing visit to Poland in 1992, and his very negative analysis of the situation there. He says that this part was added later (SR, 718). Well, it is a part of the book and thus subject to critical evaluation.

In conclusion, I have always believed that the writing of history is best left to professional historians. If others wish to write it they are welcome, but they would be well advised to read relevant studies or consult the appropriate historians on areas outside their expertise--instead of repeating worn-out stereotypes or indulging in national mythology.

Anna M. Cienciala, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas

Polish intellectuals and a story

Your remarks about Polish intellectuals and their attitude to foreign or Polonia sponsors outside Poland (SR, XX:1, January 2000) caused a wry smile here. We see the same here. But, in their defense, the damage to "attitude" done in the last three decades to these people will take a long time to go away.

As to monuments, there is no monument in the United Kingdom to the Polish Air Force, Army, and Navy which, for a short period, really did save the British skin in 1940 and therefore every other European skin in the long run. These people get barely a mention. I am not Polish but it makes me fume. If ever a monument were needed, it is here.

Now, a little story for "sarmacki" types to make you smile; it appeals to that sense of irony which is more developed in the Pole than in any other race, I think.

Following the defeats of the Polish army in 1940, many Polish airmen and soldiers escaped to UK via a great variety of exotic and dangerous routes. The Brits, who were in chaos themselves, did not really know where to put them but ended up sending very many thousands of Poles to Lancashire in the northwest of England, to Fleetwood in particular. Of all parts of Britain, then and now, this has to be the gloomiest, wettest, greyest and most xenophobic part where the people, even now, maintain minimal contact with foreigners whom they still regard with suspicion.

There the Poles waited until they could be trained and re-equipped. Of course, they were glad to be safe after all the retreats and murder, and even more glad to get retrained. People were nice to them and vice versa. Many marriages resulted from this.

But. . . Oh. . . The culture difference. . . the horrible British weather! The strasznie English food! That chilly English sang froid and pedantic attitude. As for the Polish jokes on this score, it would be unkind to repeat them.

And the English? They looked on appalled at the dandified, fashion-conscious and hand-kissing Polish officers, their crazy incomprehensible language and strange ways.

Despite all that, they all got on well enough. But, in truth and secretly, both parties did regard each other as a complete bunch of "wogs."

And there is the irony. Because at the turn of the first millennium, the Roman Emperor Hadrian was at war with the very Sarmatians from whom the Polish officers in Fleetwood all too often claimed descent. And when Hadrian severely defeated the Sarmatians, he did not kill or enslave them, he forced them to serve in the Roman army. They were good soldiers then, just as they were later, in World War II.

So, where did Hadrian send the Sarmatian divisions (about 5,500 men plus support blacksmiths, etc.)? He sent them to Lancashire where they patrolled the Roman border for over two hundred years and which place they never left. . . for the veterans stayed on and took Roman nationality. The descendants of the Sarmatian cataphractii were, in 1940, serving weak tea and chips to their own co-descendants.

Now that is a Polish story isn't it?

Rodi Wout, Dowally, Perthshire, Scotland

Reviewer was incorrect

With regard to your review of Chicago Polish Theater's performance of Pan Tadeusz in Houston (SR, XX:2, April 2000), I wish to state that your reviewer made a mistake in attributing to Ryszard Krzyzanowski an incorrect rendering of a section of Pan Tadeusz. Kraj lat dziecinnych appears first, in the Invocation; but later, the expression kraje dziecinstwa was used by Mickiewicz, and that is what our speaker said.

Barbara Denys, Chicago's Polish Theater, Chicago, Illinois

Compliments department

Enclosed is a check for our subscription. My father and I enjoy reading your publication immensely, and also the ease of looking it up on the Internet.

Maryann Wojciechowski and Marian Wojciechowski, Las Vegas, Nevada


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