The Exile Mission: The Polish Political Diaspora and the Polish Americans, 1956
Patricia A. Gajda
By Anna D. Jaroszynska-Kirchmann. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2004. xxi + 368 pages. ISBN 0-8214-1526-3. Cloth. $35.00.
Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1856) was one of the intellectual leaders of the Great Emigration who took up residence in Paris after the failure of the November Uprising in 1830. He and his compatriots in exile, moved by faith and love of the nation, vowed to undertake a pilgrimage “to the holy land, the free country.” They succeeded in inspiring not only themselves but also the generations that followed. The exile mission served the nation well, even as it underwent reevaluation and refinement until Poland was again free.
Anna D. Jaroszynska-Kirchmann, who has published articles on aspects of this historical narrative, has now written a full-scale study of the World War II generation’s exile mission and its effect on the relationship between these displaced persons seeking resettlement in postwar America and the Polish Americans already living here in long-settled communities. The Exile Mission is the recipient of the Polish American Historical Association’s Kulczycki Prize.
Although the author keeps her focus on the mission, she offers more to the reader than the title promises by providing a context for her subject, both in time and place. The first chapter goes back to September 1939, the invasion of Poland by Germany and subsequently the Soviet Union, recounting events and following the Polish people’s oppression and dislocation by many routes. These different routes take them to places around the world, and so the story of the worldwide wartime diaspora emerges. This chapter provides a historical framework for the growing literature of wartime memoirs, such as Journey from Innocence (1998) by Anna Dadlez, World War II Through Polish Eyes: In the Nazi-Soviet Grip (2002) by M. B. Szonert, When God Looked the Other Way (2004) by Wesley Adamczyk, or The Polish Deportees of World War II: Recollections of Removal to the Soviet Union and Dispersal Throughout the World (2004) edited by Tadeusz Piotrowski.
The reader then meets the wartime intellectuals who arrived in the United States as “quota” immigrants, as well as the writers, poets, and literati who gathered in exile in Paris before being dispersed far afield by the advance of Nazi forces. Like Mickiewicz a century earlier, they became intellectual leaders of a nation in exile, the foundation upon which those who followed at war’s end would build. They articulated and refined their mission, fervently espousing political action in the service of the nation, commitment to the independence of Poland, and the preservation of Polish history and culture and ties with the worldwide diaspora. Such goals would lead them, and the postwar wave of displaced persons who followed, to embrace the leadership of the Polish government in exile in London, to lobby for a reversal of the Yalta agreement and the restoration of former borders, and to contemplate the third world war that would provide the means by which Poland would become free. In working for this agenda, however, they found the will of Polish Americans wanting. Polonia was too Americanized and materialistic, not sufficiently political or sophisticated, more emotionally attached more to a romanticized, nineteenth-century folk version of Poland and a badly decayed language they thought was Polish, more trusting of Washington than London, and nowhere near seeking a new world war to liberate the homeland. Polish Americans, on the other hand, found the newcomers to be arrogant, presumptuous, ungrateful, and unwilling to work as hard as they had worked, This is the same tension described so well by Mary Patrice Erdmans in Opposite Poles (1998) in her study of the Chicago Polonia. The two groups were not speaking the same language, but they did find opportunities for agreement. Strongly anticommunist Émigrés could agree with Cold Warrior Polonians that lobbying the United States government on behalf of Poland’s liberation was a worthy common goal.
Jaroszynska-Kirchmann carefully documents the arguments between the two groups, openly played out in the Polish American press, and also the convergence of their views in the Cold War context. Early attempts of émigrés to take over the leadership of Polonia and the Polish American Congress failed, but the Polonian-led PAC, with its official connections, took the lead in lobbying efforts for the Displaced Persons Act, organizing and conducting the monumental resettlement efforts for the DPs, and seeking the American government’s humanitarian assistance for and liberation of the people of Poland. In short, the Americans remained Americans, but staunchly supportive of the mission while exiles learned the social dynamics, gained legitimacy in Polonia, and came to share in its leadership. The Poznan massacre in 1956 was the turning point in their relationship. They now were speaking the same language. Further, as new waves of émigrés came to America in the Solidarity era, the same pattern of tension between groups, vying for leadership, and renegotiation of the mission recurred.
No review can do justice to this important work. The reader must marvel at the cultural organizations, schools, and universities established by Poles, even in short-term exile; the quality of their émigré literature; political bickering and division within the London government that claimed the continuing allegiance of the exiles around the world; and confusion in the face of international developments in 1956 and 1989 that necessitated yet further renegotiations of the exile mission. The author attempts to bring in the voices of the worldwide Polish diaspora. but by doing so she moves away from the focal point of her book, the émigré/Polonian relationship.
The author articulates a compelling historical paradigm, intelligent and nuanced, inviting scholars to further investigate the exile mission. Strategies meant to make the text easier to read, such as quotations from interviews or memoirs, are too few to achieve that purpose. Especially in the earlier chapters, there is a good deal of repetition, a violation of chronology, as Jaroszynska-Kirchmann lays one layer of her story over another, necessitating a return to a time already discussed. I am, however, at a loss to identify into what better slices she might have cut this meaty repast. Her documentation is abundant and rich, and the bibliography extensive and helpful. A well-captioned ten-page photo spread is placed between the third and fourth chapters. The List of Abbreviations is most useful.
The book ends happily. The democratically elected Polish president, Lech Walesa, receives the insignia of state from the president and delegation of the Polish government in exile in London in December 1990. President Ryszard Kaczorowski transfers to the new Polish president authority over the emigration “which has fulfilled its mission.
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