by Andrzej M. Salski
Last year was the fiftieth anniversary of the founding, on May 28, 1944, of the Polish American Congress (PAC). The primary function of the PAC in 1944 was to assist the Polish people, and help them in upholding the integrity of PolandÕs territories and its independence. Since then, until the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the PAC had been fighting for a free and independent Poland and has steadily continued its opposition to the communist ideology, as well as to communist control over Poland and other countries in Central and Eastern Europe.
The main reason for proposing the creation of the Polish American Congress in March of 1944, was the growing concern of Polish Americans over the political future of Poland and its security. Paradoxically, the existence of three small but obstreperous pro-Soviet groups with one of them claiming that it was representing the Slavic nations,1 also helped in bringing together the leaders of about 10,000 Polish American organizations although they often held dissimilar opinions on some political issues regarding the Polish-Soviet relations.2 In a declaration unanimously approved during a meeting of representatives of Polish American organizations from throughout the country the rudimentary aims of the Congress were stated as:
This declaration also recalled the distress and enormous losses of Poles who fought on all fronts of the Second World War. Poland was at war since the aggression of Germany on Poland on September 1, 1939, and suffered a higher percentage of deaths than any other country. During the war there were thousands of ruthless crimes committed on Poles who were killed by both the Germans and Soviets by the hundreds of thousands only for the crime of being Poles. Both Hitler and Stalin set about premeditated plans for murdering and removal of all Polish leaders, intellectuals, professionals, and officers, with the aim of annihilating Poland from the map of Europe and reducing the population to merely a slave society, so the whole nation would be left without any awareness of its Polish heritage nor consciousness of its Polishness.
The proposal to foun the PAC was met by Polonians with great enthusiasm, and in many local organizations around this country elections were held for delegates to the Congress. The Polish American Congress was created during an assembly of more than 2600 delegates from twenty six states on May 28Ð30, 1944, in Buffalo, New York. The delegates selected the PACÕs leadership with Charles Rozmarek as its president, approved the aims of the PAC and a Memorial addressed directly to president Franklin D. Roosevelt in which they specified PoloniaÕs concerns.
At this time international relations were complicated and the tension between the Polish and Soviet governments ran high. At the beginning of 1944 the Soviet Red Army was moving westward in pursuit of the retreating German Wehrmacht. It already had entered the prewar Polish-Russian border and again established the vicious Soviet rules on some Polish territories that had previously been captured by the Soviets in September of 1939 in accordance with the odious Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact of Non-Aggression and a Secret Protocol both signed on August 23, 1939. This unpredictable Nazi-Communist agreement spelled out for the death of Poland and other countries in Central and Eastern Europe, and therefore the two dictators, Hitler and Stalin, became the most dangerous aggressors who terminated the short lasted peace in Europe and soon in the whole world.
The Polish-Soviet diplomatic relations which existed since July 30, 1941, after a sensitive pause since the Soviet attack on Poland, were broken again by Stalin in April 26, 1943. He accused the Polish government in exile in London of bad faith because of itÕs demand for an investigation by the International Red Cross after the German discovery of mass graves containing the bodies of 4,231 Polish officers with bullets in the back of their heads. These officers evidently had been killed in the spring of 1940 by StalinÕs ferocious NKVD and were on the list of some 15,000 officers that the Polish government was looking for since they were captured as prisoners of war by the Red Army in September 1939.
The mass killing of the Polish officers by the Soviet NKVD in 1940 has been mentioned above. Another immense bloodshed occurred when the German forces in Warsaw killed or slaughtered in cold blood more than two hundred thousand of its innocent inhabitants and approximately twenty thousand soldiers of the Home Army during the Warsaw Uprising in August-September 1944 after the Soviet army stopped its offensive and waited for the Germans to finish their bloody work in Warsaw. It was already a second uprising in the capitol of Poland; the first began on April 19, 1943 when Polish Jews armed with some light weapons received from the underground Polish Home Army (AK) and homemade incendiaries after almost a monthÕs uneven fighting resisted the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto by the German Waffen SS during which 7,000 fighters were killed, some 60,000 Jews perished burned to death in their hiding places and 56,000 were sent to the German death-camp in Treblinka.4
Those rude facts caused a severe tension to Polish-Americans and the creators of the PAC who were frightened that this situation might endanger the very existence of post-war Poland. Their distress was soon to be proved not without reason by British and American action undertaken during the second summit meeting of the ÒBig ThreeÓ in Yalta in February 1945.
The direct result of this embracing of the three biggest world powers, the United States, England and the Soviet Union, was that Poland was deprived of some 69,000 square miles of its eastern prewar territory including two pivotal cultural and political centers, Lwów and Wilno, with substantial natural resources in the Lwów region. But the most pernicious was Churchill and RooseveltÕs formal agreement to StalinÕs demand for the creation of a new Polish communist-led government. Soon their administrations had recognized the Polish provisional government primarily made of StalinÕs marionettes. The anxiety of the PAC leaders could not be changed by the ÒBig ThreeÓ decision of restitution of PolandÕs sovereignty on some 40,000 miles of former German territory that historically belonged to Poland and in the past was populated mostly by Poles.
Rozmarek and other leaders of the Polish American Congress understood that the deal with Stalin threatened PolandÕs independence, and sharply criticized the Yalta decisions. Rozmarek announced that Yalta was a Òmoral abdication of the Atlantic CharterÓ and that the treatment of Poland by the big powers was Òa staggering blow to the cause of freedom.Ó Poland was fighting on the side of the Allies from the beginning of the war and had suffered the extremely high losses of more than six million of its citizens (over twenty percent of its prewar population); many among its leaders and highly educated or professional groups were sentenced to death by both Hitler and Stalin. Another austere outcome of the war was the critical destruction done to PolandÕs industry, agriculture and cities, and to its cultural heritage.
Thus, the leaders of the PAC had to disapprove the new dangerous blow of the Yalta agreement to PolandÕs postwar stability. But Poland not having any other option had to accept the substantial disaster of losing a huge part of its territory to the Soviet Union. Therefore, Poland became the only Allied country that lost a substantial part of its territory after winning the war. Though in the domain of international relations the efforts were fruitless in spite of spirited PAC lobbying, nevertheless, shortly after the end of the Second World War, the PAC gained considerable appreciation among Polonia and was able to gather at a rally in Humboldt Park in Chicago some 200,000 people who listened to Congressman OÕKonskiÕs and RozmarekÕs impassioned anti-communist speeches.
In May of 1945 the PAC sent its delegation to San Francisco, for the first meeting of the newly created United Nations to which none of the Polish representatives were invited; nor was representation invited from its former allied government in exile in London, nor from the provisional communist government in Lublin. At this conference Rozmarek protested in vain against the Polish eastern border revision, and appealed to the United States and British governments to cast off the parts of the Yalta agreements relating to Poland, and to resume previous diplomatic relations with the Polish government in exile in London.
In addition, a reevaluation of the United States policy in September 1946 brought the statement by James Byrnes that the United States had not formally recognized the new PolandÕs western borders. It meant that the United States had written Poland off to the Soviet Union and changed its position toward building closer relations with Germany in spite of the remaining European distrust of that country. Rozmarek called the enunciation a proposal "to dismember allied Poland of territory now occupied by millions of Poles for the benefit of our enemy, Germany, [and that it] would be a horrible miscarriage of justice". Again, despite the PACÕs strengthened and energetic struggle for PolandÕs cause Rozmarek did not accomplish the desired results.
Nonetheless, at this time the PAC did get certain recognition for its anti-Soviet activities and implementing in the United States foreign policy the inclination toward containment of the global march of the Soviet communism. In addition the PAC established in the United States one of the first distinct anti-communist organizations, the "Committee to Stop World Communism." Also, an action sponsored by the PAC initiated the founding of the "American Committee for the Investigation of the Katyn Massacre." This then led to the establishment by the House of Representatives of a special committee which, during congressional testimony, provided sufficient evidence that the venomous crime was committed by the Soviet NKVD. Then president Eisenhower presented the six volumes of documents and 2363 pages of testimony and findings to the United Nations for its review. But nothing else came of this meritorious effort.
Nevertheless, the PAC as a political organization was able to work on PolandÕs behalf and extend PoloniaÕs anti-Soviet activities. It promoted also a special legislation of the United States Congress that permitted displaced Poles and other political refugees to come to the United States, and together with other organizations assisted those Poles in their resettlement. In 1948 about 80,000 Poles had already been brought to this country, and some 90,000 of the 170,000 who were waiting in refugee camps in Europe were eligible to enter.
One of the most meaningful of RozmarekÕs achievements was the successful demand from president Truman to allow thousands of Polish refugees to come to the Unites States after the war. Then the PAC established some three agencies assisting Poles and other European refugees and displaced persons. Their efforts were considerable and, for example, one of them, the National Catholic Welfare Committee, helped to settle some 35,000 refugees of Polish descent.
Charles Rozmarek headed the PAC until 1968 when he was unseated by a Chicago attorney Aloysius Mazewski, after MazewskiÕs previous victory at the Polish National Alliance (PNA) convention in 1967. Because Rozmarek had almost unequivocally concentrated on PolandÕs liberation from communism he was criticized that the PAC was unconcerned as to PoloniaÕs domestic agenda and did not listen to new ideas. But during RozmarekÕs leadership especially in the 1950Õs the PAC flourished to a huge structure with some 7,215 PoloniaÕs organizations belonging to it and considerable achivements. Donald Pienkos5 summarizes that under Rozmarek the PAC: "played a modest but constructive role ... which represented a realistic and principled alternative to both 'liberation' and 'containment.' The former had been proven bankrupt in the face of the Soviet intervention in Hungary in 1956, the latter consigned the Polish people into the enemy camp."