Raska on Wojdon, 'White and Red Umbrella: The Polish American Congress in the Cold War Era 1944-1988'

John Haynes's picture

Joanna Wojdon.  White and Red Umbrella: The Polish American Congress
in the Cold War Era 1944-1988.  Saint Helena  Helena History Press,
2015.  ix + 360 pp.  $50.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-943596-00-3.

Reviewed by Francis Raska (Charles University)
Published on H-Poland (March, 2020)
Commissioned by Anna Muller

Joanna Wojdon has written an admirable account of the Polish American
Congress (PAC) between 1944 and 1988. The monograph is thoroughly
researched and the referencing is impressive. Most important, Wojdon
provides clear evidence of solid archival research. The book contains
a preface, an introduction, and nine main chapters.

In the preface, Wojdon informs the reader of the reason why she chose
the title _White and Red Umbrella_ and rightly states that the PAC is
the "largest and longest-lasting Polish American organization of its
kind" (p. vii). The discussion focuses on the PAC's activities during
the presidencies of Charles Rozmarek (1944-68) and Aloysius Mazewski
(1968-88). The archival material cited originates in the Immigration
History Research Center in Minneapolis, as well as in other American
and Polish archives.

The introduction specifically spells out Wojdon's goal, which is to
answer the following questions: What were the origins of the PAC? Who
participated in its grand opening? Whom did the congress represent?
What were its aims? What hopes and expectations of Poles and Polish
Americans did it try to fulfill? With what results? In addition, the
author discusses the changing nature of Polish American
organizations, which was affected by the character of various
immigration waves, reasons for migration to the United States,
assimilation, suburbanization, and a declining proficiency in the
Polish language among later generations. Wojdon then thoroughly
evaluates her primary and secondary sources. While her archival
materials were mostly helpful to her, Wojdon claims that knowledge of
Polish intelligence services concerning the PAC during the communist
years was rather superficial and that the Polish American press also
was not especially beneficial. Early secondary works by Reverend
Walerian Karcz and Donald Pienkos relied mainly on published
material. However, later authors, such as Stanislaus Blejwas, Anna
Jaroszyńska-Kirchmann, Monica Podbielski, Mary Patrice Erdmans, and
Janusz Wróbel, used more primary sources in their respective works.
Overall, the introduction provides the reader with an incentive to
read on.

Chapter 1 bears the title "The Origins of the Polish American
Congress." Wojdon begins by providing some historical background of
other Polish American organizations. As there were many Polish ethnic
organizations, the author narrows her focus to the two largest ones
existing in the 1940s: the Polish National Alliance (PNA) and the
Polish Roman Catholic Union of America (PRCUA). Though both the PNA
and PRCUA sought to unite Polonia (as the Polish diaspora in the
United States and elsewhere is commonly referred to) around the
Polish cause, the efforts of these organizations were unsuccessful. A
later successful attempt during the First World War by the Committee
of National Defense lasted six months and the Polish National
Department functioned between 1916 and 1925, but most Polish American
organizations lost interest as well. Wojdon then briefly depicts the
role played by other organizations during the interwar period and
after the destruction of independent Poland by the German invasion of
1939, which ignited the Second World War. During the war,
disagreement among Polish American organizations soon emerged. Upon
the outbreak of the war, the Polish American Council collaborated
with the London-based Polish exile government, which wanted the
council to undertake political initiatives. The leader of the Polish
American Council, Francis Świetlik, initially promised to do a
number of things that never materialized and the council ultimately
joined the American National War Fund (NWF) in 1943. Thus, the name
of the organization was changed to the Polish War Relief (PWR) and
NWF regulations prohibited participation in political activities.
Political activities for Poland were thus conducted by yet another
organization, the National Committee of Americans of Polish Descent
(KNAPP), which is considered to be a predecessor of the PAC. KNAPP
proved very critical of the PWR in the Polish American press. KNAPP's
Washington office, however, did not find favor with the Roosevelt
administration, which considered KNAPP to be too nationalistic and
anti-Russian. Thus, KNAPP leaders sought help from Polish compatriots
in Chicago to establish a wider, more representative organization. In
the end, the PAC was founded in May 1944 at a convention in Buffalo,
New York, with Rozmarek as its first president. It was incorporated
in Chicago in September 1944. The structure of the PAC included a
national convention to be held every four years, supreme council,
board of directors, executive committee, and president. The PAC
initially established offices in Washington, DC, Chicago, and New
York. State divisions were established as were commissions dealing
with specific issues. This chapter is well written and the reader
certainly gets an idea as to the origins and structure of the PAC.

In chapter 2, Wojdon discusses how the PAC related to the Polish
cause. The PAC was critical of the Soviet-dominated Polish Government
of National Liberation and Rozmarek emphasized that the PAC
recognized the London-based Polish government-in-exile as the
legitimate governing authority of Poland. When the Warsaw Uprising
broke out, the PAC lobbied the American government for permission for
people to make charitable donations. Reactions to the conclusions of
the Yalta conference were negative, even though mainstream American
opinion was supportive of Yalta as the first step to end the war.
When the founding conference of the United Nations took place,
Rozmarek met with US secretary of state Edward Stettinius, who
arranged for the PAC to send a representative who could attend all
sessions. This symbolized limited representation of the Polish cause,
but the PAC in no way could influence the outcome of the conference.
The case was similar at the United Nations Conference on
International Organization where PAC delegates had no power to
influence events. However, the author is correct in her assertion
that the Polish cause at least remained more visible in the press
because of PAC participation. Wojdon writes that when the PAC
appealed to President Harry Truman to withhold recognition of the
communist-dominated Polish Provisional Government of National Unity,
the request was ignored. This reality demonstrated the lack of
leverage the Poles in exile had on official American government
policy. In 1947, former exile leader Stanisław Mikołajczyk fled
Poland again after having been a member of the Provisional Government
of National Unity because falsified elections deprived his Peasant
Party of power. After much controversy, the PAC signed an agreement
with Mikołajczyk's Peasant Party, but collaboration was discontinued
because of mutual distrust and animosity. Wojdon then provides great
detail concerning the most important activities of the PAC. Indeed,
these included correspondence and meetings with the State Department,
congressmen, presidential staff, and even the American president,
using ethnic constituency platforms of both major American political
parties to the advantage of Polonia's interests and appealing to
broad American public opinion. Politically, the PAC supported the
London-based Polish government-in-exile, and the main activity this
support achieved was the visit to the United States by Polish
commander general Tadeusz Bór-Komorowski. Komorowski made an
impression on Polish America, but American authorities did not take
him seriously and did not reach out to the general. Wojdon emphasizes
that PAC cooperation with the government-in-exile was short-lived as
both institutions pursued different agendas. The remainder of the
chapter discusses PAC efforts to limit access to communist Poland in
the United States. Official Polish ceremonies marking the communist
takeover were boycotted by the PAC and PAC members discouraged Poles
in the United States from traveling to Poland. The workers' uprising
in Poland in 1956 led to a reconsideration of PAC strategy. The PAC
willingly supported material assistance to the Polish people and its
status was enhanced when, for the first time, American officials
consulted with the PAC and PAC delegations visited both Congress and
the White House. When it came to the issue of Poland's postwar
borders, the PAC never recognized the Soviet-imposed eastern
frontier, but its main focus was on the western frontier, which was
considered to be the rightful new border of Poland. This chapter
demonstrates that the author conducted intense research and she
deserves praise for this. However, there is a small danger that some
readers might give up given what might be perceived as excessive
semantics that make the chapter longer than it needs to be.

Chapter 3 differentiates between the large group of Polish immigrants
who came mainly for economic reasons in early waves and political
exiles who arrived after the Second World War after spending much
time in European camps for displaced persons. Wojdon discusses how
the PAC sought to address the problem and help to resettle displaced
persons in the United States. A PAC delegation visited Europe in 1946
and its members were able to see for themselves the conditions under
which refugees were living and were unhappy with what they saw, as
well as with cultural restrictions placed on the refugees by the
United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). A
detailed PAC report was sent to US secretary of state James Byrnes.
Thanks to lobbying by the PAC and other organizations, the United
States adopted the Displaced Persons Act in 1948, which allowed for
immigration to the United States for a set number of displaced
persons, provided they had a sponsor offering employment. This law
was supplemented by the Refugee Relief Act (1953). Thus, post-World
War II refugees continued to be resettled in the United States until
the end of 1956. The author portrays in detail the activities of the
PAC to resettle as many refugees as possible and the rivalry posed by
other organizations, most notably, the American Relief for Poland
(ARP). However, the ARP's inefficiency prompted PAC leader, Rozmarek,
to lobby for the PAC to handle the matter of resettling Polish
refugees. In fact, a new organization (with PAC support)--the
American Committee for the Resettlement of the Polish Displaced
Persons (ACRPDP)--was incorporated to this end. Wojdon describes the
difference in approach between the ARP and the ACRPDP. The ARP
considered the issue to be a charitable one designed to help Polish
Catholics, whereas the ACRPDP offered to help anyone from Poland
regardless of creed. Moreover, the PAC argued that the issue was not
one of charity but rather of politics because displaced persons were
victims of the emerging Cold War reality. The chapter goes on to
address the organizational structure of the ACRPDP, enormous
financial difficulties, attempts to find sponsors, care for Polish
soldiers and other displaced persons upon arrival in the United
States, and relations with Polish communities in other countries.
Wojdon notes that the PAC fought for Polish immigration long after
the postwar wave of refugees was resettled. She concludes the chapter
by stating that the effectiveness of PAC efforts to help postwar
Polish refugees was hampered by institutional quarreling and limited
funding. This chapter is of phenomenal quality and it demonstrates
the limitations of ethnic organizations in achieving results.

In chapter 4, the author depicts the activities of the PAC on behalf
of the Polish American community. The two main issues Wojdon touches
on are the PAC's attempt to enhance the status and influence of
Polish Americans in the United States and its attempts to address its
internal problems. Wojdon provides details concerning publicity,
press publications, and even books. Attention is likewise devoted to
PAC support for Polish American cultural and research institutions.
Mention is made of support provided to the Polish Institute of Arts
and Sciences of America (PIASA), led by Oskar Halecki; and the Polish
American Historical Association (PAHA), whose journal, _Polish
American Studies_, published the first history of the PAC authored by
Reverend Karcz in 1959. Then a discussion of the activities of the
PAC surrounding the organization of Polish national celebrations is
exchanged. The rest of the chapter discusses PAC involvement in
promoting Polish American interests in American politics and
collaboration with various associations representing other ethnic
groups, particularly through the Assembly of Captive European Nations
(ACEN). Insofar as Polish American interests in the United States are
concerned, the PAC had affiliations with Polish American parishes,
supported the teaching of the Polish language in American public
schools, had limited contacts with American labor unions, and set up
a "compensation committee" in order to address potential compensation
by the American government for Polish Americans who had lost
everything in the Second World War. These efforts, though noble, came
to naught. The chapter concludes that PAC efforts met with little
success due to insufficient finances and human resources. I quite
like this chapter, which furnishes a balanced account of PAC
activities on behalf of Polish Americans.

Chapter 5 represents a brief set of conclusions regarding the tenure
of Rozmarek as PAC president. Wojdon correctly states that the
greatest success of the PAC under Rozmarek was helping to achieve the
resettlement of thousands of Polish displaced persons in the United
States. In addition, PAC efforts to promote the Polish cause by
lobbying American politicians, policymakers, and the media are
lauded. In addition, Wojdon salutes PAC support for other Polish
American organizations. On the other hand, the author acknowledges
the drawbacks that hampered PAC effectiveness by the end of the
1960s. With the passage of time, PAC activities waned, and Wojdon
correctly states that the reasons include an unfavorable
international situation, limited finances, and the lack of dedicated
professional personnel. Here the leadership style of Rozmarek is
blamed because Rozmarek inhibited the initiatives of others, whose
ideas might have made a difference if given a chance. The chapter
concludes by describing the resentment by some Polish Americans that
too much effort had been invested in promoting the Polish cause, thus
not sufficiently attending to the obstacles faced by Polish Americans
in their efforts to integrate into American life. This chapter
provides a balanced assessment of the PAC's successes and failures
under Rozmarek's leadership.

The author introduces the next PAC president, Mazewski, and his
activities in chapter 6. Indeed, Mazewski's personality and
leadership style differed from Rozmarek's. Wojdon portrays Mazewski's
background and his interest in the Polish American cause from a young
age. Great attention is paid to Mazewski's contacts in American
political circles. His appointments to the United Nations, the
National Center for Voluntary Action, the National Advisory Council
on Ethnic Heritage Studies of the Office of Education, and the United
States Holocaust Memorial Commission are noted, as are his official
visits to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the European
Economic Community, Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe
(CSCE), and the Vatican upon the election of Pope John Paul II. One
significant change adopted by Mazewski was the enhanced role of the
PAC vice president, Kazimierz Łukomski, who, unlike Rozmarek, was
born in Lithuania, spent his childhood in Poland, served on the
western front during World War II, and entered the United States as
part of the post-World War II immigration wave. A member of the
Illinois PAC state division, Łukomski actively promoted the Polish
cause in his dual capacity as chair of the Polish Affairs Commission,
undertook financing campaigns, and edited the PAC newsletter. Wojdon
points out that Łukomski played an inspiring role even though he
never received any remuneration for his activities. In the ensuing
section, Casimir and Myra Lenard and the PAC Washington, DC, office
are discussed. Unfortunately, Casimir Lenard's role at the PAC's
Washington office did not yield positive results. In fact, Lenard's
activities were costly for the cash-strapped PAC and ethically
questionable to put it mildly. Thanks to his lack of results and
expensive operating costs, Lenard had a poor relationship with
Mazewski and was ultimately dismissed. A number of less problematic
individuals took over the Washington office in the 1970s, but true
success came only in the 1980s when the Solidarity trade union was
formed and rocked the world. Ironically, the person in charge of the
Washington office at this time was Myra Lenard (wife of Casimir). The
rest of the chapter focuses on the reorganization of the PAC under
Mazewski's leadership. The ultimate result was an increase in the
PAC's budget thanks to improved fundraising, the shifting of most
activities to volunteers, and the reduction of other expenses. Though
many of the details presented in this chapter might be somewhat
tedious for the reader, the content demonstrates meticulous archival
research and the excellent referencing provides a starting point for
future scholars. 

Chapter 7 deals with the PAC's contribution to Polish American
affairs. The chapter is introduced with an observation made by
philosopher Michael Novak concerning "unmeltable ethnics" in a book
by the same name published in 1972. Wojdon writes that Novak was
correct but that Polish Americans and the PAC had become more
integrated into American society in the 1970s and 1980s. This chapter
nicely complements chapter 4, which discusses many of the same issues
during the Rozmarek era. The author focuses extensively on Mazewski's
fight against defamation of the Polish American community and common
stereotypes in popular American culture. For this purpose, the PAC
established a Civic Alertness Commission initially headed by lawyer
Thaddeus Maliszewski, whose approach involved taking legal action
against those who defamed the Polish American community.
Maliszewski's tenure was brief, and he was succeeded by another
lawyer, Thaddeus Kowalski, who renamed the commission the
Anti-defamation Commission. Kowalski's efforts included challenging
derogatory portrayals of Polishness in the media and popular culture,
as well as promoting a positive image through the publication of
numerous informative articles. Indeed, this activity resulted in the
reduction of anti-Polish stereotypes in the media. Another PAC
activity involved promoting the teaching of Polish history and
culture in American schools. In addition, the PAC did not shy away
from challenging anti-Polish media accounts of World War II and the
Holocaust. Regarding ecclesiastical matters, the PAC promoted the
preservation of Polish American parishes and religious symbols. The
greatest accomplishment here was the successful fundraising campaign
to keep the Our Lady of Czestochowa Shrine in Pennsylvania in Polish
American hands. Other PAC activities on behalf of Polish Americans
included supporting Polish American candidates for political office
and taking a stand on controversial American policy issues, ranging
from taking a hard line on national security matters in the Cold War
to trying (albeit unsuccessfully) to have Polish Americans included
among affirmative action beneficiaries. The PAC also reached out to
other ethnic groups, and Mazewski was even named to the Holocaust
Commission in the 1980s. Overall, the PAC did succeed in bolstering
the profile of Polish Americans by organizing celebrations and
propagating famous Polish personalities, like Nicolaus Copernicus,
Tadeusz Kosćiuszko, and Kazimierz Pulaski along with Pope John Paul
II. In the 1980s, the PAC assisted new migrants who had fled Poland
because of the matial law crackdown on Solidarity. Wojdon points out,
however, that the PAC did not win the loyalty of the newcomers
largely because of the failure to integrate them into PAC structures
and use their ideas. Here, Wojdon draws a parallel to the earlier
inability of older generations of Polish Americans to relate to
post-World War II exiles. Similarly, the PAC's reluctance was
culpable in the failure to bring about meaningful collaboration with
Polish immigrants in other countries. I find this chapter appealing
because it clearly demonstrates the continuities and discontinuities
of the PAC.

In chapter 8, Wojdon discusses the Polish American Congress
Charitable Foundation (PACCF), which was founded in 1971. Initially
designed to support Polish American activities, the aim of the PACCF
changed after the developments in Poland in 1981 when food and
medicines were urgently required. Two programs--Food for Poland and
Medicine Bank--were coordinated by the PACCF. Importantly, contacts
were established inside Poland both with the clergy and Solidarity
activities. The PACCF collaborated with other American organizations
to deliver the aid, especially Project HOPE. Once the crisis in
Poland abated and emergency deliveries of food and medical supplies
were no longer required, the PACCF reverted to its original mission.
This short chapter is a welcome tribute to those who made sacrifices
to help their desperate countrymen back home.

The final chapter (chapter 9) addresses the PAC's stance toward
Poland itself in the 1970s and 1980s. Mazewski continued Rozmarek's
policy of nonrecognition of the Polish communist regime, but the PAC
did support cultural and educational exchanges with Poland. The
Polish Affairs Commission of the PAC informed of events in Poland and
disseminated publications informing of the unjust conditions there.
The PAC broke with its past practice of not communicating with the
communist regime when it decided to provide support for the
reconstruction of Warsaw Castle, which had been destroyed in World
War II. The Zamek Committee was established and PAC functionaries
indeed visited Poland in 1971 and conducted fundraising. The effort
was largely ineffective because Polish Americans were so suspicious
of the communist regime. Thus, the amount of money raised was
minimal. When the Polish party secretary, Edward Gierek, visited the
United States in 1974, Mazewski refused to meet him and even refused
a dinner invitation from President Gerald Ford. The PAC firmly
supported the post-World War II Polish-German border and advocated
the repudiation of Yalta. However, the PAC did support American
economic assistance to Poland in the form of loans but also supported
sanctions in the 1980s when martial law was declared. Mazewski had a
cordial relationship with the Ronald Reagan White House and supported
American participation in the CSCE process, especially the monitoring
of human rights. One rare example of PAC collaboration with Polish
communities in other countries was the Katyn memorial in London. This
collaboration was not altogether successful because Polish Americans
donated very little money to the project. Wojdon clearly demonstrates
how the PAC evolved over the course of Mazewski's leadership and
indicates that there were certain difficulties that Mazewski could
not overcome.

Wojdon concludes the work by recapitulating the main points of the
individual chapters and pointing to the PAC's successes and failures,
as well as their respective causes. I very much enjoyed reading
Wojdon's treatise, which provides welcome insight into the world of
Polish Americana. Moreover, it provides scholars like myself the
possibility to compare the Polish American experience with that of
other East-Central European diasporas. This book is a pioneering
contribution to the history of Polish American activities during the
Cold War.   

Citation: Francis Raska. Review of Wojdon, Joanna, _White and Red
Umbrella: The Polish American Congress in the Cold War Era
1944-1988_. H-Poland, H-Net Reviews. March, 2020.
URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=51779

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