A Polish American Heritage Month exhibition of artworks by Bogumil Bronkowski will be at the Bezazian Branch of the Chicago Public Library, located at 1226 West Ainslie Street, from Tuesday, October 1, 2013 to Saturday, November 30, 2013. The CPL states artist “Bogumil Bronkowski emigrated from Poland to America at age 9, leaving behind everything he had ever known. His art explores his own immigration by combining the legends and stories of his homeland with the narrative of his own personal history as a Pole living in America.”
There will be a film screening the documentary Tony and Janina’s American Wedding on Monday, October 7, 2013 at 6:00 p.m. in the Cindy Pritzker Auditorium on the Lower Level of the Harold Washington Library Center at 400 South State Street in downtown Chicago. The CPL states, “After 18 years in America, Tony and Janina Wasilewski’s family is torn apart when Janina is deported back to Poland, taking 6-year-old Brian with her. Set against the backdrop of Chicago’s immigration reform movement, this documentary film follows the Wasilewskis’ three-year struggle to be reunited, providing a fresh perspective on the immigration conversation.”
In his essay “Poles” in The Encyclopedia of Chicago, Dominic A. Pacyga observed, “Streets named Pulaski and Solidarity Drive are symbolic manifestations of the impact of Polish Americans. Although most Polish Americans are fully integrated into American society, Polonia remains a vital ethnic community because of the more than 150-year tradition of Polish immigration to Chicago.”
The first Polish immigrants to arrive on our shores were glassblowers the Virginia Company of London hired to join the Jamestown colony at the request of Captain John Smith. They arrived on October 1, 1608 aboard the ship Mary and Margaret.
Large numbers of Polish individuals and families emigrated to the U.S. in the 19th Century while Poland was under foreign occupation. The Russian Empire, Kingdom of Prussia, and Hapsburg Austria had conquered and annexed the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (the union of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania) in the 18th Century in three partitions. Russia and Prussia took the leading roles.
Two Polish aristocrats who had led unsuccessful resistance efforts against Russian forces and fled to the Kingdom of France had great sympathy for the American cause in our War of Independence, and volunteered to fight in the war. Tadeusz Kościuszko (1746-1814) was a brigadier general in our Continental Army and a major-general in the Polish-Lithuanian army.
He led the Kościuszko Uprising in 1794 against Russian and Prussian armies after the Second Partition (1793). In the U.S., he is best remembered as a military architect and for his unrealized desire that the back pay he was owed by the Continental Congress (which he entrusted to his friend Thomas Jefferson on his second sojourn in the U.S.) should be used to emancipate and educate Jefferson’s and other slaves.
General Casmir Pulaski, (1774-1779) the Father of the American Cavalry, received a mortal wound at the siege of Savannah on October 9, 1771, and died two days later. In 2009, Congress conferred honorary citizenship on Pulaski. This year, Polish-Americans are marking the 234th anniversary of the death of Pulaski.
The first Poles to arrive in Chicago were aristocrats who fled Poland after the Russian Imperial Army crushed a rebellion in Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine (four of the constituent states of the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth) sparked by a revolt by Polish cadets – the Polish-Russian War (1830-31) – and hoped to create a New Poland in Illinois. The first such Polish immigrant to arrive in Chicago was John Napieralski.
By the outbreak of the Civil War, Chicago had around 500 Polish residents most of whom settled along the North Branch of the Chicago River. One of the early leaders in the community was Anthony Smarzewski-Schermann, who made a living as a carpenter before he opened a grocery store at the corner of Noble Street and Bradley Street.
Another early leader was Peter Kiolbassa, who fought in the Confederate but he switched sides. He rose to the rank of captain in the Sixth Colored Cavalry.
In 1864, he organized the first Polish Society of St. Stanislaus Kostka, which prepared the community for the development of the city’s first Polish parish. [The Archdiocese of Chicago began to organize parishes along ethnic lines when Irish and German immigrants began to arrive in large numbers mid-century.]
Kiolbassa was Chicago’s first Polish elected official. He served in the Illinois General Assembly from 1877 to 1879, and as city treasurer from 1891 to 1893.
A Republican, John F. Smulski (1867–1928), was elected city attorney in 1903 and state treasurer in 1906. He also served on the West Park Board of Commissioners. Later important Polish politicians include Benjamin Adamowski, who served as a State Representative as a Democrat and Cook County State’s Attorney as a Republican; Roman Conrad Pucinski (1919-2002), who served as U.S. Representative from Illinois 11th District (1959-1973) and Alderman (1973-1991); and Dan Rostenkowski (1928-2010), the longtime 32nd Ward Democratic Committeeman who served as State Representative (1952-54), State Senator (1954-56), U.S. Representative from Illinois 5th District (1959-1995), and Chairman of the House Committee on Ways & Means (1981-1994).