SO THAT OUR HISTORY WOULD BE KNOWN

MATEUSZ WYRWICH

They have been collecting souvenirs of history of our nation for seventy years. They started collecting them in exile, at the most tragic moment of the modern Poland. Just since the war till today, successive generations have collected nearly a million of exhibits

The beginnings of Józef Piłsudski Institute, functioning in New York since 1943, reach back to the 20s of XX century. It was founded by Poles living in the USA for years and functioning in the National Committee of the Americans of Polish origin. Mainly from the initiative of ministers of the government of Józef Piłsudski, Wacław Jędrzejewicz and Ignacy Matuszewski. At that time, like today, in the first place the institution set its goal as studying the latest history of Poland.

Both ministers of the Marshal’s government, establishing the Institute of Józef Piłsudski in the United States, made reference to the tradition of the institution founded twenty years earlier in Poland by the Marshal’s friends, among the others, Walery Sławek or Wacław Sieroszewski. The original name of 1923 was: the Institute of Józef Piłsudski Devoted to Study of the Latest History of Poland. For a dozen years of the pre-war functioning of the Institute many documents and souvenirs of the Marshal’s life, as well as of the time of fights for Poland’s independence had been collected in its archives. Uprisings – the November and January ones. Souvenirs from exiles, prisons and other places of anguishes of Poles. These collections, called Belvedere Archive, were transported away in 1939 and got happily to New York. Today they are valuable heritage of our nation, made available to explorers, not only the Polish ones, but also the ones from other countries.

Explicit and implicit documents

However, most souvenirs in the Institute were collected during the Second World War and aftermath. Among them there are manuscripts of politicians, correspondence of gen. Sikorski and an ambassador Jan Ciechanowski or gen. Kazimierz Sosnowski. – We also have documents of our ambassadors from the war time who were running enlivened diplomatic and political action for Poland, like, for example, letters of ambassadors Michał Sokolniecki, Juliusz Łukasiewicz – says Iwona Drąg- Korga, a director of the Institute. – We also have letters of politicians or statesmen, who after the Second World War remained in exile, like gen. Kazimierz Sosnowski and Władysław Bortnowski. But in the Institute we can find not only collections of diplomats’ documents, but also documents of historians, like Władysław Pobóg-Malinowski, whose whole collection of documents and books found their way to us.

The Institute also collected souvenirs from many Polish Diaspora Institutions, for example, from the Congress of the American Polish Diaspora and the National Committee of the Americans of Polish origin. Also collections of the Polish Information Centre, agenda of the Polish government in exile which was established in the USA, to inform the president Roosevelt, his administration and the American society about the situation in occupied Poland and Europe. An extremely important and hardly known archive is the archive ‘Estezet’ – of an intelligence cell which was the Polish ‘Independent Intelligence Branch ‘Estezet’ of the Second Headquarter of the commander in chief, functioning in the USA, and also in other countries. Its establishment in New York, as we can read in the archive of the Institute, ‘was decided in August 1941, when also the preliminary contract about intelligence cooperation between Polish and American services was signed. The Institution was functioning under the disguise in the General Consulate of the Polish Republic in New York. The Independent Intelligence Branch ‘Estezet’ comprised: the United States, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay and also Peru and Bolivia and it had headquarters in other cities of the United States, as well as in the aforementioned countries. The main tasks of the institution were: observation of the military and political situations of countries of the both Americas, state and development of the Polish Diaspora, agitation and penetration of communism with a special consideration its attitude towards the United States and Canada and Polish issues, as well as state and development and the attitude of Ukrainian societies and the analysis of press for minorities (of Poles, the Germans, the Ukrainians, the Czechs, the Slovaks, the Lithuanians and the Jews).

Donors and volunteers in the Institute

Throughout the last seventy years, the Institute also collected an unusual gallery of paintings of prominent Polish artists. These collections count over 240 paintings. These are works by Wyspiański, the Kossak, Malczewski, Wyczółkowski, Styka, Giermyski. Among them there is also a sketch of Matejko. Some exhibits come from the Belvedere Archive. First of all, however, from later donations of compatriots who lived in the West in the post-war years. Being hung up in a reading room, they arouse an atmosphere of former Poland, which perfectly corresponds with the reading of documents of that time.

However, the Institute according to the founders, was mainly established as a scientific-research institution. So, the main purposes of its activity are: collecting, arranging and making archive collections, librarian documents available, as well as collectible, faleristics and photographic documents. Among the souvenirs of a special rank, there are personal items of the Marshal, among the others: medals, swords, painting. Also letters between Józef Piłsudski and the gen. Maxime Weygand or Charles de Gaulle.

Like many institutions of this type, the Institute is a non-income organization. It is kept thanks to membership fees. At present, it employs two people full time and a dozen of volunteers. Members and the Institute fans’ fees must be sufficient to keep them, as well as for the functioning of the building. A dozen of volunteers cooperate with the Institute, among the others, the chairman of the Institute dr. Magda Kapuścińska or the vice-chairman dr. Marek Zieliński. – Among the youngest generation Agnieszka Petla contributed a lot – says a director of the Institute Iwona Drąg-Korga. – She is a leader of a young group which work in the Institute, and she also organizes and encourages others to function in our institution.

The biggest funds are designed by the Institute for research works. The Institute receives money, first of all, from Poland, from the Senate of the Polish Republic not long time ago. Today the Foreign Ministry is a dispatcher of money.

For pupils, students and researchers

Another ‘everyday life’ of the Institute is running education activity about history of Poland. Once it used to be lectures of the former ambassador Wacław Jędrzejewski, meetings with politicians and creators of the time of the Second Polish Republic. – Today it looks completely different. Many people arrive from Poland, realizing their research projects, including Poles living in the USA – says the director of the Institute. – On the basis of our research they prepare various books, which they send to us. These are works about issues of the end of XIX and the whole XX century. They concern both Poland and its contribution in the life of Europe and the United States. Whereas we publish post-conference materials. We cooperate with various institutions in Poland and together we publish books. For example, this year, with the cooperation of the National Memory Institute, a work of Wacław Jędrzejewicz came out, entitled: ‘The role of Józef Piłsudski in rebuilding and strengthening the Polish country’. It consists of a series of lectures of the professor which he gave in the Institute for Polish Diaspora of the 70s. The book was published with a CD of recorded lectures.

The collections of the Institute are the subject of interest of not only researchers from Poland, but also from Europe and the USA. The Institute cooperates with a few American universities, among which, the University Columbia, Yale University or Central Connecticut State University. – We have a permanent contact with these universities which realize Polish topics. Also researchers, like Timothy Snyder, as well as his many students – says dr. Iwona Drąg-Korg. – In our talks they often emphasize, similarly as Timothy Snyder, that if this Institute did not exist, it would be hard to work. Students and researchers often come to us from various parts of the United States – as well as from Europe: France and Germany – who write on the issues connected with the Middle-East Europe. Certainly, Poles use our resources the most. But there are also researchers from Japan where the school of International Politics of XX century has been well-developed. Moreover, the marshal Piłsudski is known in Japan because he was active in contacts with the Japanese. So, we have a lot of documents of those times.

The Institute of Józef Piłsudski is today one of the most active Polish institutions in New York. Within popularizing history of Poland, every year it publishes a ‘Bulletin’ in Polish and in English. Similarly, in the both languages a monthly of the Institute is published. – For many years we have been trying to spread the knowledge about our history through conferences which are popular and academic – says Iwona Drąg-Korga. – We also show documentaries about Poland. We organize promotions of academic books or popular books. In the Institute, there are also history lessons about Poland for the youth every week; as well as meetings with Poles – from Poland or those studying in the USA.

Not long time ago, was it necessary to go to New York, in order to see the resources of the Institute of Józef Piłsudski. For five years, it has not been necessary in many cases. For, the program of digitalization of collections which are made available on Internet is realized by the team of workers and co-workers. – We were thinking about the digitalization of the collections long time ago, but it is a very expensive venture – explains the director of the Institute. – However, we are grateful to Marek Zieliński’s determination, knowledge and persuasion strength, that we entered this project. We received grants from the American Polish Diaspora. Thanks to them we bought computers, scanners. We also started trainings in digitalization, among the others, in The New York Public Library, Metropolitan New York Library Council. We also managed to create an excellent and extremely professional team. Today, in this sphere we use help from the Polish Main Directors of State Archives and the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. However, first of all, we use the funds from the Senate previously, and now from the Foreign Ministry. We train volunteers and every year we manage to digitalize, describe and place thousands of pages of the documents on Internet. At present, we five thousand of them on pages in eight collections. They are free and easily available. They are also printable. For, we want our history to be known to as widest groups of recipients, as possible.

(AA)

"Niedziela" 49/2013

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Lidia Dudkiewicz • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl