1944 – 2004
Organization of the Polish American Congress at the May 28-30,1944 Convention in Buffalo, N.Y. was a significant, proud achievement for U.S. Polonia. Initiated by the combined leadership of the POLISH NATIONAL ALLIANCE, POLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC UNION, POLISH WOMEN’S ALLIANCE, and the NATIONAL COMMITTEE OF AMERICANS OF POLISH HERITAGE, it united diverse (frequently rival) groups in a common cause. Registered delegates numbering 2,257 included representatives of fraternal organizations, clubs, business groups, professional, cultural and educational institutions, religious orders, and clergy. Also present were over 5,000 registered guests. Michigan was represented by 323 delegates, including 21 Roman Catholic priests, 3 Polish National Catholic priests, and 132 women (2 of them nuns).
The common cause motivating these delegates was concern over the fate of Poland and determination to provide authoritative, coordinated representation of Polonia’s interests in America. When World II events indicated that Poland’s future was in jeopardy because Russia, the enemy, was now an American ally, the need became urgent for an “umbrella” organization. Fear of policies developing in the later months of the War were the immediate reason for the formation of the P.A.C. It beamed the first American organization to speak out against Soviet policies in Europe; it kept the American government aware of the realities of Poland’s problems.
By-laws established at the Convention provided for basic structure and directed that Divisions and Chapters be formed throughout the country. Less than six months after the national organization was founded, the Michigan Division held its first meeting on November 12, 1944 at Detroit’s west-side Dom Polski on Junction Avenue. Its first president was Thaddeus Machrowicz (later congressman and federal judge). He was followed by Jan Kania, Joseph Skutecki, Victor Targonski, Bruno Stachura (lO years), Bamey Chamski, Dr. Alfred Sokolowski, Kazimierz Olejarczyk (16 years) and Paul C. Odrobina (since 1985).
The Michigan Division now encompasses 99 Polish American organizations, parishes and institutions, as well as 301 individuals in the state. It includes the Ann Arbor chapter. Largest among the 29 state divisions, it is considered the most innovative and active. It has “free and clear” ownership of its office building, located on the main street of Hamtramck, purchased in 1977.
The P.A.C. Michigan Division has worked loyally with the Chicago and Washington offices and with the national presidents: the late Karol Rozmarek, the late Aloysius Mazewski, and now with President Edward Moskal. Completely supportive of national initiatives, it has followed up on directives and suggestions. Its donations have been generous; it has participated in fund drives (including national raffles). It has sent appropriate letters to officials whenever requested and has been an active, visible presence at conventions and meetings. It has participated in Heritage Month celebrations and Anti Defamation activities.
Some of the mutually-cooperative efforts on a national scale are worth noting. Immediately after the War ended, the problem arose of Polish citizens in Europe who did not want to return to communist-controlled Poland. After P.A.C. president Rozmarek testified on their behalf, the U.S. Congress passed the “Displaced Persons Act.” The Michigan Division took part in the Michigan Committee on Immigration Policies for Displaced Persons and afterwards represented Polonia on the Committee. Michigan ranked second (after Illinois) in the number of sponsored and assisted persons.
A similar situation arose as a result of the Solidarity movement and imposition of martial law in Poland (December 13, 1981). Following an influx of refugees, P.A.C. was instrumental in getting Congressional passage of the E.V.D. (Extended Voluntary Departure) program. The Michigan Division continues to work with immigration authorities in counseling Polish immigrants and helping them get established in our country.
“RELIEF FOR POLAND” is another project of which P.A.C. is justifiably proud. It was undertaken by the P.A.C. Charitable Foundation in 1981 at the direct request of Lech Walesa and the Polish Episcopate Charity Commission. Through direct purchases, donations, and association with other relief agencies, P.A.C. sent millions of dollars’ worth of medical supplies, medicines, medical and technical books, tools, detergents, vegetable seeds, food, clothing (including over one million pairs of shoes), and children’s needs (baby food, formula, vitamins). Since 1982, material valued at approximately 77 million dollars was shipped from Michigan through such organizations as World Medical Relief, International Aid of Grand Rapids, and Project Hope. This represents more than 40 per cent of the national total value of shipments. Our volunteers helped gather, deliver, and load materials for shipment. Two especially dedicated groups from the Polish Home Army veterans alternated going to World Medical Relief each week to sort, count, and pack materials. If preparation for some destination other than Poland was in progress, they worked on it with equal zeal. That the shipments were appreciated and needed was confirmed over and over again through letters from the Polish Episcopate and from individuals.
SOCIAL SERVICES have been an ongoing program. During the 1970’s we benefited from the federal CETA program, which enabled us to utilize a sizeable staff of workers. Since April 1982, after the CETA program was discontinued, the International Institute has provided bilingual caseworkers who work in the P.A.C. office. Competent professionals, they perform services for immigrants and senior citizens. World Medical Relief currently provides a free prescription program for eligible senior citizens through our office. Also, since 1977 we have Tele-Care service at our office. It is provided by the Wayne County Office on Aging: P.A.C. provides space, a desk, and pays the phone bill. The worker makes regular calls of reassurance and information to homebound persons.
P.A.C. has appealed for clothing, furniture, and dishes for new arrivals from Poland and has stored the items in its building. Holiday food baskets have been prepared and distributed. Referrals, translations, explanations, and information are dispensed to the best of our ability to numerous “walk-in” visitors.
YOUTH AND EDUCATION have been served in many ways. The Scholarship Fund, begun January 2, 1972 as the “Tadeusz Czechowski Scholarship Fund,” underwent a name change in 1977 to the P.A.C. Scholarship Fund.” Since 1972 grants totaling approximately $97,000 have been made to about 150 deserving students. Members of the “Akademia” Club, a group of Polish-born youth, were separate recipients of scholarships in previous years.
The P.A.C. has supported Polish language classes. It co-sponsored (and financially assisted) annual Polish language contests. For several years it paid $700 annually to a teacher-editor of a weekly “Little Dziennik” segment in the Dziennik Polski. It helped organize a Polish Teachers’ Association and in 1987 it revived the group as a P.A.C. member organization. In the 1960’s P.A.C. was instrumental in introducing Polish language courses in Hamtramck, Chadsey, and Perishing High Schools. Efforts were made to return Polish studies into parochial schools. We have cooperated with Wayne State University and the University of Michigan in gathering data and by participating in several aspects of Ethnic Studies.
Polish Scouts (“Harcerze”) have been supported financially over the years. In 1967 the organization’s “Talent Show featured 96 participants… In 1968 P.A.C. donated $900 for Polish History and other brochures (prepared by the Orchard Lake Schools) to parochial and public schools… A 37-volume Polish Bibliography was purchased in 1952 and donated to the Detroit Public Library … Youth activities of cultural and fraternal member organizations (dance, song, sports) are applauded and encouraged… Even the window displays in our office building are educational; they are thematic, seasonal, colorful, informative, and eye-catching.
The PAC FEDERAL CREDIT UNION was established in 1976 on the initiative of P.A.C. Its members served on the Board of Directors. Its name as official sponsor facilitated legal formalities. P.A.C. offered free use of office space and provided much publicity in its formative period. It now occupies its own building, where it continues to thrive. Its success is a source of pride for all of Polonia. On April 9, 1989, the Credit Union presented a plaque to P.A.C. “in recognition and appreciation … for providing our common bond and sponsorship.”
INTER-ETHNIC INVOLVEMENT, though sometimes difficult, has been productive and worthwhile. P.A.C. was co-founder of the Captive Nations Committee and Nationalities Council of Michigan. Since 1978 we have been part of the Polish-Jewish Dialogue (which Ukrainians joined in 1982)… P.A.C. has issued resolutions of support and has attended rallies on behalf of the Hungarian Uprising (1956), Chinese students (1989), Czech and Baltic nations (1989)… In 1985 we protested the release of a Ukrainian sailor back to the Soviets, after he jumped ship and asked for U.S. asylum… We participated in Ukrainian Millenium celebrations. We celebrated a Polish-Italian Day… President Odrobina’s statement on ethnicity appeared in a Detroit Public School periodical; he represented P.A.C. at a banquet of the Detroit Association of Black Organizations, and has appeared on “Urban Voices” (an African-American TV program).
Each P.A.C. Committee has its own story of activity and accomplishment. THE POLISH AFFAIRS COMMITTEE probably devotes more time to discussing events in Poland than any other committee on any other subject. It has issued many resolutions, written many letters; it has organized rallies and sponsored numerous lectures and symposiums.
THE POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEE, which has attracted some of Polonia’s brightest young professionals, is registered with the State of Michigan. It has endorsed candidates and has interceded in important civic and educational matters.
VETERANS’ GROUPS, Polish and American, with their chapters and posts, are among our important boosters and workers. They are the ones who remind and prod us regarding Polish history and various dates that should be commemorated. They add dignity and color to observances when they appear in uniform. They are still the good soldiers-unafraid to lend a helping hand when needed.
THE POLISH DAY PARADE, which always had our cooperation and support, is now officially sponsored by our Division. It is a major annual Polonian event, providing a special opportunity to demonstrate pride in our heritage.
The P.A.C. SENIORS CLUB, organized in March 1988, has a reading room with a fine selection of books and current publications. Trips, namesday celebrations, speakers, chess and card games, plus helping hands which volunteer graciously make this a truly special group.
For the past 50 years, P.A.C. has participated in most local Polonian celebrations and commemorations (and sponsored some of the major one): Third of May Constitution, Pulaski Day, Polish Soldiers’ Day, Chopin’s 160th Birthday, Katyn Massacre, Yalta Anniversary, Polish Millenium, 50th Anniversary of Poland’s Independence, Monte Cassino victory, Warsaw Uprising, President Wilson’s Birthday, 500th Copernicus Anniversary, Orchard Lake Schools’ Centennial, and the 50th anniversary of the beginning of World War II.
Also worth recalling are: P.A.C. sponsorship of “Polish Nights” at the Detroit Press Club (in the ’70’s), co-sponsorship of a display of Polish Illustrators of Children’s Books at the Main Library (1972), and presentation of General Pulaski portraits to Detroit’s Pulaski Elementary School (1972).
Noteworthy, too, are numerous monetary donations by our Division for: the Pulaski Monument, Copernican Endowment Committee at the University of Michigan, production of a film on Pulaski, Polish Home Army Museum at Orchard Lake, Committee for the Blind in Laski (Poland), Polish Scouts’ World Jamboree, John Paul 11 Polish Pilgrim Home in Rome, and many other worthy causes.
We have honored such local RELIGIOUS LEADERS as Cardinal Edmund C. Archbishop Adam Maida, Bishop Arthur Krawczak, Bishop Dale Melczek, Bishop Walter Slowakiewicz (PNCC), and Msgr. Vincent Borkowicz. Our Division chaplains (currently Msgr. Stanley Milewski and Rev. Edward Sobolewski) represent both Roman Catholics and Polish National Catholics.
In recent years, the P.A.C. has been involved with preparations for several distinguished guests. Cardinal Jozef Glemp visited Detroit in September 1985. His visit was coordinated by Rev. Stanley Redwick (then-president of the Priests’ Conference for Polish Affairs and P.A.C. chaplain) and P.A.C. president, Paul Odrobina. This was the first visit of a Polish Primate to the United States.
Pope John Paul II met with Polonia in Hamtramck on September 19, 1987 and mentioned P.A.C. in his Polish remarks, thus: “A word of acknowledgement is due to the Polish American Congress for its many activities on behalf of the nation…” Several P.A.C. members (and its president) were directly involved in preparations for this memorable visit.
President George Bush came to Hamtramck on April 17, 1989 to speak to Polish Americans about aid to Poland. The RA.C. was official host for the visit and our president, Paul Odrobina, coordinated the successful event on very short notice. High marks were given us by the White House staff, national and local media, and participants. In September 1992 President Bush came again, this time for the Polish Day Parade.
Relations with Polonian press and radio have been generally, positive and cooperative. The Polish Daily News (Polish and English editions) and its successor, The Polish World weekly, have published reports of our activities and announcements of coming events. Polonian radio programs on various stations have responded well to our requests for publicity. The “Polish Varieties” program has provided P.A.C. spokesman with a 10 minute weekly forum since 1970 on WMZK by directors Jan and Cecilia Kreutz and currently by Jerzy Rozalski. P.A.C. has reciprocated with paid “greetings” on holidays and special occasions. Also, P.A.C. invested in “Dziennik Polski” and in station WPON when these institutions were faced with crises.
The “SOLIDARITY” movement and emergence of Poland as a free nation had an important impact on our activities. We have assisted Polish immigrants and our office served as a voting site in three of Poland’s elections. A representative of the Polish Consulate visits our office approximately every two months for consultations.
Our effort advocating NATO MEMBERSHIP FOR POLAND (in late 1993) resulted in about 15,000 postcards and numerous telegrams to President Clinton from Michigan. Contacts with media and Michigan senators were also pan of Polonia’s united action. Similar efforts in 1990 resulted in thousands of missives to President Bush to guarantee the inviolability of Polish-German borders.
Many other events, other projects, other services, and achievements deserve to be acknowledged as contributors to the 50-year history of the Michigan Division of the Polish American Congress. All confirm the dedication and continuing value of our work on behalf of Poland and Polonia. All confirm loyalty to our dual purpose: to defend the rights of the Polish nation abroad and to strive for the betterment of Polish Americans at home.
During this past 50-year period there have been internal crises, as well as crises in Poland and in the Polish American community. All have been addressed carefully and, on the whole, with positive results. Thanks to the competence and vision of our leaders. our member-organizations and to our volunteers, our presence, influence and prestige have grown. P.A.C. funds are limited (no Foundation subsidizes it). Volunteers are drawn from the organizations which founded the P.A.C. and their members do owe allegiance to those organizations. Except for some essential secretarial and clerical help, no one is paid, on one is given an expense account. In view of these facts, P.A.C. achievements are truly remarkable.
What of the future?… The “AMERICAN AGENDA,” which has become an official P.A.C. priority, has been an ongoing concern for our Division. We will continue to give it our wholehearted attention and energy. At the November 1987 National Board of Directors meeting, president Paul Odrobina outlined the special areas which should be addressed: Political Action, Anti-Defamation, Social Services, and recruitment of youth. This agenda, already in place, will strengthen and benefit Polonia and enable us to help Poland even more effectively.
Accomplishments of P.A.C.’s Michigan Division are a tribute to members’ recognition of our common ideals and goals. They require generous funds, cooperation, patience, dedication — and the deep faith in God who is so much a part of our Polish heritage.