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An Extraordinary Gift: Emblem of Good Will


Polish Declarations of Admiration and Friendship for the United States, 1926. Vol. 89. Photograph by Gavin Ashworth.



A few weeks ago, between June 7th and 9th, Collegium Civitas hosted the 9th World Congress of Polish Studies. This event is organized by The Polish Institute of Arts and Science of America (PIASA) and for some time already almost every other year the Congress meets in Poland.  (Of course, it was not like that before 1989.) This year, the overarching theme of the conference was "Poland in the World."


I have been working for quite a while on different aspects of the image of the United States in Poland in the 1920s and the 1930s. For the PIASA conference I decided to talk about something that I came across in my research and consider particularly fascinating. Called in English the Emblem of Good Will, it is a very unusual initiative or phenomenon that originated in Poland at the beginning of 1926, preceding commemorations of the 150th anniversary of American Independence.  The project consisted of collecting the signatures of Polish citizens and then donating them as a token of friendship to American people.  It took the form of 111 volumes – enormous in size and beautifully illustrated – that were donated to President Calvin Coolidge on October 14, 1926.  The US Library of Congress website states that “perhaps there has never been a more extraordinary gift given by one nation to another.”[1] 



Volume I.  Leather and gilt binding designed by Wojciech Jastrzębowski and Bonawentura Lenart. 20 x 28 in.

 

When I discovered that project a few years ago I could not believe that it was so little known.  Almost everybody I talked to knew nothing about this unusual undertaking.  Why do I call it unusual? This is why.


As I mentioned, the project originated as a part of the celebrations of the 150th Anniversary of American Independence in 1926, that itself was a very special manifestation of friendship between the two countries.  It permitted the Poles to express their gratitude to America for its support in the Polish struggle for independence: Woodrow Wilson's 13th point, Herbert Hoover’s humanitarian help, and many other American initiatives. It created an excellent occasion for the Poles to build closer bonds and relationships with the United States. Polish political and especially business elites were desperate for the opportunities to develop such relationships.  A very special occasion suitable for the expansion and deepening of Polish-American friendship came up during the celebration of 150th anniversary of American Independence in 1926.

The Polish American Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Poland with Leopold Kotnowski as its president decided to use this great opportunity and to organize numerous events celebrating this very rare American anniversary.  They were supposed to include military parades, concerts, lectures, film screenings, and masses devoted to American Independence.  Government officials, scholars, representatives of industry and trade, and people of all walks of life were invited to deliver speeches and participate in these events.


The celebrations were organized on an unusual scope with the central idea initiated by the Polish American Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Polsko-Amerykańska Izba Handlowo Przemysłowa) and the Polish - American Society (Towarzystwo Polsko Amerykańskie) founded in 1919 by Ignacy Paderewski. The most important was the project consisted in sending "fraternal greetings" from "the people of Poland" to the citizens of the United States, best wishes and an expression of admiration for the American people for laying the foundations of democracy for the whole world.


In February 1926 the Chamber decided to send a text of an address written by Prof. Aleksander Janowski to hundreds of schools and universities to be signed by the students of these institutions.  They planned to collect the sheets and bind them into special volumes and sent to the United States.  This is how the Chamber initiated the idea of the Emblem of Good Will, in Polish Teka od Narodu Polskiego dla Ameryki.  Naród Polski do Narodu Amerykańskiego w 150-tą Rocznicę Niepodległości Stanów Zjednoczonych.  In his letter (May 21, 1926) Kotnowski stresses that the aim of these celebrations is to strengthen Polish-American ties of friendship and deepen economic and cultural contacts between both countries.  [„Celem akcji naszej jest wzmocnienie węzłów przyjaźni łączących Amerykę z Polską, a przez to ułatwienie zadania rządowi i jego placówkom w Stanach Zjedn. Ameryki].[2] 


[2] (Archiwum Akt Nowych, Ambasada RP w Waszyngtonie).



  These wishes took the form of 111 volumes with the signatures of the inhabitants of Poland.  The project's organizers collected 5.5 million signatures of Polish citizens, one-sixth of the entire population of Poland at that time (that is 1926).  Among the ones who signed the sheets were the people of all walks of life, professors, businessmen, local government officials, ordinary people, and many, many pupils and students.


Below is the first page of Volume I with a famous dedication first in Polish, then in English:




The text starts with references to the historical events that bring the two nations together:


We the people of Poland, send to you, citizens of the Great American Union, fraternal greetings together with the assurance of the deepest admiration and esteem for the institutions which have been created by You.  In them LIBERTY, EQUALITY, and JUSTICE have found their highest expression and have become the guiding stars for all modern democracies.  Noble Americans, your national holiday is sacred not for    you alone.  It finds reverberation over the whole world, and especially in our motherland Poland, which is proud that in that momentous hour of your history when George Washington raised the banner of liberty there stood also beside him our champions of national liberty Thaddeus Kościuszko and Casimir Pułaski.


Below are the first pages with the signatures of the highest governmental representatives -

Marshall Józef Piłsudski, Minister of Foreign Affairs August Zaleski, Prime Minister Karimierz Bartel and other members of the Cabinet-- and next to it the page with the signatures of the Polish American Chamber of Commerce members:




Then, one day I was visiting my friend in a little village of Nowogród near Golub Dobrzyń and what did I find in the Nowogród school?  A nicely framed sheet that I immediately recognized.  It is enough to just look at the graphic design, the art-deco letters and one knows what it is.  On the wall of the Nowogród school hung a very characteristic sheet from 1926 with the signatures of its students (145), teachers, and the date of the lecture about America. 


The organizers sent about 30,000 (thirty thousand) of such sheets to all kinds of schools all over Poland.  I was wondering and admiring how they managed in such a short period of time (from the end of February till the end of May) to reach so many educational posts, sometimes very small, in remote parts of the country. And they not only collected the signatures, but as in the Nowogród school organized a lecture about America.  Thus, almost every child in Poland knew that such a country as the United States existed in the world and not only represented the best democratic principles for itself, but also implemented these ideas in the relations with other countries such as Poland.  (At least so it was in 1926).   


Below are sample first pages of the volumes representing specific regions of Poland:


Kraków with Zofia Stryjeńska's illustration   

The Lublin district with the illustration by Władysław Skoczylas


This unique and truly remarkable effort and the beautiful volumes that resulted deserve to be better known and appreciated both in the United States and in Poland.   



 

Krystyna Lipińska Iłłakowicz teaches Polish language, theatre, and film at Yale University.  She writes on Polish-American cultural exchanges, theatre, and film.  She has published both in English and Polish about Witold Gombrowicz, Bruno Schulz, Tadeusz Kantor, and others.  Currently she is working on a book tentatively titled The Image of America in Poland in the 1920s and 1930s.  She is a co-editor of the theatre journal European Stages

           

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rostrop
rostrop
3 days ago

Bravo Krystyna Iłłakowicz! A fascinating document. All thopse signat ures!

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