Centennial of Polish-American
In 2019 we celebrate a very special anniversary: the centennial of establishing diplomatic relations between Poland and the United States. America played an important role in Poland regaining independence following World War I, and in 1919 the United States became the first major power to recognize Polish statehood.
In Photo: President Woodrow Wilson in an address before Congress.
World War I presented an opportunity for Poland to regain her independence after over a century of foreign occupation. During the war, prominent Polish figures such as Ignacy Jan Paderewski and Henryk Sienkiewicz traveled to the United States to promote the cause of Polish statehood. Many Polish Americans volunteered to go to Europe and fight for Poland’s sovereignty, one of the most famous examples of which is Haller’s Blue Army. Formed under the command of General Józef Haller, it was joined by about 20,000 Polish Americans.
In large part inspired by Paderewski, President Woodrow Wilson was a strong supporter of Poland’s restoration. For example, in his “Peace without Victory” speech on January 22, 1917, President Wilson presented Polish independence as a justified war aim. On January 8, 1918, President Wilson announced his famous “Fourteen Points” before a joint session of Congress, with Point 13 declaring that:
“An independent Polish state should be erected which should include the territories inhabited by indisputably Polish populations, which should be assured a free and secure access to the sea, and whose political and economic independence and territorial integrity should be guaranteed by international covenant.”
After Polish statehood was reestablished in the aftermath of the Great War, Poland was recognized by the United States de jure on January 22, 1919, making America the first major country to do so. That May, American and Polish missions opened respectively in Warsaw and Washington.
In photo: Merian Cooper and Cedric Fauntleroy of the “Kosciuszko Squadron.”
The close ties between Poland and America continued in the years immediately following. For example, in 1919 eleven American aviators – Elliot Chess, Carl Clark, Merian Cooper, Edward Corsi, George Crawford, Cedric Fauntleroy, Edmund Graves, Arthur Kelly, Edwin Noble, Harmon Rorison and Kenneth Shrewsbury – formed the “Kosciuszko Squadron” and volunteered to help Poland in its defense against the invading Bolsheviks. The Americans fought alongside the Polish army, including during the decisive Battle of Warsaw.
As the Director of the American Relief Administration, Herbert Hoover organized American relief efforts in Poland during a time of widespread hunger. The future president was instrumental in providing food, clothing and medicine for hundreds of thousands of people in need. In 1922 the Polish Sejm (parliament) made Herbert Hoover an honorary Polish citizen.
For the 150th anniversary of American independence in 1926, people across Poland prepared the “Polish Declarations of Admiration and Friendship for the United States.” A collection of signatures, notes, original artwork and photographs in 111 volumes, it was signed by Poland’s president and about 5.5 million other Polish citizens. The Declarations were presented to President Calvin Coolidge at the White House on October 14, 1926.
The spirit of friendship of those early years continues today. From NATO peace-keeping initiatives to the world of business, Poland and the United States continue to be key partners and allies. As we reflect on the last century of our cooperation, we look forward to the next hundred years to come. Sto lat!
Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Washington, D.C.