Connecticut’s Champions of Polish Freedom
Seek A New Generation
It was June 1, 1944 — exactly one week before D-Day, the Allies’ colossal invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe that General Eisenhower would call a Great Crusade to liberate, as he wrote in his famous letter to the troops, “the oppressed peoples of Europe.” On that day in the American city of Buffalo, Polish-Americans whose families in their ancestral homeland had borne witness of the brutal Nazi invasion that had begun the Second World War, gathered by the teeming and enthusiastic thousands to found the Polish-American Congress. The Polish-American Congress, the delegates had decided, was to be a gathering of bold leaders and dedicated champions of human freedom from Polish immigrant enclaves across the United States, with the purpose of rallying against the totalitarian regime that had gripped Europe, smashing Hitler and his fascists, and bringing about a new birth of freedom in Poland long dreamed of by their ancestors. In a mere handful of days from that spirited beginning, the Allies’ liberating armies — including brave members of the Polish military-in-exile — would land in Normandy, and within a year the Nazi war machine would be gone forever.
And yet, with Stalin’s Soviet regime allowed to seize Poland following the Allies’ victory, the dreams of the Polish-American Congress were left unrealized, and their role as a leading national advocacy organization in American politics on behalf of the Polonia was only just beginning.
The Polish-American Congress has endured over the generations that followed this dramatic beginning, and to this day the chapters of the PAC, representing Polish-American communities in 24 states, serves as a determined voice in the halls of Washington DC for Poland’s independence and steadfast support of civil liberties in the Old World. It is no surprise that while many immigrant community groups are officially “apolitical” in outlook to focus on cultural trappings, the Polish-American Congress wears its politics on its sleeve: PAC was founded in the midst of war by fiery advocates for freedom, and each successive generation of PAC members have made a stand on the front lines of Poland’s continued struggles to win and keep that freedom.
After V-E Day in 1945, the PAC fiercely pushed back against the US government and the other Allies’ accommodation of Stalin in his occupation of the Eastern European territories that would ultimately fall behind the “Iron Curtain” and be held in the grip of oppressive, murderous regimes for decades. Having long heard the stories of the horrors perpetrated by the Soviets in the Katyn Massacre, the PAC kept determined pressure on the US Congress and successfully lobbied for the Congress to open an investigation into these horrific events, uncovering the truth through the efforts led by future US Congressman Roman Pucinski.
Beginning in 1957, the PAC assisted the United States in its initial diplomatic overtures to the Communist government of Poland in an effort to help “peel off” Poland from the other Communist nations — this opening allowed for Poland’s renewed contact with the free world, and a surge in new immigration from Poland to the United States. Indeed, many of the Polish-American families in the United States today are here due to PAC’s hard work to help Poles get into America beginning at that time — and further efforts by PAC up to the 1980s were rewarded with President Reagan’s amnesty for undocumented immigrants in the US, allowing many of those Poles who had fled to the United States to gain their citizenship.
The Polish-American Congress was a longtime supporter of the Solidarity Movement: it served as a loud and persistent voice supporting Solidarity in Washington, helped raise funds and lent expertise to Solidarity in Poland, and as Communism fell, helped Solidarity negotiate and win the peace and freedom Poland had sought for so long. In the years that followed the fall of Communism, the PAC has remained a strong friend and advocate for Poland, successfully pushing for its acceptance into NATO, and serving as a staunch critic of Vladimir Putin’s continued aggressive posture towards Poland and its European neighbors. The PAC continues to lobby for a strong American defensive presence in Poland, and for continued funding for Radio Free Europe and other supports for a peaceful, free, and democratic Europe.
As an organization with such a storied past and such a vitally-important future, the PAC continues to actively seek out new members from the younger and more active generations who can pick up the torch once carried by the heroes of the 1940s and Solidarity. This is no less the case in the Connecticut Chapter, where the PAC continues to support the education and the success of the new generations of Polish-American youth, and encourage them to become involved in their community.
The Connecticut Chapter’s Board of Directors, led by President Janusz Kocur, Executive Vice President Zyta Konska, 2nd Vice President Katarzyna Kalinowska, Secretary Maria Jastrzębska and Amy Bukowski – financial secretary holds two annual events to uphold its local mission of reaching out to the youth of the Connecticut Polonia. For 15 years each summer, the Connecticut Chapter has held special Polish Days at Lake Compounce, this year with an exciting new addition, incorporating the Mr. & Miss Polonia Pageant into its festivities with the best of the new active Polish-American graduating class of our state! And each November, the Connecticut Chapter holds its annual Scholarship Ball in the historic Chopin Ballroom of the Polish National Home to raise funds for the PAC Scholarship for our state’s Polish-American students to learn and achieve.
Thanks in no small part to the courageous and tireless efforts of generation upon generation of members of the Polish-American Congress, the once-“oppressed peoples of Europe” now live in freedom — and so long as the Polish-American Congress continues to grow in the United States, Poland will have a determined friend in America to ensure that this new freedom endures.
In order to apply for membership contact Janusz Kocur (PAC President) by phone at 860-416-6065 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Submitted by Asha J. Lassen