One of the most prominent features of recent Polish history is that so many men of talent were forced to leave Poland, to live and work in exile. This was particularly true in the 19th and early 20th centuries when Poland had ceased to exist as an independent country. Here are a few brief sketches of some of these outstanding exiles.
Contributions made by exiled Poles may be studied from two points of view. Many have contributed specifically to the country which had accepted them. But some have left behind them a more universal legacy, one destined for mankind in general; such as Chopin, Paderewski and Wieniawski, whose strains haunt the hearts of all nations.
Men of letters, poets like Mickiewicz, Slowacki, Krasinski, Norwid, bore messages that no boundary could confine. Joseph Conrad, born Konrad Korzeniowski, is proudly acknowledged as the greatest English novelist of the early 20th century. His studies of the tension between man’s noble and base selves are the clearest summary of mankind’s universal predicament. The famous American actress Helena Modjeska (Modrzejewska) has portrayed many of the problems and triumphs that all men face.
Today in the age of science, the world is perhaps most grateful to Maria Curie-Sklodowska, the only woman scientist twice awarded the Nobel prize. By her discovery of radioactive elements, she led the world into the atomic age.
Such great names sometimes eclipse the hundreds of Polish scholars and scientists to whom countless countries are indebted. For example, Ignatius Domeyko dedicated almost fifty years of his life to the geographical and geological exploration of Chile. Due to his efforts, the university of Santiago and other technical schools of the country were finally reorganized, and foundations for the industrial development of Chile were laid. Other Polish exiles continued his work in other parts of the globe. Professor Florian Znaniecki, one of the leading sociologists in America, was finally made president of the American Sociological Association; Professor Bronislaw Malinowski of Cracow gained similar status among English anthropologists.
Several countries owe thanks to the engineering genius of its Polish immigrants. Peru records that the first railroad to cross the Andes was planned by Ernest Malinowski and built with the aid of several more Polish engineers. The railroad network of New Zealand was first organized by Prince Drucki-Lubecki. Sir Casimir Gzowski, an outstanding citizen of Toronto in its early days, built railroads and bridges in the Niagara Peninsula. The United States acquired the skills of Ralph Modjeski, an engineer responsible for bridges in San Francisco, Philadelphia and Detroit.
Polish scientists of every sort have been scattered all over the globe from the southeastern corner of Australia, first explored and described by Edmund Strzelecki, to the remotest corners of Siberia.
Of the thousands of Poles sent to Siberia as political exiles, many scholars and scientists employed their time and talents for exploring of these vast areas. Quite often Polish engineers were utilized in building the railroads and bridges that made European colonization possible. Best known among these pioneers were: Benedict Dybowski, the explorer of the Baikal Sea; Alexander Czekanowski, designer of the first geological maps of Irkutsk; prominent geographer and general, Bronislaw Grabczewski; and two writers, W. Sieroszewski and F. Ossendowski. The Russian Central Geological Committee was headed for many years by a Polish scientist, Karol Bogdanowicz.
A number of Polish exiles in Turkey have achieved high posts in administration. Their contribution to the modernization of the Turkish empire is well remembered. Two served as Field-Marshals. Another commanded brigades of the Turkish army. A fourth became governor commissioner in Sofia. And yet another, known as Mussafir-Pasha (Czaykowski) was made governor of Syria. The framing of the new Turkish Constitution owes much to Polish poet, Karol Brzozowski. Polish engineers were active in the laying of the first railroads. They administered postal and telegraphic services, and explored the mineral resources of the country. Reminders of this Polish vein, such as Adampol, a Polish village named in honor of its founder, Prince Adam Czartoryski, are still to be found in Turkey.
In Austria, three prominent Poles, Agenor Goluchowski, Alfred Potocki and Casimir Badeni, occupied the post of Prime Minister; Agenor Goluchowski, Jr., served as Foreign Minister. Many more administrative posts were filled by Poles under Emperor Franz Joseph. In Hungary, the 19th century fight for freedom gained valuable leaders in the Polish generals Joseph Bem, Henry Demblinski and Peter Wysocki.
Still more dedicated Poles have contributed their talents for man’s welfare. The field of Christian missionary work shows that two Polish cardinals, Czacki and Ledochowski, headed the Roman Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. In missions themselves, we find Archbishop Wladyslaw Zaleski, Apostolic Delegate in Indian and Ceylon. In the 19th century, Polish missionaries undertook work in Northern Rhodesia. In Madagascar, few can have forgotten Father Jan Beyzym who dedicated his life to the service of the lepers. In Japan, Polish Franciscans have long conducted a flourishing mission. China, visited by Polish missionaries as early as the 17th century, continued to develop under the care of Polish Vincentian Fathers until the Communist invasion.
Besides these prominent, dedicated men, the Polish nation can boast of some internationally legendary figures. The first of these is Jan of Kolno who, in the service of the Danish King Christian II, is said to have discovered the coast of North America some 20 years before Columbus. Unquestionably historical is Admiral Christopher Arciszewski who conquered large tracts of Central America for the Dutch. The most remarkable personality in this field was Maurice A. Beniowski. Taken a prisoner of war by the Russians, he was deported to Kamchatka. He soon escaped to Japan and crossed the South Seas. He landed at Madagascar where he was eventually recognized as king by the native population. However, he chose to abandon his exotic kingdom, sailed to America, and offered his services to George Washington. A book of memoirs describing his adventures was published in London in 1796, and inspired many novelists of the Romantic era.
. . . . SEE YOU SOON, GOD BE WILLING . . .