Why A Polish Pianist
Is A Model For
By Edward Rowny
As I approach my 100th birthday I realize that there are many things in life that take time to accomplish. In our current world of instant gratification, we often lose sight of this. One of my accomplishments I am proud of is helping return of Ignacy Jan Paderewski’s remains to Poland.
When I was 24 and had just graduated from West Point, the famous Paderewski died in New York City on June 29, 1941. Because Poland had been invaded by the Nazi’s in September 1939 and had ceased to exist, President Roosevelt said he would inter Paderewski’s remains at Arlington Cemetery until Poland was once again free.
At Paderewski’s funeral my grandmother asked me to do all that I could to return Paderewski’s remains to Poland. She had followed his brilliant career and taught me that Paderewski had drafted the thirteenth of Woodrow Wilson’s fourteen points for the Versailles Treaty at the conclusion of World War I. This point called for the resurrection of a free, democratic, and independent Poland which had ceased to exist in 1795 when it was divided among Austria, Prussia, and Russia.
At my grandmother’s urging, I had followed the musician, composer, statesman, philanthropist, and patriot from a very young age. With the help of my family and mentors, Paderewski’s sense of impeccable ethics shaped my future.
When I made this promise to my grandmother, I had no idea that it would take a little more than 50 years to accomplish. Aside from the fact that the remains could not be returned because Poland had ceased to exist, the process was very complicated. Among the reasons were the fear that the lead lined casket would explode when transported by air and that I had been sued by State Department Watch as a “grave robber.”
Further, the process was aggravated and delayed due to the disappearance of Paderewski’s heart which he told his sister he wanted to be buried separately. It was not until seventeen years later in 1958 that Paderewski’s heart was discovered in a New York cemetery. To fast forward nearly three decades later, in 1986 it was decided that Paderewski’s heart would find its final resting place at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Doylestown, PA.
Over a 50 year period I worked with Paderewski’s heirs, Polish American Organizations, and Presidents John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush on this project. After the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, I was able to begin work in earnest with Polish officials. I worked with Prime Minister Mazowiecki, President-elect Lech Walesa, and Józef Cardinal Glemp.
At last on June 29, 1992 there was a spectacular ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery where Vice President Quayle officiated. Afterward, an Air Force 747 carried Paderewski’s remains to Warsaw, Poland. President George H.W. Bush conducted a moving ceremony where he formally delivered the remains to President Walesa. In a final ceremony Paderewski’s remains were placed in a crypt at St. John’s Cathedral in Warsaw.
In 2004 to perpetuate Paderewski’s legacy, I established the Rowny Paderewski Scholarship which brings outstanding Polish university students to Washington for a summer session to study American style democracy and the free market system. It’s our small part to do Paderewski proud.
Lieutenant General Edward L. Rowny, president of the American Polish Advisory Council, is a retired Ambassador and U.S. Army General. The author of “It Takes One to Tango,” he was a chief U.S. negotiator in arms reduction talks with the Soviet Union. The citation from his Presidential Citizen’s Medal, which he received in 1989 from President Ronald Reagan reads: “one of the principal architects of peace through strength policy.” He has received numerous awards for valor and achievement including combat in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
Reprinted with permission from General Rowny
First appeared in The Hill