“We, the people of Poland, send to you, citizens of the great American union, fraternal greetings, together with the assurance of our 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.”
Those were the opening words written in a birthday card given to the U.S. in 1926 from the American-Polish Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Poland and the Polish-American Society, according to the Library of Congress. It was a Polish declaration of admiration and friendship for the United States.
The declaration states: “We, on the day of your national festival, desire to take part in your joy and to wish your country and your nation all possible prosperity, to the good and happiness of the entire human race.”
Presented to President Calvin Coolidge to acknowledge the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, the letter also served to recognize American participation and aid to Poland during World War I. Its volumes hold over five million signatures of Polish citizens and contain illustrations from popular Polish artists depicting buildings, coats of arms, monuments, rural and urban scenes, and historical figures.
The pages of these volumes hold the signatures of almost one-sixth of Poland’s population in 1926, including the signatures of national and local government officials, representatives of religious, social, business, academic and military institutions, and millions of children attending school. When the volumes were given to President Coolidge, he had them transferred to the Library for their protection.
The volumes have been digitized for easier access.
“This is truly one of the unexpected treasures here at America’s library – a story from the past of goodwill and heartfelt friendship between nations,” Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden said. “I am grateful to the Polish Library and the Polish Embassy for their support of this digitization project, which I have no doubt will be of unique significance to many historians and genealogists, but also of interest to all Americans.”
Pior Wilczek, Poland’s Ambassador to the United States, stressed the value of the volumes.
“These declarations are one of the earliest examples of public diplomacy undertaken by the reborn Polish Republic and they embody the deep appreciation Poles held for America’s friendship and generous aid,” Wilczek said. “I greatly appreciate the Library of Congress’ efforts in safekeeping this priceless collection for many decades and for now facilitating its access to the entire world. Our Embassy is proud to have supported the Class of 1926 project to digitize the Polish Declarations.”
Currently, the 111 volumes boasting more than 30,000 pages are digitized and available for access on the Library of Congress website.
Besides being a unique gift from an appreciative nation, the Polish Declarations are also an invaluable treasure extravaganza for genealogists, historians and researchers. World War II took place 13 years after the names were gathered. Poland was invaded by both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union and dealt with serious losses. Nearly six million Polish citizens, along with three million Polish Jews, were annihilated.
Samuel Ponczak, who was the leader of the Class of 1926 digitization project, said, “for those who did not survive the war, in many instances their signature in this declaration is the only evidence that such a person existed.” Ponczak is a survivor of the Holocaust himself. “Through our digitization effort, we are reclaiming their lost history,” he said.
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