American Warsaw: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of Polish Chicago

American Warsaw: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of Polish Chicago

by Dominic A. Pacyga

Hardcover(First Edition)

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Every May, a sea of 250,000 people decked out in red and white head to Chicago’s Loop to celebrate the Polish Constitution Day Parade. In the city, you can tune in to not one but four different Polish-language radio stations or jam out to the Polkaholics. You can have lunch at pierogi food trucks or pick up pączkis at the grocery store. And if you’re lucky, you get to take off work for Casimir Pulaski Day. For more than a century, Chicago has been home to one of the largest Polish populations outside of Poland, and the group has had enormous influence on the city’s culture and politics. Yet, until now, there has not been a comprehensive history of the Chicago Polonia.

With American Warsaw, award-winning historian and Polish American Dominic A. Pacyga chronicles more than a century of immigration, and later emigration back to Poland, showing how the community has continually redefined what it means to be Polish in Chicago. He takes us from the Civil War era until today, focusing on how three major waves of immigrants, refugees, and fortune seekers shaped and then redefined the Polonia. Pacyga also traces the movement of Polish immigrants from the peasantry to the middle class and from urban working-class districts dominated by major industries to suburbia. He documents Polish Chicago’s alignments and divisions: with other Chicago ethnic groups; with the Catholic Church; with unions, politicians, and city hall; and even among its own members. And he explores the ever-shifting sense of Polskość, or “Polishness.”

Today Chicago is slowly being eclipsed by other Polish immigrant centers, but it remains a vibrant—and sometimes contentious—heart of the Polish American experience. American Warsaw is a sweeping story that expertly depicts a people who are deeply connected to their historical home and, at the same time, fiercely proud of their adopted city. As Pacyga writes, “While we were Americans, we also considered ourselves to be Poles. In that strange Chicago ethnic way, there was no real difference between the two.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226406619
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 10/07/2019
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 296
Sales rank: 257,605
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Dominic A. Pacyga is professor emeritus of history in the Department of Humanities, History, and Social Sciences at Columbia College Chicago. His books include Polish Immigrants and Industrial Chicago: Workers on the South Side, 1881–1922; Chicago: A Biography; and Slaughterhouse: Chicago’s Union Stock Yard and the World It Made, all from the University of Chicago Press. Pacyga is the 2014 Mieczysław Haiman Award winner for exceptional and sustained contribution to the study of Polish Americans.

Read an Excerpt


Meet Me at the Fair Poland's Fourth Partition

I was introduced to you as an American, but today I am a Pole, and I am more a Pole than I ever was before. I grew up an admirer of Poland, and some of my earliest lessons were those read of its dark and tragic history. I learned as a boy to love it.

— MAYOR CARTER HARRISON, Polish Day, October 7, 1893, World's Columbian Exposition

On the morning of Saturday, October 7, 1893, thousands of Chicago's Polish residents gathered at Jackson Boulevard between Wood and Paulina Streets to take part in a vast procession to the site of the World's Columbian Exposition. Northwest Side participants first assembled on Noble Street in front of the rival parishes of St. Stanislaus Kostka and Holy Trinity. Those coming from Bridgeport, Town of Lake (Back of the Yards), South Chicago, as well as St. Casimir's Parish in South Lawndale, met with those from St. Adalbert's in front of both the church and nearby Pulaski Hall on Seventeenth Street and Ashland Avenue. They marched north toward Jackson Boulevard. By 9:00 a.m., brilliantly uniformed cavalrymen, carriages filled with Polish women, and a vast number of members of Polish fraternal societies and other community groups filled the boulevard. Promptly at 10:00 a.m., parade grand marshal Piotr Kiolbassa ordered the parade to proceed toward the Loop. Reportedly the largest crowd since the opening ceremonies of the fair saw them progress through the downtown. Bands, marching men, carriages and an array of floats advanced toward Michigan Avenue. Republicans and Democrats, Christians and Jews, socialists and anarchists, nationalists, Roman Catholics, and atheists, rich and poor all came together to celebrate Poland and their particular brand of Polskosc or Polishness. Chicago's Polonia put itself on spectacular display before a city that had welcomed its members as poor, unskilled labor to work within its sweatshops, mills, packinghouses, factories, and tanneries.

Chicago's Polish policemen, marching sixteen abreast, led the parade. Kiolbassa and Joseph Napieralski followed. Mayor Carter Harrison came next, riding in a carriage. The Polish Day Central Committee and many of the city's aldermen, led by Polish alderman Stanley Kunz, followed, as did various military societies and a float commemorating George Washington, Thaddeus Kosciuszko, and Casimir Pulaski. On and on went the parade, which included more than three thousand participants. As the first division crossed the river toward the Loop, the Jackson Boulevard Bridge swung open to allow a ship to pass, delaying the parade for some twenty minutes. Other interruptions occurred at both State Street and Wabash Avenue, where cable cars blocked the path. Once the parade got past these obstacles, it proceeded south down Michigan Avenue to the review stand at the Columbus Statue. The parade — with its sixteen floats costing more than $6,000 ($155,502 in 2017), its marching bands, its brightly dressed cavalrymen, and its society members — proudly proceeded to Twelfth Street (Roosevelt Road) and doubled back to Van Buren Street before proceeding by train to Jackson Park. A Chicago Daily News reporter, obviously bemused by the sight, described the parade as a sight never before seen on Michigan Avenue. He described the red caps, traditionally donned in Kraków, worn by many of the men in the parade as tent or barn shaped. A group of Polish girls marched in the procession wearing Krakovian folk costumes.

The parade floats depicted various historical events and allegorical scenes, all with the idea of convincing the city, and in turn, the world, of the righteousness of Poland's call for the restoration of its independence. These included a float offered by the Polish National Alliance illustrating the Polish Constitution of May 3, with King Stanislaus Poniatowski bestowing the charter to representatives of all social classes in Poland; another depicted "Poland in Chains." From Back of the Yards came a float portraying a Polish mother with a sword at her side, teaching her children to read. The Bridgeport Polish community's floats proved especially interesting. One portrayed Labor, with the Goddess of Prosperity carrying a horn of plenty and surrounded by Polish peasants busily at work, while young girls sat making floral wreaths. Two other Bridgeport floats included a Polish Jewish orchestra and a Krakovian wedding scene with participants again in colorful regional costumes. The final float came from St. Casimir's Parish. Titled "The Resurrection of Poland," it displayed a broken prison gate, from which emerged a female figure representing Poland with a number of dead Russian, Austrian, and Prussian soldiers lying about. The floats celebrated the peasant background of Polish Chicago and the independence movement and recalled Poland's martyrdom at the hands of its neighbors.

It was not until after 1:00 p.m. that the parade reached the gates of the Columbian Exposition. Marchers moved east to the lake, then circled the lagoon and the Hall of Commerce and proceeded to the Administration Building and from there to Festival Hall. The South Chicago Polish centenarian, Michael Adamski, with the aid of Judge Michael A. LaBuy, rang the new Liberty Bell three times. At Festival Hall, the orchestra played a rendition of the "Third of May Polonaise" and President S. Slominski of the Polish Day Central Committee opened festivities with a short address that introduced Justice LaBuy, who proclaimed liberty as the common legacy of both Poland and the United States.

Mayor Harrison, who had virtually invented ethnic campaigning in Chicago, addressed the crowd of Polish Americans and their leaders:

Until recently, we had but few Polish citizens, and these were poor people. But they arrived here full of energy, from a land where they had been oppressed. Today, we witnessed ... a splendid spectacle. ... Nothing of the kind would have been possible in your motherland, in your beloved Warsaw, where the Polish language is barred even from the schools. For a century, Poland has been struggling for liberty; for a century now, no Polish child has dared to sing a hymn of freedom. How long would the Czar remain on his throne, how long would he dare trample upon millions of people if it were otherwise, if the children of that country were permitted to learn and sing Polish national anthems?

Harrison claimed that it was great day when he saw Poles marching down the streets delaying what the mayor called the "the followers of the golden calf in their daily chase" without the aid of police, without violence, but with a quiet dignity. He proclaimed Poles good citizens and said that, if the United States was in danger, that at least twenty thousand Chicago Poles would fight for its defense. A musical program and a special fireworks display followed. Between eight and ten thousand people attended the ceremony at Festival Hall. Various reports claimed that twenty-five to fifty thousand Polish Americans attended the Columbian Exposition that day. The crowd at the Columbian Exposition on October 7, 1893, was one of the highest of the entire fair. This was a point of great pride for the community, even if the numbers were inflated because of out-of-town visitors arriving for the Chicago Day celebrations on Sunday.

From the beginning, Poland, a nation that had disappeared from the map of Europe a century before, impacted the Columbian Exposition. As early as April 1893, Polish Chicagoans had met to discuss how to help visitors from Poland and decided to include a special information bureau and general headquarters for a reception committee, place bilingual guides on the exposition grounds, and organize a Polish Day for the fair. The major Polish American organizations, including the rival Polish Roman Catholic Union of America (PRCUA) and the Polish National Alliance (PNA), threw their support behind the venture. They hoped to raise the profile of American Polonia, but especially of Chicago's Polish community.

On the second day of the World's Columbian Exposition, Tuesday, May 2, 1893, the renowned Polish pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski performed with the Exposition Orchestra. Paderewski, at age thirty-two, was already the world's most famous musician. With his wild, voluminous red hair and artistic manner, he attracted crowds wherever he went. Young women apparently swooned during his concerts. At the end of April, Paderewski finished a series of Chicago concerts, and his friend, the orchestra leader Theodore Thomas, asked him to stay and play at the fair. Paderewski agreed and also consented to not charge a fee. Fair officials demanded, however, that he play on an instrument provided by one of the companies that sponsored the fair. Paderewski, who favored Steinway pianos and had an exclusive contract with that company, refused, and the conflict made the city's newspapers. Daniel Burnham, the fair's lead designer, finally smuggled the maestro's piano into Music Hall, and the Pole, playing on his favorite instrument, thrilled the fair crowd. Later, Chicagoans lined up in the Loop to see the piano that had caused such a controversy.

The Polish presence at the exposition was slight. Several Poles displayed their talents, but partitioned Poland had little impact on exhibits. On August 4, 1893, a lecture delivered by Polish Chicagoan Maximilian Drzemala, in the Palace of Fine Arts, presented an outline of Polish art, past and present. Many in the audience then proceeded to the inauguration of the Polish art section in the Palace of Fine Arts. The Chicago Polish leader and politician Piotr Kiolbassa opened the program with a speech that explained that political oppression in Poland had made the display difficult to arrange. Finally, he called attention to three paintings by Jacek Malczewski — Death of an Exiled Woman, symbolizing Polish martyrdom; Jadwiga, symbolizing the nation's spiritual strength; and Wernyhora, prophesying Poland's resurrection. After Kiolbassa's address, the gathering moved to the West Wing Gallery, where Drzemala spoke on the significance of this first exposition of Polish art in America. It contained a total of 122 paintings representing the work of fifty-nine artists. He remarked on the fact that these paintings constituted the only Polish representation at the fair and that they should remind people from all corners of the world of Poland's name. He thanked America for permitting Poland to take its place among the other nations at the fair.

Professor Emil Habdank Dunikowski, from Lwów University, spoke next, representing visitors from the Polish lands. "In view of our presence here and our efforts," he said, "Poland is not lost — nor will it be lost!" Henry Nagiel proclaimed his joy at seeing the artists exhibited as Poles and not as Russians, Austrians, or Germans. Afterward, visitors attended a reception at the Polish restaurant on the fair grounds. The newspaper Dziennik Chicagoski pointed out that all factions of an often politically and ideologically divided Polish community attended the event.

The Lwów Exposition

In 1892 and 1893, Dr. Dunikowski visited various Polish American communities across the country, including Chicago's. The Galician Sejm (regional assembly) had sent him on a twofold mission to evaluate if immigrants were lost to the Polish national cause and to convince Polonia leaders to participate in the projected 1894 Lwów Provincial Exposition. Lwów, the capital of Austrian Galicia, a province created from Hapsburg participation in the first partition of Poland in 1772, had long been a center of Polish nationalist feeling. In 1867, Vienna, under a program referred to as Ausgleich, gave Galicia semiautonomy and more or less gave the Poles a free hand in running the province. Two years later, Polish replaced German as the official language of the government and schools. Galicia exhibited many public expressions of Polish nationalism, while Russian and German authorities in the other two partitions frowned on such demonstrations. As a result of the relative freedom of these Poles to articulate their national feelings, Lwów became a center of nationalist agitation for Polish independence. In Lwów, the term "Fourth Partition," was coined to refer to all Poles overseas and, in particular, those in the United States. Dunikowski hoped to rally the capital of the Fourth Partition, Chicago, to the national cause and therefore to the exposition, which would highlight Polish culture as well as advances in industry, agriculture, and technology.

In the nineteenth century, world's fairs were seen as a way of demonstrating the advances of industrial civilization. For Poland, partitioned and occupied by her neighbors, the Lwów exhibition provided a chance both to prove to the world that Polish culture still existed and even thrived and to make its case for independence. The proposed Lwów Exposition celebrated the Kosciuszko insurrection of 1794, which, while it ended in defeat and the Third Partition, temporarily rallied the peasantry to the Polish cause. At the end of the nineteenth century, Polish nationalists and intellectuals hoped to gain the peasantry's support for the independence movement. Traditionally the szlachta, or gentry, saw themselves as real Poles, while peasants were simply "the folk." At times, occupying powers used this to split the nation into two camps, and the Russians and Austrians especially portrayed themselves as protectors of the peasantry. This began to change slowly in the years after the January 1863 insurrection, and the Lwów Exposition hoped to further this movement and bring together all classes and regions of Polish society. Dunikowski knew that the immigration was largely a peasant migration, and he wanted to tie it to the nationalist cause. He wrote, "There seem to be enough of our people abroad then, to awaken us from the apathy with which we have looked upon emigration. We should interest ourselves in, and not underrate these Polish masses overseas, which in any case may give valuable contribution to our national cause."

Earlier Polish visitors to the United States downplayed the importance of American Polonia. The writer Henryk Sienkiewicz, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1905, came to Chicago in the 1870s and argued that the diaspora was basically lost to the homeland. He stated that when he arrived in the Polish neighborhood surrounding St. Stanislaus Kostka church he at first felt as if he were back in Poland, but watching and listening to Polish children gathering to enter the parochial school, he heard the influence of English on their speech. Sienkiewicz portrayed the knowledge of the Polish language in the small population as poor and quickly decaying under the influence of English. He complained of a separate Polish dialect being created in America with a mixture of English and Polish words that could scarcely be understood by other Poles. Sienkiewicz wrote, "In short the American Poles are not lacking in good intentions and in patriotism, but their speech, torn from the maternal stem, invariably deteriorates and decays, and loses its original spirit, and undergoes transformation like a plant transplanted to a strange soil." He pointed out that it was only a matter of time that denationalization would occur. While Dunikowski and others also complained about Polonia's language skills, he came to see whether that process was yet complete and whether Polonia held out any possible help for the future Polish national struggle.

Officials of the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America greeted Dunikowski on September 2, 1892. A ten-carriage procession escorted him from the train station to the Northwest Side Polish neighborhood. Kiolbassa served as a guide for Dunikowski as he toured Chicago. Father Vincent Barzynski brought him to Wladyslaw Smulski's home, where he stayed while in the city. On September 3, Rev. Barzynski hosted a banquet for Dunikowski in the church hall, where leaders of the PRCUA attended and toasted the professor. The famous Polish actress Helena Modrzejewska (known as Modjeska in the United States) was also in Chicago at that time, and Barzynski convinced her to play a role in an amateur production of Wladyslaw Anczyc's play Chlopi Arystokraci (Peasant Aristocrats). The following week, Modrzejewska returned to star in a performance of Jadwiga by the immigrant playwright, Szczesny Zahajkiewicz. Some six thousand people packed the hall along with Dunikowski, as an overflow crowd gathered outside the entrance. Both the celebrity of Modrzejewska and the importance of Dunikowski's visit attracted the crowd.


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Table of Contents

Introduction: Polish Chicago
1 Meet Me at the Fair: Poland’s Fourth Partition
2 Settling In: Creating Polonia’s Capital
3 Living in Polish Chicago, 1880–1920
4 World War One: A Turning Point
5 Interwar Polonia: Years of Stress and Change
6 Apocalypse Again: World War Two and Its Aftermath
7 The Lost Struggle: Chicago’s Polonia, Communist Poland, and a Changing City
8 A New Polonia

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