Promised or damned land? World War Two and Polish émigrés in USA

General Bolesław Wieniawa-Długoszowski's speech during the Soldier's Day in the 2nd Cavalry Division, August 15, 1936. NAC / The photographic archive of Narcyz Witczak-Witaczyński, catalogue number 107-790-11

Do all routes lead to the US, in particular to NY? The lion’s share of the WW II emigration which was building a new life upon Hudson would have agreed on that. It’s where Bolesław Wieniewa-Długoszewski changed his uniform of a chevau-légér for a bookbinder’s apron and, 80 years ago, committed suicide. It’s where Julian Tuwim engaged in communizing environments to eventually recognize the Polish government in exile as a bunch of reactionaries striving “for our fascism and yours”. It is also where that Ignacy Jan Paderewski spent his last moments. They along with tens of thousands émigrés could have differed in everything but they were united by the hope of the American dream which, sometimes, turned out to be an American nightmare.

Soldier, diplomat, ophthalmologist, writer – Bolesław Wieniawa-Długoszewski moved into history as a man of numerous talents. Sadly, overseas he couldn’t use any of them – at the time he emigrated to the USA, he spoke English fairly well but not well enough to become a popular writer or poet. He hadn’t dealt with patients for dozens of years, and that he should be kept away from the army and diplomacy the prime minister Władysław Sikorski saw to it very well…

But first things first – Wieniawa’s odyssey begins in June 1940 when Italy enters the war on the side of the III Reich. It soon becomes clear that the Polish embassy upon the Tiber cannot function any longer and its head, i.e. Wieniawa shall go home. Our hero, however, enjoyed much liking from the Italians and he was offered to stay in Rome as a private individual. He had no intention of doing so – on June 12 we can see him as, together with other members of the embassy's personnel, he is travelling on a diplomatic train heading for France. The invasion of France is under way and the lightning progress made by the Wermacht results in that the passengers will never set foot upon the Seine for good.

After six days they reach Lisbon and although Długoszowski left Italy having accomplished his mission (thanks to him 8 thousand Poles, many of whom joined the ranks of the restored Polish army, passed through Italy to France) nobody is awaiting him. Just the opposite – Sikorski’s men will accuse him later of deserting from a diplomatic post. As for now he has to find employment (Sikorski dismissed him from service) or continue the journey with his closest family – he is accompanied by his wife Bronisława and daughter Zuzanna. Ultimately they decide to go to the US.

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By Tomasz Czapla
Translated by Dominik Szczęsny-Kostanecki