A comprehensive and engaging history of a century of Polish immigration and influence in Chicago.
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 an 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.”
The Blondes of Wisconsin
Anthony Bukoski University of Wisconsin Press, 2021 Library of Congress PS3552.U399B55 2021 | Dewey Decimal 813.54
Like stones cast into a river, these sixteen moving, intimate stories illuminate how devotion and degeneration ripple through a working-class Polish American community in the postindustrial Midwest. At the heart of the collection is Eddie “The Bronko” Bronkowski, a boxer with a losing record whose reputation as a human punching bag precedes him. In each of Anthony Bukoski’s rich stories, tough yet sympathetic characters—the second cook on a Great Lakes freighter, a World War II veteran, the emcee of a female boxing troupe—take all that life throws at them, protecting those around them as best they can.
In Bukoski’s interconnected tales, the heart seeks its due despite familial conflict, the challenges of maritime work, and the slow yet inexorable decline of dementia. Beautiful vignettes express transformative moments: tenderness that can turn a cardboard crown into gold and the faint ghosts of memories long forgotten. A tour-de-force, The Blondes of Wisconsin knows what love is—and what it means to lose it.
The issues of immigration and integration are at the forefront of contemporary politics. Yet debates over foreign workers and the desirability of their incorporation into European and American societies too often are discussed without a sense of history. McCook’s examination questions static assumptions about race and white immigrant assimilation a hundred years ago, highlighting how the Polish immigrant experience is relevant to present-day immigration debates on both sides of the Atlantic. Further, his research shows the complexity of attitudes toward immigration in Germany and the United States, challenging historical myths surrounding German national identity and the American “melting pot.”
In a comparative study of Polish migrants who settled in the Ruhr Valley and northeastern Pennsylvania, McCook shows that in both regions, Poles become active citizens within their host societies through engagement in social conflict within the public sphere to defend their ethnic, class, gender, and religious interests. While adapting to the Ruhr and northeastern Pennsylvania, Poles simultaneously retained strong bonds with Poland, through remittances, the exchange of letters, newspapers, and frequent return migration. In this analysis of migration in a globalizing world, McCook highlights the multifaceted ways in which immigrants integrate into society, focusing in particular on how Poles created and utilized transnational spaces to mobilize and attain authentic and more permanent identities grounded in newer broadly conceived notions of citizenship.
At midcentury, two distinct Polish immigrant groups—those Polish Americans who were descendants of economic immigrants from the turn of the twentieth century and the Polish political refugees who chose exile after World War II and the communist takeover in Poland—faced an uneasy challenge to reconcile their concepts of responsibility toward the homeland.
The new arrivals did not consider themselves simply as immigrants, but rather as members of the special category of political refugees. They defined their identity within the framework of the exile mission, an unwritten set of beliefs, goals, and responsibilities, placing patriotic work for Poland at the center of Polish immigrant duties.
In The Exile Mission, an intriguing look at the interplay between the established Polish community and the refugee community, Anna Jaroszyńska–Kirchmann presents a tale of Polish Americans and Polish refugees who, like postwar Polish exile communities all over the world, worked out their own ways to implement the mission’s main goals. Between the outbreak of World War II and 1956, as Professor Jaroszyńska–Kirchmann demonstrates, the exile mission in its most intense form remained at the core of relationships between these two groups.
The Exile Mission is a compelling analysis of the vigorous debate about ethnic identity and immigrant responsibility toward the homeland. It is the first full–length examination of the construction and impact of the exile mission on the interactions between political refugees and established ethnic communities.
Roman B.J. Kwasniewski, son of Polish immigrants, used his camera to document life in Milwaukee's Polish community during the early decades of the twentieth century. His images transform the particulars of everyday life at local businesses, in homes and classrooms, and at cultural, social, and recreational events into powerful depictions of the immigrant experience. With an introduction by well-known Milwaukee historian John Gurda, this book offers rare insight into the daily lives of a proud people struggling to maintain their heritage while living in a time of rapid change.
While Kwasniewski's camera captured the sights and sounds of Milwaukee at the turn of the century from the perspective of a single ethnic group in a single neighborhood, his photographs resonate far beyond Milwaukee's Polish South Side. They illuminate the particulars of American life during the early decades of the twentieth century. "What we see, reflected in the distant mirror," says John Gurda, "is ourselves."
In the Days of Simon Stern
Arthur A. Cohen University of Chicago Press, 1987 Library of Congress PS3553.O418I5 1988 | Dewey Decimal 813.54
Nathan, a blind Jewish scribe, tells the story of the coming of the Messiah in the person of one Simon Stern—from his birth on the Lower East Side, through his career as a millionaire dealer in real estate, to his building of a refuge for the Jewish remnant of World War II.
"A majestic work of fiction that should stand world literature's test of time, to be read and reread. A masterpiece."—Commonweal
"This book ensnares one of the most extraordinarily daring ideas to inhabit an American novel in a number of years. For one thing, it is that risky devising, dreamed of only by the Thomas Manns of the world, a serious and vastly conceived fiction bled out of the theological imagination. For another, it is clearly an 'American' novel—altogether American, despite its Jewish particularity: it is not so much about the history of the Jews as it is about the idea of the New World as haven. . . . In its teeming particularity every vein of this book runs with a brilliance of Jewish insight and erudition to be found in no other novelist. Arthur Cohen is the first writer of any American generation to compose a profoundly Jewish fiction on a profoundly Western theme."—Cynthia Ozick, New York Times Book Review
"This stately, ambitious amalgam of Jewish myth, history, theology, and speculations on the Jewish soul is like an enormous Judaic archeological ruin—often hard for the uninitiated to interpret, but impressive. . . . Intelligent, inventive, fascinating."—New Yorker
The Last Fine Time
Verlyn Klinkenborg University of Chicago Press, 2004 Library of Congress F129.B89P75 2004 | Dewey Decimal 974.797004918501
By turns, an elegy, a celebration, and a social history, The Last Fine Time is a tour de force of lyrical style. Verlyn Klinkenborg chronicles the life of a family-owned restaurant in Buffalo, New York, from its days as a prewar Polish tavern to its reincarnation as George & Eddie's, a swank nightspot serving highballs and French-fried shrimp to a generation of optimistic and prosperous Americans. In the inevitable dimming of the neon sign outside the restaurant, we see both the passing of an old world way of life and the end to the postwar exuberance that was Eddie Wenzek's "last fine time."
Lives of Their Own depicts the strikingly different lives of black, Italian, and Polish immigrants in Pittsburgh. Within a comparative framework, the book focuses on the migration process itself, job procurement, and occupational mobility, family structure, home-ownership, and neighborhood institutions. By blending oral histories with quantitative data, the authors have created a convincing multilayered portrait of working-class life in one of our great industrial cities.
In the 1950s, baby boomer Donna Solecka Urbikas grew up in the American Midwest yearning for a "normal" American family. But during World War II, her Polish-born mother and half sister had endured hunger, disease, and desperate escape from slave labor in Siberia. War and exile created a profound bond between mother and older daughter, one that Donna would struggle to find with either of them. In this unforgettable memoir, Donna recounts her family history and her own survivor's story, finally understanding the damaged mother who had saved her sister.
Poles in Illinois
John Radzilowski and Ann Hetzel Gunkel Southern Illinois University Press, 2020 Library of Congress F550.P7R33 2020 | Dewey Decimal 977.30049185
Illinois boasts one of the most visible concentrations of Poles in the United States. Chicago is home to one of the largest Polish ethnic communities outside Poland itself. Yet no one has told the full story of our state’s large and varied Polish community—until now. Poles in Illinois is the first comprehensive history to trace the abundance and diversity of this ethnic group throughout the state from the 1800s to the present.
Authors John Radzilowski and Ann Hetzel Gunkel look at family life among Polish immigrants, their role in the economic development of the state, the working conditions they experienced, and the development of their labor activism. Close-knit Polish American communities were often centered on parish churches but also focused on fraternal and social groups and cultural organizations. Polish Americans, including waves of political refugees during World War II and the Cold War, helped shape the history and culture of not only Chicago, the “capital” of Polish America, but also the rest of Illinois with their music, theater, literature, food.
With forty-seven photographs and an ample number of extensive excerpts from first-person accounts and Polish newspaper articles, this captivating, highly readable book illustrates important and often overlooked stories of this ethnic group in Illinois and the changing nature of Polish ethnicity in the state over the past two hundred years. Illinoisans and Midwesterners celebrating their connections to Poland will treasure this rich and important part of the state’s history.
Poles in Michigan
Dennis Badaczewski Michigan State University Press, 2002 Library of Congress F575.P7B33 2002 | Dewey Decimal 977.400491851
One of the most vibrant and influential ethnic groups in Michigan, Poles have a long history of migration and settlement in the Great Lakes State. From Michigan’s earliest Polish marriage (in 1762) to the most recent post-Cold War migrations, each successive wave of settlement has enriched and enlivened Michigan culture. Yet, Paczki Day and Polish festivals represent a relatively small portion of the Polish experience. Commitments both to religious and ethnic identity, and a belief in the American vision of landownership and success, have combined to create a mainstream ethnic community abundant in ethnic pride. Poles’ success in Michigan continues to attract Polish immigrants from Europe, just as Polonia continues to make its mark on Michigan’s culture.
Poles in Wisconsin
Susan Gibson Mikos Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2012 Library of Congress F590.P7M55 2012 | Dewey Decimal 977.50049185
In this all-new addition to the People of Wisconsin series, author Susan Mikos traces the history of Polish immigrants as they settled in America’s northern heartland. The second largest immigrant population after Germans, Poles put down roots in all corners of the state, from the industrial center of Milwaukee to the farmland around Stevens Point, in the Cutover, and beyond. In each locale, they brought with them a hunger to own land, a willingness to work hard, and a passion for building churches.
Included is a first person memoir from Polish immigrant Maciej Wojda, translated for the first time into English, and historical photographs of Polish settlements around our state.
"These richly detailed, readable essays come at a propitious time. For despite all the talk in the academy of 'multiculturalism,' the Poles presence on the American scene is still too often neglected." --Anthony Bukoski, University of Wisconsin, Superior
This rich collection brings together the work of eight leading scholars to examine the history of Polish-American workers, women, families, and politics.
Contributors: Stanislaus A. Blejwas, Andrzej Brozek, William G. Falkowski, William J. Galush, Thaddeus C. Radzilowski, Daniel Stone, and Anna D. Jaroszynska-Kirchmann
John J. Bukowczyk is professor of history at Wayne State University and author of And My Children Did Not Know Me: A History of the Polish Americans.
Arriving in the U.S. in 1883, typesetter Antoni A. Paryski founded a publishing empire that earned him the nickname "The Polish Hearst." His weekly Ameryka-Echo became a defining publication in the international Polish diaspora and its much-read letters section a public sphere for immigrants to come together as a community to discuss issues in their own language.
Anna D. Jaroszynska-Kirchmann mines seven decades' worth of thoughts expressed by Ameryka-Echo readers to chronicle the ethnic press's long-overlooked role in the immigrant experience. Open and unedited debate harkened back to homegrown journalistic traditions, and The Polish Hearst opens the door on the nuances of an editorial philosophy that cultivated readers as important content creators. As Jaroszynska-Kirchmann shows, ethnic publications in the process forged immigrant social networks and pushed notions of education and self-improvement throughout Polonia.
How did working-class immigrants from Poland create new communities in Chicago during the industrial age? This book explores the lives of immigrants in two iconic South Side Polish neighborhoods—the Back of the Yards and South Chicago—and the stockyards and steel mills in which they made their living. Pacyga shows how Poles forged communities on the South Side in an attempt to preserve the customs of their homeland; how through the development of churches, the building of schools, the founding of street gangs, and the opening of saloons they tried to recreate the feel of an Eastern European village. Through such institutions, Poles also were able to preserve their folk beliefs and family customs. But in time, the economic hardships of industrialization forced Poles to reach out to their non-Polish neighbors. And this led, in large part, to the organization of labor unions in Chicago's steel and meatpacking industries.
Focusing on the immigrant family, this new, abridged edition of the classic The Polish Peasant in Europe and America brings together documents and commentary that will be valuable in teaching United States history survey courses as well as immigration history and introductory sociology courses. It includes a new introduction and epilogue.
Deborah Anders Silverman University of Illinois Press, 2000 Library of Congress GR111.P65S55 2000 | Dewey Decimal 398.0899185073
Integrating vivid photographs, firsthand observations, and interviews against a rich backdrop of ethnic practices and traditions, Deborah Anders Silverman explores how Polish Americans are creatively adapting the rural peasant folklore of the old country to life in multicultural, urban America.
Silverman surveys rituals of courtship, marriage, coming of age, and funerals, also noting those customs that have been rediscovered after falling into disuse. She follows the trail of folk stories and delves into folk music and dance, particularly the polka, providing a detailed discussion of texts, contexts, and performance practices. She also describes birthing practices, home remedies, superstitions, folk blessings, and miracle cures. In addition, she offers a wealth of information on foodways and on the origins and celebration of holy days, from Christmas Eve vigils to the Dyngus Day festivals of the Easter season.
Polish-American Folklore reveals a community that preserves distinctive traditions even though geographically dispersed in a new homeland. Polish Americans retain ties to their ethnicity though ethnic media, social clubs, churches, group events, and the Internet. This "Polonia without walls" is united by a resilient, dynamic, family-oriented culture that attracts not only Polish immigrants and their descendants but also newcomers from other ethnic and racial groups.
By including first-person commentary from a wide range of Polish American individuals and families, from first-generation immigrants to non-Polish in-laws who embrace Polish foods, music, and traditions, Silverman brings to life a thriving ethnic subculture that values equally its Polish roots and its American harvest.
The "new immigrants" who came from southern and eastern Europe at the turn of the century have rarely been the subject of detailed scholarly examination. In particular, Poles and other Slavic groups have usually been written about in a filiopietist manner. Edward Kantowicz fills this gap with his incisive work on Poles in Chicago.
Kantowicz examines such questions as why Chicago, with the largest Polish population of any city outside of Poland, has never elected a Polish mayor. The author also examines the origins of the heavily Democratic allegiance of Polish voters. Kantowicz demonstrates that Chicago Poles were voting Democratic long before Al Smith, Franklin Roosevelt, or the New Deal.
Kantowicz has made extensive use of registration lists and voting records to construct a statistical picture of Polish-American voting behavior in Chicago. He draws on church records and census records to provide a detailed description of Chicago's many Polish neighborhoods. He also has studied the city's Polish-language press as well as the few manuscript collections left by Polish-American politicians. These collections, together with data gleaned from interviews with individuals who were acquainted with these figures, are used to sketch profiles of the political leaders of Polonia's capital.
Kantowicz focuses on the goals which the Polish-American community pursued in politics, the issues they deemed important, and the functions which politics served for them. He links this analysis to observations on the homeland and the reasons for which the Poles emigrated. In this context he is able to draw conclusions about the nature of the ethnic politics in general. His work will appeal to a variety of readers: urban and twentieth-century historians, political scientists, and sociologists.
During Poland’s century-long partition and in the interwar period of Poland's reemergence as a state, Polish writers on both sides of the ocean shared a preoccupation with national identity. Polish-American immigrant writers revealed their persistent, passionate engagement with these issues, as they used their work to define and consolidate an essentially transnational ethnic identity that was both tied to Poland and independent of it.
By introducing these varied and forgotten works into the scholarly discussion, Traitors and True Poles recasts the literary landscape to include the immigrant community’s own competing visions of itself. The conversation between Polonia’s creative voices illustrates how immigrants manipulated often difficult economic, social, and political realities to provide a place for and a sense of themselves. What emerges is a fuller picture of American literature, one vital to the creation of an ethnic consciousness.
This is the first extended look at Polish-language fiction written by turn-of-the-century immigrants, a forgotten body of American ethnic literature. Addressing a blind spot in our understanding of immigrant and ethnic identity and culture, Traitors and True Poles challenges perceptions of a silent and passive Polish immigration by giving back its literary voice.
William Hal Gorby’s study of Wheeling’s Polish community weaves together stories of immigrating, working, and creating a distinctly Polish American community, or Polonia, in the heart of the upper Ohio Valley steel industry. It addresses major topics in the history of the United States in the first half of the twentieth century, while shifting from urban historians’ traditional focus on large cities to a case study in a smaller Appalachian setting.
Wheeling was a center of West Virginia’s labor movement, and Polish immigrants became a crucial element within the city’s active working-class culture. Arriving at what was also the center of the state’s Roman Catholic Diocese, Poles built religious and fraternal institutions to support new arrivals and to seek solace in times of economic strain and family hardship. The city’s history of crime and organized vice also affected new immigrants, who often lived in neighborhoods targeted for selective enforcement of Prohibition.
At once a deeply textured evocation of the city’s ethnic institutions and an engagement with larger questions about belonging, change, and justice, Wheeling’s Polonia is an inspiring account of a diverse working-class culture and the immigrants who built it.
As National Security Adviser to President Jimmy Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski (1928–2017) guided U.S. foreign policy at a critical juncture of the Cold War. But his impact on America’s role in the world extends far beyond his years in the White House, and reverberates to this day. His geopolitical vision, scholarly writings, frequent media appearances, and policy advice to decades of presidents from Lyndon Johnson to Barack Obama made him America’s grand strategist, a mantle only Henry Kissinger could also claim.
Both men emigrated from turbulent Europe in 1938 and got their Ph.D.s in the 1950s from Harvard, then the epitome of the Cold War university. With its rise to global responsibilities, the United States needed professionals. Ambitious academics like Brzezinski soon replaced the old establishment figures who had mired the country in Vietnam, and they transformed the way America conducted foreign policy.
Justin Vaïsse offers the first biography of the successful immigrant who completed a remarkable journey from his native Poland to the White House, interacting with influential world leaders from Gloria Steinem to Deng Xiaoping to John Paul II. This complex intellectual portrait reveals a man who weighed in on all major foreign policy debates since the 1950s, from his hawkish stance on the USSR to his advocacy for the Middle East peace process and his support for a U.S.-China global partnership. Through its examination of Brzezinski’s statesmanship and comprehensive vision, Zbigniew Brzezinski raises important questions about the respective roles of ideas and identity in foreign policy.