Why you should join Polonia's most prestigious organization:
The Kosciuszko Foundation
By Alex Storozynski
It is an honor to have been President of The Kosciuszko Foundation, which has provided scholarships and promoted Polish Culture in the United States since 1925. It was not easy taking the helm after the stock market crash of 2008, but with the help of our Board of Trustees and members, we weathered the storm, and achieved much in a short time period. As I reflect on the last six years of my stewardship, I am drawn to the year 2010, a time of triumph and tragedy.
In 2010 alone, we held many events that have helped to empower Polonia and enlighten Americans about Polish culture and the role that Poland has played in world history. One challenge we faced in that year was the dissolution of the National Polish Center. When the NPC board disbanded, it asked the Kosciuszko Foundation to breathe new life into the center at 2025 on O Street. It was a huge responsibility, but we decided to meet this task and partner with other organizations to promote Polish culture in our nation's capital. With our friends at the Polish Library in Washington, D.C., we began screening movies at 2025 O Street of such as Katyn and Rewers to expose Americans to Polish Cinema. The O Street building also played a starring role in April's conference to celebrate the 125th Anniversary of Witkacy's Birth. To celebrate the 200th anniversary of Chopin's birth, the Kosciuszko Foundation sponsored a concert by Regina Romanowska, who wowed the audience at Georgetown University's Gaston Hall playing Chopin mazurkas, waltzes and etudes.
The foundation also hosted an author's evening at O Street for Julian Padowicz, whose gripping memoir, A Ship in the Harbor, describes his dramatic flight from Poland. And in August Julian Kulski commemorated the 66th Anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising by showing the film and signing copies of his book, Legacy of the White Eagle detailing his inspiring story of heroism from World War II.
In June 2010, the Kosciuszko Foundation opened the doors on O Street to the American Council for Polish Culture, ACPC, which held several events as part of its laudable Youth Leadership Conference to educate and inspire young Polish Americans interested in learning more about the political process.
We introduced Polish language classes at O Street, and cosponsored other events with Polish-American organizations there as well. A fundraising dinner to help us reach this goal was held Oct. 16 at the Polish Embassy in Washington D.C.
Perhaps the most talked about event that the Kosciuszko Foundation held in Washington was the Katyn conference in April at the Library of Congress. As it was the 70th anniversary of the Katyn murders, the Foundation began working to find a way to honor the 22,000 officers and members of Poland's intelligentsia that were murdered in the forests of Russia by the NKVD, Stalin's secret police.
With the help of Pennsylvania Congressman Paul Kanjorski, we secured the Coolidge Auditorium at the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress for a panel discussion on the Katyn massacre, and partnered with the Polish Embassy in Washington D.C, and historian Andrzej Przewoznik to show the exhibition he prepared for The Council to Preserve the Memory of Combat and Martyrdom. Because the cost of printing and mounting the exhibit was quite expensive, we applied for help from the Foundation for Polish Science to give this fascinating exhibit the proper exposure that it deserves.
And then on April 10, tragedy struck. The plane crash that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski and nearly 100 of Poland's elite hit home. Andrzej Prezwoznik was on that flight, as was First Lady Maria Kaczynska, who several months earlier had visited the Kosciuszko Foundation's headquarters in New York to view our art gallery. The President of the National Bank of Poland, Slawomir Skrzypek had also visited the Koscisuzko Foundation as our guest for a networking session with Polish American bankers on Wall Street. That meeting inspired the idea to raise money for scholarships to help Poles earn Masters of Business Administration degrees, MBAs, at top American universities. Several other passengers on that flight were also friends and guests of the Kosciuszko Foundation.
This terrible tragedy thrust the story of Katyn onto the front pages of newspapers around the world, spurring interest in this massacre that had been covered up for decades. It also increased interest in the Katyn conference that we had been working on. Sen. Barbara Mikulski was able to convince the powers that be in the U.S. Senate to allow us to display the exhibit of photos and archival material about the Katyn Massacre in the Rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building, ensuring that United States Senators had to walk past it on their way to work.
The conference was a huge success with help from the U.S. Helsinki Commission, The Cold War Studies Program at Harvard University and The Memorial Human Rights Protection Center in Moscow. The speakers included Senators Mikulski, Ben Cardin, Richard Lugar, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, President Bush's Ambassador to Poland Victor Ashe, Poland's Ambassador to the U.S. Robert Kupiecki, and several other distinguished dignitaries. Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski stole the show with a fantastic talk about his visit to the Katyn forest. Videos of the speeches at this historic conference can be watched on the web at: www.thekf.org
The Kosciuszko Foundation subsequently launched a new web site that allows us to reach members, the media, and scholarship applicants in a way that had not been possible before. In addition to viewing the videos from the Katyn Conference and the Waldorf Astoria Debutante Ball, our web site can be used to sign up new members, for donors to leave bequests, for students to apply for scholarships online, and to track our events and programs. The site also promotes the books of various Kosciuszko Foundation scholars and honorees.
For Polonia to stake its proper place in American society, it must learn to use the internet to promote Polish culture, raising money for scholarships and to keep younger Polish Americans interested in their heritage. The internet has surpassed television, radio and newspapers in occupying people's time in work and pleasure, and the foundation is promoting and preserving our culture for younger generations in the medium that they use. These days, competing with video games, cable TV and the internet makes it harder to keep Polish culture alive. But so far, more than 1,250 young people have signed on as fans of the Kosciuszko Foundation's Facebook page, which will help the next generation of Polonia's leaders keep in touch.
In addition to the Washington and Internet developments, the Kosciuszko Foundation headquarters at 15 East 65th Street continues to be the center of cultural activity in New York. To commemorate the 200th anniversary of Chopin's birth, we presented a concert by Edward Auer, a leading interpreter of the works of Chopin who held a special benefit concert supporting the Kosciuszko Foundation cultural Fund. Auer's stunning performance included Four Ballades, Polonaise Fantasy, Mazurkas and a few special surprises.
Violinists Ania and Piotr Filochowski gave a recital accompanied by Charity Wicks on the piano, in a program of works by Chopin, Brahms, Paganini and Wieniawski. And the Soprano Lauren Skuce performed at the KF, accompanied on the piano by Marija Stroke, while a separate concert featured Bela Horvath on violin, and Tatiana Goncharova on piano, in a program of music of Bach, Tartini, and Tchaikovsky. These were but a few of the concerts at the Kosciuszko Foundation that year. We also screened several movies and hosted theatrical performances and art openings.
In July we unveiled the world premier of "Messenger from Hell," a 10-minute animated short film about Jan Karski, the man who tried to stop the Holocaust. Produced by Dr. Rafael Medoff in collaboration with ABC News and the Disney Corporation, the film is aimed at explaining Jan Karski's valiant mission to students in American schools. The Foundation also held the New York premier of "Karski" a play by Marc P. Smith, with six actors performing a spectacle about like in Poland during World War II. Jan Karski is a hero that all Poles, Jews and Americans should be proud of so we are trying to make him a household name in the United States.
Speaking of heroes, the Kosciuszko Foundation helped Rita Cosby to promote her book by hosting her launch party for "Quiet Hero: Secrets From My Father's Past," giving our members the first look at the story of her father's secret life as a member of the AK, Poland's home army. Cosby, an Emmy award-winning journalist, TV host, and New York Times bestselling author has become a good friend of the foundation and is a regular at our events.
Another special author's evening at the KF was held by Tomek Bogacki, who read excerpts from his children's book, "The Champion of Children," which tells the sad story of Janusz Korczak who ran an orphanage for Jewish children in Warsaw, Poland.
A new crop of Polish-American filmmakers is also emerging, and Piotr Uzarowicz presented a special screening of his new film, "The Officer's Wife," to a packed house at the foundation. The film was produced by Academy Award winner Jan A.P. Kaczmarek, and follows a son who makes a startling discovery. After the death of his father, a forgotten safe deposit box reveals his grandmother's autobiography, old photos of an army officer and a mysterious postcard that all link to a concealed crime: the Katyn Forest massacre. Weaving dramatic interviews with bold animation, The Officers Wife probes the collision of truth, justice and memory in a shrouded family tragedy. The Kosciuszko Foundation was the only place in New York that you could have seen the fascinating documentary, "Copernicus Revealed: New Discoveries." In 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus, the world's greatest astronomer, was buried in an unmarked grave in Frombork, Poland. The exact location of his grave remained a mystery until recently, when a joint Polish/Swedish team of scientists announced that they had matched DNA from bones unearthed in Frombork with DNA from hair discovered in a book once owned by Copernicus. Dr. Wieslaw Bogdanowicz gave a presentation about his groundbreaking research and the documentary by Michal Juszczakiewicz told the story of this scientific mystery.
Copernicus was but one of the Polish heroes chosen by master sculptor Tracy H. Sugg whose exhibit "The Spirit of Polonia" has been on display at our headquarters for the past year. Sugg, who has created several monuments in Mississippi, at West Point and numerous sculptures in private collections, unveiled a series of life-size portrait busts of notable Polish heroes and heroines such as Pope John Paul II, Chopin, Adam Mickiewicz, Madame Curie, Casimir Pulaski, Thaddeus Kosciuszko, Emily Plater, Ignacy Jan Paderewski, King Jan Sobieski and others.
The Polish heroes that fought in The Warsaw Uprising and World War II were also honored in a special three day tribute last September. First, we unveiled the photo exhibit, "Warsaw, Paris of the North," an exhibition of photographs of prewar Warsaw, which was loaned to us from the collection of the Warsaw Uprising Museum in Poland. The second day we introduced an exhibit called "63 days," a display of photographs taken by underground insurrectionists during the Warsaw Uprising against the Nazis, from the collection of the Polish Army Veterans Association of America. On the third day we held a Literature and Music evening, with a dramatic reading of poems and excerpts of prose about the Uprising accompanied by a slide show of scenes of the Uprising from the collection of the Warsaw Uprising Museum. Part of this presentation included one of the last dramatic appearances by the renowned and beloved Polish actress Elzbieta Czyzewska, who later passed away. Mezzo soprano Marta Wryk had the audience in tears with her breathtaking performance of patriot songs that inspired the Poles to stand up the Germans and Russians that occupied Poland from 1939-1945. The evening also included a presentation of $3,500 in awards to the winners of the historical essay contest on the worldwide significance of the 1939 invasion of Poland.
As Poland has historically been a multi-cultural country that included Catholics, Jews, Muslims and other religions and races, the foundation also screened "Shades of Poland," a film about the centuries of connections between Poland, Africa and their Diasporas.
After the Smolensk tragedy that killed President Lech Kaczynski, First Lady Maria Kaczynski and 96 of Poland's military, political and historical figures, the Kosciuszko Foundation beamed in a live satellite feed so that members of the Polish community could pay their respects and watch the funeral broadcast live at our headquarters on 65th Street.
The foundation has always been a bridge between Poland and the United States. During the Cold War, it hosted people such as Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, Czeslaw Milosz, and Jan Karski. In recent years, Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, Andrzej Wajda, Norman Davies, First Lady Maria Kaczynska and many others have come to visit our townhouse at 15 East 65th Street, the headquarters for Polonia's artists and intelligentsia.
If you're already a member, thank you for your continued support of the Kosciuszko Foundation. We are working on many projects to promote and revitalize the Foundation as it approaches its centenary in just 15 years and I look forward to the opportunity of sharing them with you. The Kosciuszko Foundation is Polonia's most prestigious organization and has made me proud of my Polish heritage. I'm sure that you, too, are proud of your Polish roots.
By becoming a member and donating to the Kosciuszko Foundation, you are not only helping to promote Polish culture, but you are helping to create the next generation of Polish leaders.
Over the years, the foundation has given scholarships to hundreds of Poles and Polish Americans who have made major contributions to Americans and Polish society. One of our scholarship recipients is Leszek Balcerowicz, Architect of Poland's "Shock Therapy" that transformed Poland's communist economy to capitalism. Balcerowicz is a former President of the National Bank of Poland, Finance Minister Treasury Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister and currently Professor at the Warsaw School of Economics.
Another scholarship winner was Prof. Joseph Jastak, a brilliant clinical psychologist and patented psychological tests that are still used today. When he died, his wife married Leslie Burgess, who became the Chairman of the Kosciuszko Foundation. Dr. Jastak also established scholarship funds with his own money.
Gen. Rowny was awarded a Kosciuszko Foundation Scholarship in 1936 to study at the Jagiellonian University. When he attended the 1936 Berlin Olympics, he was struck by the fervor of the Nazis. Convinced that war was imminent, he entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1937 and fought in World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars. He reached the rank in the U.S. Army of lieutenant general and was a chief negotiator in the Strategic Arms Reductions Talks and an advisor to several presidents.
Other winners include: Filmmaker Juliusz Machulski who directed movies such as Vabank, Kiler and Seksmisja; TV journalist Jolanta Fajkowska; the poet Krzysztof Koehler; Radowslaw Markowski, head of the Electoral Research Section, Institute of Political Studies at the Polish Academy of Sciences; Polish video artist Katarzyna Kozyra; Attorney Filip Wejman, a graduate of Jagiellonian University and Harvard, and head of the School of American Law at the University of Bielefeld; the writer Agata Tuszynska; Agata Waclawik-Wejman, a Harvard Educated Attorney and counsel at the Constitutional Court of Poland in Krakow; Paul Sosnowski, the General Counsel for the Polish and Slavic Federal Credit Union; Dr. Tomasz Rogula who conducts ground breaking research in the digestive system at the renowned Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Bogna Patelska, a distinguished ophthalmologist; Andrew Nagorski, former Senior Editor at Newsweek, author, and vice president and director of public policy at the East West Institute; Poland's Chief Rabbi, Michael Schudrich; editor-in-Chief of the Nowy Dziennik, Jan Latus; world famous poster artist Franciszek Starowiejski; and Vice Marshal of the Senate Marek Ziolkowski. And thanks to the Kosciuszko Foundation Scholarship which allowed me to attend the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, I was hired to write and edit at various newspapers, such as the New York Sun and the New York Daily News where I was on the editorial board that won the Pulitzer Prize and several other prestigious awards. This also inspired me to write a biography of Kosciuszko, The Peasant Prince, which won five book awards.
The Kosciuszko Foundation has changed the lives of many people, and we can all be proud of that. So get on our e-mail list, join our Facebook page, and become active in Polonia's most prestigious organization.