Helpless Poland

By Ignace Jan Paderewski

[The Independent; August 9, 1915]

The great pianist is lecturing in America in aid of the war victims of his native country. There are three relief committees at work; Russian, German and Austrian, each covering the territory held by its own nation. American contributions, which should be in cash, not supplies, are received at 88 West 42d Street, New York, where the National American Committee has offices. Checks should be made to "National City Bank, for Polish Victims' Fund."—THE EDITOR.

After ten months of carnage, conditions in Poland are indescribable. Three times armies have swept her territories with fire and shell, leaving their paths marked by ruin and desolation, homes burned over the heads of helpless people, whole villages wiped out, and crops laid waste before they were ripe.

Poland's geographical position makes her particularly alone in her misery. Unlike Belgium, she cannot ask succor of her neighbors. Holland and England are almost as inaccessible to Polish refugees as America. Not fronting on the sea, Poland is shut off from the aid, and in a measure, from the sympathy of the world. Her privations have been hidden behind the veil of censorship. It is only occasionally that a hint of her sufferings reaches the world.

Imagine a population of 21,000,000, more than three times that of the city of New York, without food or shelter, forced to spend the winter like beasts in the fields. Imagine children, thru exposure and want of nourishment, dying like flies, and a land from which the stench of the unburied dead continually rises. These are but the barest outlines of the sufferings of Poland today. Such woe as this the world has rarely known even in its darkest history.

Add to these horrors a new calamity! With the spring came a fresh enemy. Instead of bringing back life and balm for the sick and wounded, it brought famine, typhus and cholera. Those actually engaged in battle met a more merciful fate than the innocent non-combatants; bullets spare some, strike more quickly, and leave fewer dregs.

To combat all this, is it too much to ask aid of the nation that has responded so nobly to the appeal of others? Poland did nothing to bring on this war. She had neither neutrality nor national power to provoke the jealousy of her neighbors. Her crime was simply that she lay between the territory of the belligerents who sought one another's throats. Even her own sons were forced to turn the sword of brother against brother, and thus share in her desecration while paying for the sins of Europe.

America's heart has gone out to brave Belgium and its people. Her sympathy and aid have been extended no less to heroic Serbia in her fight against the double odds of disease and war. Will it be any the less responsive to stricken Poland, the greatest sufferer in the present war?

The plight of Belgium is happy compared to Poland. She had to suffer the invasion of one foe, only. Her lands, with the exception of Flanders and near the Meuse, have not served as battle grounds. Thanks to the great work of the Belgian Relief Committee in England and America, there has been little of starvation, of actual want or disease. The response to Belgium's cry came in a measure because Americans were familiar with the country. There was a real, personal interest in her people, her churches, her treasures. With Poland it is different. Until her present tragedy she was an abstraction, a place no longer represented on the political map. One could not go to Kalisch or Cracow on a day's excursion, from Paris. Poland's great historic treasures and monuments are little known compared with those of Louvain, Bruges, or other Flemish towns.

I have spoken to many Americans who to my own knowledge are leaders in the support of great philanthropies, and the facts presented have come as a revelation to them. We meet with the most generous and enthusiastic response as soon as the frightful conditions are realized by those able to help. The one element that is essential to the success of our work is promptness. The needs are so pressing, that today's contribution, even tho smaller than what might be given tomorrow, will be more effectual in saving human life and contributing to the succor of the hapless women and children.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013



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