By William Joseph Showalter
[National Geographic, January 1915]
It was four years before the United States was born into the family of nations that. Poland saw the beginning of her end as a member of that family; and it was two years before Washington had completed his great task of blazing the way for the young nation his sword had founded that Poland's name as an independent country was erased, perhaps forever, from the list of sovereign States of the earth.
And yet the hundred and seventeen years that have sufficed to transform the United States from a little country on the middle eastern seaboard of North America into, one of the wealthiest and most influential nations of the world have not served to quench the national spirit of the Polish people, nor to end their dream of a rehabilitated and reunited Poland.
Generations of the sternest repression ever practiced upon any people have still left the Pole with his heart set on the one desire of his life—Poland restored. In spite of the efforts of three of the world's most powerful governments to assimilate them and to incorporate them into their own bodies politic, 20 million Poles have hoped and longed for and dreamed of the day when their country shall resurrect itself and make itself a vital force in the civilization of the future.
Efforts at assimilation have been met by struggles against it, and after nearly a century and a quarter of trying to quench the fire of fervor for their beloved Poland from the hearts of the Poles they still stood at the beginning of the present war, with hearts aflame and souls afire, hoping in the face of despair, that somehow, somewhere, some time, the ashes of captivity might be replaced with the garlands of liberty.
THEIR FERVENT LOVE
The fervent love of the Pole for all things Polish is borne witness to by all who travel that way. He will tell you that their cooking is better than that of Paris; that their scenery is more beautiful than that of any other country; that their language is the most melodious that falls from human lips; that there is no dance in the world to be compared with the mazurka; that the most beautiful women on the face of the earth and the bravest men whoever lived are to be found among them; that the Poles are a cheerful, hospitable, easily pleased, and an imaginative race; and that yet, in spite of and notwithstanding all this, they are the most unhappy people and theirs the most hapless nation in history. Krasveski once exclaimed during his exile:
"Oh, thou beautiful land, our mother! When we say farewell to friends we have the hope of meeting them in heaven; but never again shall we see thy loved landscapes, thy linden avenues, thy villages, thy brooks, and thy rivers. Can heaven really be so beautiful that it makes us forget all this, or does a river of Lethe flow before the gate of Paradise?"
Some one has said that there is perhaps after all no condition more elevating for a race than one in which no distinguished man has any external distinction, title, or decoration, and where the official tinsel of honor is regarded as a disgrace. In Poland such a condition has prevailed since her partition, for the honor of overlord governments is despised. A poor but distinguished teacher in Warsaw received from the government the decoration of the Order of Stanislaus. He never wore it, but when his children were naughty pinned it on their breasts as punishment for their misdeeds. And it is said that never a dunce-cap was more effective.
POLAND OF Y£ST£RDAY
Poland, before Maria Theresa of Austria found cause to remark that she had been a party to an outrage upon geography and to an act of violence against the laws of ethnology, had been one of the leading nations of Europe. It was the Poles who successfully stayed the march of the triumphant Turk across the continent and mayhap saved the West from the fate that came upon the Near East.
In size she outranked nearly every nation of the continent. Even now Russia alone of the European nations is larger than Poland was at her greatest. In population she stood at the forefront of Europe; only Russia and Germany today have greater populations than are to be found in the lands that once were Poland; for unpartitioned Poland had an area of 282,000 square miles, and the lands that once lay within her boundaries now support a population of approximately 50 million. In area she was as large as the German Empire, Switzerland, Belgium, Holland, and Denmark together; larger than Great Britain, Italy, and Greece combined; larger than Austria-Hungary and Servia in one. Within what were her boundaries there dwells a present population larger than the combined populations of Great Britain and Belgium; larger than those of France, Belgium, and Holland together; and matching that of Austria-Hungary. Poland was three times partitioned, and these partitioning^ were readjusted between the partitioners by the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Where the original partitions had given Russia 181,000 square miles, Prussia 54,000 square miles, and Austria 45,000 square miles, the reapportionment of the Vienna Congress gave Russia 220,500, Prussia, 26,000 and Austria 35,000 square miles. Much of the land which Russia secured, and particularly Kiev, had been identified with Russia generations before.
Poland, in the days of her greatest area, extended from a point within 50 miles of Berlin, on the west, to the meridian of the Sea of Azov on the east; on the north it reached nearly to the Gulf of Finland and on the south down to the Khanate of Crimea. The plan of the Congress of Vienna was to let Prussia have Posen and the districts of East and West Prussia that were Polish, and to give Austria Galicia and Bukovina, while the Kingdom of Poland was to be continued and Russia's Tsar was to be its king—the two governments to be entirely separate except for the union of tsar and king in one person ; but revolts in Poland led to the complete absorption of the Kingdom into the Russian Empire.
RUSSIAN POLAND PROPER
What we now know as Russian Poland is that neck of territory stretching westward between the Prussias and Galicia. This territory has an area almost exactly equal to that of New York, yet, in spite of the fact that its extreme southern boundary lies north of the latitude of Winnipeg, its population is as great as those of New York and New Jersey combined.
Russian Poland, in this limited sense, consists of a great plain, somewhat undulating, with an average elevation of about 400 feet, sloping upward toward the highlands of Galicia on the south and toward the swelling ground paralleling the Baltic on the north. It joins the lowlands of western Germany with the great plain of western Russia. Its rivers are slow and sluggish, with their mouths often but a few dozen feet below their sources and seldom more than a few hundred feet below. Their basins intricately interpenetrate one another, and the frequent inundations of these basins have covered them with a very rich alluvial soil.
Russian Poland usually has a winter somewhat similar to that of New England. There is an even cold, with not a great deal of snow, but often with razor-edged winds from the northward. The rivers of this region usually freeze over about the middle of December, and the Vistula is under ice for approximately 80 days during the average winter.
In the eighteenth century, when the city of Warsaw, next to Paris, was the most brilliant city in Europe, this flat plain was unusually rich in herds and in geese flocks, though almost bare of manufactures.
THE CITY OF WARSAW
Warsaw has never been able to forget that it was the capital of the Kingdom of Poland, and it still conscientiously maintains the vivacious, gayety for which it was famed during the days of its highest fortunes. It is still Russian Poland, but instead of a native king and court it has a Russian governor general and a Russian army corps. The gayety of the city, long ago modeled upon that of Paris, is one of the few distinctive characteristics which it has been able to retain from the past.
The city is well situated. It is built in the midst of a fertile, rolling plain, mostly upon the left bank of the Vistula, which is navigable here for large river boats. The main part of the city lies close to the river and is compact and massive. Its streets are very narrow and very crooked, wriggling in and out regardless of all logic of direction. The more modern parts of the city, on the other hand, are laid out in broad, straight streets. In these parts one occasionally finds bathtubs, steam-heating, and various devices of sanitary plumbing in the private homes.
There are many-magnificent palaces of the old Polish nobility in the city. A number of these sumptuous buildings are being put to public use, such as the renowned Casimir Palace, which now houses the university. Other palaces are being made to serve the needs of municipal and garrison administration.
Warsaw has become under Russian, rule a great industrial and commercial center. It manufactures machinery, carriages, and woven goods, and it trades in these things and in the animal and food products of Russian Poland. A large export of leather and coal to Russia passes through Warsaw. A great deal of the city's production is the output of handwork, and here are to be found some of the poorest, most patient, and persistent artificers of the western world. There are 50 book-printing establishments in the city, most of them engaged in the labor of promoting the supremacy of the Russian language.
Russian is the language of instruction in nearly all of the Warsaw schools. It is also the language of the government and of polite and learned society. This currency of the conquerors' tongue has deeply tinged the life of old Warsaw, and the Polish spirit of proud, ostentatious frolic has taken on a color of melancholy and meditative reflection. The Warsaw medical school is famous, as is also its school of art. Its musical conservatory is modeled upon those of Petrograd and Moscow, and the un-Polish music of Rimsky-Korsakov, Balakirev, Caesar Cui, and Chaikovsky has replaced the lighter of native fancy.
If Russia got the bulk of Poland's territory and the major portion of the Polish population, she also got by far the larger part of the Polish problem. Russian Poland was the cradle of the Polish race—a land in which both ruling aristocrat and serving peasant were Poles. The result was that Poland became a thorn in the side of Russia, causing the Empire no end of trouble and bringing upon the heads of the Poles in turn no end of repressive measures. Indeed, at times this became so great that more than one Russian statesman came to advocate turning Russian Poland over to Germany.
METHODS OF REPRESSION
For a long time the Poles were forbidden even to use their native tongue. Even the railway employees could not answer questions asked in Polish. The word "Polish" itself could not be used in the newspapers. For a while no letter could be addressed in Polish. Outside of what is now known as Russian Poland, in the provinces acquired before the final partition, one still encounters notices in and on all public buildings reading: "The speaking of Polish is forbidden." In one of these provinces street-car conductors were fined because they answered questions asked in Polish.
The national dress was forbidden, even as a carnival costume or in historical dramas in the theater. The coat of arms of Poland had to be erased from every old house and from the frame of every old picture. The singing of the national songs was strictly taboo.
Yet with all the efforts at repression, and with all the resistance made against that repression, when the present war broke out the Russian Pole seems to have been as loyal to his government as the German Pole was to Germany or the Austrian Pole to Austria. The whole war in the eastern theater has been fought in territory which once belonged to Poland, territory largely peopled by Poles, and yet there is no evidence that any of them have betrayed their respective flags.
Austrian Poland is practically embraced by the crownland of Galicia. This crownland is almost exactly the size of the State of South Carolina, but it has a population six times as great. If continental United States, exclusive of Alaska, were as densely populated as Galicia, we would boast of a population four times as great as that of Russia.
And yet Galicia is the poorest of all the provinces of Austria. It lies outside the ramparts of the Carpathians, which turn a cold and unfriendly back to it, the while they cast a protecting shelter around the northern side of that great oval basin known to geography as Hungary. Where Hungary is protected by these mountains from the cold winds that sweep down from the Baltic, they rob Galicia of the warm winds that sweep up from the Mediterranean. And where they help to form that great ring of natural defense around Hungary which is pierced only by the Iron Gate of the Danube on the east and by the gateway Ox Porto Hungarica on the west, they turn away from Galicia, occupying nearly a third of her territory, but running away from the protection they might have afforded her flanks.
This inhospitality of the Carpathians toward Galicia leaves her with her back turned against steep and forbidding mountain sides that bend away from her, exposes her sides to hostile attack, and allows her to sit with her feet buried in the Russian plain.
Robbing Galicia of the warm winds that otherwise would come to her from the south, they also turn back upon her the cold winds of the north, which otherwise would sweep over Hungary. Thus they give her long, cold winters; short, wet springs; hot, blistering summers, and dreary, chilly autumns.
CRACOW AND LEMBERG
The glory of her past and the hope of her future are Cracow and Lemberg to Poland, for it was the former that was her capital in the yesterday of history and the latter that is her capital today and which would be her capital tomorrow were Polish dreams to come true.
In Cracow, the great city of Poland's past, the royal palace still stands; but it is used as a barracks and not as the home of a king. The cathedral, from which Poland's heart arose to its God, is now the Valhalla of its departed greatness; for there sleep the kings and the heroes from the Jagellons to Kosciuszko. Not far away is Kosciuszkoberg, one of the most remarkable memorials ever reared by the hand of man—a huge mound of earth brought by loyal Poles from every battle-field in the world consecrated with Polish blood. After the annexation of Cracow by Austria this great mound was transformed into a fort; but with all that, it still stands as a tribute to the great hero whose sword was drawn in behalf of freedom both in Poland and in America.
The country around Cracow is flat and is devoted almost wholly to small farming and trucking. The peasants dress in white jackets and blue breeches, and wear jack-boots; their women folk, with large bright shawls and picturesque head-dress, brighten and give spirit to the countryside.
From Cracow to Lemberg the traveler encounters good land; it is fairly level and entirely innocent of fences, boundary stones marking party, lines and tethers or herdsmen keeping livestock where it belongs. The same methods of agriculture that we used in the United States before the days of the self-binder and the grain drill are still in force in that region.
It is in Lemberg that the only Polish dominated legislative assembly in existence holds its sessions; for Lemberg is the capital of Galicia, and the Poles, both because of their shrewd political ability and their numerical weight, control the Galician legislature in the face of their rivals, the Ruthenians of East Galicia. The city of Lemberg is largely modern—a compact nucleus surrounded by scattering suburbs.
While Galicia is almost wholly an agricultural region, and while a large percentage of that agriculture is carried on in the old-time way, there are some few manufacturing neighborhoods and industrial districts. Distilleries occupy first place among the industries, and there are many beet-sugar and tobacco factories. Petroleum springs abound along the Carpathians, and some of the towns in this region grow from small villages to modern Beaumonts between New Year and Christmas.
Galicia has many of the world's most famous salt mines. Those at Wieliczka have been worked for nearly seven centuries, at one time being a principal source of revenue for the Polish kings. Railroads are not permitted to run near them lest their vibrations result in cave-ins. Within these mines are a labyrinth of salt-hewn streets and alleys, lined with pillared churches, staircases, restaurants, shrines, and monuments.
Nearly 2,000 workmen are employed in the salt mines, working in eight-hour shifts. The damp, salty atmosphere seems to shorten their days; but even at that they do not appear unhappy, in spite of the small wage of 20 cents a day they are paid. There are little lakes in the mines, sometimes 30 feet deep, which are navigated by ferry-boats. Many of the little ponies which draw the cars over the tiny salt railway have not seen the light of day for generations and are born blind. Access to these salt mines has always been difficult, for the government is of their works. The workmen are searched almost as carefully as the men who work in the diamond mines in South Africa.
AUSTRIA AND HER POLES
Austria has never treated her Poles as the Russians and the Prussians have treated theirs. Where those countries have sought to destroy the spirit of Polish nationalism, holding it to be a perpetual menace to Russian and Prussian institutions, Austria has proceeded upon the theory that this spirit, carefully directed, becomes more a source of strength to the government than a source of weakness. So the Poles of Austria are as free to sing their national songs as the people of our own South are free to sing Dixie. They are as much at liberty to glorify their past and to speak their native tongue as though they were free and independent. Except that they must pay their taxes to Austria and serve in Austria's army, they are practically self-governing.
And well may this be, for all the world knows that it was Sobieski and his fellow-Poles who saved Vienna and rescued Europe from the Turks.
Not only does Austria allow her Poles local self-government, but she also gives them representation in the Austrian Reichsrath. The result has been a comparative degree of satisfactory relations between the Poles and the Austrians; so much so, in fact, that the Russian and German Poles have for years felt rather bitter toward their Austrian compatriots, claiming that they are neglectful of their brethren who are less fortunately circumstanced than they are. Some one has observed that the Poles of Austria are like the French in Canada; that their nationalism is religious and literary and not anti-governmental.
RELATIONS WITH THE RUTHENIANS
As western Galicia is the stronghold of the Austrian Pole, so eastern Galicia is the main dwelling-place of the Austrian Ruthenian. The two races never get along very well together. About 45 percent of the population of Galicia is Polish and about 42 per cent is Ruthenian. Outside races hold the balance of power, and it is only by playing good politics that the Poles dominate Galicia. Since the Ruthenians got universal suffrage they have been sending large numbers of their representatives to the Galician Diet. The conflict is a racial one, and the Poles are probably not as considerate of Ruthenian rights as they would like Austria, Russia, and Prussia to be of theirs.PEASANT LIFE IN GALICIA
The peasant population of Austrian Poland eke out a hard existence. In many parts of- the country the peasant lives in a log hut covered with straw; he breakfasts, dines, and makes his supper of porridge, washing it down with bad brandy; and in general leads a life full of want and empty of pleasure. The peasants who farm for the nobles receive no money in payment, but only a share of the crop.
The usual division, all over Europe, ranges between a half, and a fourth, and even in Russian Poland it never goes below the latter proportion. In Galicia the peasant now receives 110 such proportion. The nobles' estates are either owned outright by absentees or are controlled by them through full-value mortgages, and they have combined to force down the peasant-farmer's share, with the result that it now frequently goes down to one-twelfth, a wage of slow starvation and a wage largely responsible for a disease known as "Plica Polonica" among the peasants, which arises from a lack of nourishment.
THE GERMAN POLES
In the partition of Poland, Prussia got the smallest share when the redivision was made by the Congress of Vienna, although she had participated in the three partitions and had drawn 56,000 square miles of territory in those partitions. The Congress of Vienna reduced this to 26,000 square miles, taking the other 30,000 square miles and adding it, along with a part of Austria's holdings, to the Kingdom of Poland, which was to be ruled by the Russian Tsar, but was to be independent of and on a parity with Russia.
The 26,000 square miles of Prussian territory which once belonged to Poland is made up of Posen, most of West Prussia, and several districts in East Prussia. Posen is slightly smaller than Maryland, but has a population of approximately two million. West Prussia is a little larger than New Hampshire, but has a population nearly four times as great. East Prussia is about one-third as large as Virginia, but it possesses a population approximately equal to that of the Old Dominion.
Posen is largely Polish, the Poles constituting more than half of the population of the province, in spite of the large German immigration, aided and encouraged by the government. It is largely devoted to agriculture, though there are many important manufacturing industries. For a long time it was one of the worst educated provinces of Germany, but that time is now past. In 1901 the percentage of illiterate recruits in Posen was nearly one out of every ten; today it is only one out of four hundred. Posen is a part of the north German plain, and 61 per cent of its acreage is tinder tillage.
GERMANIZING THE POLE
West Prussia and East Prussia are the coldest provinces of Germany. They are cold and bleak in winter and hot in summer. East Prussia is the Kentucky of Germany in many ways. It contains the great government stud of Trakehnen, where some of the best horses in Europe are to be found. Both of the Prussian are famous for their great estates, many of them held by men prominent in the affairs of the Empire.
Germany has tried in every possible way to transform her Poles into Germans. It has used the Russian tactics in quenching the fire of their nationalism, but with no better success than Russia had. Heretofore Poles were not appointed to office; letters addressed in Polish went undelivered. Marriages between German men and Polish women were discouraged, for Bismarck had not let it escape his notice that "a Polish wife makes a Polish patriot out of her husband in the twinkling of an eye."
There were laws forbidding the use of Polish in public meetings, and Polish children who refused to answer the catechism in German were punished.
In the hope of making Germans out of the Poles, the Prussian government decided to colonize German settlers among them. First this was undertaken by private enterprise, but the Poles boycotted the settlers, and their lands finally were bought back. Then a law was enacted that no Pole could build upon lands acquired after a certain date. The result is that one who travels through Polish Germany today occasionally will see farmhouses, barns, dairies, stables, and even chicken-coops on wheels. The people live, move, and have their being in glorified wagons.
When private enterprise failed to Germanize Prussian Poland the government made appropriations, which up to the present time have amounted to a hundred million dollars, to acquire Polish lands and turn them over to German settlers; but with all that was done, the Poles are still Poles, and in spite of the law forcing some to sell their lands and preventing others from buying, the German settler has not succeeded in getting much of a foothold on Polish lands; and Germany has about four million Poles in her population.
The lot of the Polish peasant is always a hard one, whether he lives in Russia, Germany, or Austria. His food is simple, if not poor. His whole family must toil from the hour that the sun peeps over the eastern horizon to the hour when twilight falls into dusk. If he can say that his wife works like a horse, he has bestowed the acme of praise upon her. Hard work, many cares, and much child-bearing makes, a combination that takes all pride out of the wife's heart and gives to the women of peasant Poland a haggard look, even before the third decade of their lives is closed.
You may even see them working as section hands on many of the railroads, and they are reputed to make good ones. It is not exceptional to see them carrying mortar for bricklayers and plasterers or to find them painting or paper-hanging in the cities.
Every peasant wants his daughters married off as soon as they reach womanhood, and little hands are drawn upon the lintel of the door to indicate to the world that there is a marriageable daughter inside the house. And the wedding day among the peasants is about the one bright spot in a girl's life. Where the children of the United States roll eggs on Easter Monday, those of peasant Poland pour water over one another in a spirit of fun.
THE POLISH NOBLEMAN
Poland was a republic of landowners, in which the serf did not count. The man who owned land, or whose ancestors owned land, was a noble. He might match poverty for poorness, he might not have a single sole between his feet and the ground, he might have only a rusty old sword to tie to his girdle, and only a piebald blind horse to drive, and that a hired one, but he still was a noble if ownership of land had ever set its approving stamp upon him or his family.
With him the peasants were as but worms of the dust. The Russian noble is proud of his peasants, the German noble was proud of his, and the Austrian noble had nought but words of praise for his; but the Polish noble was not proud of his.
Nothing illustrates better how the Polish peasant felt toward the Polish noble than the insurrection of the Poles of Austria in 1846. That was a movement of the nobles. The government did nothing to check the outburst, and it is said that the loyalty of the peasants to the aristocratic brethren caused the insurrection to die aborning.
Whatever may be said about the relations between the Polish aristocrat and the Polish peasant, however, the hospitality of the former has always been whole-hearted and sincere. Tactfulness is as natural with them as taking to the water is natural with a duck. They like company and love entertainment, and are as fond of dancing as any other people in the world. It takes vigorous men to stand all the liquor that is provided by the Polish host.
The journal of the Countess Francoise Krasinska, who afterward married a son of Augustus III, written between the years of 1759 and 1761, is an interesting picture of Polish life just before the partition. "There are two classes of courtiers," she writes in describing her own home, "the honorary and the salaried ones, all alike nobles, with the sword at their side. The first are about twenty in number; their duties are to wait in the morning for the Count's (her father) entrance, to be ready for any service he may require, to accompany him when visiting or riding, to defend him in case of need, to give him their voice at the Diet, and to play cards and amuse him and his and guests. This last duty is best performed by our Manteno, the fool or court jester, as the other courtiers call him. Of all the courtiers he is the most privileged, being allowed to speak whenever he chooses and to tell the truth frankly.
"The honorary courtiers" receive no pay, almost all of them being the sons and daughters of rather wealthy parents, who send them to our castle for training in courtly etiquette. The men receive, nevertheless, provisions for two horses, and two florins (about 40 cents) weekly for their valets. These servants are dressed, some as Cossacks, some as Hungarians, and stand behind their masters' chairs at meals. There is no special table for them; but they must be satisfied with what their masters leave upon their plates, and you should see how they follow with a covetous eye each morsel on the way from the plate to the master's mouth.
"I do not care to look at them, partly from fear of laughing and partly out of pity. To tell the truth, those who sit at our table have more honor than profit; for they do not always have the same kind of food that we have, although it comes from the same dish. For instance, when the meats are brought in, there will be on the dish game or domestic fowl on the top and plain roast beef or roast pork underneath.
"The salaried courtiers are much more numerous. They do not come to our table, except the chaplain, the physician, and the secretary. As for other people belonging to our retinue, it would be difficult to enumerate them; I am sure I do not know how many there are of musicians, cooks, link-boys, Cossacks, hostlers, valets, chamberlains, and boy and girl servants. I know only there are five different dinner tables, and two stewards are busy from morning till night giving out provisions for the meals."
Polish women are among the most beautiful in the world. The perfect shape of their hands and feet is commented upon by every visitor to the home of the Polish aristocracy. When they visit the shoe stores in Vienna, it is averred that the shopkeeper exclaims: "We know those are Polish feet," and proceeds to go to cases that are not drawn upon except when Polish women come into his store.
With their beauty they combine unusual linguistic abilities and almost unprecedented devotion to the lost cause of their fair Poland. It has frequently been asserted by those who know the Poles from intimate social relations with them, that but for the women the national spirit of the Pole would long since have succumbed to the wound-healing processes of time. As it is, there is a proverb that while there is a single Polish woman left the cause of Poland is not lost. "Four ladies do not meet on a charity committee without promoting the national cause under its cover," is the way one writer shows their devotion to the cause of Poland.
SOME NOTED POLES
Poland has contributed a long list of great and near great to civilization. It was Copernicus, a Pole, who first taught that the sun is the center of the solar system and laid the foundations of modern astronomy. It was John Sobieski who saved Europe from the Turks as Charles Martel hammered it out of the grasp of the Saracens. Kosciuszko and Pulaski served the cause of freedom both in Europe and America. The "Quo Vadis" of Sienkiewicz will never be forgotten as long as literature and history are appreciated by man. The music of Paderewski entitles him to a place among the immortals, and the histrionic art of Modjeska gave her a foremost place in the history of the stage. The compositions of Chopin, a Pole by birth, though a Frenchman by education, will float down through the corridors of time along with those of Wagner, Beethoven, Handel, Verdi, and the other masters.
POLES IN AMERICA
From the days of Kosciuszko down to the present, Poles have been no mean contributors to American civilization. Leopold Julian Beck is credited with having led the movement for the establishment of the first polytechnic institution in the United States. Four million Poles have come to the shores of America, and our Polish immigrant population living today ranges around three million. It is said that if the people of Polish ancestry in the United States were massed together they could practically duplicate the population of New England. In Pennsylvania one inhabitant out of every twelve has Polish blood in his veins; in New York one out of fourteen, and in Massachusetts one out of ten. In Wisconsin and Michigan every eighth person is of Polish descent.
Chicago is said to have more Poles in it than any other city in the world except Warsaw and possibly Lodz. Cleveland has more than 40,000 Polish residents, yet New York Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Milwaukee, and Detroit all have Polish colonies larger than Cleveland's.
Home-ownership seems to be an aspiration of the American Pole; many of them start to buy houses on the installment plan before they begin to speak English. With large families and small incomes, they are yet more frequently home-buyers than native-born Americans with smaller families and larger incomes.
Reared in regions where the battle of life is less one for comfort than one for existence, what seems a bare necessity to the American laboring man may appear a great luxury to the immigrant Polish peasant; consequently they can save on small wages.
Although in Europe by far the majority of the Poles are engaged in agriculture, in America they generally settle in the cities. However, many small Polish colonies have been started in New England and elsewhere. Most of the colonists buy abandoned farming lands, and not only manage to coax a living out of the soil where Americans before them could not get it, but they actually, in many instances, succeed in converting the waste place of yesterday into fields of plenty.
A VICTIM OF INDIVIDUALISM
Poland disappeared from the family of nations a victim of her own individualism. Although they constituted only one-twentieth of the population, the nobles arrogated to themselves the tight of ruling everything. Granting no form of freedom to the peasantry, they yet loved their own freedom so excessively that nothing could be done without the unanimous consent of the nobles. There was no such a thing as the rule of the majority.
A single one of a thousand nobles might set at nought the will of the other 999. Unanimous consent could seldom be obtained for any vital proposition, and so Poland grew weak while Russia and Prussia and Austria were growing strong. In an age when international law was writ in the one phrase, "Let him take who has the power, and let him keep who can," the growing weakness of Poland and the growing strength of the other countries very naturally resulted in Poland's fall.
Having lost her all, Poland hailed the rise of Napoleon as an opportunity to regain it. Tens of thousands of her people enlisted under the banner of the great Corsican, and Poland poured out unstintedly of her resources of men, money, and munitions to aid the cause of the France that they hoped would deliver her. But when Napoleon retreated from Moscow the hopes of Poland declined, and Waterloo finally replaced tangible hope with an intangible dream.
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
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THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald