U.S.-Poland friendship reflected in rare digitized collection

What began as a gift of friendship between Poland and the United States more than 90 years ago is now a gift to researchers and genealogists around the world.

To mark the 150th anniversary of American independence, the Polish government, civic groups and business leaders joined forces in 1926 and decided to present the United States with an extraordinary memento: a declaration of friendship, gratitude and esteem signed by 5.5 million Polish well-wishers.

Title page of book (Library of Congress)
Title page from volume one of 111 volumes of signatures, original artwork, official seals, photographs and highly decorative calligraphy and bindings (Library of Congress)

“Noble Americans, your national holiday is not for you alone,” asserts the Polish Declaration. “It finds a warm reverberation over the whole world, and especially in our Motherland, Poland.”

Man pointing to document on a screen (State Dept./D.A. Peterson)
The Polish Embassy’s Grazyna Zebrowska (left) discusses the new digitized document with a visitor to the embassy in Washington. (State Dept./D.A. Peterson)

Today, those signatures — about one-sixth of the entire Polish population at that time — are digitized and available online thanks to the U.S. Library of Congress, with assistance from the Embassy of the Republic of Poland and the Polish Library in Washington.

Illustration of Kazimierz Dolny (Library of Congress)
One of many pages of illustrations in the volume, this one by Wladyslaw Skoczylas is a view of Kazimierz Dolny, Lublin province. (Library of Congress)

The online Emblem of Good Will also lists the hometowns of those Polish citizens and their schools and contains original Polish artwork, photographs and official seals.

The information is a boon to genealogists, scholars and researchers around the world, particularly those interested in Poland before World War II.

“In some instances,” Grazyna Zebrowska, president of the Polish Library in Washington, said, “the signatures found in the Polish Declaration may be the only tangible reminder that a person even lived.”

More than 6 million Polish citizens were killed during World War II and the Holocaust.

Also destroyed in the war were Poland’s historical treasures, archives, manuscripts and museums.

Zebrowska said she hopes that making the document available online inspires scholars “to reclaim their lost history and to bring to collective memory, not only the tragedy of World War II, but the optimism of the years preceding it.”

Page of signatures and seals (Library of Congress)
Sheet with signatures and seals of officials from the area formerly known as Bialystok province (Library of Congress)

Long history of friendship

Celebrating the United States’ independence on July 4 in 1926 came quite easily to the Poles. Just eight years before, at the end of World War I, American President Woodrow Wilson unveiled his 14-point plan for world peace, which included an independent Poland.

“Poland and the United States are united by an unbreakable friendship and alliance,” Zebrowska said, “and documents such as the Polish Declaration serve as a reminder that our current friendship has long roots grounded in mutual admiration.”

Linen binding of Polish book (LIbrary of Congress)
Linen binding designed by Wojciech Jastrzebowski and Bonawentura Lenart (Library of Congress)

Vital allies today

The U.S.-Poland alliance remains strong, as evidenced by the United States deploying thousands of soldiers to Poland earlier this year as part of a NATO military exercise.

Also, President Trump will travel to Poland in advance of the July 7–8 meeting of the world’s 20 largest economies, to be held in Hamburg, Germany.

The visit to Poland “will reaffirm America’s steadfast commitment to one of our closest European allies and emphasize the Administration’s priority of strengthening NATO’s collective defense,” the White House said in a statement.

Poland recently received a supply of liquefied natural gas from the United States, the first such shipment to Central Europe, to bolster energy security in the region.