edited by Maja Trochimczyk
Remarks in Self-Defense
by Ignacy Jan Paderewski
Mr. Toastmaster, my dear friend, the Minister from Poland, Honored Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:
I have been invited to dinner given under the auspices of the Kosciuszko Foundation. While accepting with intense pleasure that very great honor, I was under the impression that the occasion would be in strict conformity with the purpose of the institution which is to perpetuate by good and useful works, the memory of one of the noblest figures in Poland’s past, a truly great and good man, our national hero, who had the supreme good fortune to be of some service to your country. My impression was wrong.
It happens sometimes with impressions and sometimes, though rarely, with men. There were comparatively very few words said about Kosciuszko tonight. Instead of lifting higher up on the pedestal of well-deserved glory an illustrious dead, the distinguished speakers of the evening turned their gracious attention partly to a rather anticipated commemoration of the independence of Poland, and chiefly to my humble but still moving person.
(Laughter and applause.)
They made me a little confused, a little perplexed, because they gave me an impression as if I were put on trial. The impression may be wrong again, but I have it all the same. I must admit that I have no reason to complain about the procedure of my case.
On the part of our presiding magistrate, I mean our highly-esteemed Chairman, I had not noticed a distinct intention to intimidate me. All the witnesses treated me with unbounded kindness and leniency.
The audience, one of your good New York audiences, received me with generous applause. The trial so far has been very fair.
(Applause and laughter.)
I am not convicted without being given a hearing.
Yet I feel uncomfortable. It is late and I am afraid my contribution to your entertainment will be poor because I am going to be serious and perhaps long. Were I presumptuous, I would, of course, plead guilty; but I am not presumptuous. I am endowed with a deep sense of justice, and with another one of profound humility, which both could not permit me to assume responsibility or to accept praise for something which I have not been alone in accomplishing.
The offenses ascribed to me are really too serious and too heavy with which to mortgage the conscience of one single person. It is true that I am guilty of having foreseen that the great and terrible war could not be ended without the intervention of the United States. It is true that I am guilty again of having started in this country—in this great and generous country —a movement in favor of Poland’s independence.
But if my vision or foresight—call it as you like—if my earnest, persistent endeavors have brought about such considerable results, it is simply due to magnanimous assistance of individuals, to the whole-hearted cooperation of those of my blood—very numerous in some sections of the United States—and to the support of American public opinion.
I have had many associates—many accomplices, if I may use the term more appropriate for a trial. Some of them are, alas, no more. Many are merely absent. But fortunately, there are a few of them here present tonight. I look at them with deep emotion, for there shall abide in the halls of my memory forever a vivid and thankful recollection of their deeds and of their help.
When laying aside all so-called war literature inspired by strategic motives: boastful appeals, pompous orders of the day, single and double manifestos occasionally containing indisputable lyric beauty, all of which has vanished like smoke under the brutal blow of facts, we see clearly that the resurrection of Poland came from the United States and through the United States. It is a truth that only persons of regrettable ignorance or of deplorable bad faith could possibly deny.
Many people believe that the first clear and positive demand for the restoration of our freedom and independence, was formulated by President Wilson in his famous Fourteen Points.
That is not exact. Long before the conditions of peace had been made known, the expression of American sentiment and intentions in regard to our country took place at a moment and under circumstances which greatly added to the importance and solemnity of the event.
Up to that moment the Polish Question was merely considered as a domestic affair of Russia, Prussia, or Austria. Early in January 1917, Russia seemed to stand quite firmly on her feet and once so mighty throne of the Romanoff’s. The immense territory, with its hundreds of races, of languages, of creeds, seemingly well-cemented, was in all appearance still a tremendously powerful empire. Though no more a steam-roller, as it had been expected to be, it had millions of soldiers, abundance of resources, and plenty of money. We had many friends in Western Europe, but in spite of their best intentions, the great allied powers engaged in the gigantic strife for their very existence, could not afford to lose so valuable a support by approaching Russia on such a delicate subject as the Polish question. And Czarist Russia’s attitude in regard to Poland was that of implacable hostility, perhaps even more than ever before. Nothing but a miracle could have transformed Poland from the domestic affair of the “partitioning powers” into a problem of international character and importance.
But the miracle happened. On the 22nd of January 1917, in this message to the American Senate, the President of the United States said: “Statesmen everywhere are agreed that there should be a united, independent, autonomous Poland.”
The effect of these few words was indescribable. The mighty voice of this colossal and enlightened democracy sounded like a tremendous thunderbolt which shook the diplomatic traditions of the whole world to their very foundations.
Every one was surprised; nobody protested. America said, “All agree!” and all agreed. I wonder what would have said, had he been still alive, that great German philosopher, marvelous logician, peerless dialectician, Frederic Hegel, who about one hundred years before, rather light-heartedly, called America an appendix of Europe.
An appendix turning into a master surgeon. Is it not miraculous?
Every one was surprised but not because America intervened in favor of an oppressed people, for it was no novelty in the annals of your country and nation. The surprise was due to the fact that for the first time in the history of the world, the United States appeared as a potential, determined and conscious factor in the solution of one of the gravest European problems.
I have been asked very often indeed, verbally and by letters from unknown people, what were the influences behind that memorable presidential message. As I am a busy man and of a rather discreet nature, I could not answer that question, but tonight, being put on trial, I shall, with your kind permission, tell the whole truth, in the hope that my confession, if not resulting in a complete acquittal, may somehow reach my inquisitive correspondents and satisfy their legitimate or illegitimate curiosity.
My modest contribution to that momentous happening consisted in the writing of a memorandum on the Polish question upon the request of Col. Edward M. House.
On Monday, January 8 in the afternoon, he said to me: “Next Thursday I am going to leave for Washington, and I wish to have with me your memorandum on Poland.” Terrified by the suddenness of that request, I exclaimed: “But I have my recital tomorrow. I shall not be able to hold a pen in my hand for two days, and besides, it is impossible to prepare such a document without having the necessary data.”
“I must have the memorandum Thursday in the morning,” he answered, and it was the end of our conversation. I immediately returned to the hotel and spent four solid hours in preparing the program of my recital.
Only on Tuesday, after the recital, could I turn my mind to that new, very heavy task. It took me over thirty-six hours of uninterrupted work to prepare the document which was delivered, as requested, on Thursday, the 11th, at eight o’clock in the morning. Led by the purest, by the noblest idealism, Col. House whom I shall never cease to consider as Poland’s providential man, made our cause his own cause.
(Applause.)He pleaded it with all the ardor and generosity of an American heart. He pleaded it enthusiastically, convincingly, and successfully. When about a week later I called on him, he was in a cheerful mood and said: “The President was very much pleased with your memorandum. Now get ready. The first shot will be fired very soon, and it will take your breath away,” and indeed, the mention of Poland in the Presidential message which I read on the 23rd of January somewhere in the South, took for a long while my breath away.
Some six or seven years ago I spoke here in New York in a more general way about the indebtedness of Poland to the United States. It is not my intention, even after those long years, to repeat myself, but I hope I may be permitted to say tonight that as the years pass, my reverence, my admiration, my love, my gratitude for President Wilson, constantly grow.
And so, too, the feelings of my people, who almost unanimously regard him as the greatest benefactor of their country and the father of their liberty.
Another benefactor of Poland, in another way, is Herbert Hoover.
The day after my arrival in Warsaw, on the 2nd of January 1919, Herbert Hoover’s relief commission reached Poland and immediately began its supremely benevolent and efficient activity. It accomplished wonders. Exhausted by more than four years of a terrible war, with the population brought almost to despair by long privations, distress, and suffering, the country was on the verge of very serious internal social disturbances. Herbert Hoover saved us from that catastrophe. He gave us bread, strength and peace within ourselves.
Not only did he provide food stuffs and clothing for needy multitudes, but generous, thoughtful and far-seeing as he is, he enabled my Government to re-open the idle mills of Lodz by giving me spontaneously 27,000 bales of cotton for that purpose.
Long after that, when the relief was no more as urgently needed, when the adults at least were, so to speak, put on their feet again, he still maintained his commission, slightly reduced, in order to take care of the destitute children of the country. Hundreds of thousands of our future citizens owe their health and even their lives to him. It was one of the proudest days of my life when, for the first time in free, independent Poland, for the first time since Poland’s partition, I could open the doors of the ancient castle of our kings and receive there with royal honors this noble son of American democracy.
Another day, not of pride but of deep emotion, was when I had the honor of leading Herbert Hoover to the castle at Krakow, to the tombs of our kings, among whom the remains of Thaddeus Kosciuszko have been laid to rest. Deeply moved, he brought a beautiful wreath and, before depositing it on the sarcophagus containing Kosciuszko’s ashes, he uttered a few hardly audible words. It seems still to me that I have never heard a more eloquent oration.
“Roma locuta, causa finita,” says an old Latin proverb; “Rome has spoken, the cause is ended.” it may have been so very simple in the old Roman days, but there is much less simplicity in our modern times. America had said, “All agree that there should be a united, independent Poland.” And all agreed. There remained, however, a great deal to be done before the cause could have been brought to a satisfactory ending. First of all the war had to be won. It was won. Then came another capital matter: The forthcoming peace conference.
The question was in what character Poland could appear at the conference, and whether she could appear at all. “De facto” we were a nation, not a small nation, the sixth largest among the nations of Europe; “de jure” we were not a state, we had no recognized government. In view of this, as well as owing to some particular conditions, the necessity of an independent national Polish Army, capable of demonstrating to the whole world that our Nation at large was heart and soul with the allied and associated powers, became both obvious and imperative. It would be too long to narrate the events and vicissitudes connected wit the formation of the Polish Army here. It would be impossible to speak about the difficulties and obstacles which we had to over come in order to attain that aim. After many months of agonizing expectations, we could at last receive permission for recruiting in this country. Two full divisions, over 22,000 men were enlisted, and sent to the Western front. Shortly after that, this body of men was officially recognized by the allied governments and by the United States as an autonomous, allied, cobelligerent Polish Army in France. Thus our status, our relation to the allied and associated powers, became perfectly clear.
We owe that enormous political advantage to the generosity and kindness of somebody who unfortunately is not among us; to somebody who burdened with the most tremendous responsibilities that could have ever confronted a member of the Cabinet, found it possible to surmount these obstacles and difficulties of technical and political character, and grant us that indispensable permission. We owe it to the marvelously gifted statesman who within a few months converted this peaceful and laborious democracy into a military power of the very highest order. Though overwhelmed with work, he always had a kind word and friendly smile for someone molesting him with the same matter at least twice a week. If you do not guess who were the molested and the molester, then I shall confess, with a very slight touch of repentance, to having so frequently and so mercilessly bored your former Secretary of War, Newton D. Baker.
It was terribly boring and very deep too, but I got oil anyhow.
Profound and everlasting gratitude is due to that refined, subtle and learned statesman, your former Secretary of State, Mr. Robert Lansing.
First among all the Ministers of Foreign Affairs assembled in Paris, he recognized the new government of Poland in behalf of the United States.
His spontaneous, generous and speedy action was of invaluable service to us. It definitely removed all the formal objections and secured for the Polish delegation a safe place at the tables of the Peace Conference.
In September of the same year, my country found itself in a very difficult position which, at the present moment, I am not free to discuss in all its particulars. A new military operation was proposed to me, an operation far beyond the means of the exhausted country, and dangerous in the extreme. Thanks to the firm, energetic and virile attitude, thanks to the uncontested and indisputable authority of Frank L. Polk, then your delegate to the Peace Conference, that calamity has been averted.
The great service rendered my country by this eminent American should never be forgotten.
America helped us in every way and on every occasion. Individuals, societies, organizations, headed by that wonderful and majestic institution which bears the name of the American Red Cross
and which left an enduring memory in the minds and hearts of our people, all came to help us and at opportune moments. During the war, which was imposed upon us by the very ones who later on condemned it most severely, during the invasion of Poland in 1920, when Mr. Vauclain and Dr. Finley displayed such prophetic gifts, during that invasion, a group of your American flyers came to our rescue. They came under the name of Kosciuszko Esquadrille, and under the leadership of a young officer who is now Colonel Fauntleroy.
Their bravery, their intrepidity, their dash, their heroism were such as to inspire not only terror to the enemy, but to arouse his admiration. Defying danger, challenging death until the victorious end of that terrible campaign, they fought for the safety of our country and for the glory of yours. We shall always most gratefully remember the wonderful valor and virtue of those American youths.
I find that I owe the expression of my most sincere and warmest thanks to a gentleman who is in our midst and whom you have heard just before the beginning of our oratorical tournament. He is the founder of the Kosciuszko Foundation; he is the moving spirit of the Polish American Chamber of Commerce; he is, to say it in three words, Mr. Samuel Vauclain.
Mr. Samuel Vauclain has been the friend of Poland since the very first day of our new independent life, a friend in need. First among the princes or kings of industry and finance, he showed in a practical and substantial way his interest in Poland, his confidence and faith in our reborn state, by offering to our ministry of railways a credit of many millions of dollars. It was of an invaluable assistance for the development of our economic life, and I beg to assure you here, Mr. Samuel Vauclain, that your noble sentiments, and that your constant and faithful friendship for Poland will always be most highly and most gratefully appreciated.
It would be rather difficult to mention all who have been good to Poland and to me. Their number is immense. But I can not miss in the expression of my gratitude, those who are always present in my mind, the friends of the first hour, the generous and eminent men, Mr. Herbert Satterlee,
Mr. James C. Beck,
Mr. Frank Vanderlip,
and their colleagues who by their encouragement, by their constant work and otherwise, had helped me to establish the foundations of my entire activity in this country, the Polish Victims Relief Fund,
for which the way had been paved by that noble woman and supremely great artist, Madame Marcella Sembrich.
Those of my blood have won and will get a special chapter in the history of Poland’s resurrection. They sustained very heavy and cruel losses. Several of their worthy and deserving leaders have lately joined their Maker. The most prominent, the most active, the most deserving among them is my cherished friend John F. Smulski, who tragically departed a few weeks ago.
To the living, however, absent or present here, I wish to convey the renewed expression of my high esteem, of my faithful affection and of my everlasting gratitude. All of them: Our good Polish clergy, the laymen, the farmers, businessmen, intellectuals or humble workmen, have done all in their power to contribute to the revival of the Polish Republic.
Many gave their money. I might say that all gave their money and many their blood. Their devotion to the cause, their spirit of sacrifice, their constant, unshaken faith in my leadership have been a source of my comfort, of my strength and of my faith. With tender feeling for distant Poland, with touching love and loyalty to their adopted country they accomplished all their duties in a way as to fill my heart with gladness and with pride.
The sentiment of the masses, which we usually call public opinion, is for a political action, like for a swimmer the current of the river or for the sailing ship the wind. It is impossible, almost impossible to swim against the current and very difficult to sail against the wind. At the very beginning of the great war, however divided as to the belligerents, the sentiment of the American masses, public opinion, was distinctly in favor of Poland. Why? I will try to explain it to you. Nowhere in the world could one observe such a strong influence of the environments upon the intellectual and emotional moulding of the individual as here, in this wonderful country of yours. People of various races, languages and creeds, people born in the countries where a narrow and selfish nationalism has been prevailing as an almost religious dogma, after having been brought up here, or even after having spent a number of years in this atmosphere of freedom, of equal opportunities of that large and broad equity which the English language calls “fair play,” acquire in a degree American mentality, American fellow feeling. They become apt to understand that other people may also have rights to enjoy that freedom, that equality of opportunities and that fair play. It is the spirit of the country that compels them to think, to feel, and to act that way.
It is the spirit of the country which makes that mould into which must enter and to which must adapt himself everyone who aspires to become an American citizen. It is the spirit of the country, profoundly religious in its origin, supremely tolerant and liberal in its essence that permits everyone to preserve the good characteristics of his own race, while acquiring yours, and makes him twice human and twice humane.
It is that spirit of the country that has always inspired you and guided to noble and valorous actions, and surely will continue to guide you to still loftier destinies.
I am profoundly grateful to the gentlemen of the Kosciuszko Foundation, to all the sponsors of high distinction and exalted rank, for having honored me so profusely by associating my name with theirs in the commemoration of the Tenth Anniversary of the Independence of Poland. I beg to offer my sincere, most appreciative and heartfelt thanks to all the eminent persons from outside, and in the first place, and with profound respect, to the President of the United States,
and to all the speakers of the evening, for having treated me so graciously, for having so highly and so eloquently praised my humble efforts dictated by duty. I thank you all who have so generously supported me during the long years of my artistic career, who have so bountifully rewarded my public services. I thank you all who have so nobly helped me and permitted to realize the patriotic dreams of my youth. I thank you, Ladies and Gentlemen, for having imparted magnitude and charm to this reunion, and by your presence enhanced the importance and the meaning of the present hour. But as you feel, think and act, as you have always thought, felt and acted in the spirit of your country, so let me incline my head with profound reverence and infinite gratitude before the sanctity and greatness of that spirit which has also done so much to restore to the Polish plough the ancient soil of my forefathers.
Our beloved national hero, Thaddeus Kosciuszko, has served your country unselfishly and usefully. Blessed be his name. But blessed be the name of everyone who has served your country unselfishly and usefully. Blessed be whoever contributed to the enlightenment, to the happiness, to the mightiness of your people. Blessed be whoever added to the glory of that sacred symbol of your young nation, “the Stars and Stripes,”
the flag that never retreats, in the folds of which we have found at last, hidden for over a hundred years, the independence of Poland.
. This speech is the final part of material reprinted from a book of greetings given to Paderewski on the occasion of Poland’s 10th anniversary of independence. The book is bound in leather an entitled To Ignace Jan Paderewski: Artist, Patriot, Humanitarian / 1918-1928 (New York: Kosciuszko Foundation, 1928). The typewritten pages are numbered 1-9 and placed at the end of the book; the speech transcripts indicates the audience’s reaction, laughter and applause, marked here in blue font. Paderewski starts his speech with a rhetorical figure, casting himself as an accused criminal during laudatory proceedings. [Back]
. The Toastmaster was Henry Noble MacCracken (1880-1970), a writer and college professor, and the president of the Kosciuszko Foundation in 1925-1950; the Polish Ambassador to the U.S. was Jan Ciechanowski about whom biographical information is lacking.[Back]
. Paderewski’s efforts on behalf of the re-creation of a strong, multi-ethnic Poland began in 1915 and continued through the years of the war; he gave over 350 speeches dedicated to this cause and organized a number of charitable institutions dedicated to this cause; he also stimulated the interest and united the American Polonia—divided into a multitude of small and weak organizations. The photographs reproduced here come from Józef Orłowski, Ignacy Jan Paderewski i Odbudowa Polski, vol. 2 (Chicago: The Stanek Press, 1940). The book does not provide photographic credits or dates. [Back]
[4.] President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points are his conditions for the peace treaty to end World War I and signed in 1918 in Versailles, France. One of the points was about the independence and autonomy of Poland. [Back]
. Wilson’s message to the American Senate of 17 January 1917 contained the first official statement about the need to restore the sovereignty of Poland. [Back]
. According to Dr. Michael Baur, secretary of the Hegel Society of America and philosophy professor at Fordham University, Hegel discusses the relationship of Europe and America in two texts: (1) in the section “Geographische Grundlage der Weltgeschichte” towards the beginning of Lectures on the Philosophy of History, (1820) and (2) in the closing section of the same book, entitled “Zweites Kapitel: Wirkung der Reformation auf die Staatsbildung.” [Back]
. Edward Mandell House (1858-1938), also known as Edward M. House, Colonel House, was the adviser to President Wilson serving as Wilson’s chief negotiator in all contacts with the Allied Powers. He coordinated American war efforts and represented American interests at the peace conference in Paris; his draft of a League of Nations was used as a basis for the statutes of this organization. See Dictionary of American Biography, Supplements 1-2 (American Council of Learned Societies, 1944-1958). [Back]
. Paderewski’s recital at Carnegie Hall in New York took place on 10 January 1917. He played Beethoven’s Sonata in C minor Op. 111; Schumann’s Papillons Op. 2; his own Sonata in E-flat minor Op. 21; Chopin’s Scherzo in C-sharp minor Op. 39; Zygmunt Stojowski’s Chant d’amour Op. 36 no. 2; and By the Brookside; and Liszt-Mendelssohn’s Fantasy on Midsummernight Dream. See Perkowska, Diariusz, op. cit. [Back]
. The concert on 23 January 1917 took place in Raleigh, North Carolina and was followed by appearances in Columbia, S. C.; Jacksonville and Miami, Florida; and several recitals in Havana, Cuba. The program is not known in detail. [Back]
. This speech could have been given on 11 February 1921 in New York (declaration for American press about the economic and political conditions in Poland); or, more likely, it could have been presented during the ceremony in Boston, at the Symphony Hall, on 29 November 1922, when Paderewski received an honorary doctorate from Columbia University. [Back]
. 10. Herbert (Clark) Hoover (1874-1964) was the American president during the Great Depression, until 1932 when he lost the elections to Franklin D. Roosevelt. [Back]
. During the war Hoover served as the head of the American Relief Committee, the Commission for Relief in Belgium, U.S. Food Administrator, and as the chairman of the Interallied Food Council. After the war he directed the American Relief Administration and was responsible for distributing aid (food, clothing, supplies) to several countries in Europe.[Back]
. Before World War I, Lodz was an industrial town with numerous textile factories, predominantly owned by Jewish industrialists. The industry produced textiles for the Russian market which collapsed after the Soviet Revolution. [Back]
. As the first prime minister of independent Poland, Paderewski took the residence in the Royal Castle in Warsaw—for which he was strongly criticized. Herbert Hoover was his guest at the Castle in 1919 See Adam Zamoyski, Paderewski: A Biography of the Great Polish Pianist and Statesman (New York: Atheneum, 1982). [Back]
. Tadeusz Kosciuszko was the hero of the American Revolution (1776-1783) before directing the last insurrection that was meant to prevent the partitions of Poland and took place in 1794; after Poland lost its independence Kosciuszko travelled back and forth between the U.S. and Europe, he settled in Switzerland, devoting his time to the Polish cause. The Cathedral at the Wawel Castle is a burial site for Polish kings, eminent artists, and statesmen, including Kosciuszko. [Back]
. Documents about the history of the creation of the Polish Army in the U.S. and Canada are published in Ignacy Jan Paderewski i Odbudowa Polski Dr. Józef Orłowski, vol. 2 (Chicago: The Stanek Press, 1940). [Back]
. The Polish Army in France was formed on the initiative of a French-Polish military commission in 1917; Paderewski wrote a letter to President Wilson requesting his permission to form this army and to recruit Polish citizens in the U.S. to join it in August 1917. See Perkowska, op. cit., pp. 146-7.[Back]
. Newton Diehl Baker, American lawyer (1871-1937) served as the Secretary of War during the World War 1 after fulfilling other important functions in Wilson’s government. [Back]
. Robert Lansing (1864-1928) served as the Secretary of State during World War I after a distinguished career as a government lawyer in international arbitration cases. However, his position was largely a ceremonial one, since Wilson made all the important decisions himself and used Colonel House as his representative. [Back]
. This mysterious calamity may have been an attempted coup-d’etat, planned by right-wing extremists mentioned by Adam Zamoyski, Paderewski: A Biography of the Great Pianist and Statesman (New York: Atheneum, 1982). It could have also been an external threat. According to Perkowska, in 1918 Paderewski asked Colonel E. House to help in defending the Cieszyn Silesia and Galicia for Poland by sending the army of General Haller there and by pressuring the government of Czecho-Slovakia (Perkowska, op. cit., 150). [Back]
. Frank Lyon Polk (1871-1943) was a diplomat and lawyer, serving in the State Department and coordinated American intelligence agencies working abroad. In 1918 he announced the government’s decision to dispatch American troops to Siberia to defend the “White” Russian divisions against the Red Army. Later on he directed the American peace delegation in Paris. [Back]
. The name of this government official does not appear in other biographies of Paderewski. [Back]
. Mr. Herbert Satterlee, Mr. James C. Beck, Mr. Frank Vanderlip, assisted Paderewski in the creation of the Polish Victims Relief Fund in 1915. Vanderlip (1864-1937) was a banker, editor and government official serving in the Treasury Department during the war; he later became the trustee at the Carnegie Foundation. [Back]
. The creation of the Polish Victims Relief Fund is documented in Orłowski, op. cit. Marcella Sembrich-Kochańska, famed Polish soprano (1858-1935), was a soloist in the Metropolitan Opera House until 1917.[Back]
. Jan F. Smulski [not Szmulski as listed in the 1928 book] was a banker and a philanthropist, he served as the Treasurer of the State of Illinois and was the president of the “Wydział Narodowy” [National Chapter] that provided financial support for Paderewski’s government in Poland and for other causes dear to the pianist-statesman.[Back]