by Dr. Franciszek E. Fronczak [1]

translated by Wanda Wilk

Ignacy Jan Paderewski had a greater impact on my life, on my whole national work than any other person. The same may be said by thousands of Poles living in America. A half-century ago we heard of Paderewski as an artist; after his first coming to the United States in 1891, we recognized in him a man who loved Poland boundlessly and who was able to inject this love of everything Polish to everyone he came in contact with.

I personally met Paderewski at the beginning of 1892 when he came to Buffalo to give a concert. I was then a third year student at the Jesuit college and also worked as a reporter of Polish Affairs for the “Buffalo Courier.” The editor sent me to the hotel where Paderewski was staying to interview the newly arrived artist about what he thinks of Poland and the Poles. The interview was excellent in all regards, according to the opinion of the paper and compatriots; I, on the other hand, became acquainted with a man, who from that time on became a close friend and who demonstrated sincere friendliness at all times to me.

Throughout more than 45 years I have been in continuous contact with Paderewski. I witnessed his triumphs and his sorrows and witnessed his endeavors and interventions to put Poland and Polish people at the highest opinion in America. I don’t write about Paderewski as a musician, because this is beyond my competency, but about Paderewski, the Pole, who enlightened and strengthened his countrymen in America in their national work; about Paderewski the spiritual head of Polish émigrés in the U.S.

More people in America heard Paderewski play the piano than any other artist. Numerous listeners marvelled at the masterful tones coming from his fingers and they were speechless in being able to express their admiration and adoration. But truthfully all of those who met him personally and exchanged a few phrases with him, fell in love with him, completely succumbing to his personal charm. But Paderewski also had other listeners, his “dear Polish brothers” as he generally referred to them in his public announcements; these listeners knew him only from the platform. Then words came from his lips, sometimes so soft, so soothing as the songs of the nightingale hovering over the head of a Polish farmer working in the soil, or like the tender whisper of a loving young mother hovering over the cradle of her first newborn child – the message to love Poland, all of Poland with her centuries old history, with her beautiful nature, the tragedy of her triple partitions, with her heroism and faith and hope in a better future. However, sometimes Paderewski threw out loud and resounding calls, like thunder or the roar of cannons, to defend the fame and honor of the Polish name, with each step, in every moment, with each meaningful occasion, always and everywhere!

Paderewski at the Grunwald Monument, 1910. Portrait by Jan Styka.

Not only with his music, but with his wonderful eloquence, be it in Polish or English, Paderewski proclaimed and promoted in America Poland’s contributions to world civilization, he spoke of its martyrdom and injustices and foretold its early rebirth. And sometimes Poles and non-Poles asked each other: Is Paderewski greater as a musician or an orator? Before the outbreak of WWI in 1914 Paderewski was the main advocate of subjugated Poland in front of Americans, he was the chief rouser of Poles in America and called upon them to prepare themselves for the moment when the mother country would need their help and would call on all her children to offer their help, whether they were born in Poland or not, but of Polish parents, without regard to where they live or which country they are citizens of.

Before the first cannon’s echo circled the globe proclaiming the beginnings of the world war,[2] the Poles in America, thanks to the untiring efforts and work of Paderewski, were ready to answer every call to sacrifice their wealth, blood and life for Poland. Because for more than twenty years, in addition to his performances in great concert halls, Paderewski always spoke about Poland and Polish affairs so dear to us in America, in every Polish community, whether in private meetings at his hotel or in his own railroad car, or in the parishes of dedicated to him Polish clerics, or in receptions with fellow countrymen, who were in much closer contact with him, who sincerely loved him beyond expression. Paderewski was our master, we were his loyal students. He was our extraordinary teacher of patriotism, we were his ever curious listeners, eager to profit from his knowledge and experience in national affairs.

We, Poles in America, always love Poland in our own way, but Paderewski tried to teach us to love Poland the way those for whom the word “motherland” did not describe some terrain or piece of area which one inhabits, lives and profits from – but a Mother of all Poles, who nursed and brought up generations of them and continues to nurse them, who gave them their high civilization and culture, knowledge and art, heroes and heroines, kings and queens, saints and saintly ones! We learned from Paderewski how to love Polish soil and its nation, how to spread Poland’s fame amid foreign and frequently unfriendly elements. When the “central powers” were gaining their first victory over the “allies” in 1914, the Poles in America, thanks to Paderewski, knew the hour had come about which he spoke so often, quoting the words of early prophets or our wise men, like Father Piotr Skarga or our bard Adam Mickiewicz.[3] In his wonderful prophetic speech delivered in Kraków at the unveiling of the Grunwald Monument,[4] which he gifted to the nation in 1910, he predicted that “within five years a Phoenix will rise from the ashes of the burned and demolished towns, from the Polish villages and cottages and from the smoke and dust of this martyred land” – this was the constantly repeated gospel from Paderewski to the Poles in America.

Paderewski also proposed to bring to life a Polish Central Rescue Committee for war victims in Poland.[5] From the time of its establishment to my trip to France in March 1918 I was president of this committee and administered my duties under the guidance of the Maestro, as Paderewski was generally called by Poles in America. It was from this committee that the “Wydział Narodowy Polski” (Polish National Department) evolved, which became the main functionary of national work during the war and whose president throughout its entire life was the zealous patriot and uncommon statesman, Jan F. Smulski of Chicago, who has not been properly recognized for this as yet.[6]

During the first months of the war, Paderewski sent out cablegrams almost daily to Poles in America on what to do, and what steps to take with the changing situation and events. But in 1915, after his burdensome but fruitful work undertaken with Henryk Sienkiewicz[7] and others with the Rescue Committee in Switzerland, Paderewski came to America. It was like a spiritual father returning to his children abroad and as such he was enthusiastically greeted by millions of Poles in America. There was no talk of any other leader or any other moving spirit in Polish national matters in America.

This work by Paderewski, exceeding human strength, from the time of his arrival in Switzerland until his return in December 1918 to a free and independent Poland – could only be correctly described by a master of the pen, one eloquent in rich dialogue and splendid imagination. Today, so many years since Paderewski’s return to the U.S. in 1915, when the world endured so many shocks, when even the whole political and social structure has changed, Paderewski’s personage stands out, surrounded by an undying aureole wherever a real Polish heart beat. During the last few years I met people of different ethnic backgrounds, whose names have been entered into the history of the world for eternity – but Paderewski in my mind and memory stands out as an intellectual, moral, spiritual giant, as a symbol and emblem of sacrifice and devotion of everything he possessed. If in my whole life I had not met any other great personage, whether Polish or not, I could still sincerely say that my life was not in vain, “because I knew Ignace Jan Paderewski, lived with him, worked with him, loved him “just like almost all Poles in America loved him.”

Paderewski spoke hundreds of times, not only to Poles, but also to so-called “true-born” Americans beginning with the highest in the nation. Paderewski made such an impression on these “highly positioned” Americans, that President Wilson acknowledged as right and indicative, in his memorable speech to the American Senate, “that a free and independent Poland with access to the sea is absolutely necessary to establish peace in the world.”[8] Thanks to Paderewski’s eloquence, efforts and influence, such a determined statement received from President Wilson turned the scale with such great measure that Poland again sits in the family of free and independent nations.

Whoever heard Paderewski, in whichever of his numerous speeches to teams of people, sometimes numbering over one hundred thousand, like for instance in Chicago, was simply overwhelmed with his eloquence, logical power and fiery defense of our holy cause. I had the honor of hosting Paderewski many times in my home. Sometimes there were only the four of us, Mr. & Mrs. Paderewski, my wife and I (both ladies unfortunately have gone on to eternity). Frequently there were up to fifty invited guests during which time Paderewski spoke, explained and we all listened and asked questions. He educated us, pointed the way and methods of how to work at a time when he himself had to sow seeds of love, sacrifice, dedication, sometimes having to awaken dormant minds, calling to action, requesting, pleading, thundering, according to the situation – and all of this in the name of Poland.

Numerous meetings of the Polish Central Rescue Committee, as well as the Polish National Section in Chicago swallowed up vast amounts of Paderewski’s time and huge amounts of money, naturally his own personal funds, and not those raised for national goals. Paderewski did not spare anything. He finally succumbed to the call to arms. When volunteers were being sought for the newly-formed Polish army, which later played such an honorable and noble role in France and Poland, Paderewski dedicated days and nights, constantly endangering his health or facing accidents during his trips, sometimes even persecuted by some of his own countrymen who did not agree with him.

The newly-signed Polish-American volunteer, receiving training in military warfare in the camp at Niagara-on-the- Lake overlooking the Niagara river in Canada near the great Lake Ontario, personally became acquainted with Paderewski and his good wife, the late Mrs. Helen. While in Washington he was greeted many times by President of the U.S., Wilson, and by Colonel Edward House, a friend of the two great men and devoted spokesman for the Polish cause, as well as the whole governmental elite.[9] Just as in the Canadian camp, as well as the U.S. capital, Paderewski’s figure, his familiarity with history and the prevailing situation, his eloquence and influence conquered all obstacles. And in the meantime the distance between a Poland subjugated and divided among neighboring powers, who were finally disunited and fighting amongst themselves, and a free, whole and independent one continued to diminish.

In the summer of 1918 I was in France serving as a Major in the Medical Corps of the American Army and at the same time as a member of the Polish National Committee in Paris, assigned from this Army to the Committee and the Polish Army by President Wilson and American Army authorities. Circumstances and responsibilities absolutely did not allow me to even take a short trip from France to America in order to take part in the first Polish Congress, which took place in Detroit, Michigan. Later I learned from some who were present there about Paderewski’s super-human work during the Congress, of sleepless nights spent in conference, and about his speech lasting many hours. This resulted in the collection of millions of dollars, not only for the needs of the Polish Army under General Józef Haller in France, which army was experiencing the baptism of fire on the front lines – but, also, for the indispensable expenses during the conference in Paris, as well as those conencted with the Peace talks.

When Poland was finally recognized as a free and independent country, great sums of money were needed for the destroyed land, for the needs of a nation dying from hunger, cold and illness, and finally for defense of the Polish lands battered by our eternal enemies. And again words and pleas from Paderewski upheld the offerings of the Polish people in America.

So many thoughts are crowding in to write and write about the indefatigable, but oh so fruitful, activities of Paderewski in America. Many biographies have been published in America which underscore his influence and of the meaning and the gains which resulted for Poland. But only a writer of sufficient breadth, a real master of the pen, could at least partially due justice to this great statesman sent by God to us Poles in America!

Paderewski was, is and always be devoted to Poland with his whole heart, whole soul and his whole being. He served Poland almost from childhood with his thoughts, speech and deeds! But he also belongs to us, to the Polish emigration in America. Paderewski is an inseparable, indissoluble part of this emigration. We love him as children love their father; we follow him as loyal soldiers follow their beloved leader. Indeed, with his luminous figure, with his immeasurable civic merits, with his rock-crystal patriotism, boundless self-sacrifices – like Kołciuszko and Pułaski of long ago – he united Poland and the United States of America in a strong, never to be broken link of true, sincere, pure and eternal friendship.


[1]. Original publication data: Dr. Franciszek E. Fronczak, “Paderewski na tle wychodźstwa polskiego w Ameryce,” in Życie muzyczne i teatralne vol. 2 no. 5/6 (May- June 1935): 12-14. The monthly was published in Poznań by Wieńczysław Brzostowski; copy in the PMC Collection. Franciszek E. Fronczak (1877-1955) was a Polonian activist in the U.S.; a former member of the National Polish Committee in Paris and a colonel in the Medical Corps of the American Army. He was a prominent member of the Polish-American community in Buffalo, New York. During both World Wars Fronczak was actively engaged in charitable work on behalf of the Polish war victims. [This and all subsequent notes are by the editor, Maja Trochimczyk]. [Back]

[2]. Here Fronczak refers to World War I; the text was published in 1935. [Back]

[3]. Piotr Skarga (1536-1612), a Jesuit preacher, was known for the patriotic tone of his fiery sermons; filled with criticisms of the selfishness and vices of the Polish gentry. Skarga was the chaplain for Sigismond III; unfortunately his sermons also preached religious intolerance. Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855), the main “national” poet of Poland; one of the three romantic “bards” – with numerous writings and lectures about the Polish cause to his credit. Of greatest significance here are his drama The Forefathers and political-prophetic treatise, Księgi narodu i pielgrzymstwa polskiego [Books of Polish nation and pilgrimage]. [Back]

[4]. This speech, given at the unveiling of the Grunwald Monument in 1910, is reprinted in the current issue of the Journal. The monument celebrated the 500th anniversary of the victory of the Polish and Lithuanian alliance over the Teutonic Knights at the fields of Grunwald, in 1410. This victory slowed down the germanization of Polish and Lithuanian land. The unveiling of the monument was an intensely patriotic and anti-German celebration. [Back]

[5]. Polish Central Rescue Committee was also known as Polish Victims Relief Fund and collected funds for all the victims of the war, regardless of political orientation. The Committee was established in Switzerland, and had branches in many European countries, as well as the U.S. [Back]

[6]. Jan F. Smulski (1867-1928), a Polonian activist in the U.S., member of the Polish National Alliance, founder of the first Polish bank in the U.S. (in 1906); the president of the Polish War Victims Relief Fund during World War I.[Back]

[7]. Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846-1916), Polish writer, one of the greatest patriotic writers, received the Nobel Prize in literature for a historical epic set in Roman times, Quo vadis?; his novel The Teutonic Knights portrayed the battle against Germanization; the epic Trilogy idealized the past greatness of Poland. [Back]

[8]. Thomas Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924), American president and co-creator of the League of Nations;recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Wilson’s speech to the American Senate in 1917 marked a turning point in the history of Poland’s independence; he also included Poland’sovereignty as one of his 13 conditions for the peace treaty at the end of World War I. See documents about Paderewski’s role in Poland’s regaining independence in Polish Music Journal 4 no. 1 (summer 2001). [Back]

[9]. Edward House (1858-1938), American politician and presidential advisor; one of the main advocates of Poland’s independence during World War I. [Back]