We Go For Arms [Idziemy pod Bron]
by Artur L. Waldo
"God of Piasts, God of the Jagiellonians, God of the Sobieskis and Kosciuszkos, have mercy upon our Homeland [Fatherland] and us. Allow us to once again to pray on the field of battle, with arms in hand, before an altar made of drums and cannon, under a canopy of our banners and flags, and let our families pray in the churches of cities and villages and our children on our graves. We beg you for [to restore] the unity, liberty and independence of our Homeland, we beseech Thee Lord. Amen."
Zdzislaw Galecki finished repeating the words of the prayer. He lowered his head as if pressed by the weight of the words that had left his lips.
For a moment there was complete silence in the room, then the commandant called out: "Dismissed!"
About thirty young people broke ranks taking their carbines back to the arsenal.
Galecki placed his carbine back very carefully, taking care that it should not suffer the smallest scratch.
It was his first evening of military instruction. He had just recently joined the unit of the Union of Polish Youth in America and decided to devote all his youthful enthusiasm to military preparedness. He still could hear in his head the words of the prayer with which the unit concluded each of its gatherings when at the exit the president [commander] of the unit came up to him and asked:
"How do you feel after the exercises, Mr. Galecki?"
"Very well, thank you commander. I am not tired at all. I could happily continue exercising until dawn."
The commander [president] laughed good heartedly.
"One can say that, but tomorrow you would not be able to move your arms. Everything must be done in moderation," the commander continued. "But your enthusiasm is a good sign. Everyone in the Union of Youth has it."
Galecki was not surprised at his own enthusiasm, for he was young, but the commander was a middle-aged man who also had to take part in the exercises. He thought about everything, for all this was new to him. He had only recently arrived in America. He had still not gotten over the tremendous size of America when he was drawn into the pulsing life of Polonia which attracted his attention. The liberty, the freedom that Poles had in America, had so impressed him that they cast a shadow over everything else in the life of the United States.
"I am very happy to find myself in the ranks of the Union," said Galecki, trying to keep the conversation going.
"Then perhaps you will come with me. The hour is not yet late, so we can have a talk. I will tell you about the history of the Union of Youth."
"Gladly," the young man said. "I know that I could not go to sleep yet. I have been taken over by such enthusiasm that even today I'm ready to go and fight for Polish independence."
"We will go, we will go..." and you will see that this longed-for day will come when the Homeland will be freed from the shackles of servitude."
The walked in silence for a moment. Galecki was impressed by the deep faith of American Polonia in the eventual recovery of freedom. Everyone spoke about it, as if it were the daily bread.
In the commander's home he found a very hospitable atmosphere. The wife, and a pretty grown-up daughter came to greet him.
"I have brought you a new Polish soldier, my dears," started the commander. "Mr. Jan Galecki has joined our unit and just completed his first day of training. We are returning from muster, hungry like tigers. Do feed the warriors so that they have strength to wield their weapons."
"You are joking, commander. I am not hungry. It's only a lot of bother for the Mrs. ..."
"But it's no bother," the lady of the house replied with a smile. "Please sit down, gentlemen, I will soon have coffee and a snack ready."
"You have come to serve under arms, now you must feed yourself well, because with us in the Union of Polish Youth it is really like in the army."
"I will have to get a uniform, like the others have."
"Yes, that is necessary. Only in an uniform does a man feel like a soldier. After all, our uniforms are beautiful. You will look your best in a coat of black material with galoons and a dark blue confederate [four cornered] cap bordered with black fleece. The collar on the coat is stiff, the epaulets smooth with the letters ZMP [Zwiazek Mlodzierzy Polskiej = Union of Polish Youth] on them, long trousers, though in some units they wear boots. A belt with a buckle, a cartridge case, bayonet sheath and carbine. And such is the picture of the dream Polish soldier! But we have some states where firearms are not allowed, those units carry edge weapons [sabers]."
"So there are states where we do not have this freedom like here."
"Of course, but this is prejudice, old principles."
"When was the Union of Polish Youth founded ?"
"Oh, that is an interesting history. On the initiative of Wincenty Eichsteadt, Stefan J. Napieralski and Franciszek P. Danisch on May 29, 1892 a Patriotic National Society was founded in Chicago, in the Wojciechowo district [St. Adalbert's Parish]. This was the beginning. The Society found support in the Zjednoczenie Polskie Rzymsko-Katolickie w Ameryce [Polish Roman-Catholic Union in America] and at the earliest congress of that organization it made a request for help in organizing Polish youth. The Union gave its promise to help and in fact gave assistance. Later, a letter arrived from the Union of Polish Youth in Lwow which encouraged further work. The Lwow organizers wrote that they were interested in gaining the membership of Polish youth in Poland and overseas. Then it was decided to join the Society to the Union in Lwow. The connection was made on November 4, 1894, and the Society changed its name to the Union of Polish Youth in America."
"What were the aims of the Union?"
"The aims were divided into departments: educational, national and military. From Jozef Galezowski in Poland, one of the insurgents of 1863, we received in 1898 a handbook "Polish and English Military Tactics" so that we could work out a tactical [manual] for the Union. Eventually, we based our handbooks on American tactics and the book went to press in 1900. But in 1898 the Spanish-American war broke out and many members of the Union of Youth joined the American army. As an official, in the name of the Union, Stefan K. Sass, vice-president of the General Administrative Board, joined Uncle Sam's Army. He joined Company K of the Wisconsin Regiment. His task was to organize a Polish regiment in the American army, but the war ended too quickly so it never came to pass. He spent time with our countrymen in various camps, then returned to his civilian status and to his work in the Union."
"How many Poles were in the United States at that time?"
"About two million. Our Union announced literary competitions, started libraries, and there was even a travelling library. We put out an official publication Sztandar [Banner] and organized commemorations for Mickiewicz [birthday anniversary?]. In addition the ZMP established the Polish National Press Bureau which informed the Polish press here and in Poland about various issues having to do with the emigrants, and also supplied information to the English language press. The bureau's address was: Polish National Press Bureau, 796 South Ashland Avenue, Chicago, IL."
"How well you remember it all!"
"Bah! Such things you do not forget. These are memorable events!"
"And how did the Sztandar develop?"
"With difficulty. At the end of 1899 it went from a weekly to a monthly because of financial difficulties in which it found itself after four years after founding. In April 1901 the Sztandar and the printing plant were sold because the publication lost money, and the debt grew. There was a referendum on the matter of selling the publication in the organization. Later the name of the Sztandar was changed to Gazeta Chicagoska, which published various communiques from the ZMP. For a long time the Gazeta Chicagoska, was the official press organ of the Union of Youth."
"Who was the most active person in the leadership of the organization?"
"Jan Sienkiewicz, who was chosen president in 1902. Stanislaw Lempicki was chosen vice-president at the same time. In 1903 he composed a beautiful march for us, which you must hear." So saying he began to declaim:
Though some may fall along the road,
With an axe buried in their chest
We go forward with determination
Blowing our battle horns!
Though confusion will fool our vision
With starless nighttime apparitions,
We will pass through it with our slogans
and find the rays of the sun!
Though crepe covers our eyes,
The boat quivers on the raging wave ---
We sail to the bright horizon,
To the blue places ahead.
We, born from the graves of warriors,
Go forward with free slogans,
Our swords glisten amidst the flames,
The marks of knighthood have not been doused.
Poland arises from the grave,
The roads are filled with crowds...
Hey, forward Might and Right!
May the horns sound and trumpets blare!
"That is beautiful, wonderful, where did he write it?'
"In Chicago, where else? In the cradle of the ZMP."
"Do you think that the Union of Youth will encompass all of the emigrant community and make ready the Polish youth for the war that will set Poland free?"
"It is had to answer that question. Our funds are very limited, and this is the first difficulty. After all we only take 5 cents from each member per month. But other organizations are also recruiting youth, the Falcons, for example. At our gathering in Wilkes-Barre, PA on July 16, 1900 we resolved to approach the Union of Polish Singers in America and the Polish Falcons in America to enter into a joint organization called the "Federation of Polish Youth." The organizations would have retained their names, but would act together. But this plan did not come to fruition. Among our other work from the gathering of 1900 there was a resolution to publish a book listing all the Poles, who since the time that Kosciuszko had served in the American army. We were going to do it in the English language for propaganda purposes, but this plan also failed, as it was most difficult to compile a complete list of Polish military men."
"You are telling me extremely interesting things, commander," said Galecki eventually, totally engrossed by the story.
"Ho, ho, much has happened here! Who could tell it all! And do you know who was the actual father of the military movement among Poles in the United States?"
"I am interested."
"Waclaw Koszyc-Wolodzko. He was an officer in the Russian army. He left the ranks of the Tsarist army and joined the insurrection of 1854. After the uprising [failed] he moved to Turkey and worked there as an engineer. Later, he went to Lwow and settled there for good. In 1877 he was the organizer of the Confederation of the Polish Nation [Konfederacja Narodu Polskiego] and negotiated with the English for assistance in regaining Polish independence. When this failed, he created the secret Union of the Polish Nation [Zwiazek Narodu Polskiego]. Then he turned his attention to American Polonia and decided to organize in America a new insurrection [force] to free Poland."
"What are you telling me?!"
"Yes, yes, young man. He established contact with us after the establishment of the Patriotic-Scholarly Society in Chicago. He carried on a long correspondence with us, encouraged us, advised, and gave pointers. He was old by then. He died in 1904, having lived 72 years. In that year we had the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Union of Polish Youth. For the anniversary gathering a broadside titled Wici [Vici=I Conquered] was published. Those were beautiful moments. At the time we were in contact with Zygmunt Milkowski who sent us greetings. It was he who during the Russo-Japanese war told us to organize anti-Russian demonstrations in America, to join with other organizations, to link Polish ranks around the world, to exchange information and to train soldiers; for he expected that there would come a day when a Polish Army must be created overseas to go to Poland's aid."
The commander could talk no longer for the lady of the house asked them all to the table, and then it was time to leave. Before departure though, the commander asked his daughter to the piano and they all sang together the "March of the 34th Unit of the Union of Polish Youth" that was written in America to be sung to the tune of "Tysiac Walecznych" [A Thousand Warriors].[semi-literal translation]
Attention! The battle trumpet calls
We hear the sounds of shooting on high
To battle brothers, no time to speak;
The golden moment of freedom has brightened
Before us is the hated foe,
Into battle goes the 34th Unit!
Battle for us, brothers, is no mean dance,
A solidier's zeal will overcome all,
Away you dim vision of domination
Freedom is the slogan of our arms.
Forward to the shores of the Niemen and Warta [rivers]
The 34th Unit goes with the nation!
Should ever be our Homeland weak,
We are still its faithful sons,
Glory in death, scars a privilege,
A prize would be a wreath of thorns.
Now the cannon thunder
Into battle, the 34th Unit!
Like a flock of raven our foes gather,
Would like to destroy us in a single attack,
Our arms burn in our hands,
Our guns fire from under our banner.
The foe flees the field chased by our bayonets,
Long live the 34th Unit!
Galecki returned home late and alone. Along the way he had many thoughts. That night he never managed to shut his eyes, totally taken with the part that the American Polonia would play in the rebirth of Poland.
Wilkes-Barre, PA, February 1914.
From: Czyn Zbrojny Polonii Amerykanskiej [The Armed Effort of American Polonia], edited by Artur. L. Waldo; "Dziennik Zjednoczenia," Chicago, IL, 1938, pages 24-31
Translation by: Peter J. Obst, for The Poles in America Foundation, May 23, 2011.