Happy Birthday, USA! Signed, Poland: The Polish Declaration of Admiration and Friendship Digitised
When the United States celebrated the 150th anniversary of their Declaration of Independence in 1926, Poland sent their well-wishes in a Declaration of Admiration and Friendship. It contained over 5.5 million signatures – one-sixth of the Polish population at the time. These signatures, collected in 111 illustrated volumes, have been digitised and are now open for anyone to browse – and maybe find a familiar family name!
Presented to President Calvin Coolidge at the White House in 1926, The Polish Declaration of Admiration and Friendship has since been preserved by the Library of Congress. They worked in cooperation with the Polish Library in Washington, D.C. to bring the collection to the public online. All 30,000 pages are now available on the Library of Congress’ website.
If you’re looking for an introduction to the collection, the richly illustrated Volume 1 is a good place to start. Opening with a leather and gilt binding, the volume contains artwork from prominent Polish artists, signatures of Polish leaders including Józef Piłsudski, and an interesting assortment of portraits and family crests. The opening pages include a dedication that underscores the long history of cooperation between Poland and America in the fight for freedom.
We, the people of Poland, send to you, citizens of the great American union, fraternal greetings, together with the assurance of our deepest admiration and esteem for the institutions which have been created by you, in them liberty, equality, and justice have found their highest expression and have become the guiding stars for all modern democracies. Nobel Americans, your national holiday is sacred not for you alone. It finds a warm reverberation over the whole world, and especially in our motherland, Poland, which is proud of the fact that, in that momentous hour of your history, when George Washington raised the banner of liberty, there stood also beside him our champions of national liberty – Thaddeus Kościuszko and Casimir Pułaski.
Along with standing as a testament to the nations’ shared history, the collection is also a valuable resource for historians and genealogists – or just those looking to find the signature of a family member. If you’re looking for someone in your family and not ready comb through the 5.5 million signatures, the Library of Congress has provided a helpful finding aid for the collection.
Though there’s not a searchable list of signatures, if you have an idea of where the person you’re looking for lived or worked, you can narrow your search to a more manageable perusal of a specific volume. The majority of the signatures come from school children and volumes 14-110 contain sheets from about 20,000 elementary schools (it took over eight months to complete the project of gathering signatures!). Most of these volumes are organised alphabetically by administrative district and the search guide will direct you to the volume that contains the signatures of a specific district (from Augustów to Żnin).
Describing the document, Sahr Conway-Lanz, a manuscript historian at the library, noted it was ‘essentially a gigantic birthday card’, but also pointed to its more lasting significance as ‘a demographic snapshot of Poland in 1926’. Less than 15 years after the delivery of the ‘birthday card’, Poland was occupied by Nazi Germany and lost almost 6 million of its citizens, including 3 million Jews, to World War II. For some, the signature in the Declaration of Admiration might be the only lasting record of their existence and thus offer a chance for family members and historians to recover a trace of those lost.
So, do a little digital digging – marvel at the artwork of Zofia Stryjeńska and Władysław Skoczylas, enjoy the doodles of school children, or look for the signatures of family and friends. With a little effort, some of us at Culture.pl have already found the autographs of our grandparents!
Source: press materials, Library of Congress, compiled by AGA, 13 July 2017