It is the only collection of its sort, and a unique gift from Poland to the United States. Approximately 5.5 million people, or one-sixth of the entire population of the Second Polish Republic, signed this Emblem of Good Will over the course of eight months to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The Emblem of Good Will was decorated with drawings from famous artists, including Zofia Stryjeńska and Władysław Skoczylas, and beautifully bound in 111 volumes. It was presented to President Calvin Coolidge in November 1926 at the White House, and was then passed along to the Library of Congress
"I found this collection because a friend of mine asked me to find the signature of Bruno Schulz, who was a teacher in Drohobych before the war,” said Sam Ponczak, an American who emigrated from Poland in 1957. He spent a few days in the Library of Congress looking for the signature and was impressed by the collection. Currently he and Grażyną Żebrowską, the vice-president of the Polish Library in Washington, are working on digitizing the collection.
Among those who signed the Emblem of Good Will were Polish President Ignacy Mościcki, Prime Minister Józef Piłsudski, other government officials, parliament members, as well as high-ranking provincial officials, military representatives, businessmen, and academics. The vast majority of the signatures are from Polish students. It is estimated that over 5 million students and teachers signed the document, and class pictures often accompany the names. The Polish-American Chamber of Commerce initiated the project.
"I think that people were willing to sign it, not only to wish the Americans well on the anniversary of their independence, but also to thank America for its support for Polish independence in 1918,” says Żebrowska.
In addition, there were already many Polish immigrants in the US, so Poles wanted to show their support for family and friends in America.
The collection was largely forgotten in the Library of Congress for seventy years until the 1990s, when it was rediscovered. The government decided to digitize the collection, but only the first 13 volumes that contained the wishes and signatures of the most senior representatives of the government. Due to financial restraints they did not digitize the rest.
20 years later the Polish Library in Washington, a non-profit organization that has promoted Polish literature and culture in the US for the last 25 years, has taken over the task. The project, called Class of 1926, has the support of several Congressmen and of the Congressional Caucus on Poland.
"This is a huge source of information about pre-war Poland; there is a ton of material for historical research, especially for researchers of the education system."
– stated Regina Frackowiak, the specialist on European Collections at the Library of Congress.
"It would be good if the entire collection were available to everyone, not just those who have the privilege to browse the collection in the Library of Congress."
– added Żebrowska.
For Ponczak, a Jew from Poland, this collection is of particular importance because among the students who signed the Emblem of Good Will were approximately half a million Jewish students, most of whom probably died during the Holocaust.
"There is a saying among the Jews that every person has a name. And I, looking at this collection, I thought to myself that here for each name must be a man. Each name, each signature represents an individual. Considering the age of these children, I have come to the conclusion that it is perhaps the only trace of their existence. This trace could be in this book for the next 100 years and no one would know it. If you scan these books, it will at least give people around the world the possibility that, if they want to, they can find relatives, family, or friends. "
– said Ponczak.
Source: Inga Czerny (PAP), ed. Agata Dudek-Woyke, 21/05/15.