'Polish Declarations of Admiration and Friendship' Digitised
#language & literature
small, 'Polish Declarations
of Admiration and
Friendship' Digitised, 'Polish Declarations of Admiration and Friendship for the United States': Volume 1, 1926, photo: Library of Congress, deklaracaj_pl_us_ew_.jpg
When the United States celebrated the 150th anniversary of its Declaration of Independence in 1926, Poland sent its congratulations in the form of the 'Polish Declarations of Admiration and Friendship'.
The 111 volumes contained 5.5 million signatures, which represented one-sixth of the country's population at the time. These documents have been digitised and are open for anyone to browse – and maybe even find a familiar name!
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Presented to President Calvin Coolidge at the White House in 1926, The Polish Declarations of Admiration and Friendship have since been preserved by the Library of Congress. They worked in cooperation with the Polish Library in Washington DC to bring the collection to the public online. All 30,000 pages are now available on the Library of Congress’ website.
'Manuscripts of the Polish Declarations of Admiration and Friendship for the United States', Volume 1, 1926; photo: Library of Congress
For an introduction to the collection, the richly illustrated Volume 1 is a good place to start. With a leather-and-gilt binding, it contains artwork from prominent Polish artists; the signatures of Polish leaders, such as 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 service of independence.
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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. Noble 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.
Alongside the expected political, military, academic, business and civic figures of the period, the majority of the signatures come from school children, with volumes 14-110 containing sheets from about 20,000 elementary schools (it took over eight months to gather all the signatures!).
In addition to 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 aren't ready to comb through 5.5 million signatures, the Library of Congress has provided a helpful finding aid for the collection.
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Although there’s no 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 much more manageable perusal of a specific volume. 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 one, from Augustów to Żnin.
Pages from the Declarations of Friendship and Admiration of the United States, Volume 7, 1926; photo: Library of Congress
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’.
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Less than 15 years after the delivery of the ‘birthday card’, Poland was occupied by Nazi Germany and lost almost six million of its citizens, including three million Jews, to World War II and the Holocaust. For some, their signature in the Declaration of Admiration might be the only lasting record of their existence, thus offering 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 schoolchildren, and look for the signatures of family and friends.
Source: press materials, Library of Congress, Culture.pl; compiled by Alena Aniskiewicz, 13 Jul 2017; updated by JS & AZ, Apr 2019