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Let the Children Know

Polish-American Heritage Database 

A Resource for Educators

Goals and Purpose
The project was an effort undertaken by the Education Committee of the Polish Arts Club of Buffalo (Chairperson: Dr. Teresa Gessner) on the occasion of the mounting by the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society at the Society's Historical Museum of a major exhibit marking the Sesquicentennial of Buffalo's Polish-American Community. The Buffalo Polonia 1873-1998 exhibit opened on October 24, 1998 and run through February 7, 1999.

The project's four components were (1) alerting area schools and individual teachers to the educational opportunity the exhibit provided, (2) providing funds for transportation of children to the museum and for payment of museum entrance fees, (3) arranging for Club docents to guide the children around the exhibit and (4) developing a 137 page Polish-American Heritage Instructional Packet that was provided as a resource to teachers who planned to bring their classes to see the exhibit. Overall ten area schools took advantage of the educational opportunity and over 900 school children visited the exhibit.

In developing the Polish-American Heritage Instructional Packet, the Committee had as its goal the development of a resource database suitable as a multi-cultural guide and activities set for elementary school students on the role of Poles and Polish-Americans in our Society. In assembling the Instructional Packet, the Committee both created and utilized a variety of materials. Noteworthy among these was a printed Curriculum Resource Guide prepared by Chicago's Polish American Heritage Committee for distribution in the Chicago Public Schools and kindly made available to the Club by the Chicago Committee.

The Club's Education Committee, which was chaired by Dr. Teresa Gessner and the members of which were: Cynthia and Ralph Baumgartner, Therese Conlin Clarke, Dr. Peter Gessner, Felix Klempka, Stanley Nowak, Arthur Parks, and Anne Szczesny, envisaged that Instructional Package's materials, appropriately edited and updated, would be transferred to the electronic medium of the Internet and thereby made available to a vastly larger audience. This has since taken place, the materials in question forming the core of the For the Children section of Poland in the Classroom pages of the University at Buffalo Polish Academic Information Center's Info-Poland website.


In the United States of America, we cherish our individual freedom and strive to preserve our multi-cultural heritages. As Americans, whether citizens by birth or choice, our love, patriotism and allegiance to the United States is demonstrated in many ways. As Americans of Polish ancestry, we also hold dear the culture and traditions of our ethnic heritage, share in the ideals of both America and Poland, and treasure the American way of life.

Timeline of Polish History

Year     Event

966       Introduction of Christianity into Poland by first Polish prince Mieszko I, (first recorded ruler of Piast Dynasty)

1000     Congress of Gniezno: the Holy Roman Emperor Otto III visits Gniezno, the first capital of Poland and recognizes Boleslaw I, the Brave, as the sovereign of an independent state. Boleslaw unifies Poland as a Christian Kingdom

1241      A Mongol army raids Poland causing ruin and devastation. A Polish army gives battle at Legnica, is defeated, but the Mongols withdraw back to Asia.

1364     The Academy of Krakow, now called the Jagiellonian University, is founded by Casimir the Great. In time, Nicholas Copernicus will study there

1388      Jadwiga, Poland's Sovereign, marries Wladyslaw Jagiello, the Grand Duke of Lithuania. By this act she unites Poland and Lithuania under one crown. It becomes thereby one of the biggest countries in Europe, extending from the Baltic to the Black Sea.

1410      The Battle of Grunwald, the biggest of the Middle Ages, ends in victory of the combined Polish and Lithuanian forces led by Jagiello over the Teutonic Knights, a military German monastic order which established its own state and sought to expand it at the expense of its neighbors.

1493       The bicameral Polish Parliament is first convened; henceforth the King governs with the consent of the governed.

1505       The Nihil Novi statute is enacted stipulating that the King cannot decree any law without the prior approval by both chambers of Parliament, the Sejm and the Senate.

1506       Sigismund I becomes the King of Poland and Poland's Golden Age begins. Literature is written in Polish as well as Latin.

1569      The Union of Lublin: A formal joining of the nations of Poland and Lithuania in a federal commonwealth, with joint meeting of its parliaments but two armies and duplicate governmental structures.

1573      The Confederation of Warsaw passes an Act assuring to all the freedom to practice their religion without suffering discrimination or penalty.

1683       Jan Ill Sobieski routs the Turkish Army besieging of Vienna, stems the advance of the Ottoman Turks into the heart of Europe.

1772       The first partition of Poland: Russia, Prussia and Austria annex a significant portion of Poland, partitioning the territory between themselves

1733       The Commission for National Education is formed and undertakes a reform of Polish schools. It is the first institution of its kind in the world.

1791       On May 3rd , Poland's Sejm enacts the first written constitution in Europe, second only to the American one

1793       The second partition of Poland: the autocratic ruler of Russia, alarmed by Poland's democratic constitution, invades Poland and forces suspension of the constitution. More Polish territory is annexed by Russia and Prussia. Russian troops are stationed in Poland.

1794       Tadeusz Kosciuszko, hero of the American War of Independence, leads an uprising designed to cast the Russians out of Poland. Initially successful, it ends, six months later in defeat at the hand of the Russians. The third partition of Poland follows in 1795. All of its territory having been annexed, the state ceases to exist for the next 123 years.

1918       Poland regains independence after World War I. It is recognized under the terms of Versailles Treaty. Marshal Jozef Pilsudski becomes President.

1920       The Bolshevik army invades Poland in a drive to conquer Europe. It is defeated at Warsaw by Pilsudski.

1939       Hitler attacks Poland from the west on September 1 and World War II starts. On September 17, the Soviet Union invades Poland from the east. A partition of Poland follows on September 28.

1943       The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Following the deportation by the German Nazis of most of the Jews they had confined in a Ghetto to death camps, the survivors rise in an uprising seeking death with honor. The uprising lasts three weeks during which the Germans annihilate the Ghetto.

1944       The Warsaw Uprising: With the Soviet army in close proximity, the Underground Army liberates most of Warsaw. For the next 63 days it fights the Germans, only to eventually surrender. The Soviets to fail provide assistance or to intervene; most of Warsaw is destroyed.

1945       As a result of agreements reached by Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin at Yalta, Poland is consigned to the "Soviet sphere of influence" and thereby to Communist rule.

1978       Karol Wojtyla is elected as the first Polish Pope, takes the name John Paul II

1980       The shipyard workers, led by the electrician Lech Walesa, in Gdansk organize "Solidarity" - the first independent workers' organization in a country under communist rule. Soon it has 10 million members

1981       Martial Law is declared by General W. Jaruzelski, Poland's communist ruler. "Solidarity" is outlawed.

1983       Lech Walesa receives the Nobel Peace Prize

1989       At the Round Table Talks the communist regime and Solidarity leaders arrive at a compromise regarding semi-free elections. The latter result in an overwhelming victory for Solidarity. The communists are forced to cede power to a democratic government.

1997       A new Constitution is approved in a nationwide referendum

1999       Poland become a member of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization

Concise History of Poland

Poland’s name “Polska” is derived from the word “Polanie” or “plains people” one of several Slavic groups that settled the Northern European plain between the Oder and Vistula Rivers.

Poland adopted Christianity in 966 A.D. when Prince Mieszko I was baptized. Poland then became a part of Western Europe. In 1024, Boleslaw I, the Brave, was crowned the King in Gniezno, the first capital of Poland. The newly organized Polish church was placed under the direct authority of the Pope in Rome. Poland became an independent kingdom. Kings of the Piast Dynasty, descendants of Mieszko, ruled until 1370 and instituted social reform, rebuilding Poland, and established a democratic government with a Parliament.

In 1385 Poland united with Lithuania. Wladyslaw Jagiello, who at that time was the Prince of Lithuania, accepted Christianity, married the Polish queen, and became the King of Poland. In 1410, the Polish Lithuanian army defeated the Teutonic Knights at the Battle of Grunwald. Under the Jagiellonian Dynasty, Poland’s political position was strengthened in Europe. Because of the political, cultural and economic achievements this period became known as the “Golden Age.”

The Union of Poland and Lithuania, known as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, was based on mutual respect for all people. The Commonwealth’s religious tolerance and mutual respect for different customs attracted the people of many European countries. A period of Renaissance in architecture and literature followed.

Conflicts started in the 17th century when the international balance of forces was not favorable to Poland and Lithuania. With the death of King Sigismund August who left no heir to the throne, Poland entered into a period of 222 years of elective kingship. During these years thirteen Polish kings were elected. Five of these kings were of foreign nationalities. Some kings became embroiled in wars with neighboring countries seeking more power. The period of attacks on Poland by Sweden, Russia, Prussia and the Ottoman Turks caused the loss of some of Poland’s territory. Poland’s army won many battles but the struggles were bitter and lasted for months resulting in the devastation of towns and villages. Thousands of Polish people were killed and wounded. The attempts to improve the situation ended in failure. The further decline started with the aggression of Russia, Prussia and Austria, all absolute monarchies. Poland, with her traditions of tolerance and freedom, was considered politically dangerous.

In 1773, the First Commission of National Education was established to reform the educational system and to allow a larger number of the population to attend schools.

On May 3, 1791, the Polish Parliament approved a new democratic Constitution, similar to the American Constitution. It was the second constitution to be enacted in the World and the first in Europe. The Constitution reorganized the government, abolished the single veto vote, provided religious freedom, and provided rights to the urban population. Peasants were now protected by the court system. The monarchy was based on a hereditary system with executive powers vested in the King and a Council consisting of a Premier and his ministers.

The attacks on Poland continued and attempts to improve the political situation failed. A further decline started with the aggression of the absolute monarchies of Russia, Prussia, and Austria. The three neighboring powers gradually (1772, 1793, 1795) divided the area of Poland among themselves. Poland disappeared from the map of Europe for almost 125 years.

“Poland has not perished as long as we live...” These words were written in 1797 by poet J. Wybicki, a soldier of the Polish Legion organized in Italy. The Poles were working and fighting for the independence of Poland wherever it was possible. Poland regained freedom in 1918 at the end of World War I. The 11th of November was declared Polish National Independence Day. Parliamentary democracy lasted from 1919 to 1935 until the death of Marshal J. Pilsudski who organized Polish Legions and was a great hero to many Poles.

During the twenty-one years of independence, the Poles succeeded in their effort of reconstruction. In September, 1939, it was Poland which suffered the first attack of Hitler’s Army from the west and the Red Army from the east. The country remained under German or Soviet occupation until the end of World War Il. Poles again fought bravely against the invading forces.

Even after Russia and Germany occupied the country, the Polish Home Army constantly fought them. Poles fought in Great Britain, Italy and all possible fronts to gain freedom. They fought remarkably and helped save Great Britain from the German invasion.

On July 22, 1944, the Soviet Union established a Communist controlled government in Lublin, the area of Poland where the Red Army was advancing to the West.

On August I, 1944, the Warsaw Uprising broke out as an attempt to free Warsaw from the Germans. The leadership of the Home Army, which organized the uprising, expected to win full independence for Poland and establish a non-Communist government. However, due to the Yalta and Potsdam Agreements, the Allies were not supportive and the uprising failed.

Poland remained under Communist control until the birth of “Solidarity.” It came as a result of Poland’s spiraling economic and resulting crisis. On August 31, 1980, striking workers, led by Lech Walesa, negotiated an agreement guaranteeing their right to form independent trade unions. The national union movement, “Solidarity,” followed the signing of the Agreement.

A rapid deterioration of the Communist Party followed. It led to a build up of Soviet troops along the Polish border resulting in Martial Law being declared on December 13, 1981. In 1990 the Communist Party dissolved and new parliamentary elections were held in October, 1991. Parliamentary elections were held again in September 1993.

Poland’s parliament, called the National Assembly has two houses which consist of the “Sejm” with 460 members and the “Senate” with 100 members. The president is the head of state. The prime minister and the president are the most powerful leaders in Poland. The Supreme Court is the highest court in Poland. In 1999, Poland became a member of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and is currently applying to become a member of the European Union.


Poland on the Web The Polish Academic Information Center's annotated links to English language Internet-based information about Poland and Poland-related subject matter in over 160 subject areas.

Polish Embassy The website of the Polish Embassy in Washington, D.C. features 84 link, many to short informational essays on Poland-related matters.

Poland in the Classroom The Polish Academic Information Center's database of resource materials either created by the Center or gathered from divers sources.

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