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London vicissitudes of emigration presidents and prime ministers

The White Eagle club in the district of Knightsbridge evolved from a respected culture center to a second-rate bar and almost a gambling den with gaming machines. Poles stood them willfully, they showed no respect to English regulations considering the sale of alcohol. Vodka was available there 24 hours a day.

The end of WWII meant a number of changes for Polish authorities in London and, more widely: for the Polish emigration as such. On the one hand – political ones – after Stanisław Mikołajczyk joined the Warsaw government, dominated by communists (Provisional Government of National Unity), US and UK withdrew their recognition of the Tomasz Arciszewski cabinet. Not only did it imply the lowering of its international position but also the loss of English subsidies followed by necessary job cuts within the government administration or, for instance, the move of Polish clerks and military men to less prestigious buildings, etc.

On the other hand, political changes led to social consequences – those who lost previously held positions, as well as Polish newcomers from other Western countries (mainly soldiers of the Polish Armed Forces) had to build their lives from scratch, find a job and place to live, mostly on poor conditions. Significant is the conversation from summer 1945 between the ex-minister of foreign affairs (and future president) August Zaleski and the current ambassador in the Arciszewski government.

“– And that’s how it has all ended. Zaleski nodded his head. Then the Englishman interjected[…] – I know a family in the countryside that would eagerly hire a Polish service. Then Zaleski replied: – As far I am concerned I could only be a cellar master because I am too old to be a stableman or equestrian”. There was little exaggeration in it, the vast majority of émigrés, regardless of them being workers, peasants or educated people was now undertaking physical work. Big names weren’t absent from this milieu – let’s take generals as an example. Stanisław Sosabowski became a storeman, KordianZamorski worked as a lift attendant, Władysław Bortnowski hired himself as a nurse in a Polish hospital and Stanisław Maczek found employment as a bartender.

It was for the authorities in exile to take care both of them and thousands of other Poles. In relation to which the government came to the conclusion to make an agreement with the British and consented to form the Polish Resettlement Corps (PKPR – Polski Korpus Przysposobienia i Rozmieszczenia). All soldiers of the Polish Armed Forces based in the Isles could join it and the service in PKPR (max. 2 years) enabled them adapt to British conditions. Over this period they had been learning English, taking professional courses and didn’t have to bother about the money (they collected the pay and their families could occasionally count on financial support). After the service they could choose one of four options: return to communist Poland, departure to another country, enrolment in the British army or work on the Thames as a civil person.

Emigrant calendar of a patriot

A lot of time has been devoted to politics, but it would be simplistic to reduce the activities of the president or the government to this alone. All the more so since it was up to Wladyslaw Raczkiewicz, Tomasz Arciszewski and their successors in the first place to keep the spirit of Polishness in their compatriots alive.

For example, through patronage and presence at patriotic celebrations – it is worth starting a review of them from the 3rd May Holiday. Even in 1946, a modest celebration took place but a year later it was organized on a much larger scale. With the participation of, inter alia, Arciszewski and general Anders, a ceremonial academy took place at the Convay Hall in London, where Zbigniew Stypułkowski was one of the speakers.

A pre-war national activist who was captured by the Soviets during the war and almost shared the fate of the Katyń officers stated, among others, that “the celebration of 3rd May Holiday has always been an opportunity to manifest the will of the Polish nation to exist independently and [its] inseparable ties with the ideals of the Western civilization”.

This tone was repeated in subsequent speeches, and the celebration of the Constitution every year allowed our authorities to remind the world and fellow countrymen of Poland as an integral part of the West for generations. The celebrations organized on the occasion of the 1st (beginning of the defense of Lviv anniversary) and November 11th were of a more modern character.

You can read the full article here.

– Tomasz Czapla
– Translated by Dominik Szczęsny-Kostanecki

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